What I would tell my just-graduated, 22-year-old self

Recently, someone I had only just met asked me what my advice would be for getting through your twenties. As well as making me feel positively antique (yes OK I am over 30 now), it got me thinking – what the hell would I say to 22 year old me to make those years better?

In the conversation I was having, my focus was money (it was a work meeting after all). Take the trip. Take the risk. Get the credit card (sensibly). You will regret what you don’t do. That should be printed in every uni handbook, sent via email to every 20 year old wondering what to do next because it is the truest thing anyone will ever say. I have so many regrets, and almost every one is what I didn’t do.

So what would I say? I choose 22 because that was when I graduated from uni, spat out into the world with First Class Honours and barely a penny to my name, a freshly broken heart and zero plans other than ‘find internship’ since that seemed to be what everyone else was plotting. But if I could talk now to that anxious, lost 22 year old? This is what I’d say…

  1. Learn to be brave. Confidence and courage are things I’ve never had but perhaps if I’d started trying to find them earlier I’d be in a different place by now. You got a First! You live in London! You survived a flat share that almost broke you! You’ve got this.
  2. Get over it faster. It’ll take time, sure, but don’t let one person determine the rest of your twenties. Now’s the time to meet all those people you didn’t while you were at uni. Go on dates, the bad ones make great stories if nothing else.
  3. Talk to the doctor and don’t take no for an answer. You don’t have to live with constant worry. You do need to worry about that thing they’re brushing off as nothing. Just keep asking.
  4. You’re going to be poor for a while. No one can live on £10 a day (thanks, online internship), even if in 9 years you won’t believe how cheap your rent used to be (message from the future – it’s now almost double, soz). But once you’re not quite so poor, start saving. Everyone else is. Whether you spend it on the flat you desperately want or that trip to NYC one day, just save. And then once you can afford your rent and food? Get a credit card and use it – carefully – to do all those things that everyone else seems to magically be able to afford.
  5. See your family as much as you can. Open up to them. Spend real time with them. Appreciate them. Visit nan and grandad. Call your uncle every week. Be interested and listen. Realise that listening is so much more important than talking.
  6. Don’t watch Lost, at all, it is a proper waste of time. Damages, however, is excellent.
  7. The close friends you’ve always wanted are about to spring into your life. Don’t panic about the people who don’t make time for you anymore; everyone you need is right there in front of you.
  8. Do more. Learn Spanish. Play the piano. Read everything you can lay your hands on. Go to that weird fitness class. Drink tequila. Stay over at a friend’s even though you feel like the most awkward person to ever live. Visit that friend in Argentina (with that credit card I mentioned). You can make more money but you can never make more time.
  9. Know your worth at work. There are going to be bosses who tell you you’re nothing (yeah, to your face), who want to make you look and feel small, but that’s not about you. The one thing you’ve always been confident on is that when it comes to work, you do your best. Keep doing your best. It’s better to be good than to be popular.
  10. Twitter is going to change your life. Embrace it, but for god’s sake don’t write in text-speak. That shit will come back to haunt you via something called Timehop.
Image via GIPHY

What’s the rush?

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I know I live in one of the busiest cities in the world and that Londoners are rather known for having no time, charging through life at speed whether ‘life’ be a Tesco queue or a tube gate, but still. I am utterly exhausted. Not by everything that I have to do (which is quite a lot, when I think about it… *doesn’t think about it*) but by always, forever, every day being in a rush. Everything is a rush.

I leap out of bed in a rush. I eat my breakfast in a rush. I brush my teeth in such a rush that sometimes it hurts. I get dressed in a rush (and this is probably clear from what I am wearing and the fact I’ve recently decided trainers are totally OK for work). I cleanse in a rush (and I write about beauty for a living, this is not OK). I rush through the three tubes it takes me to get to work, sweaty and heart racing, as if my life depends on it. To be fair it sort of does, since I need my job, but you get what I mean.

I send emails in a rush. I pee in a rush*. I go and get my lunch in a rush and then I eat it at speed at my desk. Often followed by an anti acid for obvious reasons. I talk in a rush and work in a rush, hoping that I’ll get home in time to pop to Sainsbury’s in a rush before I power walk home and then cook in a rush, choosing the fastest and easiest thing to make so that the precious few hours afterwards are mine to rush through as I please.

One of my most upsetting rushes is the shower. I usually have this while my dinner cooks (read: heats in the oven). Living in a shared house aged 30 means it’s one of the only times in the day that I am truly alone with my thoughts and doing something for ME (and the benefit of anyone in whiffing distance). It’s soothing, too, or should be, shouldn’t it? But no. I have to shower in a rush, either because a flatmate jumped in before me and now my dinner is burning, or simply because I chose the fastest thing for dinner and surprise, surprise it’s nearly done. Then I forget whether I even did the shampoo (did I?) because I must get dinner finished before the house burns down, must watch that programme that I’m really into, must get X Y and Z done in between rushing through 40 WhatsApp notifications before rushing off to bed come midnight.

I can imagine certain people reading this and thinking, ugh, London life. But I don’t think we can blame London for this. I certainly don’t. In fact I’m fairly sure I was exactly the same when I lived in my little idyllic village in Sussex and worked at my local leisure centre. Everything fast, everything a little furious, too much to do, too little time. When has there ever been enough time?

The iPhone doesn’t help. Sometimes I’ll get to 6:15pm, standing and waiting on the tube platform wishing I could just be home like RIGHT NOW, and realise that I’ve barely looked at anything all day. You know, really LOOKED and *seen* it. And then I will put my phone away smugly, looking at everyone else who is neck-bent and hooked on their phones around me, thinking how silly they are; I’ll step onto the tube and stand next to a bunch of strangers and think, as hot and crowded as this is, at least I’m not doing anything, because I can’t. I have to just stand here and wait for four whole stops. Enforced slowness is the only way to slow me down.

Of course, someone who plans things, those weird, organised planners, probably wouldn’t have this problem. They probably waft through life on a perfect schedule of timed appointments, timed lunches and blissfully long showers, while I find de-stressing solace in four stops on the Circle line.

Wait, so is the tube – unreliable, clunky and expensive as it is – secretly keeping me sane? Now there’s a scary thought…

 

*This one is a worry. Please do tell me in the comments if you can relate to this, or of course anything in this post. Make me feel better. Thanks!

Looking in, or looking out?

Pic: Someecards

A mere few years ago, struggling with anxiety, I read every self-help article going. And, while I can’t remember the details of each and every one, there was a common theme. Look outward, they said. You’ll feel better if you stop over analysing yourself, overthinking everything, and simply look out at what’s around you. Friends, mentors, helping others, travelling, seeing what the world has to offer. There was an overriding theme of self-help: stop being so damn self obsessed and look at the bigger picture.

It’s struck me recently that our culture has moved in the opposite direction. We’re now selfie obsessed instead, constantly looking at ourselves, critiquing ourselves, adding filters to our faces before allowing anyone to see us; health retreats that tell you to look inwards; improving one’s self is about looks, followers, your brand, being strong not skinny, eating the right foods and filming every step you take, being at the latest ‘cool’ place and photographing it in the right way. Turn 30 and you’ll have endless people and articles telling you that this is the decade of being wonderfully selfish, of taking control, of doing what you want and to hell with any kind of people pleasing. While the latter is liberating, and I’ve definitely noticed a difference since turning the big 3-0, I’m not sure it can be so healthy to live in this ‘it’s all about me’ way.

Don’t get me wrong; I know we have to get to know ourselves, and to move with the times, and I probably sound older than my years already in mourning the past, pre-Instagram Stories and Snap-bloody-everything. But I’d bet money on the rise of this kind of self-promoting, self-obsessing culture being linked to the rise of anxiety and other mental health issues. Though I thought it sounded terribly hippyish at the time, I think those mags and books telling me to look ‘out’ were much more on the money.

If anything, it’s about distraction. Of course being overwhelmed is never good for anxiety and doing too much definitely triggers mine, but having regular plans, pushing myself to stop fretting and get out and do something, to distract myself from the detrimental thoughts that run constantly through my head, is what really helps me feel better. Having an interest in travel, reigniting my love of being creative be it with a piece of charcoal or an iPhone and a great view, listening to new music and learning things I’d never pay attention to before are the things that make me feel smarter, inspired, interested and interesting.

The more I look in, the less I like; the more I find to hate, criticise, obsess over, compare to others. Sure, that’s an issue in itself, but I’ve always believed being up yourself is a terrible trait and I’m not sure constantly looking at yourself is any better for you. In some ways I’m a hypocrite; having a personal blog like this one is probably the equivalent of self analysing, talking about myself or overthinking, only on screen – but I only post when I feel the need or feel it might resonate. In fact, recently, I’ve found it much more rewarding to write for myself, keeping unpublished posts in my precious Evernote app, purely for the joy of writing and getting the words out rather than to seek approval from readers (something which will often leave me feeling anxious, and yep, you guessed it, criticising myself again if the numbers are low).

I’m not slating those who do all the above – I’m part of that scene thanks to the career I’ve chosen – but it feels like the current trend is to be narcissistic, dressed up as self-development. I don’t think it’s going to change for a while, particularly as social media and blogging continues to grow and develop – but already it does feel like the tide may be turning when it comes to self-care. The sudden popularity of all things hygge, the move to video rather than images, or instant photos rather than ones that have been filtered and doctored beyond belief on social media – I think they’re a subtle reaction to the pressure to be a perfect person who has it all, and a step in the right direction for loosening the grip a little, looking up, and looking out. Here’s hoping, anyway.