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?

img_6320

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.

The modern girl’s to-do list

todo-list-simple-hate-yourself-funny-ecard-ewZ

The other night on the way home on a casual Monday, I wrote myself a little to do list for that evening. I’d been so busy at the weekend and at work that there was a ridiculous amount of life admin to do and for various reasons it really needed doing that night.

But as I wrote the list I realised how tedious it was that I had to fill my precious, short spare time with such ridiculous things. ‘Shower and dry hair’ even made it on there that night, as I usually leave it to dry by itself (to save time, natch) and obviously this looks rubbish come 7am so I wanted to put some effort in for a meeting. By the time I had finished writing the list I was feeling utterly deflated – off went my hopes of putting my feet up and getting stuck into my new book.

It got me thinking about just how much there is to DO as a woman in 2016. Having it all (or attempting to) has essentially become doing it all, and it’s bloody exhausting.

I’m not suggesting we all stop washing our hair. But at what point is something going to give? Time has become so tight, and as I’ve got older it’s the thing I’m starting to treasure the most; I resent having to use it on commutes and on people who don’t reciprocate their time back when you need it. Time is really all we have, it’s the thing money can’t buy and the thing we are all running out of. So why do we fill it with so much life admin?

Stylist recently reported on the stats that revealed the average 30-year-old woman has just 17 minutes a day to herself. While I’m not sure I’m quite as time-poor as that, it’s not much better – the first 12 hours of my waking day go to commuting and work, which leaves me with about four hours to play with before I’m desperate for sleep. At least half of that goes on the aforementioned life admin, or something else that I feel I ‘should’ be doing.

Here’s everything I could think of that, as a single woman in 2016, I have on my to-do list:

  • Watch must-watch TV (on catchup, because who ever gets home on time for it all?)
  • Check online dating apps, bang head against wall, repeat
  • Go on dates if previous point is successful; most likely waste an evening on someone you’ll never see again
  • Read books, magazines and articles by all the brilliant people you follow on Twitter (this could easily be a full time job)
  • Blog (I try)
  • Have a hobby (it helps with the online dating chat, plus makes you a bit cooler these days)
  • Paint nails, go for a wax and other general beauty things (as a beauty journalist, this really has to happen)
  • Shower (yep, this has to go on the list now)
  • Food shop (worst thing on the list)
  • Cook (wait, no, this is the worst thing on the list)
  • Have actual chat with flatmates that isn’t just ‘Hi, I’m tired’
  • Chat to family so they remember you exist
  • Reply to 278 Whatsapp messages, 5 texts, 33 Facebook notifications and 18 messages on Facebook Messenger (why does it have to be a different app?!)
  • All the emails, all the time, on three different accounts
  • Wash clothes in order to attempt fabulous work outfits
  • Shop for clothes that I don’t hate
  • Return clothes that you inevitably do hate
  • Work out (HAHAHA)
  • Do the washing up (there is so much of it. Where does it come from? I don’t even like cooking?)
  • Keep an eye on finances and make mental note to get buses more when you see how many Ubers you’ve booked lately
  • Catch up with friends who are all in different groups and work different hours just to make it extra fun
  • Sleep (remember that?)
  • Look up, every so often. Tech neck is a bitch

So without sounding whiney… what about me? As it’s my 30th year (yup, I’m going to take the whole year) I’m trying to give myself a break, be a little more selfish and do a little more of what I love – without, hopefully, pissing anyone off. After last year’s health scare in my family and nearly 8 exciting years of working my arse off in startups, I need to focus on spending my time on making myself feel better, being with the people I love and generally be a better person.

Because doing it all won’t make us the best we can be – it’ll make us the most exhausted, and probably the most grumpy versions of ourselves. Don’t get me wrong; I love to say yes to things, to keep busy (my mum always says of me when I was a child: ‘You were very… busy, all the time, always doing something’) and to share those experiences with others. After all, we might not have much time, but we’ll only have it once, so I’m all for making the most of it.

But I’d also love to read all those books stacked up on my bookshelves, to write more, to walk around London more without being in a rush, to not waste my weekends ticking off that admin list in the bank or the Post Office, and just generally to ‘be’. To have time that doesn’t feel like it’s already assigned to something I’m obligated to do. Now *that* is something I’m putting on my to-do list. Who’s with me?

 

The alternative 30 before 30 list

MjAxMS1iMTA2ZWZjZTE2MGRhNWU3

In three short days I will turn 30, and so I have just deleted the ’30 before 30′ list I optimistically wrote on my phone last year because frankly my heart was never in it and I only ticked off one thing. But do I feel bad? Not really. There’s plenty I could have done, but who says I have to do it before Tuesday? It’s just a Tuesday, when you think about it.

It got me thinking about everything I *have* done, though. Glass half full and all that. And I think I’ve done OK, all things considered. So here’s my alternative 30 before 30 list – what’s on yours?

Before I turned 30, I…

  1. Went to Disneyland as an adult and screamed on a log flume like a child
  2. Actually got into the career I wanted
  3. Won an award for my work in the career I wanted
  4. Went to a real festival and survived, just
  5. Camped in a heatwave and a thunderstorm. Yeah, I won’t be doing that again
  6. Got a First and threw my hat in the air like a proper cliché
  7. Became an auntie 3 times. Totally taking credit. I’m an awesome aunt
  8. Went on a flight by myself (this is a BIG deal for me, and it was horrid)
  9. Had a mini holiday romance
  10. Swam with dolphins (OK it was more standing than swimming but one has to be sensible when one can’t swim)
  11. Went to the top of the Eiffel Tower, twice, without fainting or falling off
  12. Climbed Arthur’s Seat, in sandals. It was terrible
  13. Was a maid of honour for someone completely awesome
  14. Went to a sex museum in Amsterdam. That was weird
  15. Partied all night in Ibiza (quite a few times, actually)
  16. Got drunk at Vogue with my best friends
  17. Wrote my name along with my first boyfriend’s on the wall in Verona by Juliet’s balcony
  18. Sang along to the actual Backstreet Boys in Hyde Park
  19. Learnt to drive. Not that well, mind
  20. Partied in a gay bar in Berlin
  21. Snorkelled. I may have been a bit blind but I saw some stuff and didn’t drown
  22. Saw Beyonce live. May have cried a bit
  23. Saw Five live and fell in love with Scott all over again despite not being a teenager anymore
  24. Sat within a few feet of an actual real lion as it played with a ball
  25. Could actually say ‘I’m with the band’ as we sat on A’s tour bus and had a little chat in Newquay, aged 18
  26. Read a LOT of good books. I’m practically Matilda
  27. Wore glitter at every appropriate opportunity
  28. Rode in a tuk-tuk (I’ve always wanted to do that)
  29. Learned Spanish. Well, some Spanish. And then forgot most of it but at least I tried
  30. Found the kind of friends that make everything better, and who made a lot of the above happen…

What’s on yours?

Image – someecards.com

When a plan comes together… and then everything falls apart

New home

So, it’s been a while. That big decision I was making was where to live, and whether it was fate, falling into it or gut instinct I’m not sure, but I found a house and went with it. I’m not sure it was entirely thought through, but it all slotted into place; the new area and house just clicked. Of course nothing is that simple and moving is the worst thing ever thanks to a thing known as estate agents – seriously, are they trained by the devil or something? – but nevertheless we moved in and I’m back in a beautiful part of south London. Hurrah.

For the best part of six months I’d been putting off any other decisions, plans or ideas until ‘after the move’ because it was stressful and taking up 95% of my brain at any one time. Everything was to happen ‘after the move’ because things would be simple and easy by then, right? Ha.

In the midst of moving, my work life (i.e. the only solid constant in my life, bring out the tiny violin) kind of… exploded. We also moved office on the same day that I moved house. I do not recommend this. Then I went on holiday (I do recommend this but not less than a week after you’ve moved), came back and not long after I had the most devastating news of my life so far (I’ll explain later). This sent me into a weird, not-really-there kind of stupor for what seemed like an eternity until I then heard the best news of my life: that everything was ok. Er, then I got ill and I’ve been back in a fog of brain-fail ever since.

So all those things I was going to do and sort out in the second half of 2015 haven’t happened. I can barely string a thought together (or a sentence, as this post probably shows), never mind an idea. The thing is, life doesn’t take a break while you get your shit together, no matter how much you want it to. The saying ‘life is what happens while you’re making other plans’ or however it goes is just as applicable when you’re not, er, planning.

Time kept ticking and now I have less than two months until my 30th birthday, and what I thought was going to be a monumental final year of my twenties has not only been rubbish but has rushed by so fast that I’m not even sure I was there for half of it. It’s no wonder the mindfulness movement is in full swing; being in the present instead of thinking about the future is underrated…

 

What to do when you don’t know what to do

Magic 8 ball

I think the main reason I can’t plan ahead is because I cannot make decisions easily. A current big decision in my life has a deadline (usually helps) and yet I’ve consulted friends, pros and cons lists, astrology, Twitter, my mum…. and still not worked out either what I want, or what I should do.

Ask anyone for help in this situation and they very kindly tell you to be selfish, to decide what you want and do what’s best for you – but that is exactly the problem. I don’t have a clue, and I was brought up to think selfish people are bastards (and it’s true, they really are). Sure, I could tell you what I want in fantasy land – a townhouse off Regent’s Park, a kitten and a book deal, thank you very much – but in reality, I don’t bloody know. When there are so many options, and your choices pretty much don’t affect anyone but yourself, what do you do? Does it even matter? With no big plan ahead of me, how do I know what the next step is if there’s no path that it sets off?

That’s the first time that’s really occurred to me: being single and pretty independent means nothing I decide will really have an effect on anyone else. So why do I struggle so much to make one, and why do I allow others’ decisions to have such an impact on me? It should feel liberating to know I can do whatever I want, but instead it makes me feel even more lost, overwhelmed and desperately looking for a connection to something that I can base my decision on.

This is the problem with not having a clear life plan, the way some do. You end up blindly making choices, relying on fate or just going for the easy option rather than knowing it’s the right stepping stone towards your future. That’s not to say I think one way is right and the other wrong; a good friend always tells me to avoid the ‘shoulds’, which I imagine crop up a lot in well-planned lives – but I guess the opposite is knowing what you simply want to do and going for it, no matter what the consequences.

I haven’t worked that out yet. So until I do, I’ve decided… I’m going to check out all the options. Yes, I’ve decided not to decide. It might be a bit of a cop out, but I’m hoping something might stand out as the right choice, even if my head can’t quite make it to that conclusion just yet. Wish me luck…