This week I am turning twenty-eight, an age which feels so alien to me. Birthdays naturally cause me to reflect on my life, and the perceived progress I have made with each year that goes by. ‘Progress’ is a word commonly used to consider how we’re doing in life, but this year I wonder if progress is really what it is? As I’ve gotten older I’ve gradually stop seeing life as something linear, a stretch of time plotted with various goals, and instead I view it as a collage of Polaroids, isolated moments which fall together to create one life. Measurements are often linear, but the linearity of time is just a perception; what is real is each moment as we feel it. Instead of thinking about what I have achieved and when, I try to feel the value of my life based on how I live it.
My 20s have been one huge learning curve for me, as setting up my own life away from the nest has taught me so much more about myself and the world around me than I ever imagined I would need to know - you never learn more than when you are thrown in at the deep end, life asking you to sink or swim. As such, the past 10 years have been a real education for me, and a much more useful education than the one I received at school.
I was lucky to have been academic at school, I was good at things like Maths and spelling, and I knew how to excel in exams. Because of how the schooling system measures and judges us, I grew up believing myself to be “good” at things (apart from anything Musical, sooo bad at Music) and was used to just ‘doing well’. When you grow up being told you are top of the class, seeing As on essays and generally being rewarded, you kind of believe you are just good at life. Don’t get me wrong, I have never been arrogant, but it was definitely a shock to my ego when aged 18 I was catapulted into University life only to discover that knowing the square route of 64 didn’t help me find my rhythm. Life skills are a whole different ball game. Yes, I was equipped enough to cook for myself and do my laundry and bash out essays at the speed of light, but I lacked some things that were even more crucial. I lacked innate confidence, I lacked a sense of myself and I lacked the ability to make the most of what life had given me.
No-one is born knowing everything, ready for anything. No-one. We spend our whole lives learning, and it would be arrogant to assume we know everything now. I’ve always felt it is okay to still be learning, to hold your hand up when you don’t know something and to keep an inquisitive mind. So when life knocked me sideways when I left home, when I spent years struggling to find my swagger, I kept an open-heart and learnt what I could in order to do things better. With this open heart, I discovered what tools I need to get by, and then I picked those tools up and carved out a happier life for myself, as well as a more confident me.
Although I have been learning every day, and although I could not even begin to explain the magnitude of what I have learnt in the 10 years since I left home, there are certain moments, certain snapshots in my memory, which have been hugely pivotal to me - momentous additions to my set of life skills which have ultimately changed the course of my life forever. These snapshots include some snippets of advice from loved ones, an article, a song...I have learnt from everything around me and hope I continue to do so.
Thank you to everyone who has taught me the things I needed to, and continues to do so every day. We are all on a journey, we are all learning all the time, and we all need to learn different things. I find that the more open your heart and the more willing you are to learn from people around you – even if those people are very different to you – the happier you can become.
Here are some of my most potent lessons from the last decade – what have been your biggest life lessons?
“The Key to Life is Balance”
Just before he died, my Grandad talked to me about his time in India, where he travelled after having his heart broken. During this talk, he said these 6 wise words to me and I can honestly say they have never left my mind. I am naturally reckless and extreme, and didn't ascend into the world with much natural stability, so he knew these words would help me remember to find more balance. I never stop thanking him for that.
“Think of someone you admire, someone who you feel has a life you would be happy in – and ask yourself, would they behave like this? No, they wouldn’t. Start behaving like the person you want to be, and the rest will follow.”
One of my longest standing friends said this to me when I was at one of my many rock bottoms, aged about 22. I had woken up after yet another hideously messy night out, feeling terrible, with my phone full of calls to bad-for-me boys who didn’t want to know. The rejection, the booze, the shame and the loneliness overwhelmed me – I called my friend at 10am on a Sunday, with no hope in my heart, and she said these words to me. The next day I started my blog and began investing energy in things which would bring me positivity.
“You have all the tools you need, all the resources anyone could need, to be happy.”
This is to quote my wise father, during a conversation with him when I was about 22 and mainly miserable. I didn’t like my life at that time, mainly because I wasn’t happy enough in myself to enjoy it, but also I just didn’t enjoy my day to day life. I was working in HR admin in a role that didn’t stimulate my creativity, I was living in my student house still with people who did not compliment me, I was hugely unfulfilled and wondered what had happened to the confident, creative person I’d had the potential to be. This was my Dad reminding me how blessed I am, and encouraging me to make the most of what I have been given. I started job hunting the next day and found my career.
“Somewhere Out There”
This was an article in Cosmopolitan January 2011, by a talented and funny writer, Rosie Mullender. I read this in December 2010, aged 24, when I was by this point a happier girl than I had been. I had a career I mainly enjoyed, I‘d found running and writing which both fulfilled me and brought me strength. What I didn’t have was a partner. I had been single for 5 years and was horribly lonely. Then I read this eye-opening article by Ms Mullender, in which she reflected on her single status and how she would feel on New Year’s Eve, welcoming another year alone. I could relate to the article, but what inspired me about it was that she did not pity herself, she enjoyed herself. She was excited about the unknown, rather than scared, she knew she was loveable, and she was so excited that she still had all the beauty of Love ahead of her. It was like flicking a switch. I went from feeling like I needed a man to validate me, to realising I had the world at my feet and feeling excited about the future. I was more confident, I felt attractive, I was a light not a shadow – for the first time in a long time I knew that when I did meet someone, I would be more than worthy. From that day on I lived to enjoy myself, I opened my heart up to different people and 6 months later I met my Gareth.
“It’s all about how much you value yourself now. If you let others get to you, that’s exactly what they’ll do. You can’t change the way they behave but you can do something about the way you react."
One day when I was feeling particularly blue, I read this in my stars. Whether or not you believe in Astrology, this comment was undoubtedly true. I read this by chance and realised what a weak, pathetic person I had been being. I had gone through an intense time with a group of so-called friends who treated me terribly. I had in that process lost my little self-worth. I read this horoscope and it was like I saw myself from an outside point of view. I couldn’t believe my own behaviour and I was so mad at myself for letting anyone treat me like less than my worth. I’d like to say I cut them out that day and never looked back, but I didn’t. I did start the process though, and 4 years down the line and I have nothing to do with those people, but I can’t quite believe how consumed I was in their web of malice, or how long I put up with it for. It is safe to say I take very little crap these days, and instead of getting mad at people, I try to just move on when someone scorns me. Life is far, far too short to spend it with anyone who makes you feel anything less than you are. I am kind, I am bright and I am strong, if anyone ever fails to see that in me now then they ain’t worth a dime.
'Every Step' by Charlie Winston
I first heard this song at a gig in Shoreditch in 2009. The song is about a girl who does not value herself with men, who has a history of boys treating her badly, but ultimately it is her own fault for holding herself in such low esteem. The song also recalls how happiness is a mood you choose, based on all the little choices you make in a day. This really hit home to me. For several years I had let myself down with men and had huge voids in my self-respect. Family and friends had tried to help me break this pattern, but sometimes it takes something objective to do the job. I heard this song and it made me cry, but it also was the kick up the backside I needed. Why did I think I was going to find the love I deserved by making such stupid decisions day in and day out? At the time I ran back stage to beg Charlie to release the song and I vowed to try to live by my new understanding that every single step I took, every single choice, every ounce of energy I put into anything would dictate my ultimate destination. It took a few years for me to become well practised at this, but by summer 2010 I was so much better and once I felt like I’d earned it, I had ‘Every Step’ tattooed onto my right foot. My choices haven’t been perfect since then, but whenever I feel myself slipping I have it there as a reminder to invest in positive things and continue to take positive steps.
“You Lack Verve”
Not everything we learn from is inherently positive, and I have learnt from some very negative experiences too. Someone not very nice once said this to me, when we were drunk on yet another blurry night out, and at the time I just took it and assumed it to be true. But over the years I have remembered that comment. Now I know I don’t 'lack verve', I never lacked verve; I have energy and creativity in abundance. What I lacked was a positive direction in which to channel my energy. It wasn’t long after hearing this that I started running, blogging, baking and just generally channelling my sparkly self into positive, creative things. So thank you to the person who said that to me. You have helped me to make so much more of myself, even though at the time you were just being a right royal twat.