Lesson #8: Just ‘Stop it’

636282374891647042-1330413051_2It was supposed to be a quiet night in, and yet here we were – my friend M & I – sat with wine in hand (a lot of wine) listening to acclaimed comedienne, Ruby Wax, talk about the magical world of Neuroscience and Mindfulness.

Growing up in the 90s, ‘Ruby Wax’ was always a household name for me. To put it into context, she’d be the celebrity ‘R’ when playing the Word Association game. THATs how famous she was. She was always someone I knew as saying rude things on television; someone full of energy who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind.

I like to speak my mind too. I was given the gift of humour by my parents and have come to learn that there is a time and place to make a sarcastic joke about someone who might be standing right next to you…in front of others, especially if that person doesn’t have a sense of humour.

I generally learnt my lesson the next morning when I would wake up with a stinking hangover and anxiety AKA ‘Beer Fear’ after a night out. I had a habit of replaying what I could remember – usually only the bad bits – over and over and over in my head. I wouldn’t leave the house because I felt so embarrassed and when I managed to surface and text absolutely every other person who was also out with me, asking whether I did anything really, really bad. And even after they said no I still wouldn’t believe them!

Work in my early 20s was a similar experience. My entire career has been spent supporting senior executives and so my behaviour was something I was constantly mindful of. Knowing I had a silver tongue for sarcasm, I learnt very quickly to temper what to say and when. Work drinks became something I would rarely attend and when a joke was made in the office, I would sit back and laugh with the person, rather than blow them out of the water with my comical genius mind. Lucky them.

I thought I was winning at being ‘professional’, but you know what? I was actually really damaging myself. Innuendos…no way. Sexist jokes…nada. Jokes about blondes… absolutely not (i’m blonde by the way) and I spent the majority of my early career in Rail so you can imagine how much of a struggle it was for me! Don’t get me wrong, I mean, I did release the occasional joke into the office every now any again if I was feeling fruity, but I was noticing that even they were becoming far and few between. Then I moved into corporate life where I became so sensitive to it that even now I watch what I say – even if it isn’t funny. Believe me, it’s not a good mindset to have when you’re stood up about to present to 100+ people or want to explain to your boss why you think you deserve a promotion.

You won’t be surprised when I tell you that i’m an ‘over thinker’.  Thats right, another lovely skill i’ve picked up is the ability to ruminate about almost everything. I have this intense need to protect myself, as well as a wild imagination, usually resulting in several scenarios playing out in my head right before bed, that you’d generally read about in a Stephen King novel. And it’s exhausting.

So, back to Ruby.

Ruby lived up to expectations: she was incredibly funny and at points, my friend and I came close to wetting ourselves. She truly inspired me – I couldn’t believe that the woman in front of me was so successful, yet suffered with major depression like so many others. However, rather than sit back, pop as many prozac pills as directed and hope things got better, she went to study Neuroscience at flipping Oxford University! #girlpower.

But Ruby was even more than that. She was someone who had somehow managed to get up and use her humour for the good of woman and mankind. She had managed to attract an audience of over 200 women and men that night, and was using her energy to help them understand that it is OK to worry and ruminate and think bad thoughts – something that even nowadays with the perfect lives of others advertised to you on a daily basis through social media, is a taboo topic.

Finally, at almost 30 years old, I can happily tell you that i’ve been aware of my rumination for some time and have been working on it for a few years. However, it’s only been in the last year or so that I have learnt a few things that have stuck with me:

  1. You are in control of what you think and what you don’t think, and you’re in control of the choices you make as a result of those thoughts. So try to make the choices that will only enhance your life and forget the rest.
  2. When you ruminate, you’re usually worrying about the past or future. Trying to live in the present will show you that there is nothing to worry about as long as you’re healthy and can feed, cloth and shelter yourself.
  3. If you do ruminate, you need to figure out a way to just tell yourself to ‘Stop it‘. It solves absolutely nothing and is damaging your self esteem which you need for confidence and to feel fabulous.
  4. Listen, sometimes if you’re unhappy, you just have to realise that you can do so much more with your life. Work out what you’re missing and don’t stop until you’ve found it. You can do anything you set your mind to.

Nowadays, it is so difficult to stay true to yourself. There are so many big organisations, adverts and people telling us that we aren’t perfect and can always be better. But what’s better than being able to be your true self, and having the ability to live the life only you have, to the fullest?

V x

 

 

 

 

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Lesson #7: Cherish your friends

Leaving London for the Christmas break is priceless.

Actually, let me back track on that. Battling through the endless crowd of commuters with a suitcase full of presents and a weeks worth of clothes isn’t fun, but sitting down on the train as it leaves the big smoke to head home, really is priceless.

I was on my way to spend some time with my family, as well as to catch up with my friends who had planned a Christmas dinner, complete with Secret Santa. That’s where I got the inspiration for this next blog – my SS bought me a blog journal.

Whenever we meet up, it feels like nothing has changed and everyone looks the same as they did back when we were in school (sort of). We were all sipping prosecco, celebrating the news that my friend recently got engaged in Sri Lanka when I told the story of how, as I edge one year closer to the big 3-0, people are beginning to say that I don’t look “that old”. The terror and look of denial on my friends faces said it all – we do not look a day over 25.

I’ve been making friends since I was little. We moved around quite a lot and so I had to make friends quickly and then be prepared to lose them. What I like about this group of friends is that even though I have kept moving, they have stayed.

Individually, my friends have taught me so much. Only last night I felt the feeling of how you can laugh so hard that your stomach and cheeks begin to hurt after reminiscing over a bad paella in Barcelona. I was filled with the feeling of happiness when my friend told me her news that she was expecting her first child. Friends open my eyes to the chances they took that I didn’t. They give true meaning to the word ‘love’ and what a strong relationship really entails, and they show you what it feels like to love someone like a sister, even if she isn’t related to you.

A few years ago I read the quote about how “two types of people come into your life. They’re either a lesson or a blessing” and in my 29 years of living, I can safely say I have met both. I think that true friends are a blessing. They are your 24/7 360 guidance counsellors who would stop at nothing to try to help you out. They don’t judge you for making the decisions you made and love you regardless of how you look physically.

If you have one friend or 20, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that you have great people around you to guide you. Or if you’re like me, are happy to intimately describe two rounds of child birth for your personal benefit, just so you know what you’d be getting yourself into.diy-5-strand-braid-friendship-bracelet-final11

Cherish your friends.

V

Lesson #6: Stereotype says ‘no’

nobodylikesyou

“It’s because of her age” my mum would say each time my 12 year old niece would throw a tantrum.

As someone who grew up with this little girl, caring for her like she was my sister, I could never understand why at times she would turn into a drama queen, threatening to throw herself out of cars, or run away – pretty extreme if you ask me. She was always so loving and caring and even though I was told that the adolescent years were pretty tough for a parent or family member, I didn’t think it could be that bad.

When the going got tough,  I would sit down with my niece to try to understand why she felt she needed to lash out and her response would always be that she “didn’t know.” It was only when I started asking my mum the same question that the motive became clear. Social Media.

It turns out that my niece would only freak out after she’d been online looking at her private Instagram account (everyone in her class was online). Photos of skinny girls in the latest clothes, out on holidays having so much fun (hashtag totes amaze), would make her take a look at the life she is living and feel as though she was inferior because she wasn’t doing the same. She comes from a normal family who aren’t able to take her on luxury cruises or buy her Christian Laboutins. And so when I found out, a part of me felt physically sick.

As a twenty something growing up in the digital age, I know how difficult it is to understand that what you see online isn’t real. It took me the best part of my early twenties to realise that though – at one point I banned all women’s magazines from my reading list! Now, i’m much more aware and on days where I may not be feeling great, I simply steer well clear of Facebook and my friends who all have seemingly perfect lives.

As someone who likes sport, I recently watched the Olympic Games in Rio and felt so inspired by Britain’s female rugby and hockey squads. They were all so strong and fit and I feel that they should be the ones holding the flag for women’s beauty, encouraging the young girls of today to keep fit whilst showing them that ‘strength is the new sexy’. But it seems that they can’t, because the world only recognises beauty as a stick thin model whose best friends are a light salad and toilet bowl.

Whenever we sit down and talk – my niece and I – I often think how lucky she is to have an auntie who is with the times, street wise and trendy (ok, maybe not trendy), who can help her to understand the importance of being true to herself and become street smart. What kills me though is to think that there are thousands of young girls out there right who don’t have this support, who are scanning all of the social sites with a pang in their stomachs thinking they don’t stack up to what they’re seeing, and thats not right.

As you grow older, you come to realise that life isn’t about wearing the latest brands, filtering your photos, pouting and thigh gaps. Life is about pushing yourself, being humble, good friends and experiencing the world. Some realise this earlier on in life, some when they might think it’s too late, but never when you need to know it most… when you’re just starting out.

V

 

Lesson #5: It’s ok to fail

chargers3On Saturday I was invited along to play my first ever game of Tag Rugby.

For those who aren’t familiar with the sport, my understanding is that it’s Rugby, but non-contact. Instead, if your opponent wants to tackle you, they grab one of two tags attached to each side of your shorts with velcro.

After coming to terms with my outfit which I can only describe as mens baggy shorts and my oversized t-shirt tucked in (yes, this is a must) I began my training session in the hope that i’d instantly slip into things and be good enough to support my team to victory.

My chance to shine came mid-way through the first half when a tired female player passed me her tags as she left the pitch. Shaking, I took them both, strapped them on and ran out like a lamb to a slaughter, only to find the rather experienced, uniformed opposition waiting to devour me. By the way, I forgot to mention that Tag is a game for both men and women and generally the men are huge, so believe me when I say that scared is an understatement here folks.

When the whistle for the first half came, we were 10 – 1 down and I was exhausted. My contribution? I’d thrown the ball forward a few times and dropped it a few times more. I learnt very quickly through the tone of the captains voice that this was not allowed, under any circumstances.

The second half didn’t get much better. I became so frustrated that my physical stamina – or lack of – meant that I couldn’t keep up with the rest of the team, resulting in me falling back and never being able to grab the ball and run.

The final blow came when the captain shouted me to “GET OFF!” and at that point I almost cried.

Back at home I sat and thought about what just happened to me. At work, I am so determined to be the best I can and am recognised as someone who does a good job and yet, out on that pitch, no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t make the progress I thought I could. I wasn’t able to slip into this mighty rugby warrior character like I thought I could, which was humiliating.

And then it hit me…You reap what you sow. I know all too well that to be respected at work and to be seen as a key player takes years of hard work, humiliation, frustration and break through moments. It takes passion and when you fail, the ability to adapt and get back out there – the ability to accept defeat and try again. And yet, there I was thinking i’d be as good as the rest of them, many of whom had trained for years and worked so hard to get to where they were.

Accepting that I was basically crap and that actually it was OK to fail, a few days later I decided to go along to a local beginners game that my coach had told me about on Saturday. I was determined to pick up the pieces of my dignity and try to actually learn properly this time.

When I arrived, a team of 11 or 12 amateurs like me were playing their second half of their game. By playing I mean that they too were dropping the ball a few dozen times. Catching it was a small miracle for them and their definition of defence was every man for himself and to run for dear life to the get that ball!

But after the trauma of Saturday afternoon, this time I felt comfortable and at home and I  realised that it was ok to begin from the start.

After 80 minutes of a friendly match with some big Mauritians – of which I played full time with the beginners – you’ll be pleased to know we won! Our little team of beginners were able to fend off the opposition and claim almighty victory.

Listen, life isn’t just about the glory moments where you feel on top of the world. Really it isn’t and I know because i’ve been fortunate to have many. The best moments are those where you fail so miserably that you feel there is no return and yet you get back up, try so damn hard to do your best…and succeed.

V

Lesson #4: There is no such thing as Superwoman

Exercising-Superwoman-Medium-e1447708304899“Come on guys, half a turn more and we’ve finished today’s session! Push, Push, you can do it. You in the orange t-shirt – you’re not even trying, push HARDER!”

I’m aware that you can’t see me right now but if you could, i’d be the one in the orange t-shirt sitting on the sweat ridden spin bike, strategically sat the farthest back from the instructor for fear that she’ll pick on me (oops, too late), pedalling so fast that I don’t actually know if i’ll suddenly come off the stand and go straight through the gym window. My clothes are stuck to every ‘curve’ I have and my tank is now empty…oh and i’ve got to do it all over again tomorrow. Lovely.

Mid-way through every spin session, two similar thoughts go through my mind:

  1. That Chicken Curry last night was so not worth this pain
  2. Why the hell are you putting yourself through this you crazy lunatic?

Of course after the session I know why I do it because I feel great. I feel i’ve achieved something for me and always look forward to the next day where I stare at my new body in the mirror.

OK, can I be honest with you about something?

The real reason I really put myself through it is because I feel for some reason that to be classed as someone who has ‘made it’ in life, you have to have a bloody good career whilst having the body of Instagrams best Yoga-wear model (head stand on beach is mandatory). You’ve also got to have a very large group of friends and by large I mean that you are a member of at least three WhatsApp group chats. You need lots of regular group photos as evidence and finally, if you’re a mum (which i’m not), it seems that you have to be able to do all of this whilst looking after your offspring, working your core office hours, keeping the house looking spotless and cooking for your better half. I can’t keep up!

Writing every word of the above I realise that I simply can’t do it all and that this is my own challenge to overcome. I set my expectations too high and am destined to fail as a result. However, in my defence, this is a lesson I learnt only seven months ago when talking to my friend and is something i’m currently working on.

It’s all too easy to look at the TV ads and flick through beauty magazines, envying all of the women who have seem to have found nirvana and do seem to have it all. I don’t know about you but I certainly feel as though you have to achieve the same level of success if you are to conform in this society. I genuinely worry about the next generation of girls who aren’t as lucky as I am to have learnt that it’s simply not achievable, nevertheless putting themselves under immense pressure as a result.

Seven months ago when I realised I will never be that person, I also realised something else that I wanted to share with you. I learnt that you should find something you’re good at and focus every effort into becoming the best at it. Maybe you like running. If you do, aim for that marathon and don’t stop until you have your medal. Maybe you’re an ambitious woman who wants to achieve her biggest hopes in th board room. Work so hard that no one can stand in your way  and go get it. Perhaps you want to be the person your children look up to when they’re old enough to do so. Pour every inch of love and attention into your children. Support them until their ready to fly and never, ever clip their wings.

Success in life is whatever you define it to be. You should be proud of everything you achieve and of the person you choose to be.

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.

V

 

 

Lesson #3: Love isn’t complicated

frog“It’s bloody hard to find a good one.”

That was the advice I gave my friend last week when we spoke about the new man she’s dating. They met online, have been talking none stop and had their first date over the weekend. Chemistry was there apparently, as was his best friend who turned up half way through to give his verdict.

So what’s the problem I said? Her response went like this:

“Should I leave it until Tuesday to text him so I don’t look overly keen?” (It was Sunday) “What if I see him again and we go the full hog and he never sees me again, is that bad?”

My response – based on many, many encounters with first dates – came with another question: “How do you tell if a guy likes you?”

It’s simple. Effort. If the guy makes the effort, you’re still in the game. If he doesn’t, move on.

In my opinion, there are too many men out there at the moment who, right now, are quite frankly offensive to the wonderful game of courting. Social media has given us the gift of opportunity, resulting in men (and women) thinking that they’ll always be a better one around the corner. Let’s face it, nowadays a woman can pick up a man on Tinder, meet him 20 minutes later and if she doesn’t like him because he has bad shoes or a fringe, bin him and meet another guy that very same night if she pleases. The world of dating has gone to pot!

However…(the plot thickens)…find the one who has a genuine interest in you (and you in him) and it’s a whole different ball game. You’ll be drunk on love, living in each other’s pockets and overall, loving life.

The guy I talked about in my opening blog (aka the boyf) made an effort, but it took a hell of a lot to find him. He has big-scale toilet humour (a six pack), he’s so infinitely caring (and has a six pack), he’ll help me with anything I need at any time of day (SIX PACK), and finally he somehow manages to calm me down (and by the way he has a six pack). He too has a travel addiction and has a very sweet family so in total, I’m happy.

But, like every other woman with a boyfriend/husband/partner it wasn’t always like this for me. I had to kiss an army of frogs (some nice, some not so) and even then I didn’t know I’d found ‘my prince’ for a long time after meeting him.

Throughout this process I asked the same questions that my friend did until I realised that it all comes down to effort.
My view is that you should always be yourself and do what you feel is right to do when you meet someone. If you want to text them, do. If you want to call them to suggest a date, do it. If you want to go the full hog on the second date, amen to you! And if someone doesn’t like it, simply move on to find the one who does. Because that’s the one you should be with, the person who simply loves you for who you are, no matter what you are.

V

Lesson #2: You can’t do it, alone 

beach

A few weeks ago I heard about a book which was described to me as the ‘Holy Grail’ when it comes to offering career advice to ambitious women. As someone who is technically classed as ambitious (the nice type) I naturally thought I should buy it to see what all the fuss was about.

I read the book from cover to cover but only one chapter stuck with me and has been playing on my mind ever since. It talked about how as women, when a new career or life opportunity arises which scares us, we automatically say to ourselves: “I can’t do it.” Having that attitude some would say automatically means that actually, no you can’t do it. But the book went on to argue that really it’s more about how you “can’t do it, alone” and honestly, I couldn’t have put it better myself.

For any men out there reading this, you’ll be pleased to know that I’m not going to use my blog to preach about women’s rights in the office (especially not on International Women’s Day) because I personally believe we’re all equal and that you’re in charge of how fast (or slow) you want to move in life. What I do want to talk about is just how important I think your friends, family and network are to you throughout your life and how you must do all you can to take care of them.

Over a span of 28 years and mainly through living in London, I’ve managed to meet thousands of people who are all different in so many, quirky little ways.

I’ve met people with fascinating stories who have taught me a great deal about what choices you should make as well as what choices you absolutely should not make in life if you want to retain friends and credibility. I have friends who have immense strength and grit who I admire for holding it together as well as people who you find out genuinely care for your wellbeing.

If it wasn’t for my bosses and my current boss in particular, I wouldn’t be where I am had they not taken a risk on me…which paid off of course (I keep telling them that).
Then there are those who give you a short, sharp shock and help you learn the true meaning of the expression ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’. My advice: run as fast as you can from those people and don’t look back.

So you see, you meet so many people in life and good or bad, they’ll teach you something about yourself. Look after the good ones and forget the rest.

V