You Are Amazing

After I published a post a couple of weeks ago, talking about The Fear, I have had lots of beautiful messages from my friends and family.  Partly, I think, out of concern – don’t worry, I really am kicking life’s ass at the moment!  That post wasn’t meant to be negative at all; I just wanted to be honest about how scary life can seem sometimes because I don’t think we admit to being human enough.  But I was so touched by the messages I got from all sorts of people.  There was one from a dear Bangladeshi friend, who’s words were so poetic and heartfelt that they made well up.  There was the little message from a former colleague just letting me know he enjoyed the blog.  Or the reassuring comments from old friends: you’ll be fine, chick.

Why am I telling you all this?

To remind you how amazing it feels when somebody takes the time to reach out and say “well done”, “good work”, “you’re pretty awesome”.  Especially for me blogging, when it feels like you are putting all this energy out into the world, to get an acknowledgement or a compliment makes it all worthwhile.  But it doesn’t just have to be the big stuff or even people you know: how good does it feel to get a compliment on your outfit from a stranger on the tube?!

As this gets published, I will be at a festival with two of the most gorgeous women I know – gorgeous is all aspects of the word, just beautiful people – and I’m going to make sure I tell them that.  So here’s my challenge to you: pick up the phone and call/text/What’sApp/tweet/Facebook etc somebody and just say something lovely.  It doesn’t need to be huge but I guarantee everybody has The Fear every now and again and maybe all they need is a little reassurance from a friend.

Friends forever

Friends forever

I always welcome feedback on the blog, good and bad, so please leave a comment below or get in touch!

Favourites this Friday

This week, I officially completed the International Citizen Service (ICS) programme.  That will confuse some of you because I got back from my placement in Bangladesh a couple of months ago, but this week I finally submitted my Action at Home report, detailing how I have continued to advocate for women’s rights around the world and promote volunteering.  So as I join the prestigious ICS Alumni, I thought I would share some my favourite photographs from my placement.  I love these pictures; I love looking at them because they instantly take me back to my host-family, to my wonderful team of volunteers, to the friends I made, and a time when I felt like I was really making a difference.  These are memories, and photographs, that I’ll treasure for ever.

The Fear…and How to Face It

The fear comes at night mostly, although it can extend its grip whenever it likes.  Its icy fingers chill my heart and make it difficult to breathe.

The fear.

The fear of failing.  At life.  At love.  Failing.  The fear of never being gainfully employed again.  The fear of never meeting ‘THE ONE’.  The fear of not being successful.  Of not being happy.  Of failing.

As if that’s a thing….failing at life.  I mean, really, get over yourself.  But the fear still lurks there.

It’s funny though, how sometimes fear can be a great motivator.  Anyone who has left an essay until the last minute and is desperately hammering away on the laptop at 3am will know what I’m talking about.  But this kind of fear is paralysing.  There is so much I could be doing, should be doing…but I am becoming an expert at procrastinating.  And it’s so hard to explain to people.  Not that I really admit this to many people (except my lovely blogging audience!); in addition to becoming a professional boxset watcher, I am also now something of an expert at putting on the happy front.  And I so desperately want to be that person.  The brave, fearless woman who changed careers to follow her heart and turns down lucrative offers at major banks so she can change the world instead (okay, so maybe I won’t be unemployed forever but that’s not really what I mean).  The women who, whilst doing her masters degree, got ribbed for getting more done by 10am than most people would manage all day.  That’s the person the world sees so why don’t I feel like her.

I think it’s because this type of fear can be really debilitating if you don’t master it.  And I do have to point out that these attacks are really rare.  But here’s a few ways I try to get over it.

What Are You Scared Of

It’s really easy for your fears to become this huge conglomerate mess where the apocalypse is nigh and you might as well just give up now.  Except the world isn’t going to end anytime soon and you still have a life to live.  So get specific about what you’re afraid of.  I am not really worried about never having a job again; I’m pretty confident that I could find a job within the next month if I wanted to.  What I’m terrified of is not being able to do what I want to do, of not finding a way to make passions pay enough to cover my rent.  So get a piece of paper and write down what scares you.  In detail.  Be precise.  Suddenly, those fears don’t look nearly as big and bad as they felt, which brings us on to…

Take Action

Having got a handle on what your fears actually are, you are now in a position to start to do something about it, because I guarantee sitting at home worrying about it won’t change anything.  Personally, I love a to-do list but again it needs to be really specific.  “Get a job” is not a smart to-do list goal.  Break down everything into tiny, tiny steps: write a CV might be a good start, or register on a jobs website.  For one, these things are actually manageable and, secondly, you will feel an exorbitant amount of satisfaction when you start crossing them off (well, I do!).  But, as I said before, this kind of fear – the heart-stopping, panic-attack inducing fear – can be paralysing.  So just do one thing.  One tiny little thing.  If that’s all you do today, then you did one thing.  But maybe after doing one thing, you’ll feel like doing one more.  And another.  Until you’re on a roll.  As my mum always says to me “How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time”.  Pro to-do list tip: don’t let your actions roll on week to week.  If you’ve still got stuff left over from last week, you’ve probably made the action too big.  Can you break it down into smaller bits that you can do this week?

Get a Routine

I, for one, cannot live without a routine.  Maybe it’s all those years of military discipline but I just can’t do it.  Even though I don’t have a job to go, the alarm goes off at 7am and I get up, get dressed and have breakfast.  At which point, I feel like I might as well do some of the jobs on my list.  Set the conditions for your own success.  Sitting around in your pyjamas all day will not make you feel like accomplishing things.  Get a diary and put things in it – yoga classes, going for a walk, go and sit in your favourite coffee shop for two hours on the condition you will do those three tasks on your list.  And don’t forget to schedule in some fun.  One of the hardest things I find about working freelance is that I don’t have an office full of people to chat to everyday so I have to work a little harder to make sure I’m seeing my friends and that I’ve got enjoyable things to look forward to.

Have Fun

Which is probably a good time to remind ourselves that you only get one shot a life so you might as well enjoy the ride.  Whether it’s work or play, find things that make you happy and keep doing them.  One of my fears, at the grand old age of 32, is that I won’t find love, that I won’t get married.  Well maybe I won’t, maybe I will, who knows.  But I’m not going to wait around for him to show up to enjoy my life.  I’m going to live life to the full so if he never comes along, I know I had a ball; and if he does come along, hopefully he will see a happy, vibrant person doing all sorts of cool stuff and say ‘hey, I want to be part of that’.

Be Realistic

When I was at boarding school, I would call my mum after exams in floods of tears.  Through the sobs, she would eventually hear “I’ve failed, I’ve definitely failed this one”.  Time after time, she would gently point out that I hadn’t failed one yet, in fact, I had a pretty good track record of As.  But I guess what I meant is that I was worried I hadn’t got that A, that I wasn’t going to be perfect (we’re back to that thing about being specific about your fears).  I have no idea where I got the idea that I had to be perfect.  My parents never demanded perfection but I always have.  What an idiot!  What a totally unachievable goal to have in life.  I’ve mellowed somewhat over the years but I still have the most ridiculous expectations of myself.  If I’m not running sub 9-minute miles every day of the week, I’m failing.  If I’m not practising yoga and meditation EVERY DAY, then I’m failing.  If I’m not an overnight success as a freelance consultant, then I’m failing.  Life doesn’t work like that.  It takes time, it takes effort, and it’s not about achieving perfection.  Nor does every day off, or every slower mile, mean that you should just give up.  Choose your metaphor – life is a rollercoaster, or like being in a lift, or even a box of chocolates – but there will be ‘good’ days and ‘bad’ days.  Days when it all feels easy and days when everything little thing feels like a marathon.  The only thing you can do is go with it; survive the tough ones and thrive in the sunny ones.  That’s how it goes.  So make sure your goals and ambitions fit into that.  By all means, decide you want to be an astronaut, but maybe deciding you want to be a drummer in a rock band when you don’t have any rhythm isn’t quite going to work, just like deciding to be perfect when you’re just human isn’t really going to go your way.

Your Friends Aren’t Wrong

I am not an Oscar-worthy actress.  Nor are my friends gullible.  I have not managed to convince them that I am an entirely different person.  Alright, they don’t hear my internal monologue, but it’s my monologue that’s wrong, not my friends.  I am the person that they see.  I don’t know why that inner voice is so mean and destructive.  I would never talk to anyone else the way that I talk to myself.  So I’m going to stop listening to that voice and start listening to my friends instead.  They’re a pretty fabulous bunch of people and if they think that I’m doing okay, then I’m going to trust that.

Do, Review, Apply*

*or looking back and moving forward

A year ago, I sat in an office, many many miles away, and tried to picture what 2014 had in store for me, where I would be in a year’s time.  Let me tell you, it has been nothing like I imagined.  I knew it would be a year of change and of new starts; I had already submitted my resignation from the Royal Air Force and had some grand travelling plans but the master plan pretty much stopped in June!

As I sit here now, it’s too easy to feel overwhelmed by all the changes, to feel as though I have failed because I haven’t found the right job, or because that relationship didn’t work out, or that I’m still living at home months after I had planned to move out.  I have been scared, I have been hurt and sad.  There have been tears.  But I know that does not do my year justice…not by a long shot.

It doesn’t tell you that I took a huge leap of faith.  I recognised that I wasn’t living the life that I wanted to and I decided to change it; the fact that I haven’t landed yet does not mean it wasn’t 100% the right thing to do.  It doesn’t tell you that I have had several job offers, that I’ve been published not once but three times and got to do an interview live on national news because I am an expert in my field.  It doesn’t tell you that I have made some wonderful new friends, that I have opened my heart to new people and new experiences and am all the richer for it.  It doesn’t tell you that I have laughed, been happy and excited, and have lived.

And I am still here, still fighting.  As I look back, the only thing for which I am sorry is that I haven’t always acknowledged those positive things about myself along the way.  Everything I have been through, the highs and the lows, have all brought me this point and this is exactly where I am supposed to be.  I know I still have so much to work out but you know what?  Bring it on!

this will be my year

There aren’t going to be any sweeping resolutions or ridiculous goals – life is just far too unpredictable for that.  What I want to kindle this year is a kinder, more relaxed, more mindful approach to all that life has to throw at me.  So here it goes, my intentions for a soulful 2015.

Be kind

Enough with the mean words and the harsh judgements.  I will look after my physical, mental and spiritual well-being, one day at a time, just doing a little more of what feels good.  After all, I am worthy; I am deserving of my own love.  So are you, each and every one of you.  It is when we show ourselves compassion and love that we are able to share love with the people around us.

Be balanced

Yoga often talks about striking a balance between Effort and Ease in a practice, of applying yourself and working hard in each posture whilst finding a sense of ease and comfort in the process.  It requires you to listen to your body, to notice what’s going on, to push yourself a little deeper into the posture, to recognise your own limits.  It strikes me as a pretty good concept for living too!

Be brave

Nobody ever achieved anything by staying in their comfort zone.  Bravery isn’t about the absence of fear; it’s about doing those things even if you’re scared, because they scare you.

Be authentic

Above all, stay true to yourself – your values, beliefs and feelings are the best guide you have to life (why, oh why, does life not come with a manual?!).  But that means you have to listen, to quiet the worries about yesterday and tomorrow, to say goodbye to the negativity and the doubt, to really pay attention to what your gut is telling you.  Because then, I can truly be me, every imperfect, awesome, incredible part of me.

a blank book

2015 shows no signs of letting up.  In two weeks time, I will be on my way to Bangladesh, to spend four months living in a rural community and leading a team of volunteers.  And who knows what the rest of the year will have in store but I am confident that I have the attitude to thrive, whatever comes my way.

So come on, how was your 2014?  And how are you going to live 2015?  If you need a bit more inspiration to answer that, check out Some Inspiration and Plot, Plan, Review, then let me know how you’re getting on.

happy new year

Here’s to owning next year – let’s make it the best one yet.

How to Survive the Festive Period

Christmas.  Without fail, a season of overdoing it.  Too much booze, too much food, too little sleep, too many rubbish songs, enforced family fun.  But it is possible to survive and even thrive over the next couple of weeks so you can see in January without the mother of all hangovers.

Keep Moving

No-one enjoys getting up in the cold dark mornings to work out but exercise, in any form, boosts your mood and will stop the worst effects of those extra mince pies.  You don’t suddenly have to start running 5 miles before breakfast every day either, just incorporate a bit of movement and fresh air into your day.  Meeting a friend for coffee?  Go for a walk instead (and maybe get the coffee to go with you).  Drag your family off the sofa on Christmas Day and go for a walk together.  Turn up for those drinks fashionably late, having made some time to go to a yoga class.  Your mind, and your waistline, will thank you for it.

eat and drink healthily where you can

This is a hard one – I am totally addicted to my mum’s mince pies and can eat an entire tray in one go if so inclined.  And no doubt I will!  But I will also try to make healthy choices along the way.  Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water every day – staying hydrated is key to warding off those hangovers – and keep eating your veggies.  Go ahead and indulge but make sure you’re still giving your body the nutrients it needs to get you through to the new year.

Make time for yourself

It’s so easy to be busy being busy during the holidays and if you’re an introvert, like me, it can all get a bit overwhelming.  So make sure you schedule some time every day to just check in with yourself.  Go for a run (see the point above), have a bath or a long shower, block out the time when your favourite film is on TV (I have already told my family that I will be unavailable for a couple of hours on Christmas Eve because the Muppet Christmas Carol is on – it’s not Christmas until I’ve watched this movie!).  Whatever it is, make it a priority, enjoy the time, and then throw yourself back into the festivities.

Live in the moment

This is a recurring theme for me at the moment but I would urge you to be present in whatever you are doing this Christmas.  Give it your full attention.  Don’t be distracted by what happened yesterday or what you’re going to buy your sister.  Notice what is going on around you, use all of your senses, notice you feel about it.  Not only will this help you recognised when you’re actually feeling full so saying no to a fourth helping of mashed potatoes, but you will find that you enjoy the moments more – and if you’re not, acknowledge the feeling, recognise why and ask yourself what you can do differently.

be grateful

It’s too easy in this season of abundance to forget how lucky you are.  As you’re checking in with yourself, take a moment to be thankful for all of the blessings in your life.

enjoy it

Time off work, the perfect excuse to spend time with friends and family, presents…there are so many reasons to enjoy Christmas (it’s not even my favourite time of year) so go out there and enjoy it.  Laugh, love and live – you only get one shot at this.