Acknowledging our achievements

Success

I’ve been neglectful of this little blog over the last couple of weeks. There’s no real reason for it, I guess I just ‘haven’t found the time’ to blog, but that’s a poor excuse. There is always time, I just need to utilise it more efficiently.

One thing I did find time for was writing an article to submit to the Huffington Post. The last 12 months have been significant for me for a number of reasons, one being my career change. Ok, my two career changes. Writing about this was, in some way, soothing. Taking thoughts from my head and leaking them through my computer keyboard on to a screen is incredibly therapeutic, and the Huffington Post article was no exception. Those changes were a big deal for me, and my life has totally changed as a result. So to know that I was being judged on that was a little scary. What if the editors didn’t like it? What if it wasn’t interesting enough? What if the writing was too weak?

When I found out it had been accepted for publication I was really, really happy. My thoughts, my words, were going to be available to the millions of readers of the site. That is an achievement. A success. And I’m going to be able to contribute on a regular basis. That is even more of an achievement. I think it’s something worthy of some pride.

Shortly after my article was published, I had a comment from a reader. It wasn’t negative, but it challenged some of my advice (not that I would like to class it as advice, per se). For example, the commenter said that if a person had children, they couldn’t just ‘decide’ to change their career path if it resulted in a drop in earnings. Obviously, individual circumstances determine the decisions we make, but I honestly believe there is always a way to make your life better. It might mean making a sacrifice, but that sacrifice isn’t necessarily a pay-cut. Plus, I don’t have children, so I didn’t have to worry about that when making my decision.

I guess what the comments taught me is that my writing – naturally – relates to my own personal experiences, so I cannot resonate with everyone who might read it. That would be impossible. And to try and write something to please everyone would probably result in a poor piece of writing. I need to feel confident in my abilities to reach out to a particular group of people. A group of people who might be at a similar stage of life, who might have had similar experiences, who might need that something to help them on their way, or who might simply like my writing!

If I am to put myself out there then I need to accept there are potential consequences. Negative reactions and comments that challenge or criticise. But that shouldn’t take away from the fact that my writing is out there in the first place, having been deemed good enough to publish. And it shouldn’t stop me from going to find new success.

My own personal achievements still exist, and I should acknowledge them. Just as you should acknowledge yours.

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An honest look at 2014

2014 is over. It was a year of changes, choices, risks, mistakes, happiness, tragedy, love and revelations. I feel older and wiser thanks to 2014. Finally I feel I am where I should be. But 2014 has also been a bitch. It has given, but it has also taken away. So despite all of the steps forward I have taken over the past year, I will be happy to leave 2014 behind.

January

When the changes really started to happen. I quit my job as a Solicitor to pursue something more ‘satisfying’. The law firm I worked for had offered me a secondment in one of their clients, an enormous company which, had I wanted to be a lawyer for the rest of my working life, would have provided invaluable experience. But I was petrified. I didn’t want to do it. Doing it would expose me as the fraud I felt like. I couldn’t cut it as a lawyer and soon everyone would know. That’s how insecure I felt in my job. I left it about 10 days before I responded to the offer. Telling my boss I was turning down the secondment because I was resigning was absolutely terrifying. Ironically it was also the day I received a tribunal judgement for a case which I had argued, and won, for the same client that offered me a secondment. At least I was leaving with a 100% advocacy record.

After I had made my decision everyone kept telling me I was so brave. I wondered if I was just stupid. It turns out I was both. You know that little voice in your head? Listen to it. It’s usually right. And so is my mother, but then I always knew that.

February

When I was fuelled by optimism and enthusiasm. I was setting up a new legal division at a recruitment company in Cardiff, despite no recruitment experience. I thought the legal experience would see me through. It did, to a point. But I discovered after a while that ‘recruitment’ is just another word for ‘sales’. And I’m no salesperson. When you have psychological issues with the phone, you know recruitment / sales is not your calling. No pun intended. But I persevered. I had made a huge change and I needed to stick at it. It would get easier. I would get better. Right?

March

When the cracks started to show. There have been many instances in my life where I felt I haven’t really belonged. Like I was an outsider. I’m a friendly soul but I can be socially awkward, and I have been told on more than one occasion that I can come across as cold. It isn’t intentional, it’s just me. I’m very blunt and straight-forward, and some people don’t like that. Anyhow, the recruitment company I worked for was a world away from what I was used to. The people were nice, welcoming, fun. But I knew I didn’t fit in. They were all good at their jobs, so committed and resilient. They didn’t take things personally. I was nervous to make a cold call and if I didn’t get the right results I felt like shit. All I wanted to do was send emails. I was comfortable there, where I could consider my words and construct elegant sentences. I have always loved to write. But sending emails in a recruitment company was not the done thing. My boss told me my emails were written so well he could frame them, but that as a recruiter I needed to refrain from typing and pick up the dreaded phone. This was a slow-burning lightbulb moment, if such a thing exists. Maybe an energy saving lightbulb which takes ages to light up properly. Should I do something with words? Not legal technical words, but creative words?

My cousin also got married in March which was lovely. She looked beautiful. I’ve not been to many weddings so it’s still a bit of a novelty. She’s my age (26) which is a little strange. I’m not bothered about when I get married, I just really hope my grandmothers are alive to see it.

April

When the cracks turned to holes. I knew things were not right. They were really rather wrong. But what could I do? I had made my bed, I was supposed to lie in it. But I only tossed and turned. I was beyond miserable. I was scared of going to work because of what I would have to do and how much I knew I hated it. I wondered what had happened to the enthusiasm and the positive attitude. I was failing at something that others found easy. Granted, it was a process driven job and I bore easily. But I was still failing. I was astonished at the treatment I received. Rejection is one thing, but being spoken to with a lack of respect and being hung up on for simply doing my job is another.

May

When I resigned. After a wonderful birthday weekend in Barcelona courtesy of Olly, I realised recruitment was not for me. My boss realised that too. Although I had set some really good foundations for the division, it was not something I had passion for. I had no other job lined up. Going back to law was not an option. My parents told me categorically I couldn’t quit a job without having another one to go to. ‘You have a mortgage to pay’, they said. Well, I ignored them and handed in my resignation. My boss was not surprised. He told me to find something I loved. The question was, what? I had a week of garden leave. I needed to find out. It took me a couple of days to admit to my parents what I had done. And I didn’t even have the balls to call them. I sent an email. Classic me.

Quite by chance, my parents had booked a cottage in Exeter for a week. I joined them to try and figure things out. Fresh air, countryside, time with the dogs. Perfect. During this time, I arranged to go for a drink with a contact I had made a couple of years previous. He was the Director of an advertising company. When I was back from Exeter we met and I explained my circumstances, expecting nothing but hoping for something. Some advice. A work placement perhaps. A few days later the unbelievable happened. He offered me a permanent job.

June

When I discovered the world of advertising. Starting at the agency was a revelation. Not least because I could go to work in jeans. Jeans! Already it was more me. The people were, and still are, great. I seemed to fit in. I was actually enjoying going to work each day. Immediately I started a large copywriting project for the Welsh Government. That’s a pretty big deal. I felt like I had got really lucky. It was a right place right time situation. Or was it fate? Could I actually have found something I both loved and was good at contemporaneously?

July

When my whole world fell apart. The month started so well. Olly and I spent a beautiful week exploring the island of Sardinia and my new job was still the best decision I had ever made. And then the worst possible thing imaginable happened. MH17. It took the lives of my witty, wonderful Uncle Andrew, beautiful, intelligent Aunt Estella, and two little cousins, Jasper (14) and Friso (12) who had their whole lives ahead of them and were excited to live them. It’s impossible to put into words how this unexpected tragedy of global magnitude affected me and my family. And it will continue to do so forever. The loss was so enormous. And so unnecessary. I’ve been through every emotion. Disbelief, despair, anger, sorrow.

When we were sure that they had all boarded the plane, and so were never coming back, I went home for a week. It was splashed all over the news and I became PR handler for the family. We were hounded by the media. A journalist from The Times had tracked down our house and was knocking on our door for a story before it had even been announced on the news that Andrew was one of the 10 Britons who died. When we refused and shut the door in her face she sat in her car which was parked round the corner, wrote a letter explaining that it would be better to give the true story rather than have something printed which was inaccurate, and posted it though the door. Again we ignored it. My mum and sister then went out in the car and she tailed them. It was a disgrace. She was one of many. Eventually we decided it would be best to release a statement and a photo of the family and leave it at that. Seeing it all play out on the television was heartbreaking. I bought all of the newspapers the following day, their faces splashed across them. I wondered why I did it to myself.

One positive which came from the month was that I started this blog. It gave me something to focus on.

August

When I tried to live normally again. Olly was my rock. It was a low place to be and I felt guilty for smiling or laughing. We attended the remembrance service of my family which was overwhelming. And to make things worse my beloved dog Hollie passed away. She was our first dog and was 12 years young. I busied myself with work and blogging. The blog was supposed to be all about good things. Things that made me smile. Positively. Happiness. I wanted to prove that you could find some light in darkness. I baked a little, tried something crafty, went wake boarding. The idea was to make more of life and to ensure that life was a content one.

For the bank holiday we went away to Pembrey with my sister and her boyfriend and played endless games of Articulate.

September

I genuinely can’t remember anything noteworthy about September.

October

When I tried new things. At the start of the month Olly’s parents took us to Malta for a week. Sunshine and sea. It was so good to escape. We did three scuba dives which were incredible. When home, in my pursuit of contentment I decided to push myself out of the comfort zone. To discover my inner crafter I started a pottery class at Cardiff School of Art and Design. A very therapeutic activity. I now have the finished results and I must say I impressed myself. All family members got pots for Christmas. I also joined the local circus, as you do. My aerial skills improved but still leave a lot to be desired. I found my discipline though (I think) in the flying trapeze which I will be continuing in 2015.

November

When I felt like I found my stride. Work was becoming more comfortable in the sense of having a clue what I was talking about. I even bagged my first client. A pretty impressive one. I sort of shrugged it off though but work seemed chuffed, told me I was being too modest, and bought me gourmet pastries which included egg custard tarts. Winning.

December

When I had some quality family time. Work was really busy. I had a lot of responsibility and quite a lot of authority too. I officially passed my probation which was super news. I know this is where I should be for now and I am so relieved to have realised that. Having said that, when Christmas break came – almost two weeks off! – I was bouncing up and down. Spending quality time with the people closest to me in spirit but not always in distance was a joy. Early morning frosty walks with mum and dad (and Benji the dog obviously), lots of tasty food, more games of Articulate, catching up with my old-school girlfriends, necking vino. Olly and I spent New Year round a camp fire at the top of my gran’s garden with a load of her neighbours drinking mulled cider and eating sausages. Amazing.

2015

Now it is 2015 and I am back to work tomorrow. I’m not dreading it, but I am dreading the alarm. I haven’t really set resolutions, but I want to make it a good year. Put it this way: I don’t want to be in exactly the same place as I am now this time next year. I want to push more boundaries, keep trying new things, see new places, be better at my job, continue sustaining a great relationship, keep old friends and make new ones. And lots of other things.

I can never forget 2014 – 17 July will forever be part of me – but I’m ready for 2015 to bring it on.

New discoveries

New discoveries I do not profess to have a terribly interesting life. I like what I like. I dislike what I dislike. I like cosy evenings in pyjamas reading a book. I dislike spending late nights in seedy clubs surrounded by people who are convinced that to have a good time you should ‘get smashed’. And I’m realising that, as long as I’m happy doing whatever I’m doing, nothing else really matters. If I’m judged for my preferences, I really don’t care. What is the point in spending time doing things I DON’T want to do, when there are so many other things I know I would rather do?

Having said that, I am always open to new discoveries. Food is a great example of this. I used to be an incredibly fussy eater, and I still am to a point, but I am so much more open minded and willing to explore the unknown these days. So even though I know what I like, I am still happy to try something new. If I don’t like it, I don’t have to ever have it again. It isn’t just food though. I like to think I embrace this philosophy much more generally, as and when necessary. For the rest of the time, I’m happy just doing what I do. Being me. Life doesn’t have to be interesting or exciting. Not all the time. It just has to make me content.

I have a rather addictive personality. And by that, I don’t mean it’s impossible to dislike me. It’s probably quite possible. I simply mean that I become quite easily obsessed with things. For instance, if I hear a new song I love, I will listen to it on repeat. I once went a month having cheese and ham toasted sandwiches pretty much every single day. You get the picture. This week I made two new discoveries. Discoveries which fascinated and compelled me. The first was this. This might seem interesting but insignificant. But to me, it was interesting and incredibly significant. Why? When I was a law student at Cardiff University, I was assigned to this very case as part of the Innocence Project. I read Dwaine George’s case files. I went through interview transcripts, legal papers, trial documents. Evidence. I worked in a small team to try and find the inconsistencies and explain them. I’m disappointed to say, we didn’t get far. But then, some seven or eight years later, I discover that this very same man has been set free as a result of the Cardiff University Innocence Project. His conviction has been ruled ‘no longer safe’. He has been a victim of a miscarriage of justice.

I can’t really explain how it made me feel to read about it. I can’t even imagine a situation like that. For an innocent person to be found guilty of a crime they didn’t commit. It’s terrifying. If I knew back then, for sure, that Dwaine was innocent, I would like to think my commitment to the case would have been more substantial. But you can never be sure. Especially as a young naïve student.

This leads me to my second discovery. This is where my addictive personality comes into play. In a strange coincidence, completely unrelated to the above, it concerns an investigation into a man convicted of a murder in 1999. His name is Adnan Syed. He has always maintained that he is innocent of the crime of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. If you recognise these names, you probably know about Serial. Serial is a podcast series narrated by Sarah Koenig, an investigative journalist, who delves headfirst into trying to figure out this case. I had never listened to a podcast series, but from the first episode, I was hooked. I finished listening to all 12 in a matter of days. I love this kind of stuff. It’s a story, but it’s real. I think that’s why it’s been so popular. And you can really feel how much Sarah wants to get to the bottom of what I consider to be a mess of a case. The kind of case where I, perhaps coming from a legal background, thinks how on earth could someone have been convicted of first degree murder based on that evidence. Or, more appropriately, lack of it. I won’t spoil it for you if it’s something you want to check out for yourself (which I would completely recommend by the way), but what I will say is that it is an utterly gripping look into the (American – Baltimore) legal system, people, and memories. So many questions that really suck you in. It’s exceptionally thought-provoking and truly does make me wonder how many miscarriages of justice really do occur. It’s impossible for the legal system to be perfect, to get it right every time, but there are some glaring flaws that I find astonishing. And I’ve sat on a jury myself, so I know the experience from both sides.

I didn’t think I would enjoy a podcast series. I didn’t think it would hold my attention. But my goodness was I wrong. And now that there is a big Serial shaped hole in my life, I will have to discover something else. All ideas welcome.

The enemy of apathy

friends_enemies

They say to keep your friends close but your enemies closer. That’s why apathy and I are almost inseparable. All that lies between us are empty yoghurt pots, dirty socks, and a layer of dust.

You don’t fight with apathy. It always seems to win. So why bother? It enjoys sitting with you on the sofa, doing nothing, avoiding everything. It’s favourite word is procrastinate.

Apathy doesn’t judge you. But it makes you judge yourself. To the point where you wonder, why do I let myself live like this? DO SOMETHING. But it doesn’t let you. It holds you down, holds you back.

You want to scream and shout at apathy for turning you into the person you have become. The person you don’t want to be. But it muzzles you and reminds you of your feeble purpose.

So, in the end, you comply. You grow used to its company and its consequence. Toleration becomes normality. But apathy never changes. It’s always there. Right by your side.

The worst of friends but the best of enemies.

A path untrodden

A path untrodden

Someone I haven’t known all that long, but whom I would class as a very good friend, has just done something crazy. Amazing. Terrifying. Admirable. Brave. She has left the place she knows, where her friends are, where she had a fabulous job, where she called home, to live in a city she’d never visited, in a country she’d never been to, where they speak a language she doesn’t know. She’s young and has her whole life ahead of her, and I absolutely love how she is walking her own path instead of waiting for one to appear in front of her. She was at a crossroads and instead of playing it safe or choosing the easy way, she is doing something incredible. I’m jealous. I’m sad, too.

It’s not often you meet someone you think you really relate to. Someone with lots of common interests. Someone you enjoy talking to and listening to. Someone you can be honest with. For me, Amber Bell is one of those people. Sassy and ambitious, I was so pleased to get to know her. We aren’t incredibly close, but we just click. I certainly think we do anyway.

I don’t have many friends. Those I have are friends because I make time for them and they make time for me. After moving to Cardiff permanently I really struggled to meet people who I would class as friends as opposed to acquaintances, perhaps. Luckily I met a few early on who are still good friends now. With friendship quality is much more important than quantity. But Amber is someone I met fairly recently (in the last year or so) and now she’s gone. And I’m gutted. Florence captured her heart and she went to find it there. I hope to visit next year. In the meantime I will have to make do with her wonderful blog as company.

What she’s doing though, makes me question what I’m doing. I’ve never gone travelling, for example, and I’ve never lived outside of the UK. Everyone I know who has says it’s the best thing they have ever done. So, am I missing out?

I’ve always played life quite safe. I did well at school, did a sensible degree, worked hard to get a sensible job. The only crazy or brave thing I’ve ever really done was to quit that job. And I was right to do so. I could have stayed there and been unhappy. But I hated being unhappy. I was the one to make the decision to turn off that path and find another one. I’m not sure where it will take me, but I’m much happier walking down it. There will be other paths, I’m sure, but I will be the one to find them. Make them. Opportunities don’t fall in our laps unless we are very lucky or were born with a silver spoon.

One day I hope I can travel. See more of the world. I’m envious of the freedom Amber has and the adventures she is going to experience. I hope that moving to Florence was the best decision she ever made. For me, there are things to keep me where I am right now. Those are important things that I hold dear. I’m in a good place and I remind myself of that every day. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be other paths which I lay down for myself further down the line.

When the time is right.

What December means to me

Hello December

It’s that time again. The chill I feel in my bones, the mist I make when I breathe, and the frost which sleeps on my car, all tells me that we have turned the twelfth corner of 2014. We have entered the final chapter of the year, and who knows what will be written on its pages. November arrived in a flurry of fallen leaves and promptly left again. Which leaves us only with December, and all its glory. I’m not one of those people who has my Christmas tree up by now, listens only to Christmas albums on repeat, and has the presents already wrapped and under said tree. Far from it. Having said that, I am incredibly partial to some festive cheer and I feel content knowing that Christmas is on its way. Why? For me, it’s all about family.

When I properly moved to Cardiff 4 years ago I knew I wouldn’t be able to see my family very often. It’s a sacrifice I made to pursue a career good enough to be able to live very comfortably. However, that career was short-lived. I was miserable. What is the point in living very comfortably when, most of the time, you just don’t feel happy? I digress. Having lived away from my family for so long, it’s times like December when I feel a bubbling excitement. Not just because I will soon be eating Christmas ham while sipping bucks fizz, devouring a big fat turkey, and stuffing myself with as many pigs in blankets as I can possibly stomach, but because I will be going home. They say it’s where the heart is.

This year, I will be spending Christmas Day and Boxing Day at Olly’s parents’ and I’m not quite sure how I’m going to feel when the time comes. It will be the first time I wake up on Christmas morning without my mum, dad and sister. I might even cry a little. The voice inside is saying ‘You’re 26 woman! Grow up!’ That may be true. But for me, the charm of Christmas is about being a child again. I want to hold on to everything I loved about that time of year when I was young. Sleeping in the same room as my sister on Christmas Eve and opening our stockings together in the early hours. A Christmas morning walk. Trying to de-stress my mum. Sorting the presents under the tree into piles for the family. Dressing the dogs in their bows and bells and laughing as they help us unwrap. Listening to the same tape (yes, tape) of Christmas tunes over and over while we eat lunch as a big family. Playing board games long into the evening. Curling into the sofa to read. Laughing. Laughing lots.

I don’t want things to change. I know they have to, but I don’t want them to. I don’t have either grandpas around any more, my uncle, aunt and cousins are gone, and one of our beloved border collies passed away earlier this year. I’m in a relationship and it’s only fair that we split Christmases between our equivalent families. My sister is also now in a relationship which means she will be doing the same. What I have to come to terms with, is that it isn’t Christmas itself which makes anything special. It is simply being surrounded by the people I love. It doesn’t matter what day of the year it is. Things will inevitably be different. The important thing is that I try and embrace those differences.

This year, December will be about remembering the ones I have lost, smiling at the memories, loving the ones I still have, making new memories, chatting to my parents late into the night, reading, writing, walking, eating, laughing. And wondering what 2015 might have in store.

What does December mean to you?

Why I love lists

Why I love lists full

I may have mentioned before that my mother has forever described me as someone who starts things but never finishes them. It pains me to admit this is often true, except when it comes to my dinner. I pretty much always finish that. Sometimes my lack of staying power is down to boredom, or losing patience. Sometimes I just can’t be arsed. Instead of ploughing through, I procrastinate BIG-TIME, and things just don’t get done. For example, I have a pile of things to put on ebay which have been sitting in my utility room for a number of months. All I need to do is take some photographs and upload them and hey presto. But that just sounds like too much effort. So in the utility room they will stay. Probably until I reach the bottom of my list. Which is actually one of many lists.

The main reason I love making lists is because they make me feel so flipping organised. The joy comes not only from writing a list, with equal line spacing and in exactly the same colour pen, but from ticking things off. Oh the rush. The only problem is, I never tick everything off. Unless it’s about six months later. But even then it’s unlikely. Occasionally I will keep adding to the same list so it looks as if I’ve been super-productive. And there have definitely been times when I have already completed a task, but add it to my list anyway just so I can tick it off.

My brain – the simple matter that it is – likes things in easy-to-absorb chunks. They are better to read and better to digest. If I have more than one important point to make in an email then I whip out the bullet points. I have a constantly-growing to do list at work. At the weekends I often list all the chores which need doing at home. Pinned to the notice board is a 2014 bucket list which is 100% not going to be complete by the end of December. I have already written this year’s Christmas list. Lists are quite simply excellent companions to everyday life.

Clearly there is something to this list-making business which makes me feel good. It’s a therapeutic activity which my mild OCD takes a fancy to (hence the line spacing and same coloured pen). Only I am allowed to add to the list. If anyone else scribbles on it I may as well start it again. And if the pen runs out part way through, we’ve got serious issues. A perfectly formed and perfectly neat list makes me feel fuzzy inside. Spoil it at your peril. I tried Wunderlist on the internet but, for me, it doesn’t produce the same satisfaction as a writing utensil and a piece of lined paper.

The conclusion of this thought-provoking piece? Nike have a cracking logo.