Looking Back and Looking Forwards

Twelve months ago I thought my biggest challenge in 2015 was going to be completing a triathlon. It was hands down my biggest worry, far ahead of the new job I was about to start. I also thought 2015 was going to be my year – I was very much on the new job, new challenges, new start bandwagon. All of which goes to show you should not trust my fortune-telling skills.

The past year has been the hardest of my life, both personally and professionally, and I’ve been challenged in ways I never thought possible. Turning 30 felt very adult and far off last January but by the time I made it to August I felt every one of my 30 years. There have been times this year when I’ve felt one hundred. Making an appointment for the vet to come and put our beautiful dog to sleep, less than six weeks after we’d last walked up a mountain with him, was by far and away the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life and it’s something I’m not sure I’ll ever quite get over. Watching Andy struggle with anxiety and depression, ultimately something that led to him losing his job, was equally heartbreaking, mostly because there was almost nothing I could do to help.

Professionally, my shiny new job has had perhaps the steepest learning curve I’ve ever experienced. Within six months of starting I’d had to recruit an entirely new team and my boss was on maternity leave. I’m still getting to grips with what my job actually is and how to do it well in a very difficult and different environment to the ones I’ve worked in before. I’ve taken things on that I’d have shied away from a year ago which makes me proud but at the same time I’m not happy with what I’m achieving at the moment. I’ve always been an overachiever so that’s quite a hard thing to admit, particularly as I’m not sure how to turn things around.

This isn’t to say 2015 has been all bad because that’s absolutely not true and despite all the woes I’m still astoundingly lucky. My sister got married in July which was amazing, not least because I officially gained a fantastic brother-in-law! I discovered that I actually like running and completed three 10k races and two triathlons. And we adopted a new dog – a handsome French hound called Marlowe who is a constant source of joy despite the fact he’s an inveterate thief. All the same it’s a year I’m happy to consign to history.



It’s a little hard for me to jump on the “new year, new start” bandwagon again this year, as you might imagine. We’re moving house in less than a week and whilst I know I should be excited part of me is still in crisis mode, waiting for the moment when something goes wrong. I’ve always been an optimist but I’m finding it hard to look ahead at all at the moment, let alone with positivity. So my resolutions for 2016 are incredibly simple: more fitness, more happiness. Nothing world-changing, nothing earth-shattering but perhaps sometimes that’s ok.


Challenge for the Next Decade

I’m 30 on Monday and facing a whole new decade. So my challenge to myself  is to be braver. I’ve done so many things in the last year that I’d never dreamed I could do, got through moments I never thought I could survive. I am stronger than I thought I was but I need to be braver, need to be less afraid to try. Yes I’m going to fail, yes I’m going to fall, yes I’ll probably make an idiot of myself at least once but I might also succeed beyond my expectations.

This isn’t some cheesy movie where I start saying yes to everything and my world is suddenly changed. I think saying no is, in the right circumstances, just as important a skill to have as saying yes. But I don’t think it’d hurt me to get out of my own way on occasion, to shut down that little voice that says “you couldn’t possibly do that” when actually I think I can and, more than that, I want to.

I found a blog I used to write in about 2005 a few months back and was kind of astonished by the honest irreverence of it. I wasn’t scared of putting my thoughts out there and whilst the internet is a very different beast these days I do want to try and recapture some of the enthusiasm of my twenty year old self. I’ve got a whole pile of draft blog posts which I’ve given up on or been too scared to publish. I could change that for a start…

Standing Out…

My hair is orange. Like Hayley Williams orange. This is the first time I’ve changed my hair colour in nearly a year and although I love it I feel very self-conscious. I never normally feel anxious when I change my hair so I don’t quite understand where this has come from.

Orange hair montage

Even my hair has a montage…

Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s the first time I’ve changed my hair colour in my new job and my colleagues are surprised. Everyone’s said nice things though even if the word bright is used a lot. I’ve not had the best history with comments on my personal appearance in the workplace, mostly due to a preponderance of white men in suits, but that’s several years and several jobs ago now.

I do feel like I stand out more than usual and that, in some obscure way, I should apologise for it. I don’t know why that is. Being a woman in public is often a challenging experience I guess and I’ve got used to short hair making me feel relatively invisible. Now my pixie cut has grown out and my hair is luminous maybe I’m too visible, too bright?

I want to be comfortable in my skin but I’ve not been today and I really don’t like it. Maybe tomorrow will be better…

Now We Are 28: On Writer’s Block

I’m really struggling with blogging at the moment and I have been for a while. The reason I started this “Now We Are 28” thread was as a way of getting back into writing, something I have always loved doing, but I’ve struggled so much more than I thought I would. I either have nothing to say or no confidence in what I’m writing which is weird considering I never bloody shut up and consider writing one of my core skills. 

So why am I feeling like this? For a start I’m definitely out of the habit of writing anything. I used to spend a lot of time writing both personally and professionally – I did a history degree for goodness sake, if I wasn’t reading some mouldy old tome I was writing about why I agreed or disagreed with the author of said mouldy old tome. I was also a very angsty teenager (and twenty-something) with a penchant for keeping diaries chronicling my dating disasters and emotional dilemmas. Nowadays I have a job that seldom requires me to write anything original and virtually zero emotional angst. Does that mean I have nothing to say? Well obviously not, as anyone who’s ever got me drunk and asked me about politics or feminism or The Smiths or people’s attitudes to cyclists (and so on) will attest. Do I write this stuff down? Not really. Why not? Um… 

Often I have my best thoughts when I’m out walking the dog or cycling to work and so when I come to try and write them down my ideas seem to vanish like smoke. I’m not writing to any purpose, I don’t have any particular desire to have my blog read by thousands of people or to become a Guardian columnist. I just want to occasionally empty my head of the thoughts which buzz around in there. So why do I struggle to commit words to (virtual) paper so much? Partly I think because I’m my own worst critic – I have about ten half written posts for this blog that I’ve dismissed as too boring, too personal or too ranty. These days everyone writes and there’s always a little voice at the back of my mind that asks “what’s the point? What have you got to add?” 

I don’t know the answer to that question. But maybe I don’t have to add anything, maybe I can just write for my own reasons. I’ve never known how to silence that voice in my head that tells me I’m not good enough but maybe it’s time to learn how.

Now We Are 28: A Sense of Belonging

Last weekend marked the ten year anniversary of my first week at Durham University and thus it is also ten years since I left home for the first time. In the intervening decade I’ve lived in five different cities, six houses, seven flats, and packed my entire life into boxes at least 15 times. I still live more than 100 miles from my entire family, most of my friends and the town I grew up in.

Much in the same way as I love the feeling of travelling I love the possibilities of living somewhere new but I don’t think I’ve ever felt I “belonged” somewhere as much as I did when I first moved to Durham. I was terrified when we first arrived of course, for some reason I spent most of the journey panicking that I would be ostracised for bringing too much stuff with me (I needn’t have worried) and that I wouldn’t make any friends (ditto). But within two weeks, once I’d survived fresher’s flu and navigated a nightmarish train journey back to Wales, I felt more at home in Durham than I’d ever felt anywhere in my life. This wasn’t an indictment on my much-loved family and friends, just a reflection on how much of a fish out of water I’d been. Leaving Durham three years later was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done – and remains so, seven years of difficult decisions later.

By now, almost everyone I know is pretty settled – most people seem to pick a place and stay put, whether by birth or by choice. That happened pretty quickly with a lot of my friends – people dispersed to various locations once we left university and then seem to have remained there. People often look at me strangely when I talk about moving around the country or when I happily travel 100 miles for a night out with friends. It’s odd because I don’t consider myself particularly well travelled. The wanderlust is unintentional, I like to arrive at new places but I also like to leave – if you’ve ever met my dog Roscoe you’ll know he is also very much of this persuasion!

So, true to form the latest move – to Nottingham, a mere four months ago – was decided pretty much on the spur of the moment, I’d been offered a job and the boy had been made redundant so we thought we’d try a change of scenery. Unexpectedly it was a bigger adjustment than I’d been expecting, somehow I’d become settled whilst I wasn’t looking. The job I left behind was one I loved and only left because it was made very clear to me that, however hard I worked and whatever additional responsibilities I took on, I’d never be able to earn a promotion. Actually leaving was heartbreaking but after months of frustration it was the only choice. Similarly, I cried the day we left our little house in Leamington – it may have been too small and possessed of an extremely irritating landlord but it was the boy and my first home together. For someone who claims to thrive on change all of this upheaval was harder to deal with than I remembered…

I feel like I belong everywhere and nowhere all at once – home is where my boyfriend and my dog are, where my family are, where my friends are. I could be happy anywhere – a big city, a small town, the side of a mountain – which is a blessing in many ways. At the same time part of me wants to find a place where I can put down roots, knowing that I’m not going to have to pack my life into boxes and deconstruct all my bookcases yet again. Is that part of getting older or will I still get the urge to gallivant around the country when I’m 60?

30 Day Music Challenge: Day Fifteen

Day 15: A Song That Describes You

Seriously? Seriously?! A song that describes me. Well I have absolutely no idea about that oneI tend to get ridiculously self-deprecating when describing myself therefore I’m seriously tempted to just pick Fat Bottomed Girls by Queen and have done with it! However I’ve taken the rest of this challenge reasonably seriously so I’m going to at least make the effort to pick something sensible…
Where to start? Well, my middle name is taken from The Beatles song Michelle but as that’s a) not my name, b) a love song and c) half in French I’m not sure it says much about me personally… Someone once told me that I made them think of the Nine Inch Nails song Closer as well but I’m really not going to dwell on that. In desperation I did a little twitter poll which amused my family for an entire evening without getting us very far – however their suggestions are listed below for amusement value:
  • Loser – Beck (thanks to my big brother for this one)
  • She’s So Lovely – Stevie Wonder (a much nicer suggestion from my dad)
  • Girls Just Wanna Have Fun – Cindi Lauper
  • Sweet Child O’Mine – Guns’n’Roses 
  • Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves – Aretha Franklin
The song I’ve chosen is however a totally different song – it’s called  I Hope You Dance by a country singer called LeeAnn Womack. It’s somewhat of a family anthem – my mum played it to me when I was about 15 and said that it was the advice she’d give me for living life. I think I probably scoffed in typical teenage style but then I listened to the words.  It doesn’t so much describe me as describe the attitude I try to have, particularly when faced with things that put me outside my comfort zone – I’m sure I don’t always succeed but I do try. Taking a chance on  anything can be really difficult but if I hadn’t taken so many leaps of faith, particularly over the past four years, my life would be immeasurably poorer. So go crazy, do something that makes you a little bit scared and don’t forget to dance – you’ll feel better for it, I always do!

“I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat
But always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leave you empty handed
I hope you still feel small
When you stand by the ocean
Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens
Promise me you’ll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance
I hope you dance

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Living might mean taking chances
But they’re worth taking
Lovin’ might be a mistake
But it’s worth making
Don’t let some hell bent heart
Leave you bitter
When you come close to selling out
Give the heavens above
More than just a passing glance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance”

30 Day Music Challenge: Day Thirteen

Day Thirteen: A Song That Is A Guilty Pleasure

This question made me laugh out loud – as hard as I try to expand my musical horizons a lot of my music collection is made up of guilty pleasures! do like to listen to a lot of rubbish music – it ranges from 80’s cheese to 90’s dance to Lady Gaga. And although I say rubbish I don’t mean it – in my opinion there’s actually a lot of room in the world for bouncy, happy mainstream pop. For example, my friend Ness wrote a brilliant post yesterday about S-Club 7’s Reach – a song which I defy anyone not to sing and dance along to, however much of a hipster they think they are! 
This leads into a more important theme actually and one of the most useful things I discovered when I went to uni was that being “cool” didn’t matter anymore. I’ve never been that sort of girl anyway – at secondary school I sported braces and a haircut which made me look like a boy… Even when I lost the braces and discovered a decent hairdresser I never particularly fit in. Then I went to Durham and fitting in ceased to matter – being myself was just fine! Dancing to S-Club 7 one night and Metallica the next night was perfectly acceptable along with dressing like the abominable snowman, getting over-excited about castles and not doing sport. 
Being an adult (supposedly) and living in the real world isn’t the same – people are ridiculously judgemental about other people’s appearances, taste in music or political views but I do find it a lot easier not to care these days. The benefits of a liberal education perhaps? Or just that I am lucky enough to still have a lot of people in my life who are good enough to love me the way I am – and who will still talk to me when I admit to still liking Britney Spears. Perhaps that’s appropriate actually – Britney is a prime example of the damage that our image-obsessed society can cause however I can’t help but like her music. So have a little bit of Stronger as my guilty pleasure du jour
“You might think that
I won’t make it on my own
But now I’m

Stronger than yesterday
Now it’s nothing but my way
My loneliness ain’t killing me no more
I am stronger

Than I ever thought
That I could be, baby”