Sunday, 28 September 2014

Who am I?

Who am I?!

This is a bold and baffling question.  The kind of thing that keeps people lying awake at night staring at the ceiling wondering if they'll ever know the answer (well I hope so anyway, it had better not just be me!).  

It starts to creep up on us in childhood, although at that time we're barely conscious of it.  After the charming innocence of our early years and the blissful lack of self awareness of that time in our lives, we all start on the long journey of trying to find our place in the world.  Trying to figure out what makes us unique, special and interesting. 

As we enter our adolescence we start experimenting with different friendship groups, new kinds of music, our own choice of (usually awful) clothes and so on, trying to understand what we're all about and what we stand for.  My teenage years are a graveyard of embarrassing mistakes, disgraceful behaviour and monumental stupidity.  It's amazing I'm still here to tell the tale and, frankly, incredible that I'm even considering it.  I rarely ponder on that time in my life (and for good reason!) but here's a glimpse just for you into those terrifying first years of trying to find out who I was...

At the age of 15 I was still hanging around with the same group of friends I met aged 11 on my first day of secondary school.  We would pass each other notes in assembly, frequently wet ourselves with laughter, and get in trouble for talking during lessons.  A typical weekend for us involved shopping in Miss Selfridge, messing around in the park, and having sleepovers where we'd eat pizza, watch Keanu Reeves films and talk about boys even though we all had braces and didn't know any!  Our soundtrack to all of this was a diverse selection of Alanis Morissette, Abba and Five.

I clearly remember speaking to my best friend at the time on the phone one night after school (I, like all teenage girls, seemed to spend endless hours on the phone every night talking to the same people I'd been with all day).  In this conversation we decided that our lives were 'sad' and we needed to become 'cool' and so began our effort to 'get a life' and become the awesome people we knew we could be.  At that point we actively ditched most of our friends and attempted to worm our way into the in-crowd - mainly consisting of people I wouldn't hang out with now if you paid me.  We started going to dodgy house parties (or 'gatherings' as we called them - dear god), getting drunk on 'alcopops' and getting off with random people.  I made the excellent decision to get my nose pierced.  Then I dyed my hair purple and paraded around in a lovely t-shirt that had the words "Barbie is a Slut" emblazoned across the front.  

My poor parents had to put up with a lot of crap from me.  On more than one occasion my mum had to drive to questionable parts of London to scrape me off the pavement outside some revolting drinking establishment (you know, the kind that serves 16 year olds) where I was vomiting up the 4 bottles of K Cider I had drunk whilst hanging around with weird people I would now cross the street to avoid.  I started smoking (I thought it was disgusting but figured it made me look cool so what the hell!), brought goths and other unsavoury characters over to our house, and would often stay up until 3 in the morning listening to Radiohead on full volume in my bedroom whilst crying and writing a load of rubbish in my diary.  

Oh. dear. 

And that's not even the half of it.  It actually gets worse, but the rest is too dreadful and humiliating to even consider putting in writing.  

Despite the tragic cringe factor of the brief insight I have given you into my 'lost years' the story nicely demonstrates how difficult and awkward it is taking your first steps to becoming your adult self.

It was a relief to everyone, especially me, when I emerged from my teenage years unscathed (just) and decided to set off on my global travels in a bid to 'find myself' on a beach in Thailand.  Having now backpacked around Thailand no less than four - yes four! - times in search of myself I can save you loads of time and categorically say it's not the right place to look.  Neither is Bali, or Brazil, or Nicaragua, or any of the other exotic places I have been to around the world in search of my elusive 'true self', although I did have a huge amount of fun in all of these places.

At university, and during my early 20s, I was still playing around with my identity trying to work out what kind of person I wanted to be.  I had the time of my life meeting loads of great people and really started to grow in confidence.  I experimented to my heart's content, fell in love, had some crazy adventures, and finally started to feel like myself.  

At last, the real Celia was unfolding.

Since that wonderful time in my life I have continued to grow and change but I'm still very much like the girl I became at university.  However, I still don't feel totally sure of my identity or the answers to some of the big questions in life.  Where am I going?  What am I doing?  Who do I want to be?  Am I adding value to the world?  Does my life count for something?  Am I a good person?    

Recently I talked with two of my close friends, Laura and Sam, about the contradictions within each of us and how confusing our chameleon like behaviour is for us.  Just as you think you're getting to a place where you know who you are and what you like, you go and do something that's the complete opposite of all that.  

I crave time on my own but also relish spending lots of time with others.  I've always loved classical music but I feel very happy jumping around a hot sweaty dance floor in a club.  I'm really lazy but enjoy being busy and even exercising when I actually bother to do it.  I can be quite outdoorsy when I want to be and have been on some incredible exotic treks in Costa Rica and Peru but you'll often find me spending a whole day curled up in bed with a book.  Eating delicious healthy food gives me so much pleasure but I love tucking into a McDonalds from time to time.  Travel is one of my biggest passions but when I'm away I often miss the comforts of home.  I'm a happy, positive, optimistic person but I have low days when I feel emotional and lost.  I'm strong yet I feel incredibly weak at times.  I'm confident but I constantly question myself...... 

One thing I am sure of this that I'm full of contradictions and it's really annoying! 

Do these contradictions mean I have a totally confused identity?  Or do they make me a more interesting person?  I suppose this behaviour is indicative of the stage of life I'm in now - my early 30s.  I've just left behind the madness of my 20s and am entering the adult world of marriage, home ownership and starting a family.  My life is changing and I am too.

So back to my original question; who am I?  

Well in my own typical contradictory style I would say I still don't really know who I am, but I also feel like I know myself better than I ever have. 

I am many things.  I am the sum of all my experiences.  But most of all, I am a work in progress...

Monday, 22 September 2014

Escape the City internship: lessons learned (part 1)

The Startup MBA course @ The Escape School (which also happens to be my workplace!)

"I saw that my life was a vast glowing empty page 
and I could do anything I wanted." [Jack Kerouac]

I adore this beautiful quote from one of my favourite authors Jack Kerouac.  His awesome book On The Road was one of the first adventure stories I read as a teenager, around the same time my own passion for travel and adventure was ignited.  After spending the weekend on a fantastic intensive entrepreneurship course the quote perfectly expresses how I'm feeling; inspired and hopeful, and bursting with ideas and personal insights. 

The Startup MBA covers all the basics of launching your own business and is run by Founder Centric in conjunction with The Escape School.  We covered a wide range of topics including; idea generation, business model design, tech businesses vs. real world businesses, finding your first customer, funding, the entrepreneurial career path and loads more...  I found it all fascinating!

It's no secret that I yearn for a life where I'm in charge of my own time and my own workload.  I would LOVE to be my own boss and create a sustainable business doing something I'm passionate about.  Something that would allow me to use my favourite skills whilst adding value to the lives of others.  A business that would enable me to have fun, do exciting things, and collaborate with interesting people, whilst delving into the topics that fascinate me. 

I often day-dream about creating my own brand that really reflects my personality.  I find it thrilling to think about having a colourful website, quirky business cards, a cool logo and so on.  However, I have zero desire to manage a team or start a large company with an office to run and big overheads.  In my fantasy I'm a location independent 'solo-preneur' or 'creative entrepreneur' where I work from my beautiful home office and call all the shots.  I can work in my PJs, finally get a dog who will sit at my feet all day, say "no" to things I don't want to do and just generally live life on my terms.  In this fantasy life all I need is a laptop, phone... 

Oh, and a GREAT BUSINESS IDEA!  And this is where it all sort of falls apart for me.  

On the Startup MBA course most participants came with a business idea in mind which they used as the basis for all the exercises we did.  Annoyingly I didn't really have a specific business idea to test beyond some kind of vague dream of becoming a pro-blogger / creative type / cookery expert / photographer / interior stylist / professional luxury hotel reviewer....... confused much?!?!  

I think I need to lie down.

I have always been very unsure about my place in the world, my destiny, what I am meant to be doing with my life, my perfect career.  And I've obsessed about this for years.  Frankly it's exhausting!  

I'm a real 'jack of all trades'; quite good at many things but not really outstanding at any one thing.  I know a little about a lot of subjects.  I'm your classic generalist.  I read fairly widely, with interests ranging from positive psychology to design to health to business.  So, it's about time I worked out how to use this trait to my advantage rather than stressing about the fact I don't have one clear passion or one core skill that's screamingly obvious to me and everyone I know.

One of the things I hoped for when I started my internship at Escape the City is that the experience would help me figure all of this stuff out and suddenly understand what I'm all about.  I was confident that exposure to a great team of people, educational events, and the inspiring Escape community would give me that elusive light-blub moment of clarity and help me answer the age old question: "what should I do with my life?!".

Sadly this hasn't happened!  However, I have learned many valuable lessons during my internship so far.  Possibly the most important of these is to stop waiting for 'the answer' to hit me like lightning.  Instead, the most realistic pathway to my future life is the 'gradual epiphany' (yes, I'm aware this is an oxymoron!) whereby a series of insights and learnings all start to make sense over time and from this emerges greater clarity of who I am, what excites me and what I'm good at. 

I now understand that passions are made not found.  In other words, my passions are not waiting under a rock for me to stumble upon them one day - they will emerge when I start following my heart and my instincts and living more authentically.  

"You don't have to have 'found your calling' in order to do stuff that you enjoy.  Once you take away the pressure of asking "is this what I really want to do with my life?" you make it much easier to take on new ideas, opportunities and challenges.  If you give yourself a break for not having it all figured out yet the world can seem like a much more exciting place." (extract from The Escape Manifesto)

So, I'm starting to grasp that creating my ideal life will most likely happen as a result of giving myself the freedom to experiment with lots of different career paths, lifestyles, ideas and projects.  No amount of reading personal development books, going to inspiring lectures, or navel gazing is going to help me uncover my true self.  

I can only do that by trying to just be myself, every day, in all that I do.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

How it feels to marry your best friend

"I do!"

Exactly a year ago today, on Friday 13 September 2013 I married my best friend and love of my life, Christopher.

We met in our first year of university in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, way back in 2002 when we were just 18 and 19 years old.  Rory, a mutual friend of ours, introduced us on a night out at the student's union.  Our first meeting was fairly unremarkable; there are no tales to tell of our eyes meeting across a crowded dance floor or fireworks going off as we spoke our first words to each other.  Sorry to disappoint!

As the first year of uni rolled on (one of the best years of my life so far without a doubt!) we got to know each other a bit better whilst just hanging out in a large group of mates, getting up to no good and having far too much fun to get any work done.  Like typical students we went to parties and out to clubs, and sat around at home watching movies, eating pizza not achieving very much.  By the end of the first year we were friends but nothing more.  

When the summer came we went our separate ways.  Chris went home to Lancashire to see his parents and start his summer job.  I went back home to London to earn some money temping in the City before heading off for a 3 week backpacking trip to Thailand on my own which ended up being one of the best travel experiences I've ever had. 

That summer we called each other a few times and chatted for hours on the phone, the way you only do when you're young and everything is so new and exciting.  God knows what we talked about but we were just taking our time getting to know each other and gradually starting to realise how much we 'clicked'. 

After my magical holiday in Thailand I came bouncing back to university full of renewed self-belief and with stories to tell of my tropical adventure.  I felt so good about myself and I remember radiating positivity and confidence.  On the first night of term the whole gang was reunited and a load of us went to the pub.  I remember seeing Chris there and sitting on his lap talking to him and his good friend Jim who was visiting from Edinburgh university (who ended up being Chris' Best Man!).  It was the first time I think we ever really flirted with each other and I remember lots of cheeky banter and us laughing hysterically at whatever we were joking about.  Little did I know it was the start of something that would change both our lives forever.

Over the next few months we became pretty much inseparable, and without even realising it I had found my new best friend.  We whiled away that autumn enjoying long, lazy afternoons in the pub talking for hours filling each other in on the past and dreaming about the future.  Going on nights out and dancing until dawn with our amazing group of shared friends.  It was a fun and wild time and we were loving it.

In November that year we went on a little trip up to Edinburgh to see Jim and this is where we finally had our first kiss!  It was only in that moment that I realised what had been right in front of my eyes for months and months - I was in love with my best friend and he loved me too.  

At first I was scared of making a commitment, but after a few weeks of navigating the tricky transition between being best friends and being a couple we settled into something that felt completely natural and right.  And so began the big romance of our lives.

Since getting together all those years ago we've spent our 20s having a crazy amount of fun, making mistakes, and trying new things.  There have been many happy experiences and also difficult times that really tested us as individuals and put stress on our relationship.  It certainly hasn't been all sunshine and roses but it's all been part of our story and I wouldn't change a thing.  

After 10 incredible years together, when I was 30 years old, Christopher finally asked me to marry him in the beautiful Atlas Mountains of Morocco.  And so began the next chapter of our lives together...

It feels so incredibly special to marry your first love.  Someone you knew as a teenager who has seen you grow and change into the person you are today.  We've shared some of life's big experiences; university, first jobs, first homes, travelling all over the world.  I remember his graduation day and his time at law school.  He remembers me passing my driving test and all my global adventures which separated us for months at a time.  He was there for me when my beloved dogs Jack and Rosy died.  He remembers our last two family homes in Dulwich and Surrey which we've now sold.  I remember when his parents were  together and I was there to help him pick up the pieces when they separated.  

All such significant life events, which if we'd only met now would have to be explained.  We would have years of catching up to do, years of life experience to fill each other in on.  There would be times in both our lives the other would never truly understand or appreciate.  

I love it that one day when we're old we'll be able to look back over our entire lives and share the memories together. 

I loved being engaged, I adored our beautiful wedding day with all my heart and I'm finding being married the most wonderful thing in the world.  Now almost 12 years since getting together we're celebrating our first wedding anniversary.  What a first year it's been!  Packed full of big life changes... I quit my corporate career (hurrah!) and started this blog which I'm loving creating.  We've been on an amazing honeymoon in Italy, and lots more holidays after that, to see some of our closest friends marry the loves of their lives in amazing locations like Sweden, France, Scotland and Greece.  Now we're planning to buy our first home together and thinking of getting a dog!  

Who know's what our second year of marriage has in store for us but I'm excited to find out.  Here's to my lovely husband and many more anniversary celebrations to come. 


The story of our wedding day in pictures... (all photos by the best wedding photographer in the world, John Alexander)

Friday, 22 August 2014

A new perspective on London and life

My favourite moment of the trip!  WOW!
This blog is all about living with a spirit of adventure and daring to try new things.  It's about finding ways to feel happier in day-to-day life and achieving my personal goals - one of which is to have more fun!  And so it was with this in mind that I recently tried two awesome new things. The first of these was going 'house hunting'.

Last weekend Chris and I spent hours and hours driving all around South East and South West London to get a feel for new areas of the city we aren’t familiar with.  Areas where we might, fingers-crossed, be able to afford to buy our first home together.  It was a completely eye opening experience.

One of the big things I took away from it was just how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful, safe and well located part of London already.  I’ve always loved the area where we live but seeing some less salubrious parts of my home city really highlighted how incredibly privileged we are to live in, what I now realise, is one of the best residential areas in this world class city of ours.  

Rather annoyingly we almost definitely can’t afford to actually buy a home in our much loved corner of London and I reckon it’s going to be difficult to try and fall in love with a more affordable area.  But try we must.  I'm sure I will be completely consumed by this topic over the next few months, so prepare for lots more posts on the crazy experience of house buying in London.

On Tuesday I had another, very different, opportunity to get a totally new perspective on London and appreciate the beauty and diversity of the city I call home.  I was lucky to be given a last minute place on a kayaking trip on the River Thames.  It’s not every Tuesday night you get to have an exciting adventure straight after work!

The trip was run by a really cool organisation which is totally up my street.  Secret Adventures arrange “special adventures in wild places” in and around the London area with the aim of “getting muddy, cold, wet and enjoying the sun, the stars and getting lost”.  Love it!  My friend Madoc started Secret Adventures using the vast online networking tool and now the group have rising 1,600 members all keen to escape the occasional mundanity of everyday life and try something fun and refreshingly different right here on their doorstep.  It’s a great way to meet people and challenge yourself a bit without too much hassle all whilst enjoying beautiful hard to access places.

This awesome trip saw us kayak roughly 3 miles through central London starting from Docklands (Canary Wharf) and finishing up at Bankside Pier and the Millennium Bridge.  Our floating adventure on London’s most famous stretch of water gave us a unique way to experience some of the capital’s incredible riverside landmarks, including; Tower Bridge, London Bridge, HMS Belfast and the Millennium Bridge.  Despite the fact that I’m incredibly unfit (something I must get around to changing one of these days!), and have never kayaked before, I absolutely loved it!  I joined the excursion alone but found it brilliant to hang out with a welcoming group of like-minded people and get outside of my comfort zone a little by removing the usual safety net of a friend to ‘hide behind’.

There were some lovely moments along the way where tourists strolling along the river bank, as well as people watching us from their amazing riverside apartments, all stopped to pause and wave at us.  I definitely managed to get back in touch with my inner child and access that sense of wonder you have when you’re young and everything feels new and exciting. The highlight for me was seeing a huge cruise liner sail past literally right next to us on the water then watching Tower Bridge lift to allow the ship to pass through (see pic at top of this post). Incredible!  The sun was setting as we made our way along the river and the unique view of London and the river underneath a pink and orange sky is something I won’t forget.

We finished the night with a well deserved hot meal and a few drinks at the lovely Swan pub next to Shakespeare's Globe theatre.  It was a truly memorable night and a brilliant ‘micro-adventure’.

Here are a few of my favourite pictures from the trip:

Canary Wharf, where our excursion began
Our little kayaking group preparing to set off
Exciting first glimpse of Tower Bridge and the Shard
Beautiful sunset
We made it!
The end of a perfect evening...

I'm so excited to try another Secret Adventures trip!  If you live in the London area why not sign up for one yourself?  

I'm planning to join another one soon so watch this space for updates or leave a comment below if you'd like to join me on one!  Next time it would be fun to go with a friend :)

Monday, 18 August 2014

Writers block

Recently I've been wrestling a bad case of writers block.  Or should I say bloggers block?? 

It's not that I haven't been inspired to write or that I'm struggling to think of ideas for posts - quite the opposite actually.  I've just been really lacking creative energy over the last couple of weeks and I'm desperately seeking some clear head space to allow me to write properly.

I'm just SO busy at the moment.  I can feel my mind jumping all over the place, with all my thoughts colliding so fast it makes my head spin.  I'm worried about all the usual things; money, work, the future, not achieving my goals....  Somehow I must find a way to quiet my mind, calm down and simply focus on one thing at a time. Because when worries are manically skipping around your head it's really hard to get anything at all done properly which ends up making you even more stressed out!

Although I'm loving my new job at Escape the City it does keep me very busy to say the least.  I've also been abroad quite a bit recently for various holidays and destination weddings (I'm not complaining!) so lately my feet have barely touched the ground.  Whenever I am actually at home (which is where I always write) I'm packing/unpacking, cleaning, catching up on admin as well as trying to have a social life. 

When I first started this blog I wasn't working at all so I could pour all the time I wanted into planning and writing posts and making the blog look pretty etc.  But ever since getting back to work in July I've been quite stressed trying to juggle all my commitments and I've noticed an uncomfortable feeling of continuous low level anxiety running through me.  Feeling anxious and stressed isn't a very good place to be mentally when I'm trying to work hard, achieve life goals and think clearly.  Especially when I'm trying to distill all of my current experiences and thinking into into engaging blog posts.  

Since starting this blog I've found that I really need to be in a certain frame of mind to feel like writing at all.  For me the ideal writing environment is at home on my own, feeling really chilled and contemplative, listening to my favourite music, possibly burning a lovely scented candle!  That is when I unlock my creative genius :)  

Unfortunately the reality lately has been dashing home after a long day at work, manically jotting down notes and ideas for various blog posts on my phone whilst crammed into a hot and sweaty tube carriage on the Northern Line.  Not exactly a dream environment for creative thinking!  But when I'm relaxed and focused I find my mind works so much more effectively and somehow I manage to thread together different quotes, experiences and ideas to form my ideal piece of writing.  

Another problem I've noticed popping up is that inspiration keeps striking me at the most inconvenient times!  I'll be in a meeting at work and a great idea will strike me but  I don't manage to get it down on paper before my brain forgets all about it.  Or I'll be walking home listening to music and daydreaming when suddenly I gain clarity on something that's been on my mind but then I don't manage to capture the fleeting thought before it drifts away never to be found again.  

The whole point of starting this blog in the first place was to give myself a place to reflect on everything I am learning and experiencing as I try to change my life for the better.  I didn't want the experience of trying to transform my career and make positive changes to pass me by in a blur of activity, barely taking time to notice how I'm feeling or what I'm thinking.  I also wanted to connect with others going through the same stuff who might 
be interested to follow my progress.  

I feel it's so important to keep in mind what this blog is all about and my motivations for starting it and keeping it going, plus my vision for what it could be one day.  I really don't want to put pressure on myself to churn out poorly thought out, rushed posts or stick to a rigid blogging schedule.  After all, this is mean to be fun!  But I do want to commit to it and keep going, even when it's hard or I'm not in the mood.

So here's my plan for the way forward:

·         Chill out about everything!!  Worrying never helped anyone achieve anything.  Ever.
·         Find a simple way to capture my thoughts at the time inspiration strikes.
·         Create time and space each week to write for my blog.  Keep time free in my diary like I would for any other important appointment.
·        Try to plan posts in advance wherever possible.
·         Keep exposing myself to new challenges, taking risks, and generally immersing myself in the new world I am busy creating.  This will keep the ideas flowing.
·         And finally, give myself a break and remember how far I’ve come in just a few short months.

Until next time friends…

Friday, 25 July 2014

Everything is illuminated


I have just finished my first fortnight in my new job at Escape the City and I can't begin to express how amazing it is already.  I can literally FEEL myself changing inside.  It's so incredible how things can truly start to shift and transform when you set your mind to something and actually commit to taking real action towards achieving your dreams. 

Someone I admire once told me "Celia, to change you have to actually change".  

Now this may sound beyond obvious but I don't think I had ever appreciated this fully. Recently I finally accepted that to really change my life and become the person I have always wanted to be I would need to genuinely change my actions, behaviour, habits, thoughts, environment, social circle, mindset... EVERYTHING!  

All these years I have been so badly wanting to be different in lots of ways (thinner, prettier, more interesting, more intelligent, happier, passionate about my job etc etc) but I was never really willing to put the work in to change myself on a deep level.  Sure, I made superficial changes like moving jobs a few times (ok, lots of times!), hiring a personal trainer, reading positive psychology books and so on.  But I never really committed to actually transforming myself and my world to move closer to my ideal life and the self I truly believed I could and wanted to be.

Last year when I was getting ready for our wedding I did start to make some important behaviour changes and I had a fair bit of success with these.  I lost two stone by changing my diet and exercising more; I left a job that was draining my happiness and zest for life and took a new role which was more challenging and interesting; I felt inspired and so energised preparing to marry the love of my life... and all of this felt really good.  However, the problem with these changes was they were all focussed on one particular event in my life, on one particular day. Frustratingly I found that when our wedding day had passed I lost my motivation to keep going with these changes and keep working towards my goals.  I let my healthy habits fall by the wayside and I spent a while just drifting along without any goals or targets, feeling a bit lost without anything particular to work towards or inspire me.

That was how I ended up lost and stuck in my last job drifting further away from things that made me happy and forgetting how important it is to keep moving towards something positive and meaningful for me.  Thank god I woke up and smelled the coffee and got out of that rut and into the exciting phase of transition in which I now find myself.

In my first two weeks at Escape the City I have already done so many new things, worked with all kinds of new people and been exposed to lots of new ideas. Working in a totally new environment is a bit of a shock to the system and I have spent virtually the entire time 100% outside of my comfort zone.  I know, I know... that's what I said I wanted!  But my god it is so different talking about something versus actually experiencing or doing it!  I have felt uncomfortable, challenged, stupid, unsure of myself, out of place and just plain confused many times each day in my new role.  But it is SO exciting to have these feelings!  I have spent much of my career so far feeling a little numb inside - unchallenged, not afraid of anything, not really caring, not bothered about how I came across.  That is such a shame but I guess that was my intuition trying to send me a message loud and clear that I was doing totally the wrong thing for me.

When I finally quit my last job I had reached a point where I couldn't go on another day pretending to care about what I was doing when I so deeply DID NOT CARE.  I can't overstate how brilliant it feels now to feel like I actually care about my work, my colleagues, our community, our mission, our ethos.

It's a whole new world for me and I am totally loving it so far.  I've no idea where all of this is going to take me but I am SO excited to find out.  

More posts about my awesome internship at Escape the City coming soon...!

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

"It's never too late to be what you might have been." [George Eliot]

I have some BIG news to share. Last night I received a phone call that could impact my future in a major way. I discovered I've been successful in my application to become the first ever intern at one of my 'hero' companies, Escape the City!! 

Apparently they received over 80 applications for the internship and then interviewed 15 people. During my interview I was told that all 15 candidates "are seriously over-qualified" for the position and it was going to be tough deciding who to hire. Needless to say I wasn't exactly overflowing with hope that I would get any further in the process. A few weeks later I was surprised and thrilled to receive an email telling me I had made it down to the final 3 candidates. I seriously thought my journey would end there, that there was no way they would pick me. But I was proved wrong (yet again - must work on that self-belief thing!) when I got the call from Rob - a founding partner of Escape the City - telling me that out of all these people they have decided to pick ME for the job! I can honestly say that out of the many interview processes I've been through over the years never has it felt so utterly fantastic to be successful and get that job offer!

I first heard about the internship a couple of weeks after I quit my City job. My mother would say this is serendipity and I would totally agree! In all the years I've been a fan of their work they have never advertised for an intern before and very rarely take on new staff. However, incredibly, within a few weeks of quitting my job and taking a leap into the unknown, the most exciting career change organisation around announces they are looking for someone with my skill set and passions to join them as soon as possible! Coincidence? Luck?! I don't care! I'm just so pleased it's worked out this way.

It's funny to think that I have spent my entire career designing and delivering internship programmes for university graduates and now I'm going to be be intern! I've been given an opportunity I never thought I would have in life to benefit from the hugely valuable learning and intensive development experience that an internship offers and I am so grateful and excited! 

Last night it momentarily struck me that if only I'd the guts and been brave enough to shoot for the stars earlier in life, who knows where I could be by now? Why oh why, I wondered, has it taken me until the grand old age of 32 to finally step up, face my fears and DO something about my goals and dreams. But I know that kind of thinking is futile and spectacularly unhelpful. If I turn that negative thinking on it's head and look at my situation from a different perspective, it occurs to me that I simply wasn't ready to act on my intuition before now. I guess everything happens for a reason and for some reason, currently unknown to me, now must be the right time for me to be making these changes. 

On our wedding day last year, on Friday 13th September 2013 no less, my wonderful new husband made a great speech where he joked about us "embracing danger" in life by doing crazy things, such as choosing to marry on the unluckiest day of the century!! Joking aside, being offered this dream work opportunity has made me realise I really want to foster a braver attitude, more fearless outlook and more daring approach to my life. If I can just keep on pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone, as I have talked about on the blog a few times already, it excites me to think of the awesome life I might be able to create for myself.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

First things first

Ever since leaving my job at the beginning of May my creative right brain has been firing on all cylinders.  It seems that with each passing week, the more distance I put between myself and corporate life, the more 'me' I feel. I'm happier, more inspired, increasingly energetic, and have a general feeling of joie de vivre!  

There are a million things I want to do right now; so many ideas floating around in my head for projects I want to start, new ways to earn money or things I want to do that will make me feel great!  The problem with this level of excitement for lots of different activities is that inevitably I don't quite know where to begin.  Should I focus on my career transformation? Or this blog?? Should I make more time for creative passions like cooking and photography??? The list of ideas is very long and it's got to the point where I'm a little overwhelmed by it all.

So on the weekend when I was looking at my 'to do' list and freaking out a bit I decided simply to focus on first things first.  I asked myself, what is the one thing I can tackle now and prioritise above all my other projects that will have the greatest positive impact on me? 

When I looked at it this way it was really obvious I needed to keep my focus firmly on my mission to ditch sugar and eat clean, nutritious, energising food. And this really does take time and require a lot of commitment and mental energy for me! I know that when I eat well I feel much better physically and also mentally, and if I feel great this puts me in the best possible position to achieve all my other goals. So when I really think about it, it's pretty obvious my health should always be my #1 priority! Of course this is easier said than done :)

So despite having tons of other things I wanted to do on Sunday, I spent several hours looking through my favourite healthy cookbooks* (see below!), planning my meals for the week ahead and shopping for all the food. I then spent time in the evening cooking a delicious Thai chicken burger recipe and baking spiced sweet-potato muffins from the Gwyneth Paltrow book. I also started a healthy recipe board on Pinterest (I am OBSESSED with Pinterest!) so I can always get healthy meal ideas when I'm in the supermarket without having to always plan in advance from my cookbooks.

Focusing on my commitment to dramatically reduce the amount of sugar and unhealthy food in my diet by planning healthy meals ahead of time really made me feel like I'd achieved something meaningful with my day. Probably much more so than if I had spent those hours doing lots of little bits from my to do list. Plus this means I have started the week feeling organised food-wise which I know will help me stay on track.

Now.... what shall I tackle next?! 


*My go-to cookbooks and resources for healthy recipe inspiration!

My Pinterest 'Healthy Food' pin board! (bear with me as I've only just started creating this) 

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Food diary: Moroccan slow roasted shoulder of lamb with pomegranate dressing

Picture of the lamb taken by my sis seconds before we devoured it all! 

One of my passions in life is cooking (and of course eating!) delicious food. Soon after graduating from university I did a month-long cookery course at the wonderful Leith's School of Food and Wine in London. I couldn't cook very well before I started the course to say the least. At uni the first time I tried cooking for myself I baked the hell out of a chicken breast by leaving it in the oven for 45 mins, yuk! Some of my close uni friends took cookery courses in their gap years and had gone on to work as chalet cooks in the Alps whilst doing a ski season. They really enjoyed cooking and were pretty good at it and this inspired me to want to learn. 

Cookery school turned out to be so much fun and a really happy time for me. Since then I have often day-dreamed about becoming a chef but I think what's always held me back is that I simply enjoy creating meals at home and want to indulge my passion in private, not as a job. Somehow I just can't seem to get excited by the idea of working all hours, in a hot sweaty kitchen and getting screamed at by a head chef with an over inflated ego. 

Anyway!  Back to the lamb...

CJ proposed to me in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco so the country has a special place in our hearts and we also love the food from this region. Last year before our wedding we visited friends in Hampshire and they served a version of this lamb dish - it was so incredible I've been dreaming about it ever since.

Finally I got my chance last week when CJ and I had my family over for a lovely dinner at our flat; my mum, dad, sister and her boyfriend. It's a rare treat to get us all together at the same time these days so I wanted to make it a really special evening. We used some of our wedding presents for the first time (glassware, china etc) and the table looked beautiful (if I do say so myself!). 

All you need to do is follow the cooking instructions for Jamie's Incredible Roasted Shoulder of Lamb but make a Moroccan marinade instead of his rosemary and garlic one, and swap his dressing for the one below. 

This was so ridiculously easy to make as the whole thing just cooks itself, you hardly have to do anything! I served the lamb with baked carrots and kale on the side but you can choose any veg you like as a side dish. Enjoy! 


Marinade for the lamb:
  • 2 tsp each of of sweet paprika, ground cumin and ground coriander
  • 1 tbsp of Ras-el-Hanout (I use the Seasoned Pioneers one with little dried rose petals)
  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 fat garlic cloves crushed to a pulp
  • 100ml good quality virgin olive oil
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Slash the lamb skin as per Jamie’s recipe and then rub all over both sides with the marinade. Leave the lamb to sit for 1 hour in a roasting tin tightly covered in foil and then cook as per Jamie's recipe. Just before serving, drizzle the dressing all over the lamb then sprinkle mint leaves and pomegranate seeds all over.  They look like little jewels and really give the dish a 'wow' factor. 

Good luck!

Friday, 4 July 2014

One step closer to financial freedom

Once upon a time I thought nothing of having expensive hair cuts, buying designer make-up and luxury perfume, spending regularly in top-end high street shops (think Hobbs, L.K. Bennett, Reiss etc), and even putting entire holidays on my credit card. I managed to justify my spending as I was earning decent money in Financial Services and mistakenly thought it would be pretty easy to pay off my credit card when I was ready. But of course there never seemed like a good time to sacrifice my expensive monthly treats, or god forbid my much treasured holidays, and instead pay down some of my debt. Years rolled by and my debt simply grew. When I maxed out my credit card I just got another one. When that was maxed out I extended my overdraft etc etc... you get the idea!

I've always agreed with Mae West that "too much of a good thing can be wonderful" and unfortunately my binge spending goes hand-in-hand with my tendency to binge eat, drink and smoke. Not a pretty picture I'm painting of myself, I know!  

Not long ago it got to the point where my monthly credit card and other debt repayments were so high that I struggled to afford actual essentials. You know, things like food and rent! I had no savings, wasn't paying into a pension and was living hand to mouth. Inevitably I would spend most of my money in the first few weeks after getting paid so when it came to the last week before pay-day I would have zero cash to do anything at all which was so boring and incredibly stressful. I would also regularly go overdrawn on my bank account which would then incur a lovely £60 fine just to add to my woes. 

THIS WAS MADNESS!!! I even knew it was bad at the time but I truly didn't realise how incredibly stupid this behaviour was until years later when it all caught up with me spectacularly and I realised I was in way over my head as far as my debt was concerned. 

Thankfully I have married someone who is incredibly sensible and cautious when it comes to personal finance. Needless to say he was shocked and highly unimpressed when he discovered how bad it had got. During a very serious chat last year he verbally yanked my head out of the sand where it had been happily buried for about 10 years, and we agreed something major had to change - fast.

And so, in October last year I reluctantly but sensibly agreed to try sticking to an actual budget for the first time in my life. I handed all my credit cards over to my husband and haven't used them since. I completely stopped taking on any new debt and slowly but surely started to make a dent in the massive £15,000 I owed. It hasn't exactly been fun and I really miss being able to have a blow-dry to perk me up or splurge on new clothes every few months. However, I can honestly say I have never felt in better shape financially and that feeling of control and honesty is SO much better than the constant underlying stress I used to feel whenever I thought about my money situation. A huge dead weight has been lifted from my shoulders.

I am thrilled to say that on Monday I paid off £4,000 of credit card debt! This is very exciting for me as I'm now much closer to my end goal of being debt free before the end of 2015. Of course, if I can get debt free before then that would be amazing and I will do this if I can.  However, I have lots of other goals I'm working on too, including getting fit and healthy and also transforming my work-life. These two things are critical to my immediate happiness and are therefore a major priority for me so they come over and above debt repayment.

For example, I'd rather spend a little more money each week on delicious healthy food than save money on groceries by buying ready meals and fast food. I also recently forked out for a 28 day programme to help me quit sugar when I could have put this money towards debt repayment. But I'm confident that being healthy will make me feel far better in the immediate future than paying down a tiny bit more of my debt, so I made the choice.

I want to be sure not to fall into the trap (again!) of taking jobs purely for the high salary on offer. I'm now committed to prioritising career fulfilment and creating a more happy and fun life for myself instead of working to just to pay bills and indulge in treats to help me forget I don't enjoy what I do 5 days a week. So again, job satisfaction is a priority for me over and above debt repayment.

So here I am, 10 months on from starting my journey towards financial freedom. I still don't have a pension and I have a sizeable amount of debt remaining but I really, truly feel I'm well on my way now to reaching my target of getting, and staying, out of debt long term. And that feels so much better than any shopping spree ever could.