Musings of a 21-year-old

That’s right, I made it to 21 without any unwanted pregnancies, flunking out of school, or giving up on everything and becoming a full-time dog walker (though let’s be honest, the latter is something I’d be very happy to do).

21 has always been a big milestone for me. It seems the big ones in my mind were always the ones that are featured a lot on TV or have a lot of meaning attached to them, such as Sweet Sixteen in America. I thought when I reached 18, the legal drinking age in the UK, that would be the moment I became a ‘proper adult’. When I turned 18, I realised that was a load of bollocks and looked forward to not being a teenager anymore, whilst at the same time being absolutely terrified that I wouldn’t be a teen anymore.

So 21 was the age I had in my mind. Me turning 21 would mean that I would have finished university. Turning 21 would (hopefully) mean that I knew what I wanted to do with my life. 21 was going to be the new me, the adult me, the improved me, the me that has her shit together and goals written down on a checklist that I would tick off each day.

Well, in all honesty past-me and readers of this blog, 21 pretty much feels like 20. That’s the problem with birthdays; you big them up so much, have a countdown until the day whilst your excitement grows and grows like some great fire, only to be snuffed out on the anti-climatic day when you look in the mirror and think: I look no different than yesterday. Because your birthday is not the day that everything clicks into place. It is not the day where you feel like an adult or the day that your goals are all met or that you feel so much older than you did the year before. Those things happen in the in-between. I didn’t get more confident when I hit 20; it happened somewhere between my milestones of 18 and 20 without realising. I didn’t figure out what I wanted from life as soon as I turned 21, and I doubt I’ll fully know what I want from life if I just muse about it to a computer screen.

Birthdays in general make me muse more than often, and I wonder if it’s due to the fact that, as the years go on, events like birthdays, easter, christmas and other celebrations slowly start to lose their magic. All through childhood I wouldn’t be able to sleep the night before Christmas, or my birthday, imagining all the fantastic and wonderful things that were a few mere hours away. The next year is exciting and filled with the unknown, which only made it more exciting. Yes, the next year is still filled with the unknown, but it’s about as exciting as it is terrifying.

Still, I’ve made it this far – which in retrospect, isn’t even that far at all – so I might as well keep going and hope that, along the way, I live my life the way I want to. You’ll hear about, regardless.

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Where I am Now

It has happened – I have finally got to the point where I can say that I have finished university and my time in education (unless I’ve failed my final exam and messed up all my coursework so will have to do retakes in August, but hopefully that won’t be the case). Finishing university has always been a huge milestone for me, and tied up with the fact that I have never not been in education, it’s a big one. When you’re in school, you dream of the day that you won’t have to be in school any longer. No more exams, no more essays, no more petty childish drama – and pretty much all three happen still in university. I say ‘you’, which realistically is a big assumption to make on behalf of everyone reading this, but what I’m trying to grasp at is that feeling of anticipating the next stage of your life. I, for one, had big expectations of what I would be like once I’d finished in education. I had hopes, dreams, and plenty of those pesky assumptions which I’m now having to reflect on.

The first big thing is independence, which in essence I have achieved in terms of living away from home during university months, doing my own washing, cooking etc etc. Yet when I was younger independence did not look like going down to tesco just before it shuts because you needed to put a wash on and have run out of tablets. It did not look like eating the same meal for three nights in a row because you want to save money. It did not like forgetting simple things every now and then because you’re tired, such as hot ceramic dishes do not mix with cold water. I know, I know, it’s all about living and learning and growing and bettering yourself, but that mantra does no good at 1am drying your bed sheets with a hairdryer because you forgot about the wash you put on.

One big thing I always thought about was what job I would have – and the dream job has changed many, many times. Becoming an author (and by that I mean a good author who has people who like their books so much that they can making a living out of it) has always been a dream job, but there are always others that pop in and out of my mind. First I wanted to be a professional horse rider, then a pop star, and then deciding I wasn’t a good enough singer so a songwriter. Recently, the dream is to be in publishing, and I certainly expected to have a job lined up and ready once university was finished. Yet, here I am, and all those hopeful publishing applications I sent out have been returned with a ‘thanks, but no’. You’re always told that you go to school, then to university, then you’ll get a job – but nobody really talks that much about the in-between. When applying for universities, no one told me about how, even if I do well and get a great degree, a job won’t be there waiting for me. They didn’t tell me that even if you work your arse off not only at your degree but at applying for jobs, it won’t necessarily mean you’ll get one either.

With the job dreams also come the social life dreams, and I always assumed that by the time university was over I would be in a committed, happy relationship with someone who could celebrate with me over all those job offers I had coming in. Again, Little Miss Assumption over here, but when I was younger that was what I thought was the most important. It was like a list of items to take the Life Goals Supermarket, and you would tick each one as you went along. Job? Tick. Relationship? Tick. What else was needed?

I knew I was going to forget a big one, and that is the dream I’ve had for a long long time, probably starting at about 10 years old – and perhaps the saddest one when I look back at it. What I wanted all through secondary school was beauty. And isn’t that just awful? Sure, sure, we can just argue and brush it off by saying that society makes us try to value what we’re born with (looks, parent’s wealth, lack of both) over what we earn for ourselves (perseverance, patience, kindness). And sure, we can all stand around and say that no society, we will not be partaking in that thank you very much. But at the end of the day, when I would go home at 12 years old and look in the mirror, all I would see was acne, a big nose, un-styled hair, and chubby patches all over. I’ve spoken a lot about acne and appearances in the past and how I now feel more confident, but I’m still filled with the memories of standing in front of a mirror and wishing that there were no mirrors in the world so I wouldn’t have to look at myself. Wishing that there was some way to exchange your face for a new one. Wishing that there was a way that meant I could live my life without anyone looking at me. And I wished for that day in the future, the day when I finished school for good, when puberty should have been and gone and left me unblemished, with clear smooth skin, great hair, and a body I was happy with. That was what was going to be my biggest marker of how far I had come.

But, as is the way of life, things didn’t exactly go to plan. Here I am, university finished, but just after the days of stress with my emotions all over the place and a few days of very hot weather, I’ve had another skin breakout. I have red spots dotted around my face like some flicked paint at me with a toothbrush. I’ve got black heads on my chin and nose, and something resembling Mount Etna on my neck. You stare in that pesky mirror and it’s pretty hard to think that you haven’t come that far at all.

Then I have to slap myself for being so melodramatic. Because I am not that twelve year old girl thinking that people won’t like me just because I have a spot on my chin. Like, jesus christ Eleanor, it’s not the end of the world. Yes, it sucks. Yes, it kinda hurts when you poke it, but it’s just a spot. There’s the magic of makeup if you’re feeling super downhearted but other than that, your face and your looks do not define you. Twelve-year-old me hardly knew how to write paragraphs, and here I am having just written a 10,000 word dissertation on a topic I love on top of my various other coursework and exam revision. On top of that I have worked every single weekend for almost two years now so that I can keep living in London and support myself. On top of that I have been going to different opportunities to make contacts and get work experience. And on top of that I’ve surrounded myself with friends who I love (and who assure me they love me back when I’m not being so ridiculously melodramatic).

And so, like most of these blog posts go, this has turned from reflection to being a self-affirmation that whilst all my hopes and dreams haven’t exactly come to pass, I’ve realised that they’re allowed to change a bit. And who knows, maybe one day I’ll be a bestselling author telling the story of how she almost let a pimple keep her from chasing her dream, and everyone will say, “Man, she was a melodramatic child”.

Issues of Self-worth

Every time someone expresses an interest or intends to do something similar to what I wish – be it writing a book as millions of us (wish to) do, go into publishing, or even something as simple as taking the same class as me in university or going to the same kick-start your career talk – I deal with what I original shrugged off as unnecessary envy. It’s that strange, irritating mix of envy and possessiveness I suppose, but promoted by fear rather than selfishness. It’s the kind of feeling that washes over you and you immediately fight against it, plagued with guilt for those unnecessary emotions. It takes me a while each time to actually go through why I feel this possessiveness over certain things, to understand what the real root of the issue is – and that is my own fears and anxieties on inadequacy.

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Take writing a book, for example. If a friend of mine says to me that they plan/hope/have an idea for writing some great fantasy novel or modern take on an ancient classic, I’ll of course smile and say something along the lines of “that’s great, so awesome, good luck, I also have that dream” with a self-deprecating laugh and shrug on the side. Yet inside, I’ll have this voice screaming “but that’s MINE”, as if only I can have that dream. Completely ridiculous, when you consider the vast amount of people who write and want to write books.

In actuality, it’s not because other people want to write books that makes me want to act like a petulant child. It’s really due to a fear that if they do the same thing that I want to do, it will mean that mine won’t be as good – as if another person wanting to write a book will immediately make mine so much worse, and really why bother if every extra author-hopeful makes my own work worse and worse?

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It’s not just fear of competition, although that does play a huge part, but mainly the complete anxiety that I, along with what I do or create, just isn’t good enough. But I assume that’s a problem that we all have, in some way or another, that we are just not good enough. That our self-worth and self-esteem aren’t soaring high in the clouds, but instead are under several layers of concrete and emotions and some other powerful metaphor.

And, in an almost-but-not-quite ironic end, I have no idea how to wrap up this post or add in a hopeful note in a way that seems adequate enough for me. Instead, I’m feeling a bit like a certain Game of Thrones character only hoping to one day know better, or at least feel better about my own achievements.

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Moving on to 2017 [Part 2]

The phrase ‘New Year, New Me’ makes me feel hopeful as much as it does annoyed. First off, it implies that the 1st of January is the only time that you can make a change for the better. It also disregards everything you’ve done in the previous year, marking it as unworthy of the upcoming new you – as if you’re a computer updated with a new version of an old system. I’ve so become a bit disenchanted with the idea of set resolutions that just aren’t achievable. I’d far rather say ‘I want to try to eat less sugar’ rather than ‘I won’t eat chocolate all month’, because that’s just taunting you and setting you up for failure. Having a resolution, or even a goal, that isn’t just a box to tick but is a graph to map your continued progress.

With that in mind, let’s look at what my goals  were last year and whether I’ve made a move towards them.

  1. Be happy, be positive, keep going. — This is a bit of a tricky one, as it has become very apparent to me over the last year that chanting ‘be happy’ will not simply make it so. And, as we all learned from the film Inside Out, sometimes you need to let your emotions play out as they will for an overall balanced mind. For the most part I was able to remain positive when faced with certain situations with friends, but whilst this translated to them on the outside it by no means was concrete for me on the inside. I mistook being happy for forcing happiness, and that’s something I can definitely try to work on.
  2. Write more, contact agents. — This didn’t go to plan, though I did pitch a book idea to an agent who liked it at YALC. I want to keep writing, but university work alongside trying to break into publishing is definitely taking precedent at the moment. Writing has always been my outlet and I love it still, but although in the long run I’d love to have a book published, for now I’m happy with just writing for me.
  3. Read 50 books. — Finally, a goal I can happily say was completed. I was overjoyed that I was successful in this, yet again at times it was stressful and that’s something I want to make sure I reduce in the next coming year. As I’ve mentioned on my other book-related blog, I’ve set myself 17 book challenges for 2017 and on Goodreads have said I want to read 40 books. So whilst there is still an element of challenging myself, it leaves it slightly open for me to deviate and still enjoy it without it causing anxiety.

 

So when thinking about my goals for 2017, I wanted to focus on my own well-being as a goal to work on rather than measuring something by an achievement. My goals for 2017 are as follows:

  1. Prioritise self-care. — This year is going to be tough, what with my final year of university, turning 21, and entering the world of jobs, taxes, and leaving the bubble of education. I want to do all I can to help my body keep going, which means everything from doing yoga a few times a week to making sure I don’t gorge on too much sugar when fighting anxiety or sadness. This also means doing things that make me happy, so although I’ll try to keep healthy some days, other days I want to do something like baking to lift my mood. I want to try and make sure I don’t stare at a screen before trying to sleep, and read instead. Small changes to help in the long run.
  2. Speak up, don’t sit quiet. — There have been instances this year when I’ve been so nice people just assume I don’t get upset. I want to be able to voice my feelings more, whether that’s to friends or colleagues in rough work situations.
  3. Get out there. — A bit vague, I know, but I want this as my 2017 mantra. I want to make more time for writing and, if I decide it’s still what I want, pursue it. I want to do well in my career and keep trying, even when I get rejected or find it difficult to find anything. I want to go to new places, try even more new things, see my friends, and live a life full of sunshine as well as rain.

I should probably stop now before the metaphors completely take over. All I can say is this:

2017, you’re on.

Room for Improvement

It’s unsurprising that there a very few people who feel 100% happy with themselves – be that of their physical appearance, mental state, achievements, wealth, and more. With unfair media representations, everyone has expectations which are often unattainable. Personally, I’ve struggled with feeling happy in my own skin, as mentioned in several posts(see here and here and here), but over the past few years I’ve been able to feel more confident about my work achievements and, every now and then, I feel better about my looks.

However, there is always room for improvement – or, at least, that’s what my mind tells me. It just doesn’t matter where I get to, I’m still making comparisons with everyone I see. Why can’t I be as effortless as her why do I have acne why I am I podgy in really inconvenient places why why why. 

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It can be a pretty nasty cycle to get stuck in, looking at everyone else and wondering why they are all so much better than you in completely different ways. But I came across some inspiring quotes – probably discovered through late-night scrolling on the internet – that gave me a bit of a kick up the arse. Instead of just wallowing in self-pity, why not actually try to do something about it?

Some things have quick remedies. For example, I hated the fact that my heels were so rough with dry skin. One trip to lush to buy a foot scrub and some lotion, I had one less problem to obsess over. Earlier on in the year, I was panicking about my future, but after sending several emails and spending a couple months in sheer panic, I secured an internship.

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Now I’m onto physical appearance, and that’s a bit more tricky to deal with. I decided that I wanted to be leaner and fitter, rather than thinking about weighing less because focussing on my weight just depresses me more than anything else. For some people looking at weight helps them focus and gets them motivated, whereas for me I see that number, crawl into bed, and eat some crappy food to try and cheer myself up – which really doesn’t help the initial problem.

At the beginning of this year, I started doing yoga in an effort to do some exercise during the week and although I don’t always manage to fit it in (sometimes due to being busy, other times due to sheer laziness), it has helped me a lot. Now entering the new year, I’m debating between starting up running or joining a different sports society, so we’ll see how that goes. To try and help the rest of the ‘podgy in inconvenient places’, I’m trying to eat slightly healthier from here on out. Normally I’m not bad with what I eat, but I could probably do with eating some better, nutritious meals to help my body out.

So, yes, ‘room for improvement’ can be a bit of a risky mantra, especially as it implies that you are never perfect, but who the hell is perfect? Striving for better is hopefully going to do more good than harm, so we’ll see if this new regime manages to stick. Though I’m sure that serving of chips and mayonnaise I had yesterday doesn’t really help (it’s ok, I had a really healthy breakfast to balance it out – I mean, that’s how healthy eating works, right?).

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