Tag Archives: success

QUALIFIED

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Hello, lovely reader!  How are you doing?

After an absolutely glorious run of preview performances, Tumbling After (the show I’m directing) is now ready to undergo some nips, tucks and general tidying before we take it to the Edinburgh Fringe.  I’d like to say an enormous, heartfelt, cuddly thank you to everyone who has contributed their time, money and energy in order to get this show together.  It has been and continues to be an absolute blast.

Putting on a show is a very demanding process, and it tends to rob you of free time (and clean clothes, sleep, a social life and verbal dexterity).  Now that previews are done, I’ve managed to catch up on most of these things, so I’m free to tell you all about my exciting new project: QUALIFIED.

I guarantee you that you could hand me my best friend’s CV and, apart from the name at the top, I wouldn’t recognise a single syllable of it.  This is because the things that we are most proud of, or that our friends know us for, are not necessarily the things that employers need to know.  Our CVs are not just edited descriptions of our lives: they are censored, trimmed and tarted up to make us seem like consummate professionals who’ve never experienced a moment’s uncertainty.  This is all fine for the world of work, but in real life we are so much more than the sum of our A Levels.

Real-life qualifications are definitely something to be proud of, but I don’t think they mean anything when compared with everything else we can achieve as human beings.  The love you show to people, the difficult situations you endure and the challenges you rise to meet are all integral to your identity, but how on earth do you fit them into “hobbies and interests”?  We’re qualified for all sorts of things that have nothing to do with work.

With that in mind, I have decided to start a series of interviews on this blog, asking people what they are most proud of in their lives.  Some of them will, I’m sure, be CV suitable – but I’m really looking forward to finding out about some of the less employment-relevant ones.  First up will be fashion designer and all-round wonder woman Cieranne Kennedy-Bell of CKB Vintage – look out for that interview on Friday.

I’d love to hear from people from all walks of life, so if you’d like to get involved with this project, please leave me a comment on this post and feel free to spread the word!

Have a gorgeous Thursday.  Your hair looks tremendous, by the way.

Growing Pains

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Happy Friday, lovely reader!  How are you?  Shall I stick the kettle on?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that we don’t know what we’re doing.  This applies to all aspects of life, including Zumba classes (left step right step turn step jump step trip over your own shoelace step) and the bigger questions like “where is my life going?”, “how do I find happiness?” and “will I ever achieve my goals?”

I had a small meltdown this week about those questions – although it turns out that Zumba is actually a lot of fun, and it’s ok to fudge your way through the trickier moves – and turned to a friend of mine who is in a similar position, i.e. in his mid-twenties with a passionate desire to succeed but no clear idea of how to do so.  When we boiled the issue down to its essentials, we decided that no one knows what they’re doing at our age, and that we’re not really supposed to.  This made me ask another scary question: “when are we supposed to know what we’re doing?”

We have all been brought up to believe that the older, wiser and taller people around us know what is going on: teachers, parents and older siblings have all made it clear to us that they can be trusted to know what they’re doing.  This led us to believe that one day we will know what we’re doing, too.  But when is this elusive day of understanding?  At what age should we be waking up and saying to ourselves, “I’m pretty sure I’ve got the hang of this ‘life’ thing now”?

I have friends my age (or thereabouts) who are teachers, home-owners, paramedics, married, producers, in possession of a pension plan, and even parents.  They are, as far as the world is concerned, sorted.  But internally they worry just as much as people who are unattached, students, renting flats, between jobs or between life ambitions.  In many cases, their external lives have little or no relevance to their internal persona.  My own mother, who has five grown-up children and a life-long teaching career, admits that she doesn’t feel like an adult most of the time.  (I can believe that.  For starters, her ridiculous sense of humour completely belies her actual age.)

So what hope do we have, if our apparently grown-up friends and actually grown-up parents do not think of themselves as sorted, respectable adults?  Are we doomed to feel a bit lost and uncertain for the rest of our lives?

The short answer is: yes.  The long answer is: yes, but that is actually a very, very good thing.  When we have everything that we want in life, we stop looking for anything else.  We stop pursuing new ambitions, pushing ourselves to achieve and chasing after our goals.  Not knowing what we’re doing is scary, but it also motivates us to keep looking, and to keep finding things to learn about and enjoy in the world around us.  Essentially, happiness and feeling ‘sorted’ is fine, but it doesn’t open your mind or make you grow.  Uncertainty, ambition and passion make you keep going.

It almost doesn’t matter whether we find the elusive feeling of knowing what we’re doing.  As long as we keep looking for it, we will be learning new skills, travelling to new places, meeting new people and trying to be the best possible versions of ourselves.  Pursuing that feeling is what shapes your attitudes and makes you a fascinating person, and if you really think about it, being interesting is much more important than being a ‘proper grown-up’.

Right, kettle’s boiled now.  Could you grab the milk out of the fridge, please?

“Are You Going To Do It Like That?”

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My favourite moment in Shakespeare In Love is when the players are rehearsing Romeo and Juliet, and one of them says a line in a silly, melodramatic voice.  Ben Affleck’s character Ned stops acting, turns to his colleague and asks “Are you going to do it like that?” in a voice dripping with disbelief and disdain.  Thinking about that moment always makes me laugh, except when it occurs to me just before I’m about to do something stupid.  At that point it makes me laugh, but also rethink my actions.

It would be wonderful to go through life doing everything graciously and well, but unfortunately we are humans and therefore unlikely to be able to maintain that sort of thing indefinitely.  The best we can aim for is being gracious and grown-up when it matters most, and even though I’m not sure how many of these I manage to do myself, here are a few key moments when I think Ben Affleck’s disdain might come in handy to prevent disaster.

  • Breaking up with someone: hard to do, but important to get right.  Breaking up with someone is about being respectful and considerate, not patronising or vindictive.
  • Being broken up with: equally difficult, and still about respect.  In this case, self-respect.  Your job as the broken-up-with party in a relationship is to occupy yourself with being a brilliant human being, not reducing yourself to a rejected mess.
  • Pursuing your passion: go for what you want in life, but do it well.  Work hard, don’t be bitter about other people’s success, and accept that you probably won’t be an overnight success story.
  • Losing: don’t be grumpy.
  • Winning: don’t be smug.
  • Talking about your parents: in most cases, our parents did the best job they knew how to do.  Even if they didn’t quite succeed, there’s no point dwelling on it.  You’re a grown-up now, and you can make yourself happy.
  • Watching television: don’t talk over the dialogue, don’t commandeer the remote and for heaven’s sake don’t force anyone to watch a reality television show.

Like I said, I’m not sure how many of these I actually manage to do myself.  The other thing about being gracious is that it’s a habit we have to learn over time, and hopefully knowing where to start – with life’s key moments – will help us to get there.  In the meantime, I’m going to put the kettle on.  Does anyone want a tea or coffee?

Shoulda Woulda Coulda

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Hello, you lovely thing!  How goes the world with you?

It is very tempting to look back on certain life situations with regret, annoyance or even anger.  We have all been known to look at past mistakes and wish that we had behaved differently, or that the outcome of certain circumstances had been different.  I am actually a big fan of regret as a motivator, but I think that our main mistake in these cases is a failure to look forwards.  Yeah, ok, we messed up – but it’s not the end of the world.  We can always do better next time.

Previous errors or foul-ups can be broken down into three productive facets, which (shockingly enough) are based on the “shoulda woulda coulda” principle.  We should have behaved in a certain way; we knew we probably would behave in another and next time we could behave in a third way.  For example, I should have gone to bed early last night because I’m off to catch a train very early today; I knew I probably would stay out chatting to my sister for ages; next time I have an early start I could make the effort to get to bed at a reasonable time.

The idea behind this little trio of approaches is to give ourselves a break and admit that, yes, we may not have handled a situation to the best of our ability, but we can always improve.  Just because you mess up once doesn’t mean that you’re doomed to do so over and over again.

For example: the last time you found out that your ex met someone new, you probably knew that you should have deleted them from your phone and Facebook.  You knew that you would get annoyed and rope your friends in to bitch about it with you, but next time you could not even notice it because you’re so busy being happy and successful without the ex.  Just a thought.

Or you might find that when a colleague lets you down or annoys you, you know you should talk to them calmly about it; being British you will probably smile with ice-cold politeness at them, but next time you could ask them what on earth is going on.  It could equally be that you should only stay out for one drink; you knew you would get stuck having a second or third, and next time you could just say no entirely.

Here’s the most important one: when we say we’re going to have a good time, we should, we would and we absolutely could just have a really bloody good time.  We are so susceptible to getting caught up in our own heads and worrying about the mechanics and the “well, you know what happened last time I wore this dress/drank red wine/went to that person’s house”.  Get rid of all of those associations and just enjoy yourself.

I really hope that this post has made some kind of sense.  I’m very tired right now…basically, I think you should enjoy your life.  Don’t get hung up on previous faux pas.  If you know what you should have done, will probably do and could do to get the best possible outcome, then you’re pretty much good to go.

Well, I’m off to Edinburgh.  You have an inordinately joyful Wednesday.

Play It (Again), Sam

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Hello, and welcome to Monday!  How’s everything going with you?  Did you have a nice weekend?

Today is a big day for me, because this afternoon myself and a lovely bunch of actors will start rehearsing for our Edinburgh Fringe performance of Chris is Dead.  We performed the same piece last summer at the Camden Fringe and had a brilliant time, so we’re all very excited about working on it again.

The thing about returning to a project or repeating an activity is that we put a lot of pressure on ourselves (and the project) to do well.  If things went badly the first time, we are determined to learn from our mistakes, but if things went well then we are wary of changing anything for fear that we lose the winning ingredient.  The elements of the production that have changed since the first incarnation of Chris is Dead are largely good things: this time we have an excellent time slot, a very central venue and some nice reviews to put on our fliers.  These are all great advantages, but in a way that makes us feel more aware of the pressure to do well.

I would love for this play to do well, but I’d also really like us to enjoy ourselves.  There’s no point in spending a huge amount of time, money and energy on something if you’re not actively going to enjoy it.  I think that it would be good for all of us to remember that it’s impossible to repeat things exactly, but that it is possible to enjoy them to a similar degree.  When you think about it, that’s the perfect combination, isn’t it?

This isn’t specific to theatre, of course: people who are wary of new relationships due to previous misfortunes may find a little voice in the back of their minds saying “why bother?  It’ll be exactly like last time.”  Someone moving house might secretly be determined that their new place will never be as good as the old, no matter how much nicer the actual building is, and someone who risked a rail replacement bus service once knows never, ever to do it again if they can possibly avoid it.

Comparisons between things in life are inevitable, but they add a layer of pressure and stress that we just don’t need.  Enjoying experiences and making the most out of every moment is a big enough challenge, so perhaps we ought to concentrate on that instead of worrying about predecessors, precedents or prerequisites.  Let’s just get rid of all the “pre”s, in fact.

So, disregarding everything that past experience tells you, get out there and have a brilliant Monday.  It could be the best day of the week.

4 Things We Shouldn’t Photograph

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Good morning, lovely reader!  How was your weekend?

One of my favourite things about my generation is that in twenty (ish) years, we will be able to tell our children anything they want to know about what our lives were like when we were their age.  Social media has become a sort of personal encyclopaedia of each user’s life: all of our memories, friendships, photographs and Buzzfeed quiz results are mere clicks away.

I particularly love being able to share photographs on social media, but for some reason I cannot get on with apps like Instagram – I just want a photo.  Why must everything be square and made sepia?  Photography really propels people around social media sites, catching people’s attention and storing their significant moments.  This is a marvellous and brilliant thing (although if I see any more images of flipping meals, which are always captioned with something horrendous like “baked beans for dinner lol I well love this particular type of phaseolus vulgaris innit #bakedbeans #Heinz4lyf #yolo”, I will probably scream).  Having said that, I think that there are some moments in life which are better left unphotographed – amazing, beautiful moments, but moments which should be allowed to go unrecorded.

1) Gigs
Let’s get this one out of the way nice and early: why do people record videos and take photos all the way through concerts?  LISTEN TO THE FLIPPING MUSIC OR GO HOME AND PUT ON THE ALBUM.  Of course it’s nice to have something to remember the gig by, but the photographs never come out how you want them to, and the videos are always rubbish.  Put your smartphone away and just enjoy the experience.  Maybe have a bit of a boogie as well.

2) Pyrotechnics
I was at a friend’s birthday party this weekend, which was a mini camping trip in a beautiful woodland half an hour outside South London.  We had bunting, a barbecue and a flipping great time.  We also had a camp fire, which is one of my favourite things in the world.  Although when you look around a camp fire or a firework display the faces of your companions seem warmly lit, photos of these joyful communal experiences never show as much clarity or illumination as you remember from the moment itself.  Best just to sit back and join in with the “ooh”s and “aah”s, then.

3) Split Seconds
Don’t you just love it when something hilarious or ridiculous happens without any warning?  Moments of sheer joy between friends, loved ones and strangers can be lifelong fond memories.  It would be great if we could relive them over and over again in HD quality, but inevitably we find ourselves saying “Oh, I wish I had recorded that!” and being left with just our memory of the event.  It does seem a shame, but then if we went around recording everything all the time, just in case something funny happened, we wouldn’t be properly engaging with the world around us.  Bizarrely, we would end up looking so hard for these moments that we’d end up missing them completely.

4) Anticipation
You can photograph a moment of happiness, or love, or success.  But we all know that sometimes the anticipation is even better than the event we are waiting for, and you can’t capture anticipation in an image.  You can’t visually explain that second just before you kiss someone for the first time, or the moment just before your team scores a winning goal.  Anticipation is very visceral as an experience: we feel it in strange physiological (as well as cognitive) ways, and it’s something that we should definitely just experience without trying to catch forever.  By its nature, after all, anticipation is fleeting (and hopefully followed by awesomeness).

Have a genuinely stupendous Monday.

Why Are We Waiting?

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Hello, reader.  How are you doing?  Excited about your weekend?  Oh good, me too.

Time is a tricky git, and it seems to speed up and slow down according to its own capricious will.  We have all fallen victim to this phenomenon: the last half hour at work on Friday feels like an eternity, but Netflix can take up an entire evening in what feels like seconds.

Some stuff just takes flipping ages for no good reason.  For example, going to bed.  In theory we should get tired, get into bed and fall asleep.  In practice, going to bed takes a lot of work: getting clothes ready for the next day, brushing your teeth, changing into pjs, taking make-up off, locking up the house, switching everything off, getting into bed, replying to the texts you forgot about earlier, swearing and getting back out of bed because you’ve left your phone charger in a different room, grumbling about your phone and demanding to know why it doesn’t know how to use less battery power if it’s so bloody smart, getting back into bed, setting your alarm for the next day and then not being able to fall asleep for ages because you’re sure you’ve forgotten about something.

The same sort of thing occurs when we are waiting for something good to happen in life: we feel that we have jumped through all manner of hoop-type obstacles and worked hard for a good end result.  This is particularly true when we are waiting for our degree results, or to hear back about a job.  We’ve done everything we were supposed to, so why are we waiting?  What is taking so flipping long?

When I left university and was a bit depressed about having no career to speak of as yet, and the months seemed to be dragging by with no hope of progress, my beloved friend Mario very wisely told me not to get bogged down by the situation.  His reasoning went thusly: first of all, pretty much everyone we knew was in the same position.  Secondly, when we look back on our post-graduation years as elderly folk, they will seem like a tiny part of our lives.  What dragged on and depressed us as twenty-somethings will seem like a momentary blip of time when we are older.

Ah, you are thinking that that’s all very well and good, but we’re not old yet, are we?  Some of us are still in that nasty post-uni slump.  I agree.  Unfortunately, at this point I have to recommend something that I would find incredibly difficult to do myself: we must be patient.  Being patient is the most irritating thing in the world, because it is a passive, boring and frustrating state that forces us to relinquish control over a situation.  I completely get that.  Unfortunately, there isn’t much of an alternative.

When we are waiting, we must be patient, and when things are going well, we must enjoy them.  No matter how long it actually takes us to get ready for bed, we do eventually get to sleep.  No matter how long it takes your friend to get ready, you will eventually leave the house and go clubbing.  No matter how long it takes to load, you will at some point get to watch that amusing YouTube video.  There’s a logical ending to all the ridiculous faffing.  Even when it feels like you’re just doing the same things day after day, or that nothing you do is making any difference to your success, have faith that you are always moving closer to your goal.  The passing of time, even when it’s infuriating, is a kind of progress in itself.

Have a magical Friday.

Are You What You Want to Be?

Hello!  How are you this morning?  Yeah, me too.  Nearly the weekend, though.

Today I would like to ask you a question: are you what you want to be?  There are three possible ways to think about this question.

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Firstly, in physical terms: are you fit and healthy?  Do you like your hair colour?  Are you happy with your height and weight?  If you can honestly say that you are what you want to be in terms of your physical appearance, then good for you.  I think your pants might be on fire, though.
No one is ever totally happy with how they look, which is a massive shame (and almost entirely a result of the Western media), but I have good news regarding this.  Firstly, there are things we can change if we really want to: we can dye our hair, we can take up exercise and we can drink more water.  The second piece of good news is that how you look does not make you who you are, so let’s not worry about that.

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The next way to think about my question is in terms of achievement: are you in the right job for you?  Is your career progressing the way you hoped it would?  Do you feel that you’ve achieved significant things?
This one is tricky because it’s something that we decide by comparing ourselves to our peers, and that only ever ends in smugness or despair.  Once we leave school, the structure that kept us all on the same trajectory as our class mates is non-existent, and what happens to one of you no longer necessarily happens to everyone else.  Don’t waste time being jealous of other people’s success, or feeling superior about your own: just get on with what you want to be achieving.
This one is slightly more important than the physical one, but it’s still not the key way to answer my question.

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So, the third and most important way to answer my question: are you what you want to be in terms of personal attributes?  Are you kind, are you patient, are you polite?  Would your mother be proud of you?  What do your friends say about you?
I am not suggesting that the way other people see us is more important than how we see ourselves, but after all, the people who love us aren’t sticking around because of how we look or what our job is, are they?  (They’d better not be, anyway.)
This one is the hardest of all to change if we don’t like what we’ve got, but it can be done.  If you want to be less prone to losing your temper you have to practise staying calm under pressure; if you want to be more assertive then you have to speak up when you’re intimidated.  The best thing about this one is that it tends to be the one that your friends and loved ones are most willing to help you with, so you’re not alone with it.

Have a truly cracking Friday.  Definitely treat yourself to a muffin today.

P.S. The title of this blog is a reference to this song by Foster the People.  Good, ain’t it?

“I Made A Friend!”

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Good morning, and congratulations on making it all the way to Friday!  I hope your week has been productive and filled with first-rate conversation.

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2012 was one of the most challenging, stressful, enjoyable and amazing experiences of my life so far.  Of the many things I took away from that month of madness, the one I think I am most pleased about is that it taught me to be happy about going to the theatre by myself.  Don’t get me wrong, I almost always go to the theatre with a friend – in a few hours I am off to see Titus Andronicus with one of my best friends from university, in fact – but at the Fringe you see four or five shows a day, and it’s impossible for everyone to see everything they want to unless they split up.

A few months ago I went to see 1984 at the Almeida Theatre, and I went by myself.  An unexpectedly joyous side effect of this excursion was that I got chatting to the chap sitting next to me, who turned out to be an actor with whom I got on very well.  I came home to my flat mate that night saying “I made a friend!” in the excited tones of a six year-old girl, which amused her greatly.  However, she went to a vlogging event today where she had exactly the same experience, and it was lovely to hear her gleeful description of making a brand new friend in her mid-twenties.

We all have friends from various walks of life: primary and secondary school, college, university, work, and in my case, a summer school for gifted and talented teenagers (I’ll tell you about it later).  These people have seen us grow up and go from being starry-eyed youngsters to bleary-eyed adults.  They have been with us through crises, triumphs, boredom, hangovers, exams, dinner parties and summer days in the park.  A shared history with a friend is a wonderful thing.

The thing about these friends is that they have known you for long enough to make an educated assessment of how much they like you and want to spend time with you.  They have years of experience of your whims and ways under their belts, so to a certain extent you know that they have a firm grasp of who you are deep down.  Someone you went to Brownies with is not going to judge you based on a moment of verbal incontinence that happens in your twenties, for example.

Making friends as an adult – whether they’re a new colleague or a stranger at the theatre – is an added bonus to the strange situations life throws at us, because these fully-formed people meet you and make a judgement about being friends with you based purely on who you are now.  They don’t know anything you’ve done in the past, the places you’ve travelled to or the greatest successes you’ve had.  They decide to like you based entirely on what you say and do in that first moment of meeting, and that is just brilliant.

Your friends are absolutely right to love you for who you have been, but your new friends are equally correct in liking you for who you are now.  Clearly, the result of your endeavours to become a proper grown-up person have worked a lot better than you could have imagined.

Have a genuinely spectacular Friday.

Twenty-Four Going on Sixteen

Hello and welcome to Wednesday!  I hope your week is treating you extremely well so far.

Last night two actor friends of mine came round for the first rehearsal of a short play that we’re performing in Camden in April.  The piece is about two people whose friendship is on the rocks, because they’re no longer sure what they want from each other.  The rehearsal went really well and we had a lot of fun (especially a certain unnamed actor who got a very serious case of the giggles), but we also had a very interesting discussion about relationships, friendships and how our feelings make us behave.

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As you can see, we took the rehearsal very seriously.  Anyway, as those of you who read yesterday’s blog will already know, my friends and I are not fond of fancying people.  It’s difficult and stressful and it makes us feel unnecessarily girly (and yes, that includes my male friends).  Apart from the obvious vulnerability that goes with having feelings for someone, I think that one of the problems my generation has with the entire dating thing is that it makes us feel like we’re still sixteen.  Even in our mid-twenties, when we have  a fair amount of emotional experience under our belts, we’re still not entirely sure what we’re doing or what the other person is thinking.  That’s hard to process.  How can we not have conquered this in a decade?

We as a generation have been programmed to aim high: we’re fighting against a tidal wave of economic uncertainty, we have to fight hard to get jobs (and even interviews) in a way that not many generations have had to do before, and we are annually told that our excellent A Level grades don’t mean anything.  Of course the exams are getting easier; why would we be getting cleverer or more conscientious?  It’s not like we’re trying to succeed at life or anything.  OH NO WAIT.

If we are so good at working hard for professional success, why are we so bad at coping with our personal lives?  When we were discussing this last night, one of my actors made a very good point: to a certain extent, we have control over our professional progress.  We might not always get the jobs or the opportunities that we want or think we deserve, but to a degree fate favours the people who put the hours in.  When it comes to relationships, friendships and other people in general, we have absolutely no control over how they feel about us.  Sure, we can dress nicely, smile a lot and be the best possible version of ourselves, but there’s no equity involved: being as awesome as you can be doesn’t guarantee that someone will like you.  Unfair, but true.

The bizarrely reassuring thing about this whole situation is that it gives us all a level playing field: nobody feels completely sorted when it comes to this stuff, and even the highest-flying executive can be baffled by a crush.  We have learned a lot since we were teenagers, but no one has yet conclusively proved how feelings work, so at least we’re not alone in our confusion.

Have a wonderful day, and make sure you have something delicious for dinner.