Has feminism forgotten about you? Probably

The Guardian and I are not pals at the best of times but sometimes they really do take the piss. If I’m correct, they published an article a few days ago about whether feminism has failed working class women. Today, I see this. Readers’ responses. If there’s one thing worse than handwringing, it’s getting other people to do your handwringing for you.

Anyway. I read it. “This might be interesting,” thought I. A few minutes later:

I…can’t..

Where to start with the tremendous wrongness seeping off the page?

Ok, so first things first. Yes, feminism has failed working class women. It has also failed trans* people and people of colour. And I can even go halfway to explaining why this might be… Because feminism in the western world is largely driven by cis women who are white and middle class. I’m not saying these feminists are *purposely* wrong but this is a little blind-spot known as privilege. Basically they have failed to create an intersectional feminism that works for *all* women regardless of class and race because they aren’t negatively affected by those things, so they don’t really know what the issues are, let alone how to begin tackling them. I’m white, middle class and cis, but I try to find out from other women who are not these things, how, by the very nature of not being the same as me, they are treated differently. How, by the nature of being trans*, they might be wary of using public toilets, or they might have to spend more effort on passing as cis. How, by the nature of having less money, they have less opportunities than perhaps I and my peers do.

I’m sure you get the point by now. I’m not arguing at all with the idea that feminism has failed certain women because it undoubtedly has.

Onto the comments, then.

Martin, from Portsmouth says:

What irks me is when feminists talk about seeking equality. When I see women queueing up for jobs down coalmines, I will believe they are serious about it.

Firstly I didn’t think there were jobs in coalmines in post-Thatcher Britain. Secondly, Martin, read your history. Lots of women wanted to do these kinds of jobs but were not allowed to because it was deemed unsafe for them. That’s the Patriarchy for you. We can’t really win. We want to do these things, but we can’t because it’s not safe, then when eventually we are allowed to do these things, we’re told we’re horrible job-stealing-harpies, and on top of this, our children will surely suffer because clearly women should be the ones staying at home to look after them.

Seb from somewhere I’ve forgotten says:

I am sick of the second-wave dinosaurs who are currently in power, lecturing me on my undeserved privilege, berating me as an oppressor, excluding me for being male – when by and large I am sympathetic with the majority of their goals. I just don’t like the way they have turned what should be the greatest civil rights movement in history into a single issue lobbying movement which furthers their unearned privilege as wealthy white western women, ignoring everyone else who has suffered from patriarchy (including working-class men).

Whoa whoa whoa, too much wrong here. Please do point out to me where second-wave feminists are in power because I can’t see it. Seb, you’re berated as an oppressor because as a man you are benefiting from your privilege day to day. No, it’s not something you chose. No, it’s not something you can help. But you should acknowledge it and own that fact. As an example from my own life… I’ve indirectly, through generations, benefited from slavery, I’m sure. In some way. I’m not a fan of slavery (well, I object to it more strongly than ‘not a fan’) and I think it’s abhorrent but facts are facts and I can’t get away from the fact that I have the lifestyle I have due to exploitation of others. Not directly. Not because I wanted to. But because of a little thing called colonialism. Because I happen to be white.

Men can’t get away from the fact that they actively benefit from ongoing sexism and oppression of women. Maybe, Seb, just maybe, instead of getting angry at THE INJUSTICE OF IT ALL you just need to look in the mirror and tell yourself “I will not take criticism of societal structures to heart. I will not be personally offended when confronted with truths.” It’s hard, I know. Trust me, I’ve done it and you need to swallow your pride but you’ll feel better once you’ve said sorry for being a total dick about it. Anyway, he goes on:

With my work, I saw working-class boys being treated as disposable war assets by the government, or as disposable criminal problems by the penal system. If eight times more women than men were in prison, it would be a feminist issue. If three times more women killed themselves every year, it would be a feminist issue. The lack of support in men’s mental health is terrible; my (male) doctor does not even know who to refer a male patient to for support. This impacts me personally, but these issues impact all female family members too. There is so much more we can achieve as a team.

Ah the old men were sent to war tripe. Seb, you do realise that, again, women did want to go to fight in the war but they weren’t allowed to the same extent that men were? You do realise that men were in charge of the country at that point, so it was men sending men to fight? How is this feminism’s problem? How is it my problem that men self-loathe? How do I even begin solving that one?

The reason men suffer more with mental health problems is because masculinity and the pursuit of being seen as a ‘Real Man’ get in the way of actually going to a doctor and seeking help for their condition. Lots of feminists would agree with me here, but it is not a product of feminism, and nor is it in feminists’ interests to fight for that, when there are women in the world who are suffering in much worse ways. Asking women to fight battles for men is like me asking Bob Geldof why he didn’t give me some money raised from LiveAid. It’s not fair, because, like, some people have more money than me.

I am also not saying this is a pleasing by-product of Patriarchy; I think it’s awful, and I very much dislike the culture of masculinity that arises from a Patriarchal society. I think people should feel able to seek help when they need it. But the fact that some men don’t (because they are taught that to ask for help is to admit defeat and weakness) isn’t my fault, and neither is it the fault of women as a group. If anything, feminists are actively trying to change this because they don’t believe that gender socialisation is a good thing, and in looking for equality between genders (or eradication of gender overall), they are trying to fight for a society where it’s ok to cry, ok to admit defeat, ok to show weakness, ok to raise children – because ultimately we are all human and these are human feelings and actions.

These issues that Seb mentions are not feminist issues because, my god, we have enough to fight for without literally worrying about the menz. I don’t know who told these people that feminism is supposed to fight for men too, but they are grossly wrong. While it’s true that feminism is about equality and correcting inequality where seen, it pretty much is concerned – for the now – with ensuring that women have equality to men because largely the inequality is skewed that way. No feminist, I would think, would say that it’s good that some men are suffering. But it isn’t our fight: I would in fact go further and say it’s not even particularly to do with gender. This is why there are other organisations and activist groups that exist. I have no idea why one would assume that feminism can fix everything for men that they perceive to be wrong, when largely the issues most men are likely to face are to do with class, race or sexuality, and not gender.

Message from your friendly neighbourhood moderator

This post, the one about Misandry being a myth. I am done. Done watching hateful messages come into my inbox, hateful messages against the kind of people who – shock horror – I actually might be friends with and adore.

I have never moderated any comments before as I don’t want to be heavy-handed, but this had to stop somewhere and it’s fitting that it’s now.

The latest, for example, was a homohpobic rant about how abnormal homosexuals are because they can’t have children. You know what? Some of my best friends are gay or bisexual. I don’t judge people by their ability to procreate with their partner. I don’t judge people on who they sleep with. Really, if that is the most worrying thing in your life then you have it pretty easy. I only wish I could be so concerned about stuff that doesn’t affect me – lord knows I could use a break from my other genuine problems.

If you want to rant about how much you hate gay people or women, there are plenty of other fora for that and this is the wrong place for you. I am done trying to be fair. Every single comment should be gone, and it’s now closed. Feel free to inwardly scream impotently because nobody can hear you and we don’t give a fuck anyway.

‘Coming out’ with a disability

I came out to my bosses yesterday: I had to explain to them that I’m deaf. I hadn’t had the opportunity to discuss it before – I didn’t have an interview for the position, and there’s never any time to talk about much else than work. It was a pretty good run, though – I’ve been there for nearly a year now, but not being able to hear, and feeling like I was imminently going to get into trouble or get a reputation for being stupid … I supposed I reached my limit where I just had to say something.

I had to ask one of them something a couple of times, because they were looking the other way, it wasn’t clear they were talking to me, and they were mumbling. They felt like I had not been paying attention or was being absent-minded. Absent-mindedness is not a new accusation or characterisation of my behaviour – it’s very true, but I put that down in part to being deaf. Which made me start to wonder if any of my other personality traits or ‘quirks’ are also down to that.

I’ve never really considered the impact that deafness has had on my personality. But it seems fairly logical now, that something that has affected me since I was born might make me develop behaviours that I might not otherwise have.

I think I was diagnosed as deaf very late on, which is unusual. From my memory, I was diagnosed at about six… I was definitely at school anyway, so maybe I was slightly younger. But I remember people being shocked that it was undetected for so long. Looking around online it looks like most children are diagnosed with deafness at the age of 2 or 3; their learning and development plateaus and they start struggling at school and find it difficult to make friends, etc. I am not sure how I coped, really, but it’s fairly clear that I developed strategies for learning and socialising, without even realising it or being taught it formally: It turned out that I was extremely good at lipreading, and as such I was reliant on looking at lips in order to figure out what people were saying. [I still find it hard to hear people in the dark, even though that seems like that might not make sense!] I was also an avid reader: I developed a knack for language that put me years ahead of my peers in terms of reading and writing.

I remember being told when I was slightly older that as a child I would get aggressive with people because it was frustrating not being understood or not being able to participate in conversations. I didn’t have many friends, because the extra effort I put into socialising is exhausting – I had to work twice as hard as anyone else, to understand what was going on. As a result, I suppose, I created a whole other world for myself where I wasn’t bullied, I wasn’t isolated socially, and I didn’t really have to deal with real people because it was too difficult and stressful.

Hearing aids were tried. I had kids turning them up in my ears, ripping them out of my ears and throwing them on the floor, etc, and in a way having that on your person is another way to mark you out as a target. I actually tried using hearing aids at university, but I found that where it made up for my deafness (high frequency), the fact that it was in my ear – essentially blocking it – actually wiped out half of the hearing that I do have. It was like being underwater or in a bubble, and it was truly disorientating and horrible. [Please consider this when you next visit your grandparents and they can't hear you! It sucks to be deaf.] It made me shrink into myself because I found it even more difficult, and I felt like I was shouting when I was talking normally. I think given that I developed my own ways of coping with being deaf, there is very little to be gained from using them, and I will never wear hearing aids again.

And so it goes on. I’ve just read something about detecting deafness in children and it says if they’re diagnosed after about 2 or 3, then their development may be hampered permanently. I wonder if that has happened to me, if I am so stuck in my ways that I will always be slightly distanced from people. The more I think about it, the more I realise that I much prefer working alone. That I struggle in environments with loud noises or several sources of noise, which is why I started using headphones in the office (until I got told off). I tend to go through life by being in my own world and with my own thoughts, because I am used to not being able to cope with socialising – and I think people mistake this for not paying attention or being a daydreamer. I am just doing what I learned to: Expecting to be left out and isolated. Saving a whole lot of effort in trying to keep up with a long group conversation. Trying to not be too dependent upon other people for amusement (I amuse myself way more than other people).

It occurred to me that I might look like I am stunted when I’m put in a situation where there are lots of people but I suppose it’s more that I am fine with one-on-one interaction because my attention is fully focused on them, and theirs on me. In a group situation I have to figure out who is going to talk next, watch them, then the next person, watch them… Then accept that inevitably I’m going to miss out on some big joke, I’ll have to ask what people are laughing at, and then they get frustrated at having to explain it. “But explaining it kills the joke” – yeah but explaining it also helps me to join in…

I hope that after coming out to people they will understand and they will give me some slack. Maybe it might explain my behaviour which may have seemed unusual. I think the tricky part is ensuring that people remember and are aware all the time. It’s an invisible disability – mostly, I forget this myself! – which means that there isn’t any reminder there, I don’t have crutches or a wheelchair, so it’s not always obvious that I might have extra needs or that situations might need to be adapted for me. I genuinely don’t ever make a fuss about this stuff because I don’t see myself as ‘disabled’ and I think that’s a negative and self-fulfilling state of being, but it would be nice if people are a little easier on me at work from now on.

Some new year inspiration

Typically for this time of year, my Facebook timeline is full of people trying to lose weight/get fit/change in some other way, and I’ve been sort of taking note of what things people have been doing. Some are on Weight Watchers, some are at Slimming World, some are just eating more healthily.

Someone mentioned the 5:2 diet and I’ve done some research into it and it does indeed seem intriguing. From what I can tell, the basic principle is to eat whatever you like five days a week, and have two days (not consecutively) where you ‘fast’, eating up to 500 calories during the whole day. I’ve been wanting to do this but I struggle because I work nights, and I get quite bored or stressed which leads to me eating. And I’m not really sure how to distribute the calories so that I don’t feel too terrible/start eating my own arm.

Another person mentioned Jillian Michaels’ 30 Day Shred, which again led to some research (read: Googling) and it looked pretty good. There are results pics and videos all over the damn shop. Lots of these women noted a massive improvement after doing the 30DS – it really is remarkable and you can see the change for yourself (just google and you’ll find loads of stuff about it).

I tried it this morning, and I have to say that the first ten minutes was terrible and I struggled, but I did get into it a bit and by the end I was feeling that rush of exhilaration that you get from exercise. Like I said, I’d done some research into it and everyone’s response was similar – “this is hardcore”, “an intense workout”. It makes me wonder if perhaps I didn’t push myself enough. I tried to avoid stopping for longer than 5 seconds each time but seriously, those push-ups really get me and I just cannot do them properly. But I love the abs workouts. Swings and roundabouts, eh?

What’s nice about the DVD is that just as I am about to give up, JM says “Don’t give up, keep going, only 5 more” and all that. Which makes me go “oh alright then” – her timing is really good; she knows just how difficult it’ll be for people who are new to exercise, and exactly when they’ll start flagging. It gives me confidence in her ability and knowledge about exercise, so that’s good! I just feel a bit like I might regret this tomorrow!

For me, the reason I want to do exercise is not only to lose weight, but to get physically fitter and more healthy. To explain a little of what’s motivated me – I get the tube to work, and I have to climb up two sets of stairs (to get to the lift-ha!) and the first few times I did this…Man, I felt terrible. I reached the top and I’d be sweating and huffing and puffing all over the place. But as I got more regular shifts, as I did it twice, three times a week, after a while I noticed that I could reach the top and not be out of breath. I want to feel like that when it comes to things like running for the bus or, you know, just general life things. I don’t want to be the fat, ugly friend anymore. I’m not looking for perfection – and I am not expecting to do very well – but feeling ok in my own skin is quite important to me and I’d like to have that again.

Not sure if I’ll update this with weight/exercise stuff as I don’t want to a) pressure myself too much; b) become another one of those bloggers. But I thought I’d share it as a way to motivate myself to carry on, and maybe inspire some other people too?

Incidentally, the first level of 30DS is here:

NYRs and a spitirual scramble

I never meant for this blog to be particularly spiritual or uplifting in that faux-positive kind of Western way. I started it because it was literally an extension of my twitter account; my thoughts and concerns, and the things I’m thinking about/interested in. So it came to pass that for a long while, I was highly focused on feminism, because I was in this head-space where I was reading everything I could get my hands on, and I felt like I was looking at the world through feminist glasses. It kinda blew my mind. At times this blog has been really personal – I think I wrote about my gran soon after she died last year, for example. Anyway – I digress – my point is the blog is really an extension of me and I suppose I’m feeling spiritually inquisitive at the moment.

One of many statues of Buddha - the Reclining Buddha statue at Wat Pho in Bangkok

One of many statues of Buddha across South-East Asia. The Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho in Bangkok – © my own

After my trip to South-East Asia last year, I asked my parents to get me a book on Buddha – when I was there, I picked up scant details about his life, about the man himself. Yet everywhere we went, there were Buddhist temples, huge statues of Buddha, small statues of Buddha – and everyone talked with enthusiasm about how great he was, where he came from, the myths surrounding certain spectacular statues, etc. I found myself totally enraptured by this… What’s so fascinating about it is that he is popular all over Asia. That’s like… A lot of countries. So why is he so important, and why on earth can’t I get any proper facts on him? Those were my main thoughts when I left.

Fast forward to today and Christmas has come and gone, and I finally have my book! It’s Buddha, by Karen Armstrong and it makes for addictive and compelling reading. Basically, there’s not really a lot that we know for absolute certainty. Firstly, it’s against the Buddhist ethos to be concerned about specific details of one man’s life – Buddhists push aside egotism in search of learning the higher truth – and secondly, most of what we know about his life was written centuries after his death. This is problematic for biographers, but Armsrong’s book is considered one of the most accessible and thorough contemporary attempts at Buddha’s biography and outlining a chronology of his life.

Buddha statues at the Grand Palace

More Buddha – these statues come from different countries but are in Bangkok now – © my own

There’s a little bit of a mention of his beliefs, of Kamma (karma), Dhamma (teachings), and the existential crises dawning upon him and his contemporaries as their belief in Saṃsāra (reincarnation) is questioned and analysed. It’s actually quite detailed about economic, hierarchical and religious changes that occurred in the gangetic plains around about the time Buddha left home and decided to shun domesticity to become a monk. This time is widely referred to as the Axial Age.

What I find interesting is the mention of Kamma in the book. This is what we understand to be ‘karma’ – the idea that by doing bad, bad comes back to you. We generally restrict this belief to this lifetime, but Buddha and those who lived in his lifetime would have believed in Saṃsāra and genuinely feared karmic retribution.

In my exploration around religion, philosophy and spirituality, I’ve done a lot of reading and thinking. I have mainly, of course, read more accessible texts like the F**k It book, and snippets online, rather than, say, any Buddhist teachings straight from a translation. A lot of what I’ve read has been tampered with, Westernised (certainly John C Parkin’s way of looking at spirituality is more Western than even East-meets-West – it’s colloquial, casual…Just the sort of thing that applies to Westerners who aren’t really looking for a hugely in-depth explanation of enlightenment) and is obviously designed for Western consumption.

However, what strikes me is how simple and straight-forward the overwhelming message is. It’s all fairly obvious. I read a book called Lucid Living (don’t get it – if you want it, borrow it from someone!) which posited that we are all one and the same – one’s suffering is the suffering of all. When we hurt each other, we hurt ourselves. It kind of ties in with the idea of Kamma, because both these ways of thinking make us feel aware that our actions have consequences, and that we should generally seek to minimise performing actions which may lead to undesirable consequences.

What makes me go ‘huh, that’s weird’ is the fact that as far as I see it, organised religions have so much in common that I have begun to see them as different facets of the same exact thing anyway. Really, the differences between religions are the rituals and specific guidelines that were culturally significant to whoever wrote them down. At their core, all the traditional religions preach the same sort of thing, as far as I can see. Live a good life, be rewarded. Be patient, be kind, etc. These are values we can all appreciate are positive ones, but it’s strange that over the years, we’ve lost this basic humanity.

Buddha left his home partly because he felt disillusioned with domesticity – he felt that his attachment to material things was holding him back from enlightenment, entrapping him in an never-ending cycle of Saṃsāra, with the suffering and pain that it brings, and distracting him from seeing the truth as it is. I can entirely relate to this feeling that there is ‘something more than this’, though I wouldn’t go quite as far as Buddha… I feel a bit like materialism blinds us to the true nature of how things are, that the pursuit of materialism and consumerism means we often lack clarity and control, and that it detracts from our need to create genuine connections with one another… Beyond talking on a screen (irony, I know).

A young Buddhist monk in front of Angkor Wat

A young Buddhist monk in front of Angkor Wat in Cambodia – © my own

I’m definitely going to keep on reading the book, reading about Buddhism, and exploring different religions and spiritualities. But for now… Some NYRs, or at least some things for me to take into consideration over the coming year:

- Mindfulness: Clarity before thought; thought before action
- Love openly, wholeheartedly, and wisely
- Be kind to myself – as much as anybody else
- Do what I want to do, rather than what I feel I should do
- Make time for what’s important for me right now

NB: You may not use any of the photographs on this page without the author’s prior permission. © All rights reserved

New year optimism

We survived the apocalypse! And we’re nearly in 2013. I always find the end of a year, although somewhat arbitrary, quite an important phase for reflection. I do a lot of that anyway, but the end of one year and the beginning of another feels like the perfect time to sit back and think. Think about what I’ve achieved over the last year, and what I hope to achieve in the future.

I’m looking forward to 2013, actually. This time last year, I was unemployed and desperately wanting to move to the Middle East. I was quite ill. I didn’t have a clue what my next step was. This time round, I’m still a bit unsure what the future holds or what I want to do exactly, but I am in a much better position to: 1) figure it out; 2) achieve it.

2012 has been a bitch of a year. It’s seen amazing highs – working during the Olympics was a fantastic experience and something I’ll always remember, for example. I’m lucky enough to have fallen into a pretty good job, too… And yet I’ve had terrible lows – my gran passed away at the end of August with cancer. It was a short bout, she died extremely peacefully, and I don’t feel any pain for the fact that she’s gone because she was suffering so much. I know, and she knows, that she was so well-loved, right until the end – I think that’s all that matters, really. Just love. It’s just strange that I can’t pop round for a cup of tea.

I think these experiences made me grow up a lot more; concreted the person I am, and my beliefs; made me concentrate my priorities that much better.

Looking at next year, there are a lot of things that I want to get done…I want to go places, I want to learn, I want to change myself, so that I’m always evolving and never staying still: I want to feel the rush of what it means to be alive. Because there is nothing more amazing.

“When you realize how perfect everything is you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky”
- Buddha

The path to enlightenment, or ‘self actualising for dummies’

It’s a long one – one sometimes not even achieved over a lifetime. A whole bloody lifetime of work and effort and thinking and actions.

I’m not particularly looking for full enlightenment. Not right now. Not here. I need to do more work on myself before I reach that, I know. But I like to record these little glimpses of Truth as I stumble across them. I like to have some proof that the Me then is not the Me now; that this is a human being very much in progress. I like to remind myself that it’s ok to not be perfect and it’s ok to make mistakes and question oneself and not really know what you’re doing. Because when you finally figure It out, it’s the sweetest victory you’ll ever feel.

Today I realised that I have been Doing It All Wrong. Doing what wrong? Errrm, well, you know. Life. The big stuff. The small stuff. Everything.

You see, when I woke up (I won’t even lie, it wasn’t ‘this morning’, it was very much this afternoon) the first thing I read was this piece on brainpickings.org about ‘how to avoid work‘. It’s weird because a) I don’t read much of the stuff that’s posted on facebook these days; b) the person who posted it is someone I’ve met twice, and I only added them to facebook a week ago. [This clearly proves my theory that every person you know, however long or short or terrible or great your relationship with them is, they teach you something about the world or about yourself.]

It’s really quite a long piece of writing and it took me a while to read it. I’ve read very similar things before, and I’ve always thought, ‘well, that’s quite nice but unrealistic’. But then I was watching a TV show a while later [Glee - you'll perhaps connect the dots on that one later] and it really hit me that it was Truth. Work (as in for money) needn’t be what we see as ‘work’ (as in something laborious) – it is entirely possible to earn money doing something you absolutely love. Very few people do it, because it takes time to get there, and it takes an investment – of commitment, perhaps money, maybe even a sacrifice of something else in order to get there. It’s not an easy route.

Stumbling along

My work life/career – call it what you want, it really makes no difference – has been really fraught in the last two years. Leaving uni was tough, as much as I desperately wanted to. Coming home was tough. Being jobless for nine months was really, really tough, and it almost broke me. I’m extremely lucky that I pretty much fell into what is now my Job. I won’t lie, it took me by surprise too. One minute I was doing work experience, the next I was working weekends, getting paid. Then along came the Olympics and before I knew what was happening, I was working five shifts a week and earning more money than I’d ever had before.

There’s a real problem though. I used to love it, but now I don’t love it. I do the same thing day in day out. As someone who has always been career-driven rather than driven by ambitions to have a husband and three kids, I am torn between how one should love one’s job. Should you love it as a means-to-an-end, or should you love it because you just love what you do, and you happen to get paid to do it? I want it to be the latter, so badly, but when I try to think of something else I’d rather do, I freeze up a little bit.

“I want to do business journalism. Business and finance. Or economics. Or something like that”
“I want to write about the Middle East”
“I’d quite like to just travel and write, actually”
“I’m quite good at talking to people and researching so ummm I’ll just do something along those lines, you know”

These are the answers I give people if I’m pressed on what I want to do… Well, clearly I don’t have a fucking clue. If I was so inclined, I would spend my spare time writing about the economy, or about the Middle East. Instead of just telling people how wonderful South-East Asia is, I’d be writing about how wonderful it is. Today I realised that the reason I don’t do something I love is because I don’t actually know what I truly, truly love. How can you aim for something when you don’t know what it is?

Finding your love and getting it wrong

So I need to figure out what makes me tick… I am a big believer in something that sounds extremely similar to the concept of ‘Fate’ but to me works slightly differently. I think it’s more that sometimes life throws you things because you’re supposed to learn from them, or you’re supposed to take it as a hint. Sometimes opportunities, or people, get dropped on you and it takes you a while to realise that this was probably Supposed To Happen. [In my experience, anyway.] Sometimes it can take you years to see that maybe something was your calling, or that you were supposed to learn something from that guy that totally broke your heart when you were 17.

It’s occurred to me that though I’ve been trying for months and months to get something in the business journalism industry, maybe the reason I haven’t got anything is because that’s not where I’m supposed to be. I basically picked business journalism out of a need to find a niche, because it’s the highest paid gig in journalism – business journalists are well respected, and I feel a sense of duty to know about economics and business. I know people who are, and I look up to them because of it. I take them seriously, and I guess I wanted to inspire that in other people. But those reasons are not genuine, or even good/convincing reasons to go into an industry that is entirely alien to me. I never studied economics, business or finance. I read the FT for important top-story economics stuff, but other than that most of it passes me by. I try to understand, but it’s never going to be something that I find ‘fun’ or instinctive to learn about. It’s never going to be easy for me to just jump into it. So perhaps life has been trying to tell me that this isn’t really my calling, and perhaps I was stupid for thinking it was.

Learning to truly listen to yourself

I actually think I know more what I want to do, when I really sit and just listen to myself, without judging. You’d think it’s quite easy, but it’s not. Over twenty years of self-hatred and criticism has clouded my thinking. When I think back to when I was a child, when I didn’t have societal pressure to be a certain way, when I didn’t feel like I should be ashamed to want to be something frivolous or ‘not important’ to society – that’s when I feel like I am closer to what I should be. Kids are smart. You get a feel for something you’re good at and if you aren’t affected by the bullshit around you, you can go for it.

I was good at English. I had a reading age of 14 at the age of 8 or 9. I loved reading stories, writing stories, reading and writing poetry… I wanted to be an author, while everyone else in my class wanted to be a pop star. I wanted to be an author and I wanted to teach, because my school life was an unhappy one, and I felt like I could be the person to change that for others. I wanted to be to children what some of the teachers in my school were to me: a safe haven, someone to go to when things were bad and I didn’t want to exist anymore.

I liked drama and writing. I liked dancing and singing. It’s often been said of me that I’m expressive, and I know for sure that I’m the kind of person who can change the mood of a room in an instant if I want to. I feel like that part of my personality got lost somewhere on the way to adulthood, because I haven’t realised any of my potential in that sense. I was called fat, so I stopped dancing. I was given hearing aids when I was finally diagnosed as deaf, so I stopped singing, and I stopped trying to communicate with others. It was frustrating, and I find that even now, sometimes I give up on talking to people. The only thing I ever honed and practised a lot was my writing, and even now I feel like I’ve lost touch with that too, because it’s an under-used skill. But it’s something I’m desperately clinging onto.

Lemons and lemonade

So… A bit of regression has helped me to try and realise my passion… Plus, that thing about life throwing things at you? Well, before I went to university, I got a temp job – one that I didn’t really want to go for, but that I actually eventually would have quit university to stay in. [I did ask if I could stay, and I did genuinely want to defer university to stay there.] I worked at a theatre, and I loved it. I wasn’t a performer – I was only doing admin – but I loved the environment, and the fact that theatre encourages expression and can be transgressive at times. I was given work experience kids to look after (I was 18!) and I loved seeing their transformation from really shy kids to people with confidence.

Then at university I worked at a magazine and….. guess what? After interviewing a few famous people for the magazine, I ended up editing the theatre section for a few months. And I actually really enjoyed it and missed my old job. The thing is, I have enjoyed doing other things, too. I quite enjoy and am fascinated by reading about events in the Middle East, and …. other things. But I have really struggled to figure out the difference between *appreciating* something, and actually wanting to *do* it yourself. I can like football, but I can also see that I wouldn’t be good at doing it myself. I need to sit and think about all the things I like and try and figure out if I like them as an observer, or if I like them enough to actually do myself. I fully respect war correspondents, and even though I briefly considered doing it myself, I know in my heart of hearts that I just couldn’t do it. I cry at photos of dead bodies. I mean, I just couldn’t deal with that. And I feel terrible, like it makes me less of a person, but I think it’s better to be honest about what I can not do, rather than waste my time trying to break into a field that doesn’t need or want me.

Ultimately… nothing is going to change just yet. But just knowing that I have other options feels nice. Just feeling like I have other opportunities and career paths is good. I feel like I’m on the cusp of fully realising my own potential and finding something I love. I just am not sure how things are going to unfold yet. I feel like when I dig deep, I already know what my strengths and my passions are. It’s just very, very cloudy and difficult to see through – like digging through a closet full of junk to find a shiny pound coin…

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