Embracing ‘what is’

The truth is that nobody has a charmed life. Everyone experiences heartache and pain (some more than others, I grant you that). But we all have a choice as to how we live. The most important lesson I have learned is that I only have this life. There is no other. There is no ‘could have been’ or ‘what if’. There is only ‘what is’.

The above is an extract from the final chapter of the revised edition of How to Fall in Love, which sums up what’s on my heart right now.

womanstaringtoseaI think accepting ‘what is’ and letting go of ‘what if’ has to be one of our biggest challenges in life. I know it’s not easy, but if we can manage to embrace reality and let go of the fantasy of ‘what if’ or ‘if only’, I believe we’ll find peace, contentment, gratitude and joy. I believe we’ll be able to appreciate fully the miracle of our lives as they are today, rather than hankering after an imaginary existence in which we are younger, or slimmer, or had a different upbringing, or have children, or have a bigger home, or in which we made different choices. We’ll also be able to use all that energy we’ve saved by not dwelling on ‘what could have been’ to move forwards with our real lives and make wonderful things happen.

The benefits of embracing reality are clear, so why do some of us struggle to do this?

I believe that if we had a complicated childhood during which our natural, human needs for love, reassurance, security and safety weren’t met, we’ll have spent much of that childhood yearning for a different life, imagining a better existence, wishing our home was like our friend’s home, wishing our parents were still together or still in love like our friends’ mums and dads. We’ll have spent years living in a fantasy in our heads, imagining that all would be perfect, all our troubles would end and we’d feel safe, secure and good enough if we could just live there or have that.

I spent much of my childhood living in fantasy, peering through other people’s windows, wishing I lived in someone else’s home, wanting my parents to be like my friends’ parents – still married, still living in the same house, still loving each other. My mind constantly wandered to an imagined life, a life that looked nothing like mine. If I could just get there or have that, I wouldn’t feel this way, I wouldn’t feel so desolate. I wouldn’t feel so empty and broken inside.

In that imagined life, even I was different. My name was Karen (after a girl in primary school I so admired and wanted to be like). My hair was thicker, longer and blonde (Karen was blonde). My body was a different shape and size. My clothes were more stylish or fitted better.

The problem is when you spend so many years as a child longing for things to be different, looking at other people’s homes and wanting your home to be like that, believing that happiness lies over there in that life, you carry that into adulthood. You spend your time comparing and despairing. Nothing is ever good enough. You get something and you want something else. Something more. Something better. You pick holes in everything. You are not content.

This is an exhausting place to be, but it’s also dangerous. Because you can project that sense of nothing ever being good enough onto the people you love, onto the people who are closest to you, or onto the people you are trying to date. You can wreck beautiful relationships by criticising and judging and stamping your foot and declaring that this isn’t good enough and that if we could just have this or that or build a life like our friends’ lives, all would be well. You can frighten yourself with the depths of your discontentment and despair.

In those moments, you are back in your child. You are back being the little girl who felt lost, lonely and desolate and who imagined a different life, who believed that happiness had to lie somewhere else because it sure didn’t lie here. All the sadness and frustration and disappointment pour out.

And then you come out of that child state. You come out of your angry, desolate, disappointed little girl and return to being an adult. And as an adult, you talk to your inner child, you empathise with her, you come along side her and tell her you understand how she felt, how she didn’t feel safe or secure or loved or affirmed. You tell her you understand that living in fantasy and longing for a different life was a survival tool, a means of escape, a coping mechanism that served a purpose for a while but that’s no longer required.

Because there’s no joy in always wanting things to be different. There’s no contentment in hankering after someone else’s life. There’s no peace in comparing your home or relationship or status or career or childless/childfree state or parents or car or body or hair or clothing to everyone else’s. It’s a recipe for bitterness and resentment. It takes you away from the here and now. It blocks your enjoyment of all the wonderful things in your life today.

Acceptance is the answer. But acceptance comes much easier if we can understand ourselves, if we can connect with the child within, if we can soothe her wounds and hear her pain, if we can empathise with her and reassure her and love her and affirm to her that happiness is here, happiness is right here, right here and now, in this moment, in this beautiful life, in the sunshine and the green of the grass and the wildness of the waves, and in these tears, in these healing tears.

*****

Upcoming events

If you’d like to join me on this wonderful journey of personal growth and healing, I have two events coming up.

I have 3 spaces left on my How to Fall in Love Dorset retreat, May 18-21. Self-love, self-care, nurturing, changing patterns, setting boundaries, letting go, building a beautiful life. Small group. Wonderful accommodation minutes from the sea.

And I have 11 spaces left on my London workshop, Love Yourself, Love Your Life, Find Love on April 21. This is an extended, all-day version of the sold-out February talk I gave on the same topic in partnership with Psychologies Magazine and NOW Live Events.

 

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Posted in Childless, Recovery, Relationships, Self-Acceptance, Uncategorized, Women | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Finishing what we start

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If you’re anything like me, you have lots of big ideas, lots of hopes and dreams. You write them in notebooks and draw them on big sheets of paper in coloured pens. They are the desires of your heart, or they are creative ways to expand your business, or to feel more fulfilled in your work or your life.

You get them started, knuckle down, put in some hours, do some really good work.

And then you stop.

You get distracted. You find something better to do. You start to doubt yourself. You begin to think your great idea wasn’t so great after all. You waste time doing insignificant things that are the opposite of your heart’s desires, that do nothing to expand your business or that leave you feeling dissatisfied with your work or your life.

You kind of give up on yourself.

I am prone to doing this. I always have been. But I’m learning to be different.

My book was a good sign that I’m learning to finish what I start. From the outside, it may look like I had a book idea, wrote the book and published it five weeks later. Then a year on, I updated the book and released it again. Done. Finished. Out there. Simple.

But that’s what you see on the outside. You can’t see the large perspex box in the corner of my office stacked high with notes and research from the other book that I had been trying to finish, or get close to finishing, for a number of years before I gave up and wrote How to Fall in Love. I do intend to get back to that book. I hope I can.

Nor can you see the scores of notebooks I have lying around with great ideas that I gradually dismissed or forgot about.

But I’m not here to be hard on myself. I’m here to celebrate another example of finishing what I start.

For many months now, I’ve been wanting to create a self-study version of my How to Fall in Love course – the course I first ran in January 2017, to lovely reviews; the course that created a small but extremely loyal following of women who are still in my Facebook groups today, still being coached by me, and who are beginning to date in healthier ways, pursuing their dreams, taking better care of themselves and moving in the direction they want to go.

I wanted to create the standalone course so that I could reach more people at a lower cost and so that I could earn something from all the hard work I had done.

My goal was to complete it by January. That goal then slipped to mid-February. That goal slipped too, but I’m delighted to say that I launched the course today. Hurrah! I finish what I start. I follow through on my ideas. I value myself.

It feels good. As I say on one of the steps in the course, it’s good for our self-esteem to do estimable things. Finishing what I start is an estimable thing.

If you’d like to take the self-study course or know anyone who might benefit from it, I have a very special offer of £9.99 for the first 24 hours of the course’s life – so that’s until early evening on March 1st. Click here to find out more or sign up.

Incidentally, if you’d like to take the version of the course that includes a Facebook group and coaching calls, that’s available too, starting March 19. Find out more here.

I heard something this morning that really spoke to me. I heard that we offer our work in hope. I offer my work in hope that it will touch people’s lives, that it will help people to see the truth and that it will help them to change if they need to change in order to feel happier, more at peace and to find love.

I offer this blog in hope too. In hope that my words touch you. In hope that you can relate. In hope that you can feel less alone. In hope that you feel inspired to honour your big ideas and to finish what you start.

I’d love to hear from you if this blog speaks to you.

Before I go, there’s something else I’d like to share. I did a vlog and blog for Psychologies magazine’s Life Labs site at the beach yesterday. It’s about vulnerability and how being real with ourselves and others can lead to transformation. Watch here.

I’ll sign off there but carry on reading for my upcoming events, including three workshops in London and a beautiful spring retreat at Bournemouth beach, which has just been voted the best beach in the UK.                       Earlybird offer ends in two weeks!

Upcoming events

Don’t forget to join my free Facebook group to be inspired and stay updated.

My Spring How to Fall in Love retreat is on May 18-21 in Dorset. Information here. Earlybird price available until March 16.

How to Fall in Love – Laying the Foundations. Saturday, March 24. 9:30-4:30. London. Tickets. Repeated on Saturday April 21. 9:30-4:30 pm London. Tickets. Watch this fab video to get a flavour of my face-to-face workshops.

How to Fall in Love – Challenging Fears & Changing Patterns. Tuesday, March 27. 7-9 pm. London. Tickets.

Love yourself. Love Life. Find Love. Saturday, April 21. London. Tickets. This is an extended, all-day version of my sold-out Psychologies event on Feb 12, which you can watch a bit of on this video.

 

Posted in Creativity, Happiness, Love, Recovery, Relationships, Self-Acceptance, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Self-love is where it starts

heartflowers

Valentine’s Day isn’t easy for some of us. Everywhere we look, there are hearts, flowers and chocolates. Or couples smooching and holding hands.

Some of us can ignore it. Some can dismiss it and deride it for its rampant commercialism. Others can use it as an opportunity to hang out with wonderful friends.

But some of us find it hard.

It reminds us of what we don’t have and of what we want, what we’ve waited a long time for.

I’ve done all of the above in the past. I’ve ignored Valentine’s Day and I’ve dismissed it. I’ve gone out and had fun with my girlfriends. And I’ve felt a pang of envy, bitterness, sadness or confusion. What’s wrong with me? Why haven’t I met HIM yet?

If you’re feeling down today, I’d like to send you some love. Some virtual flowers, chocolates or bubble bath, whatever you prefer. And a virtual hug.

If you want to be in a relationship, I’d like to reassure you that it will happen, in time. I believe that. If you’re following this blog, you’re likely on your journey already, doing your personal development work, identifying your blocks and changing your patterns. Keep going. Keep digging deep. Keep being courageous.

In the meantime, while you’re still single, do what you can to love yourself. And I mean to really love yourself, to take good care of yourself, to treat yourself with love and kindness, to use gentle language about yourself rather than punishing words. It can make all the difference. It can help us build the foundations that we need for healthy relationships.

Seven years ago, I realised I wasn’t loving myself. I realised I was still harming myself, despite having been in recovery from an eating disorder for a number of years. I woke up on the first day of Lent (which is today) with a fierce determination to stop harming myself, to stop having negative thoughts about myself, my body, my appearance and my achievements. I woke up determined to stop judging and criticising myself.

I began writing my first ever blog post on a site I called Just As I Am – An Experiment in Self-Acceptance. I was 39 at the time. I declared on that blog my intention to abstain from negative thoughts and self-harming behaviours for 40 days, and to blog about my progress every day throughout Lent.

It was an incredible experience, in so many ways. I believe that 40-day period of abstinence (or near abstinence – I did my best, one day at a time) from negative thoughts helped me to form new, self-loving habits. It didn’t change everything. My self-harm goes back years. It has deep roots. But it helped. It really helped. It increased my awareness of how I was treating myself and speaking about myself.

And awareness, I believe, is the first step to change.

That blog also marked a turning point in my life and my career. I got incredible feedback. As I opened up and shared my vulnerabilities, others responded to me in amazing ways, sharing openly with me in comments or by email, being vulnerable too.

Then, 40 days later, I turned my Just As I Am blog into this blog as I turned 40 and I continued to write whatever was on my heart – my struggles with being single and not having children, my relationship difficulties, my desire to leave London and to change my career. And, eventually, I blogged about my successes too – my relationship, my engagement, my new home in Dorset and my flourishing work as a relationships coach.

This blog also inspired my book. It helped me build my confidence as a writer, connect with my audience and develop the material I wanted to share in my book. That book, which I’ve just re-released, has opened so many doors. I’ve been in Psychologies magazine, on Woman’s Hour, in the national newspapers and, this Monday evening, I spoke to some 70 people in London at a sold-out event with Psychologies magazine and NOW Live Events. I shared about loving ourselves, loving our lives and loving others to a wonderful audience and I received some amazing feedback. Thank you. (I will be repeating that talk on Feb 28: Love Yourself. Love Life. Find Love.)

I also shared my approach to love and the 10 steps in my book on Psychologies magazine’s Facebook page today, on Valentine’s Day. You can watch the recording of my live video here.

All this, all this change, all this wonderful progress, began with self-love. It all began with that decision to stop harming myself, to stop punishing myself, to stop treating myself with contempt. It began with that decision to try to accept myself wholeheartedly, just as I am.

So as Lent begins, is there anything you would like to give up? And I don’t mean chocolate or alcohol (but if you want to give those things up, there’s nothing wrong with that). I mean some negative behaviour or habit, some form of self-harm.

What would you like to let go of? How would you like to change your relationship with yourself? How can you love yourself rather than hurt or punish yourself?

I believe a deep level of self-love will help you form a healthy relationship with another, if that is your desire.

Remember, transformation is available to all of us and self-love is a wonderful place to start.

*****

Upcoming events

I would love you to join me at any of the following workshops, events or retreats: Email me at katherine@katherinebaldwin.com with any questions.

Love yourself. Love Life. Find Love. Wednesday, Feb 28, 7-9 pm. London. Tickets. This is a repeat of my sold-out Psychologies event on Feb 12.

How to Fall in Love – Laying the Foundations. Saturday, March 24. 9:30-4:30. London. Tickets. Repeated on Saturday April 21. 9:30-4:30 pm London. Tickets.

How to Fall in Love – Challenging Fears & Changing Patterns. Tuesday, March 27. 7-9 pm. London. Tickets.

Spring How to Fall in Love retreat. May 18-21. Dorset. Information here.

Posted in Addiction, Body Image, Childless, Dating, Eating disorders, Health, Love, Positive thinking, Recovery, Relationships, Self-Acceptance, Uncategorized, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Death and life

sunsetsea

January can be a bleak month but this January has been especially bleak. I have lost two friends to cancer. Two contemporaries. Two beautiful women, one in her 40s, one in her early 50s, both gone before their time.

These are the first close contemporaries I have lost, except for a friend who died when I was in my teens, back when I was disconnected from my feelings and too young to appreciate how truly wonderful it is to be alive. Celebrities around my age have died but it’s so much more profound, so much more shocking and saddening, to lose a friend.

One was a friend from my childhood days back in Liverpool and her passing has sparked memories of those two summers a gang of us spent cycling around the Lake District and the countless Saturday nights we spent as teenagers drinking Southern Comfort and lemonade or lager and black in local pubs in the 80s. She was surrounded by a beautiful family and so many friends. She touched many hearts. Her funeral was only yesterday – feelings are raw – so I won’t write any more.

The other friend, Tricia, was a colleague who I saw a few days every week at our shared work space in Bournemouth. She was a writer who inspired me to write, a creator who encouraged me to create. She was also a fellow restless soul, a searcher and a seeker. We had many deep conversations over many cups of herbal tea.

I am re-reading Tricia’s novel, Benedict’s Brother and being moved to tears. I feel so connected to her through her words and through her story. I’ve just finished the part where the protagonist tours the bridge on the River Kwai in Thailand and I’m remembering when I made that trip myself, at 19. Two university friends and I had done the usual Chiang Mai trek followed by some island hopping and we were back in Bangkok. They wanted to go shopping. I wanted to go to the bridge. So I went alone on the bus and had a bizarre experience there, which I blogged about back in 2015 in a post called Keeping the spirit of adventure alive.

I ended up alone on a public bus with a driver who appeared to be giving me a private tour of the bridge, the cemeteries and other sights. I say appeared because I couldn’t understand a word he said and vice versa. I remember stopping at some rocks, which could have been the Hellfire Pass Tricia writes about in the book (I can’t recall). I remember catching a glimpse of the driver’s bare back as he lifted his shirt to mop his brow. And then spotting the gun tucked into his trouser belt. I remember my terror. Have I been kidnapped by the bus driver? Was he going to harm me? And I remember the restaurant he took me to for lunch, where paranoia got the better of me. I thought he’d drugged my lemonade so I went to the bathroom to see if I could escape through the window. No luck. Eventually, after a few more scares when I thought he was driving me somewhere else, he took me to the bus station, accompanied me onto the bus (which also freaked me out), sat me down and then said his polite goodbyes in Thai. I wasn’t in any danger after all. He was a kind and generous man who just happened to have a pistol down his trousers.

Reading Tricia’s descriptions of that beautiful, moving place – the River Kwai, the bridge, the surrounding scenery and its tragic history – took me right back. Like her protagonist, I was a young, sensitive woman who felt things deeply and who preferred to ride in the open air on the back of a truck than sit inside the cab.

The first time I read Benedict’s Brother I barely knew Tricia. I met her at a book reading and shared my own ambitions to write and my frustration that I hadn’t yet managed to get anything into print. The dedication she wrote in my copy of her book that I bought that night reads: “To Katherine. Next time we meet you’ll have FINISHED that book!!” followed by a smiley face. I hadn’t, but eventually I did, with her help. The book’s storyline is also profound but I won’t spoil it for you. I’d love you to read it. I promise it will move you.

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Summer reading

A while after our first meeting, Tricia and I became friends and colleagues. She read a draft of some of my book and helped me to choose the cover design. A few days before she died, she sent me this message on Whatsapp from her hospital bed after I shared with her that I was scared to write, scared to finish the revised edition of my book: “Your words – especially your words – have wonderful positive power for many women. And some wonderful men too. Go girl.” Always encouraging. Always uplifting. Right to the end.

Tricia had extraordinary success with her book. It is now in film production and we hope it will make it to the big screen. A new and exciting chapter of her life was just beginning. She had just swapped her old car for a shiny white convertible golf so that she could enjoy Bournemouth’s sunshine and big skies in style.

Our work place isn’t the same without her. She has left a hole. But she’s also left a huge legacy, which extends far beyond her book and future film. She touched us all with her warmth, her sensitivity, her openness and her endearing smile. She showed us the value of relationships and the importance of making time to connect with each other and with the natural world around us.

TriciaRosePetals

Rose petals on the beach

That’s why a bunch of us went in the sea this week following her memorial service, during which her ashes and rose petals were scattered into the sea from Boscombe Pier. We connected with each other and with her. We laughed. And we experienced the bracing cold. She wouldn’t have joined us but she would have cheered us on with that huge heart and big smile.

I find it hard not to think of her when I’m doing simple things. I listen to a wonderful song and think she won’t get to hear that again. I plunge my hands into soapy water to wash the dishes and, just as I’m about to moan about my dull chore, I realise she won’t get to wash dishes again. I touch my partner, feel his warmth, and feel devastated at the thought that she’ll never touch another again.

But maybe I can believe that she’s listening to sweeter songs now and experiencing love, somewhere else where there are no dirty dishes to wash.

Death will come to us all, sooner or later. But we can honour those who have passed away before their time and we can appreciate the gift of life by truly living. As I wrote at the end of the revised edition of my book:

We have no idea when our time will be up. So let’s live courageously and love courageously, for our own sakes and in memory of those who no longer have the chance.

So what would living courageously look like to you? And what would loving courageously look like to you? What changes do you need to make in your life?

I confess that I find it hard to live courageously. Or maybe that’s unfair. Because the truth is I wake up most days feeling scared, scared of the steps I need to take in my work, scared of the conversations I need to have, scared of being me in this big, crazy world. But then I do it. I do it anyway. I stress and worry and question. I procrastinate. I waste time and energy making decisions, unmaking them and then making them again.

But I do it. I make good things happen.

Weddingpics

Getting hitched!

I was struck today by how much my life has changed. My fiancé and I went to a wedding fair in Bournemouth (our worst nightmare but we decided to give it a go and we actually had a giggle and got some good information too). As I walked around the Bournemouth International Centre (BIC), I was reminded of my days as a political journalist, attending party conferences there, running around the halls trying to speak to MPs and get vox pops from delegates, stressing over the stories that I needed to file, binge eating to ease my terror of making a mistake. And at the end, heading back exhausted to my London flat and my single life.

Today I was there as a fiancée. But I was also there as an author, as a dating and relationships coach and as a mid-life mentor (carrying a few How to Fall in Love books in my handbag just in case). I was there as someone who lives here in a home with my partner, by the beach and the sea. I was there as a woman who has found her purpose and passion and who is beginning to blossom and flourish as she takes to the stage to share her message with others. I was there as a speaker who on Monday will host a sold-out London workshop in partnership with Psychologies magazine (Fall in love with yourself, with life and another) and who’s had the courage to put on another London workshop on the same theme a few weeks later for anyone who missed out (Love yourself, love life, find love on Feb. 28), plus a few more events and seaside retreats in coming months (click here for details).

So I am living. I am truly living. Most days I’m terrified. I wake up feeling anxious. But I feel alive. I already have a legacy in my book and I know that I am touching people’s lives. It took courage to get here, bucket loads of courage, and it will take even more courage to continue along this path. But it’s worth it.

How about you? Where do you want to be? What do you want to do? Do you want to find a healthy relationship and have the courage to commit? Do you want to write your book or stand at the front of the room and deliver your message to an audience at a Psychologies event? Do you want to share your gifts with the world? And what’s stopping you?

You have those gifts for a reason. You’re meant to share them with others, not keep them all to yourself.

Believe me, I know it’s not easy. Tricia knew it wasn’t easy too. The following extract is from her final blog post, To the River (the title of the film that’s being made of her book). It was read at her memorial this week.

As with anything, sometimes you have to take a risk and jump into the river, be knocked under, be challenged and be scared, be battered and bruised but be carried by a bigger force to a place where the waters are calmer, where the river is wide and where the risk is worth it because we find the sun shining and the flora flourishing and we find the place where our hearts can be truly happy.

And that is by far a more beautiful and better place to be than to remain standing on the bank of the river, failing to dare.

So, the world may indeed feel in collapse and chaos but by jumping in I truly believe we will eventually see the wonderful world we seek.

Nobody said it would be easy.

Indeed, nobody said it would be easy. So don’t stand on the riverbank. Jump in.

*****

Upcoming events

I would love you to join me at any of the following workshops, events or retreats: Email me at katherine@katherinebaldwin.com with any questions.

How to Fall in Love. Wednesday, Feb 14th. Valentine’s Day. Facebook Live on Psychologies magazine Facebook page. 1 pm.

Love yourself. Love Life. Find Love. Wednesday, Feb 28, 7-9 pm. London. Tickets. This is a repeat of my sold-out Psychologies event on Feb 12.

How to Fall in Love – Laying the Foundations. Saturday, March 24. 9:30-4:30. London. Tickets. Repeated on Saturday April 21. 9:30-4:30 pm London. Tickets.

How to Fall in Love – Challenging Fears & Changing Patterns. Tuesday, March 27. 7-9 pm. London. Tickets.

Spring How to Fall in Love retreat. May 18-21. Dorset. Information here.

******

 

 

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Celebrate. You are enough. You’ve done enough.

celebrate

Does it never feel good enough? Do you never feel like you can stop, pat yourself on the back, relax and take it easy? Is there always more to do?

Once you’ve achieved something, perhaps something you’ve been aspiring to for a really long time, do you pick holes in it, fail to congratulate yourself and quickly move on to the next thing on your list?

Welcome to my world.

I’m sad this is still the case for me, despite years of “work on myself”.

Of course, it’s much better than it was, but it’s still true. I still struggle to accept, acknowledge and reward my achievements. I can always find something to complain about, something that wasn’t good enough, something I could have done better.

I know it’s not a great way to be, but it’s an old habit, and old habits die hard.

I find it particularly difficult to wrap things up at this time of year, to down tools, to switch off the computer, to say I’ve done enough. There’s always more work to do. And once the work’s done, there’s the house to tidy and clean and the cards to write and the clothes to declutter and … I could go on and on. The list is endless.

It’s even more difficult to say enough is enough this year, because I have a busy and potentially very exciting 2018 ahead. I’m starting a new How to Fall in Love course and have my second seaside retreat, both in early January; I want to update and re-release my book in time for Valentine’s Day to include my engagement; I’m leading a workshop in London in partnership with Psychologies Magazine on Feb 12; and I’m doing a Facebook Live on Psychologies page on Feb 14. I also want to create a standalone How to Fall in Love course, so people can download it and follow it at their leisure.

So I’ve got a lot to prepare for.

But in the busyness, I forget that the magic, the real creativity, happens in the space in between. Yes, things don’t get done unless we give them the attention and energy they deserve. But we’ll end up feeling empty inside, despite all our many achievements, if we don’t allow ourselves the time and space to revel in our accomplishments, to rest and recharge, to walk on the beach or in the hills, to enjoy the company of our loved ones.

So in this moment, I’d like to ask you to pause for a moment, to catch your breath, to put down the ‘To Do’ list and to take some time to appreciate all that you’ve done this year and, more importantly, all that you are.

Who have you become this year? How have you evolved and grown? Have you challenged your fears and overcome obstacles? Have you gone through pain and heartache and come out the other side, still standing and feeling a little bit stronger? Have you been kind, generous and loving this year, to yourself and others? Have you seen wonderful things – beautiful flowers or incredible views? Have you smiled and laughed? Have you held hands with a friend, partner or relative? Have you offered support to those you knew were struggling? How have you been?

And as you celebrate the things you’ve done, can you see the deeper significance in them? This is a useful exercise for me. It really helps me appreciate how far I’ve come, rather than just reel off a list of accomplishments.

So when I celebrate the fact I ran my first How to Fall in Love course in January 2017, I can look deeper and congratulate myself for going for my dreams, for trusting myself big time, for putting my work out there in a completely different way, for believing that I had something to offer and for following through on that.

And when I celebrate the fact that I published my book this year, I can see what an extraordinary achievement that was. Not because I wrote 80,000 words in 5 weeks, learned about self-publishing and got my book out there within my deadline. But because I finally faced my fears of criticism, judgement and rejection and I finally got over my perfectionism and my sense that nothing I do is ever good enough. I dug deep. I dug really deep. I surmounted what had seemed an insurmountable obstacle before. I got out of my own way.

Recently, in conversation with a budding writer, I compared the way I wrote and published my book to an experience I had driving as a teenager. I hadn’t long passed my test and I wasn’t entirely confident behind the wheel. I was driving down my street and there were cars parked either side, with just a narrow gap in between. I approached the gap but it looked too tight, too narrow to get through. But I couldn’t turn around either. So I closed my eyes, put my foot on the accelerator and sped through that gap.

I wouldn’t advise driving with your eyes closed and I’m not sure I want to repeat that experience, but it reminds me of how I wrote my book. I closed my eyes and put my foot down on the accelerator – hard. It was the only way to get through my fear and outwit my perfectionism and constant second-guessing.

My engagement, of course, has a deeper meaning too. I’m not sure I have space here to explain its true significance. That’s why I wrote the book! But in brief, it marked the culmination of years and years of personal development, therapy and recovery from self-sabotage and dysfunctional relationship patterns. It reflected the fact that finally I’d learned to fully love and accept myself so that I could fully love and accept someone else. It was a symbol of my courage to face my fears of intimacy and commitment and of potential heartache and hurt, which is always on the cards when you love with all your heart.

It was the wounded little girl inside finally growing up and saying OK, I’m ready, I’m ready to love.

I want to cry when I write that. It took a long time. It really did take a long time. But it was so worth the journey.

There was a moment, too, this year when I found my voice in a way that I haven’t found it before. I spoke up for myself in a professional relationship. I challenged that deep core belief that says that if I’m myself, if I’m true to myself and speak my truth, something really bad will happen. Instead, I spoke my truth and something really good happened. That was a significant event. I deserve a pat on the back for that.

Other highlights include seeing my writing, my book and my thoughts featured in some prominent places – Red, The Daily Mail, Psychologies magazine and the Psychologies Life Labs blog (Breakdown to Breakthrough and Coping with Christmas without children) and finally, just before the end of the year, on Woman’s Hour, talking about ambivalence towards motherhood. Of course, I came away from that interview wishing I’d said this or that or wishing it had been longer. But can I pause for a moment and congratulate myself? I’d wanted to be on Woman’s Hour for years.

Those media appearances are a testimony to my persistence and perseverance. I have continued to email or phone, even when previous emails or phone calls have been ignored. I’ve believed in what I had to say and in the importance of sharing it with the world. I’ve challenged those inner voices that have told me that nobody wants to hear me or read me, that my stuff isn’t good enough.

I’ve fought for myself. I’ve really fought for myself, which is hugely encouraging because I can so easily give up on myself.

Finally, a few days ago, I used my voice again, to sing in a Christmas choir. That might seem an average, run-of-the-mill achievement to some, but in auditioning for that choir (scary moment – potential for huge embarrassment) and in singing out loud as part of it, I was going against the message I’d heard most of my life that I couldn’t sing. Who says I can’t sing? I love singing. I recognise I’m not the best singer in the choir but I sang with gusto, and with a big smile on my face.

So when you look back on your year and on all that you’ve done and all that you’ve been, can you see the deeper meaning? Can you see the significance? Can you see how everything that’s gone before – the good and the bad – has prepared you for today? Can you see how much you’ve grown? Can you celebrate your progress?

And how are you going to celebrate? And how am I? This came up in the final coaching call of the year with my Love Ladies community the other night. I am privileged to have been working with some of these women since January 2017, when they signed up for my first How to Fall in Love course. I feel honoured that they’ve stuck around.

On the call, I shared one of my weaknesses – doing something tangible to celebrate my achievements. And I came up with the idea of a hot stone massage so I’m promising myself, and you, that I will make time for that. I will spend the money, I’ll put the date in the diary and I’ll enjoy it. I’ll enjoy the stillness, the warmth, the touch and the peace.

But perhaps an even better way of celebrating would be to down tools, to say enough is enough, to give myself a break, to take some time off. I hope I can do that. I truly do.

Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas and a happy, healthy, peaceful and prosperous 2018.

Katherine x

***

Dates for your diary:

I’m hosting a free webinar on Thursday Jan 4 at 1 pm: Create the Life & Love You Want in 2018. This is the second part of a two-part series. If you’d like the recording from Letting Go, Moving Forwards, email katherine@katherinebaldwin.com or sign up for Jan 4.

If you’d like to find a loving relationship in 2018, I have a few rooms left on my How to Fall in Love retreat on Jan 12-14. My How to Fall in Love 6-week course kicks off again on Jan 8. And on Feb 12, I’ll be leading a workshop in London in partnership with Psychologies and NOW Live events: Fall in love with yourself, with life and with another.

 

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Ambivalence about motherhood

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Whenever I do a short radio or TV interview, I come away wishing I’d said things differently and made my points more clearly and succinctly. In most cases, I come away wanting to write, wanting to make sense of my thoughts by putting them down on paper or computer.

So here I am.

Yesterday morning, I had the privilege of being on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour to discuss ambivalence about motherhood alongside the award-winning comedy writer Sian Harries. You can hear presenter Jane Garvey interviewing Sian and I on the Woman’s Hour podcast here. We begin 35 minutes in.

I’ve wanted to speak on Woman’s Hour for a long time, ever since I began to find my voice through this blog and write about things I truly cared about: eating disorders, addictions and self-harm, recovery, dysfunctional relationships, loneliness, singleness, the missing baby, grief, commitment-phobia and, in recent years, falling in love.

It’s hard, in a live radio interview of seven minutes or so, to tell the full story. And I’m not going to be able to tell the full story in this post either. I have my book, of course, which tells much of my story and talks about my ambivalence towards a relationship, as well as towards children, but you may not have read that, so I’ll attempt a precis now.

For the first, say, 34 years of my life, I wasn’t in the slightest bit interested in having children. I didn’t feel a yearning. I didn’t make any space in my life to think about them or plan for them.

I was too busy travelling and focusing on my career. I appreciate focusing on my career is one of those standard phrases people use about women who’ve been busy working rather than having children but my story is much more complex, as I imagine all our stories are.

I didn’t think about children because a) they simply weren’t on my radar and b) I couldn’t imagine anything worse than being tied down by kids when all I wanted to do was travel, have fun and work. I had no notion that children could be fun, bring joy and fulfillment and open us up to incredible experiences.

The messages I’d picked up as a child, being brought up by a single mum on low funds, was that children were a ball and chain around your neck, that they curtailed your career ambitions, drained your bank account and kept you home when you wanted to be out enjoying yourself. In short, they ruined your life. That sounds harsh and I’m not blaming anyone. That’s what I picked up. My brother has three wonderful kids, so he clearly didn’t absorb the same message as me. But then I’m female and my mum was a single mum who did most of the childcare. Dad carried on with his life.

So kids were not on my agenda. Neither was a relationship for that matter. I understood, based on my parents’ unhappy marriage and divorce, that relationships were a bad idea, that they ended in loss, misery and hardship. I picked up that men weren’t worth bothering with, that I’d be better off on my own. I took that message and ran with it.

I focused on my career because I was an intelligent, capable, adventurous woman who picked up foreign languages easily, loved to travel and managed to get incredible jobs doing exciting things (foreign correspondent in Mexico and Brazil, for example). It was the natural thing to do? Why wouldn’t I?

But I also focused on my career because I craved adrenaline, excitement, achievement and the approval of others. The adrenaline enabled me to numb or hide from my uncomfortable feelings while the approval of others went a small way towards filling the gaping hole I felt inside (the hole in the soul, as we say in recovery circles).

My low self-esteem and sense of imposter syndrome drove me to climb as high as I could so I could win as much adoration as I could, to try and feel better about myself, to try and feel worthwhile. Of course, no amount of approval or achievement was ever enough. The hole inside was love shaped. Just as I stuffed the hole with food to try and feel better, I also stuffed it with career success and an impressive CV. None of that actually changed how I felt inside, but I kept trying, doing the same thing and expecting different results.

As my mid-30s approached and I spent some time in a good relationship, I began to think about kids. By this time, I was in recovery from an eating disorder, although I was just at the start of what would turn out to be a journey of transformation. I began to think what it would be like to live in an idyllic cottage by the sea with a loving husband and a few little ones. Suddenly, family life seemed attractive. It also seemed like a good way to fix the emptiness I felt inside. My craving for family grew, which put a strain on my relationship. I needed to know. I needed to know now if he was ‘The One’ and if this was going to work out so I could get on and have that family I’d begun to dream about.

That relationship ended, for a number of reasons, opening the floodgates on years of grief and loss. My dad had died the year before and I hadn’t paused long to grieve, jumping into a romance instead, so it all came tumbling out. I had what some would call an existential crisis: what’s it all about, why am I here? I had what could be called a breakdown – I was signed off my big journalism job in parliament. Instead of going to press conferences in Downing Street, I sat on my bed and cried.

So for a few years, I had no choice but to focus on getting well and working on my recovery. As 40 approached, I began to think more about the absence of a partner and children, hence the start of this blog, posts like the baby gap, and articles about dating with baby goggles in the press.

As I hit 41, I didn’t feel ambivalent anymore about kids. I felt kind of desperate. Now my time was running out and I didn’t have anyone to date, never mind have a baby with. How on earth did I end up here with this amazing job, great CV and beautiful flat, but with no partner or kids?

I turned my baby angst into a project and began to research a book about it: The Baby Gap. I got an agent, but I didn’t get a publishing deal and I lost all my momentum. I still aim to finish that book, or a version of it. I tested my fertility, interviewed IVF doctors and women who’d had kids on their own by various means. I talked with counsellors about the prospect of becoming a single mum via IVF and ruled that out because of my mum’s experience. I dated but nothing worked out.

As my recovery deepened and I worked through a lot of my baggage with an excellent therapist, I began to understand that the emptiness I felt inside was about much more than the missing baby, and that a child might not change the way I was feeling. In fact, it could make it worse. I needed to re-parent myself first.

I began to fill myself up from the inside out and create my own happiness. I learned to soothe myself. I reconnected with the things I used to love doing as a kid – cycling, camping and being outdoors. I began to explore a different, more fulfilling career. The hole in the soul got smaller. The craving died down. I became more self-aware.

At 42, I decided to stop over-thinking my life, shelve my baby angst for a while and date a man I found attractive but who didn’t want kids. We had a wonderful time but I ended it after a few months because I thought I still wanted a shot at motherhood.

In therapy, I was starting to explore my ambivalence, towards everything in life and especially towards a relationship. I understood how scared I was of commitment and of love because my first experience of love with a man – with my dad – ended in heartache and loss. I also began to delve into my ambivalence around motherhood. Did I really want a child? Was I ready to have a child? Did my own inner child need more attention first? Did I just want a child to fit in and to feel like I belonged?

At 43, having failed to find anyone I liked more than my ex-partner and having realised I had my own deep ambivalence about kids, I went back to him and we committed to each other. Nine months later, I moved to Dorset. Less than a year after that, we bought a house.

All the while, my therapist helped me keep my ambivalence in check. He helped me to see that I found fault in my partner and wanted to run away and find someone else because I was scared – terrified of commitment, of intimacy, of love and of potential hurt. He also helped me to understand that the baby obstacle that stood between us had been a convenient excuse to avoid getting involved and that deep down, I was unsure about children myself.

I’m now engaged to be married to my partner. I’m 46 and we don’t have kids. Most of the time, I absolutely love my life. I love my freedom and I love my work. I get to write from the heart and I get to coach others to create wonderful lives and find love. I’m doing things I’ve always wanted to do but have been scared to do in the past. I’m using my voice. I’m working at something I love. I’m speaking on Woman’s Hour and at events with Psychologies magazine. I’m running retreats by the sea in Dorset and will soon run them abroad. I’ve published a book and want to write more. Wow. It truly is amazing. And I mean that. I really do mean that.

Sometimes, when I walk down the steps to the beach and look out to sea, I feel so much joy I could cry. I created this life. I did this.

At other times, though, it doesn’t feel enough. I see pregnant women all around me and I begin to question my life. How come I didn’t get to do that? I’ll never know how it feels to grow a baby inside my tummy or be a mum. I’ll never have a family of my own, beyond our family of two (or maybe three if we get a dog). I’m missing out big time.

I had one of my biggest meltdowns just the other night, ironically the evening before I was going on Woman’s Hour to discuss ambivalence about motherhood.

To set the scene, I was already feeling hyper-sensitive. We’d been discussing Christmas, a time of year when I really feel the absence of a family of my own, the absence of our own kids in our own house. A time when I find it virtually impossible not to feel like my life is less than others’, smaller, less complete, less joyous, even though I know people with kids and families struggle with their own stuff and that nothing is as it seems on the surface or on Facebook. So I was already feeling vulnerable.

We then went to a drinks party. There were only seven other people in the room besides us, one was a gorgeous toddler and two were pregnant women. Suddenly, I felt like a green-eyed monster, like there was something very wrong with me, with us, for not joining in, for not doing the baby thing that so many couples do, for not having that experience.

Later that night, grief hit me like a fast-moving truck. It would be simple to say the grief was about not having a child but I know myself better than that. The grief was too big, the sobs too loud, the pain too raw to be about that alone.

It was grief for all the losses, for the fact that I had no choice but to spend years of my adulthood re-parenting myself and healing my past in order to get to a place to even have a loving relationship. Grief that I only got there at 43, not at 33 or 36. Grief that if we’d had more years, we might have had children. Grief over my upbringing and my partner’s early experiences, which for some reason, put him off parenting.

Sadness. Horrible, heavy sadness. That my life hasn’t been ‘normal’. That I haven’t had the chance to do the ‘normal’ things that others do. That there’s something I’ll never know or experience. The tears and whirring thoughts kept me up most of the night.

And now that tsunami of emotion has passed, how do I feel?

Better. More like me again. Keen to finish this blog, get on with my work and then get to the beach. Excited to work on all the things you’ll see mentioned at the bottom of this post.

And ambivalent. Yes, still ambivalent about motherhood. Which would be funny if it wasn’t a little bit sad. If you gave me the opportunity to have a baby today, what would I say? I don’t know. I really don’t know. I’m on the fence.

In preparation for my Woman’s Hour interview, I did my research. I read articles. Here’s one of the many I found – Love and regret: mothers who wished they hadn’t had children. I checked in with honest friends with kids. For some, ambivalence doesn’t go away after you have children. I saw my mum in those articles and those messages from friends – loving us like mad, of course, but questioning, regretting perhaps, wondering what if.

I read about drudgery, boredom, loss of identity, isolation, self-doubt, loss of freedom and never-ending sacrifice. I also read about the fireworks that go off in your heart, about a profound and satisfying experience, about a love that beats all other loves and makes you a better person.

So where do we go from here?

I clearly have more processing to do. Ambivalence is a difficult place to be. You can only sit on a fence for so long before it really starts to hurt.

The important thing, no matter where we are – with kids, without kids, still with the option or with the door now closed – is to try and make a choice, for the sake of our own sanity and happiness, and perhaps for the sake of our relationships, if we’re in one.

If it feels the choice we want to make is no longer within our grasp for whatever reason (to be a mum or not to be a mum), we have to try and embrace where we are and accept where we’ve ended up. We have to grieve the losses as best we can – give them space and time – and then try and live with ‘what is’ rather than always chasing ‘what if’. This choice isn’t a one-off thing. We make it, then unmake it. Our feelings ebb and flow like the tide, but perhaps with every movement, we get closer to resolution.

If we’re still deciding whether to try for motherhood or not, I believe we have to get out of our heads and into our hearts. I’m a huge over-thinker. I try to work stuff out. I’m a journalist. I do my research. I ask questions. What do you think? What did you do?

But the answer, I believe, lies with our intuition, with our hearts. And we connect to that sacred, wise place by quietening down and sitting still.

I was re-reading my book on the train back from London yesterday with a view to updating and re-releasing it in February. I’ve always thought my first chapter goes on a bit, but I was struck by how much sense it makes and how important that first step is. The answer lies in stepping inside and connecting to ourselves, in understanding what lies within – fear, pain, grief, sadness, negative beliefs or fixed ways of thinking that are stopping us from moving forward with our lives.

We have to feel it to heal it. We have to be aware of it to change.

No wonder I couldn’t summarise how I feel about this topic in a few minutes on Woman’s Hour. It’s massive. I’m close to 3,000 words and I could carry on. It’ll be a miracle if you’re still here, still reading. But if you want to read more, try my book. I write about ambivalence – how I overcame it in my relationship and how it relates to motherhood – throughout the book, but especially from pages 205 to the end. I also have a blog on ambivalence from 2013 here if you’re not tired of reading yet.

If you’ve stayed with me to the end, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please do comment or get in touch x

****

Dates for your diary:

Free live video workshops on Dec 19 on Letting Go, Moving Forwards and on Jan 4 on Creating the Life & Love You Want in 2018.

How to Fall in Love six-week course starts Jan 8.

There are a few rooms left on my Jan 12-14 How to Fall in Love retreat.

I’m doing a London talk – Fall in with yourself, with life and with another – in partnership with Psychologies and NOW Live events on Feb 12. I’ll also be doing a Facebook Live on Psychologies page on Feb 14.

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Dream Big

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This blog post is for you if you dream of a different life or a different career. If you dream of having more freedom and more time. If you’re sat in an office and you really want to be outside. If you’re commuting on a bus but really want to be walking along a beach. If you’re struggling along on a low income but want to live an abundant life.

I had a dream once, to be a journalist, to be paid to travel, report and write. My ultimate dream was to work for the global news agency Reuters or the BBC. I shared this dream with my tutor in my final year at Oxford University, shortly before I got a 2:1 degree in Modern Languages.

You know what she said?

Don’t bother, don’t try, or words to that effect. You won’t get into Reuters or the BBC, she advised. They won’t give you a second look. She said I should have been involved in journalism at Oxford, writing for student newspapers or working for student radio stations, instead of playing lacrosse, football, rowing and drinking beer. Without that experience, I could kiss goodbye to my dream, she told me.

She was probably right with her initial assessment. Reuters and the BBC were heavily over-subscribed. They were likely looking for students with journalism experience as well as for graduates who could speak more exotic languages than French and Spanish (Chinese and Arabic, for example). I don’t begrudge her for saying it how it was.

But where was her creativity? Where was her encouragement? And why didn’t she spot my creativity, determination, ambition and ability to make things happen, and encourage those qualities in me?

I remember feeling downhearted after that meeting. I felt even worse after a meeting with the careers’ advisory service. My adviser suggested that a career in insurance, perhaps based back in Liverpool, from where I’d come, would suit me.

Were these advisers terribly short-sighted or was I giving off unambitious vibes? It wouldn’t surprise me if I’d emanated a feeling of not being good enough or of not belonging or of wanting to run away and hide.

I didn’t feel good enough. I didn’t feel like I belonged among those dreaming spires, and I often wanted to run and hide. But beneath my insecurities, there was an incredibly capable and creative woman. I know that now.

I found my own way into Reuters, via the back door, so to speak. I picked up a rucksack, travelled alone to Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and the U.S., working at odd jobs as I went along, and then into Mexico, where I began working for English language newspapers in Mexico City, before landing a trainee and then correspondent role with Bloomberg and ultimately, a correspondent position with Reuters in Brazil. From there, I moved to London with Reuters and worked for six years in parliament.

I got in, my own way. Since then I’ve written for the national press and appeared on BBC TV and radio. In fact, this Monday December 11th, I’ll be speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour (on ambivalence about motherhood – I’ll come back to that in a moment). These are all institutions that seemed out of reach to me, and that were out of reach, if I’d listened to my Oxford tutor and that careers adviser.

As I write, I’m also reminded of the time I tried, with the help of a literary agent, to get a book published. On my behalf, she approached the biggest and brightest of the publishing world. I thought a book deal was in the bag. I could see my book (about the baby gap) in the window of Waterstones. But they all said no. Thanks but no thanks. Lovely writing, great topic, but not for us. All the doors closed.

I lost my confidence. The publishers were right and I was wrong, I decided. I was not a writer after all. I hoped my agent would help keep my spirits up. I hoped she’d reassure and encourage me. And I expected her to show some creativity, to guide me into publishing via different, less established routes. But my agent went quiet. In fact, she went AWOL for a while (I believe she was dealing with some personal issues). I hung on to her despite her absence, believing I didn’t have the right to fire my agent, believing I was so lucky to have one that I’d better endure being stood up at a cafe or not replied to by email. Just like I needed my tutor’s backing to apply for Reuters all those years earlier, I needed my agent and the big publishers to tell me I was OK and my book was worth publishing. Without their approval, I lost my way.

And then, earlier this year, I found my confidence, momentum and self-belief. I wrote a different book – How to Fall in Love – and published it myself. I finally believed in myself enough to put my work out there. I stopped waiting for others to give me permission. I went for it, like I’ve rarely gone for anything before.

That act of pure faith in myself, in my talents, in my craft was the start of some amazing things. I got engaged a week after publication for a start! My book got a plug in the Daily Mail and was featured in Psychologies magazine. I spoke on the radio. And now I’m on Woman’s Hour on Monday. Plus, I’ll be doing a talk in partnership with Psychologies on Feb 12th, as well a Facebook live on Psychologies’ page on Valentine’s Day (when I’m re-releasing my book).

So it’s been well worth believing in myself and publishing my book.

As my book dream became a reality, other dreams began to surface. I had an idea of running a retreat, of bringing women to the beautiful part of Dorset where I live, of leading them in guided meditation along the beach, of going in the sea with any crazy ladies who’d join me and of facilitating exercises that would help them open up, let go, understand themselves and others better, identify and remove blocks to love and feel more loveable. My first retreat was a success. My New Year retreat is Jan 12-14. In the spring, there’ll be longer retreats with activities like paddle boarding. And there’ll be retreats abroad with yoga and relaxation.

I remember when I first thought about running retreats. I was on a holistic holiday on the island of Skyros in Greece. I’d signed up to some group healing. I looked at the man who was leading the group. I want to be in your place, I thought. I want to be leading groups. And now I am.

So where do you want to be? Who do you want to be? What do you want to be doing? What dreams are you holding? Are you going for them or are you telling yourself you’re not good enough? Are you waiting for someone to approve of you, to tell you you’re worthy or to champion your work?

It’s time to start championing yourself.

If you’d like help doing this, I have two free live video workshops coming up. On Dec 19th, I’ll be leading a workshop called Letting Go, Moving Forwards – recognising the importance of clearing out the old to make space for the new. And then on Jan 4th, I’ll be leading a workshop called Create The Life & Love You Want In 2018, where we’ll be identifying our heart’s desires and creating a plan to go for them. I’d love you to join me.

Before then, tune in to Woman’s Hour tomorrow or on catch-up. The topic is ambivalence about motherhood, which is something that’s followed me around for a long time. In fact, ambivalence is one of my core traits, which you’ll know from my previous blogs (here’s one on ambivalence from 2013) and from my book. I come up against it in so many areas – my approach to having children (I’m 46 and don’t have any and probably won’t, although I still find it hard to say I definitely won’t, even at this age), my relationship (I had to choose to commit to my partner or I would have stayed on the fence for ever), my work, my approach to success, and many other areas. I’m looking forward to discussing it.

Here’s to dreaming big in 2018 x

 

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