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