I wanted to share some lessons I’ve picked up over the year which have fortified my life and helped me feel more content.
We’re all human guinea pigs really, testing out new ways of living our best lives, it’s part of being alive right? Getting to know ourselves, our boundaries, our loves and dislikes…So whilst this list is personal to me, it might well ring true with you or help you make some changes at the very least, as I have!
I want to state it’s important to know that not every day will or can be amazingly happy and fulfilling. The onus and pressure on having to be constantly happy is down-right ludicrous in my opinion, some days will be rough and harder than before, particularly with kids who can so often test your limits, sleep quota and patience, while other days, will inevitably see you ride a wave of sheer exhilaration.
With that in mind, here’s my code to the content life:
1. Do what you love
Sounds simple doesn’t it, and it is, and can be. Passion is fluid, what you might have loved five years ago is likely be totally different to what stirs you now. I don’t limit myself anymore, I love to write, direct, present, paint-my creativity knows no bounds and nor should yours.
If you’re unhappy in a job, create a plan of action to leave now. Start honing another skill, begin planning your own business and commit to finding a way to work that excites you, when you can.
I always say that everyone needs a ‘maternity leave’ when it comes to creating a new work model for themselves. It was during both of mine that I was able to work on my blog and create a business.
Having a period of time you can dedicate to changing your career is a gift but if you don’t have a specific window, why not make one, spend an hour a night studying around your current job, write that book, start that teacher training course, gain work experience during a holiday period trialling a job you’ve always wanted…Whatever it takes, make the first step towards your goal.
2. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone
Doing something new is always scary but remember that fear is there for a reason-to protect you yes but to give you the Adrenalin kick you need to create change. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone will always help you grow.
It takes great courage to change your path, to start a new job, business or expand your family.. and it’s OK not feel like you’re being successful first time either. Why is everyone so worried about failure? It’s a necessary part of success. Every single hugely successful person you admire will have failed countless times before finding what works for them.
I’ve learnt more from my mistakes far more than from any success I’ve had, plus you only ever hear about others’ achievements so your view becomes skewed about quite how tough the road to success can be.
…Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone to feel fulfilled, doesn’t have to be something ‘big’ either.
Recently in Spain, I drove on the right side of the road. Crazy-scared, I somehow managed to drive on dual carriageways and motorways taking my rental car back to a villa 40 minutes away. And guess what? After the initial fear, I found I loved it. I felt challenged and empowered and a little bit kick-ass!
The same applies to receiving my first modelling commission by Nova Harley. I questioned whether I could do it, if I had the guts to model after two children, feared I might be judged but I’m so glad I did it because it was great fun, grew my confidence and led to years of work with a brand I love.
Sometimes we’re the only ones stopping ourselves.
3. Find a positive, productive work/life balance
Once you’ve found that dream job or started taking the first steps to creating it, be prepared for many hours of sweat, hard graft and tears along with oodles of joy. Prepare for the tough times.
There will be many moments when you will no doubt feel overwhelmed and exhausted for the greater good of building your new life so you must rest and replenish.
All work and no play won’t make you happy.
Burn-out is not the goal here.
Building a business takes long hours, hard graft and a ton of passion. It can be draining and stressful so requires respite, so you, the leader of your very own business world, can thrive.
I’m no expert, I still get this whole balance thing wrong at times but I’ve shared some pointers below to remind me of what works:
Learn to switch off.
Be strict with your working hours, particularly if you work online as the internet never sleeps and if you’re not careful, nor will you.
Turn your laptop off and other tech in order to have a better night’s sleep. The blue light hinders zzzzs.
I was suffering with wakefulness and nightmares and low and behold, once I gave myself a working curfew, I slept better, curtailed the bad dreams and became more productive by day. Who knew working late could lead to such bad sleep!
I realise for many parents, night time is when the work gets done but at the very least, give yourself 90 minutes away from screen time before bed, to help you nod off more easily!
Don’t believe me? The science backs it up.
According to this Guardian article, Mariana Figueiro led a team of scientists who discovered that exposure to light from self-luminous displays could be, ‘linked to increased risk for sleep disorders because these devices emit optical radiation at short wavelengths, close to the peak sensitivity of melatonin suppression’.
So turn off. Literally. I have loved reading again, something I’ve done less of since having kids, and drawing too. Find an activity that nourishes you that doesn’t rely on tech.
Back to work-
…As well as loving the written word, the reason I blog for a job is because it’s flexible, means I’m in control of my work life, I’m my own boss, and it works well around my young family-therefore, I must commit to making it work for them!
I take a day off once a week, cramming full time hours into the other days, and working a little over the weekend usually on a Sunday afternoon when the kids have solo Daddy time which works for us all.
Daily, we always have dinner as a family, do homework together, and read as a family in bed before lights out.
Quality time with my kids and husband matters most to me.
There’s no point working hard if I don’t reap the rewards.
I also delegate my workload to keep myself sane: my manager and publicist handles my new business enquiries and negotiates fees on my behalf, I have a designer who ensures my blog looks its best and handles any IT issues, and a new assistant will be starting soon to help manage my schedule.
This all means I can concentrate on what excites me most about my job-being creative, writing the posts, presenting, featuring in campaign films, styling and appearing in shoots, creating new recipes and more.
I realise my business is at a stage where I can afford to hire others to help me, but the message is relevant to all, to spread out your work, be realistic about your goals and what you can achieve within a specific time frame, and keep reminding yourself that you’re only human. Even Beyonce needs a break you know!
4. Knowing your worth and saying ‘no’
Be it work or life, always know your worth.
If you’re freelance, set fees that feel fair for your time, experience and expertise, focus on positive relationships in your life that make you feel your best (more of that later) and don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ if you feel a campaign isn’t right for you or you can’t make an event or see your friends. Self-care is the name of the game not feeling overstretched and guilty.
I recently refused a well paid job because viscerally it just didn’t feel right. Another person might have loved it, but for me, it was a firm ‘no’. Go with your gut. Always. It’s there for a reason and will never let you down.
5. Letting go of the guilt
Guilt is inevitable when it comes to juggling work with kids but it’s utterly futile. For me, I know if I didn’t work, I wouldn’t be happy because I need a creative release. I also need to work financially.
Whatever you do, a happy parent equals a happy child.
I interviewed renowned psychologist Karen Pine and her words always ring in my ears, ‘The current zeitgeist makes parents believe that their every move will shape their child’s future. It won’t. Once we accept that, we can stop feeling guilty about not being the perfect parent!’
Let go of the guilt.
6. Eating food that feeds your brain and body
I’ve experimented with food a lot of the years and those who follow this blog will be aware of this, even seeing me try out veganism in the past.
I am fascinated with food, its power, the healing effect it can have, the flavour and goodness, the uniting factor food can have and I’m constantly trialling, changing, amending and hopefully improving the way I eat.
I know as someone with PCOS, food and exercise are vital to my physical and emotional wellbeing and I do, finally feel I’ve discovered balance in this area.
No food is off limits or laden with guilt, but I generally limit sugar and empty carbs (although the odd ice cream Sunday as above is good for the soul), mostly sticking to a wholesome diet of healthy proteins, slow releasing carbs, fruit and vegetables. Ironically, all this experimenting, has led me right back to my roots-a Mediterranean diet.
I’m also as kind as I can be to myself, I know I can put up to 4lbs during the time of the month and during that time, I know I’ll feel emotional, tired and more sensitive.
7. Exercise that makes you smile
Running and yoga are my friends. I run 3 times a week, not in a high intensity manic way as many advocate (that style just makes me feel exhausted and I personally worry about the long term health effects despite the science so far) but I run to break a sweat, I feel energised by the time I finish and I vary between 20-60 minutes at a time either on a treadmill or preferably in a nearby park, weather allowing.
Yoga too has changed my life. Literally.
8. Have a friendship spring clean
I’ve come to realise that not everyone’s going to like me, value me or want to hang out with me, and that’s OK.
But many will, they’ll relish my energy, my joie de vivre, my passion and kindness, my get up and go, my ‘American’ or culturally Greek, ways. Yes I’m honest but I’m true and thoughtful and will do anything for my friends.
Look, people, all people (you and I included) come to relationships with their own baggage and it’s that which will more often than not impact on how someone will receive, and react towards you.
I will always remember at girl at uni on one of my first days, who told me I reminded her of the ‘pretty girls that bullied her at school’ so she felt she couldn’t be friends with me. Funnily enough we did become friends and she soon realised she shouldn’t judge others based on her past, however tough that experience was.
Most people, usually have strong reactions, positively or negatively, to others when they feel are seeing qualities in them they like, or dislike about themselves.
If it’s for the worst, sadly this is their issue, something they need to resolve themselves so simply don’t sweat it.
The reality is, some might envy you, your confidence, how humble you appear, the way you look, your education, personality, success, courage, your family-life, husband, home, the list is endless- and while envy is a natural emotion that everyone feels from time to time, it shouldn’t become a default mode and must never turn to jealousy, nastiness, bullying, or that quiet erosive killer of relationshhips: passive aggression.
You must also note sometimes the chemistry all bonds are based upon, might not exist. Don’t force it. Friendship shouldn’t be hard work.
Equally remember that you’re human and flawed. Take responsibility for your mistakes, apologise, make amends, change your behavioural patterns and work on yourself.
Behave in a way you want others to behave towards you.
I’m sensitive, that much I know, it’s my Achilles heel if you like, and the downside to being creative I suppose, but equally I have a thick skin when it comes to my creative work, I take criticism well, always want to serve ‘the story’ and bigger picture, and as my father always informs me can be ‘too forgiving’.
Life online can be hard for we bloggers and those who work digitally, we have suddenly become the protagonists in our own narratives meaning it’s hard not to take comments or opinions of others, even those we don’t know, personally.
Try and have a healthy detachment from your online self, keep it real and don’t base your self-worth on other’s opinions. Trust those who really do know you, a strong circle of friends and family who can offer you stability and confidence.
As in real life, keep only those who make you feel good, around you.
Equally, realise that just because you were once close with someone doesn’t mean you always will be.
People grow, change and evolve.
I am still close to people I’ve known since school, sixth form and uni but equally some long-term friendships have drifted or ended. That is life.
As the saying goes, a friend for a season, a reason or a lifetime.
9. Consistently work on your relationship
Relationships need work, in the same way you need to dedicate time to yourself with ‘me time’ (because you do), you need to focus on your relationships too, ensuring you carve out time for your friends and your partner.
Yes it’s hard but even picking up the phone for 10 minutes to mates you might not be able to see often, can keep you close. I speak to one of my best friends Carlie at least once every fortnight if not every week. It keeps us connected and close in a way that emails and social media cannot.
…My husband and I like to try and arrange a ‘date night’ in once a month where we get to just be ‘us’ too. Time for just the two of us is a powerful tonic and helps a lot, when we inevitably find ourselves bickering, fatigued with kids and work when we get back to reality!
10. Be kind to yourself
Give yourself time-out when you can, talk to yourself kindly, ask for help when you need it, cry when you feel broken (you’ll feel better afterwards), stop self-regulating, be yourself and start living your way and on your terms. You don’t require anyone else’s permission to be you, you awesome person, you.
This is a big one for me, feeling grateful for all that I have, to be here right now, breathing, to be alive, to have healthy kids, to have a choice in life, something so many women, and men around the world, still don’t have.
Write a list and remind yourself of all the positives in your life because it’s so easy to lose sight of how much we have to be grateful for.
I have direct debits set to charities that mean a lot to me, and knowing I’m doing something to help others is hugely important to me. If you have time to volunteer or help others in need too, it is the greatest gift you can give.
So there you have it, pretty much my code to a content life (so far).
I’m a work in progress as you are too, and well, I never stop learning and trying to improve…
I’d love to hear your thoughts and pearls of wisdom in the comments.