Old Passion: Blogging

In the search to find out the things that could help me discover my passion, I turned to something I used to be passionate about: blogging.

I used to run a pretty successful food blog. The thing is that I hated being labelled a ‘food blogger’. The blog felt like so much more than that. It felt like an extension of my creative side. A side I had only just discovered. I worked really hard on that blog. I felt like that was my real job. I did all the design, photography, writing, editing and social media for it. I was out interviewing local businesses and invoicing magazines who requested my photography. I worked on it during the days and went to my bar job at night. By the time I was getting ready to leave for Canada I was working with high profile brands such as John Lewis, Tesco, Marks & Spencer to name a few.

And then I stopped.

I thought that if I put in as much work as I did at home as I did in Canada, the blog would be as popular. But that wasn’t how it worked out. Canada ain’t cheap. Rents are crippling if you want to live anywhere remotely connected. Life there in general is expensive. Even deodorant. So I had to get a 9-5. I had a new life to pay for and new friends to spend time with. Something had to give.

There were times where I wanted to pack it all in and head off with my camera and laptop. I missed that creative connection I had to something. I tried and failed to think of ideas that I could work on. As series of pretty harsh setbacks halted that altogether. But lost in a confusing haze of anxiety and listlessness, I never once asked myself ‘is this who I really am?’ Why did I give up what I enjoyed to do something just to make money and survive. Why didn’t I manage my time better to be able to do both? These are questions I now know the answer to: I can do it. I just have to want it badly enough.

This blog won’t be like the other one. I put a lot of pressure on myself to make it successful. What I did learn is that I enjoyed many aspects of being creative; meeting like-minded people who inspire me, discovering new things and taking pictures. I wish I wrote on their more instead of letting the pictures doing the talking. So this blog is the counterpart to that.

This is just the beginning.

Day 3

Success Starts in Coalhurst, Alberta

When I was living in Canada a good friend of mine announced that his friend, Marko, would be cycling from west coast to east coast with a deadline of three months. That journey would be from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Toronto, Ontario. The land border between Canada and the USA is 8,891 kilometres, which would mean he would have to cycle over 100 kilometres a day. Or something like that.

With his work visa rapidly running out, there could be a chance he would be cycling across the country illegally if he didn’t make his flight from Toronto in time. But despite everyone’s concerns, he set out to cycle across the second largest country in the world. He checked in everyday to let everyone know he was still alive. His safety was the biggest concern. But he called undeterred, even after spending the night alone in an abandoned warehouse in Crowsnest Pass, Alberta. But by the time he reached Coalhurst, he was exhausted. He sold his bike and got a bus to Lethbridge, where he worked bussing tables until he had to be in Toronto.

At the time we all thought he was crazy. He had a bunch of luggage that needed to find its way back to his homeland of Croatia, but that didn’t bother him so much. He was so focussed on his trip that he let his friends deal with it. The only thing he had to do was cycle, eat, use the bathroom and sleep everyday. The harsh, isolating expanse of the Canadian highway hadn’t even factored into his plans. He would be free.

I think about that story often.

We still joke about it now. How he had these grand plans to cycle from coast to coast. Three months isn’t even enough time for the Terminator to cycle across Canada, and he can time travel. See, there was no way he would ever finish the trip. I think deep down he knew that, but he wanted to try. He wasn’t afraid of failing. He still cycled across one province and halfway through the next. I won’t cycle anywhere near that distance in my entire life. But he did. And he did it alone.

What I admire the most about Marko’s journey was that he knew when to stop. He didn’t give up. He simply couldn’t cycle the insane distance in the time frame he’d established. He realised it was going to be impossible for him to do. He knew he had reached his limit, so he stopped. He didn’t care that people might label it a failure, because he didn’t fail at anything.

A lot of my downfalls in life have been because of my refusal to admit failure. I just won’t do it. I will keep going even when I’m unhappy. This stubbornness has seen me stay in relationships that far exceeded their sell-by-date. It saw me working for one company for five years and quitting two months before they went bankrupt. Heck, I lived in Canada for longer than I could mentally cope. I never used to be like that. I would walk away if my work load was too much or if I was unhappy with who I was dating. I could tell myself enough was enough. I would follow my gut. That’s how I used to be.

I used to be like Marko.

Day 2

Things never turn out how you want them to.

I often wonder why, exactly, I stayed in Vancouver. I mostly attribute it down to lack of funds to move elsewhere, but also down to a sheer stubbornness to try and fit in. I kept digging deeper  and forcing myself on this city.Trying to scratch the surface. Kind of like “Heeey, Vancouver, I’m here. Let’s have a good time. You kind of like me and I kind of like you. Let’s do this.” A city surrounded by mountains and beaches. An outdoorsy, yoga-filled lifestyle. What’s not to love? Well. Turns out a lot. I love beaches. But I don’t love gravel pits next to a tanker lined e-coli infested waters. I love beautiful scenery but I don’t like hiking through it. I can’t abide the smell of weed and this city is filled with weed dispensaries. I had never even heard of Lululemon until I moved here – I had to Google it.

The thing about this city is that is wraps around you like a warm, suffocating hug. It doesn’t let you go. The folks here are simple – hiking, camping, getting stoned, taking part in seasonal mountain based sports is all you need to qualify to be a ‘Vancouverite’. Maybe head to a gig of the latest indie band to play the Orphium in the evening. That’s pretty much it. There was no to scratch. The friendliness I had encountered on the east coast of Canada didn’t exist here. It feels more like a small town disguised as a large city. It can be isolating both mentally and geographically. Friendships with locals are mostly fleeting, they’re always waiting for someone or something better to come along.

I often feel like I outstayed my welcome. But did I ever feel welcome? It’s one thing to change as a person and another to change into a different person in order to fit in. I realised I didn’t want to fit in. I don’t mind the occasional entry level hike. I don’t mind jumping on a ferry and heading to a quiet island for the day. But my free time is more for exploring a new neighbourhood or town. Camping and dropping acid in the woods and baking myself into a weed coma is not really how I choose to spend my free time. Each to their own, I guess.

Eventually, when I move on, I won’t think of all the things I missed out on – skiing, getting stoned, doing yoga on the beach. I will think of all the people that enriched my life and helped me to grow as a person. I’ll think back to the times we looked out for each other, the adventures we had, the jokes, the laughter and the experiences. The mountains will fade from memory, the beautiful lakes will glisten less, but the nights we stayed up late playing Cards Against Humanity and making plans for the future is what will remain. Sometimes it’s the people that make the place.

When you find your people, you find your place.

A list of things to do before I turn 30

In my previous post I wrote about how I’m trying to live my life on purpose. I intended to make a list of all the things I wanted to do between my upcoming 29 birthday and next year, when I turn 30. This list will most likely grow longer and I’ll be sure to update it as I go. I realise that some of these won’t all happen before 30, but that doesn’t mean they won’t happen!

  1. Write consistently – a new piece once a week
  2. Host a birthday party for a friend (done this past weekend)
  3. Learn to make cocktails
  4. Stay in a log cabin
  5. Visit all the Canadian provinces (I have only been to three so far)
  6. Visit Argentina and the Falkland Islands
  7. Live in another Canadian city
  8. Learn a new recipe a week
  9. Give home made gifts (have already started doing this)
  10. Appreciate people more
  11. Be debt free and stay that way (my first and last time in debt, hopefully)
  12. Visit a pumpkin patch
  13. Keep living within my means
  14. Print my photos
  15. Travel the east coast of north America for a month
  16. Live in a small town for a few months
  17. Visit wine country
  18. Have two zero dollar spending days per week
  19. Appreciate the place I live in more
  20. Try a new hobby

Living a life on purpose…or something close.

In three months I will turn 29 and I’m pretty terrified by it all. I remember turning 21 and everything was in front of me. I had kind of messed up the first part of my life, I thought. So I set about using my twenties as a way to make up for my crap school grades, being a collage drop-out and working in a dead end job as an administrative assistant. So I quit that job, starting working in my local Blockbuster (much to my nan’s chagrin ‘but you had an actual job, a respectable one’) moved out of home and went back to college. I was determined to go to university and if I wasn’t in college, studying at home or at work I was out partying. And boy, did I party hard. I was living with my best friend and was free to do whatever I wanted. I worked hard and partied hard. Life was great.

Then I started university and decided to slow it down and focus on working towards my future – to get my degree and move out of Cardiff and start a career. Then I met someone and stayed with him for four years. I moved in with him. Three months after moving in together I felt sad for some reason and I didn’t know why. When I finally left to move to Canada I felt a huge sense of relief and liberation. Thinking back on that time I realised I was unhappy but felt the pressure to stay because it was easier than leaving. The only thing I regret is that I lost a sense of who I was. Sometimes that’s worse than all the other stuff.

I did start a successful food blog during that time and I graduated uni with the result that I wanted. I got my visa to move to Canada, a life long dream, and I finally said an overdue fair well to my home town. I guess you could say it wasn’t all bad, but I did put on a huge amount of weight and lost all my self confidence and rarely saw my friends. So 50/50.

Did I have it all figured out when I moved to Canada? Hell no! I ended up moving to a city that was so far removed from normality (think everyone being young, golden, athletic with rich parents) that I still had no idea who I was. I made friends with a lively bunch of Australians who were up to try new things and experience new places and party (is there any other kind of Aussie?!) and I thought this was the person I was supposed to be now. Then I thought I was a person who should go hiking every weekend because that’s what people here do.

I also dated some local guys and every single one of them was an asshole. Then I dated a REAL asshole who was such a narcissist that he truly believed he was the best thing ever, and I got out as soon as I realised what was happening. I also had it pretty bad for a friend who sent me an unending wave of mixed signals. Turns out he just wasn’t that into me after all. A huge lesson learned on all accounts.

So what does all this have to do with almost turning 30? Well recently I had a revelation: I wasn’t doing things that made me happy. I just went along with things in the hopes that they would get better, because everything worth having is supposed to always be a shitty before it gets good, right? Wrong. I worked jobs where I was micromanaged and treated like crap and naively thought that the next job would be ‘the one’ and I got fired from that after two weeks. But did that job make me happy? Nope. But I kept working there because it would look good for my career, apparently.

I had to learn from getting fired. I was trying so hard to conform and go along with what I thought was expected of me. During my unemployment I realised that I needed to go back to basics and not to rely on anyone or any job. What did I like doing? What did I like to spend my money on? That was what I had to ask myself. I then took on a full-time job working as a box office assistant at a small comedy club where I spend the majority of my time working alone. I couldn’t be happier.

My days off are for me now. I don’t plan to do anything major. I just think of a few places or activities that I love and then decide on the day what I’ll do. I don’t stress myself out making plans with friends and what we should all do together, I just go do it. On a recent day off I called a local spa on the off-chance they had appointments and went for a massage. On the way home I bought a doughnut and went to the library. And then it clicked, this is what I enjoy doing, I did everything I wanted to do. I had no obligations and it felt great.

I recently read this article about how to live life on purpose. What stuck out for me was the idea of making a list of things to do by the next birthday. I am going to continue to do things that make me happy and to leave situations that I no longer want to be in. I am going to learn and do all the new things I want to do. If friends want to join me, then that’s great. I still don’t have it all figured out, but I’m at least at a place that makes sense for me now.

(list will be published next time)

Life is unpredictable. Let’s keep it that way.

Temping didn’t exactly work out. I had one temping job in the two weeks I attempted to ‘figure it out’ and I spent more time in temping agencies being interviewed than I did at any actual jobs. Every time it became more about what they could get out of me than I could get out of them. One asked more questions about where I had applied for external jobs than what I was capable of. It was more effort asking them for work than it was to find a full-time job. I was so unsure of what I wanted to do next that I would’ve just gone with whoever offered me a job next. So that’s what I did.

I didn’t figure anything out during my unemployment. I sat and stared at my laptop for most of the time. I read books, sought out new music, new films, podcasts. I absorbed myself in the things I love. It made sense to get back to basics. When I had started my ‘dream’ job at the video game studio I thought I had everything worked out: pay off my debt, breathe life into my savings and plan trips and adventures. Getting fired was the best thing that happened to me. I had been coasting along and the new job was just that mirage I had created to think that that’s where I wanted to be. What I wanted to be was free of the office and free to enjoy myself again. I was never going to fit into that environment and I never will. I thought temping would provide me with somewhat of a steady income and more control over my schedule. That didn’t work out the way I planned either.

I have learned from all this though. I’m not here to forge a career in an office setting. I am here to work and travel. I’m not here to make a home and settle down. I’m here to experience what life is like outside of my comfort zone –  a zone I had jumped out of and then back into these last 18 months.

This past weekend I had no concrete plans and it was perfect. We shopped for a present for an impromptu wedding, caught up with a friend, who lives in nearby Seattle, and her adorably German parents. Went to a small but beautiful wedding and headed to a party for someone I had never met. What was special about all this was that none of it was in my immediate plans, it just happened. The weekend was full of laughter, adventure and love.

Perfect.

The First Five Days of Unemployment: A Guide

Being unemployed sucks, plain and simple. What’s worse is that, often, it isn’t by choice. You’re called in for a meeting to ‘sync up’ with your HR manager and the next minute you’ve barely got your bum in the seat only to be told it’s ‘bad news’ and it’s ‘not a good fit’. You leave confused, dazed and frustrated thinking ‘what did I do wrong? What didn’t I do right?’ You’re friends rally around you, form strategies to help you get back on track. But, try as they might, you’re confidence is shattered and you are now direction-less. All you want to do is go home and climb under the bed covers hoping this was all some crazy dream. The day replays in your mind until the facts and conversations are now distorted.

Faced with the prospect of nothing but job hunting, it’s time to figure out what to do with all the surplus time you now have. You decide to go back into your passions and hobbies and find for something that you’ve always wanted to work on. The reality is that, despite your best intentions, when Monday morning rolls around you’re laying in bed watching 12 Years a Slave and dreaming, that, if you had a chance encounter with Michael Fassbender, that somehow your life would be amazing again and all this sadness and confusion would go away. When you finally emerge from your cave-like slumber you realise Fassbender isn’t getting on the number 25 bus any time soon, and you’re eating cheese right from the packet.

Tuesday brings some much needed re- energising. You’re still feeling low, especially because the day before you watched a two and a half hour film about slavery and then read a book about the plight of Irish orphans sent to America. You’re really knocking it out of the park though – you’ve re-affirmed what a horrible place the world truly is: let’s get job hunting!

It’s now the middle of the week and you’re friend has a two-for-one voucher for the cinema. You feel normal for a bit. You pick the film ‘The Gift’ and plan your day around going to see this film. This is fine. You’re happy to be having an unplanned break from working. At least you’re still getting up before 9am. You finally have some responses from the applications you applied to on Tuesday. You secure two interviews with temping agencies, which suits you perfectly, as you long for the flexibility the temping schedule can offer. You plough through more job applications, cockily clicking on the advert for the job you just got fired from. ‘Good luck, suckers!’ You feel pleased with yourself. That’ll tell ’em!

You work on your writing during the afternoon. Everything you write is garbage. You still have three hours until your friend finishes work and you can do normal people things again. The conversation over a $5 dinner is grim. ‘I need to move on from this place. Why did I bother with any of it? Why? I’m moving to Calgary!’ The friend tries to console you and offer advice from their own experiences of unemployment ‘I’ve been fired from jobs here as well. You’re 100% hire-able – look at all your skills and experience. This is just a stumbling block. You don’t need to move to Calgary!’ She’s probably right. But at this moment Calgary seems like the end to all your troubles. You’ve never been to Calgary.

The film is a much needed escape from reality, or so you thought. The two main characters are a narcissistic bully and a forlorn loner which, to your dismay, is the only criteria it takes to get you interested in a guy. You now decide that, in the midst of unemployment, it’s time to tackle your issues with men.

It’s Thursday! You have an interview with an recruitment agency! You get all dressed up for the interview. You do a quick Google search to double-check the location and also, while your at it, check if Elisabeth Moss is still a Scientologist (she is.) You head out feeling dubious about how the interview will go and a little sad that Peggy Olsen is a bit of a wacko in real life.  Your recruiter turns out to be from the UK as well. This is great news! One of your people. She’s even here on the same work visa as you. You can bond over the tribulations of the whole process. But she is here on the same work visa as you and she’s the one deciding if she has any work for you. This is humbling. When you leave you jump on the number 10 bus, turn your ipod on to Junip, stare into the ether and ride the bus until you feel like getting off. Thursday is the best.

The week is almost over and there’s good news! You are heading out to meet with another agency and the one from yesterday calls with an offer of work. Result! It’s for one day though and you have to be up at stupid o’clock to get there. But you get to put on pants and stuff. This is the catalyst to make sure you life doesn’t head into Cones of Dunshire territory. Later that evening you say goodbye to two of your most favourite people as they head off on another adventure. You realise that it’s time to think seriously and figure out where your life is heading.