All in a Day’s Work

After what’s been a very emotional week, I enter the weekend with a smile on my face. I count two reasons for this. One, I’m on my way to Manchester to help my best friend and her boyfriend move to London. Two, I have actually made some progress, albeit small, in the pursuit of my elusive career.

Recently I enquired about a copywriting job with the company I work for. While I didn’t get an interview due to my lack of professional writing experience, the Senior Copywriter for the company offered to meet with me to give me some advice.

When I turned up for the meeting today, not only did I meet the Senior Copywriter, but she also brought along the Editorial and Content Manager. Between the two of them, they gave me some excellent advice about the kind of experience that would help me should I apply for that type of role in the future, qualifications I could look into getting and other types of roles that I could consider. They also told me that while my blog demonstrates that I can write, potential employers will want to see how I can promote them and their brand. My blog, due to the personal nature of it, promotes me as a brand.

This meeting has certainly given me lots to think about. Over the last year I have been questioning whether I actually want a position that is your basic, writing job. For example, would I really want to be a product writer? My writing is very creative, and while I don’t write much in the way of fiction, I do like to tell a story with my blogs. If I had a writing job where the creativity is stripped away to the bare bones, would I be happy with that? Of course, this may be a stepping stone to a job with a more creative type of writing, but I don’t want to be put off writing before I even get there, and apparently these kinds of roles have a very high turnover of staff.

Writing a novel is the dream for most writers, myself included. But the truth is, I love writing my blogs. I enjoy blending the autobiographical with popular culture and everyday life. Right now, I could probably say that my ideal job would be to write this blog, perhaps in a magazine or newspaper column.

So basically, I won’t be stopping this blog any time soon. However, I do need to start branching out with my writing if I want to start applying for writing jobs.

As well as the career advice I received this week, I also stepped over a mental hurdle. I had been worried for some time about telling my boss that I wasn’t particularly happy in my job. Those three weeks in June where I had nowhere to live still haunt me, and being on a fixed-term contract, I worry about ending up in London without a job. While getting emotional at work is not recommended, it did help me this week when I had to explain to my boss on Thursday why I was in floods of tears.

While I gave her a basic outline of the week’s events and my general dissatisfaction with life, I also took the opportunity to tell her how I was feeling about work. How I was unhappy doing the same job as I had been doing before my degree, how I wanted to pursue a career that was more writing-based and how the one-year anniversary of my graduation ceremony was really pressing my need to get back onto the path of seeking the career I can be passionate about.

Rather than giving me a grilling she was supportive, encouraging me to seek out some evening classes that could help with my writing dream, and reassuring me that this is a job to pay the bills with while I am pursuing my dream job.

To have had that conversation with her was a relief. While my contract was extended by three months earlier in the week, I no longer feel like I should live in fear that this conversation could put me out of a job.

As if to underline the two career-related conversations I’ve had this week, the most recent issue of Stylist magazine has an article on evening courses.

Perhaps the most inspirational message I received this week though was on a visit to this train’s WC. Proof that creativity can exist everywhere, not least on anti-toilet-blocking signs, only makes me want to discover mine even more. So I certainly won’t be flushing my dreams down the loo anytime soon.



Jobs with Benefits: No Strings Attached?

When I moved to London last May following the completion of my degree, I came here with the intention of getting a job related to my studies. My Bachelor’s degree was in American Studies, so, you might ask, what kind of job did I intend to get?

American Studies is one of those degrees that doesn’t really have a particular job attached to it. If you do a degree in accountancy, you know that your future is going to involve Excel spreadsheets and a calculator. In fashion, at least a pair of scissors. American Studies…America? The whole reason I went to university was because I had this epiphany a week before my 30th birthday. I had been searching my soul the previous few years, asking myself what it was that I wanted in life, where I wanted to be. The epiphany answered: living and working in America was all I had ever really wanted. As a teenager I used to wish I had been born on the other side of the pond; I hated being British, and it was really only the influence of my extremely patriotic English ex-husband who persuaded me that it was a good thing to be British. Now I am proud of my nationality, but I still see America as the place I have always wanted to be.

About nine months before my 30th birthday, prior to having this great revelation, I decided that if I wouldn’t ever the get the chance to live in America, then I should at least have a dream trip there. Having got the agreement from my then-husband that we could do it, I spent months researching the places I wanted to visit (conclusively, along the West coast) and more months investigating flights and accommodation. Painstakingly looking at the international flights to and from the States, the domestic flights from place to place, costing up hotels and car hire.

A couple of months before our trip, during my intensive research stage, my ex-husband intimated that this wasn’t really a trip he wanted to go on at all. My reply, to both our surprise, was that I was going, even if I had to do it alone. He laughed and said that I wouldn’t even go to the Co-op on my own.

He had a point. I hated going to supermarkets on my own, going clothes shopping on my own. I even hated nipping to the local shops to pick up milk. I hated going anywhere on my own; what made me think that I would be able to go travelling on my own?

I think it was then that I finally started to admit to myself that my marriage was crumbling.

It was something I had been in denial of for a long time, but the realisation that I was willing to do something as drastic as going travelling on my own, and the fact that my husband didn’t want to do something that was obviously so important to me, and more importantly it was a holiday – he loved holidays and we had two weeks in Orlando for our honeymoon – set the alarm bells ringing.

We did go on the trip, in September 2008. Six nights in Los Angeles, four in Las Vegas, and a day in drizzly Seattle. I had planned four nights in San Francisco and three in Seattle, but we had to cut our trip short, because he was due to start university. On the whole, we had a great time, and this trip cemented my love for the place I had seen on the big and small screen as a teenager, in a way that my honeymoon in Florida hadn’t.

Previous readers will know that I spent six months in the States as part of my degree. I won’t go into that now, as I want to get back to my original reason for this particular blog, other than to say that my study abroad period is where I realised that I could write, and gave me the confidence to know in my heart that writing is what I wanted to do in the future; what I wanted to be paid to do.

So fast forward to May 2013. I take the chance to move to London without a job. Having had no joy in finding a permanent job, I knew that temping would be the way to go initially. A month after moving, I was offered an administrative, data-type job, similar to what I’d been doing for twelve years before my degree. Being desperate for money, I took the job, thinking that it would give me the opportunity to pay the bills while searching for that elusive dream job of being paid to write.

After three months of being a temp, I was offered a six-month contract with the company, a luxury retailer. A further six months later brings us to last week, where I signed on the dotted line to spend another six months with them.

The great thing is that I now have a job with benefits. Never had a job with benefits before. Friends with benefits, sure, but never a job with benefits. The only perk I ever got from the National Health Service is 20% off Nandos. Which is a great perk that I still continue to receive, but sshhh, don’t tell anyone. I now get a subsidised travelcard, which will allow me to travel the whole of London for a quarter of what I currently pay to travel my short commute to work. I also get a staff discount and clothing allowance, although anyone who knows me knows that the only place I buy labels is in charity shops. I certainly can’t afford to buy clothes and accessories through my employer, staff discount or not.

I am now also being given the opportunity to travel on company business. I am currently on my way back to London from Leeds, the first of three overnight stays I will have in the next month.

But what about my America dream? My writing dream? I hear you ask. I ask myself that all the time. I still peruse the job emails I get through, and sometimes I make a note of the ones I want to apply for (although I usually don’t). But right now, I am happy to stay put, while I sort other areas of my life such as moving house.

While I only graduated last September, it does worry me that I seem to have lost my desire to chase the dreams that were realised over the last few years. I know in my heart I have given up on living in the States, because it’s very difficult to get a working visa. I know people with many more qualifications and connections in the US than me, and if they are struggling to get a visa, I ask myself how is a 35-year old with a degree in American Studies going to be given such an elusive opportunity.

A writing job is not so much out of the question, but the last few months has seen me question what kind of writing job I would want. Would I be happy with a copywriting job? Depends on the kind of copy. I’m not so great at flowery descriptive text. I write from the heart, from past experience, from current experience. I write about depression, having a coil fitted, sex, internet dating. I attended a crime writing panel last year, and listened to one of the published authors, with years of experience in the publishing industry, admit that this experience did not encourage her to become an author. Her revelation that authors and their books are described as “units” in the industry, and the focus being on sales, sales, sales, has stuck with me. I want to be a writer, I don’t necessarily want to work for the industry that enables other people to get published. Maybe if it were an easier industry to get into, I might pursue it, but in truth, I have shelved that idea.

So, where does that leave me? I really have no idea. All I know is that I need to keep writing, and have faith that what will be will be. I also know, from past experience, that you can’t just sit and wait for things to happen. So more effort is needed from me in order to make life happen.

The Friends with Benefits relationship has really become quite well known over the last few years. Films such as Friends with Benefits and No Strings Attached have drawn audiences of the rom-com crowd, eager to see whether the fairy tale is possible in this modern day commitment-phobic agreement. While Friends with Benefits is synonymous with the term ‘No Strings Attached’, does the same go for a Job with Benefits? If so, then perhaps this is exactly the job I need right now. A mutually beneficial relationship that is not meant to be anything long term.

The Twelve-Week Challenge: Day 16

I’m very pleased to report that my first essay is now in!  One down, three to go.  I have to admit there were times today when I thought if I’d known before I started my degree, what I know now, I may have followed a different path to get to where I want to be.  While I’ve enjoyed it, and it gave me the opportunity to study in the US and make lots of friends and acquaintances from all over the world, at times it has been very tough.  Right now, I know I’m near the end, and maybe everyone feels like this.  I’m sure I’ll be beaming when I’m stood in Lincoln Cathedral this September at the graduation ceremony, and I’ve no doubt having a degree will help with my future employment prospects, but if I had to do it all again I’m not certain I would choose to.  But then hindsight is a wonderful thing.

My next essay is due on Thursday, so tomorrow is going to be spent doing that.  While I should probably be staying up late to work on it, I’m too tired to do so, and thus I’m opting for an early-ish night.  I feel like I may be coming down with yet another cold, but maybe it’s just tiredness.  I did make a hot water bottle tonight before I got into bed, despite the warm weather today!  Another reason I’ll be glad to see the back of my degree is because while I’ll have less time to myself, because I’ll be working full-time, I won’t always have in the back of my mind that there is work to be done, and so relaxation can be done to 100% perfection, rather than always having that nagging feeling that I’m not doing what I should be doing…

Anyway, I’m falling asleep, so it’s time to say good night, and I’ll see you tomorrow.

The Twelve-Week Challenge: Day 19

You ever have one of those days where you can’t decide what to write?  I’m having one of those right now.  I must have written ten different sentences, and deleted each one, because I wasn’t happy with what I’d written.  Day 19 seems to bother me for some reason, maybe it’s because the twenties have now been permanently left behind, and the countdown to Day Zero is moving surprisingly fast.  Maybe with 19 days to go, I haven’t got anything to report; I feel like I’m in limbo.  I’m still waiting to hear about the flatshare, and still don’t have a job.  While that shouldn’t be a problem, if the temping agencies are to be believed, it’s still a worry.  With regards to the flatshare, today I keep getting alternating feelings about it – one minute I’m feeling positive, the next I’m sure that I’ll be getting a thanks-but-no-thanks text.  Que sera sera – what will be, will be.

I guess right now it really is just a time for keeping the faith.  I do believe that things will work out.  It’s just me being impatient; I hate not knowing what is going to happen.

What I do know is that in less than 19 days, 12 days in fact, all my essays will be in, marking the end of my academic career.  Not the official end, of course, that will come in September when I get to dress up and receive a scroll at the cathedral.  But the end of uni work as I know it.

Someone asked me today if I was excited about moving.  I know I will be, once I know I have somewhere, and a date to go.  I do have the habit of getting over-excited, much like a child on Christmas Eve, and so it’s probably a good job I’m not fully excited yet, otherwise I wouldn’t be getting much sleep at all.

The prospect of that new life though glows over the hill, like the sun rising in the morning.  It’s like those early mornings, which are full of hazy fog, and it’s hard to see to the other side of the field.  But soon, the fog will lift, and it will be a warm, bright, sunshiny day.

The Twelve-Week Challenge: Day 40

Wow, Day 40 already.  I guess this means I should have a serious think about what I want to achieve by the time the clock hits, now backwards, to Day Zero.

When I started writing this challenge, back at the beginning of February, I’m not sure what  I really expected to achieve myself.  I knew I would have finished all my assignments, or rather, I hoped I would.  After suspending my studies a year and a half ago, at a time when I couldn’t foresee myself ever graduating, I have never taken that graduation ceremony for granted.  Even now with my dissertation handed in and only (she says) four essays to go, I won’t assume I will be stood with my gown and mortar board this September, although I’m determined that nothing will stand in my way.

I had also hoped I would have had at least an interview by now.  So far, I’ve only had thanks-but-no-thanks letters, which is better than nothing, but it also means I’m not filled with hope for getting a permanent job offer in the next 40 days.  While I’m perfectly willing to consider temp work, I don’t know what I will end up doing, and there’s always the chance something will get in the way of what I want to do.  I know so many people who have had to give up on their dreams, for one reason or another, and I guess I’m scared that could happen to me.  But anyway, let’s not ruin things before they’ve even started.  I’m thinking positive.

So I guess as long as I’ve finished my degree, maybe found a job, then what else is there at Day Zero?  For me, there will be relief.  That I made it to that point.  Day Zero will be a culmination of the last six or seven years, and most importantly, the fact that I can finally tell myself: I did it.

The Twelve-Week Challenge: Day 31

I’m actually highly embarrassed writing this blog post.  It’s 2:14am, and this blog is 2 hours 14 minutes late (at least, since you also need to add how long it takes me to write it.  But hopefully that won’t be too long at this ridiculous hour).  I was only talking to my Life Coach, Jon Richelieu-Booth, earlier today about how I’ve pretty much managed to stay on top of these blogs, with only a handful of late blogs during this challenge.  But here I go again, and the reason being, you won’t be surprised to hear, is a member of the male species.

As I finally switch off my iPhone’s Have You Blogged Today??!! reminder, which I’ve been snoozing every five minutes since 9pm, I realise that I have a history of making the same mistakes over and over again.  During the time of my university career when I need to be focussed on my work, I have let myself get distracted by the idea of meeting The Perfect Man.  I had just about given up; or at least parked the idea until after I was done with uni.  But no.  The internet dating site I was telling you about the other day, the one where you can’t actually talk to people came up trumps, with a rather good-looking guy sending me a message along with his mobile phone number.  To quote an Eric Martin song, I’m a Sucker for a Pretty Face, and the idea that this particular pretty face may finally be the Man of My Dreams was just too much to ignore, even for two weeks while I rid myself of the dissertation that has been haunting me for the last two years.

So I started messaging said guy, and arranged to meet him this week.  He doesn’t live nearby, so it would have meant a full day away from home.  Long story short, something just didn’t feel right and I had to go along with my gut instinct, and actually walk away from aforementioned hot guy.  He didn’t seem particularly upset, sending me a “Bye babe x” text.  Babe.  Even if it was only for two days, I enjoyed having somebody call me babe, and the excitement of thinking this could be the one.

Of course, afterwards, I went into mini meltdown.  I couldn’t do anything, except cry my eyes out, and lay on my bed.  I’ve somehow managed to snooze while snoozing my blog reminder.  It’s a miracle it’s still going off to be honest, a lesser person would have just switched it off hours ago, but like the reminder for my tablets, I refuse to switch it off until I’ve actually done what the reminder tells me I should have done, otherwise I will forget (hence the reason for a reminder).

I realise that I let myself get distracted because, deep down (or on the surface really) I just want what I’ve always wanted – to be in a loving relationship with the guy of my dreams.  Maybe the reason I’m struggling to finish off my uni work, is because it will finally mean doing what I’ve been trying to do for years, which is to escape from my home town and all its ghosts.  After 34 years, 22 of them spent hankering after the guy I thought was “The One”, well I finally have to admit I was wrong.  He wasn’t the one.  He wasn’t even a maybe.  By finishing uni, and moving away, I’ll finally be putting the last nail in the coffin on The One That Got Away, as I always thought of him.

I am prone to repeating the same mistakes and not learning from them.  A reminder of that came in the form of a letter, received while I was away over the weekend, from a debt collection agency.  It was asking if I was indeed the person named who used to live at blah blah address.  Yes I am.  But I worry as to why it is asking me this, in relation to a “Business Matter”.  Read: unpaid debt.  This is from a time when I was married, in fact I haven’t lived at that address for over four years, and I thought all our debts from that time were paid off.

At the time when my divorce is almost finalised, I’m less than impressed to receive something like this out of the blue.  Almost like a reminder that your past will always be there to bite you on the ass.

After I finish writing this, I will switch off my laptop, crawl under my duvet, which hasn’t hosted me since Wednesday night, and switch off the touch lamp my mum gave me last time she came over.  I’ll go to sleep, with The Bish next to me, and when I wake up tomorrow, I’ll start on my dissertation.  Time to banish those ghosts.  Get those last 2000 words written, and then time for editing, before getting it bound and submitted in time before the deadline.  No more distractions.  I can’t afford to lose focus on what’s important; that I am a third of the way through this challenge, and therefore a third of the way closer to being able to say goodbye to all past mistakes, and move on to a brand new page, and the chance to reinvent myself.  I cannot lose this second chance at life.  My parents are waiting to see me graduate this September, along with the person that matters most.  Myself.

The Twelve-Week Challenge: Day 1

Well, as promised, here’s the first instalment of The Twelve-Week Challenge blog.  If you didn’t read the introduction earlier , then basically I have twelve weeks until my final piece of uni work has to be submitted.  Having suspended my final year in December 2011, I am aware of how crucial it is that I get my work done in order that I can graduate from the beautiful Lincoln cathedral in September of this year.

As my self-discipline and willpower is not at its best (well, let’s be honest, most of the time it’s pretty non-existent), I’ve set myself the task of reporting daily on my progress, both with getting my uni assignments finished, and with making plans for what I’m going to do with myself once I’ve completed these twelve weeks.  This is a way of keeping myself accountable, and it means I also have to write.  Can’t be a writer if you can’t write.

So, down to what you really want to know – what’s my progress?  Today I’ve written 150 words on my dissertation.  Not too much in the grand scheme of things; it’s a 10,000 word assignment, of which I have 7000 words written.  Today I have also shuffled a few paragraphs around.  I aim to write some more after this blog is written.

I haven’t done anything about the post-twelve-week stuff today.  But I showered, put make-up on, even straightened my hair.  And then I put on a black dress, tights, and my new beloved pair of Nine West heels, their first outing since  I put on some lipstick and made my way out…to the kitchen.  Where I joined my two housemates and some other Chinese friends for Chinese hotpot, to celebrate the Spring Festival, more commonly known as Chinese New Year.  I am frequently told by my housemates that I am Chinese, so why shouldn’t I use the Chinese New Year as the opportunity to re-make myself?

Too many times lately I’ve been in pyjamas all day, I’ve gone out without make-up, without even brushing my hair.  Making the effort today felt good, even if it was just to join my friends for some good food.  But most of all, every time I glanced in the mirror, I see a beautiful young woman.  The future is coming.  I’m ready for it now.

That leaves me with just one more thing to say: 恭禧發財.  Happy Chinese New Year everyone!