I’m not even talking about writing. I’m talking about ~life~ and the realities of Starting Over and Going Back to Basics. Those old clichés that we recite to make the facts sound less scary. Clichés are comforting, aren’t they? They’re familiar, they readily roll off the tongue in a time of crisis. They tell us what to do in any situation – a peppy “dust yourself off and try again” or the more profound “everything you want is on the other side of fear”.
Everyone knows your twenties are tough these days. There’s a huge amount of pressure to figure shit out because by the age of 30, you’re meant to know who you are, what you want and be well on your way to succeeding at your *thing*. Enter the quarter-life crisis – you’re probably very well acquainted.
Social scientists say that our twenties are stressful because we have to make a huge number of big decisions, to do with careers, love, family and self, in a relatively small space of time. After two decades in a rigid education system, where our decisions are mostly made for us, adulthood feels a lot like flailing around in the dark and hoping for the best.
Sometimes, we make a wrong choice. Or a choice that was so right just a few years ago, suddenly becomes so wrong. Decisions can have a huge impact on our future so of course they’re stressful. Of course your twenties are gonna suck
at times most of the time.
Those scientists say we react the way our species has always reacted to stress; flight, fight or freeze. They’re not wrong. Turns outs, I have tried all three in my twenties so far.
A few years ago, I was struggling with almost everything in my life. It was hugely depressing. One of the good things was that I had made it to the city I adored and there were a million opportunities at my feet. I jumped at one of those opportunities and thought I’d made a great career move. It quickly proved to be the opposite. I was determined to make it work, so I fought to make every other area of my life perfect. I went to the gym every day, I bought new clothes, I dated a lot, I went on holidays, I distracted myself with friends. Did it help? At the time, yeah. A lot. But I was avoiding the real issue, which was always going to be there…
I started this “blog” when I decided to change a situation that was making me really unhappy, namely doing a job I hated as a result of poor decision making (or lack of options in the first place). And the city I was living in. London changed very quickly from exciting to draining, inspiring to crushing. I had to decide what to do next so I quite literally flew away from the problems, quitting my job and moving to a small town in the south of France. While this was great in the short-term and I don’t regret a second of it, there was always the inevitable moment of coming back to reality…
The summer is over. I’m back in the UK. I’m living in a town in Oxfordshire, that boasts nothing more than a designer outlet, two Costa Coffees and a leisure centre. My rent is cheap, my life is quiet, everything has been stripped back to the bare minimum. It’s just me, my desk and my decisions. The thing is… this is what I wanted a year ago. This is what I yearned for, dreamed of, hoped and prayed for. But I have completely frozen up. While I’m still fairly productive (speeding through the first draft of my novel) I know that is in itself a form of escapism. I have other work to do, decisions to make, and I’m too scared of failure to move in any direction so I’m hiding in a fiction.
I worked incredibly hard to build a life I thought I wanted. When that life didn’t work, for a multitude of reasons, I felt like I had failed. And while starting again is 100% the right thing to do now, I’ve been so scared of choosing the wrong path that I’m just standing at the crossroads, setting up camp to write about a fictional land and live vicariously through the podcasts of braver women. My anxiety has sky-rocketed and everything feels pointless.
One of the scariest things about starting again is when you look around at your friends and peers. You were once all at the same stage of your lives, battling together. Now you’re back at square one, their careers look miles ahead. It’s hard not to be knocked by that. What I keep reading is that we each need to focus on our own “lane.” It doesn’t matter how fast others are going in theirs, because they’re headed somewhere different. Maybe your friends did make better decisions than you, maybe they got opportunities you didn’t, maybe (harsh as it is) they worked harder. Or maybe they’re looking at your clean slate and wishing they could do the same. All that matters is what you’re making happen in your own lane.
It’s taken a few days for me to find myself again – the me who used to love meeting new people, who was driven, who was productive every day, who had big ambitions. I think I’ve found that version of myself, hiding in a cupboard with Outlander on repeat, and pulled her back to reality kicking and screaming. Some loud music, some firm self-discipline and a few baby steps forward were enough for me to realise this new chapter isn’t that scary. It’s all down to me to make it work.
I’m reminded of my own advice on being brave and I need to follow it now. It’s the same as writing; that blank page will either be terrifying or exciting, depending on your mindset. Once you start, all you need to do is keep going.
So anyway, I’ve started this new chapter. It’s not exactly the way I’d hoped (in terms of location, particularly) but I’m trying to see it as a challenge. And there’s always the very sobering reminder that at least I’m not bleeding my bank account dry in London or living somewhere much worse like, you know, Syria. Ffs.
New mantra: If I can be creative and happy in the ass end of nowhere, I can make magic happen anywhere. Repeat 100x a day until true.
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