Category Archives: Aliljoy articles

My fear of failure and how I use it as a motivational tool

Lying side by side in the darkness one evening, at that time of night when we know we should be sleeping but have our most honest conversations, he asked me something he had yet to learn about me: “What are you most afraid of? Is it Spiders? Snakes?”

No, I’m not scared of spiders or snakes, although perhaps I ought to be. I used to say I was most scared of nothingness, the white space around the edge of the universe, the gap created by the page margins if you were to print it on a piece of paper. But I grew out of that idea.

My biggest fear is failure.

This is the kind of anxiety that permeates everything, runs soul-deep and will affect me on every level. I cannot stand the idea of going through life without achieving anything. While I know, on a conscious level, that I’m victim to my own ambition, it is much harder to dismiss on the emotional level. My fear is sometimes so overwhelming that it stops me getting things done.

Day to day, failure in the little things makes me nervous. Things like whether or not I make time to post that letter, whether I am on time for my lectures, whether I get any writing done, whether I remembered to check my emails or call my family.

With the fear comes that disappointment at the end of a less-than-perfect day, when at 10pm I have only managed number one on the to-do list scribbled in the dark the night before. I have been known to break down in tears halfway through a day like this, when an attempt to visit the bank on my cycle home was greeted with a blank look from a security guard as he motioned for me to leave. The fear of failing can be so impenetrable that it seem to work against me in every effort I make.

Long-term goals, though, are even harder to pin down, harder to plan for, and therefore harder to achieve. I find myself oscillating from one extreme to the other regarding my mid- and long-term goals. There are Friday evenings when I think to myself: ‘I did a lot of writing this week’ or, ‘wow, I used so many new Chinese words in conversation this week.’ But then there are those weeks when I have scheduled 13 days of solid work-work-work and all I want to do is crawl up and hibernate before work starts again. On those days, I can’t see the wood for the trees.

But those days are few and far between now. Why? Because there are ways to flip this fear on its head and turn it into a motivation tool!

While it’s been a steep learning curve, often struggling over how best to balance things, the past few months have taught me a lot about using my time productively whilst staying happy and healthy, and I feel like I am really achieving something tangible.

Want to know six things I do to improve productivity and turn the fear of failure into a vehicle of success? 

Read the full article here: The Fear of Failure and How to Use it to Motivate You | …a lil piece of joy.

Guilt and Regret: Practising Self-Forgiveness

pattismith_paris_1969

We make ourselves feel guilty about all manner of things. Appearance, weight, eating, drinking, exercise, accidents, things we’ve said or done…

I feel I have wasted days, months, maybe years of my life on guilt and regret.

I tend to beat myself up about all kinds of stuff. I am ambitious and competitive. I hate not being the best I can be, and I judge myself against some fictitious idealized version of who I think I could be, or who I think I could be seen to be. I compete against myself, and nothing I do is ever quite good enough for myself.

While ambitions and high expectations give you a goal to work towards, a reason to keep striving, they can also be incredibly destructive. I make myself feel guilty for not achieving far-off dreams immediately, and regret not starting my efforts sooner or working harder.

I am my own worst enemy.

There are, of course, things I’ve done that I’m not proud of. Mistakes I have made, things I have done that have made lives more difficult (mine or others’), or remarks I have made and later wished I hadn’t (something like the opposite of l’espirit d’escalieror staircase wit).

I’m not going to air my dirty laundry in public. I’m pretty sure nobody should be made to feel they ought to, and I’m even surer everyone’s got things they’re not eager to discuss with the world. How many humans alive today can honestly say they are proud of every single tiny act of their lives?

Just because there are things you’d rather not boast about doesn’t mean you have to carry them around, letting it all weigh you down until you collapse under the pressure of your own swirling emotionsNo-guilt-e1424284657820. How is that process conducive to getting on with your life?

What purpose do guilt and regret actually serve? Do these emotions truly tell you how you feel? Or are they socially inflicted? Does that conscience of yours tell you what’s best for you or what social morality says you should feel?

A recent and inspiring conversation brought up the phrase:

‘I’ve been practicing self-forgiveness a lot more for the past six years – we’re getting along better as a result’.

My companion remembers, distinctly, the point in his life at which his resolve changed. Changed for the better. He is able to look back and see an image of where this new phase began.* So I began to think about the ways in which I’ve dealt with these emotions.

Somehow, idioms seem to return at trying times:

Worse things happen at sea.

I have crystalline memories of moments in which I told myself this. I have no idea why, but it almost became like a mantra to me during a difficult period of my life.92-patti-smith-people-have-the-power-l

I continually find renewed inspiration in Patti Smith, who has saved me from myself more than once. Her lyrics include two of my favourite and often repeated phrases. The first is: ‘I’m an American artist, and I have no guilt’. Following her example, all I have to do is declare myself to the world and somehow the air around me clears so I can see things in context.

Secondly, her song/poem Babelogue begins:

‘I haven’t fucked much with the past but I’ve fucked plenty with the future’.

Patti doesn’t look back. She knows she’s changed the future, her future, the world’s future, and she owns it. I draw so much energy from these statements, every time I hear or say them.image1

So much potential, so much energy that goes into regret, guilt and self-torment could go into something far more positive. Imagine the possibilities, if everyone began practicing self-forgiveness and left the past where it belongs. It would be immense!

(Originally published on Aliljoy.com on 20 February 2015)

*Note: The man who inspired me to write this was in turn inspired by a good friend of his, a man he says had an impact on everyone he met. Sadly, this man died recently. I will never meet him but he inspired me nonetheless. May he rest in peace.

‘If You Got a Big Ol’ Butt? Shake It!’ Nicki Minaj’s abortion

‘If You Got a Big Ol’ Butt? Shake It!’… But You’ll Be Damned for Taking Charge of Your Own Body

News of Nicki Minaj’s abortion was used by the media as anti-choice propaganda

lyrics-nicki-minaj-superbass-1Nicki Minaj had a massive year in 2014. With everyone talking about her big ol’ butt (her words), which was in full view – literally – across the media, it was pretty hard to ignore her.

She’s been on my radar for several years now (that brilliant voice, those insane lyrics, y’know?), but until last year, I hadn’t given Minaj herself much thought – as a person, a woman, and an icon.

My younger brother (who admires Minaj but is too young to recognise the Sir Mix-a-lot sample she uses in Anaconda) watched our sister and I watch the Anaconda video, insisting he wanted our opinions. I wasn’t sure how to react. Should I be shocked? Why shouldn’t she show off her mindbendingly awesome (mostly plastic) body? Finally we agreed she’s pretty awesome – to feel able to rap about her sexual relationships in a way society normally associates with male artists is pretty out-there.

Thus began my ever-growing admiration for Nicki Minaj. She is honest, hilarious and bloody-minded. Where other celebrities are defensive about their appearance (particularly when it comes to plastic surgery), she is relentlessly loud and proud. Her laughter is infectious. Her songs are bold, unique and articulate.

“I stand for girls wanting to be sexy and dance, but also having a strong sense of themselves. If you got a big ol’ butt? Shake it! Who cares? That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be graduating from college.” (Minaj in Rolling Stone interview)

lyrics-nicki-minaj-3

Her self-awareness and ownership of her mind and body makes her an inspirational role model for young women – she reassures us that we can be sexy and smart. She appears to have no guilt, no regrets, and no second thoughts.

That’s why I was shocked when the headlines reported Minaj was ‘haunted’ by a teenage abortion.

“Whaaaat?!”

Actually reading the Rolling Stone article, I soon discovered Minaj wasn’t ‘haunted’ by her abortion – she didn’t regret terminating the baby. She was 100% open about the difficulty of a teenage pregnancy for any young woman: “I thought I was going to die,” she stated. “I was a teenager. It was the hardest thing I’d ever gone through.” But that doesn’t mean she’s torn up about the abortion – not by far. Knowing she “didn’t have anything to offer a child”, Minaj still fully supports the decision she made then, and is still pro-choice.

She was – as always – refreshingly honest about her abortion. Despite – or perhaps because of – her honesty (it’s not like anyone need go looking for revealing images of her), her private life has not come into the public sphere very much before – which is absolutely her prerogative. Now though, with the recent break-up of her long-term relationship, her private life is becoming more and more public.

On the album she built up to for the entirety of 2014, The Pinkprint, her personal life is taking the main stage: “One of my goals was to give people a glimpse into my personal life, because it’s something I’ve kept very private,” she told Rolling Stone.

In line with her usual bolshy personality, she is unashamedly upfront about it all: “I struggled with ‘Do I express these feelings?’ And I decided there’s no reason for me to hide. I’m a vulnerable woman, and I’m proud of that.” Minaj is ever more the multi-faceted, open woman she has been to date.

-nicki-minaj-Even more admirable? She’s aware of the role she plays as a female icon, knows her influence and isn’t afraid to use it for greater good. She knows how much her records will get played, she’s aware of every move, every word: “Millions of people are gonna hear it. And you gotta watch everything you say — people find an issue with every fucking thing.”

Which is why she should be applauded for speaking out about her abortion, both in interview and in a song on The Pinkprint:

“It’d be contradictory if I said I wasn’t pro-choice. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t have anything to offer a child.”

But how did the media react to Minaj’s open, honest admittance of having an abortion (and knowing it was the right decision for her)? ‘Nope, we can’t cope with that. We’ll have to make out like she wishes she’d chosen the delights of teen motherhood over her insanely successful career as Hip-Hop’s Killer Diva.’ Instead of Minaj’s statements being let alone to stand for themselves (as they well should), the headlines took all the autonomy out of her statements and twisted her words into anti-choice propaganda. Now, why would they want to do that?

The anti-choice movement will use any means possible to prove abortion is bad for women.

Minaj’s case, like many others, has been taken up by the anti-choice movement – with the mainstream media along for the ride – to demonstrate that women will not only feel reticent about the circumstances of their unwanted or accidental pregnancy (eg. Minaj was a teenage girl with an older boyfriend), but that they will feel genuine regret about aborting the baby and wish they had kept it.

I can’t say it any better than Ms. writer Amanda Marcotte already has:

The anti-choice movement’s relentless propaganda about “abortion regret” has done some real damage when it comes to women being able to tell their abortion stories in the public sphere… In this current political climate, talking about reproductive decisions in a nuanced, personal fashion seems impossible to do without feeding the machine that suggests that any feelings of regret whatsoever means that abortion is bad for women.

Too right. So, what can we do to stop this?

More:

On Choice, Contraception and Woman Power

Sources:

Amanda Marcotte for Ms Magazine: Nicki Minaj and the Inevitable Politicization of Celebrity Abortions

Rolling Stone: Nicki Minaj Is Hip-Hop’s Killer Diva: Inside Rolling Stone’s New Issue

(Originally published on Aliljoy.com on 12 January 2015)

Going in Social Circles

I’m not unhappy, but I spend a huge amount of time alone. I simply don’t know many people.

I have a few ‘useful’ contacts I can depend upon if ever I find myself in need of help, and I am lucky to have several interesting and friendly colleagues.

But I can’t think of a single person I know who wants their social circle dictated by their line of work, nor who wants to socialise with the same 6 people 24/7.

Which is why I’ve pursued every interesting contact I have managed to get my hands on. I’ve met friends of friends, ex-students of my boss and colleagues, and enrolled in a language course through which I’ve met a classroom full of interesting people from all over the world – Mongolia to Iran, Australia to Switzerland.

Being an expat brings a particular set of challenges, including the obvious language barrier and the problem of constant migration. The population of non-Chinese people in China is vast but changing fast. Some people come here as students and leave after as little as 2 months, whereas others are still here 9 years later without a clue as to what made them stay.

The issue, though, is that people are always leaving. I’ve been here less than 3 months and I’ve already been to a leaving party.

Long-term expats build up a strong friendship group only to watch it slowly disintegrate over time. Those who don’t find love in China (whether it be a partner, an ideal job or way of life) tend to leave eventually.

It’s simply part of ex-pat life: moving onward or homeward is inevitable.

Ebb and flow is therefore the model we live by. Getting too settled is never really an option, particularly in such a rapidly developing country, which means adaptability is key to happiness. Unless you plan to live as a hermit, meeting new people is a constant requirement of Beijing life, no matter how long you’ve been here for.

But how?! Colleagues, friends’ friends, ex-students and language courses aren’t exactly bottomless supplies of people, nor do they necessarily yield the relationships you hope to forge. There’s got to be another way to tackle my dilemmas, namely: a lack of girl-friends and ‘where do I find more Brits?’

Yep, you guessed it: Tinder.

Tinder Friends Monica

Admittedly, maybe Tinder isn’t the most obvious choice for forging actual, long-term friendships with people. The majority of people who use Tinder on home turf are only out to get one thing – those people who swipe right to EVERYONE and others who send penis pictures as soon as you get past ‘hello’…

That is true of some people using it overseas too, but there’s something different about China’s Tinder scene.

In a city where foreigners face a constant culture- and language-barrier, Tinder provides direct access to the English-speaking community – for both expats and young Chinese people. The stigma Tinder carries elsewhere does transfer (going on a ‘Tinder date’ automatically provokes people to ask ‘isn’t it just for hook-ups?’) and prevents some people from accessing what is essentially an instant network of potential contacts.

There are fewer sexpectations and a more relaxed attitude to making friends.

It’s simply another social network.

One hurdle: Tinder is blocked in China.

Because it requires Facebook to log-in, everyone on Tinder has to use a VPN to access it. Now, that’s not a huge problem, as the majority of young people (local and foreign) use a VPN to access world news and other social networking sites (even the British Ambassador admits to using a VPN). But it does mean access is pretty patchy and frustrating – we probably all recognise the phenomena of getting a notification then being unable to actually read the message – so it necessitates a certain determination of its users.

Friends Tinder ChandlerWith access being so patchy, people tend to exchange contact details more readily than they otherwise would, and perhaps is a good idea. Anonymity doesn’t last long and trust is a necessity. Wechat (the Chinese messaging alternative to Facebook & Whatsapp) is a pretty useful alternative though, as it doesn’t require you to give out a phone number.

When it comes to meeting people, staying safe is more imperative than ever – when you live alone in a foreign city you don’t know, simply telling the taxi driver your address is a challenge – it’s harder to get out of a sticky situation without the support network or infrastructure of the social services that you might have back home.

Thus far, I have met with two of my Beijing Tinder ‘matches’. The first was a disappointingly awkward date with someone surprisingly cocky for his nerdiness, whom I shall not be seeing again. (He took me to a stand-up comedy open-mic night, took to the stage and announced to the audience: “I’m on a Tinder date. If you pretend I’m funny, I might actually get somewhere tonight.”)

The second was an enlightening coffee in an converted old European church with a documentary photographer doing a project on Tinder users in China… who of course prompted this post, and I shall be seeing again. Funny how things work out!

(Originally published on Aliljoy.com on 12 December 2014)

My thoughts on “F-Bomb Princesses”

What’s wrong with 6-year-old F-Bomb Princesses?

There’s been a LOT of controversy around the FCKH8 video since its release last week. Personally, I was amazed and delighted by 95% of my initial viewing of the video.

I loved the way stereotypes were being challenged, that young women were given the agency of freely using one of my favourite words repeatedly, and, most of all, that the issues discussed in the video were being recognised by the next generation of potential Feminists.

Rape and violence

Critics of the video are slating it because it’s designed to appeal to a certain breed of ‘young, hip feminists’, while going for the highest possible shock factor among the rest of the world.

So, only the ‘young and hip’ have liberal attitudes to swearing? Perhaps only the ‘young and hip’ are gullible enough to be suckered into actually buying one of the t-shirts being sold by FCKH8?

Frankly, I don’t imagine a single one of my ‘young and hip’ friends would stump up the money. I’m sure they’d rather donate £10 to a ‘worthy cause’ directly, and then make their own t-shirt. Young and/or hip doesn’t factor in the equation, it’s simply a matter of morals.

I first saw this video posted by a woman I adore and respect, alongside her comment:

‘This video is excellent up until the point it tries to sell you a T-shirt. Jesus Christ capitalism, stop trying to commodify feminism you fuckcake.’

I couldn’t agree more.

Using a social justice movement as a means to sell your product? Way to go, FCKH8, no-one’s thought of that before!

The video relies on shock factor to increase its shareability:

Shares = Publicity = Sales

It’s a shame, but it’s true: if there’s a way to make a profit, capitalism will find all kinds of ways to use our values against us.

That’s just how advertising works.

Unfortunately, empowerment cannot be bottled nor sold.

That’s just how freedom works.

My main concern is that the video exacerbates a lot of the negative stereotypes that people already have about feminism, which is potentially damaging for a movement that is just regaining momentum.

The video works on the assumption that the majority of viewers are more distressed to see girls as young as six on film using the F-word than they are about the pay gap, violence against women and sexual assault. FCKH8 assumed right, people generally don’t like to hear kids swearing.

I’m personally of the opinion that the concept of ‘adult words’ is a load of bullshit.Words are just words. Treating any word as if it were a ‘bomb’ renders it more potent and enables people to use it as a weapon.

Teaching a child that certain words are out of bounds is just a disaster waiting to happen – think of all that temptation! But that’s just me.  I view expletives as a more of a method of self-expression.

That said, critics have blown up about this video for its exploitation of little girls, citing the primary problem that it is scripted – these are not young women spouting a stream of expletives in genuine anger about the issues discussed.

I’m behind Rebecca Hains when she states: “I would feel differently if a video along these lines had been produced by girls as a way to find an audience for their authentic voices. If a group of young girls were passionate about combatting sexism in the U.S. and had decided to produce a video to raise awareness on the matter, and realized they could get their message out by swearing up a storm, more power to them—I’d applaud them for their creativity and media savvy.”

These are children saying what they’ve been told to by an organisation out to do one thing: make money.

FCKH8 has absolutely no sense of corporate responsibility. For all we know, these young girls haven’t a clue what they’re saying and have been chivvied into this ‘opportunity’ by pushy parents eager to guarantee their child’s first acting job.

In this and all sorts of other ways, FCKH8 is a pretty damn dodgy organisation. It seems they’ll do anything to create a provocative advertisement – even teach children about rape.

This video is certainly not a valid reason for children to learn about such subjects (do these girls even know what rape is? have they actually been taught?)… nevertheless, each of the five girls demands to know if she’ll be the statistically one-in-five of the group to be raped.

Ok, so we would like to protect our children from issues like these for as long as possible. But, in far too many cases, considering the vulnerability of so many children this notion of  ‘protecting’ them is not actually helpful. If a child is vulnerable to rape or abuse, isn’t it important that they are supported and taught to recognise what is and is not appropriate physical behaviour (particularly from adults)? A sheer lack of sexual education (from both parents and schools) means young victims do not understand their horrifying experiences.

Their confusion breeds silence and enables their further manipulation.

How is any victim able to break a cycle of behaviour they are unable to put into words?

Understanding the problems surrounding this video doesn’t stop politically engaged people enjoying and sharing it for the value it does have: continuing the discussion about the issues affecting women worldwide every single day of their lives.

If you haven’t seen the video, please do watch it and share your thoughts below. 

There is so much more to be said about this hugely problematic advertisement (both positive and negative). Frankly though, I can’t say it any better than The Belle Jar and Rebecca Hains already have. The way I see it, anything that promotes this much discussion is a positive addition to the world.

Originally published on Aliljoy.com on 28 October 2014.

Smile! You’re on camera!

Memoirs of a full-time foreigner

Foreigners often get a bad wrap, their reputation clouded by local prejudices and tainted by past errors of other foreigners. Wherever they are, wherever they’re from, whatever they look like, the odd ones out will always get extra attention. Sometimes – particularly when you’re very new to this place – that attention can be daunting and frustrating.

Arriving somewhere entirely different from your home, with little or no ability to speak the local language, and after being uprooted from familiar surroundings (whether it was your choice or not), is a stressful experience.

The struggle of those first few days or weeks is a real test of your conviction.

When your exhaustion is met by a rock-hard mattress, your thirst by undrinkable water, your hunger by strange foods and inability to order them, and your homesickness by strangers and an empty apartment, life can seem pretty rough.

These are not just problems that occur during the first few weeks – they are ongoing issues you continue to tackle long-term, with the hope you simply get used to your surroundings. As is that strange feeling of alienation when the people around you stare.

Lost In Translation

(Lost in Translation)

I’ve lived in Beijing a little over a month now. The stares haven’t stopped, nor do I expect them to. If anything, as I grow more aware of my surroundings and come into contact with greater numbers of people, I notice them increasingly more.

What is it that makes me so interesting?

Is it the colour of my skin, the shape of my face, the clothes that I wear? I don’t know, but something about me seems to fascinate many of the people I pass in the street, meet in shops or who serve me in restaurants. A lot of people will even have the audacity to take photos – with or without permission.

I know some people – those who have been away from home a little longer, or who simply don’t have the disposition to revel in foreigner fame – who say no to photographers, complain about the stares and frown at the ground to avoid all unwanted attention. Of course, some days we all feel the desire to shut out the world, no matter where we are. But if we don’t engage with people, what does that do to the general reputation of us as foreigners, when we are in a new place?

On my first ever day in Beijing (May 2013), I was wandering around a downtown park, minding my own business, when a Chinese man, standing no more than 5 metres away, pointed a long-lens camera directly at my face. Unfazed, having grown up in a family of photography, I looked straight down the lens and smiled my cheeriest grin.

Surprised at my reaction (and possibly embarrassed he’d been caught), the man lowered his device and smiled back.

We shared a moment of recognition before he turned away to keep photographing the peonies.

He had seen me as another human being with a personality and sense of humour, not simply as a foreigner.

Perhaps this was a start to changing individual attitudes. That man had probably seen a lot of foreigners in Beijing before – it’s a big city with a huge expatriate community and is full of popular tourist spots like the park I was in.

Just a few weeks ago, on my first long sojourn beyond the confines of the big city, I was part of a group staying in a small town in Inner Mongolia. For a friend’s birthday celebrations we went to the local karaoke place, where all the staff and other patrons were local to this tiny town, Jingpengzhen Hexigten.

Most of them had never seen a single foreigner before, let alone seven at once.

Every time we left our little room – even just to go to the loo – we’d have staff members asking to have their photos taken with us.

Late in the evening – just when we’d lit the birthday candles – the whole entourage from next door’s family party flooded in to join us. Mothers, sons, sisters and fathers all needed their photos taken with the birthday boy (whose face both father and son smeared with cream from atop the cake, which was as yet untouched), with the three white women and the group as a whole.

karaoke-love-lost-in-translation-2003-_148281-fli_1384176114

(Lost in Translation)

Everyone wanted in on the action – even the manager wanted a photo with the smiling foreigners, probably to advertise the karaoke joint. The rather drunk father toasted us (having helped himself to a bottle of our beer), warmly welcoming us to China.

If we had frowned and turned down their requests, what kind of impression would we have made?

If we’d told them to leave us alone and not to touch our cake, that twelve-year-old boy might have grown up disliking foreigners for no good reason.

For our momentary peace and quiet, we could’ve tainted the reputation of a whole community of foreigners in China.

That’s why my policy is – no matter how hungry, tired, alienated or desperate to find a proper toilet I might be feeling – smile! Especially when you’re on camera.

Originally published by Aliljoy.com on 13 October 2014

Having it all?

Career and love: can we ever have it all?

So, I’ve got a bit of a situation here, and I’ve no idea how it’ll turn out.

I want my personal relationships to bring me happiness. I want to have a successful, fulfilling career. But it seems that wanting both simultaneously is just too much to ask.

You can’t have it all.

This whole situation would be so much easier – in fact, probably wouldn’t have occurred – if I weren’t so ambitious… Or, if my chosen ambition didn’t take me far away from the comforts of ‘home’. (Alas, it does.) My first boyfriend was extremely critical of my ambition, saying I was ‘too ambitious’ and implying that this would destroy all my relationships.

I’ve ALWAYS been of the opinion that no one and nothing can stop me on my chosen path (whatever that might be at the time). This was something I inherited from my mother, whose ‘Fuck you, I’m doing it anyway!’ attitude I’ve long admired.

My dad, too, has always helped me feel that the world is mine to conquer and that ANYTHING is possible if I put my mind to it. The highest compliment in our home is being ‘bright’ – one that is dished out plenty. So, working towards something, getting rewarded and taking my place in my own grand scheme of things has always seemed the natural progression. I’m doing what I want with my life, because I’ve made it possible for myself (partly without intending to).

The thing is, I want to be an academic, and my chosen field of study (though specifics still elude me) is very specialist and takes me far from my UK home (I’m leaving for China this week, and won’t be back until July).

So, how on earth do I follow my chosen path AND find love and maintain relationships?

Well, the problem (and delight) is that I’ve already found love. My issue is maintenance, which ain’t going too well – in fact, ain’t going AT ALL right now.

Let me explain.

My personal situation led me to question which lifestyle was the lesser of two evils:

a) ‘Career-bitch’, super successful in my field, jet-setting but perpetually alone;

OR

b) Happily settled (married, kids?) in a loving relationship but working a basic data-entry office job in the town I grew up in for the next 20 years.

Reductive and dramatic, perhaps – but you get the idea.

This is where my desperation arose as I was preparing to graduate just over a year ago. Unable to voice my worries or to change the unrealised stirrings of my dream-like ambitions, I broke up with the guy who’d supported, inspired and buoyed me for the past 4 years and whom I still (yes, still) love and don’t want to leave behind.

My fear of the one drove me far closer to the other. Ok – neither is at all bad if it’s what YOU want, what you (and you alone) have chosen as your path.

careers and love friends joy

(Image via)

But WHY does this have to be a choice? Can’t I have my career and love too?

Casting around, I’ve found similar stories that don’t exactly inspire me.

Women who get high up in their industry either:

a) put their career ahead of their personal life (and get judged and labelled for this decision);

OR

b) end up quitting or collapsing under the strain of juggling family and professional life simultaneously.

For example, Josie Rourke, the first female artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse, who also just happens to be single (right now) and childless at 34, was dubbed as a ‘sterile careerist’ on Twitter, within weeks of her appointment.

On the other hand, ‘high-flying MP Louise Mensch resigned her seat to be with her husband and kids in New York. Then, in July 2012, Princeton dean Anne-Marie Slaughter explained why she had given up a “foreign-policy dream job’”in Washington because her fourteen-year-old son back in New Jersey was having problems’ (from Elaine Showalter in Fifty Shades of Feminism).

It’s not just that there aren’t sufficient measures in place to help women in pressurised careers deal with difficult personal situations – women with families, young kids or relationship issues – it’s that society does not make allowances for people to juggle careers and personal lives because we’re still stuck in the dark ages in which gender roles determine our professional and social abilities.

True, this is not JUST a women’s issue – I’ve noticed male academics too seem to struggle maintaining personal relationships (though I don’t know the statistics), and I do wonder: is it to do with their deep involvement in their work, the necessity of travel, or what?!

However, I do think this affects women more than men and is something we need to look at more closely. It’s an issue that’s troubled me for some time, and I feel it worries women far more than men of the same age – how do I make these elements of my life work in tandem?

Can I ever be successful AND happy?

Short of my ex moving to China, or me giving up on a, as yet unchartered, fledgling career, I’m pretty stuck for options right now. (Long distance just does not work when you’re thousands of miles apart for months on end, believe me).

For me, all I’ve got to hold onto is hope for the future and the reassurance that, yes, I do know what love is.