Ten years ago I wrote a little review of the decade on my (horribly-formatted) blog. I used my blog a bit like a journal, documenting my life in London having landed there with a heartbroken bump back in 2007.
That blog is long-since abandoned, but I thought I owed it to myself to follow-up on that life update by summarising the latest decade. So here are ten things I’ve learned since then…
1. Love really does strike when (and where) you least expect it
The noughties were not kind on my heart. I seemed to go on an endless procession of dates that led nowhere. I got asked out via Twitter, Facebook, Google Chat and, even one hilarious time, Scrabulous. I got to know some great people, but things never clicked into place. I also got ghosted more times than I care to remember, although no one called it ‘ghosting’ back then.
I ended my 2009 round-up by musing whether, one day, “my prince will pun.” Little did I know that I’d already met him in a non-romantic context. And although love took a while to blossom upon the foundation of friendship, creeping up on both of us almost silently as we worked and laughed together on various projects, when it bloomed it bloomed strongly. And we both knew that it was right. It was as simple (and as complicated…) as that.
2. Parenting is really hard
So our relationship did its thing and here we are, two kids later. I always wanted to be here. I love being here. But what I never envisaged was how incredibly difficult it’d be. This time last year I dragged myself to my laptop and wrote through tears about how relentless I was finding parenthood, having recently given birth to our second child. We were in the thick of it back then, and while things have begun to settle down over the last twelve months, there are new challenges and pinch-points to overcome on a daily basis. Especially since child number two begins her days at 5.30am…
Parenting takes its toll on a relationship. Having children is joyful, but it’s also a relentless slog. It’s work. You and your partner become almost like colleagues, working together — or around each other — to eventually find a rickety routine that just about enables everything to get done, only to have to do it all again the next day. And once the work’s done, you’re knackered and can barely string a sentence together, let alone seamlessly switch from dehydrated parent to the witty, vaguely interesting person they originally fell in love with.
When you have young children, everything is just a phase. A tricky phase ends, and then a trickier one begins. Eventually we’ll emerge from this phase of phases. At the minute I’m kind of yearning to get there. But the here and now is so important. We may not be savouring every moment, because savouring yet another sickness bug would be impossible. But the moments matter, and we know that.
3. Careers don’t have to follow a continuous upwards trajectory
Back in 2009 I was a conscientious twentysomething who’d somehow ended up with their dream PR job at the Guardian. The imposter syndrome was real as I lurched from media crisis to investigative scoop to journalism scandal, almost 24/7. I constantly wondered how on earth I’d landed such an exciting role with so much responsibility, but I eventually accepted that, despite my initial self-doubt, I was actually pretty good at it.
But one of the consequences of parenting was that I never went back to the Guardian after becoming a mum. I could’ve done, but I simply couldn’t fathom the dual responsibility of keeping a tiny human alive whilst simultaneously stopping a brand from catching fire on a daily basis.
I needed a change. And the very day I started browsing for something new — and part-time — I saw the job I wanted right at the top of the search results. It was undoubtedly a step down, both in terms of pay and responsibility, but it was such a good fit for me and my values that it felt like the right move, especially at that juncture in my life.
I got the job and nearly four years later I’m still there. I love the cause, the work — I’m a copywriter for a charity — and the fact that I can log off at the end of the day without the unpredictability of being on call weighing on my tired mind. I’m incredibly fortunate that I was able to afford such a drop in salary, but it made me realise that career paths don’t need to be pointing upwards all the time. If you can afford for them to bend and flex to fit your life and your priorities, then do it. My job has helped me to develop so much as a writer and storyteller. Speaking of which…
4. I’m a writer
I’m not the best or most creative writer in the world, nor will I ever be, but I can string a sentence together and tell a decent story. And, crucially, I get paid to write for a living. So while my lofty goals of becoming a published novelist remain unrealised, the last few years have helped me to finally feel confident enough to call myself a writer.
5. There’s no better cereal than Chocolate Shreddies
I dabbled with Nougat Pillows, and went through a period of favouring Crunchy Nut Clusters, but I always return to Chocolate Shreddies. Come day or night, a bowl of cocoa-infused malted wheatiness and ice-cold whole milk never fails to hit the spot.
6. I’m exceptionally privileged
Mid-decade I voted to keep things as they were. I was happy with my life and wanted to maintain the status quo. And while I’ll never be able to make peace with the result of that vote, nor the consequences it’s had on our country ever since, the fallout from 2016’s referendum has forced me to check, confront and accept my many privileges, over and over.
Earlier this decade, I had a heated conversation with someone on Twitter about unpaid internships and how they favoured the privileged. My stance at that time was to point out that a two-week work experience placement wasn’t the same as an unpaid internship, and that — despite not coming from a wealthy background — I’d managed to make such placements work alongside my full-time jobs by using up my annual leave.
Her response shocked me: she told me that the very fact that I could even consider those work experience placements meant that I was privileged. I was outraged! And I fought back. But she wouldn’t budge. And now, finally, I understand why. Sure, I wasn’t wealthy. But I had an income. I had a permanent job with a generous annual leave allowance. I had a partner bringing in an additional wage if I needed something to fall back on. I was white and able-bodied and had never experienced prejudice. I was healthy. I came from a two-parent household. I never went hungry. I always had a home. I was well cared-for as a child. I had an education and got qualifications. I never lived in fear of being hurt (with the sole exception of walking alone in the dark as a woman).
Because being privileged doesn’t mean being wealthy, or “having it easy”. It means living an advantaged life out of sheer luck, and not even realising all the advantages you have because you’ve never known anything different.
And now I can see how I benefit from even more unearned advantages: I have healthy, neurotypical children, who I didn’t struggle to conceive. I live in an area with good schools as a result of my financial privilege. I have straight privilege and cisgender privilege. And I’m still in the process of putting all these under a microscope to understand them.
I voted to keep things the same. But I now understand why people voted for change. They needed change — they still do. And I respect that. What I don’t respect is those who voted out of fear that their perfectly-pleasant lives *could* change because of the lies that were fed to them as a result of the fact that…
7. Social media has broken democracy
Oh hello serious topic. I feel I ought to write about this separately. But, yeah, I think we’ve all witnessed how social media has destroyed our democracy. It’s compromised our systems and structures so fundamentally that, unless legislation catches up pronto, I can’t see how it can ever go back to the way it was.
Ten years ago Twitter was a great way to network and swap puns. Today, it’s why we have a demagogues as our Prime Minister and as President of the United States. I’ve practically stopped using it. I’d urge others to do the same — after all, an abandoned platform can’t be used to spread lies and hate if no one’s listening. But I realise this solution is unrealistic and untenable. Perhaps a magical solution will present itself in the next decade? Here’s hoping.
8. The NHS is humanity’s greatest achievement
And yes I’m including the moon landings. The NHS saved my life this decade. I wrote about it at the time for the Guardian, so I won’t go into it again here, but never before have I felt such awe and admiration for a group of strangers, who came together and used science and technology and sheer human grit to save me. And I didn’t have to pay a penny. It needs to be protected — at all costs.
9. Showing weakness can often be the strongest thing to do
It took me over 30 years to finally realise that I don’t have to be the strong and responsible one all the time. My life-threatening experience stripped away so many of my defences, yet even then I still felt as if I needed to be in control and look after everyone. It took counselling to help me understand that asking for — and accepting — help can actually be the strongest and most responsible response in certain situations.
10. I’m always learning
I’ve never been a great learner. I bore easily and have always managed to get through life by knowing just about enough in order to avoid making a complete idiot of myself. But ten years ago I didn’t know any of the stuff I’ve listed above. And in ten years’ time I’m sure I’ll be able to write a whole new list of things that, in this instant, I’m completely clueless about. Learning is life. You don’t need to be consciously aware of the fact that you’re gaining knowledge and experience, it just happens.
This decade I’d like to put myself out there more. To do what I can to make a difference. I’d like to change what I can change and encourage and guide my children to do the same. Because ultimately I think that’s the best way to put my potluck privileges to work.
I have no expectations for the next ten years. I’d like the decade to be calmer but I’m not expecting it to be.
I can’t help but think that this was the decade that the world first *appeared* to be less calm because we saw the absolute worst of people on social media (and, let’s be honest, some of those “people” were fake trolls designed to destabilise our society). This whipped the rest of us up into a frenzy of perpetual outrage, which in itself has resulted in a less calm world offline, as well as online. It’s an inescapable, self-fulfilling prophecy.
So my personal aim for the decade is this: scroll less, help more. Perhaps if enough of us do this, real change could happen.
Happy new year, everyone.