The Generation Gap  – how and why do expectations differ?

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‘Life begins just outside your comfort zone’

For a twenty- or thirty- something in today’s society, there are a heck of a lot of pressures and stresses which seem only to have transpired in the last 10 years. Is it technology? Feminism? The economy?

As I have spoken about in ‘You can’t do it all’, women are expected to be and do lots of different things, all to a high standard. Yet we can’t do all of these things – at least not all of them very well. None of us are superhuman.

When I look at my parents and speak to them about their own experiences, I see stark differences worlds apart from even the chasm between their generation and that of their own parents.

In the 1980’s (which wasn’t THAT long ago), women still trailed behind men considerably in the workplace and in education. In schools, there was still a tendency to encourage girls to do subjects such as home economics and boys to do woodwork. Whilst many shunned the norm and set us on a path to where we are today, many women did just as their own mothers had done; met someone at school, had children, bought a house and became a housewife.

Nowadays, women (and men) of our generation are told they can ‘be whoever they want to be’. We are all talented, we can all do whatever we wish to do – we just have to believe and work hard and we will succeed. An increasingly materialistic society has only been encouraged by social media, upon which we are assaulted by an onslaught of photographs depicting luxury resorts, fast cars and millionaire beach houses.

What’s the problem with this? Well, it’s unrealistic. We can’t all be successful. There are always people at the top of the pile, people at the bottom, and people in between. Telling people they can all be successful and have potential if they work hard is really an untruth – hard work doesn’t always equate to financial abundance. There are other factors such as luck, economy and skill, and of course what you choose to go into.

If a woman is seen to be dependent on a man, or looking for a man to ‘settle down with’, she is looked upon with a certain level of disdain by today’s society. Where’s the ambition? How dare she expect a man to share his fortunes with her? Why can’t she or doesn’t she have her own?

I myself am fiercely self-sufficient, and I often find myself harbouring the same views on other girls who tell me it is their ambition to ‘find someone rich to marry’. Yet I also find myself struggling to afford the lifestyle society tells me I should have (and am entitled to) as single woman. If I focus solely on my career, I can’t have an amazing body because I have no time or energy for the gym. I can’t go out every week because I am knackered. Yet if I don’t focus on my career, I could keep up an unsustainable party lifestyle on a low wage for an inordinate amount of time but then where would that leave me? I’d have all sorts of memories, but I’d also be 30 and still living with my parents. Something I very much wish to avoid.

‘Life is for living’, yes, but how? And isn’t that often motivated by what we want but dictated by what we need? A difficult balance to achieve, if you ask me.

I think the important thing to remember is that whilst a lot is expected of us from many different parties (parents, friends, partners, work, society), all that really matters is our own personal happiness. Your instincts and personal preferences dictate what you really want in life – and even though it’s scary to take a leap of faith (especially when everyone is categorically telling you it’s a bad idea) regretting not taking a chance is much worse than ‘failing’ (as I’ve said before, there’s no such thing as failure!) The best things are apparently ‘outside our comfort zone’ – yet our comfort zone is exactly that – a protective bubble which we place around ourselves for a reason.

This is something I am convincing myself of at the moment. I think we all are! I know it is true – but risk-taking really is scary and I understand that.  Watch this space as I travel out of my comfort zone to see what’s really out there and prove it’s not as scary as we all think!

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The end of Page 3 and the objectification of women – are campaigners missing the point?

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Last week, the subject of an explosive Newsnight (I promise I don’t watch that all the time!) was the apparent removal of topless Page 3 models from The Sun, only for the feature to be reinstated just days later. This sparked outrage from feminist campaigners who believe that the feature is dated and degrades and objectifies women. Sounds fair enough, right?

I’ve never really had a problem with Page 3. I think it’s a choice of those women to do that and it’s a long standing rather innocent feature in what is a popular UK newspaper. I understand that the connotations of it could be understood to be a view of women which is far from desirable – women portrayed simply as sex objects and nothing more. Of course that makes sense.

However reading a few articles and listening to the arguments put forward by campaigners on Newsnight, I couldn’t help thinking that they were a little misguided, narrow minded and quite mistaken that in thinking that scrapping Page 3 would have as large effect as they are saying it will on the way women and young girls see themselves. What about everything else? Was my honest opinion.

You’ll know from reading this blog that I am keen to highlight the fact that the media plays a huge part in how we view ourselves as people. Part of that is Page 3, of course, but that’s really quite an insignificant part when you look at the whole picture. Almost every single image we see is photo-shopped. Every single image is of somebody who is deemed by society to be ‘beautiful’. Celebrity culture has created a raft of youngsters who equate success with fame. And despite this, certain women are standing up and saying that it is Page 3 which is predominantly responsible for women not becoming rocket scientists? More likely that it may make women with small breasts feel inadequate – but then if we’re going down that route then why not name and shame every celebrity magazine which features women with large breasts, every TV show, every

My point here is that we, and our children, are exposed to this sort of damaging media every day, all day. The Sun and see Page 3, I feel, are a very small part of that. I was sad to see MPs and ministers falling over themselves to take a shot at The Sun for reinstating Page 3, yet not addressing more dangerous forms of   such as all the fad diet adverts we are subjected to, celebrity fitness DVDs, dubious diet advice and pro-ana websites. (I shudder just saying that word). There’s no uproar over the models in the huge amount of Victoria’s Secret adverts which young girls aspire to emulate (they might not have their tits out but they’re still in lingerie) – at least Page 3 girls are realistic.

Which brings me on nicely to this: I actually have something positive to say about Page 3. And that is that the girls used are always voluptuous. Granted, this may be a surgically-enhanced curviness, however that’s never the focus (if you get what I mean!). The whole ethos of Page 3 is the ‘girl next door’, ‘pretty yet attainable’ and of course, big-breasted ideal. A lot of Page 3 models I see are naturally curvy girls. They have stomachs and thighs and yes, they’re photo-shopped in many of their portfolio photos but you can still tell that they are natural, beautiful women. Women who, like all of us, have choices and are free to choose what they want to do with their lives, women who are lucky enough to be recognised as beautiful and have curves and exploit those financially. If you were going to slam them for making other women feel bad, then you’d have to concentrate your anger equally to all models, all ‘beautiful’ women in the public eye, all retailers, all advertisers, and so on. I can’t say that what these girls are doing is as damaging as the Victoria’s Secret models, I can’t say that I really think all this time and effort that ministers are putting in to squashing Page 3 is warranted, nor do I think it’s the best use of their time.

What would I like to see? I’d like to see the female MPs, ministers and campaigners who are spending so much time talking negatively about The Sun and its effect on women actually spend that time changing the media and making positive steps to help all women to feel good about themselves. I don’t think this is a feminist issue – women know that we can be who we want to be and in honesty we’re all fried trying to do it all and be it all! I think if this is to be an issue at all, it is one which needs to be addressed across the board, and not just aimed solely at The Sun.

What are your opinions on this? Do you think Page 3 really is an isolated case of degradation and objectification? Or can more be done across the board to help women feel better about themselves rather than a confusing offensive of ‘feminism’ and ‘empowerment’?

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Proof that anxiety is a state of mind

A friend shared this post with me the other day and I had to share it with you on the blog.

This inspiring, refreshingly candid, and fairly blunt, article written by Clare Atkinson was featured on the Guardian this week.

Having Generalised Anxiety Disorder myself, I can relate massively to the ‘previous life’ described by Clare. The irrational worry over the tiniest thing; the terrible panic attacks, feelings of acute inadequacy, the need for control over every aspect of my life.

However all that paled into insignificance with the diagnosis of terminal cancer. All the things she had wanted to do, places she had wanted to see; her best-laid plans, were now out of reach, ruined. She talks of the emotions and physical issues she had experienced having been instantly replaced by fear, anger, depression; all understandable given her recent news. With this came the realisation that she had been wasting her time and emotion on trivial things which had prevented her from doing what she truly wanted to do. And now, the crushing reality that it was too late to go back and do it all again differently.

Controversially, I’ve always said that in some ways those who face death (and come through the other side) are afforded an invaluable shaking up which changes their perspective forever. Whilst we all know what really matters (family, friends, love, food and water and a roof over our heads) as opposed to what doesn’t (material things, money, fame, looks), few of us believe that enough to change how we live our lives. To live them with some urgency; to do the things we genuinely want to do instead of simply doing what we feel is expected of us.

In the blog and in my book I talk a lot about this and how it is difficult to do. How unfortunate and horrifically sad that for most of us, like Clare, we are only given that sort of insight when it is regrettably too late.

Please read this; it will move you, and may make a difference to how you currently think or feel, especially at a time when we are busy comparing ourselves to others.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/dec/22/after-my-cancer-diagnosis-my-anxiety-disappeared-now-ill-do-anything-to-keep-this-body

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Positivity – Good things are just around the corner!

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There’s a saying – ‘An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward. So when life is dragging you back with difficulties, it means that it’s going to launch you into something great.’

So essentially, when life is pulling you back and taking things away it is preparing for new things, making room for better things.

Have you noticed that ‘bad things’ all come at once? Life as I knew it a few months ago has been turned upside down and my physical and mental health have deteriorated as a result. But I’ve had an amazing year this year which I am incredibly grateful for and unfortunately that’s life – there are ups and downs and good times can’t be good without the bad.

Yet the bad things aren’t really bad. Perspective is everything – you see them as bad, but if you look at them they are only bad to you because of your opinion and circumstances. Look at what it is you are unhappy about. You may not see a way it could ever be viewed as good. But something good will have (or already has) come from it. You were expecting another outcome – so when the outcome is unfavourable, it’s an understandable blow and knock to your confidence and self-esteem and the plans you had.

It’s also a gift that they all come at once; as happiness often does.   Here’s why I think it’s good sometimes to have a complete ‘meltdown’:

  • You’re forced to re-evaluate, and often see that things can now be better. You take a step back and see that perhaps you’d fallen into a comfort zone which whilst it may have felt like it suited you actually wasn’t the best.
  • Perhaps you lament the way things were and struggle to cope with the changes which have suddenly come about in your life. We are creatures of habit; no-one likes change, especially when it is unexpected and unwanted. But these things happened for a reason. Try and remember the last time things fell apart for you – chances are you felt exactly the same then. But when things were good afterwards, you were pleased that they had done or had perhaps forgotten how hurt you were in the first place.
  • It gives you the opportunity to reflect and learn from your mistakes. You now have time to think about what has happened, and how you can learn from the experience to ensure that in the future you can employ the knowledge and strength you are gaining. Don’t, however, beat yourself up over your mistakes (I’m a perfectionist, I do this daily). It’s draining, counter-productive and unnecessary. At the end of the day we all make mistakes – and that’s okay, as long as you learn and grow from them.

 

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Philosophy for everyday life from Nelson Mandela

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Nelson Mandela. We all know that he is the epitome of strength and inspiration – and following his sad passing in and a subsequent film documenting his life there has been further recognition and an outpouring of praise for him from a younger generation, many of whom had no idea how instrumental and influential he was not only in changing the lives of many South Africans, but also for his infinite wisdom imparted on the world.

Whenever I feel despondent or negative I always look up his quotes, amongst others (they’ll be covered on the blog too!) This is a man of incredible strength and integrity who despite suffering the most unbelievable injustice, spending precious years of his life in prison for standing up for what he (rightly) believed in, showed no malice, spite or indignation towards his captors, enemies or towards life in general. Instead he had only forgiveness, kind words and wisdom learned from his time in prison to impart after his emancipation.

Whilst I’d never encourage comparison of experiences, this really does make me think: ‘Who am I to feel that my life is over or futile because of what has happened to me?’ We all have so much opportunity in life, yet it is often ourselves and our personal perspectives on it and what happens in it that hold us back.

Below are my favourite quotes from Nelson Mandela. They shift your perspective when you’re feeling down or hopeless – they’re filled with positivity and reason and encouragement.

Do you have any of your own that I have missed here? Please share them!

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‘Do not judge me by my successes. Judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.’

This is especially poignant because each one of our lives are full of ‘failures’, large and small. Except they are not really bad things at all – they are challenges which force us to grow and change. The important thing to focus on is not the fact that you fell down, but the fact that you got back up again, and how you did so. That in turn is a success in itself – in addition to the fact that more successes will come from each of your failures.

‘May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.’

This one scares me! It’s so true. It’s very much like the old adage ‘We only regret the chances we don’t take.’ If we constantly choose based on playing it safe and being risk-averse with our lives, we miss out on all the things we really want to do but just feel too frightened to take on.

We only get one life – we have to do the things we want to do, before it’s too late.

‘Your playing small does not serve the world. Who are you not to be great?’        

We all have the potential the right to be whoever and whatever we want to be. We just have to work hard and believe in ourselves! Not only do you short-change yourself by not reaching your full potential, you may also short-change others who you could have influenced for the better with your experience and wisdom!

‘As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same.’

Inspiring others by simply making your own positive life choices and having confidence in yourself is completely subconscious yet it can really help give other people the opportunity to shine. I have met several people in my life who have an incredible energy, yet they are also open and honest about their weaknesses which makes them so human and even more remarkable! Speaking candidly about what you can’t do, whilst recognising what you can do (and more importantly do well) is really inspiring to others.

‘Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do.’

There were so many barriers in the way for Mandela. He didn’t come from a privileged background, yet he worked hard to become a lawyer despite being expelled from a good school at an early age for taking part in a protest. Of course after this he fought hard up against the powerful white domination movement and apartheid on his entry into politics, a dangerous and difficult struggle wrought with difficulty and anguish. He even encountered personal issues such as his divorce from his first wife.

Sat in that prison cell, year after year, unable to speak to his wife or his children, he must have felt as though his life was over. The battle had not been won – in fact everything indicated that he had lost the battle.

Yet still he found that courage and strength to continue. When he was released, despite having spent a large portion of his life in prison, he was not discouraged or disheartened and instead continued his fight for equality, becoming President of South Africa in 1994 at the age of 76.

This is because he was passionate, dedicated and determined in the extreme. Which leads nicely onto the next quote…

‘When people are determined they can overcome anything.’

I have a tattoo dedicated to my dogged determination. It has got me through every single struggle in my life. It’s absolutely true that if you want something bad enough, determination kicks in and you will achieve it no matter what. If that determination doesn’t kick in, it’s not important enough to you.

‘There is no passion to be found in playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.’

Very much like his quote on playing small, this encourages us to live the life we want, imagine, and are more than capable of.

‘As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.’

People often talk of ‘forgiveness’. Forgiveness is really difficult because it involves accepting and allowing the actions of others which have upset or injured us. We are conditioned not to let people ‘get away’ with things and to hold a grudge.

Whilst we shouldn’t forget what people have done to us, it is possible to forgive in a sense. Not for their benefit, but for yours. Holding on to that anger and resentment only serves to make you feel bad – it poisons your life going forward, not theirs. By not forgetting we can also learn from what has happened and protect ourselves in the future as we can hopefully deal with new situations using knowledge learned from the last.

Mandela realised that if he held on to all the bitterness and resentment (and he certainly had reason to feel that way) he could not move forward with his life, enjoy his freedom and continue his campaign for equality and freedom. Whilst many of us won’t experience anywhere near the level of injustice or condemnation that Mandela had to endure, we can at least apply his mentality to smaller issues of our own.

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