The Positive Power of Failing

I’ve always been something of a type A. I don’t like to start something unless I’m sure I’ll finish – and finish WELL, dammit! – and I have a tendency to get caught up in detail. (There is a correct order to eat peanut M&Ms, a correct way to stack the dishwasher, and don’t even START with me when the light switches are out of sync…!)

Although I’ve chilled out a lot over the years, I’ve never been particularly comfortable with failure, and – like so many others – will often hold myself to a higher standard than I do others. The measure and definition of failure, the anxiety around failure, and the punishment or consequences of failure so often came from myself rather than the world around me.

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Looking on the bright side pt. II

Some days it’s hard for me not to have the attitude of ‘fuck this planet and all who sail in her’.

Some days – no matter how great my own life is – I look at the world around me and just want to cry.

So, some days, I decide to focus on the beauty in the world around me instead.


This is the Thames Barrier Park (my back garden and the subject of my last ‘focus on the beauty’ post)… turns out this is the perfect place to wander round with a half-decent phone camera and take some pretty pictures.



Thames Barrier





Shadow and light


Tellytubby hill!



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Happy New Year!

A week or so ago – during ‘Christmas present exchange week’ – I was having a drink with a friend, and it was getting late. The conversation had covered lipsticks (the complexities of the right matte lipstick cannot be overstated); God and religion; mutual friends; dissecting our individual hurts and healings; and the relevance of cuddly toys (very relevant, in case you were wondering), and we were beginning to wind down. As we both took a nice long sip of beer, replete with good food and good company, she asked me the following question:

“What are you most grateful for about 2016?”


Now, my particular demographic (London based, professional, educated, millennial) are pretty well unanimous in our attitude towards this year. Some really awful things have happened (many of which are awful regardless of demographic or perspective*) and it has been really easy for the world – and life – to feel really bleak. Trump, Brexit, Meninists, Aleppo, the refugee crisis, Farage representing Britain in America, everyday sexism, beloved celebrities dropping like flies… I could go on. HeUNm7E


(Side note: I recognise that not all of you will agree with me on this list of awful things. Some of you will think that things have beenincluded that shouldn’t be; some of you will think that I haven’t included things I should have and so on. I apologise for any offence caused, as it was unintentional. This post is not actually about the awful things, not is it about politics [mine or otherwise], so I’m going to politely curtail any discussion thereof in the comments, ok? Thanks guys. Keepin’ it civil.)

Basically, it’s been really easy to mourn for this year. To be glad 2016 is almost over, to wonder what the hell happened, and to look forward to an arbitrary date-line as an opportunity for some kind of a fresh start. BUT.


Isn’t it funny how much easier it is for the negative things to stick? We know this is true of feedback – one criticism will sound louder than a whole passel of praises – but it’s true of memory, too, I think. Even fairly recent memory. Like everything this year.

It’s easy to remember the sinking feeling in my gut when I woke up and looked at the headlines on certain mornings. It’s easy to remember the guy who tried to start a fight with me on a tube platform, or the incident of sexual assault, or the many small incidents of street harassment, or the hospital visits, or the unemployment, or the horrifying pictures of what humanity does to each other on a daily basis… BUT.


These things weren’t the only things that happened this year. There were good things, too – good things, and bright things, and happy and heartwarming and healing things. When my friend asked her question, I was surprised, and a blinked a bit, and had to think before answering… but actually, once I started naming things I am grateful for this year, I found that they added up more and more – I only really stopped naming things so that my friend could have a turn! I’m happy she asked me, and got me to think about it, because if I let the darkness take my memory of 2016 – well, then… I’ve been robbed. Taking some time to remember the good things, to acknowledge the gratitude – this doesn’t mean the bad stuff didn’t happen, but it does stop me forgetting the good things, and I don’t want to let my memories of the good things be stolen from me. So, as we approach the arbitrary marker at which we collectively agree to make a fresh start, here are some of things I’m grateful for in 2016.

  • I made peace with someone who I haven’t seen for years. It’s not like we were actively fighting, but turns out there was forgiveness and apologies to give on both sides, and I’m so happy that things have been made right!
  • I got an amazing new job – I’m so happy there, I keep thinking it must be a trick! I love my new colleagues, the company and its culture, the work I do and the wider work that we all do. I’m stretched and appreciated, challenged and fulfilled, and it’s wonderful.
  • I’ve been formally discharged from the hospital. I’m not well, but I’m better that I have been, and after one more MRI in a week or so, I won’t have to go back to the hospital any more. Yay for that!
  • I’m grateful for my friends – this year has brought me closer to people around me, strengthening and building relationships, and I’m at a point where I’m surrounded with a network of people I can really rely on, and who can (and do) rely on me. I’m grateful for drama-free, secure relationship with people who know me, like me, trust me, and are there for me… y’all know who you are!
  • I met my absolute hero this year, and she was perfect and I love her.
  • I’m grateful that this year I have consistently had a roof over my head, a bed to sleep in, enough food to eat, and enough money to get by. I’m luckier than many, and it’s important to acknowledge that.
  • I’ve jumped off a mountain into a stunning vista of picture-book scenery. I flew!
  • I’m grateful that for the first time in years, I actually have NYE plans with cool people who are not going to flake out on me at the last minute! (Historically my NYEs have kinda sucked, so it’s a bigger deal than it might sound!)

This isn’t all of it, but it’s a great start. I’m happier just having written this post – it’s amazing the difference it can make, dwelling on the positive!

What are you most grateful for about 2016?


Hicka’s Grand Adventure

A couple days ago, I was walking into my office (my office! It’s still so exciting to say that!) when I saw something that was odd (even for central London) – a clean, new-looking teddy bear, sitting on the ground leaning against the office door.

I picked it up, and read the laminated label tied on a ribbon round the teddy’s neck; there was one in English, and one in a language I don’t know, and it explained that the teddy is called Hicka, and she (I assume Hicka is a she) belongs to Class Two from a school in Sweden (so that other language would be Swedish, then…). The label explained that Hicka was on an adventure, and invited the reader to take Hicka with them for a few days, and to write the class a letter telling them what she’d been up to – the reader is then supposed to pass Hicka on to someone else for the next stage of her adventure.

How cool is that?!

So I did! I took Hicka inside, and wrote Class Two a letter, explaining where I had found her, and what we got up to while she was with me; I’m sure the teddy was extremely excited (just like me) to be making books.

How sweet is that? I’m going to leave her at the airport for someone else to find – here’s hoping she goes far!


Hicka the bear with my truly awful stick figure self-portrait!


First day of my new job.

First step on a new career ladder.

First foray outside of the world of education. (Like, in my life. Ever.)

First time using Outlook email (weird).

Definitely not the first time I’ve met a bunch of lovely people and instantly forgotten their names…!


A pretty accurate representation of me today. Except cuter.

I’m probably more excited about this new job having had my first day than I was when I started. I feel like I’ve got a better idea of what will be required of me day to day, I’ve found where the loos are and where the kettle is in my new office (the two most important things) and I’m like 97% sure I’ll be able to find my way back to my new desk tomorrow! Obviously the real hard work is to come as I attempt to absorb a huge amount of information about a brand new industry and pick up how to – y’know – do my job… but everyone’s really lovely and friendly, the systems seem to make sense, and (it being the season and all) I’ve joined just in time for some lovely socialising opportunities.

Oh… I’m also really enjoying hitting ‘unsubscribe’ on all of the avalanche of job search email lists/accounts/websites!

Now. I am knackered, so I am going to binge watch Buffy before an early night and back to my shiny new career in the morning!

I Have A New Job!

I have a new job!

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I start on Monday, I’m absolutely terrified, and completely excited!

I’m going to be a Publishing Administrator at a great company who make CPD books (which, as you may know if you know me, is right up my street).

Coincidentally, I start on November 28th – which is the fifth anniversary of my first day at City Gateway.  Not that that means anything… I just think it’s cute!

I have bought New Shoes and dug out my smart clothes – everybody wish me luck!! Eeeek!


Whoever said you should never meet your heroes clearly had the wrong heroes.

Yesterday – thanks to my baby sister, who now wins ‘Best Present’ for ever – I went to see Brandi Carlile at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire. This is me freaking out when she told me (read bottom to top):


For those of you who don’t know who Brandi Carlile is (what are you doing? Get thee to YouTube RIGHT NOW!) suffice it to say that she is my favourite artist ever. The way I feel about her has been neatly summed up my another awesome lady, Emma Thompson, in the film Love Actually:


The next line is also brilliant; she describes Joni Mitchell as “the woman who taught your cold English wife how to feel”.

This is how I feel about Brandi Carlile.

So it was a good present from my sister, right? An early Christmas gift, during my current slump of job hunting and being a bit poor. But this is not how my sister ensured that I can never possibly top her in the gift-giving stakes, oh no. A few weeks later, she revealed the rest: she’d bought me a VIP pass, which includes a meet-and-greet with Brandi and the twins.

If my reaction to getting to see Brandi live was to freak out, my reaction to this news was… well.

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Yup. A ‘Kristen Bell meeting a sloth’ level of freaking out.

Only once before had I met someone I admire even nearly this much (Dame Judi Dench; I was fifteen) and I was so awestruck I couldn’t really talk. Because of this, here are some legitimate concerns I had before meeting Brandi Carlile at the soundcheck for her Shepherd’s Bush Empire gig:

  1. I would not be able to say a single word and would instead stare creepily or just cry
  2. I would be unable to control the words that came out and would blurt out something inappropriate like “I’M IN LOVE WITH YOU AND I WANT TO GO WITH YOU EVERYWHERE AND HAVE YOUR BABIES AND NEVER LEAVE YOU” (not something most people are happy to hear from a stranger)

Fortunately, my sister knows me well and this is why she gave me a week to process the upcoming meeting! To be honest, it was fine once I just accepted that there was no whatsoever in hell or any other realm that I would be able to be cool or dignified. Once I’d embraced the role of fangirl and waved my last hint of dignity goodbye, I calmed down a fraction (only a fraction!) and I’m pleased to report that when I met this singular goddess, I was able to speak with her – using actual English words in an order that made sense -make acceptable responses to what she and the twins said, and smile for a picture or two.

AND, because this blog is my journal and I want to remember this experience for ever, I am going to relive it here. It is not deep thinking and probably not something that’s interesting to anyone outside of my immediate family but I DON’T CARE IT HAPPENED AND I NEED TO DOCUMENT IT.

This is my face when I realised that I’d accidentally got us to the venue just over an hour before I needed to be there:img_1213-2

This is my sister’s face when I admitted that I had freaked out and gotten us to the venue over an hour early:img_1214-2We sat in a pub and had a drink. I was not allowed more than a half pint of beer out of concern that the more alcohol I consumed, the higher the chances of me propositioning Brandi.


This is the soundcheck party – essentially, the VIPs got let in to watch the soundcheck, the technical rehearsal that happens before a live show in order to make sure the sound levels are right for everyone.IMG_1215 (2).JPGIt was like our own private gig before the gig – Brandi and the twins chatted with us, took requests, and sang to us. The ‘audience’ was one person deep!

This is a frame grab of that time Brandi and I had a moment – she serenaded me and we’re in love now.2016-11-02 (3).pngYou’re all welcome to come to the wedding.

Side note: Brandi is one of the most generous performers I’ve ever seen live, in several ways, but the most interesting way is how she reacts to audiences filming and photographing her while she performs. At both live gigs I’ve seen, she makes a special effort to walk across the front of the stage, taking a few seconds to look right into the lens of each phone or camera she sees, to ensure that the fan has a really good picture or video. It’s such a thoughtful gesture, and takes nothing away from the rest of the audience. Anyway, that’s the story of how Brandi Carlile locked eyes with me and sang to me and we smiled at each other and now we’re in love. Obviously.

This is Brandi and I discussing how eye-rollingly common the name ‘Becky’ is over here.IMG_1246 (2).JPG It’s just after Tim-or-Phil had complimented my hair and just before she asked me if I made music (and when I said yes, she commented, “Yes, you look like you do. What do you play?”).

This is Brandi signing the back of my VIP pass (Tim and Phil did, too) while I tell all three of them that they are phenomenal, and their harmonies are simply heartbreaking*.img_1247-2Later, I was glad I’d said this, despite it being a very uncool and potentially awkwardly intense thing to say at a meet and greet. Firstly, because it’s true – they’re phenomenal musicians, and they have a real gift with vocal harmonies, which is my particular musical love. But also because when they played this song, Brandi introduced it by telling us about how she and the twins bonded over three-part harmonies, and how they so weren’t cool when they started out. She described it as ‘telling the truth about our nerdy little band and our love for three part harmony, by making a song that is three part harmony all the way through’. Anyway, when I said what I said, she said thank you very much for saying so,  and she looked me in the eye and sounded like she meant it at least!

This is me in a Brandi-and-The-Twins sandwich. See how my smile barely conceals how overwhelmed I am?!img_1249-2This is just after Brandi asked me where I live, and we chatted about London and how she doesn’t really know London geography, and I said “Well I know nothing about American geography, so!” and in response she told me I should come to the states; I’d fit right in. I think I managed to squeak out a “Thanks!” and not take it as a literal invitation to move in with her.

This is Brandi Carlile.

She is one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen. She makes the most incredible singing look completely effortless. She takes the truth of the emotions which are too deep and raw for you to name, and turns them into songs. She’s warm, and funny, and thoughtful, and kind, and brave.img_1219I love her. And true love lasts a lifetime.


Lifelong Learning

I love to learn.


(I also love Dr Seuss. I have a quotation of his tattooed on my foot.)

Just like the internet is full of platitudes about the other threads I have begun to untangle on here (change; strengths and weaknesses; bravery and stupidity), the internet is also full of platitudes and clichés about learning. We’ve all heard the ones about how growing old is not to do with age but the loss of a learning attitude; how learning is lifelong; how learning is vital to growth.

Well, I’m not here to argue with any of that! Clichés become clichés because they’re based on truth, and I think this is no different. It’s all over my cover letters and CV at the moment – I’m passionate about learning and helping others learn. I believe to my core that ongoing CPD (continuous personal/professional development) is completely vital, both for happy healthy individuals and for the growth, success and viability of their employer companies. I want to know how to do things, and say things, and I want to practice, to teach and be taught, to let others learn from my experiences, mistakes, achievements and failures, and to go on to make bigger and better achievements and failures. It’s part of what I consider to be a life well lived; part of avoiding the dreadful hoax that Alan Watts talked about.

I also don’t like being told what to do.


What can I say?! I’m a walking oxymoron!

(Cue dad joke about calling me a moron…)

Aaaaanyway. I found myself thinking about this seeming paradox on the way home from a careers event I went to today. It was honestly great – the speakers were enthusiastic and inspiring, the delegates were friendly and asked great questions, and I got a lot out of going; two books (I have a problem, you guys!), a sense of reassurance that I’m not a complete moron (there I go again) for quitting my old job, and a lovely compliment from one of the speakers*, to name but a few. But at the same time, there were many moments (some fleeting, others not so fleeting) when I found myself dismissing what was said, closing my mind off, getting frustrated, or flat-out disagreeing. Now there’s some defence for me digging my heels in like this; the event catered to a wide range of people at all stages of their careers, and I went for the whole day; obviously, as someone who has worked in an entry-level career advice and guidance environment for the last five years, I am not the target demographic for a panel on how to write a good CV. I already know how to write a good CV.

However, as I’ve said, on the journey home I began to reflect on my reactions. As someone who is quite openly advertising my belief in, and love of, lifelong learning, am I being counterproductive by internally rolling my eyes when a kind, well-meaning person offers to give me advice on what kind of role I should be looking for next, or offers to help me revamp my CV (again)? Surely, a lifelong learner has a mind that is open, and an attitude that is humble?

I then proceeded to beat myself up for my own hubris the entire way home, natch.


Nothing like a bit of self-flagellation!

However, after some more reflection, and a timely reminder to be kind to myself, I remembered all the advice we were given today about claiming credit where credit is due (something that, generally speaking, men tend to be better at than women) and felt a little better about my internal frustration. I do know how to write a good CV – I’ve been teaching it for ages, and I have also been a hiring manager. I don’t need advice on my next career step – well, not in terms of what kind of job to look for, anyway – I found that out through a little bit of trial and error, and a lot of knowing myself and practising critical reflection. I’m allowed to let my eyes glaze over when someone (who is phenomenally successful and has a lot of credit to speak about such things) exhorts us to start our own businesses… I already know that I do not want to start my own business, and I know myself better than this person does (no matter how amazing she is). I’m allowed to claim the credit for the skills and expertise I have, and it’s good for me to know that my decisions are mine and mine alone. That’s actually what the aforementioned foot tattoo is about – it’s a line from Oh The Places You’ll Go (a truly wonderful book, which I cannot recommend enough), the particular stanza being: “You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose”. I can take as much advice as I like; engage with every learning opportunity I trip across… but still, the brains and the feet are mine. No one else can choose my path, make my decisions, or live my life.

It’s like another dad-ism, one which my actual dad loves – don’t keep such an open mind that your brains fall out. Now, I have issues with the application and expression of this sentiment in a lot of ways, but it popped into my head while I was thinking about this tension between an attitude of learning, and the dismissal of advice and potential learning opportunities. Here’s how I think it applies:

If you aim for ‘humility’ in a willingness to learn and take on every single learning opportunity that you ever come across, you won’t ever actually learn anything. I know that sounds counterproductive, but I’m becoming more and more convinced the more I think about it.

Bloom’s taxonomy, the theory of learning familiar to all teachers, outlines six stages of learning, like so:


The theory goes that true learning takes a learner all the way up to the top of the pyramid – you have really learned something when you can use it to create or synthesise something new. This is obviously a pretty in depth process! It’s complex; it takes time and investment from the learner. If I, as a learner, do not discriminate between learning opportunities, but blindly take on all advice, tips, and experiences, there is no way I will be reaching that pyramid pinnacle. I’ll barely be attaining the first rung, to be honest – the human memory can only cope with so much at once! And, at the same time, I will likely be repeating rungs instead of progressing in areas where I could be creating. In other words, if I can already teach someone else how to write a good CV to measurable success, that would be the third tier. So why would I spend my time and energy in the first two, instead of progressing through the final three and using what I know to create a kick-ass CV of my own?!

This is not to say, of course, that it’s not valuable to revisit the basics. It is – one of the speakers gave a very short panel on some basic voice and body techniques; something in which I’m already pretty well trained. She didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know, but she did remind me of the importance of some of the things I was learning several years ago, and reminded me how to apply what I know practically to my current situation. (Side note – FOFBOC is both a great concept and one of the best words I have heard in ages!). It’s important and helpful to refresh what you already know – but that’s just it, it should be a refresher, not a whole new learning experience.

If we are not critical and choosy about the opportunities we grab and the people we listen to, we risk simply becoming an in-one-ear-out-the-other hollow pipe of meaningless noise, overloading on input. Lifelong learning necessitates taking the time to use what we have learned – and that means, sometimes, deciding that I know about this already. I can do this already. I’ll do it better the more I do it… but right now, in this given situation, looking at all the factors, this is not a learning opportunity. Even though it looks like one; because I am as sure as it’s possible to be that I will not learn from it.

So yes. I have granted myself a reprieve from my self-imposed punishment for my attitude today. I went to the event, and I got a lot out of it… and I don’t need help with my CV. Thanks.

* Caroline Goyder, author of the book ‘Gravitas‘ and erstwhile voice lecturer at my alma mater, RCSSD. When I approached her afterwards to thank her for her session (which was awesome) and mentioned that I was a Central grad, she immediately said “Oh yes, you look like you’ve been trained – the way you hold yourself, you’re very grounded and connected. Which course were you on?” I tell you, I danced away from that brief conversation with a glow! Authentic praise and compliments, people. They have impact.