Friday struggles

 Happy Friyay!

Or, if you’re in any way like me: Happy-oh-my-gosh-the-sleep-deprivation-from-the-entire-week-has-now-really-come-back-to-bite-me-in-the-ass day! People who go out and party on Friday nights: nothin’ but respect for y’all. Honestly, I am exhausted. A whole week’s worth of tiredness catches up with me on Friday and when I get home tonight, I will draw a hot bath and then chill the f*ck out. Because that is all my brain will allow me to do. And that brings me to the stuff that keeps me upright on a Friday.

  • I distinguish between Friday Lotte and Monday Lotte. See, Friday Lotte is very tired. She’s exhausted, actually. She tried going to bed even earlier during the week, but constantly tossing and turning and waking up in the middle of the night on many consecutive nights has negated that effort. And Friday Lotte wants nothing more but a few more hours of blissful sleep. Alas! Just because it’s Friday, it doesn’t mean there is no more work to be done!
    But here’s where Friday Lotte shows her cunning: see, there are things on her to-do-list at work that… Well… Can wait until Monday, right? Especially when it’s getting to be close to like, 3 or 4pm on a Friday: any emails that still come in can easily be picked up by Monday Lotte. She’s got tons of energy! Why bother poor old Friday Lotte with that? That’s just cruel and unusual punishment, I daresay! Sure, Monday Lotte really can’t stand Friday Lotte for being such a slacker. But it’s Friday and I don’t care yo. Wake me up when it’s time to go home.
  • Another weird thing I do – and it tends to happen more often on Fridays, though any sleep-deprived day will do – is… Forget what I am doing. Like seriously: it will be early morning and I’m in the bathroom. I’ve just washed my face and the toothbrush is right there. All I need to do is see the difference between my face wash tube and my toothpaste tube. And yet… Sometimes I fail. And I notice that “this toothpaste tastes odd yo?!”. Always a sad moment. A sad lapse in judgment. Thankfully, I have started getting better at this one.
    However, lately a new development has been creeping up. It goes something like this: I’ll be brushing my teeth – with actual toothpaste, thank goodness! – in the bathroom. And then… Somehow I’m doing the rinse-and-spit-bit in the kitchen sink? Like I’ll be leaning over the kitchen sink going “wait, this looks like it’s aluminum, instead of a nice white sink in the bathroom? How on earth did I get here?! When did my body decide to start walking around the flat?!” It’s not a massive issue to be honest, but disorienting as f*ck, let me tell ya. Those precious minutes between starting in the bathroom and ending up in the kitchen are GONE. I may have solved world peace in those minutes and I wouldn’t be able to take credit for it – I just wouldn’t even remember doing it. Which is so sad really.

  • The war in my head is also a weird thing, but probably recognisable to many. Like this morning: my alarm goes off, yet I can feel my eyelids being glued shut. Somehow I manage to turn off my alarm – half blind – and then it’s this shit:
    “Come on Lotte, one more day! You can do this! It’s Friday for crying out loud! Just get out of bed, get to work early and then you can leave early too! Such a win-win situation, don’t make this harder on yourself, ok? Please? Come on… No, don’t turn around. I really wish you wouldn’t fluff the pillow under your head like that. No, come one, it’s extra comfy this way – and it makes it extra hard to pull away too! F*ck you’re such a masochist. Can you maybe not go back into the dream you were having?!
    Yes, I know it was weird. Like a very weird dream. It made zero sense at all. You were at the house from the woman who used to babysit you when you were 3 years old, and her daughters were there and you were telling people about your banana oat cookies. Your banana oat cookies of all things?! Like it was a religion of some sort. Something people needed to “believe in”. Say what?! But the group who was surrounding you like you were some kind of guru, they didn’t want to believe you. So your sister got involved to get your family members there, because they were already converted to your banana oat cookies and your dad was talking about how the banana oat cookies “were special and made such a difference and…”  – DAMNIT stop going back to dreaming! You need to WAKE UP! Oh you are such an idiot! You have been in this bed for 40 minutes. 40 MINUTES since your alarm went off! There’s no way of getting to work early now. No early day for you, no sir. Masochist. That is what you are. Why on earth did you decide to get a mattress from John Lewis? Memory foam, like really, was that necessary? And a down mattress topper. You have made this into the perfect prison. Your bed is heaven and you are a fool. A lazy, sleepy fool.
    [pause]
    Aaaallright. That’s it. Getting up now. You amazing. You go girl. You a friggin’ QUEEN.”
  • Enjoying the quiet on public transport and doing literally nothing, is one of my favourites on Friday. Normally, on my morning commute, I’ll be checking emails, reading the newspaper or a book, listening to music or a podcast, watching Late Night shows with Stephen Colbert on Youtube… Tons of stuff, like seriously. My route takes me pretty much overground instead of underground, so I tend to never lose my 4G. And with 10 gigs a month to enjoy, I am connected at all times!
    And then Friday hits. And my mind goes blank. It’s just struggling to hold on to dear life and making it to work – which I am now officially late for, due to the weird dreaming and the fluffing up of the pillow and yeah… I knew that was going to happen, but it didn’t stop me from enjoying more time in my bed unfortunately.
    So here I am, running to catch the Overground train to Highbury and Islington – if I miss this one, I will be even more late than what can be considered “just a few minutes late” – and I’m pushing my legs to do things I really have no way of justifying – my poor, listless body. So exhausted and now pushed to do more than just walk around like a zombie? Mean mean mean.
    Anyways, I’m on the Overground now and I am simply enjoying the stare. No music. No reading material. No nothing. And because it’s London, nobody tends to be talking in the morning. It’s odd when someone over the age of 5 is making any sounds. Just being on the phone is frowned upon by all (silent) passengers. The morning is for your inside voice only, preferably even no voice at all. I am telling you: it is bliss. Just purely letting my mind STOP. I love it. Just quiet. That’s what a Friday morning calls for.
    One morning, my flatmate was on the bus with a woman whose kid was talking. I’m not even sure the kid was talking loudly, it was just talking, you know? Such a no-go. But then the mom apparently started shushing the child, explaining in a whisper that “this was a quiet bus, so hush and don’t talk until we get off, okay?”. That’s good parenting, let me tell ya.

So that’s it. A quick recap of my Friday struggles. I mean, I’m probably just weird. But something tells me…

I am not the only one – amiright?

Sympathy for the devil

I’m not sure what I should call it. It’s not merely an interest, I would say. Nor an obsession – seems a little heavy. A passion also feels wrong somehow. But it’s definitely something that’s been on my mind: the world wars.

Of late, I think of the wars, the impact they’ve had, the people involved, the decisions made, the ramifications that still reverberate to this very day. And the possibility of it happening again. Maybe it’s Trump. Maybe it’s Brexit. But to me, I feel a stirring in the world. Something’s changed. Something’s different. It’s like we’re on the brink of something and it’s put me on edge.

Whatever it is, it’s made me look into both real accounts and fictionalised stories, detailing these wars. My latest venture into the foray of European and American misery has been The Man in the High Castle, which just had season 2 drop in its entirety on Amazon Prime. I’d seen the first season last year, thought it was “nice”, figured I’d go for season 2 when it came out, but kind of left it at that.

This weekend, I re-viewed the first season, to get myself back into this horror world where the Nazis and the Japanese agressors won instead of the Allied forces. Season 1 is… Scary, sure, but mostly very far removed from our own reality. The evil guys very much feel like the evil guys. And the resistance are easy to sympathise with, imagining they are “us”, the viewers. Which is exactly why I used to think this was a “nice” show in the past. It was all very clear cut and dry. No excessive thinking required.

But now… Season 2 has changed things. The agressors have been humanised. There’s a bigger picture. I don’t know when it happened, but gradually throughout these past 48 hours I have started to root for the man who gassed a woman and her two kids early on in season 1 without a real cause. And the man at the head of the SS in the American Reich has become someone I look up to, someone I admire for his strength and even his values. Naturally, it’s partly the actors delivering on outstanding material that makes it easy to sympathise with the devils. But it’s also the humanisation of monsters. In a way, you could say, every monster has a soul. Somewhere. Hidden deep inside, underneath layers and layers of filth, struggling to survive. But survive it always does. And that’s a scary thought: because are monsters still monsters when we know they have souls?

And that raises another interesting question: is it right of us to easily vilify anyone we feel acts as a monster? Do they not also have a soul? A good side? A side worthy of a chance, no matter how slim it is, at a better life? At the end of season 1, one of the characters makes a decision based on that very belief: thinking that no matter what someone else has done, they deserve a shot. She bets on hope. She bets on people. She bets on a better future, no matter how unlikely it is. And for argument’s sake, the show has proved her right to do so. Her actions reverberate into season 2 and, in the end, help save millions of lives.

I remember thinking, a year ago, that The Man in the High Castle was a piece of dystopian fiction. Most people might still view it as such, even after the realisation that some of the shows’ worst nightmares are human beings with people they love and who they want to protect. But I, for one, will definitely no longer see it as dystopian. Because no matter how bad it gets in the Pacific States or the American Reich, no matter the hatred and fear some of the characters have to endure, there’s at least one woman who continues to believe in her fellow men. I fail to see anything dystopian in that. I find that belief of hers to be very utopian indeed. And we could use some of that in our own lives, I’d say.

Wouldn’t you agree?

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I’ll have a coffee, thanks.

It’s real, guys. Like, some of you already know, but now I am ready to tell the world. My name has been signed on the dotted line at the end of a nice-lookin’ contract. And I am starting work again as early as this coming Tuesday! I am ridiculously excited and overjoyed at the prospect. But before I go into further detail, I want to let you in on the rollercoaster that has been September for me.

Early September things were very exciting. I’d just gotten back from a lovely trip in Belgium, where I was able to fully relax and enjoy some time with my family. Once in London though, the jobhunt was back on! More so, I had a promising lead with an agency. I had built a marketing plan for one of their clients and went to their offices to present it. While nervous, they pretty much loved my presentation and thought me highly skilled. So much so, in fact, that they called me the very same day to offer me a job!

You can imagine me being ridiculously happy, right? I mean… I was beyond happy. Here I was, after being home on the couch for well over 2 months already (technically the first month I was still paid, but “feeling useless” starts as early as the second week of being home, trust me on that) and suddenly there was the light at the end of the tunnel I had been searching for so feverishly! I definitely whooped and, of course, told everyone that my search was over! Congratulated by all of my friends and family, I just had to wait to receive the contract and sign on the dotted line.

Now here is where it gets tricky. I’m not a total whiz when it comes to contracts. I mean, I’ve never seen a “bad one”, so I’m not exactly sure how to identify them. My mom though, who’s been an HR manager for… Longer than I’ve been alive? Not sure. I know she started as a teacher in a very distant past, but I can’t ever remember her being anything other than an HR manager. The last 15 years even a very successful one – somehow we were able to survive on her one pay check for over 12 years with 3 kids… I mean, my dad can be very creative and smart with handling budgets, but still I’m sure her being great at her job had to be part of that equation. So naturally, that means I immediately forwarded my mom the new contract so she could review it and point out anything strange.

And then… There were a lot of strange things. Each strange thing was, in effect, legal and on its own not that harmful. But all together, I mean… It was iffy. And the more I thought about it, the more I questioned it with the company, the more I asked advice from people who know a thing or two about what’s acceptable, my stomach just roiled. This wasn’t a good opportunity. I might learn loads, but under what stress would I be living if I couldn’t even take a sick day, because they were unpaid? Opting out of the Working Time Regulations of 1998 – apparently a standard practice here in the UK with agency work – made me feel very uncomfortable. Because while I’d be all right working as much as the job required me to, that does mean that sometimes you dismiss your body ’til the point where your body says “no”. But then you can’t take sick days? Say what now?!

There was other stuff too, about training I’d have to pay back etc., that just made me come down from that high fluffy cloud I was on to this sad pit of reality. From overjoyed to miserable in three days flat. I don’t recommend it. It’s not something I would want anyone to go through. And yet… In a way it was also a good thing? This is weird, because at the time it was really dreadful to go through. But it taught me something: just because you’re happy at getting an opportunity, it doesn’t mean you need to be blindsided by saying “yes” to crappy conditions. Just because I was starting to become desperate for employment, it didn’t mean I had to simply ask “How high?” when they’d commanded me to jump. I could choose not to jump. And so… I didn’t.

And it was the best thing I ever did. Because well over a week later, I heard back from another company – Cafédirect – that they’d wanted to see me for a second interview. The time between hearing back and that first interview was… Three weeks? At least. So I’d almost given up hope. But now here I was: back in the running and working on another marketing presentation. I presented a week later, I waited a few (nervous!) days and… The rest is almost history already.

Their offer was great, down to the fine print. And I’ll be joining their team on Tuesday. I won’t just be working, but I’ll be learning so much, I’ll be part of a team again and I’ll be coming home each day knowing that my efforts are helping struggling coffee farmers from all over the world. Because Cafédirect gives back up to 50% of its profits to the farmers, something which is well over the necessary requirement to be called “fair trade”. It’s going to be in the city of London as well – no more funny trips to lovely ole’ Luton for me. Instead of just happening to live in this city, I’m going to be an active member in it!

All in all, I couldn’t be more happy, because it feels like a new beginning. As most of you know, the past 12 months have been rough going for me. I was dumped. I faced the insecurity of a planned “re-structure” for months in the office. I survived my old boss, which – for the insiders reading this – was a feat in and of itself. I was then pushed into a position I didn’t want and also very much hated. Simultaneously I was forced to move out of my apartment, leaving great friends and memories behind. And all of it then lead me to the last few months, where unemployment reigned.
I mean… That’s rough. No matter how you try to present it.

So here I am. At the end of those pretty dismal 12 months. And while autumn is taking hold of this country once again, I feel like I am experiencing a new spring. Because I am now ready to start a new job for a company I believe in. (I never actually drank beer, or many alcoholic beverages anyways… Whereas I’m a lover of coffee!) Because I am living in a new flat with a great flatmate. Because I have friends who send me care packages or who come to visit, not London, but me and the only expectation is to chill out together. Because I have family who also send me care packages, who surprise me with trips to Belgium and Germany and who’ve been incredibly supportive through this whole ordeal. Because the past 12 months have taught me loads. I now know I can handle way more than I ever thought possible. And I also know that what they say is true: after rain, there will be sunshine again.

I am ready for a new spring. I hope you are too.

12-months

What (not) to say to your unemployed friend: 5 do’s & don’ts

Good evening and welcome to today’s helpful advice on “What to say – or better yet: not to say – when your friend is unemployed”. Given that I have been on the job market for a couple of weeks now and have come to the stark realisation that my industry isn’t in the best of shapes – thank you Brexit – I thought it was time for me to write a post I never wanted to have the knowledge to write. Alas, we don’t always get what we want. Me sitting on the couch all day is a stellar case in point. But at least it provided me with some inspiration, yes? Right, so let’s dive right in:

1. DON’T

Ask how the job hunt is going?
Trust me, if your unemployed friend had good news to share about her incessant search for work, she would have definitely already told you. Most likely she would have hired a blimp with a massive “I’VE GOT A JOB!” printed on it to scour the sky in the area of where you live. There’d be no way you’d ever miss that news, trust me. And if there was any other update to share, like, say, she scored an interview? You will have been notified far in advance, so you could root for her when she went. Even bad updates about failed interviews will be shared – if she wants to. Just… Don’t ask for them, okay?

1. DO

Talk about what is going on with you!
Your friend is, most likely, living a pretty bleak existence right now. If she had the money to spare, she would probably pay you to talk to her about anything other than her own sad reality right now! So have at it, tell her what you’re doing these days, what you’re up to over the weekend, what your significant other is planning for your birthday… It can even be OK to talk about something great you’ve done at work. Just because she’s unemployed, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to share in her friend’s great achievements. If she has a problem listening to your success, then I can tell you right now: that’s not a true friend.

2. DON’T

Be jealous of “all the free time” you’d love to have!
I don’t care whether you’re my bitch or not, I’m about to smack. You. UP! Say that and it’s very likely your friend is doing her best not to punch you in the face right now. You’re being a brat. Because guess what? She’d give a-ny-thing not to be at home all the time. Spending time on the couch is fun for… About a week. Max two. After that it becomes boring and with every passing day, your friend is probably just feeling like more and more of a loser. So don’t be jealous. Don’t even pretend to be jealous. Otherwise any teeth you’ll be missing are of your own doing.

2. DO

Ask what she had for dinner last night?
Did she read a good book maybe? What about a movie? Like it or not, your friend has got a lot of free time right now. You can’t spend ev-er-y waking moment applying for jobs. So odds are your friend is able to Netflix away for a day and picked up on this amazing show she’d love to talk to you about. Take an interest in her life without having what can only be described as “laser focus” on her current work status. She’ll be happy to talk to you about anything and everything, just not her job hunt – capiche?

3. DON’T

Give advice.
This one is simple. Yes, she is applying for jobs online. Yes, she has updated her LinkedIn profile. Yes, she is sending out her resume to various recruitment agencies. Yes, she is personalising emails to people in the business. Yes, she is trying to use the full extent of her network. Yes. Yes. YES! Whatever advice you’ve got: 9 times out of 10, the answer is “Yes, I’ve done that” and you implying otherwise is not only condescending, but patronising and be-yond annoying. Don’t do it. Unless you’re in HR yourself and you actually have valid advice on your friend’s resume, cover letter, upcoming interview (or anything similar), then please keep your comments to yourself.

3. DO

Talk about any job opportunities you’ve come across.
If you know what your friend is looking for and you’ve heard of a job opportunity that really matches her skill set, then of course, tell her about it!!! What are you waiting for?! Any kind of lead like that will be most welcomed! You’ll probably even win “Best Friend” Award of the Year if it pans out. If not, for sure you’ll receive an honourable mention. Either way, your help and thoughtfulness will be most appreciated. Even just knowing that you’re keeping an eye out for her means a lot. You go Glen Coco!

4. DON’T

Suggest any kind of outing.
Going to the movies. Going for dinner. Taking a spa day. Going on holiday. Going partying. The list can go on. Do you know what those suggestions all have in common? They cost money. Do you know what your friend doesn’t have at the minute? An income. Do you know what does still come in though? Bills. So no, your friend can’t go out clubbing with you to take the edge off. And dinner at that nice restaurant is going to have to wait. Anything that entails spending money is most likely going to be off-limits right now. So don’t even go there, because while you think you are taking her mind off things, you’re actually making her feel even more miserable. Trust me, she’s got enough to feel depressed about already. There’s no need for you to help with that.

4. DO

Surprise her with a bag full of food you are going to cook for her!
Or just spontaneously show up with a bunch of dvd’s and demand a movie night! Or maybe you feel like you’d like some company on a walk through the local park?! Any activity not costing money and designed to hang out – without strings attached – is absolutely amazing. Like a breath of fresh air, she’ll be pleased at how considerate you are. Being unemployed can leave your friend feeling isolated, because there’s so many activities she suddenly can’t participate in. By surprising her with your (free) company, she’ll get the benefit of your friendship without that pesky financial cost. Bliss! And also eternal gratitude.
Oh, and if you’re trying to circumvent the “cost” issue by offering to pay for her? Be careful with that one. A nice treat is fine and truly generous, but don’t overdo it or she’ll start feeling like a charity case. Even if she kind of is one right now, there’s no reason she should feel like one.

5. DON’T

Talk about your friend of a friend of your brother who’s in the same position as she is.
Great. What the fuck do I care? Is this helpful information? Is it going to make your friend feel better? Do you really think your friend is going to be pleased to hear that other people are also having a hard time with finding a job? I’m sure you think it’s going to make her feel less alone and therefore less of a failure, but you thought wrong. Instead, it’s just going to convince her that the market is absolutely horrendous and her next opportunity for a job might not be weeks, but months away. She probably already knew that, but you confirming it really adds on the pressure. Thanks for that.

5. DO

Say that you believe in her.
All she really needs from you is support. Belief that she can do this. She may not always believe it herself, so therefore your relentless encouragement is key. There will always be days when it seems hopeless and on those days it means the absolute world that her best friends are rooting for her. You may not be able to supply her with a job. You may not be able to give her advice. You may not be able to show up on her doorstep with a collection of chickflick movies. But you can show support by simply saying that you believe in her. You believe in her skills. You believe that, despite that this is a rough patch she is experiencing, she will get through it. Do that and you are already the best friend she could ever have. Word.

Voilà. And there you have it folks: some insight into what it’s like being unemployed and how to talk to someone who is – i.e. me. Of course, anyone who’s ever had an unemployed friend and now realises that they may have done some of the aforementioned “don’ts”: don’t worry. We, the unemployed friends, know you mean well. We’re not here to bite your head off and discount you as “unfeeling idiots”. On the contrary! We know that you’re trying to be a good friend, but you’re not entirely sure how that works in this new situation. And that isn’t anyone’s fault, it’s simply “uncharted territory” for your friendship. We I would never hold that against you.

Though, now that you understand my situation a bit more, I will no longer make apologies for any grunts, eye rolls, yawns or potential walk-outs you may encounter if you fail to comply with the above. Not to be mean, but you have been forewarned, so no calling me out on being “grumpy”. Because until you wear a robe more often than you wear jeans, you haven’t even begun to understand the meaning of the word.

XOXO

– Your couch potato

 

 

 

The curse and blessing that is YOLO

Decisions. For some reason people around the world struggle with them. I do too. They’re like blank pages we feel like we need to conquer. But how to get those first words onto the page? How to know they are the right words? Decisions very much feel like that. You toss and you turn and you hope that when you do decide, it will be the right decision.

“Yes, he is the guy you will be able to spend your life with, happily ever after.”
“No, that is not the right place for you to move to, far removed from what brings you joy.”
“Perhaps, maybe this job opportunity is the right one, but how to know for sure…?”

If any of this sounds familiar, that’s because we’ve all been there before.

The problem is that making decisions is hard. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how wise you might be, they’re always hard. Because the uncertainty of making the wrong move is a fearful task. More so even in this world than a world of years ago. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I am overjoyed by the opportunities screaming at my generation to get noticed, to be our roads less travelled by our ancestors. Growing up in today’s day and age is a privilege, if nothing else. But let’s face it, in a way, things were “easier” way back when.

I use that term loosely, “easy”, as I don’t want you to mistake it for “better”. What I am aiming for is that, once upon a time, you were born and depending on which family you came from, which gender you were etc., life was almost “pre-decided” for you. It may not have suited you perhaps, but in a way, you knew what to do. You knew how far you could go and what limitations life held. While I’d never want to go back to a world like that, I do confess it sounds appealing in a “Gosh-how-amazing-would-it-be-to-not-have-to-make-such-important-life-altering-decisions-all-the-time.” I mean, hell, I don’t think I’m alone in thinking this?

In my opinion, a lot of people make choices nowadays out of fear for going into the golden years with too many regrets. It’s what my generation, the #YOLO-generation is all about: You Only Live Once. And that belief, that fear that you only live once, well it means that you have to carpe the hell out of that diem, doesn’t it? It means you can’t let any kind of chance of greatness go to waste, or you’ll be the fool who let it all slip through his/her fingers. There’s pressure behind making decisions now, not just because life is no longer “pre-decided” and you actually control your own fate (for which I’m sure you’ll all say with me: Halleluja!) but if you make the wrong one, you’re not living up to your YOLO-potential. Shame on you!

Let’s be honest: I have felt that pressure massively as well. Who doesn’t? But the absence of said pressure can have negative consequences too, I feel. Say you find yourself in a life you didn’t specifically ask for, you never really wanted, never truly dreamed of in the way that you’re experiencing it, yet… You can see it being stable, presenting you with a future where you know what to expect. Finally, the pressure is off! And you can rest a little easier. You can breathe more carefree, even as the days, weeks and months pass by and you have to admit to yourself, that while you’re not unhappy, you’re not exactly happy either. The relief of knowing what’s coming next keeps you tied to your present state.

As this is my first day where I am truly no longer employed, the pressure is back on in a major way. While it’s an added weight to carry, in a way I welcome it back with open arms. Finally I have the power to make decisions again! Who’d-a-thunk I’d be glad to feel that stress?! Ha, I genuinely am though. To be honest, I always had the power to make my own decisions – of course I did. But my carefree state made me unwilling to change. Now though, I’m ready for something different. So with that in mind, I’ve made two decisions:

  1. I am starting an online copywriting course at the College of Media & Publishing. I’ve always loved writing and I’ve got a solid background in marketing, it’ll be awesome to truly combine the two and see how I do. I have the time nowadays anyways, so why not? Sitting at home day after day just doesn’t interest me – now that I have the opportunity, I want to make the most of it and learn about something that interests me greatly!
  2. This Saturday I’m attending a Creative Writing course at the Faber Academy in London. Not sure what to expect from it, I’ve only been told to “bring my favourite novel”. But I’m definitely so looking forward to it! This course to me is not about learning per se, like the CMP online course is. It’s not about helping me look for the next opportunity in my life… This one just tugs at my heartstrings. This one… Is just for me. :-) And I can’t wait!

I’ll keep you updated on how it all pans out. In the meantime, I’d just like to stimulate each and every one of you to never lose that pressure. Never lose that feeling where life has no more different stories to offer you, because everything is simply going full steam ahead towards the predictable end. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: life is unpredictable. And that can be such an amazing thing to experience! I’d hate for you to lose that excitement, to lose that joyous buoyant feeling of being deliciously alive. Stop being content if you’re not, not truly anyways. Change it. You have the power to make that decision. I encourage you to do so.

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From: Invictus, by William Ernest Henley (1888)

Life is unpredictable. Expect that.

The other day I was chatting with one my BFFs – yes, I know, what a cheesy way to describe someone, but in my defence: I did grow up in the age of “BFF” and “NWLY” and “ILY”, also known as the MSN-generation. And there’s simply no better way to describe this particular foxy lady. Anyways, I digress: we were talking boys, as us girls tend to do. And in the midst of it, I was advising her to not have too many expectations of how life was supposed to be. Especially not in the love department.

Why? Well, a lot of us – and with “us” I mean “girls” – grow up thinking that we need to find the right man. And once we do, we need to make that relationship a top priority in our lives together, so that when a sufficient amount of time has passed, it will have become appropriate for us to move in together with said man. After which another period needs to pass, so that it will become acceptable for the man to propose to us and we can finally start our “happily ever after”.

Simultaneously though, we are also expected to work on our self-actualisation and be our own woman. To go out and enjoy a movie, you don’t need a man. Same goes for dinner and every other activity you’d often need a partner to “enjoy”. We are told we don’t need a man to feel worthy of love, to feel worthy – period. Which, in my opinion, is so true! But I find it to be a conflicting message, because if we can enjoy our lives on our own, then why can we not have a happily ever after without that other person?

One of my dear friends is a stunning woman. She was married. It didn’t work out. All of her friends have gotten married, started on kids and look at her with that look of pity – because “her plans” didn’t pan out. And it’s heart-breaking. Because her life is freakin’ fabulous. She does what makes her happy. And sure, she’d love to meet a great man and maybe have kids with him. But it’s not going to define her. Instead, she just landed a job abroad and she’s going to be kick-ass amazing at it. I’ve not been this proud of someone in a long time, because – while she doesn’t know it – it gives me hope for my own future. That I can be me and chase after my own dreams, the way she has done no matter what happened.

She’s taught me this: I can be my own woman. And that will already be enough. The rest of it… Will sort itself out, I hope. But I’m not counting on it. I don’t need to follow that “traditional roadmap” in order to achieve happiness. Because even when you do, my friend’s story proves that it doesn’t necessarily mean happily ever after. Expecting that everything will be miraculously wonderful once you’ve got a ring on it, well it just ain’t realistic.

Which brings me to my point, something I’m taking a long time to get to – I know. But as I was talking to my friend who was having all these expectations about how her relationship was “supposed to go”, as us young women have always been unconsciously taught to have, I told her to stop having them altogether. Because life is totally unpredictable. And while I understand that human beings don’t do well with insecurity, it’s madness to think that there’s only one way your life can go, one plan that will deliver happiness. Because that’s not real life.

So I told my friend: Life is unpredictable. Expect that.

A year ago I didn’t expect to be out of a job right now. I didn’t expect I would have moved out from my place, a flat I’d only just moved into at the time. I didn’t expect to have lost a lot of my self-worth in the months past. I didn’t expect to have to do all of this rebuilding on my own self right now. I didn’t expect a lot of things. But I did expect that nothing would happen according to planBecause it wouldn’t happen that way. Because it hasn’t been happening that way for years.

From the moment I applied to business school – something that would never have occurred to me in a million years in the years preceding that decision – I threw everything out the window. My plans I’d had. My future I’d always seen so clearly. I threw it all away. Because what’s the point? Life doesn’t work out that way. And while it was hard at first, somehow I ended up in another country. And then I started building a life here, somewhere I’d never envisioned living – besides in my wildest dreams. Clearly not everything has been smooth sailing, but is that what I did it for? To lead a charmed life? Or is it more interesting to lead a life, experiencing both the good and the bad – whatever it likes to throw at you and see how you do?

I still haven’t got a plan. I have no idea what I am going to do. But I’m sure I’ll find out. As time moves forward, I am totally confident I will at least find out. It’d be awesome to have a bit of certainty, but since it’s been uncertainty that has brought me here… Even through the bad, I’m actually OK living my life this way. As the unpredictable mess that it is. I’ve come to expect it. More even: I’ve come to love it.

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War on Terror comes to Belgium

It was Tuesday morning. I was in my car driving to work – my last day before going on holiday to Belgium & seeing my friends and family for Easter. The sun was shining brightly and I was smiling, because it was going to be a good day. I was looking forward to knocking down my to-do list and leaving the office with the happy expectation of travelling home – my real home. I remember thinking that I was truly “loving life” at that moment.

My phone was getting messages whilst I was driving, but I hadn’t had a chance to look at them until I arrived at the office. I turned the key in my ignition, silencing my car and got out. As I was walking into my office building, I looked at the messages on Whatsapp. It was a group conversation and several people were saying they hoped “the Belgians were all right”. I didn’t quite get it. So as I plunked my bag down next to my desk, I opened my News app and waited anxiously as it was scouring the web for new stories. And then there it was.

There had been an attack in Brussels. At the airport. Just that morning. My heart stops. My breathing stops. And I try to remember how my mom was going to Paris that morning. She must be on the train, right? She never takes a flight to Paris. Never. But there’s always that possibility. I text her a quick message to check she’s OK. Next I open my laptop to find more information on what’s happened – the tiny screen of my phone isn’t enough for this.

My favourite Belgian newspaper’s landing page is… A disaster. It’s in big letters: “Attacks on Brussels” – my heart skips a beat when I read the use of plural. Apparently it’s not just the airport, but the metro as well. Who do I know in Brussels? Who might be hurt? As I list more and more people in my head, my dread becomes insane. Currently there’s only one victim reported dead – it makes me feel confident somehow. Maybe it’s not that bad. Maybe the wounded number will be low as well – and they will hopefully survive.

One hour passes and the whole world has changed. My world has changed. The death toll keeps rising. The images and videos online show disastrous circumstances. My email pings. Something from my to-do list in the office today, something I was excited about ticking off. I can’t think right now. My mom hasn’t texted me back. I need to call her. NOW. She picks up and sounds OK. She went by train. And she left right before the attacks. Before the city was on lockdown. She’s safe and she will be for the next couple of days at least.

I text my friends. As many of them as I can think of to have ties with Brussels, whether they live there or work there or both. Most respond back. But I can’t find my sister. She works about a mile from Molenbeek, where some of the terrorists have been found in the past. She teaches Dutch to immigrant high school children, who are hoping to integrate. Despite the circumstances, the irony’s never lost on me. I send her a text. It doesn’t arrive. The newspaper’s website says that the mobile network is down due to overuse. There’s a request to use mobile data instead, so as to keep the lines free for emergencies. I send a Whatsapp. Just one checkmark next to my message. It doesn’t arrive.

I have meetings in the office that day. One really important one. I can’t think. I can only watch the news. And text my friends. And find out all transport has been locked down, including the Eurostar – which I’m supposed to take the next day. I can’t deal with this. People in the office are coming up to me to ask if everyone I know is safe. I don’t know how to answer. I haven’t found everyone yet. Where is my sister? I know the likelihood that she was somewhere in that area is small, but I don’t know her route to work. And the city is on lockdown. What if she’s in the middle of a manhunt? I try to breathe.

I walk away from my desk and find a bench outside. The sun is gorgeous. There’s a pretty flowerbed. But I don’t notice anything. I just sit down and start crying. From worry. From fear. From anxiety. From shock. From pain. From heartache for my country. From everything at once, because I feel everything at once and I can’t get out. I can’t find reason within this morning. I don’t understand. My throat constricts and I don’t know how to be me. A friend comes up to me and hugs me. She doesn’t know what’s happened. But as soon as I tell her, she just hugs me tighter.

And so the morning continues. I try to focus on work. Find that I can’t and break down. It’s like a circle and I keep going round and round the loop. My team takes turns in being there for me. Trying to ease the pain. But I always come back to the same circle & I start crying again. Tons of people see me cry that day. Probably the whole office. I just can’t believe it. This is Brussels. This is Belgium. We are laid back. We eat waffles. One of our most famous landmarks is a little boy who pees, for crying out loud?! We haven’t done anything wrong.

In the end, it makes no sense for me to stay. I leave the office, hours earlier than I had planned on. My to-do list virtually untouched. My last day, my joyful day before my holiday has completely disappeared into the fog of my anxious self. Then my phone beeps. It’s my sister. She’s been in Antwerp all this morning, planning to go into Brussels in the afternoon. Those plans don’t exist anymore. She’s going to try to go home. She’ll let me know once she gets there. My breathing, which I’d been holding since that beep, starts back up again. I take a few deep breaths. And feel relief. Like a massive weight has finally been lifted.

My phone beeps again. It’s Facebook, of all things. But when I read it, I am overjoyed. It’s a safety check, where everyone can indicate whether they are safe (or not) and friends get the automatic update. In that moment, in that very instant, I am loving social media. I thank God we have it. Because  the list is long. Some of my best friends, some friends who I’ve lost touch for a while, but all of them people I’ve been worried for. They are OK. They are safe.

As the day comes to a close, the Eurostar announces it should run normally the next day. Travellers are advised to double-check the next morning and if all is going smoothly, to make sure to be extra early for check-in. There will be heightened security. Of course. I try not to mind. I don’t mind extra security for the guarantee of safety. But Belgium has always been the complete opposite of this: more about living life, less about infinite amounts of worry and “what if?”. The Belgian lifestyle is relaxed, slow, chilled out, something I’ve always loved. But for how much longer? In the back of my mind I wonder what I will be coming home to.

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