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)

My personal Beerxit

Last Friday was a momentous day in the history of Great Britain. After months of following the different  campaigns – and reading The Economist to the point where it became my new religion – I thought it was totally clear: the issues the UK is facing have little to nothing to do with its membership to the EU. Most of the problems are the byproduct of several years of austerity and a government that does not seem to be able to tackle issues, such as insecurity and equality. Don’t believe me? Please read this article from an expert – and please, don’t be so stupid as to think you know better than the experts. Because we all know what happens when you do that and no, you shouldn’t be proud of it.

Alas, Britain has voted for Brexit to go ahead, even though it’s become abundantly clear that there is no plan for the future whatsoever. There’s no clear successor to become Prime Minister, Labour is in tatters as Corbyn has just lost a massive no-confidence vote after an already staggering 30+ resignations over the weekend, the pound has fallen to a 30+ years low with but a small recuperation today and the European Union…? Well they’re done with playing nice. They just want Article 50 to be actioned, so they can get on with it. And to be honest: as painful as it’s going to be for both parties, I want them to.

I don’t want all this instability affecting the EU any more than it already has. Literally, I feel this entire business is just a matter of an insipid kid not being able to pass a test and as he goes home to his parents, he exclaims that the teacher never called on him in class during “Show & Tell” – which has absolutely nothing to do with passing the test, mind you. So please, just shut up and get on with it: you’ve pointed the finger at someone else for no other reason than that you dare not take on responsibility for major problems you have not been able to solve – now go lie in the grave you’ve dug yourself. Because the EU deserves better than that, even if I do agree the EU needs to think more on what should be included in its remit and what – inevitably – should remain within the sovereignty of the nations.

As far as Brexit goes though, I had my own personal version of Beerxit last Friday, having handed in my resignation at the company I used to work for about an hour after David Cameron said he’d be resigning. As I’m sure it was for the Prime Minister, it  was a big decision for me as well. Yet in the end, for me, the need for happiness won out. Life is too short to be unhappy. And it is far too short to be investing time and effort into a place that makes you feel like you don’t belong.

To be honest, I think I always knew I didn’t really belong. I’m part of the creative mindset, all about writing, thinking outside of the box, singing at the top of my lungs right after a major dance session. Also I believe in unicorns and I’ll be damned if I ever found someone there who did too… While I’ve always appreciated the strategic thinking of such a major corporation and definitely enjoyed getting to know so many talented people, I always felt like I was missing out: the parts of the business that I was most interested in developing, we kept outsourcing to agencies. Again, I completely understood this, but it means that while I learned a ton of new things and developed skills I will always be lucky to have, I was never able to progress certain aspects that I really wanted to as well.

So now I am like the Leave-campaigners: no clear plan on what is going to come next, though I am developing it in my minds’ eye. In real life, it basically looks like a major calendar on an A2-poster with shitloads of post-its where I am trying to figure out what my next step is going to be. For those of you who know me, I’m sure you can already picture it!

Now, while it is crazy scary, I’ve not slept better in months. While I am definitely worried, I also have not felt more relaxed in what feels like ages. And while it’s been a blow to my self-confidence, I can’t shake this optimistic feeling I’ve got that’s making me smile and look forward to what the future might have in store for me.

Sometimes you have to make a change. And contrary to the Leave-campaign, I knew that remaining a part of that company was not going to help me become a happier, more in-love-with-life type of person. So I jumped off the cliff and while I don’t know what’s at the bottom yet – a hard fall or sweet, blissful water that’ll envelop me back to the surface – I can’t wait to find out. Because at least, when I find out, it’ll be me who will discover what’s next. It won’t be some corporate junkie who’s lost all sense of self. It won’t be a miserable piece of human being with a fake smile permanently plastered on her face. It will be me. And that’s the key.

A yoga-lovin’, crazy-dancin’, unicorn-drawin’ and always-writin’ me.

The professional

My dearest reader,

I apologise for the horrendous absence you have endured. You must have been feeling abandoned, lonely and discarded like a used paper towel by my prolonged non-writing here. I wish I could ease your suffering somehow – reimburse you for the pain you’ve had to withstand. But I’m afraid I have no proper excuse for my behaviour. So let me make amends by grovelling appropriately and letting you back into my most inner circle of thoughts.

[…]

Did you like that? Was that professional?

These days I’m all about finding the balance of being professional and remaining true to my personality. And damn, that’s hard. To a lot of you, it’s so easy: you just don’t say anything weird, nor something that could be construed as an insult, nor the first thought that pops into your head – unless you just never think in bizarre ways, in which case that last one isn’t for you. And to be fair, that does sound easy, even to me. However, for those of you who’ve met me and spent more than half an hour with me, I’m sure you know that does not sound like me.

I wish I was innately professional like that. I wish I had a filter that would make all my jibber-jabber come out as perfectly polished English. I wish the cultural barriers – even though it’s only a trip across the pond – were not as big as they clearly are. I wish that I was as poised as my British counterparts. I wish that people wouldn’t find my behaviour weird, or inappropriate sometimes. I wish that I could fit in without pulling a muscle. I wish that it was easy.

But then again… I don’t wish my family had raised me differently – and in my family, yeah, we are ALL like that. [And yes, you are free to think about our family reunions at this time, with a bunch of people who are all hilarious, quite loud, think in funky ways and see the world like a jigsaw puzzle they don’t know the final image of – and they’re okay with that.] Also, I don’t wish that I didn’t value honesty above everything – public perception be damned. And I don’t wish that I was like everyone else: more reserved, difficult to read, an enigma to be deciphered.

I’m okay being an open book. Feel free to flip through the pages, read into my mind, wonder at the jibber-jabber you’ll undoubtedly encounter. I invite you as a passenger on the journey that is my life. Feel free to write your name in the passenger registry. Or if that’s too open for you, I’m sure you can be a stowaway somewhere below decks, hidden where I can’t see – I won’t mind. Don’t worry about propriety and what it all means, but just keep reading, word after word, page after page. There’s nothing on here I feel uncomfortable sharing. Perhaps you’ll think it’s all bizarre and a waste of your time. Perhaps you cannot fathom why any one person would do this, have an open window into his/her mind like that. Perhaps you’ll just have a laugh. Perhaps you’ll recognise my voice and enjoy spending time with me. Perhaps there’ll be a thing or two to open your eyes and make you look at the world differently, however insignificant or small that may be. And maybe, maybe, you will want to stay tuned to catch a (hopefully) happy ending.

However, being this open – I can only do that here. And of course, in my personal relationships. At work though, different rules apply. And I can’t say it doesn’t bother me that at work it feels like a part I have to hide, of sorts. Not really hide, just… Be careful who I show it to. Because it’s not really something I can change: my open/for-all-to-know thinking was like this when I was 5, it was like this when I was in my teens, I’m sure it will stay with me for a long time to come. But it’s about channelling it properly. And I guess that makes sense. Even to me. And there’s no shame in admitting you’re still learning. =)

But I suppose the main take-away from this is… That you can take the girl out of Belgium, but you can’t take the Belgian out of the girl! So Happy National Holiday my sweet fellow countrymen! I miss you loads and look forward to coming back: the 10th of August I’ll be arriving and staying for about 2 weeks…

See you soon, dear reader.

P.S. While writing, I was totally enjoying this beat. And you know what they say… Sharing is caring: