Why I stopped reading blogs - confessions of a fomophobe

I stopped reading blogs a while ago, and ironically I was reminded of why this is when Linn Instagrammed about a blog post she'd written, where she outlines how she at times feels jealous of some of her best friends. I think we've all been there, and to me personally, reading other people's blogs could very well push me over the edge of me thinking that my life is just so, epically shit.

  London Fashion Week 2009, during my 2 year stint as an international fashion buyer (it sounds a lot fancier than it was...) Also check out that feature phone!

London Fashion Week 2009, during my 2 year stint as an international fashion buyer (it sounds a lot fancier than it was...) Also check out that feature phone!

I've been fortunate enough to be able to make active choices about my life and how I want to live it. Me living in Malmö, Sweden, and working in the field that I do, are both the result of me choosing and pursuing that particular life. In a former life, I seriously considered pursuing an academic career. In a life before that, I worked in the humanitarian field. And in a life before that, I worked in fashion(!). I chose to leave all those fields, yet when I read other people's blogs I can't help but wonder if I would've been happier, more successful, more content, if I'd chosen to pursue one of my previous lives instead of the one I'm living now.

And it doesn't just stop at blogs. Because I've had all these previous lives, I've met some spectacular people. And no, I'm not talking about partying with Amy Winehouse (though that did happen, back when I was super cool - or at least hung out with people who were), I'm talking about my friend who's an international peace broker (I mean she's negotiating deals with the likes of IS and Hamas - literally what am I doing with my life??), or my acquaintance who's a humanitarian officer in Jerusalem, or a former colleague who's heading up the PR at one of Europe's largest VC firms back in London, or an acquaintance that's a super successful lifestyle blogger, or another one who's doing academic research in Lebanon, or another close friend who's pursuing a career as a foreign correspondent, or another friend who's a civil servant in Westminster... I could go on. I'm so fortunate to know all these people, and they inspire me daily, but they also make me wonder whether I've settled too quick, too soon. If I'm missing out. If there's something bigger and better out there, something I'm missing out on because I've chosen to live in this tiny city in southern Sweden.

  Hard at work in Karamoja, Northern Uganda

Hard at work in Karamoja, Northern Uganda

Constantly being bombarded with other people's success - however happy I might be for them - brings about a level of anxiety and questioning of my own life and my own being to a point where I become overcritical of everything I do. Since people rarely share their struggles or hardship on the interwebz, it feels like you only get to see rainbows and unicorns - and by comparison, my life feels pretty shit.

As a consequence, I stopped reading blogs and I stopped consuming other people's seemingly perfect lives. Instead I try to prioritise meetings with these people, because ironically, I find that a lot of people are fairly open with the ups and downs that are inevitable to leading a successful life, in a way that they don't tend to be online.

And a shout-out to the very few blogs I still read - they mainly have a focus of personal and/or professional development, and I feel that they actually add value to how I think and pursue my thoughts (which sounds meta, but life is pretty meta). So thanks to Mark, Hampus, and The Muse - you make my life richer. And if you have any favourite personal development blogs up your sleeve, would love to hear about them.

The three stages of a relapse - as told by a recovering Londoner

I remain unsure about my relationship to London. It's a love/hate relationship of sorts, and it'd be folly to downplay the impact it's had on me. Leaving was surprisingly easy, but when I visited last week I quickly realised that returning wasn't particularly so. It might seem strange to compare London to an addiction, but somehow it feels pretty appropriate - particularly since relapsing is often said to be part of recovery. Here's an account of the three stages of relapse I experienced when visiting for work last week.

Excruciating anxiety
It was a sunny Monday morning when I landed at Heathrow, six months to the day since I'd left. I felt nothing at all. Not a single thing - almost as though I'd never left. But the night before I was near hyperventilating, scared that I'd feel as though I belonged in London without really have anything to do there (this wasn't helped by the fact that all my meetings were booked at the very last minute). I only had one meeting that day, and once it finished that feeling crept back. I got on the tube during rush hour, and once a notoriously resilient commuter, I now had to control my breathing to fight back an anxiety attack. I was overwhelmed by the crowd and the crowded space, and getting on the wrong tube really didn't help.

An adrenalin junkie's fix
Over the next two days I ticked off six meetings with PR agencies, top tier journos, VCs and influencers. It was bloody great. I love my job, I love talking about why I love it and incidentally, the two are often the same. All very meta, I know. Anyway, it was two stressful days and I was pumped from eating very little food (not purposefully, I might add) and having some fantastic conversations. I battled through crowds on the streets of London as I rushed from one meeting to the next, and again, it was as though I'd never left. I got my fix and actually felt high in a way only an adrenalin junkie and/or a workaholic does. I started questioning my decision to leave London, a place where I learned from and worked alongside world experts in my field. Thankfully I was staying with my mentor - one of said experts - who successfully brought me back down to earth.

Feelings of gratitude
On the third day, my snot was black. It's as gross as it sounds, and Londoners will know what I mean. I went running in the morning and quickly realised why Mayor Khan recently warned Londoners against exercising in the outdoors. It made me think of my new hometown, its beautiful parks and the fact that I cycle everywhere. I cycled everywhere in London too, but out of resilience and high stamina as opposed to it being thoroughly enjoyable, or the city being easy to navigate around. Being on a crowded tube that morning also made me remember how lonely I often felt in London, a city populated by 8.5 million people. Perhaps amazingly, I've made a number of close friends in Malmö in just a few months time. Those are the thoughts that were running through my head after I landed from my high the days before.

To quote Samantha Jones (lol) I love London, but I love myself more. London is wonderful for the young, the wealthy and the hustlers, but to have the best experience I think you have to be two out of three. At one point I was both young and a hustler, but London aged me prematurely. Consequently I'm not as young and naive as I once was, and although I did give adult life in London a real working chance, I'm happy I got out when I did. And I'm even happier that I get to return every now and again for work and some quick fixes of adrenalin.

Six months in: returning back home after eight years abroad

Last week marked six months since I left London to move to Malmö, a Swedish city the size of Hackney. It wasn’t the first time I left London - I’d previously left to move to Wales, Berlin, South Africa and Uganda, but this was the first time I left with all my stuff without an intention to return to London, my home and base for the past eight years. Moving to new countries hasn't always been easy, but moving back to the motherland is not even comparable. Here are my few cents on moving back to the motherland after spending all your adult life abroad.

Friendly Swedes

Culture clashes o'clock
My worst culture clashes before moving to Malmö didn’t take place in Uganda or South Africa but rather Aberystwyth, Wales, the place where a pint of beer was cheaper than doing laundry in student halls and where students made fun of other students for taking their studies seriously (I left two terms in). Moving to Malmö has opened a new set of cultural challenges, albeit mostly in the best of ways. As an example, I’ve been pretty taken aback by how open and generous people are in Malmö, and I’ve already made a number of fairly close friends in a way that took me years to achieve in London. That said, since I come with a London mindset I initially met this openness and generosity with slight suspicion, which obviously was a bit strange to people who are now my friends. As for me, I seriously didn’t get why people were so friendly. The things London do to you...

Me having successfully escaped another informal post-meeting mingle...

People won’t know you’re different, so they’ll think you’re strange
Since you look and sound like everyone else - that wasn't the case in Uganda or South Africa - it’s likely people you meet will assume that you come from the same-ish context as them. That would probably have been fine had the place you left been similar to the one you moved to, but London and Malmö are surprisingly different - perhaps particularly in the workplace. For instance, I’m usually the last person to join a meeting (bang on time when the thing starts) and the first one to leave (right when it finishes) because I. Have. Work. To. Do. People in London aren’t exactly known to linger at work meetings, and that’s how I was raised so that’s what I’ll do (not linger, that is). That’s not how things work in Malmö. You chat, you laugh, you get to know each other and right then and there is where you build your network. I still haven’t mastered the art of small talk and as someone who suffers from social anxiety, it’s a pretty significant challenge… But more on that in another post.

Prepare for a pretty major identity crisis
Beyond people thinking you're a bit odd, and beyond probably being a bit odd, you'll also feel pretty odd. I still talk of Britain and London as though I’m British myself, and I have a hard time feeling Swedish, whatever that means. I suppose I feel like an immensely privileged immigrant in Sweden, with the passport, the SSN, and the language all in place, but without the Swedish cultural capital. I just don't feel very Swedish in the way that I still identify as a Londoner, though of course a majority of Brits (as was seen in the EU referendum) would see me as an alien in Britain. That's the tricky bit about being a global citizen - suddenly it's as though you belong anywhere and nowhere.

Malmö <3

They have changed - and so have you
I left Sweden for London when I was 18, and at the time I was immensely disappointed with Sweden at large. Growing up, I’d met few adults I could turn to for advice, inspiration or just a helping hand. I moved from home aged 15, learned to trust no one and ultimately became a pretty angry person. That changed as and when I went to university and pursued a career in London, a place where I all of a sudden had several role models and people that were more than happy to help me out. But my resentment for Sweden was still very much in place, and that didn't really change on a fundamental level until I moved to Malmö six months ago. I have a wholly different experience of my motherland now than I did growing up - a surprise to no one perhaps, but working to let go of previous prejudice and entrenched anger has allowed me to become a softer and kinder version of myself, both in spite and because of my motherland.

In many ways, returning back home after that long is like a gift that keeps on giving, while at the same time being a pretty significant challenge - a paradox of sorts. In my experience, many people seem to think that it would be easier to move back to the motherland than somewhere across the globe, but that's a fallacy. That said, rediscovering your country of birth is wonderful, and I wish everyone had the opportunity to do so. Unfortunately, it takes some eight years of being away...

Taking my £35k degree and doing something... else?

I attended four(!) different universities in getting my BA in Politics and Development Studies, and I loved (almost) every second of it. There are plenty of highlights, most which I outlined after sitting my last ever exam in this Instagram post. I think one of the main reasons why I had such a phenomenal time at uni is that I worked almost throughout, incidentally in startup PR. It meant I was seldom skint, I got to be in an office environment (which I thought was really exciting) and I also developed skills you don't necessarily do at uni.

Baby me at my first ever PR internship in 2013

A question that often comes up from colleagues, friends and family members alike is why I decided to go into PR after spending all that time (four years at uni, one year working in Uganda) and money (currently have £35k~ in student debt and on a 25 year payment plan that requires me to pay £120/month) wrapping my head around different development theories and discourses to go into... startup PR?

Initially I think it was more a case of startup PR choosing me than the other way around. And you know the notion "don't choose a job, choose a boss" ? I had an ally in my first ever PR manager, and she in me - it allowed me to learn loads and develop a skill set much more practical than the one I acquired at uni. Uni taught me how to think and my first manager taught me how to work. Doing a degree in PR and comms seems like a slight waste of time IMHO, as you'll learn so much on the job anyway. Doing a degree in politics, on the other hand, unwraps theories about how the world works in a way you can't get in the workplace. My degree has helped me see structures and understand power balances in a way I probably otherwise wouldn't, and that has been of great help when pursuing a career in PR.

At Web Summit in 2015 with my first manager (who then also became my second manager in a different job)

So why PR and why startups? Doing PR in the corporate world sounds pretty dull to me, but working with companies and people that are actually attempting to change the current world order is beyond fun, and pretty important too - particularly in how it's communicated, both internally as a vision but also (obviously) externally in changing public opinion and consumer behaviour. There's a lot of BS in the industry, as is the case with the international aid industry, but thankfully you'll learn to see through it pretty quickly.

I haven't signed off the third sector or the international aid industry for good. In fact, I think many of the tools enabling positive change in the global south will come from the global startup community - in many ways, they already do. Whether it's WorldRemit for remittances or Ari.Farm making the Somali goat market global, tech startups are already playing a huge role in lifting large numbers of people out of poverty. And truth to be told... Everybody needs a good PR.

My humanitarian self at a field trip to Karamoja, northern Uganda in 2014

New year, new... apps?!

2017 already feels a bit different. Never mind the bollocks (ie that Donald J Trump is about to be sworn in as POTUS, or that Theresa May is about to trigger Article 50), let's focus on the important stuff. For me, that's that this is the first time I'm setting out in a new year where I plan to be in pretty much the same place at the end of it. In other words, fingers crossed I'll be in the same job and in the same flat with the same boy. That doesn't mean things will stand still, though. If anything, it means I'll have scope to improve and strengthen myself in the areas of my life that have been neglected as I've previously been busy advancing my career, moving continents, Tindering away... Et cetera.

2017 - less career stress, more personal development. Potentially tech-induced, nevertheless.

I've identified three areas that could do with a bit of TLC - how I manage my money, how I look after my mental state of mind and the way I exercise. I've set up goals, some more vague than others ("finish a half marathon" is not very vague, whereas "reduce stress" is about as vague as it gets), and spent some time thinking about how to best conquer them. And somehow, before I'd even spotted a trend, I'd downloaded a few apps to help me on the way. Whether they'll increase my chances of success I don't yet know, but I'll make sure to feed back at the end of the year.

We're road tripping from California to Mexico (hopefully they won't have built the wall by then) - I need to save 188 SEK/day until then. Walk in the park, piece of cake etc.

Dreams
I'm great at saving money. In fact, I'm so great at it that every month I'll dip into my savings, saying to myself "I save so much money every month it won't make a difference". Hint - it does. It really does. I've been way too aggressive with my savings, and haven't diversified my portfolio of savings enough. In other words, I haven't had enough savings accounts. This summer I'm doing two trips that will cost a fair bit of money, and to make sure I don't dip into the savings for it I've set up an account with Dreams, an app that helps you save money in different categories and for different goals. It's essentially as though you've set up a couple of new accounts, but you don't see the money you've saved as soon as you log into your mobile banking app (which has been my biggest issue). Beyond that, they've adopted an "every little counts" approach, whereby you can transfer the cost of your vices every time you choose to abstain, whether that's takeaway lattes, glossy magazines, or - in my case - another grey Cos jumper I don't need.
 

Headspace
I have a real issue in that I thrive on stress, and I become unproductive when things are slow. It was great when I was a full time student and simultaneously worked full time, and it does mean I always keep busy, but it also means that I have a hard time noticing when I'm moving too fast. As someone once said, "if everything's under control, you're not moving fast enough". I believe that to be true, but at the same time I recognise that I have to be more mindful of my own wellbeing and mental state of mind. As part of this I've started meditating ten minutes every morning, using the app Headspace. So far I find it useful, particularly in that it encourages you to not judge yourself or your thoughts, and certainly not in relation to the meditation itself. They're currently running a campaign with Spotify, giving you both Spotify Premium and Headspace for 149 SEK/month - bargain.

Nike + Run Club
I've mentioned this before, but since I'm about as non-runnery as a runner can be, and since I'm doing a half marathon in Palestine in a couple of weeks(!!), I certainly need a bit of help. I'm using Nike's Running Club app, and you know what - it actually works pretty well. I'm fairly impressed, which is a glowing review for a running app as far as I'm concerned. It keeps me on track (pun intended, lol) and even cheers me on as I run intervals. Whether it'll get me across the finish line in Bethlehem is a different matter, but here's hopin'...

Other behavioural apps I've tried but ditched: LifeSum (soz, can't be arsed counting calories), Smoke Free (I smoke so little I actually found it discouraging to see I'd only saved £2 by not smoking for an entire month), Duolingo (I liked that one, but meditating AND studying a new language every morning is more than I can take...).