I went on three consecutive weeks of leave and this is what happened

It's now been almost a year since I relocated from London to Sweden, but it still feels pretty fresh. I reckon it's because I haven't yet gone through a full year of all seasons, festivals and other happenings that are bound to be different in Sweden from what they are in London. One such thing is annual leave - although I technically only have seven more days of annual leave in Sweden than I did in London (30 versus 23), most people in Sweden take about four consecutive weeks of leave during the summer. Yep, that's a full month's worth of leave in one single go. Last time I had that much time off in one go was before I started my first job, age 14. In other words, it's been 14 years since I last went more than one or two weeks without having any work to do. Committed to my newly found Swedishness, I decided to take a full three(!) consecutive weeks off work during July and August. Mind you, once I went on leave most of my colleagues, and indeed Sweden at large - or so it felt - had already been off and away from the office for about two weeks. In other words, I was already pretty relaxed as I went on holiday, as opposed to stressed out and on the verge of a breakdown as was often the case when I went on leave in London.

Nevertheless, having never done this before, I decided to look at how I was affected by being detached from work for so long. Here's what happened:


WEEK 1: ITCHY REFLECTION

  Three days and four books into my holiday

Three days and four books into my holiday

I went to Kos, Greece, with my sister and her two kids. Three days in I started getting a bit itchy and couldn't believe I was going to do basically nothing for three weeks. However, knowing that I had another three weeks of nothingness ahead allowed me to look back at the previous six months and actually spend a good amount of time thinking about my key learnings, drawn from achievements as well as fuck-ups, both in my professional and personal life. Going on leave for just a week doesn't really mean you get a fundamental break - it's just a blip in a longer time period, and chances are you'll also try to cram as much stuff as possible into that one week to "make the most of your holiday", meaning you'll have less time for reflection. I had none of that in Week 1 - in fact, I was borderline bored only a few days in.

This might explain why I'd towards the end of Week 1 already found enough peace to make a plan of what I hope to achieve and want to change in the coming autumn. We're all very good at making quarterly and annual plans for work, but most people don't seem to do the same for their personal lives - and I know I certainly didn't back when I was living in London, simply because I didn't have the emotional bandwidth that's needed for that sort of reflection.


WEEK 2: HOLIDAY STILLNESS

  Ten days in and all fun and games

Ten days in and all fun and games

I went to Lisbon with a group of nine friends and felt completely switched off from work. This was a pretty active holiday with loads of surfing, tennis and half marathon training, so there was a lot less time for reflection and reading than in week 1. We essentially spent a week just playing games and making afternoon cocktails, and it's some of the most fun I've had in a long time. I think we spoke about work once in an entire week - but we still had plenty of other conversations and activities going on, which forced me to remember who I am and what I like doing outside of work. This was the week when I was reminded of my love for heated debates, feminist literature and - who would've known - sports. I even signed up for tennis lessons in the autumn he he so we'll see how that goes.


WEEK 3: ONWARDS (AND A BIT OF CHEATING)

  18 days in and feeling somewhat clueless

18 days in and feeling somewhat clueless

In week 3 I was moving houses - very exciting, particularly considering that I moved into my first own (!) piece of real estate. I also started mentally preparing for going back to work by going to the hairdresser, getting my nails done, and essentially just removing any trace of me having lived in a pool for the past two weeks. I was getting seriously excited about going back to work - and then a prospective client got in touch and wanted to meet up for a coffee. There may or may not have been a nervous giggle from my end, and a brief thought as to whether I could still do my job after having been out of the loop for so long (two and a half weeks that is, but it felt like a lifetime). I went for the meeting, apparently remembered how to pitch a client, sealed the deal and went on to draft a first media strategy. The next day I had to go into the office for a strategy and planning day, which further pushed me to put my work hat on and remember what it is that I do, and why. I even started jumping up and down as we discussed the coming plans for the autumn hehe.

I'm amazed at how quickly I could switch off from work, and how quickly I could switch back on. Both processes made me slightly anxious before it had actually happened, but chances are that says more about me than it does switching on/off... Three weeks, or, as it were, two and a half, was just the right amount of leave for me. I know some people take five (!) and I'm sure it depends on whether you have kids or not (Swedish school holidays are never-ending - they go on for about ten weeks in the summer) but I reckon that would be way too much for me. But then again - who knows - maybe I'll learn to love it...

Self-help books and buying into the idea that The Universe Has My Back

I don't know whether there's been a shift in perception regarding self-help books, or whether we've all just come to the age where some of us realise that there's still loads to learn about who we are and how we think, but I definitely feel like self-help books are on the rise. I'd say there's still some stigma attached to self-help books, presumably stemming from the fact that reading such books indicates that you in some way need help. There's also an unquestionable feminist aspect to it - I doubt many people would raise an eyebrow at someone reading "Thinking Fast and Slow", one of the best-selling self-help books of recent times and written by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, whereas self-help books written by women, for women tend to be frowned upon.

I recently finished reading one such book called The Universe Has Your Back, and I was so pleased when I got a substantial number of questions and enquiries when I posted about it on Instagram, thus inspiring this blog post. Slight disclaimer: TUHYB is probably one of the most cringy self-help books I've read - it includes quotes like "when we accept our role as the Universe's happy learner, life gets really groovy",  so you sort of get where I'm coming from. That said, though it's 25% cringe and American, it's 75% phenomenal.

Spiritual leader and life coach Gabby Bernstein positions love vis-a-vis fear and suggests that although we've been taught to lean towards fear, life can "get really groovy" (heh) if we learn how to instead choose love. Behind the soppy rhetoric you'll find different examples of how to face fear in order to choose love in different shapes and forms, regardless of whether that relates to work, relationships or, err, real estate (I think we can all relate to that one).

Below are some of my favourite quotes:

On work: "We buy into the belief that a meaningful life requires struggle (..) [but] when we commit to joy we increase our chances of success" - the first part of this really resonates with me, and I think it's deeply rooted in our society as part of the Protestant work ethic of discipline and frugality. This is something I believe we as a society will have to rethink quite fundamentally with the rise of automation, but that's probably another post in the making... Either way, it's a novel and modern idea that work should be "fun", and it goes against what most of us were taught as kids. And even now, people wear their busy-ness as a badge of honour to make sure other people know just how much and hard they work. Bernstein doesn't instruct the reader to work hard - she instructs the reader to seek out joy, thinking that once you enjoy what you do, working hard will be a side effect.

On judgement: "The ego cannot survive without judgement (..) we use judgement to avoid the feeling of our own inadequacy, insecurities, and lack of self-worth" I usually make a conscious effort to be open-minded and avoid judging others, often quite successfully. In spite of this, there are certain things I really struggle not judging. I probably wouldn't mind had it not been for the fact that 1. it's just not very nice, 2. once I get going, it's pretty draining and 3. it's just so damn unnecessary. Bernstein presents some interesting takes on why we judge certain things and not others, and linking it back to own insecurities seem to make sense. Accepting this removes focus from the judgement and thus the symptom, and instead goes to the root cause - highly uncomfortable, but necessary.

On obstacles"Obstacles are detours in the right direction" I feel really strongly about this, mainly because so many of what I've first experienced as huge obstacles have turned out to be blessings in disguise - or, as one religious friend said, "I don't even think it's that disguised"? Being made redundant twice in six months is one such example, finding myself in a destructive relationship that taught me loads about myself is another, and - quite frankly, and on a highly personal level - Brexit is a third. Whether it's true that obstacles are detours in the right direction or not, I've come to believe that it is as I have anecdotal evidence to back it up. I'm fairly convinced such a conviction sets off a self-fulfilling prophecy, where obstacles will make you look for any opportunities coming as a result - which can only be a good thing. If you believe that good things will come, you'll start looking for them.

TUHYB is not for cynical people on high horses. It speaks of assignments from the Universe (I reckon another word for the Universe could be God) and for the reader to surrender their hopes and dreams to the Universe - but unless you're a fundamentalist, it might challenge you to challenge yourself in how you perceive yourself and others.

Personally, it's the second ever self-help book I've re-read (the other one is Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet - not strictly a self-help book, but it's offered me more guidance in life than any other piece of literature). If you manage to see past the fluff, chances are you're in for a treat.

Three things I learnt from the crazy person that happens to be my mother

I've met my fair share of pretty special people, but my mother outdoes them all. She is, by far, the craziest person I've ever met. On a good day I can say it in an endearing way, but obviously, not all days are good. Because of some of the batshit crazy decisions she's made in her life, I didn't get to spend my childhood with her. In fact, I saw her very rarely, but that doesn't mean she hasn't had much of an impact - she certainly has. Good and bad, of course, as is always the case, though I'm working hard on letting go of the bad and embracing the good. Here's my top three list of good stuff she's taught me.

Don't fear the road less travelled
I grew up with very little sense of stability or direction of, well, anything. The same thing can be said for my mother, only for her, it lasted a lot, lot longer. Attending university had a disproportionate impact on my life in that I met people who offered guidance and advice, and I finally found some sort of path. My mum didn't. Instead, she very much created her own path, seemingly blindfolded, with most of the establishment rallying against her. I think it's her determination to try things out and create things for herself (even though they sometimes have been truly mental) that's allowed me to not bat an eyelid at the prospect of moving into a second-hand shop at the tender age of 18, or take a year out of uni to try the diplomatic life in Uganda, or do any of the things I've done that have first seemed a bit... odd.

If one door closes... obviously, just take the window
My mum's made some interesting career choices and regardless of what one wants to say about them, she's always stuck to her guns and found ways around pretty much everything. She is an entrepreneur at heart - perhaps albeit without realising it herself - and whenever she's encountered a problem (there were plenty, and often) she's simply found a way to make it work. Regardless of whether it's involved moving countries, striking up new, albeit somewhat suspicious, biz ventures, or, well, anything really, she's just managed to plough through the most bizarre scenarios, including having to build up her life from scratch, again and again. Her resilience is second to none and it's taught me that there's a zillion solutions to every problem, and if you can't find it, it's because you're not looking properly.

Work hard and be nice to people
She has a heart of gold and always aims to be nice to people. Her kindness extends to the point where she drove back the first car she ever stole to the parking space she first stole it from once it'd emptied on petrol. Haha. I know that's not funny, but it sort of is... I also remember vividly when a beggar came up to us when I was about 10, asking for money, and mum first said "no one gave me any money when I was homeless" (lol such a pragmatic), then immediately being hit with a wave of regret and ran after him with a tenner - even though she, at that point, had little money herself. I try to be kind, and I try to remember that everyone is fighting their own struggle, but I'm not doing half as well as my mother is. Although no one would blame her for being full of rage for all the shit life's thrown at her, she's really just incredibly generous with her kindness. I try to imitate that best I can.

As you can see below, she's also taught me that it's ok to wear sports bras as tops... Which might just be the biggest learning of them all.

  1990: Mum and I at the tender age of 19 and 1, respectively.

1990: Mum and I at the tender age of 19 and 1, respectively.

The weirdest places I've lived: a trip down Memory Lane, via shops, restaurants and fashion photographers

I somewhat unbelievably just bought my first flat. It's not something I ever thought would happen, perhaps partly because I've spent most of my adult life in London, where even the idea of saving up for a deposit seems unfathomable. The London housing market is insane and the political aspects of it used to frustrate me immensely from an ideological and socio-economic perspective (still does), but me buying a house was just so unlikely that I never even really considered it.

And then I moved to Sweden. Malmö, that is - the housing market in Stockholm is not too different from that of London. All of a sudden, buying didn't seem like some sort of fairytale idea. After spending weeks and months analysing the housing market (which was a lot more fun than I would've expected) I finally bought my own piece of real estate dream. I can't believe I'm going to get to decorate MY VERY OWN FLAT in whatever way I want. That hasn't always been the case - I've lived in some, err, pretty interesting places. I've typically moved at least once a year over the past ten years - below are some of the weirdest places I've lived at.

  2008: Pre photo session with our very own internationally renowned fashion photographer

2008: Pre photo session with our very own internationally renowned fashion photographer

CAMDEN SLACK DEN: 2008
It was my first summer in London and I'd managed to get hold of a tiny studio flat on a council estate in Camden. It was about £900/month and there was no way I'd be able to afford that on my own (particularly as I wasn't working), so I teamed up with four(!) other troopers - including Yvan Rodic aka Facehunter -  and the five of us lived there over the summer - three people slept in the bed and two in the sofa bed. There was little other space for a wardrobe (not that we would've been able to afford one anyway) so I remember dragging back a shopping trolley to keep our clothes in.... Grim. That said, we had a pretty epic time in our slack den - we'd only just moved over and spent whatever little savings we had on shoes and booze. There were plenty of good preparties before heading out in Camden, or less typically, to the West End. It was the first time I lived abroad, and honestly, who needs a wardrobe or personal space when you're 18 and full of life, amirite.

  2009: At my "house" aka shop, getting ready for a night out

2009: At my "house" aka shop, getting ready for a night out

SICK: 2008-2009
The clue is in the name. I was three months into living in London and had just given all of my savings (err, a full £1200...) in cash to a landlord who turned out to be the scam of the century as, apparently, the flat we'd just paid for didn't exist. I was fairly devastated, but never really thought I'd end up on the streets. I didn't - I moved into a second-hand shop called SICK which was run by a 65-year-old former punk whose main claim to fame was that he, apart from being the founder of Boy London, also used to work with Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren back in the 70s. SICK didn't have a shower, central heating, hot water or a kitchen. It did have a toilet though, and the walls in the loo were covered in pages from 1980s porn magazines (as you can see in this photo... lol.). My best mate and I lived there for a year and a half, slept on a mattress in the middle of the store and took turns in opening the shop in the mornings. Customers would walk into the shop and nervously go "err, there's someone sort of... sleeping in the bed?". Haha. Brilliant. I'm not sure exactly how we did that for so long, but I think being drunk for most of it probably helped.

  2013: Weekly visit from the chicks

2013: Weekly visit from the chicks

LA FOUNTAINE: 2013-2014
Two months after I'd moved to Uganda, I was attacked outside my house as the guard had fallen asleep and didn't open the gate quick enough before some punk saw his chance of mugging a mzungu. Although I was physically fine (-ish...) I realised it probably wasn't the safest housing option since there was no lighting outside the gate and anyone could hide in the bushes. I consequently decided to move into a guest house on top of an Indian restaurant called La Fountaine, located literally twenty centimetres away from a nightclub called Iguana. Because of Iguana there were always bouncers outside my front gate, and although it was incredibly loud and noisy constantly, I felt safe. Living there also developed my ability to sleep through anything (a few months ago I fell asleep in the dentist chair while getting a filling done - should say something). I had no furniture apart from a bed and some hangers, though I did get a lot of in-house visits from the chickens that the La Fountaine family bred for the food. Very organic. Mind you, they did have the best Biryani in all of Kampala... I stayed there for eight months and when leaving I remember already thinking "I'll look back at this and think it's really fucking weird" - particularly as I then moved into a diplomat mansion for an eight-week house sitting session.

  2014: A rare skull-free zone in the House of Skulls - my room

2014: A rare skull-free zone in the House of Skulls - my room

HOUSE OF SKULLS: 2014-2015
Once I was back in London I moved into a house in Walthamstow which looked beyond lovely. Unfortunately the person I was moving in with had only just bought the place, so I never got to see her interior style until we'd both unpacked. BIG MISTAKE. HUGE. There were skulls bloody everywhere. Everything interior-wise you can imagine, my live-in landlady had skull shaped. Vases, glasses, curtains, rugs, cups, pillow cases, candles, shower bottles, tiny booze bottles... I got a new-found respect for the number of things that come skull shaped or with skulls printed on it. She also liked to decorate the walls with bats(?!). It was her house though, so I couldn't exactly complain. She did, though - when I put fresh flowers in the bathroom she threw them out and said "this isn't a showroom" haaa. I kept all the flowers in my own room after that...

So yeah, my housing career to date hasn't been particularly straightforward. It's kept things interesting though, but for now I'm looking forward to having my very own place with no skulls, chickens or fashion photographers... Just me and my cat.

How to ask busy people for help - a guide

I work in PR. Though I love it, it's at times the most ungrateful job you could ever do. It's been great for me as it's forced me to stop taking things so personally, but still - sometimes it feels a bit like everyone hates you. Journos who won't get back to your emails/calls/tweets/etc, or clients who refuse to believe that their sheer existence isn't news worthy of headlines, or spokespeople who resent a young woman showing them why they should say what - I've worked with them all. Work isn't always like that (if so, I would've changed jobs), but often enough for me to realise pretty quickly that the easiest way to get what you want in the world of PR is to be nice to people.

That's perhaps why I've been so baffled by two random men who've recently contacted me out of *nowhere* in the truly strangest of ways. I used to bump into Man #1 at London house parties back in 2009(!), and Man #2 and I went on a date - as in, one (1) date - once. They both contacted me on the interwebz and it looked a bit like this (Man #1) and this (Man #2) - you could also call both those screenshots "How to not ask for help - a guide".

So, since I myself ask for a lot of people's help (I'm a one man team and whether it's introductions, or getting the right data, or brainstorming storyline ideas, I often reach out to others for help) and since I seem to get a lot of requests, I decided to write a guide on how to ask busy people for help. Here it is:

1. Don't be a dick
This one's easy (you'd think). If you know the person from before but haven't spoken to them in a while (in Man #1's case, it's 7ish years), perhaps start off by asking how the person has been. Even if you don't care, the person you're reaching out to clearly has something you want, so just some pleasantry to butter them up might help when you're reaching out. After all, you want them to think you're a pleasant person to deal with, because why else would they want to help you? Another important thing here is to give the helper the choice of how to help you. If it isn't for work, I'm a pretty messy writer, but I don't want to come across as messy - therefore I'll always prefer doing a Skype call or a quick coffee as opposed to having to write a long reply on something you want my help on. Other people might work differently, so simply asking whether they'd be able to do a quick Skype/coffee/whatever they prefer will probably increase your hit rate.

2. Do your homework
Before reaching out, think about how you can make it as easy as possible for the helper to help you out. You don't want to add a chore to their to-do list - unless you do, in which case, go back to point 1, or expect to get this blog post sent to you. Why are you asking the person you're asking? Tell them. Have you done any research on this yourself? Tell them, and give them something to comment on as opposed to "I've asked other people and no one knows anything about this super general thing that is the Swedish job market" (as was the case for both Man #1 and #2). 

3. What's in it for them?
A while back I reached out to an acquaintance of mine I hadn't spoken to in 2-3 years. I needed to get some insights into her field of work, so I messaged her and asked her if I could take her out for lunch somewhere close to her work and pick her brains. This required minimum commitment from her end - she just had to walk over to her chosen cafe, sit down over paid for lunch, and talk to me about what she does. In exchange, I bought her lunch (and coffee because I'm lavish like that) and hopefully she felt good about being able to chat about her area of expertise. I also said to her that if you ever need to chat PR, hit me up. If you're going to ask for busy people's time and help, you need to give back - or at least demonstrate a willingness to do so. Just saying "would love to take you out for a drink next time I'm in town" would suffice - which the helper can then turn down, but at least you're not a dick. 

Asking people for help is the best way I know to extend your network. It's an opportunity to make people feel good about themselves while essentially doing you a favour - an excellent win-win. Personally, I love helping people out. That said, I'm not a doormat.

Which is why I love the final option of letmegooglethatforyou.com.