The Kryptonite to Creative Evolution

Flicking through my Facebook feed recently a video came up. It was the commencement address made by the actress Octavia Spencer at Ohio’s Kent State University earlier this year, and whilst I’m not too familiar with her work, her words spoke to me.

One point she made, as a young female person of colour , was that if when she’d been an up and coming actress she’d taken notice of the ‘lists’ – you know 25 actresses who made it by 25, or 30 richest lists – she would have stayed in bed, and not become as successful as she is. She referred to the ‘trap of comparison’ and told the graduates not to get caught in it, because they would continue to evolve in ways people had never thought of yet.

And this is what really struck me: comparison is the Kryptonite to creative evolution. And I’m not just talking blogging because it hits home to me, or in this situation acting, I’m talking all creative walks of life.

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Imagine the world if we’d had no David Bowie, for example. He came from the same places we did, but the creativity he brought to his field were totally unique – if he’d compared himself to his peers, and allowed that to bog him down, we would have never ended up with the Bowie we loved.

Think of any outstanding creative in any creative field and you can say the same. The ones who are most revered are usually the most unique. And let’s talk diversity – you don’t have to think back that long ago, and in some cases it’s still the same today, where these lists I mentioned earlier wouldn’t mention a single person of colour, or certain race or even feature a woman.

And I’m not trying to make this about diversity – I’m trying to make this about you. Just you sitting there. We all sit and compare ourselves. We flick through social media, and read gossip magazines online. We look at the success of those around us in our field and think “Well, if they’ve been successful and I haven’t, I need to be more like them” But then we end up with a world of clones. How boring.

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It’s the harder route, to be yourself and graft until you’re successful. And not everyone will make it to the ‘big time’ in their field. But if you readjust what success means to you – it’s not all about being top of the pile, the most famous or having the most money – then you might just find, with that mindset, you might rise higher than you’d thought.

Towards the end of Octavia’s speech, the underlined message she conveyed was

“The journey you take now, will be lead by you alone.” 

It’s a scary and powerful concept, but it’s true. Only you can carve out your path for the future, and only you are going to take it. So why would you want to carve out a path someone else has taken or is meant for a different person. Your path will have failures and disappointments, but that’s all part of learning. Because of this, you don’t backtrack on this path, you simply learn and move on.

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Life isn’t simple or easy – it’s hard graft, but if you really do work hard at it, you can earn your best life possible.

When Fear of Missing Out, Turns to Burn Out

It’s safe to say I’m on the older end of the age spectrum compared with most of the bloggers I come across. I’m still shocked when I hear bloggers I follow talk about taking their GCSEs.

I guess it’s only a shock because way back when I was doing my exams, it was really really geeky to own a computer, let alone admit that you used the internet.

These days everyone appears to have a background in marketing. Kids know how to brand themselves from 16, so as soon as they’re allowed an instagram account, they’ve got their ‘thang’ going and they’re hitting all the likes, follows and they just *know* how to maximise hashtags.

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But one of the things I’m noticing on twitter more and more, is young bloggers asking how people manage to blog, maintain their social accounts AND work either full-time or complete a degree, without burning out or one of these aspects suffering.

I work full-time, I run a blog full-time, instagram and YouTube, as well as managing two twitter accounts. And it’s not easy. But I realise where things need to give in order for me to maintain a balance.

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And I put that insight into knowing how to manage these things, down the different kind of world I grew up. When I was growing up FOMO (or Fear of Missing Out) didn’t really exist for me. The world wasn’t so accessible. You couldn’t find out anything and everything just by picking up a device. As a result you missed out on things. Most of the time I didn’t find out about the thing I’d missed out on until after the fact – I just didn’t know they were happening.

And so now, with knowledge at our finger tips, it’s easy to be tempted into things. Notifications on Facebook telling us that people we know are off to events nearby. Twitter telling us about fun Blogging meet-ups and events. Twitter chats every night – sometimes so many, I’ve been known to participate in multiple chats at once.

But it’s knowing where and when to step back.

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My full-time job is more important that my hobby. It’s how I pay for a lifestyle that allows me to blog, buy fun things and attend awesome events. For a while I was trying to do it all; twitter chats 4 times a week after a full day looking at screens at my job, blogging every weekend (including photos), posting a YouTube video weekly. It all got too much and too tiring, and the schedule that I’d set for myself became a chore. I could feel the first inklings of resentment creeping in.

So I took a step back. I decided to schedule multiple blog posts ahead of time, so I would be able to have weekends off. I decided it was time to reduce time spent on my older twitter account and just focus on one. I stopped YouTube altogether, and decided to take a break until things at home settled a bit. I stopped taking part in ALL the Twitter chats, and only did the ones with subjects that really interested me, or when I was at a loose end.

The result was a more relaxed, less tired Erin. I was also able to spend more time with my husband, who is TOTALLY supportive of my blogging hobby btw. But I realised on nights I was taking part in twitter chats, I was totally ignoring him. I missed him, and we’d been sat right next to each other.

Taking this step back meant that when I was writing articles, I was enjoying it more. I was able to take more time in what I was writing, and I wasn’t just doing it for the sake of hitting a schedule.

It’s so important to remember you don’t have to do it all, in order to feel part of something. If you’re at University and you’re not able to post according to a schedule you’ve set, then change your schedule. If your IRL social life interferes with taking part in a twitter chat, so what? We’ll still be there next week – go live your life. No one worth following you is going to mind if you miss a normal posting day. Plus you’ll have fun stuff to write about next time!

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So, if you’re one of those people who sits down at their laptop and wonders how you’re going to stay awake or motivated enough to write AND live your life – go live it. You’re not going to be missing out if you’re taking YOU-time. Sit and smell the roses, and then come back when you’re ready.

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You’ll feel amazing for it, and you’ll realise that life carries on without you – in the best possible way!

Social Media and your Mental Health: Can they ever be good for each other?

When my family first got the internet back in 1997/96, it was a unknown place. Online predators weren’t something to think about and I was often in chat rooms. They were never inundated with pop-ups back then, and my friends and I had a lot of fun chatting to people all over the world.

Nowadays we are more aware of the dangers and as an adult the internet feels like a relatively safe place. But in reality, are we just closed off to the silent but deadly negatives of social media.

Since the arrival of instagram, people who are now referred to as ‘Influencers’ show us the epitome of aspiration. But in reality, the term Influencer should give us a nudge towards their true purpose online.

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Whether your chosen platform is YouTube, Instagram or blogs, it’s easy to get sucked into the realm of perfection and beauty these people portray. And in return, it’s easy to begin feeling inferior to these people. Yeah, they’re down to earth, might be living near you, and seem to be of the same social class – BUT – they have a new designer bag every two weeks, are being flown out to amazing countries, and appear to be making big bucks just by showing off brands products. It’s the dream life, isn’t it?

As a blogger and sometimes YouTuber, I know how much hard work blogging and vlogging can be – 2-3 hours per blog post, and countless hours on YouTube videos, not to mention promoting your platforms. Even though it all looks easy, it’s blooming hard work. But some of these influencers have people doing all that for them. Some of them portray a down to earth personality but in real life wouldn’t pee on you if you were on fire. Some of these influencers are taking photos of their meals, but not really eating them, and pretending their healthy lifestyle is to thank for their fit physique. And some of these influencers haven’t come from quite the humble background they’d have you think they did.

And so we get to the effect all this has on our mental health when we see it. I often see a meme floating around the internet, wondering where the awkward ‘I’m figuring out how to apply eyeliner, and ooh let’s try this blue mascara’ phase has gone from our pre-teens. I see these young girls walking around with epic contour and highlight, looking like they’re out of Teen Vogue. Little California Girl clones walking around Milton Keynes, because they’ve seen it on instagram. And I wonder, if they didn’t paint their faces this way, would it effect their social standing. When they get to 20 and have no money (because let’s face it, who had money in their 20s?) are they going to put themselves into debt trying to afford another designer bag AND choose the white marble worktop for their kitchen?

And let’s move on to the subject of obsession. More and more I’m seeing people disenchanted by those they follow on social media. And as soon as this happens, you’d expect them to stop following them, right? Nope. They continue to read their blogs, watch their videos and look them up on twitter, creating a big jealous knot in their stomachs. Tabloids have created this obsession with car-crash tv, celebrity and reading about people more famous, but possibly less fortunate or intelligent than you. The drama is addictive and soon you can’t wait to hear what’s happening with the Kardashians or on Love Island. But as you’re reading or watching, you’re feeling bad about yourself. You’re not as tanned, your lips aren’t as big, your hair isn’t as shiny, you’re not as skinny. No attractive man will ever want you if you don’t look like them. And this can be applied to social media – your bag’s from Primark, you don’t have the latest eyeshadow palette, you don’t own anything white marble……

All these things just make you feel bad about yourself, and my concern is for the young girls and guys who think it’s normal to have all this stuff, look this way and behave as if you’re an It Girl. When I’m 70 is our country going to run by TOWIE extras?

At this point, I think it’s important to point out that this is not all influencers. My choice of reading and watching has been carefully curated to only include those of substance. These people are real, they disclose what they do and how they do it. They post photos of themselves looking bare-faced as well as wearing full makeup. They don’t hide the real parts, and that’s so important.

I wonder if you, reading this, have identified with anything I’ve written today? And if you have, here’s what I’d recommend (and what I’ve done):

  • Curate your feed. No matter what platform you use, it’s YOUR feed.
  • If you scroll and something makes you feel bad about yourself, unfollow that person.
  • Take people’s feeds with a pinch of salt – people choose what they post, just as you choose what you post. Even if someone is posting every day, multiple times, that doesn’t mean what they’re showing is what’s happening right now.
  • It’s okay to want material things – but work hard for them, and they’ll mean so much more to you when you achieve them.
  • Don’t be a clone of everyone else. Being unique and not following the pack might not make you an overnight success on instagram – but you’ll have integrity and you’ll be real. Your followers will appreciate that, and no doubt be the kind of people you’ll want to stick around!

There’s so much talk of keeping on top of your mental health at the moment, but it’s important to remember, that when so much information is being thrown at you, from brands to your peers, that you CAN choose what you see. Delete your facebook if you need to. Unfollow that YouTuber if she’s making you feel jealous or bad about yourself.

Influencers need you, you don’t need them!

Look inwards – learn about you, what you need and what you want for your life and from your surroundings, and go from there.

Be happy!

 

 

 

Adulting & Growing Old: What Adults Never Told You When You Were Young

I’m coming up to 34 years old next month, and I have to be honest, I still feel 19 in my head. I think I always will.

I’ve been blessed with a young-looking face, and people always think I’m about 6 years younger than I actually am. I used to hate this but now I like it, and I hope it doesn’t change.

Me and my husband used to look at photos of when we had first met and compare them with current ones, then comment on how we hadn’t changed. But now we look at those same pictures and notice a massive difference. I’m getting old! Not really, but I’m definitely looking older.

Last week I found my first white hair – not grey, white – and I was so happy. I love the idea of getting older, and I feel like I’ve hit another milestone. I’ve been looking for greys for a while now, but since I dye my hair (and have done since I was 16) I rarely see my natural colour. For some reason this time around, my mousey-roots making an appearance hasn’t bothered me so I’m holding out dying my hair until I snap back into hating it again. My plan is that if my hair goes white I won’t have to dye or highlight it any more. I’m aware that won’t work, but let me dream for a while.

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When I was a kid, I knew that as soon as I hit 18 I’d be an adult and have it all sussed out. But along with no one telling you how much aftercare having a tattoo takes and what REALLY goes on when you give birth, it’s one of those things that people don’t tell you when you’re a kid and leave you to work out yourself;

You’ll never really feel like an adult. (Shh don’t tell the kids).

I often see a term banded around on twitter – ‘Adulting’, and I think it’s perfect. For example “I had pizza for breakfast #adulting” or “Spent the afternoon doing my accounts, and now I’m off to a wine bar #adulting” It’s used perfectly to illustrate the psyche of an ‘adult’ who has the brain of a teenager doing things they feel that can or should do but not quite feeling like an adult.

I’ve always said that I never want to feel like an adult. If I start feeling that way, things will be dull and boring and I will have lost the fun. I also say you’re never truly old until you hit about 80, so I’ve got some time to go.

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You spend your young life learning how to be when you’re thrust out into the big wild world, but you never really stop learning. You can continue to educate yourself both academically and by learning from experience and the experience of others. Everyone you meet teaches you something about people and about yourself. You never stop making mistakes, learning from them and choosing which path to take.

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I find growing older to be the biggest adventure. It’s exciting. I want to be a sponge taking it all in, adapting myself to it and moving on to the next thing. I know a lot of people who went through a funk when they hit 30, but I was the most excited. This year I turn 34 and whilst I’m not so keen with my skin changing, my ability to go out in the evening on a ‘school night’ diminishing and my life responsibilities going up, I still know there’s so much ahead of me. There’s time to learn, change, experience and move forward. There are people I haven’t met, places I haven’t seen and so many things I need to learn about myself.

Who wouldn’t want to move forward and experience all of that?

Anxiety: What It Took Me A Long Time To Learn

I’ve suffered with GAD for as long as I can remember. I remember realising I had something odd going on with my mind when I was in about year 5 or 6. I was having OCD tendencies, which I knew I wanted to stop and made a mental note to do the opposite of what my mind was telling me to do.

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Members of my family suffer from OCD so I knew it was something I’d been exposed to, but it still surprises me to this day that as a child I knew this was an issue and something that needed stopping.

It wasn’t until many many years later I was diagnosed with GAD and found out that this was something another member of my family suffered with. And it wasn’t until a few years after that, that I read a blog post online that really helped to change the way I dealt with anxiety.

I honestly don’t remember where I read the article. I was doing research for a blog post in my job and happened across the post, with relation to something else. But the post struck a chord with me.

Simply put, the author noted that she’d been trying to suppress her anxious feelings. They’d been weighing her down to the point where she was saying no to meetings, new business and opportunities. She’d been allowing her anxiety to define her and it was preventing her from moving forward in a business sense. Until one day she had a breakthrough. She decided she would greet her anxiety – acknowledge it. She moved forward knowing that she would have this reaction and instead of causing herself more stress trying to fight it, she described herself moving forward with the anxiety walking alongside her.

She soon found that it wasn’t there as much. Because she’d decided not to pay attention to it so much, not use up her energy analysing it or fighting it, that it wasn’t getting the attention it wanted and so it didn’t seem as important as it once had.

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This idea was really powerful to me. I hope it is to you, too.

Anxiety is a big snowball of horrid. You have it, you analyse it, you feel guilty for it, and then you have more of it. It’s a cycle that seems so unnecessary and is very tiring. It can debilitate, numb, paralyse. It’s in no way fun.

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It’s different for everyone, but I hope, if you suffer, that by reading this you might find some sense of relief. It won’t work every time, it doesn’t cure, but it might offer a little respite on occasion.

 

Why I: Got Married Young

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I’ve had a few people ask in the last few months, how I met my husband. So I thought that the next post in my Why I series, could be about why I got married young.

I look younger than my actual age, and when people hear that I’ve been married for almost 11 years, they instantly ask my age.

I’m turning 34 this year and I married when I was 23. People always say that’s really young to get married, but I say if you know you want to marry someone it doesn’t really matter how old or young you are!

I met G-Man when I was 19, through a friend’s boyfriend. Our official story is that we met at Glastonbury music festival. The truth is we had met a couple of months before that, and had even had a conversation at a party but the evening wasn’t about meeting boys and so our encounter was brief.

So, when we met up at Glastonbury we were able to have proper conversations, relax and watch music together. And he stayed with me and my friend the whole time he was at the festival.

There was definite sparkage between us, and I knew I liked him. We saw each other pretty much every day from that point on. After about a month I knew this was something serious and the rest, as they say, is history!

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This was the first photo of us together, in my bright orange bedroom!

We look a little different now!

We got married in the garden of a little private manor house in Hatfield, under the roof of a mini garden pavilion, whilst our friends and families sat theatre style outside on the lawn. I walked up the aisle of lavender and it was the shortest but most-perfect ceremony. A beautiful September day, small wedding and fantastic start to our married life together.

Over the years, I’ve had friends ask me things like ‘how do you know when you’re ready to get married?’, ‘how do you know you want to marry someone?’ – and I almost always answer the clichéd ‘you just know’. And that’s because you do – you just know. As certain as you know you’re alive, you just know. And if you’re questioning it, then that’s between you and your partner to work out.

I love my marriage. We get on like a house on fire, we’re best friends and though we used to argue, we know how to argue productively now. I wouldn’t say we even do argue any more. He’s the best thing in my life, and I’m happy every single day because of him.

I don’t want this to sound soppy, but everything I’ve said is true. He’s a proper gentleman and I can’t wait to spend the rest of my days with him!

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Blogging Tools I Can’t Live Without

Since I’ve been blogging for quite some time now, I thought I’d share some of the tools that have come to be invaluable to me.

Technically, you just need your brain and a platform and you’re all set, but there are a few things I’ve come to appreciate as tools I just can’t live without when blogging.

First of all, my laptops. I have a Microsoft HP and a MacBook Pro. I don’t have a word processing package on my Mac so tend to do most of my writing on the HP laptop, unless I’m writing straight into my blogging platform.

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WordPress is my platform of choice, having used a few different ones over the years. I like that even on a free package you can produce a customisable and professional looking blog. It’s flexible and you rarely see two blogs looking the same. It has its glitches, but what website don’t? I feel like at some point in the future I’ll need to move to self-hosted or a paid account, but until then it works just fine, thank you very much. As well as the web-based platform, I have the WordPress app. It’s not without its limitations, but is handy for replying to comments, checking stats and uploading images on the go. You can write posts on there too but I prefer to do that on a computer, mainly because I’m rubbish and slow at word processing on my phone!

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For cameras, I switch between my Canon EOS 400D, Sony a5000 and my iPhone 7 Plus. I’ve been using my SLR less of late for the reasons you’ll read in a moment, but even though it’s kind of old now I love the quality of photos I get from it. My Sony a5000 has earned its cost times over. I love how small it is, the quality of photo and video and it’s light. But other than that, the Wifi function comes in so so handy. I can take a photo, send it to my phone and then edit it, upload and publish it, all within 5 minutes of capturing the shot. The iPhone 7 Plus is pretty awesome for taking photos too, and though I haven’t had it long, I can already see the difference in lens quality with the shots I’ve taken.

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As well as using my iPhone for images, I have a tonne of apps I use for blogging. Here are a few of them.

I’ve mentioned the WordPress app so I won’t go into that again. I use Buffer to scheduling tweets, which I don’t do all that much, but it’s good to have an easy app to do it when I want to. Twitter (of course), Facebook and Instagram – I don’t really have to tell you what those do, right?

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Lightroom app for iOS is awesome for photo editing. The auto presets are a great place to start, and then you can tweak until your heart’s content.

As an amateur photographer, I’ve been uploading to Flickr for over 10 years now, so it’s almost as though I have my own iStock of photos on there. It’s awesome because I pretty much have a photo already taken for a lot of posts I might want to write. So, if I ever don’t have the time to take photos, I can usually pull from there. The Flickr app allows me to save my own photos and then I can upload them to WordPress. Job done!

As I begin to venture into the world of YouTube, the YouTube app has come in very handy, as has the YouTube Creator Studio app. It shows me views, stats, trends and comments all from one place. It also allows me to push videos live, share and copy links right from the app.

For planning I like to use the notes section on my phone, when out at about, and for proper planning I’ll use my Ultimate Blog Planner from Dot Creates. This planner allows me to make in depth notes, or even start writing the blog there and then. There are sections where I can write prompts for photo ideas I’ve had too. It’s really invaluable.

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Photo lighting comes in the form of either the Earth’s sun or, because this is England, I have a pair of softbox lights which I use for both photography and video. They’re pretty new to me so I’m still getting the hang of them, but I love the natural light they throw out. You can find the set I bought from Amazon here!

Other than on my phone, for photo editing on my laptop I use a really old version of Paint Shop Pro. I could upgrade but I know this software like the back of my hand, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! I also use this software to make any graphics I need for my blog or elsewhere.

So, those are my ‘can’t do without’ blogging tools. I hope this helps you with your blog planning and editing, and please let me know if you use something you love that I haven’t mentioned!

Dear Bloggers and Aspiring Bloggers….

Dear bloggers and aspiring bloggers,

You are unique. Just as IRL you are the only one of your kind. I want to see you shine and prosper. When I click on your link I want to see something unique, individual and I want to see your opinion. If you don’t agree with me, I respect you. I want to hear why you feel the way you do. I want to hear your passion and conviction. I love seeing your individuality shine – I praise you for that.

It’s just so sad I don’t see you very often. I click on so many links and see the same old stuff. I see the same products reviewed, I see the same blogs retweeted. It makes me sad that you’re so concerned about getting your flatlay perfect that the content isn’t there. I want to hear about what that expensive skin cream did for your skin after a month of using it, and whether you’d re-buy it. I want to read about what movie you saw and what you thought about it, at the trendy roof-top cinema club in London, and not just see photos and hear about how you managed to make the list. Give me substance, give me depth and make me feel something for you.

When I started blogging around 15 years ago, I was in a minority. People thought it was weird if I told them I wrote a blog, but to me it’s simply keeping a diary. I wrote, and still write, my blog for me. I write what I did, what I saw, and what I think. I don’t have thousands of followers, I don’t need them. (Of course it would be flattering though) I don’t seek acceptance, but I appreciate every follow, every comment and every share. If one person enjoys what I write, then I’m happy. (And usually that one person is me!)

I recently set up a dedicated twitter account for this blog (@Shutterbug_Blog if you fancy following! – I’m still okay with a shameless plug!) and it allowed me to follow blog sharing accounts and bloggers in a closed environment that didn’t flood my personal twitter account. It totally opened a new world to me. It’s a world where people will fight for followers, suck up, and retweet the same blog over and over again ad nauseam (this makes me not want to follow you btw). I’ve found out you can schedule tweets, which seems like a massive waste of time to me. And I’ve discovered a community of Regina Georges. People who will act so cosy with you but secretly it’s a case of sucking up to gain momentum for yourself.

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Obviously this isn’t exclusively the case, as I’ve also met some really amazing bloggers too. These are bloggers who don’t take themselves too seriously, they speak from the heart and tell the truth, and you can just tell they’re genuine. Fake-bloggers (or floggers as I coined them a while back)- I can see through you, and so can others.

The obsession for followers makes people act obsessively. It makes people call out others when they’re unfollowed (seriously, you can find out who unfollowed you and call them out on it….) If I get unfollowed it’s okay – seriously I don’t mind. If you don’t want my content in your feed, then I don’t want it there – no biggy. I actually had someone comment on a post the other day and mention they were actually afraid to attempt a flatlay. That seems crazy to me, but I understand it. The pressure to get EVERYTHING perfect on a blog is so high. But when all you see is the same thing from everyone, how do you stand out? You stand out by showing your personality in your photos. You have an opinion, and if other people don’t agree then you either listen to their counter argument (if they articulate it clearly) or if they’re just darn abusive you let their venom shine out for all to see.

London Beauty Queen wrote a really interesting series of tweets a few weeks back about how it’s not normal for a 20-something to own a new designer bag every week, and followed it this week with a really interesting blog you need to read. What she wrote is so true – what professional and successful bloggers and Vloggers are portraying is often unattainable. When we see celebrities acting the same way we know to take it with a pinch of salt, but when we see people we view as being on the same level as us acting the same way, we suddenly feel bad about ourselves. And eventually we stop being able to relate to them and turn away. I want to read about the pretty, hard-working blogger tripping on the tube. I want to see a photo at their posh burger lunch where they’ve accidentally dribbled sauce down their front. I want to read a tweet where they’re feeling irritated by life, but still plodding on. I want REAL people. Give me REAL people!

So, dear blogger and aspiring blogger, my advice to you today is to remember to write from the heart, write for yourself and remember to be kind. You’re writing a blog for one of three reasons:

  • For you
  • For money
  • For celebrity

My recommendation is to write your blog for you. If the other two come as a result of this, then I’ll give you a high five. Money and/or popularity are shoddy foundations to build your blog on and you’ll end up stressed and obsessive like so many bloggers I see. Happiness cannot be attained from this – you’ll just get a stomach ulcer.

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It’s Hard Out Here….

(FYI this post mentions women’s monthlies – if you’re bothered by that maybe skip this post!)

This week was supposed to be my second full week of training. I say meant to be, because on Monday I got my period and it really threw me off. I’ve just come off the pill due to trying various different types and them all messing me up in many different ways. I decided to just stop taking it for a while but since I have been for over 10 years my body doesn’t know what’s hit it. It got me to wondering what other women do and whether it even stops them training. I was able to train fine up until now but because I’m getting used to my body doing things naturally I was knocked out by tiredness and my hunger was through the roof.

I’d be really interested in hearing what other female runners do to overcome uncomfortable periods when they’re training? Herbal remedies and motivational methods are welcomed!

I didn’t let this unfortunate turn of events put me off training altogether though. We still made it to the gym at the start of the week and I’ve also begun a 30 day plank challenge. Since I have zero core strength I thought it would be a good place to start!

I’m on day 8 today and so far it’s going fine. The first day’s 20 seconds was so tough. I was shaking the whole time, but now I am managing to stay solid for the first 20 seconds and just shake for the rest 😀 I don’t know how I’ll be able to manage 5 minutes by the end, but we’ll see. Each day seems achievable as I come to it.

Today we had a great gym session working on strength and I managed to move up a weight on the pre weighted bars (15kg) It’s great to see the difference in my arms and I’m really looking forward to the summer when I can show them off! Tomorrow I’m back to cardio and will hit the dreaded treadmills to try to escape the rain and cold wind.

Other than being a moody female and weight training this week I’ve gotten to see my wonderful friends a lot this week. On Thursday night I had dinner with two of my amazing best friends at one of their homes. We had a wonderful chicken and roasted veg meal and some great chats, watched TV and laughed a whole whole lot. I had so much fun! The following evening Gary and I went back to my friend’s house for her birthday party and had an amazing time. We chatted and drank and then headed off to a local club where we danced and eventually left everyone at 3am still dancing – I was way too tired to carry on. We had such a good time though – there’s nothing like good friends and having fun.

We’ve had some great meals this week too – I seem to be getting the hang of this healthy eating and cooking well enough to keep us going after and before training. I’m a food snob so it has to taste good too, and I think I’m doing an okay job!

I’m really loving the non-routiney routine we have going this year, throughout the week and then the weekends. I love that we’ve been both working hard and playing hard. We have so much to look forward to this year, and it’s started out great!

What advice do you have for dealing with painful and PMS-full periods during training?

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The Christmas Queen’s guide to Gift Buying

As my regular readers will know, I adore Christmas. And it’s come to the point in the year when a Christmas list needs to be made, and presents need to be bought. I have always loved buying presents for people and make it my goal to buy the perfect gift for each and every person. It requires thought and planning and knowing the person well, but in the end it’s so worth it.

I still find it strange when people buy the wrong present for friends and family, or simply can’t think of anything to get. So I thought I’d write a guide to finding the perfect present, and simple does and don’ts for those gift-buying challenged readers.

Firstly the simple rules of gift buying: The definition of a perfect present for someone, is something they’d love to have but wouldn’t buy for themselves. Stay away from the clichéd gifts. People say if you buy something for someone which you’d like yourself, it makes a good gift, but I’d say if you buy your Nan a set of iPod speakers because you’d like them, you’re doing it wrong.

When I say stay away from clichés I mean don’t get the standard tie, socks, perfume etc. unless you know they really want them.

Gifts for women are easier than for men, in my opinion. But stay away from the obvious. If the woman you’re buying for loves a certain perfume, don’t buy that for them, because they’ll already have a bottle and it’ll take them at least another year until they use it. Instead, think around that theme – buy them an atomiser for their handbag so they can carry a small amount of scent around with them. Or get a beautiful perfume bottle to decant into. Don’t buy make up because you’ll get the shade wrong no doubt. And never ever buy a woman electrical kitchen appliances UNLESS she’s asked for it specifically. No woman wants a hoover for Christmas.

Men are very tricky, but they love gadgets or kits or puzzles. Think around their hobbies. If they like to read, get them a book journal or a set of book ends. If they like gardening, buy them a bird feeder or set of binoculars. But no to ties, socks or slippers! Those driving experiences are the sort of thing he’ll love! I know all men are different but if you think around hobbies you’ll get it right. Music lovers might like a biography of their favourite artist, if there is one. Book lovers might like books like ‘Eats, Shoots and leaves’. TV lovers might like a boxed set of their favourite show or a book guide to it. Animal lovers might like a kit where you’ve adopted their favourite animal on their behalf.

Kids – remember when you were a kid? Think about how much you loved the little off the cuff gifts you got that you would never have dreamed to ask for? I got a Funfax when I was little which I loved to death. It’s easy to spoil kids and if they’re your own, go ahead – but it they’re not yours it’s not up to you to spoil them. Buy them a book, or a small toy or a little electronic diary and leave the spoiling to their parents. And don’t forget that 10 minutes after they’ve opened your gift, they’re looking for the next one. So don’t waste your time and money – spend it on one good gift that they’ll love. Puzzles, teddys and little electronic games can be bought cheaply and will be used eventually if not straight away.

So that’s my little basic guide to pressie buying. I hope it’s given you some ideas – but feel free to comment if you want help buying something for someone – it’s my pleasure to help!

From the Christmas Queen