Monday, September 24, 2012

The Quarter-Life Crisis, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Failure

The plan is coming along nicely.

We've identified the city (check), come up with a business plan (sort of) and started tucking away savings (erm...yeah. I am putting that shoe fetish on hold, as of next week. Promise). We've sorted a date to leave our London flat. In February we're moving in with my mum for 6-8 weeks while we squirrel away our rent money. (Eeep.)

All that remains is to get driving (ok, so that's a fairly large undertaking, but my 19 year old cousin has  already beat me to the wheel in Wood Green, so I should bloody well be able to apply myself). It's getting embarassing. My US family members already think I'm some kind of idiot-savant who just about manages to hold down a job and feed myself without being able to drive to Walgreens. Not that we have a Walgreens to drive to. But you get my meaning.

Oddly enough, even with all this change coming, there's a strange feeling of calm about my future washing over me. Even though I have absolutely no idea what the next year will hold, I feel like I'm really working towards something. And even if it turns out to not be a sustainable business, at least I will have tried something independent, and been my own boss. It's not quite 'do what you love', because, as this very clever lady rightly says, what we love changes all the time. So I'm taking what I consider to be some very good advice and doing what I am. What I am is someone who needs a challenge. Someone who has always wanted to be fluent in another language, and do something I feel passionate about. Passion is everything, after all.

I spent this Saturday at the Nordic Study Abroad Conference, as a speaker alongside some very learned professors from the Universities of Cambridge University, Brown, Georgetown, and Copenhagen. 250 young Danish, Swedish and Norwegian students assembled at PWC's Copenhagen offices to hear from those who had done something different, and were all the better for it. I was possibly the least senior person on the billing, with no letters after my name, no ivy-league degree under my belt, and a mere 6 years' experience of working in the field of international student recruitment. To tell you the truth, I was pretty petrified of putting on that little microphone headset and owning the stage in the way some of the more seasoned professors had. Many of the other speakers had been truly inspiring, and they had managed to captivate the audience in that way that only those who have inbuilt charisma, and a true passion for what they are speaking about, can.  But watching the talk preceding mine, from Professor Sudhanshu Rai at the Copenhagen Business School, I was impressed by some home truths in his speech, which was all about not being afraid to make mistakes, or "fail". I was struck in particular by one statement he made, which put the whole 'failure is not an option' culture into a new light. He simply told the audience of very high-achieving, driven students that when we succeed, we experience a state of euphoria, but that when we fail, we experience a state of reflection. It's therefore only with reflection, and true consideration, that real successes are born.

Hearing that actually helped me to make a better presentation (I suppose the pressure of failure was lessened a bit!). I spent the rest of the conference being pretty inspired just being able to speak to these young people, who had such big plans in their sights. I'm not much older than many of them, and they were so committed, so eager to do something memorable, to chase their dreams that it made me stop for a minute to consider why I'm feeling something very similar now. I might be a little late to the party, but I've realised that we all need to do something that scares and exhilarates us once in our lives. 

A tiny me, onstage (bricking it).

I guess now that I'm not as scared of getting up and presenting alongside the great and the good, in front of an audience who will achieve more in their 20s than many of us will in our entire lives, I'm on the right road. There's still loads that I am scared of: getting a phrase completely wrong in my fledgling new language; running out of money; having to live at my mum's again for a few weeks, or months. I'm scared that I might really miss the security of an office job. I might miss London terribly. And I think I still have a lot to learn, even from those 18, 19 and 20 year-olds who haven't figured it all out yet. And basically I think, if I were younger, I'd run at the opportunity to gain new experiences and try out something new.  I'm not getting any younger, so today is the youngest I'll ever be. So I'm going to bloody well do something cool before I'm old.

Maybe it's a bona-fide quarterlife crisis. But hell, I'm enjoying it.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Pizza Pazza

I am pleased to say that a third of my foodie interviews with Vauxhall eateries has been published on the hyper-local South Lambeth blog, Tradescant Road. 

This time around I interviewed Pino & Françiane, the proprietors of the area's newest Italian restaurant, Pizza Pazza. They were warm, welcoming and chatted happily to me about everything from home-made salsicca to pizza ovens, fresh seafood and the lure of a great aperitivo.

If you've ever visited the strip of restaurants located on South Lambeth Road, you'll know why it's such good news that a non-Portguese eatery has opened. We are in need of variety here, and the addition of an authentic stone pizza oven stumbling distance from my house can only be a good thing. It's also one of the few places I know of, locally, where you can eat one of these bad boys: a Panuozzo (a giant sandwich made from pizza dough).

 You can read the interview in full here (and do let me know what you think if you happen to visit)!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Growing Up

Ma & Pa getting hitched in NYC, 1975. How cool is that hat?!

I've been thinking a lot about getting older recently.

Being at my mum's house a few weekends ago and seeing some old photos of her and my dad has got me thinking a lot about my roots. Mum was excited at having found old photos, mainly because we lost so many precious ones to the swirling, destructive winds of Hurricane Andrew in 1992. She showed me photos of my parents at my age. At my age, my mother had already done two huge life moves, from London to Trinidad and then to Miami. I wondered at her bravery, and at her ability to adapt.

As I get older, and hurtle towards my 30th birthday in August, I'm finding that I feel rather reflective. I start to notice my face changing - the smile lines are just a little bit more pronounced around my eyes, and I can see my skin is changing. New freckles I hadn't noticed before begin to appear. But I'm trying not to indulge in too much gazing in the mirror, and it doesn't consume as much of my time as it did in my early 20s, that's for sure. A cursory once-over is enough in the mornings, mostly to make sure I haven't got toothpaste all over my chin. No, the days of high-preening are probably behind me now.

I challenge anyone to spot any wrinkles from here...

I have started to notice a common theme amongst friends and colleagues who are all approaching this pivotal age - they are all planning to change their lives somehow, whether it's new house, new job, new partner, new baby, or new business. 30, unlike 18 or 21, or even 25, is the beginning of real adulthood, it feels like. We all have some urgency to our plans now. For some of my female friends, this is even more true, especially where relationships are concerned. Two out of four of my closest female friends are now married and thinking very closely about having children. The other two are well into their 30s and seem much less panicked about making babies. They know it will come. They've gotten over the hump, as it were.

For me, it's only when I have time to sit down and think that I start to make some headway towards deciding what the heck it is that I want. Most of the time, working a full-time job in London feels like playing continual catch-up: with your friends, with your work, with your life admin, with your laundry, with sleeping. It's only by being away from the melée that I start to commit myself to the next thing I want to do. And on holiday a couple of weeks ago, I decided. We decided. We're going to start a small business and rent rooms to weary city-travellers, and put our combined skills of being good hosts (or so we are told), creative marketers and being people-people to use. We need to do bags more research of course, not to mention finalise the city in question, as well as create a business plan, and save up lots of our hard-earned money, but the wheels are in motion - we plan to leave London in March 2013.

It's basically beans on toast from here on in for a while, but I feel so very empowered. A new sense of freedom and the scent of adventure in the distance has completely motivated me. Learning a new language will be part of it, but the ability to work together towards a common goal, in a new place, for our own profit (or possibly loss, in the first few months, I'm not going to shy away from being realistic here) is driving me forward towards the biggest and most frightening, exhilarating step towards adulthood that I have ever taken.

I think that's a good place to be, aged 29 years, 10 months, and 5 days.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Cautionary Tale of the Fat Grey Seal

I've been quiet for the last month, but that's a good thing, because any posts would have been fantastically dull. I spent much of March applying for a new job (I didn't get it, sadly), working my arse off and earning myself a holiday.

The holiday part is quite good, though. We went to the beautiful West Highlands of Scotland, bathed in sunshine upon our arrival and with temperatures in the high teens (on the first day, anyway). I wore waterproofs and hiking-type shoes almost nonstop, and actually enjoyed it, despite looking frightful in all our holiday snaps.

We walked. A lot. We sailed (well, someone else drove and parked the boat. I know I'm using the wrong words, and I don't care - I know nothing of boats). We watched birds! We saw enormous grey seals! They looked ridiculous! I wouldn't mess with them, though. Those blubbery blighters. Look at that one there, giving us stinkeye. He knew. We would have been happier on his turf. No wonder it was being guarded so carefully.


There was a lot of whisky and cullen skink and Lorne sausages. There was no TV aerial in the flat where we stayed and so we watched some Hitchcock films and - fittingly - the DVD extras on Braveheart. There was also no phone reception to speak of, so it was pretty darned relaxing. I managed to read a lot and the days seemed longer, something I often long for in a normal working week.

It made me think very hard about city living. Without exception, every local we met in the sleepy little Argyll village we stayed in seemed to pity us for living in London. Some had lived and worked here themselves, and had great stories to tell, but none missed it. One couple in their sixties had come back for a holiday and enjoyed themselves, but for the most part the men hated cities and the women got their cultural fixes in Glasgow or from holidays in other places.

I don't think I'm quite ready to live in a place where no shops are open past 6pm (or indeed on Sundays) but it did make me consider what one really needs from the place they live. Something I seem to do regularly each time I leave the city, whether for a couple of days or a couple of weeks. I keep hearing that little voice beckoning me away. And I do wonder if I'd be more productive; maybe writing more, maybe spending more time talking to friends, less time exhausted on the sofa, less time travelling, less time worrying about money.

I know, I know. It's been two years of this love/hate shit with London. Even I'm bored of it now. I'm like a woman scorned who keeps telling her friends he'll change. 

So, definitely time for a new record. This is the last time I say this. Promise. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

It's all gone a bit quiet round here...

That's mainly because I have a new favourite thing, namely: instagram. A little photo-sharing app that lets you run pictures through a series of retro filters, tag them, and share them with online friends. It's insanely addictive. I've probably come to it quite late, as I'm one of the last people I know to have an iphone. But it has certainly been keeping me from blogging. Maybe I can claim I've been micro-blogging, in a way. Oh no, wait - that's twitter. Or maybe I can consider it photo-blogging. Anyway, if you happen to want to follow my feed, you can do so here and find me as @bittersweetcity if you happen to use instagram too.

A new life manifesto, courtesy of instagram?

The other reason it's all been a bit quiet is probably because this is the start of my 30th year and I've become much more focused on the future. There's a pressing need to shake things up this year, which if you've been reading previous posts, you will know has been on the agenda for the Mister and I for almost 3 years now. Careers have really taken over our lives for the past year, but the continued stresses and upheavals felt by changes at my place of work, and the sector itself, are spurring me on to do something different. And I mean it this time. I'm hoping to be able to quit my job by August and with savings, attempt the long-awaited travelling and working abroad scenario I've been going on about on here for years. I'm working on the plan in earnest now. Here are my prequequisites: 

1. Must be French-speaking. I've been sort-of speaking well-ish for coming up to 12 years. It's time to get bloody fluent. Oui, je voudrais parler couramment, quoi.

2. Must be warmer than Britain. 

That's not a lot to ask for, surely(!) I'm considering anything from training for a TEFL course to pouring café lattés in Bordeaux. Or preferably, rum punches in Mauritius.

The thing that scares me the most is waking up on my 30th birthday on August 25th and thinking, "I know exactly what the next 12 months will be like." I am frightened of having everything all planned out, and yet I want to know what I won't be doing this time next year.

It means having to take risks. Scary, but good. It's the last time in my life I think I'll be able to, before I need to consider if, or when, I have children; before I need to make plans to be near my mum, as I'm her only child and she is on her own. I know being free of responsibility sounds selfish, and it's never truly possible. 

But just once I'd like to try it. 

Surely I'm not alone in having thoughts like these. People of the interweb: do you also have them? Have you acted upon them? Better still, have any success stories or tips you can share? I'd be ever so grateful. 

Til' next time (stick around, I feel an increase in productivity coming on ;)...