BREXIT MEANS BREXIT, APPARENTLY

A little thing called Brexit was triggered today, as Brexit is both a verb and a noun, or more specifically article 50 was triggered. The Treaty of Lisbon, which contains the article itself came into force in 2009 allowing member states to apply to leave the European Union. And if you listen to some areas of the media, Britain will not be the first country to do this. It means two years of negotiations between the European Union and the UK to establish what they can both get out of the deal, with what it really coming down to who is going to pay out the most or least depending on how you look at it. But it was a nice photo opportunity for Teresa May to sign official papers in Downing Street as it was also to then have these delivered to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk.

In some areas of the media, the result of the EU referendum has been likened to a divorce, resulting in the subsequent dividing up of assets between opposing parties. But, my view is that the relationship is more akin to frenemies. After all, we all know what that’s like… one minute you like one another and the next minute, you don’t. The difference in this instance is that the breakup isn’t usually permanent with frenemies, unlike this situation*. 

Successive British governments, although there have been exceptions, have not found the partnership with the EU easy; they’ve squabbled, they’ve become best buddies again, there have been periods of relative calm (particularly before the economic recession in 2008), only to eventually decide to call it a day in June 2016 in a globally televised vote. I voted in the referendum and found myself gobsmacked when the final result revealed that ‘Leave’ had won by nearly 52% and with a voter turnout of over 72%, this was higher than the previous two UK general elections (65.1% in 2010 and 66.1% in 2015).

It has taken some months for things to sink in, as I, like many, battled with a number of emotions following the result. I was in the Remain camp and felt that we were better together than apart, and I still do. I am not saying that everything about the EU itself is wonderful and it exists in some magical place full of rainbows and unicorns, the EU headquarters are only in Brussels for goodness sake. But silliness aside, the EU is bureaucratic, it is bloated and I also imagine that in some areas it is also expensive to operate. But for me at least, when I think of Europe and its creation, I think of it’s central aim when it was first established – to bring countries together after a period of chaos and war.

Now, where is that magical place full of rainbows and unicorns? Any ideas?

* In theory the UK, like other countries have done in the past, can ask to join (re-join) the European Union and there are various tests a country must pass before being able to do so.

MEETING THE NEIGHBOURS

With work being a little busy over the past week, what with a parents day and additional preparations to be made as I look ahead to a busy summer with examinations, or should that be my students’ examinations… I have decided to pull together a few of the tasks from Blogging University 101.

One of the best things about blogging is the fact that you are able to join all sorts of communities for your different interests and a number of the tasks in the last few days have focused on just that: discovering and greeting other bloggers, and also building an audience of your own.

A community whether in physical or cyberspace form, can only flourish if it is tended to. So the tasks specifically have encouraged me to take a step out of my ‘safe place’ and to get commenting and connecting.

I have to say the ‘safe place’ is all well and good and can be pretty cosy at times, but it has been great to put my view out there and receive feedback in return.

Therefore, as well as the initial commitment I set myself when I first started Blogging University 101 of posting at least once a week (whilst work is pretty heavy – I am hoping that this will ease somewhat in the next month or so, so I can post more), I am going to set myself a second commitment: to regularly meet more of my neighbours.

WEBSITE REVAMP

I recently followed through with something that I have been reminding myself to sort out for a while now… a website revamp.

It has been a long time coming.

Although I loved the simplicity of it how my site looked previously, where the landing page consisted of bold featured images, after some time of trying to figure out why it just wasn’t working anymore for me, I realised that the images took centre stage more than my writing. It was more ‘style than substance’ in terms of first appearances. Plus I was ready for a change, I think that is one of the wonderful things about creating content and finally hitting the publish button, you are releasing a little of yourself out there, into the world and that includes how the content appears.

So the overhaul included a biggie – a change of template.

I believe that my site now appears fresher, bolder and I, myself am feeling reinvigorated by the revamp and ready to crack on with producing more content 🙂

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP?

When I was at school and university, I was asked on a number of occasions by careers guidance counsellors: “What do you want to be when you’re older?” and “Where do you see yourself in five years time?”

Whilst some of my peers were able to provide a concrete plan of their values, goals and dreams, I often found myself unable to answer. Well, provide an answer that the counsellor at the time wanted to hear.

I didn’t know.

The result of this uncertainty and confusion about my life led me to generally provide a monosyllabic response, to which I would be handed a heavy tome containing details of possible careers to review in my own time. This was before the days of internet searches for information. Even my UCAS application was in paper form.

I wasn’t trying to be impertinent with what were well-meaning counsellors, but I genuinely had no clue what I wanted to do. Even my subject choices at A-Level and for my undergraduate degree were things I didn’t give enough thought to. In hindsight, I can see that particularly for my degree, I was more concerned with what others thought was best for me or what I thought others would think was best for me, rather than considering if it would be something I would enjoy or matched what I valued at the time. Wonderful friends and the other opportunities of studying for my degree aside, I still to this day regret my degree choice.

As I got older, the pressure of having a clear plan became ever more significant. When I was nearing graduation I knew that I would need something to do, something to be aiming for. My parents, although amazing, weren’t simply going to fund me whilst I still evaluated my future.

So I turned to teaching.

I am wincing slightly as I write that, as though teaching is a safe and easy option as it most certainly isn’t! However, having family members who were teachers and growing up in an environment that placed a high level of importance on the value of education, I wondered if it could be a career option for me.

So I set myself the goal of becoming a teacher. And a year or so later, I graduated and was preparing for my first teaching position.

Of course I have made it sound terribly simplistic and I am clearly choosing to ignore and/or repress some of the challenges that I experienced on the way (like the student in one placement school who would constantly comment on my figure or the teacher who wouldn’t support me when I complained about said student for instance). I wanted to give up, many times and despite my feelings about my role and the education system now, I am glad that I persevered. I have largely loved teaching the subjects that I teach, enjoyed the camaraderie of the teaching staff and I have worked with some truly remarkable young people who I will never forget.

To that end, having received some positive feedback from the school where I interviewed a few weeks ago it made me realise that whatever happens next in my career or even in five years, whether I remain in education or not, I will always have a bucketload of experience and stories to share. 

SO I DIDN’T GET THE JOB, WHAT NEXT?

Following my last post about an unsuccessful application and subsequent interview at an international school, it got me thinking about my next steps. Well, I have to really… a job isn’t going to find me and beat me round the head until I accept after all.

And what I found myself really focusing upon was, what next? Where do I go from here? So I felt that the next logical step was to break my thinking down:

  • ASK FOR FEEDBACK

As soon as I had overcome some of the feelings of rejection, I emailed the school and asked for some feedback. I am still waiting for a response but I would like to know, and subsequently examine, their impressions of both my application and how I interviewed. Warts and all. Whether I stay in teaching or not, this information will be valuable for my own professional development in any field. In a broader sense, it also demonstrates that a candidate wasn’t necessarily just applying for a job on a whim, they genuinely want to understand the application process.

  • ASSESS MY REASONS FOR APPLYING FOR THE JOB IN THE FIRST PLACE

This was one of the first questions that I was asked in the interview, ‘Why do you want to work at this school?’ And in all honestly, I was completely thrown by it. Nerves had kicked in and my mind went blank, why did I want to work at the school? At the time, I recall rambling something about the school’s ethos but can remember little else. I was, and still am a little embarrassed by my response, it was weak. And in actual fact, I had had a week to prepare for the interview and I know that I hadn’t wasted my time. I prepped the shit out of it! I analysed the school website to see what courses were offered aside from what I was applying for, researched the school motto, and the school’s aims to gauge a ‘feeling’ of the place and tried to establish if the school was somewhere where I wanted to work.

Looking back now, I realise that although it made sense to apply for the position (as it fitted my teaching skills and experience) when it came down to it, I have realised that my heart wasn’t entirely in it. Nerves aside, the fact that I couldn’t articulate the reasons why I wanted the job hindered my interview and perhaps allowed the interviewers to see the real me. Having been on the other side of the interview process myself for the past few years, you can spot when someone is not being entirely honest with you or with themselves.

  • GET NETWORKING AND LOOK FOR OTHER OPPORTUNITIES

One of the next steps I took was to reconnect with the group I worked with when I completed the careers course late last year. It does appears a little superficial to have not made contact with the group for some months and then only to reach out when I have been unsuccessful. And perhaps that’s where I have been going ‘wrong’ in some ways, that I haven’t made more of an effort during the better times, such as getting an interview offer in the first place. I certainly found myself genuinely surprised at how long it had been since I last made contact, but what struck me was how wonderfully supportive the group are. There are a few hundred people now, all in differing stages of shifting in their careers – whether it’s moving on to something entirely different or within the same field, everyone has their own story to share. And it’s these stories that help you to keep on moving, to force yourself to put one foot after the other and not to give up with whatever the aim.

For me, it is about getting back on the saddle and moving on. I have caught myself feeling terribly weary and worrying about what the future will hold. I don’t have a crystal ball and strangely, I don’t want one. Where would the excitement be in that?!

NEXT STEPS…

There is a funny kind of irony in that my last post was about accepting rejection and I have experienced a big fat dollop of it this week.

Shortly after Christmas, I applied for a teaching position in another international school. On paper (or the website) the school looked ideal; amazing location both in terms of its place in the world (Hong Kong – where my partner is also based) and literally in terms of bricks and mortar, built into the hills of Hong Kong island overlooking the sea. The school achieves fantastic results and the building facilities looked incredible. I felt as though my application was strong and having spoken to management at my current school, who would ultimately be writing my references, they felt that I stood a good chance.

However, I did experience some serious doubts. Putting yourself through any application and interview process is scary as hell, you are pretty much laying a part of yourself bare for others to stare at and scrutinise. What has compounded matters also is that part of me has reached ‘panic stage’ in terms of my next career steps. Three years ago I was secure in the knowledge that I already had a (teaching) job lined up for the next academic year, which is where I am currently working. Three years later and another three months on… I have nothing.

So following a few tense weeks from submitting my application I was invited for a final interview with three members of the management team including the headteacher. After a shaky start where I was asked some questions related to my reasons for considering Hong Kong and the school itself (I was incredibly but understandably nervous, so I rambled), I got into my stride and felt a little more comfortable with the process. Questions ranged from how I would encourage independent and critical thinking from students, what additional activities and support could I offer to the school and also how I deal with stress. There is another funny kind of irony here when as part of the psychology course that I deliver involves teaching students about the physiological function of stress and how to combat it, yet I struggle with handling stress myself…

The interview lasted around 40 minutes and I breathed a huge sigh of relief when it was over. So much so that with the adrenaline that was coursing through my body I had to go out for a walk to help myself calm down.

Two days passed before I heard back. Two. Long. Days.

The email was complimentary but to the point: There was a strong list of candidates… the choice wasn’t easy… but there were others who provided a closer fit…

I did become a little upset at reading it and I was disheartened at the rather generic response, but really who am I to complain? There could have been a number of candidates interviewed for a variety of positions and I am sure that the administrative team simply weren’t able to send out personalised responses to all of those who were unsuccessful.

So I guess it’s onwards and upwards… and back to the drawing board in terms of next the next steps in my career.

AUDREY: HOW DO I REJECT, REJECTION?

My one and only New Year’s resolution this year was to be less hard on myself. For the most part, I have done okay. In what would have been in the past a potentially intense or anxiety riddled situation, I have either been able to consider it from a different angle and maintain a level of distance that at times has surprised me. I have definitely had lapses, where I have given myself a telling off for ruminating about something inconsequential, but overall I haven’t allowed the hostility to reach a crescendo against myself.

But I have noticed a pattern (which perhaps has become apparent since taking my vow of being less hard on myself) that many of the incidents that cause me the most anxiety are related to experiencing rejection in some way or another. The pattern usually goes something like this; I experience some form of rejection (a friend fails to respond to an email/text, a colleague fails to acknowledge me, a disapproving look from a stranger… the list goes on), my anxiety builds (heart rate increases, stomach sinks, I am unable to focus on anything, that sort of thing), I ruminate (this has no pattern or structure, in reality, it could be for a matter of hours, an entire weekend or even years!) until the next event occurs. Rejection, ruminate, repeat.

I guess my position of being able to look at what could be one of my main reasons for such wild and vivid reactions to experiencing rejection comes back to when I was growing up (such a cliche, I know). I recall times when my parents rejected me in ways that still give me chills, like the time when I was still at school and I was being bullied by some classmates and when I asked for my mum’s advice (her help!) and she replied, “You’ll get over it.” Or when friendships have turned sour. I still dwell on a sleepover at a so-called friend’s house along with so-called friends who largely ignored me for the entire evening that left me crying into my pillow wishing I was at home.

I thought that I was ‘doing better’ but I find that this realisation has, rather than helped me, it has broken me and I am now reliving my chequered history of rejection. How can I move on?

From,

Rejection, Ruminate, Repeat

Dear Rejection, Ruminate, Repeat,

It is said that experiencing rejection is akin to physical pain. We all know the horrendous pain felt when we stub our toe but we may not be able to recall a specific incident in our past when we actually did this. However, we can very quickly flick through the ‘SIGNIFICANT MOMENTS IN OUR PAST’ file in our minds and find examples of when we have been rejected (the ‘Childhood’ years probably contains the most examples): your mum rejecting your plea for help or when those so-called friends ignored you for example. But what rejection boils down to is when you feel sidelined, you and your feelings are being ignored or marginalised, and for many (myself included) it causes panic. We wonder where we have gone wrong; what did I say? Did I cause offence? Did I not laugh/show concern at the appropriate places? Was it my hair?

Evolutionary science provides an insight into how rejection has been adaptive for humans, in that it helped people to survive. Living in tribes when we were hunter-gathers, to experience rejection was much like providing you with a warning signal to get your ass back into the tribe’s fold. If you were living on the edge away from the tribe’s protection you were likely to die, so it was imperative to be part of the group. Of course in modern society, we may not have to be in the ‘cool group’ to survive, but the basic premise is the same – we experience rejection as it provides a warning signal of some sort. The social and cultural norms are a fuckton more complex now and so this warning signal system and crucially our response to it can become maladaptive.

Another important human trait to consider here is that generally, humans look for patterns in behaviour. Often running behind the scenes in our minds, by analysing situations for repeated behaviour of some sort or a pattern it helps make our life chug along that little bit easier. Except when it doesn’t. And this is where the maladaptive response to rejection and this pattern seeking can get twisted. We can begin to seek rejection out. This can take the form of examining cues from our surroundings, particularly with those we are interacting with. And after some time of doing this, rejection becomes kinda comfortable. We know it for what it is and how it makes us feel inside, even if that is sick to the stomach.

The re-living of those memories could in some way be your mind purging some of the feelings associated with the events, through a personal and private exorcism. Alternatively, your mind could still be dealing with the emotions attached, neither are necessarily bad. Your early experiences of being rejected may in some way have contributed to your sense of self, cliche or not, but now things are different. The fact that you have been able since taking your vow of being less hard on yourself to take some steps back highlights two things; a keen self-awareness that many people would truly envy and that you are far stronger than you recognise. You are seeing the world and yourself through different lenses than before and this is perhaps the scariest thing right now, so your mind is going into over-drive to try and compensate. You have formed patterns that have felt comfortable and weirdly safe. You are evolving (growing just sounds too much self-help like) and it consciously started with making that New Year’s resolution. So please try and stick with it. That’s not to say that you won’t slip up again, but you are seeing changes and they are positive I can assure you.

Rejecting all rejection from your life is an impossible ask, as you may never ‘be over’ some of the pain you associate with people and past events. But if you are able, and it appears that you have already started down this road, to take steps in rejecting something far more significant – feeling bad about yourself.

You are not broken RRR, you are anything and everything but. You are remarkable, wondrous and totally awesome.

Love, 

Audrey

JUST ONE NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION THIS YEAR

It’s December 31st, 2003 and I am in a wine bar in my hometown. Unfortunately, I am not there to drink or party, instead I am working. The bar provides a paycheck and therefore a vital lifeline to some much-needed funds during my holidays whilst studying at university.

It’s the second year that I have worked on New Years and here in actual fact. It’s a ticket only event so although it’s busy, the faces are the same, which adds a nice level of familiarity to the evening. Plus, I get paid double my usual hourly wage and the sneaky glasses of wine (paid for by some generous and drunk customers) help the evening run pleasantly.

The big boss is also here. He runs the wine bar and the restaurant next door and so he can usually be found barking orders at people there. I don’t particularly like him and I think that the feeling is mutual, though he is gruff and obstinate with everyone – who work for him that is.

He makes me nervous and when I am nervous I make mistakes. A case in point was on my first shift at the bar a little over a year earlier; where the manager of the wine bar had asked me to take some drinks around to the restaurant via a connecting tunnel between the two buildings. On my arrival to the restaurant I am greeted by the big boss of whom at this point I was yet to meet. He glares at me and rushes me to provide the drinks to the guests, it turns out that one of the waitresses is sick and so I am helping to cover when the restaurant was busy. It was heaving. I duck under the bar and turn to grab the tray. Except I didn’t. In my haste I had put the tray on the edge of the bar and the tray along with its contents come crashing and spilling to the floor. The noise reverberates around the restaurant and I swear the music momentarily stops. It leaves the big boss and I staring at one another. Me, feeling like an absolute idiot and wanting to crawl away. Him, wondering who idiot was who hired me. He shouts at me in one of those ways where he doesn’t actually raise his voice, it’s more body language and facial expression and I practically run back through the tunnel to the bar to make another tray load of drinks.

If it wasn’t for that incident, in my time since I have also locked myself out of the cash register so that he had to help me out, failed miserably at a cocktail training class (which he organised and was present for also), shattered more glasses and just generally messed up when he’s been around. I really didn’t make a good waitress.

And now back to New Year’s Eve in 2003. Despite the big boss’s presence; things are going ok: he hasn’t glared at me or even spoken to me for that matter, as much like our first encounter, the place is heaving. However, my optimism is short-lived when we have our eventual but inevitable clash. I am serving a customer when I manage to lock myself out of the cash register again. This isn’t an issue that happens solely to me, but in my rush (seems to be a pattern here) I fail to input my login code twice and it freezes. This creates a hold-up and he charges over and shouts at me. From what I can recall he says something like:

“I thought it’d be you, it’s always you.”

It was my turn to freeze as he continues to berate my crap skills as a waitress in front of customers. I say nothing and when he finishes fixing the register he marches off. As I hold back tears and continue to serve customers, a dark bitterness overcomes me, I make a resolution that I would never return to work at the bar after I head back to university.

However, much like many of my other New Year resolutions throughout the years, it didn’t stick and I was back at that wine bar at Easter doing my best to avoid the big boss again and because I needed the money.

Throughout my 20s, I usually made grand New Year’s resolutions. Epic you might say, including things like buy a new car, lose weight, buy a house, go travelling, quit my soul-sucking job (whatever it was), just for starters. Anything that would take me away from where I was and who I was at the time. And back in 2003, I didn’t know who the hell I was and it couldn’t have gotten more epic than sticking two fingers up at my boss, metaphorically speaking rather than literally.

Losing weight, getting a ring on it or going travelling are all worthwhile if they are truly what you want, but in my case I was making grand resolutions to help me escape myself.

I hate to sound like a cliche, but both time and age have made me realise two things; making grand resolutions are a bad idea and if you are going to make any then you have to keep working on them. So this year, I just have one resolution and I see it more as a work-in-progress for hopefully years to come: to stop being so hard on myself.

This is in regards to the things that I want to achieve and to acknowledge the things that I do manage. If I manage to finally finish the book that I’ve been working on for the past two years? Amazing! But I am going to try and not let the fear of not achieving this ruin me. If I manage to make a move finally out of teaching into something new? Yippee! But I acknowledge that this is a road that I have been on for some time now and like many paths there are quite a few turns on the way.

LIFTING THE FOG

I have found it difficult to write over the past few months.

Although I don’t want to link it entirely to my mental health, I feel as though it has been a significant contributing factor in the steady reduction in the quantity and quality of my writing. Any writing for that matter.

These are some of the words I wrote in my diary only two weeks ago:

It’s Sunday and I have woken up early and I feel that familiar heavy feeling inside. A multitude of emotions are consuming me that should be oh so recognisable that I shouldn’t question their presence as I have grown so used to them over the years, but that doesn’t help. I am sluggish, teary, and angry at myself. I thought that by now, I would have some gotten my shit together and have some fucking strategies in place: is this the best I’ve got? To spend the day alone? Again?

That was it before I spent the rest of the day driving myself insane (and experiencing a mild anxiety attack in the process) as a result of intense self-loathing.

During this time, work had been all-consuming to a degree that I couldn’t manage in a healthy way and therefore I felt myself slip into some familiar and unhealthy routines in my personal and professional life: excessive rumination, shutting myself away from others, skipping the gym, eating one too many takeaways, and just generally being the cause of my own frustration. My gremlins and the cloak of fog that they pull down over me took hold of my shoulder a little over a month ago, though I know they’ve been lingering in the background for longer than this, and despite my best efforts, they are real fuckers at letting go. But also, I was also feeling incredibly lonely. The ‘work’ I am working on and hoping to move on from next year, but the loneliness is a whole different animal. I knew that at the time there were people I could turn to when I go through this, but when I have decent to some of the lower depths of my mind, I truly can’t see this.

So I really was ready desperate for a break.

Some time out has done something remarkable in a short space of time (despite gaining a cold almost as soon as landing in the UK), I already feel re-energised. Quality sleep, good food, fresh air, exercise and seeing family and friends are all helping with lifting the fog.

In contrast, yesterday I spent practically the entire day writing when I wasn’t with family. It was heaven.

ARE AWESOME QUALIFICATIONS ESSENTIAL FOR SUCCESS?

One of my biggest hang-ups in my career to date is to do with qualifications and particularly those achieved formally, so through school or university. When I say hang-up I am referring to whether the quality of your qualifications will affect your future prospects.

Okay, so quite obviously I have hit a bump here, for instance, it’s highly unlikely that you would let a doctor anywhere near you if you knew that they didn’t have any qualifications in medicine. However, pieces of paper achieved from completing a course or a degree tells you and (significantly) the world that you are ‘successful’ in X,Y and Z. Qualifications also help build a bridge to where you might want to go, whether that be university or a job, and they perhaps tell us a little bit more about what you might want to be. They provide legitimacy to what you do.

This has become particularly apparent for me at this point in my life where I am re-evaluating my career. I know that I have reached an impasse with teaching and I am looking at what I want to move into next. Teaching has certainly provided me with a tremendous amount of skills and experiences and for me now it’s about recognising what these are and refining them for other potential career paths. However, there is a part of me that quickly becomes stuck when I consider the issue of qualifications and particularly my own.

I wasn’t the most focused of students whilst at school, preferring to play sports and hanging out with friends than knuckle down to study. I was also hopeless with revision. I had heaps of notes that I assumed simply through re-reading I would retain the information through a process akin to osmosis, which I would then recall. It turns out, your memory needs a bit of extra help – who would have guessed?

So as results day came around on a sunny day in August when I was 18, rather than celebrating with my friends down at the local pub I was left crying in the school toilets. I was a cliche. I hadn’t completely bombed, but I wasn’t far off.

A whole manner of possible futures presented themselves to me at this point, which mostly swung between repeating my exams the following academic year or taking a year out to travel. However, with little in the form of savings behind me and a resounding ‘No!’ from my parents when I requested a loan, it looked like I was doing the former.

But there was a silver lining. Miraculously my first choice university actually accepted me. Perhaps the rest of my university application was strong enough to counterbalance the poor grades. Whatever the reason/s I am still grateful for whoever was behind this because over the next four years I completed my undergraduate degree and then went to graduate school. With the benefit of years of hindsight, I don’t believe that I would have achieved some of those things, particularly attending graduate school without that (what was to me an) epic fail back in school. It provided me with perhaps one of life’s hardest but best lessons: it’s okay to fail.

I have spent my career training or coercing students (whatever way you want to see it) into preparing for annual examinations, and over the years I have found myself increasingly frustrated and more so despondent at the demands of the seemingly mystical workings of examination boards. Further to this is the pressure placed on young people by the government, the media, parents and educators, including me to achieve those often lofty and possibly unachievable grades for some. Achieving an ‘A’ grade is more important than any possible enjoyment of the content of a subject.

When I hear educators (like my boss) tell students that examinations, particularly those taken between 16-18 years are the most important they will ever do, I genuinely want to scream. And that scream has gotten louder over the years. Opportunities don’t simply dry up and nor is it the end of the world if you do fail. Your path may take a different and possibly unexpected turn but failings don’t define you, they, in fact, become part of you. They make you stronger, more complex and imperfect – which is the best way to be.