WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS…

So this isn’t a post about Beyonce and her recent album, Lemonade (although my favourite track is Hold Up). And this is probably the only time that I will ever be able to make a link (and a tenuous one at that) to the lady herself, in that I have received a few lemons recently and I am a bit unsure about what to do with them next.

Following the ongoing mission with the careers course that has required me to reach out to people of interest; I was really pleased with the initial response. Some people replied within a few hours and some individuals higher up in the connecting tier asked for some questions to be emailed to them, or said that they would get back to me. It was a promising start.

So back to the lemons; what are they and what am I unsure about?

A couple of months ago (before the mission was originally set), I replied to an advertisement that was reaching out for writers to contribute to a new online lifestyle magazine. I was asked to provide some links to some of my work and say a little about myself. When I heard nothing back within a week or so, I assumed that perhaps I wasn’t what they were looking for.

Whilst I was still visiting family in Europe, I received an email from John* who ran the website asking to set up a meeting. I pretty much got up and danced around the room; I was ecstatic! I mean, why wouldn’t I be? This was I was hoping for, to be offered a chance of some sort, any sort of having my work published. A meeting was swiftly arranged for the following week.

THE RESEARCH

Although it wasn’t a formal interview, I wanted to treat it as though it was to an extent, so beforehand I conducted some research on the website to establish more of a feel of what, and importantly who I might be working with:

  • Was there a sense of a brand of some sort? What made the site stand out?
  • Was there a message that the site wished to convey?
  • Finally, what was the sites position? Who was it aimed at?

Although the questions posed above perhaps seem rigorous for this early stage; I still wanted to know, how could I add value to the site with my work? And will the site work for me?

My initial impressions were mixed. Before I continue, I need to hold my hands up and admit that I am not a website designer and nor am I qualified in marketing. But, I do know what I like in terms of design and like any other human, we often make snap decisions based on our first impressions. However this is not to say that these judgements necessarily stick or are warranted.

To summarise, the site covered a large range of topics from fashion, lifestyle, food, relationships, improving skills in the workplace and so on, and employed a minimalist theme incorporating a simple colour palette of black, white and red for the header and various menus.

So far, so good. Yet the main issue I found was that the site was incredibly ‘busy.’

The sheer number of menus and articles on the homepage meant that it was difficult to cut through it all and find something that you might want to read, and it prevented me from wanting to delve further. To add to that, I felt bombarded with pop-ups asking me to register to the weekly newsletter and to the various forms of social media.

This could be more about personal taste than anything more objective or more sophisticated in terms of design and marketing. But isn’t that partly what they are both about? Although many organisations may wish to appeal to the vast majority of the population to encourage sales (or hits in this case), not everyone is going to be wowed by particular campaigns.

By the time the meeting came around, I decided to put those ideas to the back of my mind. Who was I to be commenting and effectively criticising (albeit internally), an opportunity before it had truly presented itself?

THE MEETING

To say that John was enthusiastic would be underestimating it, he was a ball of energy. He raced through the website’s origins, his background and his list of other projects, of which there were many. I just about managed to interject with some of my questions about what he wanted from contributors in terms of content, style, approximate word count and so on. However, his energy was infectious, the gremlins of doubt and pessimism were quietened and I began to feel that buzz of adrenaline that you experience around those who are truly passionate about their work.

Then he threw me a curveball or a lemon if you will… he offered a position on the team. It transpired that, aside from some of the contributors that he had sourced through Facebook and other free creative source sites, he was doing everything else himself – from the website creation to its development.

The offer appeared so straightforward; I would join the team as a website editor and contributor. I would ensure that the existing contributors submit their work on time (chasing these up where appropriate), search for new writers, contribute my own pieces, and I would also get a commission based on the revenue earned from advertisements. It’s got to be a yes… right?

But this is where the gremlins have slowly latched back onto my thinking, and I don’t think that their concerns are entirely unjustified.

John estimated that I would need to spend at least eight hours a week on the role. That doesn’t sound like a huge amount, I could set aside time on my weekends and some evenings to do this. If I was really organised, I could even use some of my breaks at work in my day job.

Also, one of the bigger concerns I had was that despite hearing that he was working 15 hour days on the project as it currently stood, he was also trying to set up two other websites aimed at entirely different markets. Two! Where did he find the time? And what did this mean for the site he was asking me to come on board with?

Thankfully, John accepted my request and need for a period of reflection. I have therefore spent the time subsequently making more lists that compare and contrast the option of accepting and of not accepting, of reminding myself that there is something to be gained here in editorial experience, and to have my work published on a new platform. But there is another voice, albeit a quieter and more reflective one, that has also spoken up during this time and has asked me: am I just side-stepping or even avoiding what I truly desire – to use my imagination to write stories, specifically fiction. Since the thought came to my mind, I haven’t been able to shake it.

So this is where I find myself, do I accept the role and make something that resembles lemonade for the type of experience that it can offer, or do I make the kind of lemonade I want?

*The name has been changed.

FEAR AND LOATHING ON INSTAGRAM

I was having a quick scan through my Instagram feed the other day and, not for the first time found myself a pouring over images of ‘clean-eating tips’ (the clean bit is to cut out a considerable amount of damn tasty and often healthy products) and ‘quick effective exercise moves’ from various health and fitness gurus.

I spend more minutes analysing the exercise videos and the blurbs that follow. Of course the (mostly female) fitness gurus in question have their hair perfectly coiffed, makeup precisely (and usually, heavily) applied or alternatively their skin is ‘glowing’, courtesy of some magic from photoshop, and in some cases they advertise their workout wardrobes.

Likewise, the food-grammars regularly use hastags such as #cleaneating #healthyeating and so on matched with pictures of admittedly some tasty looking dishes containing pulses, quinoa, various fruit and veg, and then some more veg.

It’s fantastic to see so many women doing well in the health and fitness sector, and significantly using the Internet and social media as a tool to promote their work. But what I wouldn’t give for a little less gloss and a bit more reality to these videos. You know, a mop of hair scraped off the face as they lunge because they haven’t had chance to wash it (because let’s face it, why wash your hair BEFORE your workout), a face free of make up (as I’m sure that sweating that much whilst wearing makeup isn’t meant to be all that beneficial to your skin), lighting akin to what normal lighting is like in a gym (i.e., stark and unforgiving), and someone wearing a sports kit that doesn’t match, and sags in all the right places.

But then my line of thinking would completely diminish the objective of these health and fitness gurus. They are invariably selling a lifestyle and aim to ‘inspire’ thousands if not millions of followers. Hey, at various points I’ve been sucked in (read: inspired) by their teachings.

It goes without saying that the idea of eating and living healthily shouldn’t be discouraged. For instance, from a young age I was encouraged to participate in sporting events at school and now some years later working out is part of my life. A part that I enjoy. And like many other women, I have been raised on a heady cocktail of western body image conscious idealism and glossy magazines which reaffirm advertising ideals: be slim, oh and have good skin. So yes, some of the idealised images have influenced my thinking/decision-making over the years.

It also goes without saying that we have a choice over what we read/see on much of social media, I could just unfollow these gurus or even deactivate my Instagram account. But I guess my beef (is this allowed in a clean diet?) lies in two areas of this growing clean living/lifestyle phenomenon:

1.The reality behind the blogs

The images that are presented largely match the glossy, hyper-real images that we see in industry magazines/websites. So they also blur the lines between reality and a stylised lifestyle. They are more reality as we should know it.

2. If you’re not following the messages presented, you are somehow ‘unclean’

The idea that if you are not following these messages then there is something perhaps dirty about your own lifestyle, because you enjoy eating crisps or if you don’t work out each day or even every other day.

PSDP0Q5WHT

I know that Instagram has come in for some criticism from other bloggers in recent months due the nature of its use; some users are able to make a fortune through advertising and have ultimately found that this is a soulless pursuit. But for me, I originally set up an account to share a few snaps of places I had been on holiday to family and friends and they were mostly of random but beautiful landscapes.

So although it isn’t a goodbye to Instagram I have decided to trim some fat and have cut out the #cleaneating and #exercise from my Instagram diet. And do I miss it? Nope.