I recently read this essay by Elisa Albert, in which she discusses the pressures of ambition and her own frustrations with it. Whilst acknowledging the benefits of hard work, Albert criticises the self-serving nature of ‘Lean In’ culture that is more concerned with achievement than with purpose or human connection. In contrast, Albert is impressed by:
‘Eye contact. Self-possession. Loyalty. Boundaries. Good posture. Moderation. Restraint. Laugh lines. Gardening. Activism. Originality. Kindness. Self-awareness. Simple food, prepared with love. Style. Hope. Lust. Grace. Aging. Humility. Nurturance. Learning from mistakes. Moving on. Letting go. Forms of practice, in other words. Constant, ongoing work. No endpoint in sight. Not goal-oriented, not gendered. Idiosyncratic and pretty much impossible to monetize.’
I’m not shy, but I am an introvert. I recently read Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (2013) in an attempt to understand my temperament – and those of extroverts – better. I’m interested in the psychology behind introversion and how I can communicate, work and empathise with others more effectively.
The book brings together Cain’s experience as an introvert with her research on the topic. Drawing on psychology, biology and sociology, it disputes extroversion’s status as the cultural ideal and demonstrates how introversion can be just as beneficial in our work and personal lives.
I don’t want to be a shell,
Hollowed out and waiting.
Magazines make me want to yell,
Anticipating the girls who will see them
And take them at their word.
It’s absurd – the socially prescribed idea that
We should shrink to fit the space left for us.
Messages addressed to us on shiny covers.
A thigh gap will not fill you up.
I first met Sarah in early 2013 at a training day for Student Hubs’ Social Impact Internship Scheme, when she was a recent graduate working on Oxford Hub’s programmes and I was a first year student at Southampton. We were brought together again at the start of 2016 through Worthwhile’s mentoring stream.
Since then, we’ve discussed goals, decisions, wellbeing and challenges – both global and personal. I appreciate our conversations as a place to share current experiences and longer-term plans. I also enjoy hearing about Sarah’s career, including her work on Monthlies, the social enterprise she started in 2015.
For these reasons, I recently asked Sarah if she would be interested in being featured in an interview on this blog. Read on for highlights from our conversation about feminism, social enterprise and life decisions.
I turn 23 next month. This post may be slightly early, but the thoughts came to me today. I like reading other people’s annual reflections and decided to bring together some of my own, in addition to this Letter to my Teenage Self. In no particular order, here are 23 things I’ve learned so far:
1) Invest in friendships for support, fun, discussion and honest opinions.
2) A little constructive debate is healthy and can help you to form your own views. Spend time with people who hold different perspectives.
3) Parents, grandparents and other relatives have great stories. Ask to hear them.
4) It’s possible to be an introvert and also quite like public speaking.
In my ideal world, I would have unlimited energy. On weekdays, I would always wake up refreshed, do yoga, shower, have breakfast, then head to my desk at home or in the office. I would be extremely productive, completing tasks, coming up with ideas and solving problems without so much as a yawn. After work, I would have dinner in good company before going to an exercise class, reading or watching something. I would get a reasonably early night, then repeat the process.
For a while I managed that routine, plus frequent trips between Oxford and London. I kept up appearances, but after every day spent working that little bit harder, I felt a little less like myself – the person with ideas and enthusiasm. I rarely took breaks from my desk and was often too tired or ‘in the zone’ to eat properly. I felt guilty and anxious when I slowed down. Eventually, I crashed. Hard. I recently described the feeling to a friend as like being perpetually hungover despite having not had a drink in months.
I initially wrote this as a journal entry after reading A Letter to Teenage Girls by Caitlin Moran. You can watch her recite it here.
Where should I start? I could tell you that it’s all uphill from here, but that wouldn’t be entirely true. I don’t think anyone sails into adulthood easily. With this in mind, here are a few things I’ve learned along the way. I’m still learning.