On not making plans, impromptu whisky sours and bathroom dining.

Last week I asked my sister what she was most looking forward to doing when she moved into her new house. She answered straight away: “Eating dinner in the bath.”

Her words came back to me today and made me smile, partly because of the absurdity of her answer and partly because of what it represented. Having dinner in the bath is really living life on your own terms: doing something other people think is crazy just because you want to.

This week I had lots of things that I thought I should do. It was supposed to be a quiet one, time to catch up on sleep, do my laundry, clean, tidy, write and reflect. But as soon as I arrived back in Oxford on Sunday night I received a text message: do you want to go for shisha? Which of course turned into shisha and wine and a late night.

On Monday night I ended up having a pub dinner and conversations that lasted until it got dark. On Wednesday night a throwaway remark by a friend – “I haven’t had a whisky sour in ages” – saw us camped out in a cocktail bar for most of the night. I returned home and collapsed on my bed. “Oh shit,” I thought as the room span around me. “I needed to do that laundry.” But it turned out I didn’t, because I wore a running bra under my work clothes today and nothing bad happened.

I have a nasty habit of trying to schedule every moment of my life in advance. I plan, I make lists, and I turn down fun to cross things off them.

This week has shown me that I can relax a little: not plan anything, not set expectations. Wonderful things can happen when you leave space for a little spontaneity. You’ll still do the things that matter (that laundry is in the washing machine as I type) but there’s a lot of things that don’t.

I’ll get more sleep when my friends aren’t in town. I’ll write when I feel inspired, not when I feel I ought to. This might lead to more infrequent blog posts but they will be the ones worth reading. Or it might not, because you don’t know what will happen when you leave space. It is okay to do whatever the hell you want to do in the moment, even it that’s eating dinner in the bath.


Feeling the fear, and doing it anyway.

Your comfort zone isn't static, it can be stretched as you do more things that scare you.

Your comfort zone isn’t static, it can be stretched as you do more things that scare you.

The other week, I was asked to do something at work that I really didn’t want to do. It isn’t technically part of my job, so I had no obligation to do it, except that there was nobody else and it was a friend asking me, so of course I agreed. This is how I found myself in front of a conference room full of people who were new to the organisation, leading a session about campaigning to bring about change. And you know what? I loved it. Even though I felt ill at the prospect of having to do something like that, I left the room with a big smile on my face.

One of the things that I know to be true is that feeling scared about something is a sign that you need to do it. I believe this because some of the most valuable experiences of my life have happened when I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone.

  • When I let somebody at university persuade me to stand as chairperson for the People & Planet group, and I discovered that I wanted a career in a campaigning organisation.
  • When I left my friends and family behind to spend six months working for a charity in India, and grew into the person I am today.
  • When I took a job as a life model and learnt to accept my body as beautiful: cellulite, scars and all.
  • When I applied for a job at an organisation I’d always dreamt of working for, and got it.
  • When I went to Alive in Berlin on my own, and came away having found my tribe of people and made some amazing friends.

This year, this project, is all about stepping out of my comfort zone. I don’t want to be fearless. I want to do at least one thing a week where I feel fear, but I do it anyway.

Over the past week, I’ve done the following things that scare me:

  • I’ve signed up to run the Oxford Half Marathon. I’ve also told a lot of people, so I can’t back out of it now.
  • Wanting to incorporate my writing into my personal brand and body of work, I added this blog to my LinkedIn profile. Scary to think that people who know me professionally might also read this post.
  • I took the lead in finding a new housemate: arranging viewings and showing people round. Meeting new people terrifies me, especially in a context when you’re each judging the other.
  • I overcame the fear that nobody would want to come, and planned a celebration for my birthday. (People did come. It was awesome.)

How about you? When have you stepped out of your comfort zone and been rewarded? What have you done recently that scares you?

The Value of Money

Fresh flowers are always worth the money.

Fresh flowers are always worth the money.

I’ve already hit a stumbling block in my pursuit of things that I daydream about. This might sound like a problem, but it’s actually what I hoped would happen: I wanted this project to teach me about myself and the barriers I put up to prevent me living my ideal life. When I started out, I thought the biggest thing holding me back was my self-consciousness. But actually, the thing that I’ve been coming across again and again is the voice inside my head that says: “You can’t spend money on that.”

I’ve always felt guilty about spending money. Interestingly, I don’t think this has made me a particularly good saver. All it’s done is made me continually deny myself big things I want and exciting opportunities that come my way, while I fritter away all my money on little “treats” (coffee at the station, a chocolate bar at work, a magazine for a night in) that I tell myself I deserve because I’ve been driving the same car forever and not been on a holiday for over a year.

But recently, I’ve started to evaluate my relationship with my finances and what I choose to spend my money on. Before this, thinking about money just made me panic. I felt like I was constantly reacting to things that came my way and spending a lot of money without consciously ever making a decision about what I wanted to spend my money on. Without ever thinking about what is important to me.

Now I’ve realised that if I’m going to keep crossing things off my list, I need to stop being afraid of spending money to do so. Instead of feeling guilty about spending money I’m going to appreciate how much value spending money can add to my life – if I spend it on the right things.

So I’m going to stop money fears holding me back and start spending. But before I do, I’m going to ask “What value does this add to my life?”

There are a lot of things that I’ve always wanted or wanted to do but have been held back by how much it costs. I need to stop worrying that the product or experience itself may not be worth the money, and realise that the real value is to have tried it anyway. Some things are worth spending money on so I can stop wondering what they might be like, or stop wishing that I was brave enough to do it. To this end, today I’ve pre-ordered a Versalette; something I’ve been lusting after for years. Why don’t I deserve one, if I want one? It might be more than I usually spend on clothing but it’s something I can actually afford.

Sometimes you have to spend money on something once to discover that it doesn’t add long term value. For instance, just over a month ago I dyed the ends of my hair bright pink. It was fun for about three days but I don’t think I’d bother again. However, I’d been thinking about it for so long that the joy of finally seeing it happen was definitely worth the money, even if it wouldn’t be worth the money a second and third time around.

One thing that’ll always be worth the money for me is visiting people. Last week I travelled to London to meet some fellow Alivers for dinner and a drink. I have to admit that one part of my brain was adding up the cost of getting to London, getting across London and paying for a reasonably pricey dinner (in was London after all) just to spend a couple of hours in the company of some pretty awesome people. But wait, what do I mean “just”? Spending time with awesome people is one of the best things that life has to offer – far more important that having a bit of money sat in a bank. If I was too afraid to spend money socialising, all I would do is sit and home and feel lonely. I’d never meet anybody new, never feel that connection that you feel when you talk to someone who gets you, and risk never making another close friend.

Before you think it, this isn’t all an excuse to spend money. This last week I also took the difficult decision to sell my car because it wasn’t adding as much value to my life as it should have been considering how much it was costing me to run.

Likewise, I’m often tempted by things that, on reflection, would not add that much value to my life. Even though I quite fancy them I know that I don’t need:

  • A kindle, because carrying a paperback in my bag isn’t that heavy, and I can buy them cheaply from charity shops and re-donate them when I’m done.
  • A newer bike, because mine gets me from A to B.
  • Magazines, because I only ever flick through them, and I’d get the same experiences from looking at blogs on my phone.

Sometimes value is about timing. For instance, I would love to learn a language but there’s no point doing it right away because I have no immediate plans to travel. When I do learn a language I want to be be able to use it every day so I don’t forget it like I’ve forgotten all the French and German I learnt at school.

Of course, what people value are so different, and that’s what makes the world interesting. Let me know in the comments what you consider worth spending money on and what you could sacrifice to make way for more value in your life.