What a difference a year makes eh? 2017 feels like it’s involved quite a seismic shift for me. In some ways not much has changed, in other ways everything feels different. So it felt like a good time to take stock.This time last year I was busy blogging, probably writing a post in my favourite local cafe, much like I am now. But last year I was still very much deep in the quagmire of blogging and all things social media. I considered it my main occupation and source of income. I’d been blogging for seven years and it was fair to say I was heavily immersed in the industry; I ate, slept, breathed blogging. And some of the time I was happy doing that but a lot of the time I wasn’t. I felt like I’d lost a sense of perspective on what I was good at and what made me happy.
I was far too worried about likes, views, comments, follower numbers and stats. I was angsting over whether I was popular enough, big enough, successful enough, good enough. And it wasn’t a new thing, I’d been feeling like that for years. Having waded into blogging as an alternative career which fitted around my kids and the freelance lifestyle, I felt pressure to make a success of it, financially as well as practically and emotionally. Again, for the most part I think I was successful and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to do this flexibly around my family. Please believe me that I am not biting the blogging hand that feeds and I still consider myself lucky to have this freedom.However, I wasn’t happy. At New Year’s Eve last year I chose a word to crystallize my goals for the forthcoming year. I chose the word GROW. I thought it was a good word to encapsulate everything I generally desired for 2017, but really I just wanted to grow my blog, my following, my presence – all the things I felt were expected and necessary for me to succeed in this industry. But January came and went and I still felt lost in the fug of new year blues, finding it hard to get back into the swing of things and harder to find my lost mojo each time it disappeared.
By Easter I was sharing less and less online, becoming less confident about the content I did create and feeling trapped in a downwards spiral. But then I realised the less I shared, the less I cared. I felt less pressure to update my online platforms several times a day and it was a relief and a release. When I did put a photo up on instagram or wrote a tweet, I felt that it really was because I had something I wanted to share or say.
Around Easter time I had also made the decision to apply for an MA in Creative Writing, and had been accepted. Although my course wouldn’t start for another six months, I felt that I’d taken a big step towards doing something important for myself, something that would bring me enjoyment, focus and a sense of achievement. I started writing for pleasure again, with no agenda or audience or expectation, just for myself. And it reminded me how important it is to have time for other creative outlets beside your job or main occupation.
I think I’d fallen out of love with blogging and social media because I had too much of myself and my time invested in it and I measured all of my personal success and achievement against it, which isn’t very healthy. My self-esteem was totally tied up with my job and as with any career, you need to maintain a sense of perspective and a healthy work/life balance which I believe I no longer had.
Of course this is just my experience and I know that everyone is different. This is just where I happen to be at this stage in the game. I’ve just completed the first module of my two year MA course. I still have pressures – the academic study work has really stretched me out of my comfort zone but for the first time in years I feel like I’m really growing again and developing as a person. This is so, so important I feel. I think it’s not surprising that this sea-change coincided with me entering my forties and the fact that all three of my kids are now full time at school.
In some ways, I thought I’d have even more time to devote to making my blogging career a success but it also felt like the end of an era; the end of my baby-rearing thirties and the start of my forties when I could perhaps start to invest in my own development again. I think it’s one of the greatest fallacies in life that we stop growing when we reach adulthood. We can and should continue learning and developing until the day we die.
I wasn’t sure about applying for an MA for so many reasons even though I’d wanted to do one for years. I worried that it was a waste of money, that could and should be spent on my family instead. I worried that I wasn’t clever enough. I worried that I wouldn’t be accepted. I worried what other people might think; that it was a pointless, self-indulgent waste of time. And then I came back to the realisation that this is my life and I only have this one to lead. I also realised that I don’t need anyone else’s permission or approval but my own. The fact that my husband and kids are both proud and inspired by my decision is an added bonus.When I was applying for my course I had to try and find my original degree certificate which led me to rummaging through some very old bags of uni ephemera. Amongst other things (handwritten postcards and notes from a time before texts, social media and whatsapp – imagine!), I found a letter from my gran. She has been dead for many years now so I’m glad I hung onto her letters to me. They were always full of enthusiasm and good advice. This one in particular, chosen at random, proved to be even more encouraging than she could ever have imagined. In it she was writing to tell me that she had just been accepted to do her own MA, aged 72. She was so excited!
It just goes to show that you’re never too old I guess? In the end 2017 has turned out to be a year of growth for me. I grew in a way I needed to rather than wanted to. Sometimes I think you just have to follow your heart and trust your instincts. With this in mind I think my word for 2018 might be BELIEVE. I want to believe in myself more and in the hope that anything is possible if you deem it to be.
Thanks to everyone who stuck with me and kept on reading through this year!
Photo credit: Sarah-Lou Francis