Monday, 26 November 2012

Livity Advantage Week 3/4: Life According to Ronan Keating

There's the established notion of a difficult second album, but this past week I've been battling with an evasive, supposedly serial blog post.

For the first time in a while I am busy. Every-minute-of-the-day, where-the-heck-has-the-time-gone busy, and I am loving it. I spend my days engrossed in the Livity Advantage course like an oft-mentioned sponge, and my nights to-ing and fro-ing both literally and figuratively as I sign my life and brainpower over to an increasing number of wonderful things.

The past week marked the halfway point of the Livity Advantage course (eek!) and with it came endless pontificating about the possibilities that lay ahead, and the massive scope of opportunities that are just waiting to be seized. I know we're learning and ‘growing’ as potential employees, but it also feels like we're in a limbo of sorts; a suspended animation of keen, raw talent and any minute now someone is going to press the great big play button and we'll have only a few seconds to acclimatise before we hit the ground, preferably running.8 weeks never seemed long, but now we’ve gone past the tipping point, as it were, it’s almost like we’ve climbed the arduous but arguably comfortable incline and now we’re teetering at the top, verging on descent, ready for the last 4 weeks to go rushing past our ears as we plunge in to the real world faster than our stomachs can handle.

I don’t often find myself referencing the esteemed Ronan Keating in day-to-day life (complete lie) but I can’t deny that the man summed it up pretty succinctly when he sang about life, rollercoasters and the duplicity betwixt them, as my previous analogy would clearly suggest.So, while I fight against every fibre of my being and refrain from labouring Mr Keating’s metaphor any further (at huge personal cost, might I add) I should probably fleetingly declare my undying love for the Penguin Spinebreakers brief we are currently working on, which I will no doubt go in to much more detail about next week when we’ve PITCHED TO PENGUIN. Sorry, obligatory caps lock there while I endeavour to let that sink in. Oh, and I’m also climbing up the O2 to sing carols at sunrise which will potentially be televised. So yeah, next week will be an interesting one!So, in essence, it’s in your interest to stay tuned because, well, for one, I’m going to be standing on top of the O2, in December, in choir robes, singing Christmas carols at 7am, and not many people can promise you that in a weekly(ish) blog post.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Livity Advantage Week 2: The Science of Learning

There’s something strange about sitting down at the end of a week and contemplating the seven days you've just lived. Obviously on Livity Advantage I am tangibly learning new things what feels like every other minute of the day, and so the process of going over what I've encountered, cementing new ideas and consolidating the vast amounts of information in to something akin to being able to process and fully useful to me is a sensible one that actually presents immediate and obvious benefits, but how many of us do that in ‘regular circumstances’?

What did you learn this week?

It might be something small, like a new function within your email account (or perhaps rather large if that function was compose, or even send) or something huge like how to manage your emotions in a certain situation, or that crucial algorithm that’s going to completely revolutionise the way you work. No matter what you've done, where you've been, or who you have or haven’t been in contact with, I guarantee you have learnt something over the past week; that something has been added to the vast, limitless database that exists inside your head, even if you’re not consciously aware of it.
Still not convinced?
Ok, I’ll go.
*deep breath*
This week, week 2 of the Livity Advantage course, I have discovered the ins and outs of the power of video content from the incredibly-named Hugo Soul, been let in on Matt Connolly’s 3-point plan for business success, learnt the incredible reach and growing impact of mobile, and mind-numbing statistics from Mary Burris at Google, like the fact that there are over 850k Android devices activated each and every day, which is in fact more than the number of babies born, and also how to go about forming a coherent, useful status report for an expectant client, and that really is just off the top of my head.
I know I'm in a specific learning environment, but wouldn't it be a fantastic thing to get to the end of a week and just stop and think about what it is we've done, or even achieved, and be able to self-assess and self-manage in a way that could ultimately improve the way we live, and indeed go about living as a whole.
Why not give it a try? It doesn't have to be written down, but just have a think. Is there anything else that you would like to learn or achieve in the next week? Is there anything that in 1 week’s time you would like to be able to think back on, maybe sat where you are now, and feel proud of or feel, tangibly, like you've learnt or done something useful to you or maybe even to those around you.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle
Another thing I learnt this week, from Lizzie Bentley-Bowers at Coaching Impact.
It’s not easy to self-examine, but even on a superficial level, knowledge is power.
Oh, and one other thing I've learned: Steve Lennon has pretty awesome taste in random, heart-warming YouTube videos.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Live What You Love

Have you ever been so deep in thought that you almost missed your stop?

It happened to me for the first time earlier this week on my way home from the Livity office. (I can only apologise to the woman sat next to me at the time for the actual, physical jolt of realisation that occurred on my part, and what was potentially the ensuing heart-attack on hers.)

For the first time in a very long time I am excited to get up and get to the office in the morning, and I find myself riding the residual buzz of excitement and inspiration all the way home at night, right up until I'm overcome by sleep. I'd forgotten, or perhaps never even known what it feels like to be so completely engaged, and as the sudden influx of posts would suggest, my creativity has been poked with a great big stick and roused from hibernation.

This is living; truly.

Everything suddenly makes sense, and in the most clichéd, cringe-inducing fashion I now know what it means to be high on life; nigh-on intoxicated by living what I love, and achieving and learning so much more because of it.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Livity Advantage: Week 1

Wow. Well. What can I say? It’s been quite the week and there are 7 more still to go. It’s all been a bit of a whirlwind, and I’m not even being clichéd when I say my feet have barely touched the ground. (Well, maybe a bit) I’m incredibly lucky to have been chosen as part of the final 15 for Livity Advantage who now make up our very own agency that will be dealing with real-life briefs and clients over the 8-week period, all the while learning the hows, whats, whens, wheres and whys of Digital Media from some of the best in the industry based around a series of Google-pioneered toolkits. Got that? Good. Bear with.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Disadvantage as Advantage

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Every cloud has a silver lining.

Use your disadvantage to your advantage.

That last statement came from Jon Akwue, global client managing director at Engine, just this afternoon. I’m currently part of an incredible programme called Livity Advantage, run through Livity UK and led by Google, and through their amazing 8-week Digital Expert course I, along with 14 others have had, and will have, the chance to meet with, talk to, and learn from outstanding industry experts and forerunners such as Jon, and it was our meeting with him earlier that got me thinking, non-stop, all the way home.

The notion of disadvantage is a broad one, and perhaps a sensitive one, but the idea that you can use what makes you different, makes you you, (your ‘Unique Selling Point’) even if it’s perhaps been in the first instance less than positive, is an incredibly powerful one. Jon’s point really drove home that in almost every sense of the word I’m actually advantaged, in so much as I’m not disadvantaged. I’m incredibly lucky in most respects, in that I’m white, lower middle class, and come from an incredibly supportive family who were also able to live near a decent school. I’m not the standard model when someone says the word disadvantaged, because in most respects I’m not.

Here’s where it gets tricky, or perhaps interesting, never mind the fact that it’s been going round and round my head for about 5 hours. My ‘disadvantage’ is exclusively mine to disclose. With the best will in the world, ethnicity, just for example, or some disabilities, is not necessarily something you have a choice about disclosing when walking in to a room. But is that a good thing, or not? It struck me today just how right Jon Akwue was with his statement, and how much people who’ve seen both sides of the coin have to offer in that respect, but also, just how much my frankly incomparable ‘disadvantage’ is a silent burden, as at face value, I am, well, advantaged.

I went to University, I stayed for 4 years, but I didn’t get a degree. On paper, I wasted 4 years of my life and have very little to show for the massive amount of debt I’m in because of those years. In reality, I had some of the best experiences of my life, but also lived through the worst, darkest days of my existence. As a consequence I learnt so much about myself, and about the world around me and how things impact each other that I am now in fact a stronger, no, better person because of what I experienced, and have a completely different angle on life and the way I work and tackle things because of it.

My newly-acquired angle is the USP I bring to the table, but the problem I face is that of deciding, or perhaps knowing when and sometimes even if, to disclose. I have the benefit, or perhaps advantage of being able to disclose my ‘disadvantage’ at will, but then there are all the pre-conceived notions that accompany what I’ve been through which often take a lot more than a conversation at interview to dispel, while it is what I’ve been through (loosely) that is the reason I am right for the job and could bring so much to the role. Tricky, no?

I know what I have to offer, but my next challenge is proving it to the people I want to work with, in spite of what’s in the past.

If at first you don’t succeed and all that.

Challenge accepted.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Black Dog Obedience Training

Depression. Even the word is heavy. It presses down on you, on your life. It impedes movement both physical and metaphorical, and smothers you to the point of almost suffocation.

I could wax lyrical about the poetic darkness of depression, and the viscous, black hold it can have over people, but on World Mental Health Day of all days, and at the point in life I currently find myself it feels pertinent to make the simplest but truest of statements:

It gets better.

Not now, not tomorrow, maybe not straight away, and not necessarily forever, but there are places and people who can lift the load, and tighten the leash, and you will stand up straight and breathe deeply again: I promise.

There have been times in the past few years where even just reading that statement would have elicited vicious, unbelieving laughter, so please; bear with me. There will also be those of you who have never experienced mental health issues who may wonder why it’s even worth giving such a widely and (dangerously) naively assumed notion the time of day.

To you, I say that it gets better, not because depression is some "temporary indulgence of the weak," but because it has to. In the most basic of senses, when a person hits rock bottom the only way they have is up, and even what may seem, or sometimes even feel, to both them and others like the smallest of advances should not be diminished. Clichés become so due to an element of universal truth, and the adage that we are our own worst enemies is most certainly true. Who else has such absolute power over you? Who else knows all your shameful, hateful secrets and exactly what it is about those secrets that scares and haunts you? Who else knows exactly what to say to ruin your day? When fighting with yourself, with what’s inside you, there isn’t the luxury of being able to put distance between you and the problem. When you are the reason you can’t bear to get out of bed in the morning, or leave the house for fear of having to interact with others, or pick up the phone because you’re scared of not knowing what to say to the person on the other end, then refuge is hard to find.

It gets better because having been through depression, I know that I understand myself so much better as a person and actually, that without having been to hell and back I wouldn’t be the stronger, more informed and together person I am today. When in the depths of depression I sought help through what I saw as weakness and desperation, but as I’ve progressed both through and upwards I’ve realised that there’s an incredible strength in even feeling able to reach out for help, and I know that it is the power I have gained over the illness that has enabled me to feel strong enough to recognise the signs and understand myself better while putting in place the support network that I know I can utilise if ever the same thing starts to happen again. I realise that it perhaps sounds to an outsider that I had a charmed, easy ride with my depression which, for one, I don’t think is physically possible, and is a dangerous idea that should be quickly dispelled. Make no mistake: I have fought to be where I am today. I have battled myself, negative stereotypes and stigma, and not to mention the god damn depression itself, and I have encountered stumbling blocks, setbacks and colossal great snakes that have sent me all the way back down to the start, both within my own mind and from outside influences, but though the road is long and winding, let me tell you: the view from the top makes it all worthwhile.

So yes, it does get better, but at different rates and with different definitions of success for different people.

Better is completely subjective when it comes to mental health, and there are so many groups and organisations out there waiting to help, just as soon as you’re ready to let them, so do.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The gym is not for fat people.

I was recently told of an instance when someone I know expressed their intention to go to the gym and was met with the comment ‘But you’re not in shape.’ This, counteracted with the somewhat obvious statement that that was why they were intending to go, was then rounded off like a perfectly toned bicep with the observation that ‘Yeah, but there are some things you start at home.’

As a recent convert to the gym, and the concept of giving a damn about the state of my body, it is exactly this attitude that terrifies me.
I am not in shape; I want to get in to shape. The equipment at the gym allows me to facilitate this.
I’m not exactly at my most attractive when working out, and let’s be honest, I’m not entirely comfortable being seen in public in my jogging bottoms and baggy t-shirt (I don't claim to understand those who relish wearing skin tight lycra when undertaking physical assertion) so when I’m bright red, sweaty and out of breath having pushed myself that bit further and spent longer than I ever have on the rowing machine I don’t really want to be confronted with bronzed, slim, already-perfect looking people going hell for leather on cross trainers without so much as a bead of sweat on their foreheads, and it would seemingly stand to reason that they probably don’t want to see me either. (Although, I promise fat isn’t contagious)

The gym is designed for fitness, so if you want to get fit, you go to the gym, but in all media, film and television representations the gym is full of already fit people ‘simply’ (I know, I know) maintaining their perfect physiques, which is fine, but also pretty damn daunting for people who look like, well, me. I go to a gym within a leisure centre in the South Wales valleys that costs me a couple of quid each time I go, and I’m lucky enough to be met with a nice mix of people and fitness levels whenever I go, but I must admit to being ashamed of my body in the state it is currently in.

Perhaps it says something about me that it would never even cross my mind that an onlooker might view me positively, in that I’m actually doing something about my health, rather it strikes me that, in my head at least, the fitter gym users are of the same opinion as the aforementioned home bird, and probably use my physique as motivation to keep-up the hard work lest they become like me.

Whatever it is that makes me breathe a sigh of relief when I step in to an empty fitness suite, I’m just glad that I’ve started to overcome the inner demons that tell me I don’t belong there, and hopefully after our Summer of sporting achievement, others will start to do the same, because when it comes down to it, it’s just a room where people go to make themselves feel better, whatever that may mean to each individual, and no-one should have to feel like they should be hidden away at home; size 8 or 28.
The gym is not for fat people; it's for people.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Sunshine, Lollipops & Satire

So it's been unseasonably sunny recently and I've managed to spend 98% of this time inside writing to various academic and also non-scholarly deadlines.
In light of this, it would be awfully nice if you could to take the time to peruse the latest issue of Exposed, paying particular attention to page 8 should you be so inclined, just so that the onset of rickets has not been in vain.

Friday, 30 March 2012


A little something I penned under the brief of: Heart.

Take Heart

I write from the heart.
I take things to heart.
I’ve experienced things that have broken my heart, but I still continue to put my heart and soul in to the things I love. 
In short: my heart has a lot to answer for.
The heart is a mystical phenomenon charged with making the most important of decisions, and leading us in to battle against even our own heads. People in difficulty are told to take heart, have a heart; look inside their hearts. That’s an awful lot of responsibility for one organ, let alone its actual, literal job of pumping blood around our bodies. I mean, I can confidently say the liver isn’t pulling its weight in the field of abstract thought processes, and as for the pancreas? Don’t even get me started.
The heart has become a poetic device; a metaphor for love, and for life. The heart assumes the form of a childhood friend; someone that has known you so long they appear to know you better than you know yourself. Of course the heart is deeply embedded in the physical human form, but it also seems to have taken on the same transcendental qualities of the soul. Like a heart itself in transplant, the heart’s abstract form is taken as being separate from our other thought processes, and blamed for inopportune emotions and feelings in our otherwise autonomous bodies.

How dare we.

Our hearts provide us with life itself, yet we continue to place excess demands upon them, and expect of them, in ways that, should they manifest literally against our own actual selves, would constitute both physical and emotional abuse. The heart is in a constant state of providing, and true to human form, all we want is more. We are all familiar with resting our weary heads, but the heart silently soldiers on, through every long, arduous day, and dark, cold night without even so much as a tea break, let alone a thank you.
So next time you become aware of the pulsing beneath your skin, of the very lifeblood that courses through your veins, take the time to appreciate where it’s coming from, and just have a little heart.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Friday, 17 February 2012

Channel Hopping

So, I wrote a piece about my different emotional responses to the prospect of moving abroad for a year, and the lovely people over at Opinion Panel have published it in their community blogging section.
As plenty of time has now passed I've also included said article here, so, enjoy!

Now don’t get me wrong, I was fully aware when I signed up for this French degree that I was going to be spending a year abroad in France, with people who speak it all the time, think in it, dream in it, and have done since it was their first word, but now it’s a matter of months away it’s all sort of hitting me. Right in the face. Like a giant baguette. The prospect of travelling to a foreign country is filled with promise and excitement, but the concept of actually moving there, on my own, for an entire year, is tainted brown with more than a little terror.
I’ve studied French for more years than I actually care to remember, and there is now an entire French section on my bookshelves, filled with everything from Madame Bovary, to L’Histoire de France Pour Les Nuls, but that alone is just not going to cut it. It’s possible to read about and study something to within an inch of its entire concept, but in reality the leap from page to practice is a giant one.

Tell anyone you study a language at any level, and they will immediately regale you with a (mercifully) potted history of their entire experience of any language ever, and then expect you to know the answer to any and every obscure conjugation question they’ve ever pretended to care about. And that’s before producing some member of their family who just so happens to be visiting from France/Germany/Spain/Lithuania (delete as appropriate) and would simply love to converse with you at such a level of fluency, and such a frequency of words, that only a particularly adept foreign dog could respond with any level of coherence or sense. Simply put; I’ve been researching the characteristics of selective mutism, just in case. I’m of course aware that thousands of University students go abroad every single year, and more importantly come back alive, but it hasn’t stopped me wincing at the merest whiff of garlic, and having pre-emptive flashbacks at the briefest sight of stripy-chested men on bicycles with strings of onion round their necks. (More common in South-Westerly England than you might think).
As inevitable as the tides, I will go, I will survive, maybe even excel, and then I will return, with a wealth of self-discovery and personal growth under my belt, and an acquired taste for escargots. In spite of the fact I made it this far without a snail joke, (remarkable, I know) you may have noticed that I’m still trying not to take the inevitable too seriously, in the vain hope that I can laugh my way across the channel in as smooth, and calm a motion as possible, to avoid spending the next year sat in a corner rocking back and forth muttering the Marseillaise in order to try and fit in.
I’ll be fine; I know. It’s going to be an incredible year of discovery and fulfilment, just with the subtitles switched off, and the capacity for living cranked all the way up to 11. Oh, and if I do in fact fall flat on my visage, it is only a matter of 12 months, 52 weeks, or even 365 days, and when it’s all over I can come crawling back to this fair isle; tail between my legs and yesterday’s frog legs still between my teeth.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Paddon Award Entry

This is my entry to the Paddon Award, in association with the University of Exeter, under the brief "Your Exeter, Your University."
Edit: I wasn't shortlisted, but I'm still proud of the piece, and still feel very strongly about the brief, and Exeter itself, so please keep reading it.

My Exeter, My University, My Home

“Oh Exeter, is wonderful.”
At first it seems strange that what was introduced to me as a fiercely proud football chant should so acutely and accurately sum up my feelings towards this outstanding institution, especially as an avid avoider of almost all things sporting, but then it occurs to me how much my eyes, mind and heart have been opened to so many new experiences in my time here, and it almost seems fitting.
On an entirely superficial level the sheer, breath-taking beauty of both campus and the surrounding city inspire me on an almost daily basis, but the true impact of such accessible splendour runs far deeper. The seamless, constant harmony of pastures new, and old stomping grounds; the constant revolution of new souls, new prospects, and entire futures, with the University a hub of innovation and creativity that stands proudly above the skyline; a beacon of past, present and future in perfect equilibrium. Even on the greyest of Devon days this most extraordinary of places shimmers with possibility, and the constant hum of innovation and progression can always be heard, if you just take the time to stop and listen.
The notion of taking an institution to your heart, of feeling like you belong, seems at best a superficial one, but I can honestly say that Exeter and its essence of strength now pulse through my veins. As the Exe ebbs and flows, so university life meanders through highs, lows and extremes of existence, but the constant comfort of inevitable tidal regularity and stability, like that of the pillar of strength and celebrated creativity that is this institution, even in the darkest of times shines the light of guidance and reassurance in to all corners of life, perhaps most notably as a string of lights in the shape of a Christmas tree atop the physics building during the festive season.
The life-blood of regeneration undulates throughout this city, but it never seeks to wash away those people and things that it has already encountered. I know that I will always feel welcome here, as those who have already moved on do, and that in the inevitable story of my life, the chapter marked Exeter will be a full and vibrant one. That said, should the opportunity to plant roots here present itself, I shall be the first with wellies on, pitchfork in one hand, needle and thread in the other, ready to weave my story in to the tapestry of Exeter life.
Within this, the most communal and supportive of settings, I have been able to spread my proverbial wings, find my feet, and fulfil an entire plethora of clichés, all associated with starting the next stage of life after flying the nest. Clichés would not become clichéd if they weren’t true, in the same way that the intense passion and fondness for the University displayed by Exeter students and its alumni can of course be found within the pages of a prospectus, but also eavesdropped from a passing candid conversation, or gleaned from the proud declaration of the institution’s title across a myriad of colourfully-hooded chests.
Exeter has become a home to me, and while in the business of spouting the occasional cliché, I refuse to reduce everything that this university and this city means to me to a flippant, recycled utterance, or even so much as try. My connections to this place and its people are intensely personal, despite their resonance with the experiences of so many others, and it is this plurality of experience that makes it all the more special. To some, Exeter may simply be a point on a map, or just a choice of university, but for me, this is my Exeter, my university, and now my home.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Life in Print

Hello again. (Cue sheepish, apologetic smile)
I know I've been promising you new collections of words, but in truth, all my missives are being sent in various other directions, and I'm actually sort of living various different writing-related lives.
Please don't give me that look; it's not you, it's me. No, really! I seem to see an opportunity to write and jump in feet first without even the merest of glances back at little old you.
By way of the beginnings of an apology, let me link you to one of my pieces which just so happens to be online...

Check out page 7, the bit about flaming barrels of tar.

See; I have been writing. Now, back to that, er, other thing. *cough*