Farewell, 2018

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Oh boy, what a year 2018 has been. Another one of those where I feel tired just thinking about everything that happened, all the things that changed and how much we packed into just twelve months. We sold our London flat, relocated our family to Hertfordshire, got pregnant with our second baby, and spent six months renovating and decorating our new house all while running an Airbnb from our guest room, growing another human, and both Gav and I going through a busy season in our work for three months while we all got sick, our almost-three year old dropped her nap and seemingly forgot how to sleep at night. It’s been wonderful, but it’s been a lot, and I’m ready to slow it down a little bit again for a while.

The tricky thing for me is going to be in seeing the value of a slower year for myself and my work. I’m doing a lot of deep thinking and planning at the moment about what I really want from next year, but coming from a place of being painfully realistic about what I will be able to achieve while breastfeeding a newborn and having two small children at home with me for much of the week. I am a do-er by nature, I like to keep fairly busy and I love to set goals and make plans that keep me moving forward. I struggle some times to step back and see the bigger picture, to take enough rest and to fully embrace those stages of my life where I’m not able to achieve as much as I’d like. I’m doing my best to understand how I can best use the coming year to set myself up for the years following that, when I have two kids in more regular childcare and can start to claw back a little time and space for myself again. I’m also conscious of not rushing myself through the newborn days, because for sure it’s the last time I’m going to experience them. I want to focus on being present, enjoying each phase of this year as much as I can and making and preserving memories while my children are this small.

In my review of 2017, I described it as being a year of farming. Sowing seeds to be harvested at a later time, reaping rewards of my efforts in 2018. There was a lot of waiting around, as selling our flat and moving house took a year in total. We had a lot of time to think about what we wanted from the next few years of our life, but for a while things seemed on pause while we waited for it all to happen. Well, 2018 was the year that all the things happened. And in just a few short months of each other, meaning that this past year has been one of a lot of big changes in a short space of time. They’re all the things we planned for, waited patiently for, wanted desperately…but when they all happened simultaneously it was a lot for us to get used to. It took time for the dust to settle, for that feeling of discombobulation to subside and for all of us to find our feet in a new place, new house and a new life. As the year ends, marking six months in our new home, I can see how far we’ve come, how much more this house and town feels like us, and how next year will be one where we settle even more into it.

I’ve spent the last week or so reflecting on the past year, and slowly setting goals for the year ahead. I’ve got another post coming about what tools I use to do that, it’s a process I’ve personalised and honed in the last few years and that I find really effective for actually getting things done. But first, I always start with a look back on the last twelve months…

Annual reflections:
I've been doing these reflections at the end of each year for the last three years. If you’d like to, you can read my previous ones from 2015 , 2016 and 2017. I really enjoy doing these as an annual exercise, they're wonderful to read over each year to see how far I've come and how much just little adjustments and intentions can move you forward. I’ve written more in depth reflections which I will keep to myself, but here are some of my overall reflections on 2018 that I’d love to share with you…

What 2018 accomplishments am I most proud of?

So many! This year has been huge in terms of accomplishments, leaving me exhausted and satisfied in equal measure. We sold our flat in London, after a year of waiting, bought a new house and relocated to Hitchin, Hertfordshire. We have now spent six months renovating it, ripping up carpets, painting walls, re-doing a bathroom, putting up shelves, ripping out cupboards and buying new things to furnish and decorate it. We’re not even remotely finished, but we’ve done a lot in a short space of time. We re-launched our Airbnb guest room within a few months of moving and managed to get a regular Monday-Friday guest who pays almost half our mortgage. Oh, and I did quite a lot of those things whilst growing a human, as I’m ending the year six and a half months pregnant. I’m really proud of how hard we’ve worked, and how focused we have been to achieve our goals. We didn’t plan to have so much happen in the same couple of months, but that’s how life works sometimes and we’ve done our best to roll with it.

What are some takeaways from those triumphs?

That there is no substitute for hard work. You have to set goals, work out the steps you need to take to achieve them, and then get cracking. No shortcuts. I have worked so hard in every single area of my life this year and it has been exhausting, but so very rewarding to see the pay off that has come from focus, determination and a lot of elbow grease. I’ve had a strong and clear vision for what I wanted to achieve, and although some things took longer than planned, we’ve done everything we set out to do.

A big takeaway for me was also in the importance of pivoting when you need to. When things don’t go quite to plan, you have to release your grasp on how you thought things would or should be, and find a new way. It takes constant evaluation to have a real appreciation of the journey you’re on, the lessons the universe is handing out to you, and how best you can use what you have to turn every situation into a positive.

In which areas did I struggle most in 2018?

Being pregnant, for sure. I struggled with staying grateful for something that was a choice for us, and something I know we are extremely lucky to have. Early pregnancy made me sick, exhausted and depressed and really honestly regretful of my decision to have another baby. It was hard to struggle through that just a few weeks after moving away from my closest friends and having a lot of renovation work to do. Mid-term pregnancy made me sore and achey, and that coupled with a teething, nap dropping, sleep regressing toddler and some bouts of sickness made for a really hard last few months of the year.

Not living around the corner from my best friend for the last half of the year was really hard too. I knew how much having her as such a big part of my life brought me a lot of joy, comfort, love and support, but I wasn’t prepared for the giant Lucy shaped hole that would be left in my life when we moved apart. I miss our time together, just enjoying each other’s company, sharing the small and big things of our lives in a way I haven’t with anybody else. We just shared the same wavelength, and nothing made me feel more at peace than sitting on her sofa with a cup of tea. I know I was lucky to have as much of that as we did, but it’s the one thing I’d wish to have back in my life if I could. There’s no replacing it, there’s just learning to be OK without it.

Which of these difficult situations did I overcome? (Or work to overcome?)

I had to work on my mindset for the second half of the year as I struggled with pregnancy and motherhood draining me physically and emotionally. I learnt to lower my expectations of what I can achieve, and accept that there are some seasons of life where you just need to work on getting through the day, and take a little extra care of yourself when you can. While I strive for some sort of balance in a week or a month, occasionally life demands so much from you in one area that balance becomes impossible and trying to maintain it is a recipe for unhappiness. I focused on mindfulness, taking what ever time I could at the end of a long day to centre myself. Meditation, journalling, taking hot baths to think or to read…nothing groundbreaking but it all worked wonders for me.

I also worked a lot on achieving whatever small task I could that moved me forward to a positive place. If I could just do one thing towards the house, my work, my health and so on then it was a win, even if I didn’t have the time or the energy to spend three days painting the hallway. Instead of focusing on what I couldn’t do or didn’t have, I focused more on what I was able to do. It was a wonderful shift in mindset for me.

Which friends supported me most this year?

Gav and I haven’t always been the best at supporting each other emotionally, we’re very independent and headstrong and easily slip into our own blinkered worlds of just getting on with it. New parenthood can test your relationship as what you want for yourself and each other changes, and although there are so many highs and moments of deep connection, there are also moments where you can feel you are in this alone - especially as the split for us is with Gav working a lot to financially support us while I take on all the childcare and household responsibilities. It works to our strengths, and for now is the best way for us, but it can be tough on our relationship. This year, we’ve really worked as a team and been a lot more understanding of what we each need to feel rested, fulfilled and happy. He has been such an amazing support to me, always the first person to cheer me on with my work, to encourage me and to believe in me. There is a lot I wouldn’t have done this year if it wasn’t for him.

I said it last year, but my soul sister Lucy will be on the list every year. Even though she’s moved to Thailand, we talk almost every day through voice messages and help each other through everything. We support each other with honesty and no judgements, always holding a safe space for one another to share the ugly truths of life, work and relationships alongside the beautiful ones. There’s no one else I can truly open myself up to like her, and it doesn’t matter if I’m on top of the world or in the depths of despair she will empathise, commiserate or celebrate with me whole heartedly. If I could, I’d gift every one her as a best friend. But I won’t, because she’s all mine. I just don’t know what I’d do without her.

The new friends I’ve made in Hitchin have been so kind and welcoming to me. They’ve made our new town really feel like a home, and I feel so lucky to live here amongst so many interesting, like minded and friendly people. Jo, Zara, Rebecca, Alexa, Ami, Louise and Venetia…all people I didn’t know six months ago but now are a part of my life here. Hitchin is so unlike London, no-one has time for you in the city and people can be so unfriendly. Here, you swap numbers after one meeting at a playgroup and you’re firm friends a few weeks later. Everyone is so invested in their community, it’s not transient like in the city and many people live close to their families so you easily become a part of something meaningful and long lasting.

Which friendships changed and shifted?

Lucy and I have had to adapt our friendship as we no longer live 20 mins walk from each other. We’ve stayed in touch almost daily using voice messaging, and are learning all the time how we can still support each other while not being a physical presence in each other’s daily lives. We’ve both had our struggles in the last six months, and we’ve done the best we could to be there for each other. I’m still in mourning for not being able to go round for a cuppa though…I miss her terribly and can’t wait until we are reunited in the summer.

I have made a lot of new friends since moving to Hitchin, and although I haven’t had much energy for socialising, it’s been wonderful to build the beginnings of a community for ourselves. Now that Rory is almost three, she has some strong friendships of her own and I love how much she talks about them and enjoys their company. I look forward to developing these more in 2019, and in the future as she starts school and our local social circle expands. Me having the energy to be out after 6pm will definitely help things!

What are some new skills that I learned?

Most of my new skills this year are related to home improvements…I learnt how to rip up carpets and grippers, prepare a newly plastered wall for painting and decorate walls properly. My interior design skills have improved a lot too, my eye for colour, pattern and texture and how it all fits together. I’ve really honed my style it’s been great to see it all come together. It feels easier to create a space that gives me all the inspiring, uplifting and homey vibes that I’m after.

I’ve learnt a lot of new skills in my business too, of what it takes to build a sustainable one, and really craft a career that supports your life, family and dreams. I’ve become a better photographer than I ever thought I could be, and created some of my best work in the last twelve months. Oh, and I filed my first tax return. So now I know how to do that. I kept on top of my accounts, applied for our 30 hours free childcare and maternity allowance. Never have I made so many calls to HMRC! Possibly unusually for someone in a creative field, I also enjoy the business side of what I do and it’s been good to up-skill a little in that area.

What are some things I’ve learned to accept about myself this year?

That I put an unrealistic amount of pressure on myself which often creates a feeling of unhappiness and inadequacy. I find it hard to be present, and have a tendency to focus on the things I don’t have rather than be appreciate of what I do. It’s a huge trait of being an Enneagram type 4, something which I loved learning about this year.

Name 3-5 positive memory-making experiences from 2018.

1. My trip in March to New Orleans for The Family Narrative. It was intense, but an incredible learning experience, a whole heap of fun and so exciting to travel to the US for the first time. I met some wonderful new friends, got to catch up with Eva and finally meet Leney in person after eight years of online friendship. I learnt so much, and feel so lucky that I got to be part of something so special. I miss that trip so much every day!

2. Spending my 34th birthday in the South of France. I swam in the lake, drank a lot of coffee and wandered around the markets soaking up the sun. I am so grateful for those annual trips, for the time I get to spend with Gav and Rory and for all the discussions we have about our future.

3. My friend Leney coming to stay with me in Hitchin for a few days. Some people in this life just get you, and she’s one of them. It was a really special trip, the memories of which I will treasure forever. We had the most wonderful, peaceful, life affirming weekend together. She’s one of those people who’s presence in your home just makes everything more wonderful, and Rory and I have missed her a lot since she left.

4. Seeing our baby on the screen at Welwyn Hospital for the second time, when we learned we were having another girl and Rory learned she was having a baby sister. She held my hand and looked from me to the screen and back again the whole time, and I cried. Sharing an experience like that with her was really special.

5. Meeting my guide son Bodhi. He was born just before I moved away from London, and everything felt so poignant and emotional. I just wanted to hug him and his mama and not let them go. It felt so wonderful to experience this new life, but it marked the end of an old life that Lucy and I had loved so much. It was an emotional time of change for both of us!

Name a couple of negative memory-making experiences.

The late summer months being so ill in bed during my first trimester, while also feeling really lost and lonely after relocating to a new town and my best friend moving overseas. We had a ten week heatwave and I felt so awful not being able to enjoy it. It was a time I just wished away, and that made me feel even worse.

The stress that came with moving house, especially the month preceding and including the move. Thing were uncertain, stressful and caused a lot of arguments and frustrations in our household. We did our best to stay in a good mindset about it all, but really it is one of the most stressful things you can ever do and it’s pretty impossible to stay upbeat about it all the time.

In which areas did I see the most personal growth and change?

My relationship with my parents. We’ve ended the year spending a lot more time together than usual, and it’s been wonderful to watch Rory’s bond with them develop. They are hoping to move nearby in 2019, and I’m looking forward to having them live closer so we can spend more quality time together. It can be hard living far away and needing to stay in each other’s houses for a week at a time, especially as we have kids and our visits bring a certain level of chaos!

My connection with myself, developing rituals and the daily practices of meditation and journalling to help me process my thoughts and feelings, and make space for myself at the end of each day. It helped me cut out the noise of what everyone else is doing and saying, and just focus inward on myself and what’s important to me.

What did I learn about myself in 2018?

That I definitely don’t want to ever be pregnant again. I’m grateful for it, there’s no question about that, but I have invested so much of myself in these early years of creating a family and I am ready to be done with that. Two children will complete our family, and I have no desire to expand it beyond that.

That I really love transforming a house, but that I’d actually rather do my job and pay professional tradesmen than take time off to do the decorating myself. I’m OK if it’s a small amount, but I get bored very quickly and definitely lack the attention to detail it often requires to do a good job.

That I am horrible at taking any length of time off work, and that it makes me feel directionless and unfulfilled. I worked hard to have a career and a business that I love, and as a result it’s not something I like to give up. A few days or even a week off makes me feel recharged, but any more time off just makes me miserable. I’m much better having a more balanced working week with regular time off than I am with working like mad for three months and then not at all for another three.

What am I most grateful for in 2018?

My family. They’ve all supported me so much, and I know how lucky I am to have them. We aren’t perfect, and relationships all come with their complexities and struggles, but I’ve ended the year with much less focus on the difficulties and a greater understanding of the privilege it is to have family around you.

Our new house. It’s really a dream space for us and we grow into it more every day. It makes me feel happy, creative and inspired and is turning into the space I dreamt about and planned for so long. Renovations come with their downsides, but I am overwhelmingly grateful for having such a wonderful house to call our home.

My Rory. She’s the most wonderful kiddo in the world, and even though she sometimes drives me crazy, she’s also been the source of my greatest moments of joy and happiness this year. She’s clever, funny, brave and kind, and I live for her affection, her laughter and her singing. When being a parent is good, it sure is really, really good.

My work. The places it has taken me, the people it has brought into my life and the freedom it has given me to express myself, connect with others and build a business to support me and my family. It’s something I am so, so proud of and I don’t take it for granted that I’ve been privileged enough to be able to walk this path.

What did I gain in 2018? What did I lose?

I gained a new house, a new town, a completely new rhythm, routine and way of life. Something we planned for in early 2017, but that took 15 months to come to fruition. Along with our move, I gained a lot of new friendships, especially from moving to Hertfordshire. It’s so funny to think I spend most of my time now around people I didn’t even know six months ago.

I lost a lot of time to myself towards the later part of 2018, as Rory dropped her three hour afternoon nap, became more difficult to put to bed at night and started to wake frequently and call for me to be by her side. That time to myself each day and night was something which I really valued and that made me a happier and more relaxed person, it’s been a hard thing to lose, for sure. Slowly I am finding a new balance and carving out smaller pockets of time where I can find some headspace.

What things do I want to leave behind in 2018?

The busy-ness, overwhelm, stress and exhaustion that permeated much of the year. It’s all been worth it a hundred times over, but now I need a little more calm and not quite so much change.

The lack of time and attention Gav and I have had to devote to our relationship. I am looking forward to getting a regular babysitter towards the end of 2019 and starting to get back some time for ourselves as a couple. It’s a big thing we’ve had to let slip so we can move forward in other areas of our lives, but soon the time will come for us to shift a bit more focus back onto our relationship. We have some incredibly strong foundations, but it doesn’t do us any good to have so little time to be together.

Which things do I want to take with me into 2019?

The team work and appreciation between Gav and I, and the space we have unselfishly given to each other so we can deal with the demands of our very different daily lives. We don’t take it personally that sometimes we need to sleep in separate rooms, or spend our evenings alone at opposite sides of the house so we can recharge and get some time for ourselves. We know it’s not forever, and we have a mutual understanding that we are playing the long game in our relationship. We are stronger if we are happier, not arguing due to lack of sleep, and working together for some more freedom for ourselves in the near future.

The relaxation and mindfulness I have allowed myself each evening after Rory has gone to bed. I take a hot bath, read my book, meditate and then get into bed and knit for a while. It makes me feel good, and it exactly what I’ve needed to survive the sleepless nights and extra strain on my body with this pregnancy.

The time I have given to pursuing personal photography work. It’s still been relatively little, but I’ve seen the greatest rewards from what I have done. My favourite photos, and some of my favourite human experiences this year have some from shooting personal work. I really want to focus more on this in 2019, if anything more so than on anything for my business.

What are some hopes you have for the year ahead?

I hope that I can birth a healthy baby, at home in an environment where I feel safe and empowered. I hope so much for a positive birth experience this time around, and the next few months of my life will be focused on being as prepared for that as possible. Following that, I hope I can have a gentle recovery and take it slow as we all adjust to life as a family of four.

I want to work on my gratitude, patience and acceptance that this phase of my life is right where I need to be. I am excited to be welcoming another baby to our family in a few short months, but I’m also prepared for how all consuming it is going to be to have a newborn again. I’ll have to take time off work, time off sleep and time off from any kind of balance in any area of my life for 3-6 months. I hope that I can be patient, and navigate that change with grace and try to enjoy it as much as I can. I am ready for it, and excited for it, but it comes with a certain amount of apprehension of how well I will deal with the demands of two young children and a very small amount of time for myself and my work.

Gav and I have some plans to enable us to travel and have some more freedom in our lives, not in 2019 but for 2020. There is a lot we need to do between now and then, and I’m hoping that a few bigger parts of the plan can happen next year. It’s all part of our ongoing discussions about what we see for our future as a family, how we bring in more of the things we want and take out a few of the things we don’t. Mainly, Gav needing to work so much and be away from home for such long hours. We each have too much of what the other one wants, with me at home all the time doing the heavy lifting of raising our family and not nearly enough time to work, and Gav at work all the time with nothing spare left to be with the family. It’s a balance we are trying to address, but it will take some patience…

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It’s time to say another thank you, for reading, for supporting me and for following along. It’s not easy to take that leap out there on your own, work for yourself, and ask yourself deep questions all the time to carve out a life that you truly love. But it’s a whole lot easier to do it with people cheering you on from the sidelines, believing in you, even through the moments when you don’t believe in yourself. I love this space, I’ve been writing here for nine years now and it’s seen me go from a very lost but carefree 23 year old into a focused, determined, very happy yet permanently exhausted 34 year old mother of almost two girls. I look forward to sharing more of our journey together in 2019, and appreciate so much that you are here with me.

Wishing you a peaceful New Year, and a wonderful week ahead whether it sees you return to work or spend some more quiet days at home with family. I am gratefully doing the latter, as one of my favourite parts of working for myself is being able to start the year when I’m good and ready. The 2nd just doesn’t cut it for me, so I always come back to routine a week later. I spend the days in between in quiet reflection, often decluttering my home, getting a few jobs finished that have been on my list, setting goals for the new year and catching up on rest and sleep that I might have missed over the Christmas period. It all sets me up for a much better start to the year than if I rushed in, guns blazing on 2nd Jan only to burn out a few short weeks later. Take your time, I say, it’s always worth the wait.