Impostor?

I ended my last post by listing five ways I was going to try and deal with my maybe-it’s-impostor-syndrome-but-maybe-I’m-just-shit syndrome. They were:

  • Power Posing
  • ‘Fake it till you make it’
  • Talking about it
  • Donald Trump (explanation to follow)
  • Accepting I’m a fantastic liar and attempting to join MI5

Here’s how I got on with them:

Not great.

Power Posing
I was supposed to sit or stand in a particular way before doing something that might make me nervous. Unfortunately, I’m pretty forgetful and I continually only remembered to do my power poses once I was already in the nerve-wracking situations. Usually, this meant I was too nervous to do them at all, but I did spend several minutes drunkenly power posing during a pub trip with a group of acquaintances, all of whom I think are much more interesting than me. Did this help? Sort of! I spent my power pose explaining why I was standing like an arrogant, heroic wino, which reminded me that I do have something to contribute to a conversation after all. Wide-legged smiles all round.

Although power posing comes up frequently as a way to deal with nerves or feelings of inadequacy, it’s not widely accepted as ‘a thing’ in the scientific community. Even the original paper’s co-author, Dana Carvey, thinks it’s all a bit of nonsense (my words, not hers). Even more pressingly (to me), Stephanie Beatriz’s Brooklyn Nine Nine character, Rosa Diaz, says that “nobody needs power pose training,” and I crave her fictional respect. I won’t be continuing with the power pose thing, unless I drink wine around people who intimidate me and mindlessly grab for a conversation point like a baby grabbing for a weirdly assertive nipple.

‘Fake it till you make it’
I hate this phrase. It feels as though ‘faking it’ is all I do so, if this works, shouldn’t I have made it by now?

Despite my reservations, I gave this a go in one specific situation. I’m working with a client who doesn’t have a house style yet and they asked me develop it for them. I’ve never done that myself before (which they knew) so I was pretty nervous. It seemed like the ideal opportunity to fake having a skill – I just spoke and acted like this was something I do all the time. And it actually worked! I nailed it and the client was really happy.

The thing is, this wasn’t the situation I was looking for help with. I didn’t just feel like an impostor, I was an impostor. I was impost-ing as someone who’s done a job before, and I had not. This strategy might work when you’re at the beginning of something, but it’s no use at all if your problem is that you can’t tell the difference between faking it and having already made it.

Talking about it
Being open about widespread problems is so important. To that end, I’ve spent the last three weeks telling everyone who’s spent more than 5 minutes with me about my impostor syndrome and the things I’ve been doing to try and crack it. It seems obvious to point out that a lot of my friends felt the same way. I was more surprised to find that some of them didn’t; I couldn’t (still can’t) comprehend how some people can go through life not constantly beset by doubts about their own competence, intelligence, general value as a human being, etc. etc. I’m happy for them, because they’re my friends and I don’t want them to be sad, but it’s hard not to feel a little jealous. While it’s entirely anecdotal data, I noticed that every single woman I asked said they did worry about being a fake, or not deserving success. My social circles aren’t generally beset by traditional gender roles, so I wondered why this was – it’s almost like there’s some highly ingrained system in our society that tells girls that their worth is fleeting, fragile and entirely dependant on the approval of others.

Hearing my incredibly accomplished and talented friends talking about their own impostor syndrome did prove to me that it’s possible for someone to feel like an incompetent fraud and for those feelings to not be reflective of their actual incompetence/fraudulence. But I already knew that. It didn’t help me, specifically, because not one of my friends told me that my insecurities were unjustified. They all listened, commiserated and generally contributed to constructive and insightful conversation, but none of them heaped me with the endless and unconditional praise that I so shamelessly craved. Way to drop the ball, friends.

Donald Trump
I did my best to imagine all my self-doubting thoughts were being psychically beamed by the Gilded Turd, and it did make them a lot easier to dismiss. Fuck you, Donald!, I’d think, and my belief that I’m a dreadful writer, or terrible at my job, would instantly seem like an alternative fact lie. I genuinely felt a lot more confident after trying this.

It turns out I doubt myself very regularly, though, and this strategy comes with the pretty serious side effect of Despair About the State of the World. Reserved for extreme cases only.

Applying to MI5
None of the five job openings seemed an ideal fit for my particular skills and experience (coffee mornings and joke-writing, mostly), but I was still ready to make a go of it. Unfortunately, the website states that you shouldn’t discuss your application on social media or mention it to anyone other than your (British) partner or close family. It seems I’ve already disqualified myself from this one. Bummer.

What worked
I might not have had unmitigated success with the techniques I tried, but that’s not to say I haven’t made any progress. There was one thing I did that made me feel more sure of myself than I have in years: I dyed my hair pink.

I have no hard evidence about why having bubblegum pink hair suddenly made me confident in my abilities. Clearly, this whole situation is ridiculous. But, I do have a couple of theories.

One: how people treat you is heavily dependent on their first impression of you. I’m not sure why, but people genuinely seemed to respect me more when I look a bit more bold. It’s amazing how much easier it is when people assume you’re worthy of their time, without you having to convince them in the first five minutes. When you’re constantly having to pitch yourself to people, it’s hard not to constantly worry that what you’re pitching (i.e. you, as a person) just isn’t going to measure up – that, perhaps, you don’t meet the required standards of this person’s attention and that, if they decide that you do, it wasn’t because you had a good product (again, you, as a person), but because you gave a good pitch. I feel like I spend a lot of time ‘pitching’ myself, but I never really notice until it stops. I’m not sure why it stops when I make a change like this one. Maybe I’m pulling off a spectacular double bluff (“wow, she obviously doesn’t need to try to look professional at all, she must be really good at her job”) or, maybe people are picking up on…

Two: I wanted pink hair, for no reason other than that I wanted to look in the mirror and see myself with pink hair. It was a decision I made without thinking about anyone else’s standards or expectations and it felt alarmingly authentic. The colour of my hair might seem trivial, but it’s made me realise how rarely I make a decision based purely on what I want to do. There’s always an element, whether conscious or not, of trying to meet what I think other people need or expect from me. No wonder I feel like a fraud- I am one! No wonder I don’t know if I’m measuring up – the standards I’m placing on myself are entirely in other people’s heads.

I’ve never seen ‘setting your own standards’ suggested as a way to handle impostor syndrome, but it seems so obvious now. It’s hard to feel like an impostor if you know you’re good enough for yourself. Maybe we should try it?

 

 

 

 

Impostor!

I’m not sure if I have impostor syndrome, or if I’m actually a fraud. 

A lot of the descriptions of how impostor syndrome feels sound very familiar to me. I’ve never had a job I thought I was good at. I struggle to name even one thing I’ve ‘achieved’. I assume anyone who expresses affection or respect for me is either lying or mistaken. But saying I have impostor syndrome sounds like a massive trick – I feel like I’m lying to you all, because the phrase ‘impostor syndrome’ implies I’m much more successful, intelligent, talented, funny, etc. than I actually am. 

About half of the explanations of it that I’ve seen say that impostor syndrome is felt mostly/entirely by successful people, who feel like their achievements are undeserved. I don’t think that’s particularly helpful, because most of the people I know who feel like a fraud wouldn’t describe themselves as successful at all. I certainly wouldn’t. And given that something like 70% of people will probably feel it at some point, it seems way too widespread to be confined to the super-turbo-achievers. 

The problem is, feeling like a fraud is really limiting. It either stops you from putting yourself forward for fear of being found out, or it leads to burnout as you work so, so hard to cover up your deficiencies. Plus it just feels crappy! It’s stressful to feel like you’re going to be ‘found out’ any minute and we’ve got other things to spend our mental energy on, like the housing market and whether the ‘Jedi’ in ‘The Last Jedi’ is singular or plural.

So, what can we do about it? The bad news is, nobody really knows. We haven’t come up with a consensus on what works yet. Some of the things we’ve tried have just made it worse. The suggestions we do have are…of varying quality (I have, honest to goodness, seen someone advising people to “just get over it”) and, when they are useful, often boil down to the same thing. There’s good news, too, though! Because I have collated five of my favourite possible strategies and I will be trying them all over the next week before reporting on my findings. You lucky, lucky lot.

  • Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk on power poses comes up A LOT when you’re talking about how to solve imposter syndrome. The idea is that standing or sitting in a particularly dominant way (i.e. one that takes up a lot of space) actually increases testosterone and decreases cortisol, making you feel more confident and less like a covert loser.
  • The other main take away from Amy Cuddy’s talk is that you should ‘fake it till you make it’. In other words, if you think you’re not qualified for your job, say, because there’s some part of it you don’t think you can do, just…do that thing until you do feel like you can do it. This basic idea comes up surprisingly often, given that the problem is we all feel like we have been faking it this whole time. Nevertheless, I shall give it a go.
  • Talk about it. This is the one that’s at the heart of most suggestions. Whether it’s structured therapy like CBT or just…telling people you feel like an imposter and waiting for them to say that they do too. Either way, the idea that being more open and up-front about your feelings will help you deal with them seems pretty solid.
  • Donald Trump. Hear me out – this one is twofold. I first saw this in a tweet, which resonated with me just enough that I remember the idea but not enough that I remember the tweeter.* Basically, every time you say something mean to yourself (e.g. I’m terrible at my job), you imagine that Donald Trump is saying that to you. It becomes remarkably easy to tell those thoughts to fuck right off when you picture them coming out of a wrinkled orange with bad hair. This is especially effective because, as Jeremy from Toonopolis says, you will never be as unqualified for your job as he is for his.
  • Accept that at least you’re an exceptional liar. Maybe you should join MI5? (Note: do NOT join MI5 for this reason. That is a very high risk strategy).

 

If you feel like a week of experimentation (and you’re not a lab researcher), why not join me in trying these things? This is important research we’re doing here. Alternatively, pick which one you think will be the most effective and start a betting pool in the comments.

 

*If you are the unknown tweeter, please identify yourself!

 

 

Sunday Snippets

Here’s what’s been keeping me on the straight and narrow this month:

  • Lucy from Lucy in the Pub with Cider wrote about doing your taxes in a way that didn’t make me want to cry.
  • Jess at Jessica Law Creative listed all the things she thought she had to do that she actually doesn’t , which is always a good reminder.
  • My new personal hero, Gaby Dunn, has a very relevant and funny podcast called Bad With Money, which you should probably listen to.
  • For fellow devotees of Rachel Hoffman’s Unfuck Your Habitat, there’s now a book! For people who’ve never heard of UFYH, there’s still a book, and also a website.

WTF, Money?

I don’t understand money.

Maybe I should clarify that. As I have 1/9th of an economics degree, I think I probably understand how money works ever so slightly more than the average person. I just don’t know how to have it.

Fourteen months ago, I proposed to my boyfriend (it was super cool – I made a board game). He thankfully said yes, and that’s when I found out how much weddings cost. Brides Magazine has just put the average cost of a UK wedding as slightly over £30,000, which makes me feel a little ill. It’s a party, I thought! Who’s spending anything more than a grand on a party? 

I am! It turns out my wedding’s likely going to cost almost £7,500. It became clear very early on that this was something I was going to have to save up for. I’d been alive for 26 years and I’d never really done that before. In fact, I didn’t really know how to save up for anything. Yes, I am aware how obvious it seems – just spend less than you earn, right? But, for a long time, I “budgeted” by spending until I had no more money left, and then waiting until the next pay day. Before we got engaged, my fiance and I would often have what we called “Payday Saturdays”. The idea was, the first Saturday after we were both paid, we would celebrate the fact that we once again had money in our accounts by promptly getting rid of it in a celebration of frivolity. This isn’t the way that grown-ups behave (not if they ever want to afford a dog, anyway).

Here’s the problem: when I was a kid, my parents tried to protect me from the fact that we had very little money and that meant they never taught me what to do when I did have it. They were trying to do the best they could for their kids, but joke’s on them because I turned out to be irresponsible and obsessed with short-term gain. Sucks to be you, Mum and Dad! I outsmarted your good intentions! Don’t get me wrong – my total ignorance about how people do the money thing and lab-rat-like focus on immediate joy have given me a pretty decent comic collection and some brilliant memories, neither of which I regret paying for. But they’re also going to put me at a pretty sizeable disadvantage down the road (few banks accept “more sewing patterns than I can make” as a mortgage deposit, despite my many petitions).

The good news is that millennials as a whole are saving like a bunch of bosses (and I don’t mean using large amounts of money they made off the back of your work – hey-oh!). OK, apparently it’s not actually enough, according to the FT, but it’s actually more than any other generation before us. Great work, folks! But, there’s bad news too, which is that many of us, especially those of us from poorer backgrounds, are getting left behind. And this has the potential to lead to huge income inequality among our generation (and others) by the time we’re Definitely Fully Grown-Ups.

Part of this is because people with wealthier backgrounds have grown up seeing financial behaviours that we don’t even realise are normal things to do. That part’s not too hard to fix – we just learn what these behaviours are. The harder part is that recent research suggests that experiencing poverty might actually make you more likely to take short-term gain over greater rewards in the long-term, especially if you view the long-term rewards as uncertain or risky (this could be thinking investing in stocks is too risky, or it could be feeling like it’s better to have stuff in your house than to have money in your bank, where anything could happen to it!*). Because of where we’re at in life, most of us are starting to get some of that exciting disposable income for the first time, but we’re often thinking and behaving like we did when money was unpredictable, uncertain or just super insufficient.

But we can learn! I’ve spent a long time trying, failing and trying again to put my money where I actually want it. I’ve become a minor money-saving blog enthusiast. And I’ve spoken to a lot of people about how they’ve figured out their money shit. I’m far from a financial expert and I’ll never walk around with giant shoulder pads and a brick phone (I assume all financial traders still dress like it’s the 80s), but I’m doing so much better than I was. If you also have no idea how to build up this fabled “emergency fund”, here are a few of the best tips I’ve found.

Fun Fact: for a bunch of boring reasons, until three years ago, I didn’t have spare money to be irresponsible with (it’s hard to waste your cash when all you can spend it on is food and rent). That was the worst, and it is not what I’m talking about here. If all your money goes towards keeping yourself fed, watered and sane, of course saving is going to take a back seat. There may well be some ways you can, if not get a foot in the door, at least shove a big toe into the doorframe of an ISA – but that’s really a separate post. Hmu if you would like to see said post, because I’m now really good at saving up laughably small amounts of money.

Acquire a sudden, huge expense!
Having a looming expense with a deadline was what it took to get me to save. Until then, saving seemed like something I could do ‘later’. Is there something you really want to do but you haven’t started saving for? Get yourself a deadline. They’re horrible, stressy magic.

Take away the decision to save
Just make one decision now and then automate it so you don’t have a chance to change your mind later. Set up a savings account (this is very easy and can all be done online) and then set up a standing order so your savings go out of your account on payday. When you check your balance, the savings will already have gone and you won’t even see them. (To be honest, I’ve never bothered doing this but it seems to be very popular and some of the people I spoke to said it was super important for them, so maybe give it a try?)

Start super, duper small
Starting to save can be scary, especially if you don’t feel like you have very much money to begin with. When I first started saving, I thought the most I’d be able to save a month was £50, and that seemed like a struggle. Now, I’m saving £160 a month and I’m still able to live my life – I just pay a lot more attention to where my money’s going. I’ve just realised that, after the things I have to pay to survive (rent, food, travel to work, etc.), my spending will always stretch to fill my budget. So I’ve just slowly shrunk the amount I’ll give myself to spend. I haven’t really noticed it either, because I’ve been acclimatising to things like taking my own lunches to work and buying fewer slipper socks gradually (I love slipper socks. It was honestly a significant spending habit).

Do you buy a bunch of stuff you don’t use? Take away the option.
I have a lot of stuff, and I’m fine with that because I’m secretly very materialistic. One person I spoke to also had a lot of stuff, but nshe hated it. She had a bunch of stuff she never used, yet she kept adding to it. She wasn’t in a great financial place and she said “choosing to spend was the only bit of control I had, so I took it.”When she realised this was a problem, she actually got rid of a bunch of her unneccesary stuff and then moved to a tiny studio flat. Her reasoning was, if she didn’t have a lot of stuff, she would psychologically only focus on the things she needs, plus there’s no point buying something if you can’t fit it in your home. It sounds drastic, but it’s worked a treat.

Pay off your debts first (if you want)
This is a bit of advice I hear from every single money-advice-blog I’ve ever seen. If you have any kind of commercial debt, you’re going to be paying a lot of money on interest. Paying it off sooner means you pay less interest, so you’ll have more money to save eventually. It’s good advice. I don’t follow it at all. For me, saving now is better than saving ‘when I don’t have an overdraft anymore’. You’ll have a balance somewhere – it might be to save an emergency cushion in the bank then to put all your effort into paying off your credit card. I’ve found they go hand-in-hand. The more I save, the more motivated I am to pay stuff off sooner.

Impressionable? Surround yourself with fiscal responsibility
I am very easily led by the spending habits of those around me. You might be, too. That’s a bit of an issue because most of my friends earn more than me. And I know a lot of my spending habits are based on how I’ve seen other people spending money. I’m a big old copycat. So I make an effort to find media and people who are fiscally responsible and know their shit. I know peer pressure’s always going to be a thing for me, so I’ve just chosen what it’s telling me to do.

Investing ain’t just for gazillionaires!
For a very long time, I never thought about investing, or having savings that weren’t “for” anything in particular, because that was just for super rich people. I was actually shocked when I found out that pensions were invested, rather than just kept in the banking equivalent of a box under a mattress. If you grew up without a lot of money, you just don’t see these behaviours as normal. But the thing is, a lot of our economy is set up on the assumption that most people are doing these things. Whatever you think about our economic system, you still have to live in it until we can overhaul it, so do yourself a favour and learn how to not get fucked by it in the meantime.

Stop thinking about what you deserve, and start thinking about what you’ve earned
I deserve this one pair of boots I want. I deserve fun day trips. And I work hard, dammit, so I deserve to get my favourite pho for lunch on the regular. I think you deserve all those things, too. But have I earned them? Maybe not. Or at least, not yet. It’s hard to decide not to buy something if I think I should buy everything I deserve – then not spending money becomes a damning indictment of my character. But, as I said above, we don’t live in a perfect world where everyone gets what they deserve. I can try and change it, but it’s counter-prodcutive for me to get into debt because of it.

 

*This is what I’ve thought for years. I feel like money in the bank is in danger of spontaneously disappearing, and that any money I leave in an untouched bank account will steadily erode over time. I have it on good authority that that’s not true.

 

 

How to Do Something You’re Really, Really Bad At

Here’s a list of stuff I’m really bad at:

  • Tap dancing
  • Video games
  • Crochet
  • Admitting when I’m wrong
  • Downward dog
  • Drawing
  • Painting
  • Not burning garlic
  • Barre chords
  • Saving money

This is obviously not an exhaustive list. I’m pleased to say that there’s a tonne of other stuff that I do atrociously. But these are the things that I especially like to practise.

I used to walk through life with a constant background awareness of all the possible opportunities for failure, trying to avoid each and every one. Here’s the thing, though: my concept of what ‘failure’ meant was so messed up that I thought, if I had to try at something, I’d already failed. That’s ridiculous! It meant I avoided putting effort into anything because, deep down, I thought working at something was intrinsically bad. The first thing I ever really tried hard at was my degree – and that wasn’t through choice. Getting to university and realising I suddenly had to work made me feel like an instant failure. Eventually, I managed to figure out the minimum amount of effort I needed to put in to get a reasonably safe 2:1, and that’s how hard I tried for the next 2 and a half years, because trying harder and not getting a first would have crushed me (if any of my very encouraging tutors happen to read this, I’m so sorry – you deserved so much better).

This might not be true of every millennial, but it’s definitely not just me. When my fiance was a kid, he used to do his homework in the middle of the night, so nobody could tell he was working at something. My brother cites fear of failure as the reason he’s never learned to play an instrument or done any kind of sport. And my best friend handed in a blank piece of paper as GCSE coursework, because if the paper was blank it was still theoretically possible that whatever would have been on it, could have been perfect.

So why are so many of us so bad at being bad at stuff?  We’re always hearing about how our generation got too much praise as kids and it made us all arrogant and entitled. I hate hearing this, because it’s very, very wrong – in fact, the praise we got as kids fucked us up in an entirely different way! By the time we were kids, child psychologists had figured out that praise and positive reinforcement were the bee’s knees at getting little suckers to do stuff. Unfortunately, they hadn’t yet realised that it’s not enough to give praise like, “You’re so clever,” or “Wow! You read that so quickly!” or “I can’t believe this is your first time wrestling camels*, you’re a natural!”

If you were a kid in the 80s, 90s or 00s who was naturally good at something (anything!), you likely had a lot of sweet grown-up approval when you did things that came easily to you. At the same time, you probably saw kids who weren’t as good at ‘your’ thing get praised for their effort, or for their improvement. Say you’re a 10 year old in an orchestra with a kid named Andy (every junior orchestra had a kid named Andy, so this shouldn’t be too hard to imagine). You and Andy both play the flute. You’re a natural – you have a flautist’s mouth and nimble little fingers – while Andy has no co-ordination and the lung capacity of a newborn. Your conductor is always giving you praise, because praise is motivating for kids. To you, she says things like, “Well done for playing that perfectly,” or That was a beautiful first run through, well done!” But she can’t say those things to Andy because his playing sounds like three angry mice trapped in a bagpipe so, instead, she says things like “Well done for trying so hard” and “I can tell you’ve really been practising.” But you, Andy and your conductor all know that she’s handing out the consolation prize there.

The thing is, Andy’s a professional musician now. He’s played the flute for Beyoncé. Unless he was great at, say, football, in which case he quickly gave up music to become a disappointment in sport instead.

Because when you got that praise from your junior orchestra conductor, here’s what proto-you heard:

  • This grown-up likes me because I’m a natural
  • I am worthwhile because I can do something well without trying
  • Trying hard is for people who can’t do things well naturally

But, whether it’s when you take first grade flute, fifth grade flute or a PhD in playing-the-flute-really-well, at some point, you’re going to find stuff you can’t just do without trying. And when that happens, you won’t know how to work through your problems, and you’ll think you’ve already failed by having to try. Your self-esteem – and your confidence in other people’s good opinion of you – is rooted in never having to work hard and always getting the right answer. So you either run from anything that requires work and never reach your potential, or you work in secret, pretend you do everything effortlessly and spend your life feeling like a fraud. Or, you double down like I did, run from every challenge and still feel like a fraud simply for having glimpsed the possibility of hard work over the horizon.

But we can fix this! Luckily, in 2006, child psychologists figured out that, while praise is motivating, it only works when you’re praising the effort and not the result. My probably-favourite psychologist, Carol Dweck, explains this in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.  In her research, Dweck found that kids who were praised for getting a certain result (like getting the right answers in a test) tended to think of intelligence and skill as fixed – you’re either born smart or born stupid and smart people get the right results. Therefore, if you don’t know the right answer, you’re stupid and that’s the end of it. Dweck calls this a ‘fixed mindset’ and she found it in kids as young as 4 – these tiny children told her that kids who are born smart “don’t make mistakes.” They were 4! All they should have been doing was making mistakes, but they were scared to in case that made them stupid.

On the other hand, kids who were praised for their process (i.e. putting in the effort, trying hard and improving) developed a ‘growth mindset’. These kids saw intelligence and skill as malleable – they understood that you can get better at things through working at them. And they’re right! They understand that our abilities grow when they’re challenged and so they saw challenges as positive – as opportunities to get better. That’s why Andy’s so good at the flute now – he was praised for his hard work, meaning he developed the drive and resilience to make it to the top, the lucky, talentless genius!

If you were a smart or talented kid of Generations X and Y, you probably developed a fixed mindset. And that’s not ideal because Dweck found that people with a fixed rather than a growth mindset:

  • avoid challenges rather than embrace them
  • give up easily rather than persist in the face of challenges
  • see effort as pointless at best rather than as a way to master something
  • ignore negative feedback, even when it’s useful rather than learn from it
  • feel threatened and jealous of their successful peers, rather than learning and taking inspiration from them
  • plateau early rather than continue developing

Essentially, if you feel like a disappointment to your past self, you probably have a fixed mindset.

But it’s not too late! Remember how great your brain is at changing (just like all those smug growth mindsetters think it is)? It’s very doable to change your mindset (ironically, it may be a challenge, but embracing it is great practice).

I recommend starting off by learning a bit more about what a growth mindset is. Here’s a TED talk by Carol Dweck. Take 10 minutes out of your busy day to watch it, and practise saying you can’t do things well ‘yet’.

 

After you’ve done that, find some role models. We’re fickle, impressionable creatures and we often copy people around us. I first learned how to embrace failure when I taught year 6 English to a group of kids who were struggling to keep up with the rest of the class. I was in awe of how they coped with getting things wrong, and how encouraging and pleased they were when any one of them improved. If you don’t have any wise children to hand, older adults or your more successful peers might have locked this down by now. Give them a try. Tell everyone you know that you feel like an idiot if you have to work hard and, if anyone looks at you like you’re crazy, latch onto them immediately.

Most importantly, though, you just have to practise doing things you’re bad at. Try to start with something that’s just for fun and very low stakes. Is there a hobby you always wanted to try? Get up a Youtube tutorial and suck at that thing. Then, reload the video and try again. Don’t concentrate on getting it right. Just try to do better than the first time. If you manage to improve but don’t get a kick out of it, try giving yourself a cookie. Who knows, maybe you’ll elicit a Pavlovian response. And if not, at least you’ll have had a cookie. Either way, keep trying. Look out for opportunities to fail and actually go towards them. Eventually, you’ll learn to genuinely enjoy the feeling of levelling up.

Learning to embrace failure is probably my biggest achievement. And the fact that I’ve had to work so, so hard at it only makes me more proud of getting there.

 

 

*It’s a thing

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Bro, Do You Even Side Hustle?

I don’t know what a lot of my friends and acquaintances do for a living. I know what they do, just not for their job. I only know about their side hustle.

Conventional internet wisdom says the phrase ‘side hustle’ was coined by Pam Slim at Escape from Cubicle Nation but, if you read the post, it’s obvious that her friend’s teenage daughter was already using the term. Teenagers don’t get enough credit. This particular teenager was using it about the nail technician class she was taking so she could earn some extra cash in college, but most people I know use it to mean something a bit different. It’s not a job exactly, because a lot of us aren’t making money from it. It’s not a hobby though, because a lot of us are. My housemate describes it as “a hobby+” and my fiance calls it a “lottery ticket” (because there’s always the small chance it’ll take off and make you a millionaire or, more likely, an ex-millionaire).

I have no idea how many people actually have a side hustle the way my peers and I use the term. There isn’t that much research about it and most of the research that is there is very US-centric, because of course it is. It’s a lot of us, though. According to PR Newswire, 44% of workers between 25 and 34 have a side hustle – but they use the term to cover both side jobs, and ‘hobby+es’. In the list of their most popular side hustles, you can find all sorts of gigs, from ‘survey taker’ (I’m guessing that’s just a money spinner), to ‘blogger’ (in my experience, not a big earner), to ‘BBQ contest official’ (which I have to assume is just done for the love of the game).

It’s obvious from any basic google that plenty of people are using the phrase to mean an easy way of earning money* but none of their suggestions match up with what my friends are doing.  For instance,  Forbes loves to talk about side hustles, but I don’t think they really know what one is. Here’s what Neale Godfrey says about side hustles:

“Let’s be clear.  Millennials did not invent part-time extra work; they just branded it with a pithy title. We Baby Boomers also “hustled” our way through life.  I put myself through college holding down illustrious jobs like; delivering the Washington Post at 4:30 am every day, selling wigs, cleaning off tables in a cafeteria, polishing silver in Bloomingdales, etc.  We may not have been clever enough to call these extra jobs “side hustles;” we just called them boring, hard, second and third jobs.”¹

That’s great, Neale, but that’s not what we’re doing. While Godfrey does briefly point out that some people might be side-hustling for fulfilment rather than money, she then goes on to suggest that AirBnB and Uber are great ways for baby boomers to get in on our hustling-based fun. Please, baby boomers, do something more interesting. You invented youth culture! You can do better.

The focus is different when actual twenty-somethings start talking about what we’re doing. Take Catherine Baab Muguira’s opening for Quora:

“On weekends, Colleen teaches fitness classes. Mary builds websites. Luke sells vintage video games. Tony designs and 3D-prints custom Star Wars miniatures.”²

OK, so teaching fitness classes sounds much worse than being an Uber driver (and my driving experience consists of 4 lessons in 2006). But this fits a lot more with what I see my peers doing, and we’re not doing it for the bags of cash (sometimes I wish we were).

Glamour states that “three-quarters of brits have a part-time hobby as well as a full time-job – and, on average, earn a collective £249million a month from their after-work interests.” The URL there reads “side-hustle-second-jobs-tips” and it does sound like they could be one and the same…until you do the basic maths and find out that we’re actually earning £5.18 a month each. There’s already a term for a second job. It’s ‘a second job’. Given that my writing statistically gets me one cut-price eBook a month, I don’t think it counts. But it is more than a hobby. We’re all working very hard at this shit.

A (highly scientific and not at all self-selecting) survey of my Facebook friends found that not one person cited money as the reason we’re doing…whatever it is we’re individually doing. What we’re missing from our jobs isn’t money – it’s creative fulfilment, meaningful challenges and a sense of achievement. Hannah writes and performs badass poetry “for the love of it and ’cause it’s cheaper than therapy.” My fiance Jonny works 10-20 hours a week writing a very successful and brilliant* podcast and none of the production team have earned anything from it (yet). My favourite songwriter Jess maintains a bunch of side-hustles “because [her] day job is boring!” (I don’t understand this – she works at a living museum. That’s awesome). She earned around £600 from all of her hustle-pies last year, and one of those was publishing a book that’s just been translated into Welsh. And if Welsh doesn’t mean money, I don’t know what does! Given how many people expect creative work to be done for free, we’d have to be intensely stupid to be doing it for a quick buck. At most, the dream is that someday it will become an averagely-paid day job.

So why are we working so hard at these semi-careers? Well, for me, it’s because when my parents went to my year 5 parents’ evening, they asked my teacher if she thought I could be a writer when I grew up and she said, “yes, absolutely, if she wants to be.” (Thanks, Mrs Lloyd!). And I did want to be. But when I left university, I had no idea how on earth anyone got paid for writing unless they (a) wrote a novel (which I had failed to do during my degree), or (b) were a journalist (which seemed to require many unpaid internships that I could not afford).  So, needing to buy food and shelter, I got one of the ‘normal’ jobs. But I didn’t want to give up that future where my job was ‘writer’, so I thought, someday I’ll write the most important and enjoyable novel that’s ever been written and then they’ll have to pay me a buttload. And that was ridiculous.

But at the same time, most of my hobbies were teaching me how to write, how to perform and how to tell a joke. My boring day job began to involve more and more copywriting. Now, I’ve just finished the first draft of my first novel (it’s atrocious) and I’m getting pretty reasonable at writing performance comedy. At the same time, I’ve found out I actually quite like my boring day job.

I graduated from university with a few thousand pounds of debt on top of my student overdraft, no family home to move back to and an incessant need for food and warmth. Was I really going to ‘follow my dream’ like I’d always been told? Art is important, but you can’t eat it. (Trust me, it tastes terrible and they throw you out of the Tate way before you can fill up). So was I going to ‘start living in the real world’, get an unfulfilling job and give up on anything better? Heck no! I like my job maybe 6/10 (7 to 8 really, but only because I like my co-workers). That’s pretty good going, compared to my friends, but I don’t want to settle for a life that’s 6/10! I only get the one. I want to keep trying and hoping for something more, and even if I do only ever make £5.18 a month from it, I’m so much happier  doing what I love in between the perfectly-fine-thing-that-pays-the-rent.

Side hustling is great, and it’s more than a second job. Of course, the fact that so much work is being done for free is a huge problem. Seriously, it’s terrible news. And we should definitely try to fix that. But in the meantime (and even beyond), this is a great workaround. Most of us are disengaged at work; side hustles engage us. Most of us want more flexibility and creativity at work; side hustles give us a taste of that. Most of us have worse financial prospects that our parents; side hustles are a perceived safety net (albeit one that is much more hole than string).

Most importantly, side hustles allow us to reconcile the fact that ‘real grown-ups’ always told us we could be ‘anything we wanted to be’ when we were little, with the fact that they’re telling us to ‘just get a real job’ now. Side hustles let us have both! Seriously, you should get one.

 

*Google now keeps suggesting I search for ‘best illegal side hustles’. Thanks, Google.

*According to many people much less biased than me

¹Side Hustle: A New Dance Or A Way Of Life For Millennials?, http://www.forbes.com/sites/nealegodfrey/2016/12/18/side-hustle-for-millennials/#49d3007c3dd3

²Millennials are obsessed with side hustles because they’re all we’ve got, http://qz.com/711773/millennials-are-obsessed-with-side-hustles-because-theyre-all-weve-got/

Oh God, Now What?

Being a grown-up is hard and confusing.

I’ve heard that cliche about the secret of adulthood is that there is no secret – that one day, you reach a certain age and realises everyone’s been floundering with no ideas this whole time. That there is no handbook and there’s never been any rules. The thing is, I don’t believe it.

I don’t believe that nobody’s ever known how to be an adult because my generation is always being told that we’re doing it wrong. If you don’t know what being an adult means, how do you know if I’m doing it right or not, Dad?*

It’s not news that our generation (i.e. people born 1984-1999) is doing things differently. And, yes, some of that’s due to changed priorities (gee, you don’t know why most people aren’t married by the time they’re 30, Grandpa?* Maybe it’s because we’re concentrating on our careers or travelling, or maybe it’s because the generation that married their high school sweethearts wrote sitcoms about hating their spouses). But sometimes, it’s simply because the outline that was available to most of our parents just isn’t available to a lot of us. Trust me, I’m not choosing to be unable to buy a house.

The thing is, while previous generations may have been floundering some to a lot, they at least had a few guidelines. The way I see it, adulthood is basically the technical challenge on Great British Bake Off.  A couple of series generations ago,  you were given a complicated recipe with loads of pieces missing and you had to fill out the gaps. Now, you leave school and all you get is a piece of paper that says, “make 12 lemon meringue pies.”

The rules have generally been simple – maybe not to follow, but to understand. You leave school or university, get a job, progress till you can support a family, take a wife*, have kids, keep progressing until you retire and then die. The incredible speed of technological advances and late-stage capitalism have changed all that. Now, we marry later (if at all), breed when we’re much older (if at all) and can expect to have 15-20 jobs in our working lives.¹ Most of us have no property, no real pension plan and seemingly little hope of getting either by the time we retire. WHAT THE HELL ARE WE GOING TO DO WHEN WE’RE OLD? I don’t know, and it keeps me awake at night.

There is so much talk about millenials, how millenials are different from Gen X, millenials vs. baby boomers (the worst of the ‘vs.’ films), whether millenials are entitled or whether we’re utterly fucked and, mostly, whose fault it is. I care maybe 20% how we got here – it’s good to know how the past works, and to understand the factors leading up to this point. But I’m much more concerned with what on earth I’m supposed to be doing now. Because for whatever reasons, it’s clear the old recipe book for adulthood isn’t working for us. I’m going to try and build a new one, however partial. Send help?

 

*My father has never said this to me. Sorry for throwing you under the bus, Dad.

*OK, neither of my grandfathers have ever asked me when I’m getting married, except to perfectly reasonably enquire about my upcoming wedding date. Sorry, Dad².

*I forgot to mention the implicit first rule of “be a straight white man.”

 

¹Future Workplace survey, Multiple Generations @ Work, via Forbes http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeannemeister/2012/08/14/job-hopping-is-the-new-normal-for-millennials-three-ways-to-prevent-a-human-resource-nightmare/#6dbea04b5508