Yes it’s a massive cliché but this time of year is perfect for looking ahead to the coming year, making plans (like 2017 is going to be the year we tidy out and organise the under-the-stairs-cupboard… honestly my life really is THIS exciting) and looking back at the year that’s just been, taking stock, working out what you could have done differently and giving yourself a quiet pat on the back for the achievements. I think it’s a combination of the down time we have over Christmas, the fact that everyone else is taking down time too (it’s pretty much the only time of year where you know you won’t get work emails asking you to do things, something that often happens when you take time off in other months) and the impending new year that makes everyone take a step back from their day to day life. And it’s a good thing – in fact, we should really do this more often and this is actually the first of the ten things I’ve learned in 2016….
- Stop and take stock. A tip I picked up from clever and wise ladies Hollie who runs Yes Mum and Steph who runs Don’t Buy Her Flowers at a Mothers Meeting event the other week. Regularly take time out to look back at what you’ve achieved – it’s so easy to get caught up in day to day life, and forget to do this. I often find myself stuck in this cycle of negative anxiety where I worry I’m not doing enough or that I’m not good enough. Then I sit and look at what I have achieved and it’s like a light switches on and I realise I’m doing OK.
- Meal-planning is a game changer. In my never-ending quest for balance in my life, I spent the best part of 2016 telling myself that I really should start planning meals and being more organised with grocery shopping – instead of it getting to 3pm every day and me thinking “Argh, what can we have for dinner?” and going to the supermarket before the school run. It sounds like a small, silly thing, but it was causing me mild levels of stress every day and the thought of spending time planning meals seemed just as stressful. But blow me down with a feather – I was wrong. For the past three weeks I’ve been doing meal plans and then doing an online grocery order for the ingredients and food I’d need. AND IT’S SO MUCH EASIER. I honestly think it’s a life changing realisation. So if you don’t already do this, get involved.
- Follow your gut instinct. In 2016, I switched things up a bit and after running this blog as a hobby for five years – on the side of my magazine writing/editing career – I decided to focus more on the blog and less on “my job”. But what actually happened was that my blog became my job. It probably took me six months of thinking and mulling and pondering before I took the plunge – well it’s a big thing to just stop doing what you’ve spent 16 years building. I probably should have done it sooner but fear and a feeling that I was about to do the wrong thing stopped me.
- Sometimes it’s good to just admit you don’t like something. This year, I realised something big: I don’t enjoy swimming. I know, I know. How can someone not enjoy swimming? But I just can’t be bothered with the whole “getting wet” element – and I’m not that strong a swimmer so the exercise part seems pointless to me. I’ve spent years pretending to like it, because everyone else likes it, and well, who doesn’t like swimming? Admitting it to myself felt brilliant. Like a huge (wet) weight was lifted from my shoulders. Luckily, Mr P loves swimming so our new agreement is that he takes the six-year-old swimming while I watch. Or you know, stay at home watching Netflix.
- Keep Facebook at arm’s length. We all love a bit of Facebook, right? How else would we know that our cousin’s toddler smeared Sudocrem all over his face or see holiday snaps from that person we worked with, ten years ago? It’s become a valuable way of keeping in touch with lots of people in our lives, but I realised in 2016 that it works best when I limit how often I access it. I deleted the app from my phone and the main difference is now I don’t have notifications popping up every time someone comments / likes / replies to something I’ve posted. It’s like a breath of fresh air. Now, I choose when to log on and catch up on what’s been happening (spoiler: it’s often not very much).
- I’ll never be a #mumboss but I’m happy to be a mum and a boss. It’s something that seems to divide us, the phrase #mumboss (I can’t seem to write it without the hashtag….) but for me, personally, while I’m really happy to be known as a mum (I have a child after all) and a boss (well does running a blog count as being a boss of a business?), I’m not on board with the #mumboss thing (there goes the hashtag again). Like “mumpreneur” and “girl boss”, anything that separates our achievements from the achievements of others, based on our gender, feels patronising. I know that lots of women like the phrase because they feel being a mum and running a business is an achievement – this isn’t about me belittling that – but being a mum and a boss shouldn’t be any more of an achievement than being a dad and a boss… and until that’s the case, I think labelling us as #mumboss(es) moves us further away from achieving equality. Unless we start calling all dads who run a business #dadboss, that is…
- You really are what you eat. After battling with hormone imbalances that caused anxiety and depression for over a year, in March, I cut right back on sugar*, just to see if it made a difference. And oh my giddy aunt, it did. My problem skin cleared right up, my mood lifted, my anxiety all but disappeared… it was INCREDIBLE. So, if you’re reading this and you suffer from bad PMT, or just feel low around the time of your period, I say give it a go. Honestly, it really worked. (*I still eat fruit/carbs and drink wine…. obvs.)
- A child-free break can do wonders for the soul. Kids are amazing, aren’t they? My daughter is a little six-year-old wonder and sometimes I look at her, with her gappy-toothed smile and think “Oh my goodness, I made you”. But sometimes, leaving your child(ren) with a grandparent/relative/friend for a night or two and heading off to a B&B or hotel is the best thing you could ever do. One of my favourite phrases is “You can’t pour from an empty cup” and taking time away from being a parent gives you a chance to just be you, reflect on life and refill that cup.
- Own what you do. For too long, I’ve been a bit apologetic about this blog. I’d play it down, and feel a bit embarrassed if a magazine work colleague mentioned it. Likewise, I’d cringe if someone from the magazine publishing world commented on a social media post – “Oh crikey,” I’d think. “They probably think I’m a massive dick.” But recently, I’ve totally changed my outlook and without wanting to sound big headed, I’ve realised that what I’ve achieved is pretty good. I’ve created a website and social platforms that have turned into my job – people read what I write and they chat back to me on social media. So I’m no longer a bit embarrassed about it – I’m owning it.
- Show yourself some grace. I’m pretty bad at beating myself up at the end of the day for not ticking off everything on my To Do list, or for giving my six-year-old fish fingers, peas and chips for tea again because I didn’t have time to get in anything better, or for not texting a friend for months. It sometimes feels like my whole life is made up of different reasons to feel horribly guilty and inadequate. But this year I learned that it’s good to show yourself some grace. Go easy on yourself. Set easier targets (smaller To Do lists), shrug your shoulders and say “Well I did my best.”
I’d love to know what you’ve learned in 2016 too – tell me, please, so we can all share our collective wisdom! PS Here’s what I learned in 2015. Top photo: Philippa James.