My 30th birthday is fast approaching (March 14th!) and it’s kind of snuck up on me. The last three years of my life have been a whirlwind of major work and personal moments, from publishing my books to getting married, and then emigrating to another country. So, it was only as we entered 2017 that I realized this year signals the start of a new decade for me. As with any milestone birthday I’ve started to reflect upon what’s next, so I took the last few weeks to think back over my twenties – what went great, what didn’t go so well and how I hope to grow and improve in the next decade.
Here’s the thing. Over the past month I’ve realized that I’ve never felt better than right here and now: I’m confident in who I am; I’m finally recognizing it’s OK to be proud of my achievements; I’m more aware than ever of my shortcomings and what I can do to be a better person – both for myself and those in my life; and I’m comfortable in the state of my relationships with my loved ones. Yet, it’s not always been that way. I think because Bright.Bazaar as a ‘brand’ has always been so joyous, positive and, well, bright I’ve often shied away from sharing some of the darker moments and realities I’ve faced over almost a decade of blogging. I’ve touched on my experiences with homophobia but I decided against sharing some of my other bumps in the road. Now that I’m in a stronger place, I feel comfortable to share some of the more personal moments from the twenties era (that sounds very ‘popstar’ but whatever, humor me?!) and what I’ve learned from this period of my life.
Having started Bright.Bazaar eight years ago in March 2009 I’ve spent a large part of my twenties, and indeed the last decade of my life, blogging. In some ways I feel as though I grew up online. I learnt the hard lessons of life and friendship, who to trust, who not to trust, how to navigate business and so much more; and it all happened right here in this online space. I’ve faced some personal hardships and challenges, along with experiencing some incredible adventures and opportunities. I’ve certainly worn a lot of things and decorated rooms in ways I wouldn’t even consider now! I’ve trusted people when I shouldn’t have, and on the flip side I’ve on occasion since been overly cautious as a result. Still, there are no regrets because all of this is just part of life: evolution. The fabric of my life has grown and evolved over the years, and naturally my blog has, too. Just like any career, over the period of ten years a lot changes. Without meaning to, I realized that throughout the month of February I had been reflecting on the highs and lows of the last decade, as well as the hopes and aspirations I have for the next decade, both personally and professionally. I’m sharing my thoughts – warts and all (yikes!) – from this period of reflection below. Let’s do this!
Some of the best bits from my twenties
• I almost wrote ‘meeting my now husband’ until I realized that we met aged 19 and so that happened in the previous decade to this. Yikes, now I feel old! We will have been together eleven years this April. Kinda crazy! I’m grateful for him every.single.day. I know for sure that my heartmate and I did marry during this decade – in June 2014 – and that was without a doubt the best day of my twenties. We were fortunate to do so surrounded by loving and supportive family and friends.
• When gay marriage became legally recognized in the UK it was an incredible moment. My hope is that the next decade sees a furthering of gay rights in countries around the world, especially those where members of the LGBTQ community face grave consequences and lack even the most basic of human rights. There’s much work still to do, and organizations like HRC and Tie The Knot are great if you are looking for ways to get involved with supporting gay rights.
• The Supreme Court ruling that recognized gay marriage in America was another incredible and moving day. Aside from the obvious huge step forward for LGBTQ rights, it also meant that our legal marriage in the UK was now recognized in the USA and so it made the potential for moving to America in the future a more achievable possibility.
• Moving to New York City in 2015 and subsequently getting our green cards in 2016 was a huge moment for us. We finally had the security we had longed for and didn’t have to worry about not being able to stay living in the country we loved living and working in. We had been putting down roots, setting up a new life and making business and personal connections in America, so before we had our Green Cards it felt like being in limbo as there was a ticking clock on how long we could stay. We were proud that we managed to secure both the original visas and then our green cards off the back of the success of Bright.Bazaar. I am so grateful to all the people I’ve worked with over the years who supported the application and process. It made all the intense workloads and lack of sleep over the years worthwhile! The day we opened the mail and held our Green Cards in our hands for the first time was beyond surreal. We’d finally found and secured our places in our new home. I can’t put into words how amazing it felt for us both. We still pinch ourselves daily at how fortunate we feel.
• Seeing my mum retire and enjoy her retirement has been so lovely. She worked so hard to provide and care for my brother and I as a single mum, and she deserves every bit of this time for her.
• Working at the BBC was an ambition I’d held since a young age. I was originally offered an unpaid internship for a month while I was studying for my finals in the second year of University. So I said goodbye to my housemates, my boyfriend and took myself (and my books) off to London to spend my days working at BBC Television Centre in London. It was a 2.5hr commute each way and then I worked on my university papers until the early hours of the morning. It was a hustle and I can genuinely say that I loved every second of it. This was what I had dreamed of and I had the opportunity of a lifetime. It paid off because the programme I was working on hired me after my one month unpaid internship finished and I ended up moving over to work on live Saturday night TV shows in BBC Entertainment.Not only did I meet one of my now best friends (Rachie, pictured above) but I also learnt so much and it was a job that taught me valuable skills and lessons for dealing with professional life. I made amazing memories working in live television that I hope never to forget. For my UK readers, it also meant I got a Blue Peter badge! I know – amazing! One of my favorite memories was escorting Rhianna just as she was blowing up with her song Umbrella. She had flown into the UK just to record a performance on the show and then was flying back to America. I had to walk her from her trailer to the set, and she was sweet to me. I remember here thinking it was so random that there were animals roaming around the TV studio (non-British readers Google ‘Blue Peter animals’ and all will make sense!). I also held the door open for Madonna (clang!) and she walked through without saying Thank You.
• Seeing friends get married to the loves of their lives have offered many moving and happy days throughout the latter part of this past decade.
• I started Bright.Bazaar in 2009 from my rented bedroom and I certainly didn’t think it would lead me down the path that it has. I’ve gone on to publish two books, which have been translated and published in eleven languages around the world; I’ve fronted TV appearances; grown my following to over 2.5 million followers across my networks and collaborated with huge global brands such as Coca-Cola, Land Rover, Toyota, Google, Starbucks, Warner Brothers, HP, Valspar and so many more. I’m so grateful for the amazing opportunities the blog has led to.
• Becoming an uncle to my niece Bea and my nephew Callum. Seeing my brother become a dad has been so lovely to watch.
• Graduating university with my 2:1 degree in Journalism, Film and Media.
• Over-coming, being able to control my anxiety (more on that in the next section).
• Fronting design makeover segments on Good Morning America were incredible career highlights, as was my American book tour with West Elm and Jonathan Adler.
• Being able to travel to incredible countries such as Mauritius, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Spain, Mexico and many others. It was this that led to my love of photography and this is a skill I hope to continue to build on throughout my thirties.
• Watching my heartmate run (and totally boss) his running. I am so proud of him and everything he continues to achieve.
• Having the cover for my second book revealed on a huge screen in Times Square was super exciting, too!
• Seeing positive coverage for my work in publications I admire across America, Europe, Australia, Brazil, Asia and beyond has helped keep the fire in my belly for my work.
• Meeting incredible individuals and friends across the world who I met through Bright.Bazaar.
• As a child, I swam competitively but in my late teens I stopped and didn’t get back into exercise again until a few years ago. Fitness and working out are now a huge part of my daily routine and it’s been such a positive change to my life in the latter part of my twenties.
• On the subject of routine and wellness, a regular morning routine that I started just recently has been so incredibly beneficial to my happiness and productivity. I love it!
• Designing the interior of my first NYC brownstone apartment and working on the space in my second apartment. Design will always be my first and true love. It’s the foundation of Bright.Bazaar and my aim is to work on more design projects going forward.
• Living in London during the 2012 Olympic Games was incredible. As Londoners, we were fed horror stories for years leading up to the Games and were actively encouraged to rent out homes and leave the city during the event. Yet, when the Games came London was the quietest it has ever been due to so many people heeding that advice and/or working from home. Not only was the city so much quieter, but we could get tickets to see some incredible sporting moments. One highlight was watching a night session of beach volleyball in an outside stadium temporarily erected on Horse Guard’s Parade. We made friends with strangers over drinks, cheered on the teams with gusto and watched the sunset over the London skyline – it was just one of those magical evenings with a feeling of sporting camaraderie that I hope never to forget.
• There have been many more highlights and amazing moments shared with loved ones, from amazing concerts to quiet walks and talks with friends, to cheering on runners in marathons and the joy of seeing the love of my life achieve so many incredible personal and career goals.
Sone of the not-so-great bits of my twenties
• During my final year of university, I felt immense pressure to land a big, high-profile graduate scheme – and I did. But it was a mistake. I left my role at the BBC, which I had been working in and loving since my second year at university, to start on a graduate program at an advertising agency that processed analytics for huge global brands. I made the decision simply because I felt it was what I should be doing: choosing the ‘sensible’ option that offered more job security and better pay, especially as I graduated at the height of the recession. I had attended a highly academic school that didn’t value arts subjects and my family were traditionalists who (although obviously only wanting the best for me) encouraged me down a more traditional path. The role was completely wrong for me and, truth be told, I shouldn’t have been given such an analytical and numbers-heavy role because it wasn’t right for my creative skillset. I felt creatively and professionally suffocated; I worried that my career was starting on a trajectory that was in the opposite direction to what I had spent my years at university working hard to achieve. I handed in my notice after three months and it knocked my confidence completely.
My peers from university were seemingly either working their dream jobs straight out of school, or were traveling the world on gap years having the time of their lives. I was unemployed and living back at home. It was a tough time because I had worked in gainful employment from the moment I was legally able to do so. I had bought and insured my first car with my own money. I worked throughout university to help pay for my rent and living costs. I was always independent and driven, so to be in that situation not long after graduating hit me like a truck: it was not how I expected my post-uni life to be at all. It was at this point that I started Bright.Bazaar as my creative outlet. I ended up landing two great corporate communications jobs which I worked in for over three and a half years before I went full-time with Bright.Bazaar.
This period taught me that when life doesn’t go to plan it’s so important to look beyond the now and focus on pin-pointing actions that took you down the wrong path, and, importantly, those new goals for the future so that you can positively move forward. This is what helped me to eventually make a future for myself that was more in-line with how I had hoped to live and work back in 2010.
• The knockback of throwing my career off course straight out of university led to a period of anxiety that continued even after I found my career footing again. In fact, it continued for many years even as Bright.Bazaar was growing and proving to become a successful blog and business. The anxiety manifested in the form of panic attacks and at their worst point I was finding it difficult to put myself in the most basic of everyday situations – public transportation was an absolute no-no, even sitting in the chair at the barbers felt claustrophobic to me. As someone who had always been out-going, go-getting and confident it was very frustrating to feel so confined by something I had no control over. From the outside, it looked like everything was going great: I still held a well-paid communications job in London, Bright.Bazaar was flourishing and growing by the day and I was happily in love with my then boyfriend (now hubby!). Yet, inside I was struggling everyday with simply getting myself into the office.
I was nervous to say anything publically because I didn’t want to harm my career or the development of my blog. I think that says a whole lot about how society views mental health but that’s a whole separate blog post. Anyhow, the turning point came when I was speaking on a panel at a design conference in London. I had an epic panic attack while on stage and it was one of the worst 45 minutes I’ve ever experienced. Seeing the concerned looks on the faces of my friends in the audience was the catalyst I needed to seek help to bring the anxiety under control. It was a long road and I am proud to say that in the last two years I’ve been almost entirely panic attack free. I’m proud to think that I’ve managed to take myself from the point of not being able to sit in a barber’s chair or get on a train, to moving to and living and thriving in NYC which is one of the world’s busiest cities. Especially when I once had an awful panic attack in a H&M Store (the glamour) in this very city and I wanted to get out the city and never, ever travel again. Now, I fly around the world alone for business without a second thought and I give confident presentations to clients and large conferences. These are things that back then I would have never in a million years thought I’d be able to do again. Knowing that I overcame such a huge challenge that gives me the strength to fight other battles I face in life.
• I’ve written before about the very close relationship I have with my dear gran. In the last decade she’s faced several health scares and seeing someone I love so dearly in a fragile state has been nothing short of gut-wrenching. However, she has proven herself to be a fighter and has always bounced back with resilience, which continues to give me so much inspiration. I love her and admire her more than I can put into words.
• Three years ago we tried to welcome a puppy into our lives. She lived with us for just two days before we had to give her back to her breeder because I had a severe allergic reaction. For my heartmate and I who had dreamed of growing our little family of two into three with a dog it was so, so hard. We had even referenced getting a dog in our marriage vows that we wrote to one another just a few months previous. We were devastated. Since we’ve been living in NYC we’ve been socializing with lots of dogs and so far, there have been no allergic reactions so we still holding onto the hope that our doggie dream will one day come true.
• One dark November night we were driving home from a huge photoshoot on the motorway when the road was being narrowed from three lanes to one, and the traffic was slowing to merge together. The driver behind us wasn’t paying attention and went into the back of us at 60MPH – our entire car was thrown off the road and was written off at the scene. Luckily, we both came out with just whiplash and shock but it was a narrow escape.
• I think one of the most frustrating things for both my heartmate and I during our twenties was not feeling settled in where we lived. We moved a lot due to many factors, including that my heartmate’s graduate scheme meant a lot of different placements across the country, plus we temporarily left London due to my anxiety. Something inside of us was finding it hard to connect to where we were living. In the eighteen months we’ve lived in New York City both of us can’t believe how happy, settled, content and in love with our city and home we are. It’s been a long time coming and I think because the path here was not always plain-sailing it has made the pleasure of loving where we are now all the sweeter.
• Prior to our 2015 move to NYC, we nearly moved to America on two previous occasions. The first time the barrier to our entry was America not recognizing a civil partnership between two men as a legal union, meaning as my spouse Toby would not receive a visa. The second time was in 2014 when I was offered a dream role at a company in NYC only to have it fall through a week later when the company pulled funding for the new position. At the time I had been toying with the idea of scaling back Bright.Bazaar and taking everything I had learned in working on my business to a big corporate company. It felt like everything had fallen into place when the offer came through. We had started looking at apartments and even told family we were moving, so it was a huge personal setback for us when it unexpectedly fell through. Still, we picked ourselves up and it all worked out for the best. I continued with Bright.Bazaar and the brand continued to grow and grow, leading to us moving to America on our own terms on the back of my work with Bright.Bazaar. This was a time when I referred to what I learned from my post-university career woes to keep positive in the light of a life setback.
Hopes for my thirties
• Although I did some charity work in my twenties I can do more. One of the ambitions I have for a charitable arm to Bright.Bazaar is to launch a project or initiative that harnesses the positive power of color in communities.
• I hope to slow down. Life has moved at a million miles an hour and while I’ve always been a doer, I do want to take a slightly slower pace so that I can soak up, appreciate and recognize amazing experiences as they are happening.
• I’ve wanted to buy a house since the day I graduated but with the recession and moving to a new country it was off the cards for most of my twenties. It’s a priority for my heartmate and I to make it happen in our thirties.
• I touched on this earlier but we both would love to welcome a dog into our little family.
• I’m keen to continue growing creatively. One of the best things about starting the blog was that it led me to discover a creative endeavor I was good at: photography. Alongside designing real rooms, photography is the side of my business and work that I enjoy the most. In the past six months I’ve been slowly teaching myself how to take better drone photographs and videos. My next step is to go to drone school and get my pilot license so I can make commercial videos. Exciting!
• I would like to go back to school and build on my interior design skills with the view to potentially starting my own interior design firm.
• Reading is a part of my life now but I would like to do more of it. A book a month, at least.
• Having worked almost non-stop throughout my twenties and often feeling guilty at even taking a morning off work, I now see that it’s not healthy to live like that. Hobbies and relaxation time away from work are so important and I’d like take painting classes to have a regular time out. Painting is that has nothing to do with my creative business or work but it’s a skill and hobby that I’d like to study so I’m switching off in a way that still feels productive!
• I used to spend a lot of time in the kitchen cooking. Then, when my business took off and I was self-employed I had less regular hours. Anytime I wasn’t working I felt guilty – yes, even if it was to cook meals! – so over the years I cooked less and less. Moving to NYC with relatively affordable restaurants on the doorstep has made it so tempting to eat out/order in a lot. In Manhattan groceries are often more expensive than bought meals (yes, really), but I miss home cooking. Our new apartment has a full-size kitchen and I’ve been cooking more since we moved in September last year. I’d love to work with a nutritionist to improve my diet so that it marries with my exercise routine.
• Overall, I want to harness the positive state of mind I’m now in so that I keep an open mind to all opportunities and experiences. I never would have thought what I am doing now would share my life a decade ago, so who knows what’s next. I’m pumped for it!