Thursday, 8 October 2015

I Got The Skills To Pay The Bills; Measuring yourself against others and how to get over it

If there is one thing that brings me crashing down harder than anything else it's measuring myself (and currently my success) against others.  Professionally, personally and aesthetically, it's always the same, and to be honest it's a dangerous game. I do have stupidly high standards and expectations for myself and my surroundings (which I have explored with others on twitter and might be do to with coming from a working class background). But  I really wanted to explore why I do this in all aspects of my life. How acceptance for who you are, and not just including body positivity (which I think I have cracked) is a hard thing. I also want to know where the line really is between wanting to achieve the goals you set yourself, and the dreaming of unobtainable unachievable things that you think will make you happy, but in reality won't.

My mum told me she always used to think; when I get this thing or when I move to a new place it will make me happy, but she never was, and I was the same. I think for me it all really started with  "when I lose all my weight I will be happy" and "when I get my teeth done I will never be unhappy again".  I have discussed my weight loss, and body acceptance about my hair, my spider veins, my fat tummy tyres and everything else about my body a lot and I don't think I need to rehash it here. Truth is when I really did make that big decision to really lose weight for my wedding it made me unhappy overall, and yes although my new teeth did make me feel more confident I have a whole new set of problems with them that make me anxious in a completely new way. Who would have guessed that?

My other major issue was where I lived, I would always think when I get my own place I will be happy because I can paint it how I want and have the furniture I want and no landlord or letting agent isn't to come and bother me all the time. But the likelihood of me owning any time soon isn't a reality, so I have tried to do some accepting, and it's really hard. I get a pang of jealously and sadness when my twitter friends, and acquaintances talk about buying their places in and out of London, or whenever someone is doing some decorating in their brand new home. 

So I decided last year to make a considerable effort to be happy with what I had, and I think it has paid off. I forced myself to learn to be happy in the now with what I had, and that is when I reached some level of inner peace and that involved letting some things go. But it was hard, I find it hard to let things go.  So I read up on how to not dwell on things, and get hung up so easily.  A good method I read was to take a walk with a backpack full of balls and giving each ball a problem.  As you are walking along, just throw a tennis ball away and poof its gone.  I don't really like walking, and I didn't know where I would get 50 tennis balls from. So I started mentally chucking tennis balls away on the ground to let something go, it sounds really silly but it helped. I also forced myself to accept some things by not fighting it in my mind and not wallowing in my thoughts. If I caught myself doing this, I would do the tennis ball trick. I have spoken to my Mum about this post and she said 

"Once you told me that if you didn't get that Alexander McQueen skull scarf, that you life wasn't worth living" and I replied 
"Well yes it is still an incredible scarf and if it turned up I wouldn't say no"
"But you have changed that and I am proud of you". 

So I think the tennis balls are working to an extent. 

The more I explored this idea for a post the more I thought about how I measured myself in my past and my present.  My parents and teachers always had high hopes that I would do well and go on to higher education.  But I didn't go to university.  A combination of an intense relationship and terrible mental health meant I didn't fill out my UCAS form and quit college a few months before my A2 exams.  I remember sobbing my heart out in the car after my best friends bon voyage party when she went off without me.  So there were a few years I regretted not going to University and would measure my success against others who had gone until I pretty much fell in to a reasonably good career. I would really beat myself up about it, the fun they were having, the letters they would have after their name.  Working in central London was hard too, as so many people had degrees. Then everything changed again, I realised when the handful of people I knew who had a degree were still waiting tables at Pizza Express  and I was earning incredible central London wages at 21 with 4 years of experience under my belt, who had the better deal? I thought it was me, but again measuring yourself against people constantly even if you think you are coming out on top just always ends up being negative in the end. 

I had a new set of problems.  I will readily admit that I am scatty and outspoken and have a strong will to fight any sort of injustice. I also have my own, lets say... 'sense of style' and on top of that I'm not submissive towards men. Being any one of those things whilst being a woman in a corporate environment does not bode well for any sort of advancement in my experience.  I am the boat rocker who has sick days because I don't have a sense of loyalty to a company and my makeup slides off my face by midday and I eat bacon rolls at lunch time unapologetically whilst every one else eats salads in sad little plastic boxes. I soon realised that I was probably not going to be promoted with my attitude and that i wasn't willing to change it. The women with immaculate makeup, silk blouses and perfect blow dried hair, who never took a sick day because they weren't frozen with anxiety in their beds, the yes people were going to advance sooner than me, who still had remnants of dry shampoo in her fringe most days. 

It took ten years in the corporate world to realise that that was me and it was never going to change. I was wasting so much energy on wishing I was something else and it was never going to happen.  It wasn't easy to stop, tennis balls weren't going to help this time, so just a slow process of self love, surrounding myself with people who also embraced the self love philosophy helped, and focusing on what I was good at. That was good acceptance, but I cant lie to you and say it still wouldn't quash all those tiny pangs of jealousy I had sometimes when someone would be invited to the fancy footballers favourite hang out in Hertfordshire, taking selfies sitting in the jacuzzi together congratulating each other on just how hard they had worked , or doing exactly the same thing on some investors yacht, or ladies day at the races. I would be asked to stay behind and hold the fort instead, despite me having worked as hard as the others. 

I don't know why I took as long as I did to realise a conventional 9-5 just wasn't for me.  Maybe it was the fear of only being accountable to myself, and that there was no one to blame if things went wrong, maybe it was lack of ideas to go off on my own, but the most likely was that I just wasn't good enough at anything to make a business out of it.  I feel like I   have spoken in detail about my dramatic quitting my job and moving to Bristol to start my company, its my little speech to people I meet down here, and I have said it so many times, it almost now sounds rehearsed.  But I can genuinely pin point that when I was making invites for my wedding and planning and executing little details I thought, I honestly cannot work in an office with customers screaming at me for another 40 years.  That was it, the seed was planted and a combination of things shortly after my wedding meant we had no choice but to make some huge changes.  

It was by chance that my Father in Law had bought a laser cutting machine for a project he was doing the year before. He made a space invaders arcade game and wanted the unit to go with it. I had planned to start up my own telecoms consultancy down here, but that just seemed boring.  I was so lonely here. I had gone from a busy social life, with a job I knew well, earning my own money in my own home, to earning no money in someone else's home and no one to talk to other than my husband. I felt redundant.  I thought about using the laser but I had no design skills to speak of other than ideas in my head. So I tried making some cards and hand made bracelets.  They did well, but I put that down to having a good amount of supportive people on twitter and back in London, I knew those sales were pity sales, here is my token purchase because you have moved away, it was not sustainable.  This little venture did give me a bit of confidence and then my Father in Law was more than happy to show me how the laser worked, and the basics of illustrator and Black Heart Creatives sort of took off from there. 

So running your own business in a competitive retail and fashion environment, as you can well imagine brings its own set of problems, and I am back to measuring myself against others in an almost obsessive way.  I see other people come up with amazing designs and I torture myself over peoples instagram photos, and their follower numbers.  People that started out after me but are in the region of 20K followers, and why am I only averaging this amount of likes, and why didn't I think of that idea?  Or even worse, this person has copied me and probably done it better because I have no design qualifications.  Then if you really want to get down in to the nitty gritty I have sat down for thirty minutes torturing myself about the amount of orders similar sized businesses are having, and if they have the time to take lots of aspirational pictures of their desks then maybe they aren't rushed off their feet packing things up and designing orders? Or are they? 

A few weeks ago I sat looking at my biggest competitors instagram for an hour.  Everything on it was perfect, and mine was not. I am never perfect, going back through all the times I have measured myself against others it is because I am unfinished, with no finese, and maybe it will always be that way.  Big fat hot tears ran down my face, and I called my husband, I said I didn't want to talk about it but could we go to McDonalds for a bit (its a 30 minute drive to our nearest!).  About half way of silent driving I cried and told him all these thoughts.  I told him everything that was quite literally driving me to distraction about my business.  We ate our double cheese burgers in silence. When we finished my husband said, lets fix this, and so we did. I also spoke to my best friend who runs my social media for me about some of the things bothering me and she also had some input for me too.  The thing is, when you are alone in business, it is just that, very lonely, and sometimes you have to speak to other people. I think it is also worth remembering, everyone is probably feeling the exact same way, at one time or another, but no one is going to admit this out loud. 

So I made a list of all the things bothering me, made some goals, made some changes and threw some tennis balls away. I accepted that I am never going to know how well anyone else is doing in regards to volumes of orders and finances so I needed to let that go.  I also accepted that I am doing well for myself, I started a business all by myself, and looking at my facts and figures shows that my 3 year business is self sufficient and only going to progress!

A week after I implemented these changes, on the way back from my last jewellery making workshop, we were driving through the country roads listening to the radio and the Beastie Boys 'skills to pay the bills' came on.  I love the Beastie Boys a whole lot and that song reminded me of some awesome times in my life, I felt pretty good about myself, and I felt like I needed to be reminded of that.  So I took those lyrics and my now close to three years worth of design skills that I learned all by myself and made the poster you see in this post.  I got it printed and framed and hung it up in my workshop.   Now when I am feeling like I am not enough, or start measuring myself and my success against anyone or anything, I remember I have literally got the skills to pay my bills and I do measure up, because I am actually pretty great.  


  1. Love love love the tennis ball idea. Really inspiring read, thank you!

  2. I love this post. Thank you for being so honest and open, I love your work and can't wait to own more BHC pieces! Will you sell copies of your print? I'd buy one and that's not a pity sale!

    1. I do have problems with comparing myself to others and will definitely try the tennis ball idea!

  3. I think we are pre-conditioned to be competitive to the point of obsession. We all measure ourselves against others around us and there is something terribly human about the unworthy feeling that we all get as a result of this. It's terrible really and I have tried to move away from it by being competitive with myself rather than those around me - this has its pitfalls as well, and often I can't help but to compare myself to others, but stretching my own abilities within my own mental wellbeing and happiness seems to work better for me.

    At the moment, following a period of ill health, I'm being competitive with how far I can walk in a day without my crutches - it keeps me occupied and has stopped me comparing myself to my colleague who seems to have flourished in my absence!

    C xx

  4. You've no idea how much I needed to read this.
    Thank you for sharing this, it was really inspiring and really great to read.

  5. As Mr Father-In-Law, I know you need your space. There's a lot that you can do and nobody knows more than I do how difficult it can be to run your own business. I also know it's hard to ask for help, and things have not been easy. But, things can and will get better and as I've said to my wife, there is no way that we'll complain about anybody trying... :-)


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