Friday, 19 October 2018

Birthday Blues: Navigating the Perception of a Successful Life

"What horrifies me the most is the idea of being useless; well-educated, brilliantly promising, and fading out into an indifferent middle age." 
- Sylvia Plath

The clock struck midnight and time slipped forward. I am now 24-years-old and feel drastically different. Of course, this is not a physical change but rather a state of emotional turmoil. 24-years-old just seems so darn old. I know people older than me will laugh at that statement - in fact, just today my parents said to me “What I wouldn’t give to be 24 again”. 
The problem, however, is when my dad progressed to tell me that by the age of 24 he had completed his first career (a five-year stint as a soldier in the British Army), gotten married, and had a child. I mean, shhhh Dad, shhhhh. My mum had followed the same path and had several years in the army under her belt too as well as experience travelling. Adding to that, my sister Charlotte lives in Canada, is married, and has 3 beautiful children while my sister Grace lives in Australia and has just bought a house at only 22-years-old. Finally, there is my sister Vikki who loves beyond measure and also has a beautiful son to shine a light and laughter on all of our days. 

And this is part of my silly fear. At 24-years-old I feel more pressure to have done something with my life, made something of myself. I have to remind myself how totally moronic that sentence is. Of course, I have done stuff with my life, just maybe not in the traditional sense.
So excuse me for what is about to be sound like the most bragging you have ever heard - it is not intended as such but rather a reminder to myself. A reminder that I have achieved a lot by 24 and that a full-time job, a marriage, and having kids aren’t the only way to measure your life. 
I may be 24-years-old but after gaining good grades from Colchester Royal Grammar School, I went on to graduate from the University of Warwick with an undergraduate degree in History and then completed a master’s at the University of Oxford. During this time, I received three research scholarships and travelled all-expenses-paid around the US three times as a result. I presented at two major conferences and shared ground-breaking findings on the history of drug criminalisation in the US. 
I may be 24 but I have been to 47 countries since turning 18 - Greece, Canada, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Indonesia, Philippines, Brunei, Singapore, Mayalasia, the USA (18 states), Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Wales, Germany, Belgium, Poland, France, the Netherlands, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Barbados, Italy, Luxembourg, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Mongolia, Latvia, and Lithuania. 
I may be 24 but I have driven 16,500 miles from London to Mongolia and back in a car that everyone told me would never make it. I have stayed and shared experiences with over 50 strangers by blindly trusting them and sleeping on their couch/ in their spare room on Couchsurfing. 
I am 24 and I have worked doing the most random jobs ever: from serving shots in skimpy outfits in clubs or promoting RBS internships to sampling Rustler burgers, working in corporate law firms, researching for the Canadian history channel or writing powerpoints for Iraq’s largest credit card company. I really have done everything possible to enable me to travel for longer and get a taste for what I’d like to do. 
Despite all this though, I guess the people I have surrounded myself with make me nervous. It’s funny because we all want what someone else has. I often get friends messaging me saying “I wish I could do what you do; working full-time sucks” - and a lot of the time I totally agree, I love my life as a freelance writer, editor and researcher - but sometimes, on days like today, I envy these people with their stability, solid career progression, nice flats, and London party lifestyle. 
I also have friends from my time at Oxford that seem to be literally changing the world every day - whether that be working in high-level government roles, working for NGOs or conducting ground-breaking academic research on the effectiveness of malaria medication - everyone seems to be killing it. While I am naturally happy for my friend's success, I fear I am not doing enough.

However, I have come to realise that whatever I do, it will never feel like enough because of the way I perceive success. I am currently juggling so much as it is - I am going to California next week for three weeks and I am writing exam revision guides, editing guidebooks for two different people, conducting tons of marketing for my dad's company, writing and researching my own book that will be a travel guide to the Russian Revolution, making a scrapbook of my trip earlier this year, cross-stitching several portraits, trying to launch an online craft business, sending out magazine pitches frequently, trying to find the perfect 'real' job, battling the idea of launching my own travel-based  tech start-up, working on a family history, and binge-watching 7 seasons of Sons of Anarchy... Talk about a lot on my plate!
I just have to remind myself - everyone has different perceptions of success and things happen for people at different times. A friend of mine recommended the book ‘Thrive’ by Arianna Huffington, and on day’s like today, I need to read it to remind myself of this. 
As an example of this different perception of success, I was asked this week if I could give a speech at my high school awards evening next month about what I have done and then hand out the awards to students on the stage. Part of this is most likely a right-place-right-time scenario as I was giving a talk to some gifted-and-able students about 21st-century careers options but I also like to think it was recognition of how far I have come. 
I have to admit, in high school, I focused academically (I was also a librarian, a prefect, and in the senior choir) but outside of school I was a bit of a troublemaker (shock-horror). The funny thing is, I don’t think the teacher that asked me to present at this talk remembers the only interaction we had in high school - that was, when he pulled me into his office to tell me he learned that I was using drugs and that, as head of safeguarding, it was his responsibility to put a stop to this. Let's say that made for an interesting few months at both school and at home. Things changed though - and I made it to CRGS and got on with my A-Levels and went on to do everything listed above.

So I guess what I am trying to get at is do not worry, things happen at different times for different people and there is no uniform definition of success. Ironic given I don't take my own advice - but who does? 

To end things, I just want to share a small part of my favourite poem - it has been on my wall for years now. It is called 'Desiderata' written by Max Erhnam:

"If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself./ Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.../ Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceived Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy."

Monday, 17 September 2018


Just a quick update to say that I will be rebranding this website to the name 'Digital Scarlett'. Given I'm now growing older (24-years-old next month dammit), I figure it's time to change the blog's name. 

My Instagram and Facebook will be changing to Digital Scarlett too but you'll still find the same old content. This website will change URL's to DigitalScarlett as well.

Thanks for the support! 

Monday, 6 August 2018

Car accident in Georgia: How we lost our rear windscreen.

Georgia has been eventful, to say the least. We crossed the Turkish border into Georgia late Thursday night. The border crossing itself foreshadowed what was to come. It was a long, slow, and confusing process. When we arrived at the Turkish border to exit, they made me get out of the car and walk through security as only one person was allowed to be in the car. However, Harley and I had no means of contacting one another as we didn't get a sim card in Turkey. I blindly stumbled through security with no idea what was going on and made it out the other side in Georgia in five minutes. Harley, however, was nowhere to be found. TWO HOURS passed and eventually I was able to see my Freelander emerging from security. During this time it rained relentlessly - I was freezing cold too. Thankfully, to take my mind off things, I befriended a really nice local who gave me sight-seeing advice and told me what to expect in Georgia. 

I worried Harley was getting in trouble at the border as we hadn't been able to pick up the highway vignette needed to use the highways in Turkey. A camera takes a picture of your number plate every time you enter one. You're supposed to receive a fine about 10 times the amount of the initial fee you would have paid if you had purchased one -- however, as luck would have it, the Turkish security system crashed and they were having to process everyone manually. That's why it took Harley so long to get through! That, combined with the fact some idiot was taken for questioning but forgot to move his car and thus blocked every single car behind him from going forward. Nobody could find where this guy had gone to and so couldn't get the car moved. I had to laugh when Harley told me what the Georgian security forces did to him -- when they searched the car, one man, coincidentally seemingly the only man at the entire border to speak English, started grilling Harley on why he had a hammer and pliers in the car - were the pliers to chop people's fingers off? Harley started to panic and explained they were necessary to fix the car, promising they were just tools. Security grilled him further before laughing in his face and explaining it was all a joke and he was fine to continue! Needless to say, Harley pooed himself.

Anyway, when we finally entered Georgia, we had a hotel set up. At least, we thought so. Turns out the prices we'd booked online were 'old prices', and so we swiftly left before finding another hotel just up the road. The next day we intended to explore Batumi, a coastal seaside city. However, as is typical of our luck this trip, it started to chuck it down as soon as we left the hotel. We quickly had to abandon our plans of visiting the Botanical Gardens and retreat to another cheaper hotel. We spent the night planning our trip around Georgia and grew excited about what lay ahead - finally, a chance to do some exploring rather than constant driving.

The next morning we set off to Kinchkha Waterfall, a site around 2 hours away. The main waterfall itself was a let-down but we enjoyed the journey up to it. We took a wrong turn and accidentally went 'properly' off-road for the first time. All went well. I mean, I did have to get out to move a fallen tree as the car couldn't get over it/ it was trapped under the wheel but we were pleased all had gone well. A little too well. 


By this point, Harley exclaimed he had become one with the Freelander, he was close to controlling it with his mind. I have to say now, drivers are crazy in Georgia. There is this sense that you can go wherever you want on the road, cut in front of whoever, and beep whenever you feel like it because, at the end of the day, nobody wants to crash their car. That said, every other car on the road seems to be missing a bumper or window. There are also several pigs, cows, horses, and stray dogs that love to run out in front of you. I have to admit, Harley was driving fantastically up until this point... I guess that led to extra cockiness because all hell soon ensued!


We drove down this small ravine to access a lower part of the waterfall. Initially, we reversed in to make it easy to get back up the hill. However, wanting to get a nice photo of the car, we turned the car around. This photo opportunity was spoiled though as another car decided to come to join us in the area. Anyway, we enjoyed paddling around the waterfall and scrambling across the rocks. When we went to leave, Harley decided to accelerate heavily to ensure we didn't get stuck half-way up the hill. However, in doing so, as soon as our tyres hit the tarmac above, the car shot backwards and slamming on the brakes achieved nothing. Before we knew it, we'd smashed backwards into a brick bollard that had narrowly stopped us from being propelled backwards off the bridge and into the shallow water below.  


Instantly, and naturally, Harley panicked. We got out the car to assess the damage and it turns out our rear windscreen was now literally over the road. The handle to open the back door was also hanging on by a thread. That was it - adventure over and relationship ruined. At least, that's how Harley felt at that very moment in time. I have to tell you now - this isn't the first time he has crashed my car!! He drove into the back of someone last year but luckily (for me anyhow) didn't damage my car only theirs. I digress - the door now wouldn't shut properly and kept opening by itself. We drove further down the road to leave the scene of the crime and feared that as we drove along, it may open on its own accord and the bed we had built, packed with our clothes and food underneath, would come shooting out and (if we were lucky) would fall all over the road - or, if we were really unlucky, hit a car behind us. The further down the road we got, the more Harley panicked to the point he was actually sick he was so concerned (bless him).

We decided to return to Batumi as we thought we may have to cross back into Turkey and then go back through Europe. We returned to the hotel we had visited the night before and the guys that owned it helped us put up a plastic tarp over the back window as it was now chucking it down with rain and our bed was absolutely soaked. We were able to disconnect the back handle entirely so now it is just permanently shut.

The next day we explored a small part of Batumi before heading to Tbilisi. Armed with the knowledge that some guy was selling a second-hand 2002 Freelander backdoor for only £60, it felt like we had little choice. It took around four hours to reach the city and we couldn’t stop along the way as we had nothing in the rear window anymore. One of us had to stay with the car at all times as all of our stuff was in it.


When we reached Tbilisi and found a hostel, we realised there was no private parking anywhere. Some mechanics in Tbilisi fashioned us a new plastic tarp that looked far more secure so, for the meantime, it’s ok until we find something better. We weren’t able to make contact with the guy selling the door and we may try to just cold call him in a few days’ time. He doesn’t speak any English, nor do most people in Georgia, so it’s extremely difficult trying to do anything or get any help.  Anyway, with the window patched together, we set off the hostel and enjoyed a dominos pizza before hitting the hay and getting ready to explore the city further soon.