Don’t Panic: I also don’t know what I’m doing with my life

I am proud of myself.

Would saying this statement make you feel uncomfortable?

For a really long time it did for me. But, after taking some time to reflect on the last twelve months of my life I can 100% unequivocally say that I am. I feel like statements such as “I am proud” make us uncomfortable and squeamish because self love and appreciating your achievements is usually one of the hardest things we can do as humans. We are quick to deflect compliments instead of accepting them and alternatively squish our achievements for fear of coming across as arrogant. Often, celebrating yourself is quick to be labelled as indulgent rather than empowering.

So where am I going with this? Well, I feel like I speak for most of us when I say “adult life” just creeps up on you and one day you’re just expected to know how to pay bills, handle Medicare, change a tyre and do your taxes (still don’t) and until you’re like woah woah woah I didn’t sign up for this.

Your early 20’s are for starting your “adult life”, right? This is supposed to be an exciting time but honestly I’ve found it can often come with a lot of anxiety as you (and I) try and figure out;

  • who you are alone
  • who are you in platonic and romantic relationships
  • what you value
  • who you want to be in the future
  • what you want to do.

Overwhelming much?! And on top of this we’re also supposed to learn how to iron (gross) and come to terms with the fact that no matter how much we want it to be chocolate bars aren’t a suitable replacement for dinner.

And I know I’m not alone when I say it seems like everyday your Instagram or Facebook feed is full of people buying houses, getting engaged, married or a dog and “progressing” in their very fancy adult lives right? Meanwhile you’re sitting at home in the same pair of pants you’ve been wearing for two days straight eating mac and cheese trying to ignore the fact you just flooded the bathroom – I did all of these things this week.

And I really want to stress that I’m NOT having a dig at these people who are at these stages of their lives. I am always blown away by people’s achievements like this and understand that there are sacrifices made by all (behind the scenes) like obviously this is AMAZING for those people able to achieve these hectic and huge milestones – especially at such a young age. And they should be proud to share these achievements with their social media audiences, family and friends. But I also find a lot of my friends/or people I’ve met feel left behind when they aren’t hitting these milestones and like they’re behind in life or doing it wrong.

I guess the purpose of this blog is just to reassure you all after some amazing life advice I got from some friends recently just to do life it your own pace – and also don’t freak out if what you want to do isn’t what everyone else is doing! Especially pursue these aspirations if what you’re doing isn’t what everyone else is doing!

Personally: I don’t want to live with regrets.

We put pressure on ourselves to keep up with what we see around us. Obviously we wanna project our best lives, the highlight reel, but nobody sees the not so good parts that might be going on behind the scenes and this can for sure be toxic.

 

 So, what the f%^@ am I doing with my life?!

If you’re like me you’re basically asking yourself this on a daily basis. What .The. Fuck. Am. I dOiNg. with. My life.

This is usually followed by heaps of internalised stress that gets repressed until you find yourself four quizzes deep on Buzzfeed trying to distract yourself by discovering what type of hot chip you are (regular fries in case you wanted to know) or what Kardashian you’re most like (Kourtney).

After quite a while of stressing about this question, like I’m talking months and months – I found it comforting to know that LITERALLY everyone, okay maybe 99% of people and friends that I know also have little to no clue about how to life either. And so I guess I take comfort in the fact that no one really knows what they’re doing and we are literally all going through the same journey together but have reached different stages.

Words of Wisdom (from other people also thinking WTF?!)

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So knowing that people all seem to feel these same feels, I asked my friends to share some nuggets of wisdom – these people helped me so much during shitty times and so I felt it was only fair these gals and guys share their very clever brains with you all.

I asked them all the following questions:

1. Do you ever feel pressured by the things you see people achieving on social media/people you know etc and get stressed you’re not “keeping up” in life?
2. Do you often find yourself thinking “wtf am i doing with my life?” and if so what usually triggers these thoughts?
3. What’s something you don’t want to regret in 20 years? OR more specifically like what’s something that always nags at you that you know if you didn’t pursue you’d regret it in 20 years?

“I guess I get triggered more when they’re doing something I would consider to be on my ‘bucket list’”

“I don’t feel pressured but I do look to these people for inspiration. Seeing people in my field with the same skill sets and abilities as me, and which are achieving great things is more of a drive for me to keep up and proof that it is possible. But, I do not feel pressured by them.”

“Three things really made me stop feeling that way, and now the only social media I use (Instagram) has affected me super positively in the last year.

*Thing 1:* I only use Facebook as a replacement for MSN… I never look at the feed. I don’t like how much FB is geared around giving people a space to have a whinge about something or posting something inaccurate that you’d assume is true. I use Instagram/Reddit as a replacement and only follow things that serve me (insta: healthy recipes & cute makeup/outfit ideas, askscience.reddit.com etc).

*Thing 2:* Related: reading tons. There’s a Winston Churchill quote that sticks with me: “The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” It’s fucking true. I read for probably 3-4 hrs a night on weeknights. Reading classics and nonfiction make you zoom out and realise you don’t need a plan to keep up with, and you can pre-empt the future better so you feel like a badass when you know how to do deal with shit in your life.

*Thing 3:* Having someone in your life that makes you feel like a kid. For me it’s my boyfriend but it could be anyone. Having someone who makes you feel like the best day of your year so far is when you decided to stay in bed while it storms and have cookies for breakfast makes you appreciate the present.

*2.* See #1: Not really any more. I’ve been listening to the A16Z podcast and of all the interesting and successful people they talk to, most of them didn’t progress through a traditional ‘career’. They did a bunch of different shit that all weaved into this myriad of useful weird skills. The CEO at my last job had worked as an NBN engineer, design studio lead and a host for MTV. I find comfort in that. It means any adventure in life serves you well.

*3.* Travelling to lots of countries. Sounds pretty obvious but my current pattern is save up and do one big trip a year… when you do the maths that’s not much! I’ll always call Australia home in the long run but there’s so many places to visit!”

“I make myself think, okay well what are my goals and where am I and what am I doing to achieve that? You can only really compare yourself to your old self not people around you for so many reasons, you don’t know full context, it’s not a race, and also you may have different goals in the first place anyway.”

For me I want to make sure I pursue the things that mean the most to me – career wise – writing (obvs)- but also my personal relationships and making sure in 5-10-25 years that I look back on my “adult” years without regret that I didn’t give things my all because I was 1. Worried about others feelings/thoughts more than my own 2. Scared!

Basically what I’m trying to say is don’t get caught up in what you might think is expected of you – there’s literally so much opportunity out there if you’re brave enough to grab at it.

Change is really uncomfortable but amazing

And speaking from my own experience, making a big change to your life is hardly ever easy, because growing can be painful. For me, the first six months of moving to Sydney was really bloody tough. I never really felt settled which meant I was flying home a lot (which was costly both financially and emotionally every time I came back) and was going through a huge period of change with my personal relationships, losing people and gaining people into my life. I was stressed out. I even went to some counselling which helped my realise and realign with my true gut wants and needs from my life which was brutal emotionally but 100% worth it.

Moving to a new city away from family and friends and starting down a new career path I’d not really imagined for myself really left me shaky for the first twelve months of being away. I was questioning if I’d even made the right choice but then little by little the pieces began to fall into place and now I do not regret a thing. Luckily for me this has a lot to do with the incredible and amazing people that I’ve met in Sydney that I get to call my friends.

Without the support of my friends up here I don’t know if I would have gone through this period of growth in the same way. These relationships have allowed me to develop new parts of myself and if anything have made me aspire to be a better human. Seeing how others deal with times of hardship or crisis and how open they are to helping others during times of need made me want to be a better friend to others. Honestly it also just served as a reminder that people are there for you if you want them to be AND that you’re not alone in whatever you’re going through. There’s a fair chance those around you have either gone through a similar period of stress and finding out different aspects of themselves or more likely still gone through the exact same experience.

And I can attest that being brave enough to do what you want to do, while it may seem impossible and hard, it’s going to be worth it because it aligns with your own core values, right? And you can only live trying to make yourself happy first. Like when the plane goes down and they say put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others I feel like that’s a good analogy for learning how to life as an adult in relationships, I was so used to giving away my oxygen first that I was plummeting to certain death (or at least a little emotional breakdown – okay a big one). So now I’m taking time to chill out and look after me, hooray.

Growth isn’t supposed to be easy, it’s really freakin’ tough and I’m no expert and I’m not trying to be either, just sharing some thoughts with y’all. It’s also never too late to make a change to your life if you’re unhappy and feel like you’re going through the motions!

“For what it’s worth… it’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit. Start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you’ve never felt before. I hope you meet people who have a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start over again.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Why content strategy is the smart career move for journalists

The state of things:

Journalism has had a bad wrap for being a “dying” industry. Just in January Fairfax announced plans in 2017 to stop printing weekday metropolitan newspapers. Oh, and that’s right, Dolly axed its print edition after 48 years so, ya know — it’s not all blue skies! But despite this, thousands of graduates across Australia finished clutching their journalism degree and thinking, “oh shit, what now?!”. Including me. Now don’t get me wrong, I know there are jobs out there for journalism graduates, but they are few and far between. Trust me. I applied for around 20 or so jobs once finishing my degree and only a fraction of these were journalism related, which was when I decided I needed to broaden my horizons.

Journalism is changing:

As long as there is news to tell and stories to share, there will always be demand for reporters and journalists. However, it is undeniable that the industry is in the midst of some turmoil making it hard for even the highly skilled, highly trained professionals to find work, let alone the fresh graduates (like me).

A 2012 study by Graduate Careers Australia showed that four months after graduating, just 26.6% of the 634 journalism graduates researched were working as journalists. A further 4.6% had a role in the media, but not as reporters. At first I admit, I felt a little like a failure joining that 4.6%. All through my course I’d had heard many (mostly sarcastic) remarks about the field I chose. “An arts degree, really?” or “Oh, I’ve heard there’s no jobs in journalism”, “You should really choose something more practical.” I thought that by not becoming a “traditional” writer or journalist I was proving all these naysayers right. Of course, now I see how dumb I was to let them bother me, I’m always going to write, just in a different capacity than before.

So why content strategy?

In 2010, there were 763 people using the title content strategist on LinkedIn. Now, in 2017, just seven years later, there are 34,950 results. That’s some crazy growth. The growth of LinkedIn could be partly responsible for the difference in these numbers, but even so expanding by 34187 members in under 10 years is no mean feat.

While scouring the internet for work I looked for roles that would work within my skillset but also challenge me to expand my knowledge. When I stumbled upon the MF listing for a content strategist I was put at ease by their friendly tone and the possibility of learning in a place where I’d be supported by like-minded folks! I decided to apply for the content strategy role because I wanted a challenge, I wanted to write and contribute to a professional environment rather than simply self-publish my work to the world. I wanted to make a difference with the content I was creating and it was within content strategy that recognised I could transform businesses and develop skills I couldn’t in another role. Luckily, they liked me too!

I found that the skills required for content writing were either things that I could bring to the table from my previous training or elements of myself that I was keen to develop within my career. As a student and a journalist I developed my tone, interview skills, content writing across varied platforms and audiences, how to angle a story. Now, moving into the world of content strategy, I’m keen to see how my words can make an impact for businesses and their clients rather than just the general faceless “reader”. Now I can see the demographics who are reading my work and really know my reader, track when people drop off and lose interest and determine what matters to the reader and what they want to read.

Shared skills: Content strategist and journalists share skills intrinsic to each role.

You’re a storyteller

Former TV News reporter and now content strategist, Chantel McGee said “I firmly believe the best content strategists have a background in journalism and a fundamental understanding of how to tell compelling stories.” Narrative construction is similar within content strategy and journalism in that both require extensive research and take on differing forms and unique tones of voice depending on subject, audience, and owner / publisher. However, it differs when it comes to how they draw insight from others to shape inform their writing. Where journalists conduct 1:1 on phone interviews and then write up direct quotes to publish, content strategists will invite their audience to test their propositions and content in workshops.

You need an editorial voice

Each publication has their own voice via style guides whereas content strategists often have to develop and create an editorial voice for the client depending on their branding. Of course this goes beyond just copy. For example when writing for a magazine or paper you may have a say in the images/colour scheme while when writing content, strategists work closely with designers who help realise the brand vision and bring the images to life.

Shareability is super important

With journalism you share a story because you think it’s newsworthy, while as a content strategist you want people to consume the content in order to get a brand’s message out. In either profession it’s important to develop content that will drive readers to want to share with others, and spread the word! So it’s important you construct compelling and shareable content.

Ethics matter people!

Despite what Donald Trump says journalists don’t strive to create “fake news”in fact it’s the complete opposite, they take ethics very seriously. In fact, journalists and content creators have a shared respect and due diligence for their audience/s.There are professional bodies that outline journalistic ethics, like MEAA and ACMA, that encourage high standards of ethical behaviour. Similarly integrity is just as important when creating strategic content. The last thing content strategists want to do is to tarnish a brand through unethical marketing practises and lose trust with the audience.

What is the transition like?

So now I’m a content strategist, but what does that mean? Hint, it’s more than just penning a few blog posts and hoping for the best. There’s some strategy behind it. I know right, who would have guessed?!

Now, I’m not going to sit here and say taking the leap was easy. It was uncomfortable, scary and unnerving but also exciting, challenging and rewarding. The move from journalist to content strategist was hard enough, let alone the change of the office dynamics. As a journalist you work independently within a set group of reporters eg. sport, arts, crime and so on and as a result you get to know the likes (and dislikes) of your editors. You then create your content fairly autonomously (sub-editors read over work) based around editor preferences. However within agencies such as Mentally Friendly, I’ve found every client is different and all processes, including content, have a huge emphasis on collaboration, you work as a team to produce outcomes that everyone is happy with. Also small things like accounting for your time in 20 minute blocks, contributing to standup and learning to roadmap. So, you can see why when I first arrived my brain was like, whaaaat?

Being a content strategist is a mix of editorial writing, organisation and management skills, analytical abilities, developing marketing know-how and being a communications whiz. My day-to-day responsibilities include creating and managing social media campaigns, monitoring engagement and analyzing data, implementing SEO and building strategic partnerships with a variety of clients. I’m currently working with clients on projects that I never would have been able to meet in another role.

Sounds cool right, so how do you become a strategist?

Think of it this way: Content strategy pulls from a variety of skill sets and schools of thought, including journalism, communications, marketing, and data analytics.

Becoming a content strategist is a little unconventional as there is no set path, no degree, no major of content strategy offered at university. But don’t freak out just yet, there are some seminars and short courses out there aimed at teaching people about the basics of content strategy and how to do it well, like this or this one I’m enrolling in next month.

Though the move from journalism to content has had a steep learning curve at times, I’m talking Mount Everest steep, but I’m glad I was brave enough to take the leap. You’d be stupid not to realise that journalists must adapt to survive in the digital landscape, and I truly believe that content is the way to go. To define yourself by one type of role, be it journalist, reporter or blogger will be your downfall. It’s going to be those who can adapt with the changing times and flow into the future who will thrive. And all those naysayers will eat their words.

Mentally Mindful: My journey from cynic to convert

Did you know mental illness is the leading cause of long-term workplace absence in most developed countries? With 45% of Australians experiencing a mental health problem in their lifetime, it is likely that at some point, every worker will be affected by mental illness, either directly or indirectly. Which begs the question, how can workplaces help their employees manage their mental health?

At MF we are nothing without our people, and so we like to take care of each other and look out for one another during our day to day life. “Happy Teams” is one of our biggest focus areas. We believe the most powerful organisations aren’t the ones with the most capable C-suite, they are the ones with the most innovative teams. Understanding how to build happy, productive teams is the secret to our success.

Because of our company culture here and the people we hire, we genuinely care for each other. People take the time to ask me how i’m doing, if I need support and if I’m doing ok. Mindfulness, self love and self care are highly valued in our workplace. We encourage mental health days when our teams need them, we support R U OK day, we encourage regular HR check-ins and we even have a dog in the office. A recent study from the Virginia Commonwealth University found that employees who brought their dogs to work experienced lower stress levels throughout the work day #winning! We have access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), confidential counselling sessions (and have recently signed up our staff to the mindfulness app Headspace — free of charge).

Honestly, I’ve always been a bit cynical of mindfulness, meditation and finding you. I had the idea it was a hippy thing full of um-ing and ooh-ing and finding your “inner peace” crossed legs on grass mats while bells played in the background. How wrong I was.

Whenever people would tell me about how great they were finding mindfulness or meditation to be I always thought, “that’s great but I don’t need that”. I thought, I’ve got all the coping mechanisms I need and a great support system. But it was after a few stressful moments that I was encouraged by multiple people to give the Headspace app, and mediation, a go.

To be honest I wasn’t sure it would help me relax but I was sick of being grouchy, on edge and feeling like I was on an emotional rollercoaster that I couldn’t control. After my first session I was already feeling more optimistic and after a week straight I was getting into a rhythm. I was taken aback by how un-hippy like it was, not sure what I was expecting- but it seemed really down to earth and was explaining the benefits of mediation to me in a way I could correlate to my daily life.

The Huffington Journal says “Meditation practice helps us slow down and be present enough to recognize the small joys about our work, as well as its frustrations.” And I could not have put it better myself. After meditation I feel calm and think with more clarity allowing me to explore why i may be feeling frustrated or stressed.

I asked some MFers how Headspace was helping them. Some said that it helped them sleep, by playing the recording before bed.

“I try to listen to Headspace each night as I’m getting into bed and going to sleep (although it doesn’t happen every night)! It relaxes me by clearing my mind from the day’s thoughts. Makes me feel really calm before going to sleep.”

While others said it allowed them to feel more present in their surroundings.

“Listened to the “commute” one on a particularly long train trip (1.5h) and managed to be tuned in and attentive to my surroundings and not distracted by my phone etc for most of the trip.”

My stats on the Headspace app!

Although I’m only 15 sessions into my headspace journey I’m excited to see where it takes me. For me, I feel that taking the time to reflect on how i’m feeling by using the headspace app has genuinely helped me find clarity of thought and feel more relaxed both physically and mentally and it has even got me back into journaling, which I’d been lacking motivation on for months.

Recently I’ve also found myself thinking more clearly at work and feeling more energised overall. Instead of go-go-go and then crashing at night because I’m so exhausted I find I can go for longer during the day because I take the time to wind down a little and figure out how I’m feeling, and acknowledging it, towards the end of the day.

Have you had a similar experience? I’d love to hear it!

Why is it the obvious mistakes that always get overlooked?

I don’t know about you, but I love playing “spot the typo” at restaurants. You know when you’re flipping through a restaurant menu and see that their “special” is actually spelt “speical”. In fact, it was while spotting one of these typos that I had the idea to write this article. While eating out recently my partner pointed out the very obvious error. I know what you’re thinking, just eat your chicken burger in peace and leave! But sadly as a former journalist, I can’t help but pick up on mistakes in menus or signs, it’s like a kind of literary OCD (turns out I’m not alone).

So I began thinking, why is it usually the simple ideas or content that we we write that’s riddled with mistakes? In fact, I bet you missed my mistake just then. Didn’t you?

As a content writer, my knack for picking out spelling or grammatical errors is a helpful skill — although my partner would argue it’s a strong cause of embarrassment when eating at restaurants, especially when I insist on taking a picture to chuckle about later.

This sign irritated me for the remainder of my meal. So close, yet so far.

So why does this happen? Are we just lazy?

You may think that being sloppy and rushing work results in the most errors. But in fact, the reason typos slip through isn’t because we’re stupid or inattentive, it’s because what we’re doing while writing is a very high level task that requires focus and attention!

Psychologist Tom Stafford, who studies typos at the University of Sheffield, states that while writing you’re simultaneously trying to convey meaning (a high level task). When completing high level tasks your brain generalises simple component parts like turning letters into words, and words into sentences. This is so we can focus on more complex tasks such as combining sentences into more complex ideas.

Common mistakes are made when writing because we focus on meaning rather than grammar or spelling

When it comes to missing simple errors, being too close to your work or ideas can be a contributing factor. When we’re writing and proofreading our work, grammar usually takes a back seat to meaning. We understand the meaning as we’ve crafted the idea and conveyed it by putting our thoughts onto the page. It’s easy to miss mistakes and gaps when parts of the meaning is missing as we’re expecting meaning to be there at a surface level.

Nick Stockton speaks to this in his article, “What’s up with that: Why it’s so hard to catch your own typos”. Stockton reasons that we don’t see our own typos, because what we see on the screen is competing with the version that exists in our heads.

“This can be something as trivial as transposing the letters in “the” to “hte,” or something as significant as omitting the core explanation of your article,” he says.

By this stage you’re probably thinking to yourself, “why wouldn’t you just get someone else to proofread it for you? Duh”. Well, yes. Having a fresh pair of eyes over your work should always be utilized as it mitigates you being too close to your work. However, writing to a tight deadline doesn’t always enable time for work to be proofread by someone else.

So how do we overcome this? A couple of helpful tips I’ve learnt when it comes to proofreading your own content is to force yourself to read word for word, backwards, as it helps spot spelling mistakes. By reading the sentence backwards and taking words out of context, you’re forced to see the word as it is, which generally makes it easier to catch errors.

Or, if you’re looking to proofread for context, read your paper out loud. This helps as when we read silently, our eyes skip over small errors, awkward or run-on sentences, and typos. By reading out loud, you force yourself to notice everything from spelling and word choice to the structure of sentences.

How does this work at MF?

This got me thinking, is this only relevant for writers or did this happen within other disciplines? Is it always the simplest or easiest tasks that get overlooked? When creating products or services at Mentally Friendly, we facilitate usability and hallway testing to determine what changes may need to be made — in fact, you could even call this practise a type of “proofread”. Without testing or “proofreading”, it’s easier for mistakes or issues arise and go unnoticed.

MF Designer, Chris Ellis, said that within design the “glaringly obvious mistake” that most commonly affects resulting work would be some designers feeling the need to overdesign.

“Designers sometimes feel they have to put their own spin on every detail of the design”, he said.

“Some things have been engineered over decades and for some reason designers feel they have to touch every aspect of the product.”

“Designers should rely on defined UI patterns and focus on solving the user’s day to day need — rather than how the scroll-bar should be designed for this product.”

It seems that writers and designers both struggle with mistakes when it comes to demonstrating our knowledge — we know the meaning we want to convey as we’ve crafted the idea and put our thoughts out on the page. With design it’s about showing your skill, and when crafting content the focus is more about your understanding of the idea or article theme.

So, next time you see a typo at in a restaurant menu or in an article like this, think about the effort your brain puts in behind the scenes and cut yourself some slack! Know that that mistake you made was because you were hyper focused, not negligent or sloppy. I know I will.