We’re all walking paradoxes

Despite trying to categorise ourselves into many clear cut boxes, quite often we’re full of paradoxical traits. It’s one of the things that makes getting to know other humans more, let alone yourself – so interesting. Many that know us well will learn and understand this, but for those that don’t it can often be a source of confusion, frustration or even resentment.

I see conflicting traits in myself quite often. For some example:

– I’m pretty hard working and proactive in my view; I love to plan, do research and make things happen. However, I can also be incredibly lazy at times, meaning things may slowly sink to the bottom of my to-do list that I mentally pledged to complete two weeks before.

– I also tend to be quite a realist; I don’t tend to tire of being a reminder about the potential ways an event can unfold or what history tells us about certain beliefs or ideas. Simultaneously, I can also be fairly fantastical; a trait that every now and then causes me to mould idealistic versions of people that widely differ from who they really are.

– Lastly, I love people; getting to share their struggles and joy; receive encouragement from their words when it seems I have none left to motivate myself with. However, I can also be quite antisocial and quiet, a trait that does sometimes make social situations hard to navigate and enjoy.

I doubt I’m alone – I think we all have these conflicting traits in us; some go under the radar of our consciousness and others we are fully aware of. Perhaps you love fiercely but can also be very spiteful if someone gets on your wrong side. Or maybe at times you can be shamelessly selfish whilst there are many moment you find yourself in where you’re moved with compassion for others. We tend to just paint a picture of consistency because that’s what makes sense to the world most in certain situations. For example, if I’m working on branding myself for a business I own, people want to know I’m dependable, a good leader and one that’s confident. They don’t want to know that I have moments of doubt and periods of low-confidence that make leading people hard. It may be very real, and very true but being upfront about it won’t necessarily get me clientele.

Yet, it feels quite important when we can to be honest about these conflicts within us; otherwise we perhaps fall into the habit of creating a version of ourselves for others that isn’t entirely truthful.

This is why having close people who you can expose all sides too without judgement is beneficial. Being able to freely be you and let your guard down around people -or even just one close person – is an incredible source of peace. Mentally, it’s like how a person might feel when they get finally home after a long day, loosen their tie, or remove their bra and just flop onto the sofa. Rest and ultimate comfort at last. I was reminded of this when reading the tweet above, since I think it articulates my thought very well – you don’t feel the need to censor yourself or put on a forced façade when you’re around the right people. You can be yourself in all your flawed, paradoxical glory- and that’s the way it should be.

Home: there’s no place like it

“They say home is where your heart is set in stone

It’s where you go when you’re alone

It’s where you go to rest your bones

It’s not just where you lay your head, it’s not just where you make your bed…”

Home by Gabrielle Aplin

Don’t you love travelling? Particularly as many of us have spent much of the last 18 months cooped indoors, the travelling bug has been gnawing away at us as people have just patiently waited for the moment they could jump on a train or plane again. I love the sense of discovery, especially when you go somewhere new. The overwhelming of the senses – smelling and tasting unfamiliar/new foods, witnessing the indescribable beauty of nature or city architecture, watching as residents come and go; it’s really fun.

However, I do always get to a point where that willingness to explore and absorb new things is threatening to expire. For me, at that point I long to be at home – somewhere familiar and snuggly where I can properly rest and eventually slide back into my normal routine. I understand this might be a rare feeling – I see on social media and speak to people all the time who have travelled for months upon months, or even years and never gotten tired of exploration. I even talked with a friend casually after church about having this feeling and she gave me an incredulous look. At the time I thought okay maybe I am weird, but perhaps this feeling is a good thing; it does have some benefits. When travelling back from an amazing holiday it makes the transition from rest -> back to business as usual a lot easier. Of course, it doesn’t mean the grass won’t always be greener; when I’m back home, making my way through my week, I will, every now and then, definitely wish I was back in country x and y, still on holiday and getting more sun and sleep. But 80% of the time I’m happy and grateful that my journey has come full circle and that I’m back and settled.

Home Sweet Home

The Gabrielle Aplin song quoted at the start of this post is one of my faves – it highlights that there is more to the concept of home then we think. The comfort that we associate with home can typically transcends a building or the four walls of one room. Home can be an escape but is also you’re an anchor. For some reason that feeling never properly dawns on me until I’m thrust into a new environment and blindly trying to find my way around – an experience that can be both simultaneously fun but frustrating. A funny example that comes to mind was when I was trying to reunite with my friends whilst in the States, in Manhattan (New York) and instead got completely lost. The reality check of not being in the UK, where I call home and where navigation personally comes a lot easier for starters, was never stronger than in that moment.

I can’t really explain it but often when you travel to a new place there is a lot of energy that has to be spent to gain a feeling of comfort, mainly because everything around you is unfamiliar. Whether voluntarily or by force, you’ve been uprooted from all you know and have to adapt so you can navigate yourself around confidently (even if level of confidence is fairly limited.) After a period of time its therefore nice to be able to just rest and return to somewhere familiar where things are easy, flow naturally for you are and known well.

Being rooted

I think being cooped up in my house this last year or so, as frustrating as it has sometimes been has also helped me become more grateful for having a place of stability in such a time of upheaval and unpredictability. It’s definitely a privilege to have somewhere – or even someone you can label as ‘home’. For those that are still on the journey to finding a home- in whatever form that may be – I pray God provides it for you soon so you can finally feel settled and at peace.

Gift giving: the nice, the bad and the stress

There’s something incredibly satisfying about giving gifts to people. The brainstorming of the perfect gift which makes you really reflect on the person as an individual, the fine print of their personality. The hunting down of the gift. The presentation of the gift and the look of genuine joy, surprise (or both) once it finally goes from your hands to theirs. Priceless. It’s a language within itself. For me, when I give someone a gift, I want them to know – you are special or I appreciate your role in my life and all you do for me.

Memory Lane

I remember when I was younger, I would take Christmas and birthday gifts really seriously. Each Christmas myself and my friend – both very young teens at the time – would stroll to a nearby Claire’s Accessories and buy little trinkets or random accessories for friends of ours in need of a gift that year. Hours could literally pass when buying gifts – immersed in the bright colours and lights of the store – I would be deep in thought wondering what item would be an ideal fit for each friend. Almost as if the appreciation I felt within hinged on the gift; which it really didn’t, of course.

I would get pocket money from my mum for the trip and make sure to buy surprise gifts for each family member – this has ranged from home made Christmas cards to perfume from the £1 shop. However, I did quickly get to a point where I had the realisation that there wasn’t really any point of using my parents’ hard-earned money to just go and then buy them random gifts. From then on, I long looked forward to the day where I could treat my parents to gifts, with no worries about where the cash has been coming from.

VIPs only!

Over the years the people I buy gifts for have dramatically decreased in size. This is on the account of many factors including the fact I’m on a budget (otherwise all the world would probably get a gift lol) and that I’m quite selective with the title of ‘friend’.

Don’t get me wrong, I find gift giving rewarding and yet, there can be a political element to gift giving that can, to some extent be a bit draining if you bog yourself down in it too much. I’ll give an example.

Person A gets their friend a gift. This gift is both unexpected and quite lavish. The friend is flattered and very grateful. But simultaneously this friend, as the overthinker they are, feels a bit guilty – they definitely need to up their game and buy Person A a gift when the next opportunity comes. When they get home that day the friend googles the gift’s value to ensure they get a gift of similar measure when that time comes. Goodness, is that the price?? That’s definitely out of their budget. They must make sure they send a top-up thank you text to display their gratitude, after all that was an expensive gift .

Sound familiar? I think if anything it’s because we’ve all been there at some point but there is perhaps something to be said about the thought counting. We hear it all the time, ‘it’s the thought that counts’ but when it comes to gift giving there is no joy to be had in it if we lose sight of the ‘thought’ – the energy and careful consideration that goes into each gift given to us (or given by us!) Don’t get too bogged down in the material aspect since most of the time it’s just a symbolic gesture. For me personally – limiting who I give gifts to helps; they tend to mainly go to those I know well and I only have to give them a few times a year which means my approach can be more deliberate and tailored to the individual. Plus, it means I can afford to splurge on myself when my birthday comes; after all, we must gift ourselves from time to time too! 😉

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What do you think? Do you have a certain approach or a strong preference when it comes to gift giving?

*Featured photo by Ekaterina Shevchenko on Unsplash

‘The Customer is King’ and other lies we’re told.

I am a stickler for good customer service. I’m not ashamed to admit it, and neither should you.

However, as you go through life you realise good customer service is often in rare supply, many a business promises it but only a few actually deliver it. Unfortunately, most of us find this out the hard way; when we’re face to face with a rude waiter at dinner or listening to music as we’re placed on hold in the midst of a battle with customer services of some online retailer. I for example, was in a battle with a courier company late last year who had a package of mine that they decided to deliver to a random address I did not even put on the payment form at checkout. However, because of the pandemic I really had no one to complain to because this courier company thought it would be great idea to close down their call centres throughout most of last year – a business decision which makes no logic sense to me but I digress. Sigh.

Fighting for your rights

Me when I’m put on hold by customer services (again)

As much as it sucks to accept, that age old marketing phrase ‘The Customer is King’ doesn’t always seem to translate in the reality of how many businesses operate nowadays. If you, as the customer do not push for what you want (in a reasonable manner, of course) you will often not get the results you want to see. Whether it’s having your burnt food replaced with a new dish, or getting a refund for a holiday cancelled by an airline (as many flocked to do during the start of the pandemic.) It may require lots of angry emails to customer service, visits to store and even letters and phone calls but hopefully it will be worth it when you’re tucking into your newly made dish or rolling around in refund flight money.

This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to know our rights as consumers – there’s many podcasts and online resources out there which can help with this. Many in the UK, for example, will be familiar with TV and consumer finance expert, Martin Lewis who offers a lot of advice on customer rights on his site MoneySavingExpert.

Of course, I hope you’ll never get to the point where you need legal ammunition but it’s always worth having in your arsenal if a company gets lazy and won’t budge regarding your query.

The right formula

From the retail side of things, I can understand that good customer service can be tricky, you’ll often get a variety of customers you have to serve and not everyone will be pleased with the type of service you offer – even if you think it’s great and quite extensive. Some may like the chat bots you offer on your site for example, whilst others – like me – may find them extremely annoying and ineffective – just get me a human to talk to, please!

Yet, customer service at its core is quite simple. People want transparency, quality products and when being dealt with, want it to be done with respect and honesty. Although how those components look on a pie chart may have changed percentage-wise, those demands themselves have not. Additionally, as people within the age of social media, users of brands are being more vocal than ever before about their experience with brands and what they want. In other words, what customers want is not exactly a mystery – businesses just need to make sure they’re doing leg work and keeping their ear close the ground to figure out what we want and then actually make steps to make it happen.

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What do you think? Let’s talk! Do you have any good or bad customer service stories to share and what do you value most from customer service?

If you liked this you may enjoy my previous article on our toxic relationships with brands.

War of the Streets

We live in a city where dwellers roam the intersection of boy and man

Carrying blades close to skin

And the weight of a masculinity seeped in poison

Ego eats the mind, reincarnating itself as blood on the streets

Darkness which eclipses the heart

Dagger is protection

Person is foe

Two truths can exist

But in the end only one life can live

How did it get to this?

If we’re not careful ‘the grass is always greener’,

Is a mentality that can dictate our lives

Like an angry colonel, deafening and persistent

It turns split second smiles to plastic

It eats away at our happiness as we stand in the midst of it

A relentless fire that starts to burn the ground of your security

Perhaps, the grass is only greener because you’re scorching the ground

of the life-giving grass you already stand on.

Embracing Uncertainty

No Risk, No Reward

‘Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own’ – Matthew 6:34

It’s impossible to live a live free from risk. Even if you think you live a comfortable life, it just means it has minimal risk as opposed to no risk at all.

Every decision we make involves stepping into the unknown (even if it’s just a tiny step); from accepting a new role, to starting a new relationship or moving to a new location.

I don’t know about you but I get very annoyed when I don’t know enough things. You think the problem of ignorance will lessen over time but the truth is it never does. In a world of constant change, we will always have gaps in our knowledge – collectively as a species and individually in life too. It means when you’re making a decision and you don’t have all the information (which is always.) You wonder, will this decision work out to my benefit or to my good?

Interestingly, although we all similar risks in life, society is designed to celebrate those who made risks that paid off. The person who happened to invest stock in a start-up eventually valued at billions. The marriage that has lasted over 50 years. The mother who happened to have raised the next flashiest millionaire. Subconsciously, it puts a lot of pressure on us when we make big decisions. We don’t want to fail. We don’t want to be ridiculed. We don’t want to be the ones that it goes wrong for which means we then have to experience the aftermath of comparing ourselves to others who made a risk and thrived. So yes, as I said – a lot of pressure. But also, a lot of worry and fear. If you have the habit of overthinking, like I do, then it’s easy for feelings to leave you in a state of paralysis.

Taking charge, having faith

Ultimately, even if armed with all the information humanly possible, a decision we make can still go left. You can research a house and area thoroughly, or spend time dating someone and getting to know them properly for several years. However, it won’t always prepare you for things you’ll discover when you finally buy the house and are living in it or when you’re living with that person as a married couple.

Unfortunately, there are some things you just won’t know until you lived through the experience and have a story to tell. I’m starting to learn that an important part of life is embracing uncertainty, and taking risks despite them. Obviously, do this with discernment – try and make informed decisions and reflect on the source of your uncertainty since (especially in relationships) it can sometimes be a red flag. However, I am a strong believer that God knowing all and us knowing not much in comparison is definitely not a mistake.

Why Sharing is (not always) Caring

I realised quite a while ago that I hate borrowing things to people. As most things do, it probably stems from my experience as a child in secondary school (high school, for the non-British folks).  

Back then I was always eagerly borrowing people my pens, pencils – and even money but rarely getting my items back. At the time I had just started getting into graphic novels; I was reading a fantastic graphic novel series of Manga-version Shakespeare novels which I had borrowed from my local library. After talking to a friend – let’s call her Janie – about the series, something possessed me to borrow her the book, no harm, right? So I thought. After all, I saw her everyday so receiving the book back should be a straight forward process. Janie was in the year below me but we always hung out in the library together since we loved books, they were the main building block of our bond. Days stretched out to weeks and each time I asked Janie about the book she always had an excuse. After buying herself a few months she eventually coming clean that she had lost the book. I remember feeling a sharp pang of disappointment, although it was basically a confirmation of what I had already suspected. 

Don’t lend what you can’t afford to lose 

Now, as a fully-fledged adult, you wouldn’t dare catch me borrow one of my books to someone – they’re prized possessions. Also, my secondary school experience taught me something – once you borrow someone an item of yours, you do so with the optimistic belief that they will treasure it like their own. Of course, this is hardly the case in my experience. A random experience that comes to mind is when I watched someone use my pen in class (which I had loaned to them) and they started biting it. BITING IT. It was probably an absent-minded gesture, something they do with every pen or in the throes of concentrating, but COME ON – biting takes the mick. 

Nowadays I try to control the variables when it comes to borrowing or giving – it has to be something low value, that I can deal with losing or that I have many of, and has to be to someone I trust to a certain degree. So, chocolates or sweets – yes. Books or a prized pen gifted for my birthday – No, absolutely not. Boundaries such as these, I’ve learnt are the key to stress-free borrowing (if such a thing exists.) 

One of the reasons I take this seriously is because – like it or not – not being able to trust someone with your things can negatively affect your relationship with them. You may have to start reassessing their character or the things you trust them with. Of course, there may be legitimate reason why something can’t be returned to you but if this is a frequent occurrence? Then, yes – questions may need to be asked. 

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Inspired by Kindness 

I think the slightly sad thing about my aversion to borrowing is that it sometimes makes it a lot harder to give – especially in circumstances where it counts and can actually be lifechanging. For example, tithing in church used to be a constant struggle (things have changed in that department though, thank God.) Or even donating to a homeless person – my heart will be moved to action but my mind will put up a road block by whispering ‘won’t you need that money later, Hannah?’ 

I remember going for a walk with a friend and as we passed an off license, we came across a homeless person sitting opposite the shop. Without hesitation she offered to buy him a drink and listened as he weighed out his options. As we went into the store and hunted for his final choice – orange juice – I was moved by her kindness and the readiness she possessed to give. 

Admittedly, I’m still working on being more giving (so I’m not in much of a position to give advice) but I’ll end with that scene because to this day it still makes me smile. 😊 

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Have you had any bad experiences with borrowing people items or money? Comment below and let’s talk!

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Why don’t you like me?

I think this dance we do through life for the approval of others is interesting. On the one hand you’re told to stop seeking such approval, all you need is your own validation. But does that really transfer to real world? Honestly, the answer is no. Every now and then in certain situations you’ll find yourself hiding or exaggerating parts of your personality in order to be liked or gain the approval of the people in your company. Job interviews? You hide your insecurities and fact you can easily get overwhelmed. Instead, you exaggerate your intellect and ability to work with others. In that very moment you want to be liked, even admired if you’re lucky.

Relatable? This doesn’t make you superficial, don’t worry. However, is does make my point that to some extent we are all walking shapeshifters; adapting our personalities or perceptions of self to gain likability to various social situations. It’s actually necessary for survival and to achieve life goals we have; without being likable to others, we most noticeably wouldn’t be able to inspire or influence others. Teachers and coaches giving pep talks wouldn’t inspire their pupils or team respectively without the recipients of the talk liking their teacher enough to listen, if not respect the words they’re saying.

I was thinking more about this human longing to be liked, to gain approval from peers as I binged watched the first few seasons of The Office US during the first lockdown. For those familiar with the show. you’ll know that Michael Scott, the show’s regional manager and protagonist yearns to be liked by his colleagues a little too much, despite being their superior. This leads to him often pushing the boundaries of his working relationships with them which makes for uncomfortable yet hilarious viewing. Despite how exaggerated the trait is in Michael, it is a relatable one nonetheless, particularly in this age of social media where everyone is a small business of one – hoping to get more views and more likes on their content.

Love me or Hate me

So, we’ve established that people long to be liked and care more about it than they would admit. Yet, it’s impossible to be liked everywhere by everyone, so how do we reconcile our fantasy with our actual reality; that more often than none, people will strongly dislike you for no (obvious) reason.

Two things should be noted here:

  1. In the face of hatred always remember the people that love you – they’re the ones that see something special in you, and will always be your biggest fans. You realise how rare such people are when you realise how unkind the world can be. Never neglect these people or take their appreciation of you for granted!
  2. Be open and willing to take criticism: Dare I say it; sometimes a person’s disliking of you may have valid roots. I remember being close to a friend at university; we would often have random banter or go to society events together. After a few months had gone by I realised we hadn’t met up in a while and messaged her because I missed her company.‘Hey, we haven’t met up in a while, I hope you’re okay… blah blah’

As we discussed how quiet it had been between us, she admitted honestly ‘you always bail out of things we arrange to do and it’s annoying’. At the time I was obviously a bit annoyed and met that response with a flurry of denial. But looking back, what If she was right and in pointing out my flakiness had highlighted a bad habit I had overlooked?

That last point in particular makes a case for importance of self-reflection – sometimes it can be the key to spotting not so obvious bad habits in us before others do.

Then again, self-reflection can be a double-edged sword sometimes, as I find with myself, if we do it too often, too deeply we may find ourselves annoyed about traits we don’t need to change or can’t change [easily] but feel pressured to do so anyway.

There are no simple solutions to staying out of these mental thought traps (unfortunately.) It is worth reimagining it as a tight rope balance between self-worth and likability. The former shouldn’t depend on the latter, it should be something unshakable at our core. Of course, the reality is much different from this ideal, but there’s no harm in keeping it as something we can aim towards, right?