Trust your own madness neon sign

If anyone has the perfect life please speak now. Please. We will flock to you like butterflies to rotting fruit and commit acts of worship until we learn your ways.

Sadly no one has the perfect life; the Queen has Phillip to deal with, One Direction are probably rife with STDs and Jesus had his daddy issues. Everyone is fighting their own battle regardless of if they are visible or not. The question is, if everyone experiences negative emotions why the hell are we so bad at admitting it?

Life will have its ups and downs – fact. If you are happy all the time you are either a psychopath, on some phenomenal drugs or are actually a puppy. None of these are particularly great things (except being a puppy, puppies are true life goals). Regardless of how you are feeling right at this moment, in the future you will be happy, sad, angry, hungry (totally an emotion), resentful, excited and every other fractal of emotion.

We are striving for a perfect horizon, a point in life where everything is roses and happiness all the time. But even if you reached that horison you would still feel the negatives, you would probably feel bored, sad and restless. Look what happened to the citizens of the Capitol when they had everything they wanted? No one wants to see the London version of the Hunger Games; tributes choosing between a mating fox or a can of Strongbow as weapons doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

Nothing material, medical, or relationship-al can stop you from experiencing negative emotions in your future.

Given that we all 100% experience down times why exactly don’t we talk about it? Why don’t we have the language or the phrases to tell friends that life at the moment feels like the fuck-trumpet of doom and you just want a kitten delivery service to be a real thing? Instead what we do is cancel plans with flimsy excuses, we drop out at the last minute, sub-tweet, laugh too loud at parties and pretend that it is all ok. We build up a front to stop the world seeing what is actually going on, and in the process make what we are feeling ten times worse.

Millennial burnout is something that has been written about quite a bit recently. Short story is that we are giving so much passion to our jobs, and never switching off so by about 30 we burnout. It’s a symptom of our inability to talk about the negative that we hear from the burned but not the ones in the flames. We can look back and reflect, but actuating in the moment? Not a chance. I am the worst for this (and I talk from genuine experience). It’s not that I don’t trust my friends or think they would be anything other than supportive – it’s that I didn’t know things were that bad until suddenly they were.

Follow that dream neon sign

We all ‘hate Mondays’ we are all ‘super stressed out’ we all ‘have a lot on’, this is our 20-something baseline of emotion. If that is the average then how do you know when these feelings reach dangerous levels? When every single person at the table says how stressed they are, you instantly assume that everyone is feeling the way you do – you just aren’t able to cope. So we keep on keeping on, blaming ourselves for being deficient in some way instead of realising that the work/relationship/travel situation that we have ended up in is not right. We can’t even recognise in ourselves that something is majorly wrong, how the hell can we explain it to friends?

That is my experience at least. I had a job that I’m pretty sure would have killed me in the end, but I kept marching on because I thought that the stress just meant I cared, the tiredness just meant I was working hard and the fact that I had turned into a sharp and entirely unlikeable person was just who I was. I was doing everything I was supposed to, the fact that I felt terrible all the time was surely just something inherently wrong with me, not something that could be fixed.

So what did I do? Well I was absolutely fine, until all of a sudden I wasn’t. I wasn’t to such an extent that all I wanted to do was run away, I considered leaving London and going home. I fantasied about menial jobs where I didn’t have to be in charge, good lord at one point I thought “man if I had a baby I wouldn’t have to stay in this job”. Bad, bad, bad.

So I quit. I quit a company that I loved more than anything because my mental health was more important than a job was ever going to be. I took a month off to put myself back together. A month were I basically just cafe hopped and drank a lot of coffee. It was magical. Three weeks in I found myself smiling as I walked down the road, an event so unusual and shocking that I still remember it. What a state did I get myself into that spontaneous smiling was unusual?

I am me again. I am me with a new job that I love. But I am a little wiser now, I am not going to let myself burnout again. I now go to a cafe and write this little blog every morning because it makes me happy. I now repeat “Not my monkeys. Not my circus” to myself endlessly (not EVERYTHING is my problem). I let go. I have a life outside work that is of equal importance to my job. And I am doing my best to look, really look, at how I am feeling so that if I get to that point again I will know to raise the red flag to my friends.

 

London

I still remember a conversation I had with my mum when I was about 14. She asked me why whenever anyone asked ‘how are you’ I answered with ‘I’m tired’. Then a few years later that answer was replaced with ‘I’m stressed’. It was the simplest answers I could come up with for the mass of things I didn’t like about my life, and how I felt like a fish out of water.

But now, when people ask how I am I can confidently say ‘I am freakin awesome’. I still get tired, and I am a pretty good friend of stress, but overall I appreciate that I am lucky to live the life I do.

So what had changed? My psychology degree tells me that the greatest unhappiness comes from the difference between what we have and what we expect to have. And to be honest I think I changed my expectations.

I always thought that I would be all loved up by my early twenties (my family seem to find the love of their lives before they leave their teens!), but I’m single and I could not lead the life I live now if I wasn’t. I decided to move to London on a whim, if there had been a man in my life it almost certainly would have involved more planning and compromise. Being single more importantly allows me to be entirely selfish with my time. I can work 13 hour days without explaining myself, I can then spend all weekend going to galleries or blogging without feeling guilty. So my expectations have changed, I could not give a toss about having a boyfriend right now which means there is no cognitive discord.

I also thought that I was going to be a career woman in a power suit and high heels. Ok, so I went down the wrong road quite far on this one (a four year degree, internship and eventual job as a tax accountant) and it was a massively hard jump to leave – after all I was failing the ‘self’ I thought I was. When I left pretty much every friend and family member said the same thing “I never understood why you wanted to do that, it didn’t seem like you”… Well thanks guys, could you not have told me earlier?

But they were right, I now work for a company with values I believe in, that challenges me in every way and supports me whole heartily. In return they get my endless devotion and a frightening proportion my time and energy. It wasn’t a matter of changing my expectations, rather understanding them better. A career didn’t have to mean suits, hierarchy and tax legislation, it actually meant a job that I could throw myself into and feel like a was a valued cog in the machine. Even if those same friends and family now laugh themselves sick because I work for a fitness company and I’m not exactly exercisey (is that a word?).

I also particularly feel blessed because of my grandmother. I have been told my entire life that she was a Prime Minister stuck in a farm wife’s life. She was intelligent, feisty and born too early for that to make any difference.  Life was planned out for her, with the only option being to marry and have children. That is the life some women choose and they love it, but for me that would have been an even worse choice than tax accounting. I get to live my life how I want to – a luxury that my grandmother didn’t have and that millions of girls around the world today miss out on as well.

Yes London is hard. Yes I get stressed. And for sure I get tired. But I know who I am, and more than anything I know that who I am is 100% completely and totally ok.

Hell, I’m still a fish. But at least I’m a fish that learned to fly.

How to survive London cover

Moving to London is part of the Kiwi experience, but that doesn’t mean it’s not one hell of a big step. So here are just a few of my tips for settling into the big smoke.

If you have any to add (or think I am way off the mark!) just tweet, Facebook or comment below.

Welcome to London y’all.

*Last updated in November 2015*

First few days

Before you arrive book a hostel or arrange to sleep on a friends floor for the first few days – you just need somewhere to get over the jetlag. After that I highly recommend a short term let (where someone has gone on holiday etc and you stay in their room), it means you have some stability but are not locked in before you know where you are working. I found mine on Move Flat, but also look on Spare Room or Facebook.

In your first week you will need to:

  • get an Oyster card – just go to your nearest station and pay £5
  • get a phone or SIM card for your phone – look at Orange, Three, Vodafone, Talk Talk, Giff Gaff, EE and T-Mobile to see who currently has the best deal
  • organize your national insurance number – just call the number on this page, they will send you a form to fill out and send back
  • get a bank account – see below

Bank accounts

The main banks in the UK are: Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds, RBS, Nat West and Santander. Currently the easiest bank for new arrivals Lloyds because they just need to see your passport (not proof of address).

But to choose any bank you want, get your NZ bank to redirect your statements to a UK address (even if it is a friends), the Banks are happy to use this as proof of address.

NB: most banks DON’T accept the national insurance letter as proof of address.

You should be able to get a basic bank account with no monthly fees – if they say you have to pay because you just arrived you should go to another bank. I choose to pay a monthly fee because my account also gets me travel insurance and mobile phone insurance and the monthly fee is cheaper than getting them separately. It totally depends on what you are looking for and is worth shopping around for the best offer.

Apps

Having a smart phone will basically save your life in London. The main apps to download as soon as you get here (you may need to switch to the UK version of the App Store first) are:

  • City Mapper – This will save your life time and time again, essentially a one stop shop for how to get from A to B. It takes into account Tube closures, and also combines bus/tube routes to give you the quickest options. Also it always shows a ‘rain safe’ option which should be taken very seriously indeed.
  • London Tube Map – this is a no-brainer, essentially just a tube map on your phone.
  • Tinder/Happn – Less of a way to meet people, more like free entertainment.
  • BBC iPlayer/Channel 4 OnDemand/UKTV Play – all ways to watch TV legally over the internet if you haven’t sorted a TV.
  • SkyScanner – compares all airlines so you can book the cheapest or most convenient.
  • Skype – your parents would kill me if I didn’t include this one.
  • Flatmates in London – New app on the scene to find flatmates in London

Transport

I didn’t know if I should include this or not,it all seems so obvious when you have been here for more than a week. Then I remembered my panic the first time I caught  a bus and well.. here it is.

Bus:

You swipe your Oyster when you board but not when you leave (you just push the bell and get off). YOU CAN’T USE CASH you either have to have an Oyster card or a contactless debit/credit card. At the moment (August 2015) a bus trip is a flat rate of £1.50 per ride no matter what the distance. But make sure to check here for the latest prices: TFL Prices.

Tube:

Less scary and confusing then you think, after all if you get on the wrong train you just get off at the next stop and start again. Pricing is per zone (i.e. more expensive if you cross over zones) and if you are under 26 you can get discounts by using a Young Persons Rail Card. Before you get the tube, just check google maps because there are some parts of Zone 1 where it is far quicker to walk. Top tip: don’t be a dick, give up your seat for anyone who needs it (even when you have to play the pregnant or fat game in your head). Again you can use your contactless debit card (if you got your bank account sorted) instead of an Oyster, just make sure you tap in and out with the same card.

Bike:

You can hire a Boris Bike all over London, you then just return it to another convenient docking station. Just be careful, because traffic in London is scary and you will most likely be riding without a helmet (which apparently is totally fine here).

Taxi:

In London the only cabs that can pick you up on the street without a prior booking is a Black Cab. Not kidding on this one, no other taxis are allowed to pick people up off the street. There are even massive advertising  campaigns about how dangerous it is to get into an unlicenced cab (the gist of which is all the unlicenced cab journeys seem to end in rape, theft or murder). The only way around this is by pre-booking with a mini-cab company (pre-booking could mean 5min before you are ready to leave). I always use Kabbee because it compares all the nearby mini-cab companies and gives you a rating for them. You can always go Uber but I personally don’t agree with their ethics, so I stick with hailing a Black Cab on the street or using Hailo to flag one down with my phone.

Jobs

As a general rule for office based jobs it is a good idea to register with two or more recruitment companies, and then bug them to death (they will forget about you). Shapelle has written a great piece on recruitment companies and job hunting in London which you can read here.

The recruitment companies over here are industry or job type specific. So you first need to find out which recruiter is going to have the type of job you are looking for. The best way to do this is ask someone already in the industry, but assuming you don’t know anyone go to a job site like Guardian Jobs, Total Jobs, Monster or Reed. Recruiters post job adds there, so find a job you are interested in and then approach the recruitment company that posted it. And if you are truly freaking the freak out about getting a job, click the panic image at the bottom of this post.

Food

You can feed yourself in London far cheaper than in New Zealand. I highly recommend going to markets for cheap fruit and vegetables, they are everywhere so just do some googleing for one near you.

In terms of supermarkets Waitrose is considered to be the most expensive, but they have some of the best meat/fish around. Sainsburys, Morrisons and Tesco are middle if the range, much of a muchness price and quality wise. The cheapest options are Aldi, Asda and Lidl, worth stocking up on basics.

Clothes

Kiwis are known for shopping up a storm when they first arrive. This is partly because there is some incredible shopping over here, but mostly because we had to pack our entire lives into a suitcase (and you had to make the hard choice of hair straighteners over those amazing glitter stilettos).

As an emergency measure (i.e. if you expected summer and got winter, the airport lost your luggage, or you are skint) start at Primark. The quality is not fantastic, but it is the ultimate in fast fashion where most of the clothes are under £10. Along the same lines is TK Maxx which is a bit like Kmart in NZ.

H&M is also a really good place to start, particularly for interview clothes. I got a jacket there for £14 that has managed to secure me two jobs. For vaguely less fashionable but yards ahead in quality, go to Marks and Spencer or John Lewis.

Although you can get a cheap suit at Primark and a still cheapish but a bit nicer suit at H&M; if you are after a proper corporate uniform head to TM Lewin, Marks and Spencer or Moss Bros.

When you get the flu after a week

First stop is Boots, which is a massive chain of chemists. The pharmacists in Boots are pretty good, and if you ask them simple health questions they can quite often help you out on the spot.

If you do need a prescription you have two options. You can go to a NHS walk-in centre – you will wait for a couple of hours but will be seen by either a doctor or nurse and you normally don’t have to pay anything.

Or, if you have a permanent address you can register with a GP. You can’t just pick which one you want to go to, they have catchment areas and they have to be accepting new patients (check out your options here). You then need to fill in a form and show bank statement or bill as proof that you are in their area and you can make an appointment to see them.

If it is life threatening the emergency services number in the UK is 999.

Rather confusingly (for Kiwi’s at least), over here 111 is a number for non-life threatening emergencies, if you are panicking and need advice it is the number to call.

Clothes hangers and rubbish bins et al

When you do finally move into a permanent flat, locating some of the mundane aspects of life can be challenging. Below is a list of shops to check out:

  • Poundland
  • Robert Dyas
  • Supermarkets
  • Marks and Spencer
  • Primark (for bedding)
  • John Lewis
  • IKEA
  • Argos

Social media – your new lifeline

One of the biggest surprises since moving to London is the extent to which social media has become ingrained in the expat lifestyle. If you need help, advice, or just need to know where to watch the rugby Facebook groups like Kiwis in London are the answer.

When you are new to a city even the smallest things can be seriously confusing (the two things that confused me when I first arrived was how to register with a doctor and where to buy coat hangers… the two are totally unrelated). But with a Facebook group you can quickly find the answer from the community.

Twitter has also been brilliant, both in finding other adventuring expats and in finding things to do. I (like the majority of people living in London) am completely skint, but because I follow @skintlondon on twitter I can fill my weekends with cheap/free activities.

It sure beats sitting at home complaining that you can’t afford a pint.

Making friends

This is one that took me almost a year of being here to learn. Some people move over here with a group of friends which is ideal because you have a buddy for all your London firsts. Me? I jumped the gun on London and moved a couple of years before my friends.

After months of walking and wandering on my own I decided to be brave and go out and meet people. I joined a netball team (until I realised that it involved running…), found a book club, attended blogging network events, and stalked Emma from Adventures of a London Kiwi.

These were all activities that suited/interested me; if you want beer and rugby there are support groups out there for you as well.

Yes you feel like its the first day of school and are asking the kid eating crayons to be your friend, but the reality is that most expats (and some Londoners) are in the same position and are overjoyed to expand their social circle.

Some ideas for the lost and lonely:

  • go to KIL drinks (don’t worry if you are by yourself, just buy the guy next to you a shot and it will all be ok)
  • attend pub crawls e.g. Waitangi day pub crawl
  • social sports teams
  • evening classes
  • ask people at work out for drinks

You are in a city of almost 12 million people, there are friends out there. Find them.

So youve decided to move to London oh

Materials with a shiny surface

Clicking through LinkedIn the other day, I came across this article. It was a bit of a lightbulb moment for me, because it verified how I choose to live my life.

I worked for four years at university to become a tax consultant – yes I was the weird kid who went through high school knowing I wanted to work at one of the Big 4. Four years of drive, four years of activities that would look good on a corporate CV, four years of not stressing about my future – because I knew exactly which path I was going to be on.

And I did it. I got there. I landed the job in the company, department and team of my dreams.

*cough* it just wasn’t for me.

I felt it in my gut within the first few months that it wasn’t for me, but I thought it might just be new job jitters. After a year I knew for sure I was on the wrong road.

It would take an age to quantify this gut feeling. But my biggest indicator was that I was turning into a nasty, introverted and agitated person – living on a knife edge is not how you should be living in your dream job at 23.

So I chucked it in. I was sitting in a cafe with my Mum and she said “you should move to London” … so I did. That is the exact amount of consideration that I put int my big move.

By god am I glad I did. Because I am HAPPY!

xx

For another take, check out this post: https://medium.com/advice-to-graduates/ec77f3e88d98