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A 17-point checklist for creating your dream life (or how I went from miserable teenager to happy adult)


Here's my #10YearChallenge - don't I just look happy in 2008? Probably because I wasn't. 

At the start of the 2019 I wrote a mushy-mushy post about how 2018 was the year that everything finally clicked into place for me and how I felt content af.

Which is an incredible feeling, but it took me 28 years to get there.

Not long before my 20th birthday I was hit by a murky cloud that came with a silver-lining. I got dumped (for someone else) and had been royally fucked over by a close friend (it involved money) in the space of a few short months. Both of these people had brought chaos to my life since I met them and ended up leaving my life in a dramatic fashion. Then younger me was left wondering how I ended up in this mess.

The silver living was that I woke up to the reality that I wasn't content with life, at all. I had been in the passenger seat of my own life, insecure, and had little self-identity. It also made me realise that I was a magnet for problematic people (aforementioned partner was my second relationship, but my first relationship wasn't particularly healthy either).

So on New Year's Eve 2011 I decided I would have a life makeover.

I didn't exactly know how this was going to happen. In the end it was a big mix of trial-and-error, reading a ton of self-help books, diving into the wellness industry, and listening to what my inner gut was telling me. Everything got gradually better as different areas of my life clicked into place, but it took until last year for things to feel really good.

Like everyone, I don't have a map or checklist to help me navigate this crazy thing called life. I made all of it up as I went along. Experimenting, if you will. But I'm finally in a place where I love my life, and don't have any major complaints. I can't undo anything from my past, but I can move on from it.

And in what will be potentially the most personal blog I've written, I share the different parts of my life that I changed or, at the very least, scrutinised. I'm a big believer that life is not a one-size-fits-all thing and I 100% am not suggesting that you go out and copy all my choices. But this is actually what I did in practice, and what I wish I had known 8 years ago. So if you have the same feeling brewing in you as I did back in 2010, here are some potential pointers.

1. Think about what you want
Shut your bedroom door. Turn off your phone. Go rent a cabin the woods if you think it's necessary. The important part is that you try your hardest to shut out the opinions of your parents, partner, friends, co-workers, relatives you see once a year, advertisers, and the media.

You need to try and connect with your authentic self and identify what you really want from life. This isn't always easy. Later in the blog I will explore this in more depth as we move through different areas of life, but you need to start with the correct mindset.

Importantly though, try and not go against the grain for the hell of it. That is rebellion; not building your dream life. The two are different. There's nothing wrong with wanting the mainstream; just as long as though you've sat with it and are confident that it's what you want.

For example, I'm pushing 30 and I'm long-term single, don't want kids (ever), live in a city-centre flat share, and haven't even entertained the idea of applying for a managerial role. Heck, I'm applying to go back into education this year. This isn't exactly the life anyone had hoped for me, but it is the life I actively chose.

2. I went vegetarian, and eventually vegan
I know on the face of it this doesn't exactly sound life-changing but for someone who had been uneasy about meat consumption since primary school but wasn't allowed to go vegetarian - it was a big deal. I went vegetarian in the months that followed my 'moment' and it was the first thing I did to take back control of my life.

Vegetarianism might not be right for you, but looking at your diet in another way might. Do you feel nourished? Do you feel bloated? Are you obsessive about what goes in your body? Do certain foods make your skin spotty? Could you have a better relationship with food? Do you have disordered eating?

3. I moved to a city I love
As far back I can remember I've always daydreamed of living elsewhere. The Aberdeenshire countryside never felt right. As a teenager I built up an encyclopaedic knowledge of other UK cities, which was probably driven by my desire to live elsewhere.

When I left for university, I intentionally chose a institution elsewhere. I went for Dundee (don't chose a university for its location, definitely don't copy me here). It was better, but not amazing. I knew there was somewhere else. In my final year of university I travelled to Glasgow for an event (somewhere I'd been a few times but didn't know that well) and came back knowing it was where I wanted to live post-university. I was met with a few eye-rolls, but I was determined and only applied for jobs in G-town upon graduation. It took me years to build the life I have in Glasgow now (I went to a lot of concerts alone!) but I was determined to make it work, and eventually it did. 

Some people never leave their hometown, and that's okay. Some people will move to the other side of the world. Some people do the city thing until they're 25, and then move to the suburbs. Some people like the city they grew up in, but would prefer a different area within that city. Some people love living alone, while others flat-share into their thirties. It might even take a bit of moving around to find out exactly what kind of living arrangement works for you but when you know, you know.

4. I stayed intentionally single
After two shitty relationships in a row, it was time to do some soul-searching. As easy as it would be to blame my exes for everything that went wrong, I was also part of the unhealthy dynamic and I had to own that. And that's where I promised myself that I wouldn't get into a relationship again until 1) I met someone I knew I could really work with, and 2) I worked out my own shit first.

And, uh, I'm still single. Honestly, out of every choice I mention on this list I get the most side eyes about this one.

If you're in a relationship: are you genuinely happy? Do you look at your partner and wonder how you got it so lucky? Are you happy with every aspect of the relationship, or is there something you've been biting your tongue on?

If you're single: know that you're not an unlovable loser. That's the first thing. I know what's it like to have an unhealthy relationship take its toll on me, and I'd rather die alone. There is an upside though: it's much easier to think about what you want from a relationship if you're not already in one. Do you want children? Do you believe in marriage? Do you want monogamy or polyamory? Do you have big life plans that might be good to get out of your system now? Do you have some negative personality traits that you could work on so you'll be better partner when you do meet someone?

5. I came out of the closet
So on the topic of romantic relationships: I've known I was attracted to people of multiple genders since I was 14, but didn't publicly share that information until I almost 27. Carrying that secret around for over a decade certainly had a negative impact on my emotional well-being.

I wrote an entire blog post on why it took me 10 years to come out, so I won't re-hash anything you don't already know. But if you are in the closet (or even just questioning your sexuality and would like to experiment) know that coming out was the scariest thing I ever did, but it was also incredibly liberating. My DMs are open.

6. I have friends who get me, the real me
Just like your romantic relationships, have a look at your platonic relationships. Are your social and emotional needs being met by your current social circle? Is there someone you secret dislike? Is there someone you've been friends with for years and feel obligated to stay friends with despite having moved on emotionally? Is there a super-cool girl at your work you think you could be proper pals with?

Since publicly becoming my authentic self I've found it a lot easier to naturally attract platonic connections. But something else that helped was working on being a better friend. I became an active listener, learned how to open up to someone, trust people, buy great birthday presents, and support someone during a difficult time. Being a good friend is a life skill, and all skills can be worked on.

7. Career
You spend 40+ hours a week at your job, so it's worth finding something that's a good fit. But I 100% reject the idea that if you follow your bliss, you’ll never work another day in your blahblahblahbutwhatabouttherent. It's okay to have a job that is just a job. You are not a disgrace to your parents or feminism if you're not a passionate careerist. Your career or job, however, should not be something that brings you sadness, guilt, or crippling anxiety.

I went to university for the wrong reasons. I knew this by my third year, but didn't have it in me to drop out (and, uh, my parents wouldn't let me). I accidentally fell into marketing, and I've been happy enough in it since. But I never stopped toying and researching other potential paths. And for the last two years something has been growing in me, and I've decided that 2019 will be the year that I start to put the wheels into motion.

I know very few people who decided what they wanted to do at sixteen, went to university for that specific degree, got a job in their chosen field, and then never looked at their CV again. Most people manoeuvre around a little bit. If everything goes according to my own plan, I'll be in education when I enter my thirties. That's not exactly where the Powers That Be think anyone should be at thirty, but it's where I will be.

8. I accepted my introversion (and my other personality traits)
For the bulk of my life, I've been made to feel like my introverted nature was a bad thing. And I was a bit confused because I still liked parties, roller coasters, having lots of friends, and noisy cities. Things introverts aren't meant to like.

Turns out I'm a social introvert, and realising that has improved my own attitude to socialising and how I navigate friendships.

8. I have hobbies that bring me genuine joy
I'm a couch potato now, so it might surprise you to know my parents limited indoor activities and made me go outside (even if I didn't want to). But I don't get any real joy from outdoor pursuits so that was quickly thrown in the bin when I left home.

My two 'big' hobbies these days are cooking and reading. After that I have blogging, social media, swimming, crafting, comics, and live shows. Over the years I've made attempts to become invested in a variety of hobbies (yoga, dancing, netball, and, uh, trapeze), all with varying degrees of success (trapeze went badly). If you don't have a hobby that you can speak passionately about for hours on end now is your time to find it. It might take some experimenting, and I'd say that if it doesn't fill you will love after three months then it's time to move on.

9. I explored my political and religious beliefs
I grew up in a Church of Scotland household, and it never sat with me. I then spent time in my teenage years exploring religion (mainly Buddhism, Paganism, and other branches of Christianity). These days I'm firmly non-religious, to the point where I wouldn't have a church wedding (even for show) and ask for the secular version of anything (jury duty, for example).

Politically, I've always leaned left and I've become more left as time has marched on. My left-winged views are so integral to my belief system that I refuse to be friends with someone who isn't on the left and won't date someone who isn't politically aligned.

10. I became a power for good
Apparently there's some studies floating around that people who volunteer have better self-esteem because they know they are helping people. And while I am politically against helping others for your own ego (if you really want to help, fight the system not the symptoms) I do agree. I feel a lot better about myself know that my activism is (hopefully) helping the nudge the world in a better direction.

11. I developed a self-care plan
I know that alone time, swimming, and maintaining a clean environment are critical for my mental well-being.

And that meditation, aromatherapy and yoga do nothing for me. 

12. I have well-being idols who I still follow online for inspiration and brain orgasms
These are Gala Darling, Sarah of Yes and Yes, and Melissa A.Fabello. Their advice is practical rather than inspirational, and that works best for me.

13. I got rid of the excess
I've already implied in several of the steps above about riding your life of the excess, but let's say it directly.

Excess friends. Excess apps on your phone. Excess belongings. Excess social media accounts that you don't have time to update. Excess hobbies. Excess projects. Excess committees. Excess newsletters in your inbox. Get rid of the excess and streamline things down to what you need. It will free you up for things that genuinely bring you happiness (and save you money).

14. I had a physical make-over
I was raised in a household where expression through clothing choices and make-up was seen as frivolous. So I didn't have the opportunity to play with my style until I had my own income. Then it was a long journey that involved a lot of unflattering photographs.

To make it clear I 100% reject the idea that a make-over means subscribing to society's narrow definition of beautiful. It's time to find out what makes you feel good: whether that be super feminine and glamorous; slouchy and comfortable; power-suits and French Manicures; fashionable and trendy; or quirky and gothic.

15. I got tattooed
Like vegetarianism, this might not be seen as automatically life changing. But I grew up in a family where no one had visible tattoos and anti-tattoo sentiments were around me.

So when I finally got a tattoo (albeit a hidden one) it felt like doing something for myself and not worrying about what anyone else thought of me.

(Obviously, I'm not suggesting that everyone gets a tattoo but if you've considered it maybe it's time to look into it?)

16.  I got to the root of why I am the way I am (or was)
Last year I read the Anxiety Solution by Chloe Brotheridge, and it blew me the fuck open. In it she encourages people to go back into their childhood and analyse whether their chronic shyness lies in the way they were raised. And holy fuck, I made some connections between the behaviour of adult me and the way adults treated me as a child. Being able to climb back into my past like this and rip issues out at the root was like being re-born.

If you've got issues as an adult (whether it be picking shitty romantic partners, shyness, or struggling to hold down a job) try and understand why you are like that in the first place. Once you understand where your behaviour patterns came from, you can begin to unlearn them.

17. I stopped blaming everything on everybody else
This is the most uncomfortable, but the most essential, element of building your dream life. While there are some things in my life I couldn't control, there were things I could control and chose not to. Confronting myself about my mistakes was not a fucking walk in the park, I can tell you.

Nobody is perfect, but some people are definitely more high-calibre than others. Think of it a sliding scale: you definitely want to be closer to the "High-Calibre" end than the "Absolute Gobshite" end. And when I say "work on yourself" I mean the stuff that really matters when everything is said and done. We're talking the deep emotional stuff here, not healthy eating and exercise.

I found physically sitting in front of a mirror and having a fake conversation with myself to be really beneficial (yes, really). I wasn't popular in high school, because I had eurgh social skills. I used to be stickler for rules, to the point where I was a pain. I would attempt to change romantic partners, rather than leave or accept people for who they were. I was a moody cow. I used to have really bad table manners. I was messy to the point of being a bit, well, disgusting.

Over to you.
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