We're rapidly approaching the present day in this journey through my creative life, so firstly, thank you for sticking with me so far. It's been a rollercoaster for me writing it so I hope you've been able to keep up with all the ups and downs and twists and turns.
I really feel like the last couple of years have seen the most change and progress, like things have speeded up in carrying me closer to where I want to be, but there have still been low points, and perhaps even more fear, frustration and tears as I've become more and more aware of how far from my heart I had wandered. More frequently I have realised that what has kept me stuck is me - yes there have been expectations of me from others, but I'm the one who has behaved accordingly, toed the line, even when I've felt strongly that it wasn't the right path. There have been moments recently when I've had to almost shake myself physically out of a rut, out of old ingrained habits, and tell myself to just get on and do something, because really the worst than could happen isn't that terrible after all.
But back a bit first - after completing my MA and graduating on a freezing, wet November day at Canterbury Cathedral, it was early summer before I succeeded in getting a new full time job. In that time when I was unemployed, as was also the case in previous periods between jobs, I often felt the most relaxed and content that I had felt in a long time. My days were my own (more or less), I could set my routine, and I had time to enjoy creative pursuits like more and more knitting, and taking up sewing and dressmaking. I fitted in regular walks and time outdoors, and I slept well.
Full time work came as a bit of a shock to the system, and it took me a while to get into the swing of things. My role was fairly flexible in terms of where I worked, combining time in a couple of different offices as well as days out and about around the region, which suited me OK as I didn't necessarily want to be chained to a desk all the time. But there was also vagueness around my responsibilities which frustrated me - a lack of clarity that some might see as an opportunity to mould the job, but I just found too wide a scope to know how to deal with. Yes, I liked the flexibility to work my own way, but it would have been helpful to have clearer parameters for what I was trying to achieve. I was regularly involved in delivering induction training to new employees which I came to enjoy for a while, but then internal politics and corporate strategies evolved and it became harder to feel enthusiastic about promoting an ethos that I didn't completely believe in or trust.
The whole situation took its toll and I got to a point of more or less simply existing - get up, go to work, eat, sleep, repeat - and feeling overwhelmed at the weekends by trying to fit in all the other stuff that I wanted to enjoy, or guilty for sleeping and not doing any of it. A change of position earlier this year - a promotion with a corresponding increase in salary - seemed a wonderful opportunity, but very quickly left me feeling even worse than before, and in a mutual decision with my manager I left after only five weeks in the role. I've written about this elsewhere, but sitting in a local park after the final meeting I felt like the biggest weight had been lifted from my shoulders, and all the noise in my mind had gone quiet. I knew it was the right choice for me.
Throughout this time I was still going to weekly choir rehearsals and taking part in regular performances, I was still knitting, sewing more of my own clothes, going swimming nearly every Friday afternoon, and growing flowers and vegetables in the garden at home. But it didn't feel like nearly enough. I would have to nearly force myself to go to choir, even though I knew how much better I would feel once I got there. I savoured the summer months when my weekly swim could take place in the outdoor pool under the warmth of the sunshine and the fresh air on my skin. But still it wasn't enough.
Knowing that I wasn't happy with the direction my life was headed - and despite the decent regular salary and my savings starting to grow (one of the key factors of a good life according to those around me) - towards the end of 2015 and at the beginning of this year I vowed to change things. I had become involved in a couple of beautiful communities on Instagram, and the positivity, support and loving encouragement I've received there helped me to be more open about what I was going through, to share more personally than I had ever felt brave enough to before, and to feel like it was truly OK to be myself. I also sought support through coaching, and once I had left my job in the summer, I was able to take the time to really concentrate on myself, to listen to my head and heart and to start to make sense of the conflicts that had been raging internally for so long.
2016 has also been a year of saying yes to new experiences, and I have a year planner stuck on my wall filled with all the things I've done and places I've been this year. A family holiday in Italy last year visiting Lake Garda, and most especially the stunningly beautiful city of Venice, reignited my wanderlust, and I'm determined not to miss out on all the sights and sites I want to see around the world. This year has been a gentle introduction, exploring places local to home and a bit further afield in the UK - Chatsworth House, Penshurst Place, Sissinghurst Castle Gardens, Scarborough, Devon, London - but I'm hoping next year to spread my travelling wings a little further. I've also explored my creative side more, attending a dressmaking workshop, visiting craft fairs, completing a beginners pottery course, continuing to learn new songs with choir, joining online courses in photography and mindfulness, and now introducing daily yoga into my morning routine.
I've packed a lot into this year, but it is definitely the good kind of full - the kind of busy that is enjoyable, that nourishes my soul, that feeds my love of learning, that gives me inspiration to try even more new things, and has also given me courage to stand up for myself as I forge my new path. This hasn't been easy, but following some emotional and difficult conversations with my parents, we're coming to a new understanding of each other, and they are beginning to respect my need for independence (even though that means still living at home for the time being), and have helped me set up a desk and workspace in our spare bedroom so that I have space dedicated to my creativity, where I can concentrate and not be interrupted, and where I can begin to build my new business.
This is still in the early stages, and will continue to evolve, but I have begun by opening an Etsy shop to sell my own creations, and I have accepted a couple of commissions from friends to make things for Christmas gifts. There will be more developments coming in the new year, and my online home may well change, but I will keep you updated with what's happening as it happens. I'm excited for this next phase in my journey, it feels like my path ahead has become much clearer and easier to traverse, and I'm feeling good about what is to come.
Creativity has always been, despite the times when it was repressed, a hugely important part of my life, and one that I am now welcoming with open arms, in all the ways it is finding to manifest itself, all the colour and joy it brings me, and everything that I want to share with you. I have titled this series of posts 'My Creative Awakening', but perhaps it would be better termed a re-awakening, especially in these last few years. It was always there, but just sometimes got buried and forgotten for a while, or squeezed in desperately to whatever cracks it could find. I hope that my journey has perhaps helped you in some way to re-connect with your own creative self, to hear again the call of your heart, to listen to the truth within you, and to trust that it knows what it's doing. I spent so many years being so many things to so many other people, that I got lost. I shut out that inner voice to the point where it started to find ways to shout at me, to scream in pain, wanting deeply to be heard. Now that I am listening, we're working together, and I feel whole.