Letters from Lockdown: On the distance between who we are and who we're going to be
Londoners, what’s happening with the weather? I can’t tell when to take my one-a-day walk. I don’t want to waste it getting soaked. Hm. Guess I’ve made writing this newsletter my extremely indoor activity for the afternoon.
I have to admit that I’ve not found the lockdown as much of a shock to the system as much of the internet has. While I’ve not found joy in the situation either, my experiences of grief early in life have taught me to live with the uncomfortable, the unpredictable, and the downright unfair. I hoped to get through the rest of this time on a fairly even keel, just productive enough to get by and make some money, spending little and making the most of my little exercise trampoline.
Last week, I explored the moment that broke me in this essay for Prospect: the #MeAt20 hashtag. I couldn’t join in with the trend, because 20 was one of the worst years of my life. It’s the year I was orphaned. I went down a rabbit-hole of old photos, remembering how sad and alone and out of step with everyone else I felt back then. In fact, the anniversary of my father’s death passed by at the start of this month, and I completely forgot about it. Maybe that was the first sign that things weren’t totally okay.
There came a point in early-to-mid-April where my wifi was down, my laptop charger would charge no more and I was offline, anxious and desperate to get back to work. Attempts at reading books didn’t go so well. I couldn’t concentrate, sleep well, do anything.
Deciding instead to rinse my phone data, I ended up back on social media, reading the often sad, self-deprecating captions that women attached to their #MeAt20 posts on Twitter and Instagram, I slowly started to realised that being 20 is tough for all of us. I had an extreme experience to deal with at that age, but I wasn’t alone in finding memories of that time bittersweet.
The hashtag revealed that many, many 20-year-old women were and are struggling with the expectation that this will be the best time of their lives; that they have to be the most attractive they’ve ever been; that they’ve got to get a brilliant education or a promising job. The gap between who I was and who I wanted to be was at its widest and wildest at 20; I don’t think I’m alone in that.
Most of all, the pressure of feeling that the decisions you make at 20 will determine your life is utterly suffocating - and wrong. That demand is very similar to the one placed upon creatives during the lockdown:
1.) a new skill 2.) starting what you’ve been putting off like a new business 3.) more knowledge
You didn’t ever lack the time, you lacked the discipline
These tweets are the equivalent of a 30 Under 30 list snarling at you, demanding to know why you didn’t make the most of your 20s. Making it onto that list is in itself an indicator for imposter syndrome, setting the bar impossibly high for future endeavours and encouraging the fun perfectionism / procrastination duo in later life. So suck it, lists I didn’t get onto in my 20s!
That brings me to this month’s episode of Freelance Pod - with which we’ve hit the big 4-0! The podcast is embracing its new decade with an episode all about Imposter syndrome, social media and getting through a pandemic lockdown.
I spoke to Dr. Richard Orbé-Austin, a psychologist and author, about imposter syndrome; how our mood swings during the pandemic lockdown [aka the Coronacoaster] feed into it, and how social media can give it oxygen.
It’s not all doom and gloom - Dr. Orbé-Austin has lots of solutions, advice for self-care and has even made a video specifically for artists and creatives dealing with the syndrome, as it’s rife in our industry. His book on dealing with imposter syndrome, Own Your Greatness: Overcome Impostor Syndrome, Beat Self-Doubt, and Succeed in Life, co-written with his wife Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin, is out now.
Speaking to Dr. Richard about all the twists and turns of imposter syndrome - because that’s what it is, the twisting and turning of words and reactions and body language to help reinforce the negative stories we believe about ourselves - I thought back over the many times in my life that I had struggled with the shape-shifting beast in one form or another.
I used to think that the solution was tough love, to berate myself into doing better. It isn’t at all. The only solution is to become kinder and gentler to yourself with every self-defeating thought. Dr. Richard suggests a social media diet for anyone tackling imposter syndrome, replacing that time with storytelling podcasts instead - that gives more context to the successes of people we admire / envy. You read it here first!
In other podcast work, I contributed an episode to Eleanor McDowall’s lovely Field Recordings, from the iconic Abbey Road crossing [Paul, put some SHOES ON], which is now sadly empty of posing tourist / Beatles fans holding up traffic. The podcast just got itself an NYT write-up and it really is an antidote to gestures helplessly at the world
Here’s a delightful interview with Ellie on how she makes all her wonderful audio things.
A beautiful and sad read: Guardian columnist Aditya Chakrabortty on his mother’s life and death.
Stuff I’m doing
I’ll soon be teaching podcast presenting and interviewing skills for Don’t Skip - online for now, and hopefully we’ll get offline and into their Camden studios soon. Don’t forget to check out my colleagues: Imriel Morgan is running marketing courses and Dr. Holly Powell-Jones is setting up media law sessions. Find out more about Don’t Skip’s founder Christina H. Moore on Episode 1 of Freelance Pod.
I went to a virtual book launch last week - it was Gemma Milne, who you might well recognise from the Episode 39 of the podcast - or from the Boulevard Theatre stage with me, if you were in the audience last November.
You can buy Gemma’s book Smoke & Mirrors: How Hype Obscures The Future and How To See Past It at all good online bookshops. I recommend that you do - it couldn’t have turned up at a better time for hyped-up science and tech reporting…
That’s all from me this time - byeeeeee x