I’ve always been my biggest critic.
From the earliest of ages, I was ridiculously driven. I can remember being 5 or 6 and staring at the scholarship board at my Primary School. I wanted to get my name up on the board. At Secondary School my aim was straight As and Cambridge.
Other over-achievers had their parents behind them. My parents, they were happy whatever I did – I was the one pushing myself to over-achieve.
I grew up a perfectionist. I saw other students as competitors, and did everything in my power to be the best at whatever I did. Whether that was a school subject, a sport, or an extra curricular activity – I think I still hold the record for the most Guide Badges ever achieved by a Girl Guide! (A fact I tend to leave out on a first date!)
Looking back, I find it amusing – but it’s all shaped the person I am today.
Going to Cambridge was one of the most grounding experiences of my life, and a vital life lesson. I went from being a big fish in a small pond, to a huge ocean, where we were all tiny, and where everyone was incredible. In Cambridge, you were never going to be the best at anything. There would always be someone better than you at everything. For a consistent over-achiever, and someone who had only ever excelled, it was a great life lesson. I studied Mandarin for my first two years (a frankly impossible subject!), whilst juggling sport and extra-curricular activities, and I went from being top at most of my classes at school, to almost the very rock bottom of the year at university.
It’s something I always describe with a huge grin on my face, because that ‘fall from grace’ made me the woman I am today. A mature, sensible woman who knows she’s capable of achieving most things she sets her mind to, but equally one who appreciates that you don’t have to be the best at everything. And that a failure is only a real failure, if you don’t learn anything from the experience. I went from being extremely competitive, to simply aiming to achieve the best I personally could.
And learning not to compare yourself to others is an extremely vital life lesson. Because everyone is different.
The problem with the way our formative years are laid out, is that we spend out lives on the same conveyor belts as everyone else. Everyone else does everything at the same time – GCSEs, A-Levels, University … there’s a ‘correct’ time to jump through the hoops. And then suddenly you come out the other side, and you’re the one making the decisions. The hoops disappear, and you’re left trying to work out the right course.
One of the things I love most about being 30 is that all my friends live such different lives. Some of us are single, others are married. Some are parents, some have extremely successful careers, others are still travelling the world, or living in ski resorts.
30 is an age where you can’t compare yourself to others – because there really is no ‘correct’ path. It’s simply a case of working out what works for you.
The more comfortable I’ve become with my life, and with my single status, the more I’ve come to value myself.
In the past, no matter what I achieved, I was always my biggest critic. Instead of cheering myself on for getting 90% in a test, I would kick myself for the missing that last 10%. And that’s no way to live life, because in order to live a happy, successful life, you need to be your own cheerleader, and measure your own success by your own metre stick.
One of the things I was always most critical of about myself was my body. I’m 5’8” with a fairly big bone structure. Even as a child, I was never particularly small, and by the age of 11 I towered over both my parents. Going to an all girls’ school, food and body image were two things constantly in conversation. And one of the darker sides of Cambridge, is the abnormally large number of girls with a past of eating disorders – a mixture of boarding school legacies, and the realities of controlled, successful women, trying to control every aspect of their lives. We all know how geared the media is towards teeny tiny models, and so I grew up feeling lumbering, fat, and as if I’d failed in that one aspect of my life – even though at my largest, I was only ever a size 14.
I dieted for years, and as far back as I can remember, have put myself through a gruelling exercise regime, which involved 4-5 sessions a week, minimum.
I was constantly on some form of diet, and rarely drank alcohol because of the wasted calories.
As I grew older, I came to terms with my figure, and learned to stop comparing myself to others on that level too. However, interestingly, it was the 30 Dates Challenge which changed my attitude to eating, drinking and exercise most recently.
Because during 30 Dates, I couldn’t exercise even half as much as I normally do. And during 30 Dates, I was eating out and drinking alcohol, far more than I ever had before.
And do you know what … I didn’t put on any weight.
All the things I’d been worried about – all the things I thought I had to do, to stay looking the way I do … they didn’t matter as much as I thought.
At the same time, I became happier and more content in myself. 30 Dates taught me that I can be fun, and interesting, and have a really fun time with complete strangers. It made me feel confident, and appreciated, and attractive.
And trust me, going on a blind date is way more fun than a night spent slogging it in the gym!
Don’t get me wrong – I still try to eat healthy, and I still exercise – but it’s for my own happiness and sanity – not because I need to, in order to stay a size 12.
If I want a chocolate bar, I eat a chocolate bar, and I don’t beat myself up for it afterwards. If I can’t make the gym for a week because life is too busy, I just shrug it off, and accept it, and try to make it next week.
Because finally I’ve learned how to give myself a break. As well as needing to be my biggest cheerleader, I also needed to learn to be my own best friend. And a best friend would never tell you that you’re fat, or that you need to exercise more, or that you can’t drink because it will make you fat!
The unfortunate reality of life, is that there will always be critics and ‘negative Nellies’ – people who would rather shoot you down, than see you succeed.
But the worst thing you can do, is to act in that way to yourself. Remember the phrase I’m always using about relationships? You can’t expect someone else to love you, if deep down, you don’t love yourself!
Give yourself a break. Start acting like you’re own cheerleader, and be your own best friend. You’re worth it!
Miss Twenty-Nine xxx