Writing about a year is weird. A year isn’t a ‘thing’. It’s 12 months, in which a lot happens. How to sum it up? Why do we even feel the need to?
I don’t know, but for some reason it feels cathartic to do so. It allows us to move on from the themes of the last 12 months, and see the New Year as a fresh start. For that reason, it’s a positive exercise I think. And it gives me an excuse to finally write something here again after a long break.
I’ve loosely organised my 2014 annual review chronologically to make it easier to follow – although in some cases there is overlap between the sections.
An Ambitious Start
As discussed on the February episode of the Mountain Shores Podcast, I started the year with renewed ambition – to earn more money, and to finally be the consistent blogger I knew I was born to be, by publishing at least one post every week.
Neither happened quite as planned. In the end, I can confidently say I have earnt more money in 2014 than the previous year (although I haven’t totted up the totals yet) and I definitely earned it on a more consistent basis.
However as I explain below, my initial eagerness soon dissipated as I began to struggle with self-employment and my own self-imposed isolation.
January – March: Networking Works
At the beginning of the year, I was networking happily and taking advantage of the great programme of events put on by Creative Edinburgh. I met a great new client at their excellent speed networking event in February. I was also invited to do a ‘lightning talk’ at the Talking Heads: Marketing & Design event in March front of 130 people at the Edinburgh College of Art as part of their ‘Creative, Cultural, Careers Festival’. I put a lot of preparation into this, and I think was one of the better public speaking appearances I’ve done (see slides below or on Slideshare).
I also signed up to be part of the Alive in Berlin team and was excited about attending the brand new event at the end of May. I interviewed several of the speakers, including Sarah Peck, Ben Austin and Dr. Carolyn Eddleston. I also completed a content strategy MOOC so I could expand my knowledge and help all of my clients on a more strategic level.
March/April: Parental Concerns
My dad received two months of radiotherapy treatment for cancer during March and April after a long, uncertain wait, and is now thankfully recovering well. He dealt with it with such good humour and stoicism and I couldn’t respect him more. I was glad to have the freedom of movement that I was able to go over to Belfast and spend some time with him during April. My mum, who lives in Birmingham, also had a nasty fall around this time but is also thankfully much better now – again I was able to go and see her. This was a difficult time but I’m so, so grateful that they are both in relatively good health now.
May/June: Disillusionment and Daily Podcasts
Throughout the year I bounced between short stints at local co-working spaces and coffee shops, but for the most part I only felt anchored and comfortable at home. That’s all very well in theory, but I’m also very aware it isn’t the best working environment for me due to the myriad of distractions (cat! Netflix! chocolate!)
My blogging efforts were (perhaps predictably if you’re a regular round these parts), far less consistent than my earnings. My initial burst of weekly articles whimpered to a halt after the first two months and a sudden and brief ‘attack of the daily podcasts’ throughout May and June ended the same way, after a misguided attempt at crowdfunding. Why? in both cases, I lost motivation, rather suddenly and completely. The worst part was, I couldn’t really understand why it had gone so wrong.
As much as I could be proud to have survived 2 years of self-employment, I wasn’t really enjoying the work mainly because I had no-one to bounce ideas off on a day-to-day basis. My blogging efforts felt in vain – I had barely made a penny from them and had no ‘passive income’ to supplement my work for clients, despite what I felt was a big investment of time and effort. I felt stuck, and trapped. Where to go from here?
I became very disillusioned with.. everything. I felt that I had made a lot of efforts at self-improvement over the past few years and yet still felt no happier about myself or any better able to cope with obstacles.
The idea behind this whole blog was largely based on the belief that we can all change ourselves for the better, so I felt like a complete fraud writing the usual positive posts here, or even publishing weekly extracts from my previous ebooks as planned. So I stopped.
Cold cruel envy, envy, envy, that most unattractive of traits, took hold of my heart with metal fists and squeezed, as I saw others achieve with seeming ease those things I wished I could but felt unable to. I knew they deserved their success because they were putting the work in and putting themselves out there, but I felt so stuck in my own inertia that I was no more able to make the necessary efforts to achieve what I wanted than to time travel or grow back a full head of hair. I lost hope, as my dreams and ambitions seemed unreachable, due to my own failings – which again, I could not fully understand.
The advice I had written sincerely and with the best of intentions at the time suddenly rang hollow to me as I couldn’t seem to follow it myself. I couldn’t face attending the ultra-positive ‘Alive in Berlin’ event whilst feeling that way, and with other work building up – so I reluctantly cancelled my trip (thankfully I could tell from the feedback online that it was a great success anyway!).
Asking for Help
Having hit rock bottom in terms of motivation and hope, I realised I was in desperate need of help from someone qualified to look at the deeper issues causing my unhappiness and creative stagnation. I committed to weekly therapy sessions in April and have continued them since. That has been interesting, and life-changing, and tough. Sometimes things get worse before they get better.
I was still reasonably productive around this time however. I managed to attend the enjoyable and more local Small is Beautiful conference in Glasgow and write a guest post for them about superhero syndrome which touched on what I was struggling with, was honoured to be interviewed by my friend Gregory Berg for his Radio Enso podcast, to meet and interview author Farnoosh Brock and also chat to her hubbie when they visited Edinburgh, to be a literary guineapig for Canongate Books and to interview the Glaswegian author Anne Donovan for WOW247 who I also worked for throughout the Edinburgh Festival period in August.
July/August: Festival Fun
This was a pretty fun time as it has been the last couple of years as the festivals were in full flow and the weather was excellent. I enjoyed working half-day shifts making sure The Scotsman’s festival coverage was all online in good time, and catching up on other work in the afternoons. I went to a fair few festival shows with my wife and/or friends, including the cracking ‘Generation of Z’ where we got to experience the zombie apocalypse first-hand (sort of).
September: Divided Scotland
I couldn’t help get caught up in the debate around the Scottish Independence Referendum in September. The 45% of Scottish residents who voted yes, of whom I was one, had many different reasons for voting for Scotland to become independent. For me, the possibility of establishing a fairer society was foremost, rather than any strong desire to be separate from English, Welsh and Northern Irish people (after all, I was born in England and have friends and family throughout the UK).
One poll suggested we might have a chance of winning it, but in the end it wasn’t to be as the majority decided to remain within the UK and under the rule of what I consider to be the corrupt Westminster Government. The result felt pretty devastating for those of us who voted Yes, as we had allowed ourselves to hope for a chance at building a ‘better nation’.
Having said that, the positive efforts by Yes campaigners including the National Collective proved that art and activism go hand in hand, and a renewed belief in the power of grassroots campaigning has given many people in Scotland a strengthened commitment to fighting for social justice in whatever way we can, so I believe positive things have come from it.
October – A Chap, on a Mac
I solved my persistent IT problems by splashing out on a new MacBook Pro, however the effect on my finances was not good and I had to abandon my cushy new co-working desk at CodeBase Edinburgh that I had only just secured. But I did discover that an ironing board makes a great standing desk.
After a year of moderate boozing (following my year of no alcohol) I decided to take a break from it again at the end of October after a particularly unpleasant hangover, and have managed over two months of sobriety so far.
November/December: Good things do happen to good people
I was delighted when my good friend Sean Michaels won the Giller prize (and an amazing 100,000 Canadian dollars) for his book Us Conductors. His acceptance speech and subsequent interviews clearly demonstrate his remarkable way with words and good nature. The book reads like a true literary classic – it’s a fictional account of the ridiculously unlikely but completely true story of the inventor of the theremin.
My friend and sometime client Johnny Lynch aka The Pictish Trail also celebrated the successful one year anniversary of his label Lost Map as well as being signed to ‘hip’ London label Moshi Moshi earlier in the year.
In November I was also lucky enough to chat to Robert Wringham, publisher of New Escapologist magazine, along with my usual Mountain Shores co-hosts, Fabian and Michael. Robert’s book ‘Escape Everything’ has almost reached its crowdfunding target so there’s still time to help fund what sounds like it will be a brilliant book.
A few other of my good pals and friends of this blog also put out their own books during 2014 – Michael Nobbs published full colour versions of the first 3 issues of his journal The Beany, Dave Ursillo penned Big Apple, Black Sand and the Midnight Sun, a thought-provoking and inspiring travelogue (as well as completing his yoga teacher training), ‘Writing Man’ Paul Forrester published ‘A Tour of the Indies: A Creative Quest For The UK’s Best Cinemas … And Cake’, Emily Dodd published the children’s book ‘Can’t Dance Cameron’ (amongst her many other achievements) and Margaret Pinard has published her second novel. I also helped my pal Dougie publish his short Kindle book ‘Things to Talk About When There’s Nothing to Talk About’ with another full-length book we’ve been working on coming out sometime in the New Year. (Apologies if I’ve left you out of this section due to absent-mindedness – please do tell me about your achievements in the comments!)
And me? I haven’t solved all my problems around my work, but I know I am very lucky to have employment. I’m grateful that my wife and cat continue to patiently put up with me – and I have a wider and better support network in place now than I did before.
That includes my continued weekly therapy sessions. I’ve learnt a lot about myself that I didn’t know before. I’ve begun to face up to some deep-rooted and unconstructive patterns of behaviour and thought. It’s going to take a while to deal with those (like, the rest of my life). But I feel hope again. I have identified a pattern of isolating myself and trying to do everything on my own for reasons of pride and fear.. but I’m slowly learning how to reach out for help and how to make more positive choices.
In 2015, I will make a sincere effort to be grateful, joyful, useful and perhaps a little bit playful on a daily basis.
See you then.
p.s. I’d love to hear from you in the comment section about how 2014 went for you and your intentions and hopes for 2015.