I’m really nosey which means I presume everyone else is too. So, in case that’s true, let me tell you my story.
In 2009 I qualified as a primary school teacher. This was meant to be ‘it’.
The start of my lifelong career and purpose. The next part in the jigsaw piece of life that I had planned out.
I already had the ‘perfect match on paper’ boyfriend, the great social life, lovely holidays abroad and our first home.
But something inside me stirred. I ended the relationship because it wasn’t enough. We were friends, he was a great guy but I had the deep-rooted inkling that I needed more.
I took my ‘dream job’ in a school for complex learning difficulties, moved into a flat in London and went about the task of meeting Mr Right so that I could get my life plan back on track.
I was happy. You know, the surface level kind of happy? The one you feel because there’s nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to complain about?
Then the job started getting to me. What I thought was my dream job turned out not to be.
I discovered I wasn’t happy teaching non-verbal children with special education needs. I battled with this realisation and made excuses for it (it’s too early in my career, the headteacher isn’t supportive, I’m too young) I clung to straws desperate not to admit that this dream I had been planning wasn’t everything I’d expected it to be.
I dreaded going to work and woke up in tears through it the night. I lived for the weekends and made the most of every single second desperate for Monday not to come round again.
I packed my time out of school so full that I was barely capable of doing my job when I was there. I was letting myself, my students and my colleagues down.
I had to make a choice, stick this out because I had always told everyone I wanted to be a Special Needs Teacher. Or put my mental health first and step away.
I stepped away.
I swallowed my pride and handed my notice in.
“Love the wine (one) you’re with”
School from Hell number one (yes, there came to be a number two) wasn’t all doom and gloom.
Amongst the hopelessness came love.
I had an idea in my head of how my next relationship would look, of how the person would look. I mean, I needed them to fit into this life that was mapped out so it was no surprise I knew what sort of person they’d be.
What I hadn’t considered. Hadn’t even thought about was gender.
I met a girl. I fell for a girl.
And all of a sudden, the life that had been so clearly mapped out in front of me fell away.
My dream job was no longer dreamy, my idea of who I was going to be with was no longer fixed.
It all felt scary. Scary but liberating.
I slowly crept out from under the pressure I had been putting on myself to live the life I thought I ‘should’ be living. I stopped, caught myself breath and allowed myself to think about how I’d like my life to look and feel.
The need to be busy All. The. Damn. Time fell away as I stepped slowly into knowing I’m good enough to not need constant plans and a jam-packed social life to validate my existence.
The false eyelashes, hair extensions and fakes nails quite literally peeled away as I came to realise that I, the natural version of myself, was enough.
In the quiet moments I listened to the drumbeat hammering away inside me, usually drowned out by all the noise and head chatter. I allowed myself to acknowledge all the little signs there’d been over the years that I didn’t need a traditional path to follow but that I craved the rocky, uneven, twice as long one.
By the end of 2011, I was living in Toronto with the girl. Love was beginning to look more than a little different to the plan that had been mapped out in my head for so long.
I loved life in Toronto. I loved the city, the lifestyle, and the fact I was an expat. I had an extra layer to normal life. I was living away from my home country.
I continued to step into myself, deepen my understanding that I, just as I am, am good enough.
Good enough to be loved, good enough for friendships, good enough to spend my time how j choose rather than how I thought it should be spent. Even good enough not to straighten my hair, to venture too the shops without makeup!.
I tried (and loved) hot yoga and boot camps, suddenly finding a passion for looking after myself that came from a place of enjoyment rather than desperation not to look how I did.
I joined meetups to make friends because I was suddenly secure enough in myself to feel worthy of people choosing to be friends with me.
But along with this life came a sense of being trapped – limited holidays to explore places, being part of the Monday – Friday, 9-5 club, visa restrictions, and not being able to do a job I was passionate about.
I was constantly hankering for more – more annual leave, a better salary, a different job, more time to follow my passions and dreams.
My long term goal of running a social enterprise was put on hold and all the work I’d put into getting it started over the previous few years, fell apart. I felt like I wasn’t doing anything meaningful, anything that impacted other people positively.
My dreams of a life in which I empowered and supported others, a life filled with more travel, dreams of living life on my own terms rather than fitting into society’s expectations, seemed so far off that they lost their sparkle.
I was just living. Plodding along convinced that everything I hoped for would magically fall into place once I had the better job, more money, more leave, permanent residence.
You know – the good old ‘when X happens, I’ll be truly happy’.
Focusing on the destination and not the journey.
In hindsight, the Universe clearly wasn’t impressed at my lack of attention to detail and felt the need to step in and push me off this ‘not traditional but not intuitive’ path I’d found myself on.
You may be familiar with Chapter 4 – it’s the one I talk about most. The time in my life in which everything turned upside down and left me with no choice but to pay attention to the messages I was sent.
In hindsight, there were plenty of occasions prior to this where I’d dabbled with listening to my intuition, tuning into the drumbeat and not giving a shit about the expected life path. But every time I found myself back on track. On the narrow, straightlaced track through life that we’re often expected to take.
It’s only because of Chapter 4 that I know deep down I’m not meant to follow that track. I’m here to make my own path.
In the space of 10 months, I lost a relationship, two homes and two jobs on two different continents.
I left Toronto in January 2014 thinking I was ‘on a break’ (hello Ross and Rachel) from the relationship and that the company I worked for would rectify the paperwork issue which had led to my visa being rejected and me having to up sticks.
Fast forward a few months of living in limbo in Edinburgh, and both my ex and the company had moved on, with neither feeling the need to have me back.
As serendipity would have it, I was offered a job in South Africa that same week. Not just any job but a ‘dream’ job managing volunteer projects in rural villages. A perfect chance to combine my background in education, my passion to empower others and my craving for travel.
So of course, I took it. The universe, the Big Guy up there, whoever it is that nudges us along, had put the opportunity in front of me.
I spent the weeks leading up to leaving declaring to anyone who listened that I was perfectly ok about the loss of my life in Toronto because something new and better had come along.
That I wanted to move countries, that I didn’t care that someone else had made life-altering decisions on my behalf.
I pretended I wasn’t hurt by the rejection or by the lack of support.
I didn’t stop to process my emotions and instead filled every moment of my time in that ‘I need to be busy in order to be worthy’ way that was all too familiar. I drank, partied hard and generally lived in denial of the grief I was experiencing.
And off I went…
I packed my bag and headed off to South Africa desperate for this new chapter to mean everything bad happened for a reason, that the shittiness of the past few months was behind me.
And to begin with, it felt that way. The job was great – challenging but rewarding and enabling me to make a real difference to other people’s lives. I made friends, thrived at the job, and settled into life in a remote town.
I was totally out of my comfort zone, living in a town of 500 people instead of a cosmopolitan city. Many friendships were pre-made based on my role and who I took over from.
I told myself it was ‘just what I needed’ and praised myself for having come so far that I didn’t need other people’s social validation as a sat at home alone on a Friday night.
I kept telling myself it was all perfect, all meant to be – I mean I wouldn’t have been there if all the shittiness hadn’t happened and that had to have a purpose, right?
Oh hindsight, you wonderful thing you. Now I can see I wasn’t in a healthy place emotionally. I hadn’t healed, I hadn’t dealt with the pain and rejection from the previous months. Instead, I continued to brush it under the carpet and mask it with alcohol and denial.
Things came to a head with the drink spiking night. A night in which, again, someone else took control of the situation and left me feeling disrespected and vulnerable.
This led to feelings of shame, guilt and blame. All topped off by being told my personality didn’t fit the company’s and despite being ‘very good at my job’ I was let go.
The sense of loss, of rejection and lack of control, hit me hard. I spiralled downwards into a place of not respecting myself, a place where anger was my defence mechanism and alcohol my coping one.
I lost any belief I had had of being good enough because the last year had taught me I wasn’t in fact good enough for relationships, for jobs, or for friendships as they all fell apart around me.
I muddled through the dark months clinging on to the faint drumbeat hammering away quietly somewhere deep inside me. The drumbeat than told me the universe wasn’t done with me not listening…
“Let’s just pack up the caravan and head off,” I said wistfully during one of the ‘what are we doing now’ conversations.
I remember it clearly. I was sitting on the bedroom floor at a friend’s house having come back to England to reset. I knew I wasn’t done with South Africa but having lost the job and home I had moved there for, I wasn’t sure what life in SA looked like.
“Ok, let’s do it” came the reply.
And that was about as much planning that went into Chapter 5, the big adventure.
I flew back to SA telling friends I was going to live in a caravan and see what happens’ (kudos to everyone I told who just went with it!)
After a few weeks of prepping the caravan, we packed the dogs in and headed off with little idea of what was coming other than that we wanted to drive the perimeter of South Africa, however long that took.
It didn’t take long for us to notice the flaws in our loose plan. The fact that we didn’t have a route planned, we didn’t have money, we didn’t have jobs and we didn’t even know each other that well.
But every time something came up we worked it out. We stopped, took a breath and then took whatever action felt right at the time.
For the first time, I wasn’t living life to a plan.
I was simply following my intuition, tuning into that drumbeat and letting it guide me and us.
Was it easy? No.
Was everything simple just because I listened? No.
Was it exciting, fun, adventurous and fulfilling? You bet.
Together we put our trust in the Big U and let whatever was meant to happen, happen.
I taught myself web development and slowly got clients. He took project work and we planned our route around them. We dreamed, we explored and we lived life to the beat of our drum.
The Big Adventure became a way of life 🥁
For the next few years, the caravan was home. We slow travelled our way around South Africa choosing the longest, dirtiest, most pot holey route at every opportunity.
We got stuck in the sand under a lighthouse and ate freshly harvested mussels almost every day for 3 weeks. We washed ourselves, and everything else, in the ocean. We drank wine in tiny vineyards with no one else around. We made friends with locals and travellers alike but also spent days on end just us and the dogs. We started and abandoned projects.
We felt, we lived and we explored. Explored South Africa by caravan, Vietnam by bike and Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Botswana by 2 man tent.
We explored ideas, explored dreams, explored our intuition.
I started the first version of my business, played around with what I wanted to do, who I wanted to work with and how I wanted to support them. I learned, experimented, developed skills and mindset.
I allowed myself the time and space to create what I wanted as opposed to what I felt was expected of me. I didn’t subscribe to the noise around me of what everyone else was doing, how successful their business was, what their business looked like. I created and offered what worked for me at the time.
Life was simple and intuitive and at every junction, something popped up to guide us along the way.
This adventure became a way of life. One I never knew I craved. One that instilled new values, ignited new passions and formed new dreams.
Nomadic life was dreamy. Visa issues less so. It got to the point where my passport was blacklisted and every time I left South Africa, I had to argue my way back in. But because my original visa had expired I had to keep leaving. A real catch 22 😉
We came to the UK for a friends wedding in 2016 knowing that we needed a longer-term solution to our constant visa battles and with a plan up our sleeves.
That plan went out the window almost as soon as we touched down in the UK because the SA visa I planned to apply for was withdrawn.
In true intuitive style, we knew something would come up and a passing comment in conversation opened up the UK ancestry visa route as an option.
As we walked along the river one evening he piped up with “what on earth are those?” pointing at narrowboats. Once I’d gotten over the surprise that there are people who don’t know what narrowboats are, a plan evolved.
Over drinks, in the pub (where all the best plans are made) we decided to go all in. Apply for the ancestry visa, move to England and live on a narrowboat.
Of course, the actual move wasn’t that simple but the decision to take action was.
Not content with buying a narrowboat we decided to design one from scratch (with the initial design being drawn in another pub) and have it built while we went back to SA to sort out the paperwork.
A 3-month plan turned into a complicated 9-month process with more paperwork and setbacks than anticipated. But we did it.
The three of us touched down in the UK in August 2017 and moved straight onboard, finding our ‘sea legs’ as we went.
We embarked on our next chapter, combining of nomadic life with adventure in a new (to one of us) country, as we swapped a caravan for a narrowboat and set off to explore what #BoatLife entailed.
So here we were, living in England.
I’d been living overseas for the best part of 6 years and in the intuitive decision process that led me home, I hadn’t stopped to consider how I felt about it. I was too consumed with all the things that needed to happen paperwork for him, paperwork for the dog, design decisions for the boat, logistics of getting us all there safe and sound, making sure we had what we’d need to make a cup of tea for our first night onboard (ok, that credit goes to Mummy Reeves!) The list went on.
At first, it was exciting. It didn’t feel any different from my visits home over the last few years – lots to catch up on with friends and family, the novelty of Percy pigs being readily available and water coming out of a tap was luxury.
But it slowly dawned on me that this wasn’t a visit. This was the next chapter.
I hadn’t been planning to come home just yet, but all of a sudden I found myself here. Back living a life I’d left behind – a life both familiar and strange at the same time.
I’d come home to new relationships, weddings, divorces, new children, big moves, new jobs. To so much change and ‘progress’ that I felt left behind
I slipped back into old habits – I had to be busy all the time to validate my worth (telling myself I was just trying to catch up with friends). I drank a lot to avoid dealing with emotions (telling myself it’s just the English culture). I started using my credit card and living beyond my means again because I couldn’t say no to things (telling myself “next payday it’ll be ok”).
Somewhere in the move, I’d lost the girl who was happy, secure and content with what she was doing.
I’d lost the girl who lived in the caravan taking each day as it came, trusting that everything would be ok, trusting her intuition.
I’d lost any sense of identity I had – I was no longer an expat, the friend living overseas, the person following her heart. I wasn’t a teacher, the girl who started a charity at 22, or the girl with a big heart who wanted to change the world.
I felt lost.
I felt like I’d gone backwards but to a life I didn’t recognise.
And I really struggled.
I struggled to find my place with my friends. To find a way to encompass everything I’d discovered about myself into life in England, to know how to build my business or even what my business was. I struggled with working for myself and being location independent while being at ‘home’ because I associated both with being nomadic.
All of a sudden I couldn’t hear my own drumbeat, I didn’t know what my purpose was, my why or what my passions looked like.
My Inner Critic popped up more than my Inner Bestie and I listened.
I listened to my Inner Critic as she told me I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t successful enough. That I was coming home with my tail between my legs not having anything to show for 6 years overseas.
I scrolled and scrolled and scrolled, allowing social media to fuel these thoughts. I fell into the consumer cycle – courses, webinars, coaching packages. I thought I needed it all and every time I promised myself This Thing would be the one that would change it all. From mindset to business to health, I consumed and paid to try and find my way.
I surrounded myself with ‘successful people’ aspiring to have their 6 figure months, to have waiting lists of clients, their strict mindset routine, their perfectly planned and scheduled day.
If it worked for them, it must work for me. Right?
But all this did was fuel my belief that I needed fixing. That I was doing it all wrong. I mean, I did what people said to do so it must be something wrong with me making it not work.
I drifted further and further away from the person I’d discovered in that caravan.
Instead of asking myself what I wanted to do, I asked myself what I should be doing. And I based this on what I thought everyone thought of me.
I told myself I had to make my web development business work otherwise it’s just another failure to add to the list. That everyone would talk about my failures behind my back.
I told myself I couldn’t explore different things because everything already thought I was flakey.
I tried it all, I threw myself into the online business world strategy with gusto.
Every decision took me further into a spiral of confusion, of lacking, of unease and misalignment.
One day, as part of one of the eleventy thousand programs I had joined, I was encouraged to write. To write a letter to my younger and then to my older self.
I procrastinated. I cleaned, sorted out digital photos albums, did the dishes. You name it I did it to avoid the letter writing.
But eventually, I had nothing left to do but sit and write. And then read it out loud. And I cried.
I cried for the little girl who didn’t think she worried she wasn’t good enough. I cried for the old lady who would look back on all this wasted time of trying to be good enough.
But the thing was, as part of the eleventy thousand courses I’d joined I was always being told to get vulnerable, to share my story as a marketing technique. To post in groups, to build rapport.
And that didn’t sit well. I know many, many people use this as a successful strategy but it didn’t work for me. And not in the ‘I tried it and it didn’t work so I’m saying I don’t like it way’ It didn’t work in the ‘this feels icky’ way.
So much of the online business world feels icky to me. I don’t want to write long emotive posts to get you to hire me as a web developer. I don’t want to post in 15 different Facebook groups every day, groups that are filled with strangers in the hopes someone will read it and want to work with me.
So I started writing on my personal profiles. Writing in a safe space.
And once the writing flood gates were open, I couldn’t stop.
I started opening up about my experiences, emotions, and feelings. I started talking about it all. And it felt good. Good to let it out
And then I noticed people were responding and engaging. People were commenting and messaging me to share their experiences, to tell me they related to what I’d written.
Writing became a way to process my emotions, to allow myself to lean in and feel then rather than to try and fix them. Writing because a way for me to use my voice, to speak out about the things I care about.
And the warm fuzzy feeling, you know the one you get when things feel in alignment, feel easy? That came back. The feeling I’d been missing for so long.
The feeling I didn’t get from doing what I thought I ‘should’ be doing.
Somewhere in the midst of this realisation and of falling back in love with writing, I found out I was pregnant – another curve ball being thrown in by the Big U.
A curveball that, just like all the others nudged me back into listening to my intuition. Instead of continuing to write for me while persevering with ‘winning’ clients, I thought about how I wanted to spend the time that took me away from being a mum.
I thought about what I wanted my little girl to be proud of me for, what I wanted her to grow up knowing and how I could support that.
I want her to unequivocally know that she is enough, that she is good enough to take up space on this planet in whatever way she chooses.
And the only way I know she will truly feel and understand that, on a bigger scale than me telling her, is if this narrative that surrounds us shifts. A narrative that currently suggests there is such a thing as perfection, that we should all be striving for common goals, that there are markers to indicate whether you are good enough, that you should look, feel and act a certain way.
I want her to live life to the beat of her own drum without batting an eyelid at doing so.
So, here we are.
I’ve made a(nother) shift, I’m going back to my little girl ideas of writing.
Not only am I writing to remind myself that I am enough, that my feelings and emotions are valid, that I do not need fixing. I’m writing to normalise imperfection, to drown out the Inner Critics, the head chatter and the constant noise, and to help create a shift away from the stories surrounding us right now.
So this little corner of the World Wide Web is a place for me to come out from behind my privacy settings and be part of the change I crave to see.
And if this, in turn, helps you, or helps someone you know, then that makes my heart skip a beat.
But most of all, Tillie, this is for you 💕
P.S. If you love what you've read and are wondering how you can have more of me in your life, there are a few options!
1. If you're a new mama and need a helping hand to stop and catch your breath each week, join me for Mindfulness & Mental Wellbeing sessions.
2. If this is the week that you said you'd prioritise your wellbeing and finally do the things you know will make you feel more grounded, settled and at peace with the world around you but, again, it's just not happening. Join me and make good on the promise you made to yourself.
3. Or if the sound of 3 months of daily accountability, chats and problem solving is more up your street, book a call to chat about my Rebel Coaching and Online Business Development