Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Making the Effort

Continuous effort, not strength or intelligence is the key to unlocking our potential.
Sir Winston Churchill

Before I came to London I would have said that I was the kind of person who believed that your life is what you make of it. I believed that a person could shape and direct their existence to a certain extent. I believed that you got out what you put in. I was the kind of person who understood that you have to make things happen for yourself. You have to make yourself happy.

It wasn't until living in London that I realized how true this was. I wanted to write about my experiences of having to make an effort with my life and what it's been like.

I know that there has been a tone of struggle and disappointment to some of my posts. Someone pointed out that to me that perhaps I wasn't coping very well. All I can say is that all of that is true. I also don't think that there is anything wrong with feeling frustrated or depressed from time to time, especially when there is a reason for it.

The thing that I struggle with the most in my life is figuring out if I should communicate that I am depressed or feeling challenged. I get stuck between understanding that it isn't a bad thing to feel depressed or should I just push the feelings aside and focus on the positive.

I am not a depressive person. I think that people face certain things in their lives that are hard or challenge them. I always retain a positive vision for my life, but life isn't just about feeling positive all the time. I sometimes feel shame that I get upset about certain things that are completely normal things to get upset about. My internal dialogue tells me to suck it up and move on. It's a hard thing to deal with.

I am very afraid of coming off like a negative person. Also, because I would say that I am a positive person. I think it's important to experience what you are feeling and not to bury it. It's not always fun, but I think it's important to embrace your life's experience. The happiness, the pain, the joy and the sadness.

I was afraid to write about how I was really feeling in this blog. I thought that it might be better just to turn everything into a positive so I wouldn't sound so depressing. I was worried what people were going to think of me. I didn't want people to think that I was weak and that I didn't have that go getter spirit.

I wanted to be able to write honestly about what I am going through. I decided not to worry about marketing myself and portraying a certain image. I hoped that others might read this and find something to connect with, something real. It's not always easy to be real, it can be scary.

This leads me back to what I was saying about Making the Effort. Living somewhere new, where you don't know anyone and where you don't always understand how things work requires effort in a way that I hadn't experienced before.

I have left my comfort zone. I never thought that I had a comfort zone before. I thought of myself as being adventurous, someone who pushes themselves to try new things. I would say that I was adventurous in Minnesota, just that I was in a comfort zone that allowed me to be that way.

Building a life somewhere new when you are 30 is hard and rewarding all at the same time. Almost everything that I do here requires effort and energy and sometimes I don't always feel like making it.

For example meeting people. If I want to have friends in London I have to find them. They aren't going to come to me. I have joined Meet Up groups, asked people in Minnesota if the know people in London, posted on message boards, I sometimes try and speak to strangers. It requires effort. Then I go and meet the people and that's always interesting. I love meeting new people, but it's interesting how when you are meeting someone you don't know one on one it feels a lot like dating. You want to make a good impression, you hope that you and that person have something in common. I also can't act like I am desperate for friends, that tends to drive people away. It's really a numbers game, until you find someone you click with.

People are busy and London is a very transient place. Which is great if you meet someone and you can't stand them, you will most likely never see them again. Or if you meet someone you like it might be a long time before you see them again.

The one thing about meeting people in Minneapolis is that if you went to certain places you were bound to see certain people. I remember once sitting with my friend at a bar and recognizing a few people. I made a comment to her about how you always see these same people at this bar. You could go there and almost count on it.

For example I used to go to a Stitch and Bitch at Crafty Planet. I met a girl there who I really got on well with. Turns out she lived near me and liked going to the Spyhouse coffee shop. Sometimes I would just run into her at the coffee shop and we would talk and the friendship just kind of developed. I would see her at the Stitch and Bitch and then we would talk and discovered that we both liked this and that and we became friends.

I think it's hard to find that in a big city anywhere if you haven't lived there for a long time. It's one of those things. I have to put myself out there. A side note - I recently found out that the phrase putting yourself out there isn't used in England and has a pervy connotation.

I think it was easy to put myself out there in Minneapolis because I had my comfort zone. If I wanted to try and meet new people and wasn't having much luck it wasn't the end of the world. I had friends already, good friends. If I went to a new restaurant and it didn't turn out to be that good then no big deal I always could count on the having a good patty melt combo at Currans.

Does not having a comfort zone in London stop me from putting myself out there? No, I make the effort, but it does make it harder.

I remember when I was going to school at LCC I had to take the tube to get there. My class was at 9 a.m. and I had to time getting on the tube just right or else it was just so packed. If I was off my five minutes it could mean disaster. What I mean by packed is that you would have the train pull up and there would be at least ten people crowded around on the platform where the door opens. The train would be packed already and I mean really packed. Like crazy full of people and if you wanted to get on you had to push your way on and then duck your head so it didn't get caught in the door. I had never seen anything like it before.

It took me a few times before I was brave enough to push my way onto the crowded carriage. The interesting thing was that you had to really make your mind up and say to yourself no matter what I am getting on that carriage. The train would pull up and you would have to force your way on.

Before I was confident enough to do this I was waiting on the platform and I waited for 15 minutes for a train to arrive that wasn't bursting at the seams. I decided to throw in the towel and just go home. It was too stressful and I would just go into school later. I walked up the stairs and onto the street and what I really wanted to do was sit down somewhere familiar and have a cup of coffee and pull myself together.

But there was no where that was familiar to me at all. If I were in Minneapolis and I had a stressful morning and needed to sit down somewhere I would have gone to French Meadow and had a coffee and a muffin. I would have ordered a dark roast and gone over to the beautiful wood table where they have the cream and sugar. I would have mixed a teaspoon of brown sugar with cream in the bottom of the mug before I poured in the coffee.

This might not mean much to you as the reader, but I usually don't put any sugar in my coffee. At the French Meadow they have brown sugar in a small tin on the condiments table and there is something about it that looks so inviting. You pour the cream from a white pitcher and I love the way the brown sugar and creams blends together. I always mix my coffee like that there, it became a kind of ritual and even if there is brown sugar available somewhere else I don't use it. Only there.

I just stopped to ask myself why I did that only at the French Meadow. I think it's because to me the French Meadow has a kind of rustic feel to it, especially the table that has all the condiments on it. It's a solid wood table that you would expect to find in a farmhouse. There's also a old fashioned looking water cooler on the table. Mixing the brown sugar makes me feel like I am old fashioned a bit, like I live on a farm.

It's strange to write about that experience not having been to the French Meadow in a long time. It's the places and small rituals that have been a part of my comfort zone and at times I feel lost without them. Slowly I am finding those kinds of experiences and places in London. It takes time.

I am a very nostalgic person and most of things I do, places I go or foods I like to eat have special meaning to me. I like to share those experiences with others. I like to take people places that have meaning to me.

My friend Molly and I used to go for lunch every now and then at a place called Snuffy's. Snuffy's is a malt shop on Cleveland Avenue in St. Paul. I used to go there when I was a kid. They still have the same juke box that I played songs on when I was six years old. Molly grew up near Snuffy's too and went there as a kid. The place had meaning to us, in addition to good food. I would kill for a hot fudge malt and grilled cheese with tomato and bacon.

When my husband came to Minnesota for the first time I took him there. I wanted to bring him to a place that was special to me. It was a place where my mom would bring me, it was part of my history. I miss having those kinds of places to go to.

I sort of got off topic, back to the topic of effort. Anything worth doing takes effort. Finding a job here, making friends, learning how to drive, understanding English culture, learning the metric system, using public transport, dealing with crowds, making do without certain American foods, doing laundry without a dryer, going to the gym, finding a volunteer job, keeping in contact with people in Minnesota, writing this blog, making sure that I get out of the house, all require effort.

If I don't make effort than it's pretty obvious what would happen. I would end up a shut in and slowly go crazy. I have come to realize that no one is going to do it for you. People will help you and give you support and advice, but it's up to you. Especially after you leave college. It's up to you to decide what shape your life will take, if any shape at all.

When you decide to be an adult you take responsibility for your life and who you want to be. It's not easy sometimes. Taking full responsibility for yourself is a big task. I could really make something of myself or I could take the easy way out and never try. It's really down to me.

Something that I used to think about a few years after my parents died was the idea of not having a context or framework for your life. An example being, lets say you grew up and your parents were doctors and they really wanted you to be a doctor. You could either want to follow in their footsteps or rebel. There would be something to react against. Families sometimes have expectations for their children and children react to those expectations.

For me I deal with the idea of living without expectations from my parents or anyone. My dad died when I was 18 and my mom when I was 24. Before that they just wanted me to go to college and make something of myself, to develop my creative talents. I didn't grow being told that I should be an artist or a engineer. I didn't have anyone guiding me.

Once they were gone I felt like I had been given the opportunity to do whatever I wanted with my life. There was no one to please or disappoint, but myself. While that sounds great, it is a lot of personal responsibility. There was no one to blame either if things didn't go right. There was and is nothing stopping me from doing whatever I want or achieving whatever I want in my life, but myself.

Not to say that I don't have "parental" figures in my life and people who of course want me to succeed. It's just different when it's not your own parents. It's also scary when you don't know what you want to achieve in your life. I am the point where I am trying to figure that out. Like I mentioned in a previous post, most of my life has been about reacting to external situations and crisis. Now that I don't have to live like that anymore, I don't have to be in that survival mode I have to figure out a new way of life.

I am going to end this here for now. I don't regret coming to London and starting a new life here. I know I will succeed and that I am on a journey. It's just not always easy remembering that.


  1. Terrific post.

    I found when I first came to London, like you, that it was very aggressive (and, let's be frank, lonely).

    Being a country boy who sometimes quite likes talking to people, it was a bit of an odd one.

    But I think having a 'fuck you' attitude, when harnessed properly, is a good thing. Just don't become one of those hard faced commuter types - I'm trying not to.

  2. you are so right, having a properly harnessed "fuck you" attitude is an essential skill to have. I know what you mean.

    Don't worry I'll never become a hard faced commuter type, I still smile at people. I am still putting myself out there as nasty as that might sound to you pervy Englishmen.

    Cheers for your comment country boy.

  3. Rhea, you are a great writer with a fine eye for detail. Next time I am at the French Meadow sugar station, I will think you.

  4. You've got a lot on your plate all at once and it's all tied up together. First of all being an orphan. It's incredibly hard especially when you're past the age where people will step in and parent you. It's just so hard and I know it. Sometimes for me it felt like I was just untethered and might fly away if the world spun too fast.
    It sounds like you had a lot of friends/social stuff back home and that's great but being on your own you need that more, so you'll never be able to take it for granted.
    Being in another country with other customs, accents, humor, dental hygiene -just kidding- will make everything harder for a while. That's the bad news.

    The good news is that from what I've seen people that are orphaned early like us tend to be self sufficient, resilient no nonsense clear speaking sorts. We make friendships that are solid and lasting. I'm older now and most of my peers are still flailing around lost in some way or another but the ones that are like us, when we find our way we can't get lost again.
    hope you don't mind my unsolicited 2 cents

  5. When I lived in Birmingham I had to do my laundry at a laundromat. Good news: They let you drop it off and pick up later. Bad news: When I returned to pick up the sack it was heavy. I looked inside and it was still wet. When I inquired, the lady said, *oh, you need to pay a surcharge if you want your laundry actually dry*; it was an extra 50p and one had to specify *extra dry.* KB

  6. It is exhausting living in a new city and country. Not having a comfort zone means that everything is hard work, and you can't really relax at any time. I hope it is getting better for you, as time goes by.

  7. The good news is that the first year is the hardest. I moved here at 30 as well, and unlike many expats I moved here alone--be grateful for the husband! It does get better but it did take a while for me to settle in. I almost don't notice it some days anymore.


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