Learning to let go

This weekend I disabled the auto-renew on four of my domain names. When they expire, they’ll no longer be mine – and this is a rather strange feeling.

Some are old, some are ones I’ve not used yet, some I had great plans for but things have changed.

Mostly, there just physically isn’t enough time for me to maintain fourteen websites. Disabling these and letting them go leaves me with ten domain names and seven actual sites – carlalouise.com / carlawatkins.com / carlawatkinsphotography.com / runawaydays.co.uk / unfurlingyourwings.com / sillykittens.co.uk are all sites that I use and maintain and develop, plus of course inkdrops.co.uk which sits separately.

duckingfabulous.com / mermaiding.co.uk / mermaiding.uk / paperdollsburlesque.co.uk are all redirects, but valuable to me nonetheless.

So what am I giving up and saying goodbye to?

The Website Beautician

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The Website Beautician is officially retiring when the domain expires in early December – I’ve been doing minimal maintenance work for a good 18 months now, and avoiding taking on any more website work. I loved the clients I had and their glorious small businesses, but it was one of those times where following your passion isn’t the answer to everything.

It turns out that though I enjoy fiddling with my own sites, and will happily sit up till 2am tweaking CSS, that joy turns to terror and heavy responsibility when someone else’s site, livelihood and money are involved.

Girl Meets Van

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Girl Meets Van has also sadly come to a halt, because I accidentally bought a house last summer, it’s needed a lot more work to it than I anticipated, and the last of my camper van savings are going on the studio build which is starting at the end of October – I’ll finally have an office/studio space again and I can’t wait!

(I’m typing this to you from the bureau in my living room, where both laptops balance precariously among filing, the mic and piles of post its. My wall planner is draped over the sofa. It is driving me INSANE.)

While I’m letting girlmeetsvan go somewhat reluctantly, I’m also acknowledging that actually, my life goals and what I want have changed since I started that fund and blog.

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All change… but only on the surface

It has been a crazy busy first third of the year… the most packed I can remember, and I don’t say that lightly.

Also, how the hell is it May?!

It feels a lot like everything’s changing – only of course it isn’t, it’s just that weird temporary feeling I always get when everything’s up in the air and I’m a bit anxious about it all.

wooden type at St Botolphs | carlalouise.com(my life is nothing like as organised as the type in this picture…)

Things contributing to overwhelm (which are also fabulous)

Thing #1 – mermaid school is a thing. Not only is it a thing, it’s my thing! The first edition of Run Away Days’ mermaid spa runs on Wednesday, and I have for once had a completely one track mind about it. It’s actually really nice to have prolonged laser focus on just one project, but I’ve definitely reached the point where I’m annoying myself with my perfectionism. So at 9pm when the event is the day after tomorrow, I am calling time on my inner perfectionist and proclaiming that done is better than perfect. It’s already going to be amazing so I need to stop beating myself around the head with my perceived failings.

Also, I have two more bookings, a tail sale and another enquiry – and I haven’t actually advertised it yet! So am muchly excited for the future of my beautiful little mermaid school.

Carla underwater in a mermaid tail

Thing #2 – My fledgling photography business has also taken off quietly in the background, as often happens to me when I’m trying to focus on one thing. This time, photography sessions have snuck in and taken on a life of their own – simply because I’ve finally got over myself, accepted it’s something I do (and do well), and actually told people I’m a photographer. It is amazing what that piece of information does… after all, most people don’t have a crystal ball kicking around, do they?!

There is a whole weekend of mini-sessions lined up in May with the Burlesque Jems, and a very exciting styled shoot collaboration with the gorgeous Louise Rose Couture, as well as some wonderful local artists, authors and artisans who want personalityful images of them at work and at play.

With two distinct strands – solopreneurs in the Business Soloist sessions, and women celebrating their true selves in Unfurling Your Wings sessions, I’m having a glorious time finally doing what I’ve wanted to offer, but have been scared to, for the best part of a decade.

Thing #3 – I am about to start smashing up my garden and re-landscaping. I say “I” – I really mean my brilliant builder Mark and his team, and my lovely parents who are once again project managing. I can’t wait to have a proper garden to enjoy the summer in, but with a digger and a skip the size of my drive arriving tomorrow, I’m mainly just freaking out about the cats. Though I suppose logically, if they can jump *into* the skip, they should also be able to jump *out* of the skip. No?!

At any rate, I’m tasking Mum with keeping them indoors until the builders have gone home each evening. Cross bored kitties are definitely better than squidged-by-digger kitties… they’re much too curious for their own good!

Thing #4  – I think it probably says quite a lot about my current state of overwhelm that I can’t even remember what thing 4 is.

Thing #5 – It’s trade show season for Ink Drops and we are having a completely wonderful time mooching round the Stationery Show and Progressive Greetings Live, drooling over new stationery, getting to know new suppliers and saying hi to our lovely existing ones.

On the plus side…

Delightful stuff that isn’t overwhelming

I got to meet up with Mermaid Azela last weekend, and we spent two hours swimming and taking photos and videos of each other underwater. It was a totally gorgeous way to spend a Sunday afternoon and we’re definitely going to do it again soon!

Mermaid Azela and Mermaid Carla

Cats make excellent Kindle stands… or at least, my Luna-kitty does. Clover stalked off in disgust when I tried it.

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But then, all the comfy places in the world to sit and she chooses an old recycling box…

Clover on recycling box

I’ve also been doing lots of reflecting, learning and reading… more on that in another post.

For now – I believe it’s time for bed, so I have a fighting chance of being awake when the diggers and the skip and the ballast and the paving stones arrive in the morning…!

Rediscovering campus

My day job is at the University of Essex, on a beautiful and quite big campus made up of parkland, woodland and buildings. The buildings are quite 60s, concrete and brutal… but the grounds are spectacular, and we even have two lakes, a country house hotel and a campus “farm” (large allotment, really).

When I first came here, following working close by the Barbican in London (equally brutal but less scenery, more people, and my actual office was the least inspiring building ever), I was captivated. That I could go for walks every day, spend time in woodland and by water, and all without bunking off work or going more than ten minutes from my house, seemed like a dream.

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Somehow, in the last three and a half years, I’d forgotten to be entranced by the gorgeous surroundings I work in. Reading back through my five year diary for a podcast I’m doing soon, I realised how much I longed for green space and water when I couldn’t have it.

I have now firmly told myself off for taking it for granted, and am trying to spend more time outdoors – especially now the weather is behaving itself!

Mermaiding, and seizing the moment

A typical dreamy, water-loving Pisces, my lifetime love of the sea, of mermaids, of myth and magic beneath the waves as well as above them, comes as no surprise.

As a child I was forever in the water. Spending whole days at a time in my aunt’s parents’ pool.  Feeling like I’d come home when I went to my family in Cornwall and could swim in the sea.

I dreamed of mermaids and caves, of underwater kingdoms and a beautiful blue tail, which would propel me faster and further than my human legs could do. My hair was always tangled from the salt water or the chlorine, as I found it impossible to be in a pool and not spend most of my time under the surface.

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So when, this year, I finally fulfilled my dream of swimming in a real mermaid tail, I loved it so much, I decided I wanted to find a way for other people to experience it too.

Being me, I didn’t let the grass grow under my feet (or the kelp under my tail) – and I am now over the moon to introduce Run Away Days.

Mermaid experiences for grown ups only, in the surroundings of a luxury spa in the Essex countryside.

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It’s been a roller coaster ride (anything water based is an absolute arse to get insured and risk-assessed), but we’re all set and ready to go – squeak! First dates are likely to be April or May – and I CANNOT WAIT to share this with other aspiring mers.

If you’re not an underwater baby, Run Away Days will also be offering circus escapes and more in the future. Get on the list here or over at the Run Away Days site.

And tell me – what would your ideal escape day look like?

With love & narwhals (because underwater unicorns!),

Carla xxx

(Big thanks to Amy & Laura at Sports Direct Fitness Colchester, who accepted my tailswimming without batting an eyelid, and also to Colchester Leisure World, who have given me permission to swim in the dive pit at certain times. Every mermaid needs to practice!)

 

Goodbye 2015, you were epic

A whole year has passed, and this one so full of enormous and life changing events I don’t even know where to start.

The first and most obvious was buying my house – after endless viewings of places that were either too big, too small, too expensive or in the wrong place, the truth leapt out at me that the house I was renting was the place I loved most in the world. It was home for my kitties and me, and it was just right for the three of us, if in need of a bit of modernising.

So I asked my lovely landlord if buying this house was a possibility, and a few months later, we completed the sale. Then the most whirlwind few months of my life began – with the help of my parents and some bloody brilliant trades, I took down trees, changed the entire inside layout of the house, stripped and redid the wiring and plumbing, had a new kitchen, most of a new bathroom (I put a new bath panel in but left the bath & tiling – it’s already pale blue from my hair dye so figured there was no point buying a shiny new white one to dye that blue too…!), carpets, furniture, a sofa, a new mattress, a new base because I bought a heavy mattress… you name it, I think I’ve done it in the last four months.

In that time, I also moved back in with my parents for five weeks (I can cope without heating or internet but not without either), lost and found (but didn’t really lose, she’s just good at hiding) Clover-kitty, laughed, cried, rediscovered how much I love DIY and my overalls, found out I hate painting after the novelty has worn off, and got rid of a good 50% of what I owned.

Luna, Clover and I moved back in on October 10th, and though at that point I didn’t have flooring, a sofa or a proper bed, it was wonderful to be home. Now everything is more or less finished and it’s just the last lot of unpacking and the garden & studio to go, I am overcome every morning that this is my home, my permanent home, my kitties’ forever home – that it’s so beautiful, and it’s ours, and we get to stay.

There’s a profound change in mindset when you go from renting to owning, and it seems more pronounced for me here as it’s the same house I’ve lived in for a few years. It’s funny how protective I suddenly am of my carpet now I know I’ve paid for it and will have to replace it if anything happens! It’s been the biggest creative project I’ve ever undertaken, and in a weird way it’s also only just started – having sorted out the basics, I can now focus on decor, furnishings, fabrics, art and really putting my stamp on it. Eeeee!

So it’s also been the year I’ve put down roots – I have amazing friends locally for the first time since I left uni, and they are a wonderful addition to my far-flung friends, who I think now span every corner of the world!

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The undisputed highlight of this year was the trip to Texas to see Alan Jackson play live. I still can’t believe we got tickets, and such good tickets – we were right at the front, he was no further away than the length of my living room. I’ve rarely been so emotional, and it really was the trip and the gig of a lifetime – and a dream come true. I never thought I’d get to see him play live, and I’m so very glad to have been able to do it with both Mum & Dad with me.

The rest of the trip was incredible too – it was utterly lovely to catch up with all our friends over there. And I’ve found somewhere else in Texas that I could happily call home. I’ll always love Fort Worth, but the island of Galveston, with sea, sand and shops called The Witchery and The Naked Mermaid stole a little piece of my heart. I’ll go back one day…

My businesses have been a bit quieter in the second half of the year – partly because of the house, and partly because I finally got out of my own way and allowed myself to explore the possibility of making photography part of my business model. It’s my first love, and I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t constantly accompanied by a camera. As part of that shift and commitment, I have joined Shining Lights, an ongoing mentoring programme for creatives that started out specifically for female photographers. I joined in November this year and it has been transformative already. I’ve also booked a one to one day with my favourite photographer, Kerrie Mitchell – it’s in March and I’m already overexcited! I can’t wait to see what 2016 brings!

Unfurling Your Wings was officially born this year after 18 months of dreaming, writing and rewriting.  22 brave ladies worked through the first ever live course, sharing insights and connection, and generally humbling me with the way they handled some quite big life shifts. I’m now making tweaks following their brilliant feedback, and will be launching properly later next year. This year, as I’m blatantly not going to get round to publishing this post till after midnight!

I have a new venture (well, several actually – when don’t I have new projects on the go?!) and the stock from the shop here will shortly be moving over to the Unicornery, which will launch in Spring/Summer 2016 with unicorns, mermaids and mythical, magical goodness galore!

I did manage a three day business retreat with the gorgeous Louise Rose Couture, down in Wincanton for the weekend that Hogswatch would have been.  We’re agreed that it was one of the best things we’ve ever done for our businesses – getting away from real life and all the endless things that need to be done when you’re in your own home, escaping to where nobody knew us, and spending three whole days working on our directions, our ideas, our thoughts and dreams and hopes. With a healthy dose of common sense from the other, because both of us can get carried away on occasion!

Out of that I found myself ditching some domains and blogs I no longer use (goodbye, Letters from my Twenties, Girl Meets Van and the Website Beautician), and simplifying and clarifying what I do have, so they fit with my new direction. Which is awesome.

Ink Drops continues to thrive, selling out two to three months in advance, as I write. Turns out there are a lot of stationery addicts like us out there! I love it so much, and I’m so excited to grow our little company in 2016.

I’m feeling more fired up about my businesses than I have been for ages, and I am determined that 2016 is the year I make some really big steps forward!

Kitteny cats and other pets.

a pile of kittens (Luna and Clover)

Oh, my beloved kitteny cats. June saw their 2nd birthday, and November the two year anniversary of when they came home to live with me forever. I am still slightly bemused that I spent so much of my life thinking I wasn’t a cat person – I am SO A CAT PERSON!! They make me laugh every day, they’re snuggly and silly and loving and ridiculous by turns, and I can’t imagine life without them nor remember what life was like before them.

We’ve had our share of frights this year – in February Clovie gave me quite a lot more grey hairs, by falling over and lying sadly on the floor, then spending the whole of the following day at the vet on a drip. She came home that night with a bandage around her leg and generally milked it for all she was worth – bounding around on three legs and demanding to be hand fed chunks of tuna, as they had fed her at the surgery. I believe I have a diva on my hands. Anyway, she was fine in the end, and to my very great relief it wasn’t the antifreeze poisoning we had initially suspected and feared.

The day before I moved out of my house for the main works to start, and just a few hours before they were due to go on their initial holiday to Hilltop, Clover failed to come home after lunch. Though she’s the treat monster of the house, even rattling her favourites failed to bring her home, and by 7pm I was a snivelling mess, wandering the streets with treats in hand, calling brokenly for my lost kitty. Just as I was about to give up and lose the plot entirely, my lovely neighbour turned up looking a bit sheepish and with a rather large scratch – he’d accidentally shut her in his garage in the pouring rain at 8.30am, and when he’d opened it in the evening she’d been spitting mad and starving hungry (she’s always hungry, lol). I definitely could have reacted better to that particular incident, but I was already so rattled by my house being all over the place and moving out, I wasn’t in the greatest of mental places.

While at my parents, Clover (again!) managed to scare the life out of all of us by finding the smallest, darkest, most hidden place in the whole flat and curl up for a nice long sleep. For four hours, she snoozed undiscovered while we assumed she’d escaped out of the sash windows and fallen to her death. We cried, shouted at each other, printed lost posters (to distribute to all the flats we were trying not to alert to the cats’ presence in the first place, as they’re not really allowed there), and generally experienced heartbreak on a scale I hadn’t even imagined. I had no idea how much it would hurt, to believe my kitty truly lost to me, and possibly dead.

So when, after all that heartache, Dad discovered her inches from him, hidden in the tiniest possible space under the printer, I could happily have smacked her furry little bottom (!) and I have a lot more sympathy for parents who shout from pure relief when they think their children are lost and then they come back. And of course I’d never hurt my kitties. Instead I showered her with love, with which she was distinctly unimpressed, shut all the windows, retrieved Luna from where she’d retreated into the bottom of the cupboard to escape her mad sobbing human, and proceeded to take both of them to bed. Where they both refused to sleep in their usual places on my head and my feet. But I had them both back safely. Worst day ever with the best possible ending.

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And just this morning, I heard an ominous thump, then found Luna crouched on the floor rather than sprinting away. When I picked her up and put her down again, she sort of crouch-limped across the conservatory floor, nearly giving me a heart attack, so I rang the vet and made an emergency appointment. Of course, ten minutes later I caught her bounding across the house at full speed, with nothing at all wrong with her. Cats!! Took her in anyway so that I could relax today, and it turns out she has one, possibly two, dislocating knees that she’s had since birth. They don’t cause her pain, but they do sometimes pop out which will cause her to shake her leg around until they pop back in. Le sigh!

But those incidents aside, they’re beautiful and gorgeous and snuggly and wonderful, and I’m immensely grateful to have had another year with them. And so glad we get to stay in the home they’ve known since they were six months old, and that they are so happy in.

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In sad animal news, this year we lost my beloved Harriet, who got me through so much pain and heartache when I first moved to Essex. I credit her with keeping me sane and alive on my worst days, and though she isn’t my own dog, she’s left a border collie shaped hole in my heart that no animal will ever be able to fill. I’m immensely grateful for a random series of events in September which meant that I got to spend an hour or so snuggled with her on the forbidden sofa for belly rubs before the rest of the household woke up, and which turned out to be the last time I ever saw my gorgeous girl.

My lovely friend Lizzie also lost her wonderful cat Mr M in December – he was one of my favourite ever cats and he is very much missed. <3

2015 has been gloriously full of fantasy and fun.

I had a steampunk and fae alter ego shoot with the fabulous Grace Hill earlier in the year, and introduced my steampunk gypsy alter ego, Petronella ‘Nell’ Blythe Merriman, to the world; there were unicorns aplenty, including an incredible cross stitched one by Sarah; and I finally got my longed for mermaid tail. I’m taking it for a spin on Monday – and I hope to add mermaiding to my income streams as well as keep it as a hobby.

I tried (and loved, despite the bruises) hula hooping with Anna the Hulagan, returned to line dancing, and I took up regular burlesque again as the Jems brought a class to Colchester, yay! I’ve cross stitched and coloured in, tried my hand at NaNoWriMo (I’m still shit at writing fiction but I really enjoy the challenge) and our Crafty Coffee group has grown. I met up and shot with the Colchester photographers’ group, and 2016 holds a writers’ meetup and a photography group at work, too.

2015 has been the year I have properly embraced single-at-heart. I didn’t actually know it was a thing until relatively recently, but oh, god, the relief of finding hundreds of other people in the world who just aren’t that bothered about finding love – like me, they’re too busy with their lives and business and animals and friends. And the concept of your primary relationship being with yourself, always – I can’t begin to describe how much that resonated. Though I’m sure I’ll waffle about it on here at times. I love my life, and I especially love my freedom. It can take some explaining, as people tend to assume that if you’re single, you’re looking for a man, even when you assure them you’re not – but it’s lovely to have found a niche at last.

Perhaps that’s part of being nearly 30… I feel like I’ve spent the last decade searching for where I fit and belong, and where I proudly stand out, and what I really want out of life. If that’s the case, I’m extra excited for my thirties!!

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Family and friends – this year would have been completely impossible if not for my incredible parents. My house is a monument of their love for me – from them being there every day to project manage, to diving in and doing the DIY despite their health issues, to housing me and the kitties for far longer than they expected without a murmur of protest, they have made my dream life leap closer and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to put my gratitude into words. (Though I’ve tried, with a Spotify subscription, C2C tickets for March and a yet-to-be-chosen treat for Mum, plus lots of Christmas presents).

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We also had Christmas at my house this year which was really lovely – though we escaped to my favourite pub for actual lunch, it was so good to host in the house we’d worked so hard on!

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I’ve not seen as much of Gran as I normally do because the house took up every waking moment, but I’m looking forward to seeing her more regularly next year. Here we are in the summer – she takes a great selfie!

I am now the proud cousin of 43 and one on the way – and my eldest odd-daughter (we’re not religious and we prefer odd-daughter and odd-parent to goddaughter and godparent) and her other half have acquired an adorable puppy called Dexter. He’s a puggle. He is ridiculous and glorious. My middle odd-daughter is starting to visit universities and my youngest is halfway through GCSEs. I suddenly feel almost like a grown up- albeit one who swims like a mermaid, wears wings and fervently believes in unicorns. The rest of my extended family is as fabulous as ever, though my aunt and I have been hilariously successfully booking and cancelling lunch with each other for months as life conspires against us… perhaps 2016 will be our year?!

My gorgeous friends. The old and the new, the geographically distant and the ones just up the road. I’d be lost without you and I love you all. There have definitely been some shifts in my friendships over the last few years, as we’ve all grown into ourselves and started building our lives – hopefully the lives we dreamed of. There have been some drifts and some unexpected reunions, some people I get on far better with now than I did growing up, and some whose lives are so different now that though we love each other, we don’t have a lot in common any more.

There are always the people who, no matter how long it’s been since we last talked, even if that’s counted in years rather than months, always feel like I saw them yesterday, and we pick up just where we left off. And then there are my new friends, who have all solidified from acquaintances this year. As always, when I click with new people, I rapidly can’t imagine life without them. I’ve not managed to scare any of them off (yet)! And all of them, old and new, feel like blessings.

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Two of my best friends got married this year – one in May, one in March. I was bridesmaid at one and photographer and witness at the other, and oh, it was so wonderful to see two of the girls I love the most formalise their relationships with their frankly awesome men. I’m proud to have them both as honorary brothers in law.

One of my gorgeous uni girls had a baby in November, a seismic shift but a good one for our university group. More or less everyone my age is getting engaged or married, including my first love – we must be getting old! I am delighted for them all but a bit nervous about how I fit eight weddings in next year and possibly more in 2017. My sister-by-choice is pregnant and due in January – I’m unbelievably excited but also apprehensive, as though nothing could ever hurt our friendship, children do change things.

There has been a rash of house buying too – we must be at that age, all of a sudden. But I’m very much looking forward to a 2016 full of weekends away, at weddings, at hen gatherings and at people’s new homes.

Work wise, I passed the three year mark at the university – I have never in my life stayed in a job more than 21 months at the outside, so this was a major milestone.  Having panicked a bit and then realised my panicking was just habit, I’ve come to the conclusion that because I have an incredible amount of freedom on campus, to work how and where best suits me, I’m not finding it as restraining and draining as my previous jobs have been.

I think I’ve also started feeling differently about my day job since I agreed the sale of the house – suddenly regular income has a lot more appeal than it used to! And the people at work are amazing… it never ceases to astound me how lovely it is to find likeminded people who get me, who think like me and who accept me heart and soul for who I am. Mermaiding obsessions and all!

The day job highlights have to be the day the Comms office called me to say they’d saved some newspaper clippings of me in my knickers (promoting the new burlesque classes) and the sheer enthusiasm that followed the stunned silence when I told my team I was phoning our leisure centre to get permission to swim in my mermaid tail. I can’t begin to express how much it means that I work with people who understand how important everything out of work is!

There has been so much more to this year, and intriguingly this isn’t the post I thought I was going to write – but it’s an apt summary of one of the most rollercoaster years I’ve had. I hope that 2016 is just as epic but a little calmer – I’d like to have some time to breathe without worrying about what I’ve missed, not done or am getting behind on.

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As a final note, my words for 2015 were Freedom, Magic and Simplicity. I think I’ve achieved them all in spades – and they all helped in all sorts of unexpected ways. Simplicity especially, as in January I had no intention of buying a house, but by August I had – and in packing everything up so I could renovate, keeping a focus on the simplicity I craved but had never mastered made it much easier to get rid of stuff. It’s also making it easier to unpack and be very selective about what makes it back into my house from the garage.

There is always magic in my life, but far more so now I have my own house. And I think more than a little magic is in my mermaid tail and my friendships, my family and my kitties being safe and sound despite their tendency to get into mischief. I’ve found the magic of belonging and of finding my place in the world – the home I want to live in for a long time to come, and also greater clarity in my businesses and projects than I’ve ever had before. The confidence I’ve found in my photography after a decade of fear is also nothing short of pure magic. (or PFM, as my Dad would say).

Freedom… has come to me in an unexpected way. I don’t have the full self employed freedom I always thought I wanted, and do still eventually want. What I have instead is a steady income with an amazing manager who understands that I work best when I’m not cooped up – so I can work wherever and whenever is best for me as long as I’m on campus during the working day. Which is fine by me. I suddenly have freedom from renting and the security that comes from making payments towards your own place – sounds odd I know, but it makes such a difference to how I feel. And for the first time in my life I have better control over my money and no debt except for the house – which is giving me unprecedented creative freedom, as I stop wasting energy worrying about my overdraft and instead pour it into my imagination.

And on that note, I’m off to work through Unravelling and Leonie’s planners, and get my bullet journal sorted for next year… and think about what words I want to fuel my 2016.

Happy new year, my loves – congratulations if you read this far, and thank you, always, for reading at all. I can’t imagine my life without blogging and while I’d do it anyway, you guys are the best reason to keep showing up and waffling into my keyboard.

With love, unicorns and narwhals,

Carla xx

A staycation and a surprise decision (well, two)

Excitingly and a little unexpectedly, I think it’s now safe to announce I’m nearing the end of the process of buying my house! SQUEEEEE! I’m delighted not to be moving, and I love this house and the life I’ve built around it, so I’m very happy to be staying.

More on what promises to be the biggest and best creative project of my life so far when all the legalities are completed and it’s actually mine 🙂

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However, this decision indirectly ended up leading to one of the best holidays I’ve had in ages – my staycation! A word introduced to me by an American friend of mine, it describes the time-off-work-but-not-going-away type of holiday rather nicely, I think.

I’d booked the week off thinking I’d head up to the Lake District for a photography holiday, or possibly across to France for a jewellery making holiday (both high on my wishlist at the moment!). But with the hottest week of the year predicted and house completion looming, instead I stayed at home, saw friends, pottered in my garden and started packing boxes up ready for renovating the downstairs part of the house – and I had a wonderful time!

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As any of you who have emailed me recently will know, I’ve barely been near my computer all week – and oh, how wonderful that’s been.

Spending time in my business – making the flurry of custom bracelet orders, packing delights from the shop up for people all over the world, reviewing the first draft of Unfurling Your Wings ready for the beta round in August.

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Spending time on my business – sorting out my filofax, arranging a day to go through my accounts with my VA, rejigging my plans and goals and directions, and brainstorming new things with wonderful likeminded solopreneurs. And trying and failing (again) to implement an editorial calendar. I really do prefer writing and posting when the mood takes me 🙂

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Spending time in my life (which I am trying to do far more often) – having breakfast in the garden (and eating cake for breakfast), drinking Prosecco in a secret garden in London, a burlesque workshop and a festival, playing with costumes, reading three books in a day before I consent to getting out of bed, cups of tea and putting the world to rights with my Gran… all of the things I love but so rarely seem to have time for in my life lately.

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And spending time on my life – reviewing my dreams, directions, goals, and working out how best to move in those directions. Writing, photographing, musing and walking. Playing with my Wild Unknown deck, musing over the meanings of the cards I’ve drawn. And, because I’m the list queen, making checklists so I actually do the things that are important to me each day, week and month.
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The biggest and most concrete realisation of this pottering, journalling, meditating and generally giving myself room to breathe has been that I want to keep this day job as part of my portfolio for much longer than I had initially planned. Yes, I was surprised too.

The grand plan was to do two years and then shift gracefully into working for myself full time.

And then I adopted my beloved kittens, bought a house and maybe most significantly, made real friends through work. And now I find I’m reluctant to leave the place where I see those people each day, where the work is varied and interesting and I have lots of autonomy and flexibility, while still being able to switch off when I leave the office.

Though I still hate the concept of the 9-5 and the insistence of organisations that employees be in a specific place at specific times, rather than assigning work and letting us get on with it whenever and wherever is best for us, I think I’d be very sad to leave this particular day job (or at least, the people in it) behind just yet.

Longer term I definitely still want total control over where and when I work – yet I’m reluctant to plan more specifically than a general direction to move in, because who knows where I will be and what I’ll be doing in a year’s time, never mind in five or ten years?!

So the biggest result of my staycation (brain-cation?!) is that now my short and mid-term plans involve growing my businesses in a slightly different way, so they’re entirely flexible, and then when I reach the point where it’s financially possible, I can shift the balance.

Part time instead of full time at the day job, and at least half of my time spent on my own ventures and projects. I can see the balance I want very clearly…

Likeminded people, and a beautiful campus, and a flexible but challenging job. Structure, and an office to go into when I need or want to, and watercooler moments with lovely colleagues.

A thriving business which helps women step into their own power and live the lives they’ve dreamed of. Another thriving business which connects stationery lovers and their longing for a simpler, slower, more organised life (and just happens to supply beautiful stationery as well).

And plenty of time for new projects and classes, for making and experimenting and reading and learning new skills. For spending with my friends and family. For entertaining in the house and garden of my dreams, and for relaxing there in my own personal sanctuary. For movement to be built into my life and for stillness and quiet to be as present as noise and being busy.

Not at all what I expected or planned when I quit London for a portfolio career – but intriguingly, it feels exactly right for where I am and what I want right now.

Who knew?

With love and unicorns,

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What no one will tell you about starting your own business

Through my various ventures and the community of solopreneurs who keep me sane, I’ve learned some intriguing truths about starting up. Whatever stage of business you’re at, whether it’s thinking and daydreaming, early stages or you’ve been going for years, I hope they help.

It’s allowed to be fun

This is from an actual shoot we did for Louise Rose Couture.

I have been musing recently on how un-fun (is that even a word? It should be if it isn’t) lots of business courses and seminars are. The ones I’ve been to in the past have been helpful on the one hand, but I can also imagine them being offputting. With pages and pages of business plans, finance information, insurance and scare stories about what happens if you get your tax return wrong, it’s enough to make you want to run away and hide (and that’s before I mention the EU VAT fiasco…!)

But if you don’t love what you’re doing, and if you don’t allow yourself to have fun and enjoy your business (and build in ways to do this from the start), you will find yourself with a cage you’ve built yourself, which is far harder to escape than the 9-5 you so joyfully quit months or years ago.

(This photo is from an actual shoot we did for a Louise Rose Couture collection.)

You’re allowed to change what you do

But do make sure you check in with yourself as to why you’re changing. If you genuinely don’t like what you’re doing, or you know you work best in cycles of things, then go ahead and change it up – as long as you communicate it clearly to your customers and clients, no one important to your biz will bat an eyelid.

You have my full permission to ignore any naysayers who predict doom and gloom. We’re small and nimble, we can change with the times – and we can change on our own whims, too. Some of my most successful solopreneur colleagues have been through several editions of their businesses before they found the one(s) that work best and light them up.

There will be days when you wonder why the hell you started this

Yes, even for that thing you LOVE to do, and do in your spare time, and you would totally do even if no one ever paid you for it. Even when you are earning decent money from your biz (and definitely when you’re not yet earning decent money from your biz), and even when you have All Of The Flexibility because you finally left your day job… you will still have days when you wonder what on earth you’re doing and why in the name of all that’s cat shaped on the internet you ever thought it was a good idea to work for yourself.

It’s normal, it will ambush you when you least expect it, it will go on happening for your entire life as a solopreneur. But it will also pass, and you will emerge the other side. I promise. Find yourself a likeminded and sympathetic buddy you can call when you’re considering jacking it all in.

Day jobs are cool, too

Do not ever let anyone shame you about working a day job. It could be a delightful part of your portfolio, or it could be something you do simply for the money. Whichever way round, having a part or full time job for someone else in no way makes you less – you are still self employed, you are still creative, you are still amazing and you are still changing the world in your own way.

My day job meetings often look like this. It's a world away from the London corporate cage!

My day job meetings often look like this. It’s a world away from the London corporate cage!

I can tell you from experience that you can’t create from a place of desperation, and if you have quit your steady income too early, you’re highly unlikely to be creating your best work while you worry about where your next rent payment or grocery shop is coming from.

For those who have jumped and the net hasn’t appeared – you can go back! Two of my friends have recently gone back to full and part time day jobs, which, because of their self employment adventures and passion projects, are more aligned with their strengths and what lights them up than you’d believe.

Lots of us flit in and out of jobs as money requires – this is ok. Do what you have to to enable you to do your best work.

Which leads me on to…

It will take more time than you expect or plan for

A bit like any kind of building or home improvement work, no matter how clear your vision (and let’s face it, they all cloud over at times), and whatever your level of social media proficiency, building a network and community around your business, who will turn into your loyal customers and raving fans, takes time. More time than you expect.

But when they come, they are so worth waiting for! Steady, consistent, interesting content is the way forward – and if you don’t have much of an audience yet, that’s ok – it gives you time to experiment without worrying.

Your list is less of a big deal than you’ve been told

Lots of online and offline courses will tell you the most important thing is your ‘list’ – the people who have given you their email address. A selection of current advice seems to be that you can’t blog without an opt in, you can’t have a business without a blog, and you certainly can’t have a blog without a list.

While there is some truth in the fact that the bigger your list, the more likely you are to have big paydays when you launch new products, Shenee points out that most courses and online products take 3-4 runs to become remotely profitable, and that many people sell from a very small list and do extremely well.

It really is quality not quantity that counts.

That idea you have? Try it and see what happens.

Go on - transfer that idea from your head or your notebook out into the world

So you shouldn’t be put off by the website/blog/opt in/list/etc you “should” have before starting.

Neither should you assume you need to have a seventeen page business plan and financial forecasts before writing your first post about whatever it is that’s persistently lurking in your head. We are fortunate to be living through the internet revolution – so start a site and test the market.

Start a blog and write some posts, gather email addresses with a plugin like SeedProd’s Coming Soon Pro, set yourself a challenge to talk to twenty or fifty or a hundred people about your idea and get feedback, make a prototype and film it for YouTube… there are endless ways to start without freaking out, and without spending a fortune until you know whether the product or service will work.

Go on – transfer that idea from your head or your notebook out into the world.

You don’t have to be THE expert to be an expert

You know when you show your Gran how to send a picture message and she’s fascinated? Or when you pop in to see your parents and solve in ten minutes that pesky computer issue they’ve been having for weeks but haven’t wanted to bother you with? When you can spell “supercalifragilisticexpialadocious” without reference to Google and your colleagues think you’re some kind of genius?

What comes easily to you, doesn’t come easily to everyone else. And you don’t have to be a world leading expert in order to appear expert to, and be truly helpful to, the people you serve.

So don’t be put off by knowing less than someone you admire – just make sure you know more about your subject than the people you want as your clients.

 

What have you learned, that goes against conventional business wisdom?

Why being interested in ALL THE THINGS is actually a good thing

Discovering, a couple of years ago, that I was a Scanner, was a turning point in my life.

If you’ve never come across the word in this context before, alternative names include Renaissance woman/man/soul, polymath, da Vinci personality, multipassionate, multipotentialite, and some that are less complimentary – dilettante, flake, Jack-of-all-trades, fantasist.

Barbara Sher, who coined the term Scanner, goes into it in much more depth in her books, but the gist is that it’s someone who has many interests, usually moves jobs often, can’t seem to settle on one thing to do and who has ideas all the time, and frequently leaves projects seemingly unfinished.

I’m not normally one for labels, but I’d struggled for years with my many, many interests, and my attention span waxing and waning depending on what I was doing, but also on when I was doing it and what other things were currently on my radar. I had more hobbies than the rest of my group of friends put together, and found it utterly impossible to stay in a job for more than 18 months or so without being bored to tears. By the time I was 24 I had a CV which spanned as many pages as my Dad’s did – he was 66 at the time.

Even the line dancing I adored, I stopped once I’d reached a certain level. I qualified for, competed in and placed in the World Championships in Nashville in 2000, and it has taken me fifteen years to rekindle my love affair with line dancing. I got what I wanted out of it, and then I quit. (Though I’ve worn cowboy (girl?) boots ever since I was nine.)

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Modern Western society expects us all to be specialists, and to choose one thing to do for the rest of our lives. Even at 16 I raised eyebrows by choosing English, French, German and Physics for my A levels. So many people told me that I should have taken another Humanities subject. I’d have taken something arty (photography or textiles or something like that), but I was told at school, repeatedly from childhood, that I was academic and not creative. So I did what I could at the time, while dreading the thought of refining my choices even further.

My tendency to stop completely and move on, once whatever I was doing ceased to be interesting or fun, has been frowned upon over the years too – because in our society, whether at work or at play, quitting is seen as giving up, as being unreliable and therefore as a bad thing. I couldn’t understand why people would continue with all sorts of things, most of which were either supposed to be fun or which took up a considerable chunk of precious life –  work, relationships, hobbies, projects – long after they stopped enjoying them.

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Discovering blogs (or weblogs, as they were known in the misty recesses of 2005) was a revelation – here at last was somewhere where I could write about and share the day to day stories of being me, of everything I did – and instead of simply recording it in a diary, I found likeminded people! Other people’s writing, blog comments, forums for incredibly niche hobbies like collecting model horses – for the first time, no one judged me for having a series of bursts of enthusiasm for something, then taking a break and returning to it later.

(A vaguely relevant side note – I found it hilarious when people started extolling the virtues and wonder of internet dating, and meeting people online, a few years ago – because these were the same people that gave me repeated lectures on how stupid I was to go to London to meet new friends I’d met online through my hobbies… whether Wheel of Time fans, model horse collectors or photographers. My first internet meetup was with Chloe in London when I was 19, back in 2006 – and it was apparently far from normal to do that then. She’s now one of my dearest friends. Who knew something held in such suspicion would become so mainstream so fast?!)

Regardless of the type of project, idea or pastime, I followed (follow!) a pattern of sorts – I’d have an idea or something would pique my interest, I’d research it a bit and decide I wanted to learn about it or learn to do it. I’d do some more research, meet some people who already did it, buy some things related to it (craft materials, jewellery tools, small collectable resin horses, typewriters…) and then throw myself into it with an all-consuming passion. Until the next thing caught my attention.

An example – at the time I write, I have just found the new My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic series. I ADORED MLP when I was younger, and had avoided the new style ones in case I hated them. Then I saw an episode on YouTube and am now devouring the first and second series on DVD, while scouring shops and the internet for MLP memorabilia to keep on my desk, pin up in my studio, and hang from my handbag.

I’ve driven both my (now ex) partners and my parents, and probably my friends too, up the wall for decades with my wild enthusiasm for a new project which dwindles into inertia just as they’re starting to come round to the idea of me having chosen My Thing, at last.

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So after the best part of a decade of doing this and blogging, and trying to justify my inability to choose or find that One Thing to do with my career and free time that was supposed to keep me interested for the rest of my life, I found one of Barbara Sher’s books in the library.

And I read it, and I cried… because there at last was proof that I wasn’t alone, that I wasn’t a flake and that I wasn’t broken. I just had a different kind of brain – and there were other people out there like me.

Fast forward a couple of years, and I’ve actively sought out other people who get it, though the majority of people I know still don’t. Which is ok – we’re just wired differently! Lots of the solopreneurs I now count among my dearest friends (the internet is a properly magical thing!) are also scanners, and we’re learning how to make our personalities work with our businesses rather than forcing ourselves into a box.

When I find a new thing, the time I spend engaged with it varies – from a few days to a few years, and I am never without several things on the go. (if I’d had a £1 for every time someone asked me how I fit so much in and follow so many hobbies, I could probably retire tomorrow). And I have a noticeable cycle, though the timing isn’t consistent – generally, if it’s something I discover and like enough to chuck myself into it, I make friends within it and then continue to return to it after intervals, throughout my life.

Examples of these include collecting, painting and showing model horses; my car Poppy and the club I belong to through her; roller skating (started at age 6 and I go through phases of being addicted to it every few years); horse riding; jewellery making; papercraft and scrapbooking; customising shoes and clothes; reworking the interior of my home; sewing; camper vans; cross stitching, baking, wanting to write a book… the list is endless (almost literally).

The only things which are consistent are writing and photography. Which brings me to the heart of this post.

When it became apparent at an absurdly early age that I was going to write, and read, far more than I was going to do anything else consistently (the photography came later), it’s been suggested repeatedly that I should be an author and write books, or a journalist and write articles, or a travel writer, or [insert traditional writing-related-job here].

And they’re all good ideas on the surface. But the trouble is, I don’t want to write whole books (well, I do, but I know myself well enough now to know that completing more than one is highly unlikely – the kick I’ll get when I finish Unfurling is highly likely to be enough for me to move onto something else instead of writing a second book).

I don’t want to dive so deeply into one subject that I don’t have time or energy left over to explore all the other amazing things out there – which, if I pursued a traditional writing career, I would have to do. Even journalists, who write short to medium articles instead of whole books, usually specialise in a broad topic – business, or travel, or cookery, or lifestyle.

And while thinking about my blog, and where it’s headed over the next few years, and how I got into blogging in the first place, it occurred to me that it really is the perfect place for my scanner personality to develop, grow and flourish.

It takes the two things I do naturally and consistently, and applies them to the ever-changing series of things that I do equally naturally, but much less consistently. I can write one-sentence posts, or 2,000 word epics like this one – and I get to choose, rather than an editor.

Since I very first started blogging back in 2006, and in a more structured way since the inception of Ducking Fabulous in 2010, I have used my very own space on the internet to record, write, think out loud and muse about life, learning and all the things that catch my fancy.

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To explore and investigate my passing enthusiasms, catch ideas I’d like to follow up in the future, and record my journey through learning and practising and discovering. It gives me a self-made library to refer to when I come back to something I’ve done before, and means I have tangible evidence of how I’ve improved, changed, or grown in a particular area.

Through my writing I’ve learned to give myself permission not to finish things, and to hop, if I want to, between interests. I allow myself to stop doing things if they’re not working – a complete antithesis to the previous generation’s work ethic, which tends to be along the power-through-and-keep-going-even-if-it’s-hard-and-it-should-be-worth-it-in-the-end lines.

Credit is also due to the rise of blogging in popularity and as a career choice – I no longer have to explain what a blog is, and it’s the best excuse I’ve ever had for trying out new things – all in the name of fresh content for my lovely readers. Yet this blog, seemingly uniquely for a blog that supports a business, is still very much my little space on the internet. I’m forever reading articles which tell you what you must and mustn’t do in order for your blog to be businesslike, or relevant, or grow your readership… and I stand by my belief that a blog is the equivalent of your home online.

I want people to see me for who I am, and if they resonate with me and like my writing, then some part of my business will probably be a good fit for them. Whether it’s jewellery, tarot decks or courses depends very much on them and what they’re looking for.

I’m trying this year for the first time to schedule my posts and write them in advance, and while it works for some types of post, it’s failing miserably for others. Like these. I need to write them when the inspiration strikes, and then I want them out there so I can have the conversations they spark while the subject is still fresh in my mind.

So what about you? Are you also a scanner, or beginning to realise you could be one? Let me know in the comments (or email me if you’d prefer it not to be public) – I’d love to know.

With love and unicorns,

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How the EU ruined my November – and is killing microbusiness

What a month November has been.

Supermodel cat is obliging, yet frowny. #sillykittens

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Starting off with an attempt at National Novel Writing Month, I had a wonderful time rediscovering my love for writing fiction (and Luna and Clover got starring roles in a story about how they became witch’s cats). Alongside that I spent some time working on Unfurling, which is beginning to take real shape, and is making me very happy.

I got a Ralph unexpectedly at the end of October…

Ralph's first crochet lesson #essexralph

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… and spent a weekend wedding dress shopping with my best friend (for her, not me!). Which was glorious though I’m not allowed to share photos yet!

Completely differently but equally excitingly, on Sunday I appeared on my first live call, an interview by Vaska the Curious Cat, for Free Range Humans‘ storytelling tent. I am told I inspired people… and this is massive, as that’s all I ever really wanted to do. Show people that they too can live life their way, whatever that means to them.

There was a housewarming with wonderful friends from uni, and a christening with my closest friends at home in Essex – and the newest member of our group, baby Jessica (whose special day it was).

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