One day at a time…730 days later

I’m sure by now nearly everyone has had one of those posts appear on their Facebook timeline showing you what you were doing on this day a few years ago. When you see it you’re either like “Take me back to those good times”or “I had almost bocked that from memory, thanks Facebook”.

Thinking back to where I was two years ago it’s probably the latter. I was just finishing up my research project on DNA damage in breast cancer cells in the lab as part of my Masters Thesis in Regenerative Medicine. As long as I can remember I always wanted to be a cancer researcher and I though that after spending five years in college studying that I would finally be ready to go and do this. However, what actually happened was that I realised I didn’t actually like lab work as much as I thought I would. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the excitement of investigating new things, being challenged with tricky experiments and theorising what strange results might mean but I also found it stressful. I know I’m the sort of person who thrives on a challenge but the uncertainty and stressful nature of life in a lab, and the idea of doing this everyday didn’t really sound appealing anymore.

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Even though I was good at it, being a true millennial I have this, maybe slightly deluded idea, that I should be working in a job I love and enjoy. We were brought up with the notion that we can be anything we want and that the traditional route of picking one career and sticking to it for the rest of your life didn’t have to be the norm anymore. Our whole lives we were taught to dream big and then, just as we were graduating and finally going out into the workforce, where we assumed there would always be a nice job for us, boom, the recession happened and with that our dreams, which to us always seemed like a 100% certainty just dissipated.  I don’t think it’s our fault for wanting, or expecting, to be successful as we were brought up in a booming society. We were expected not just to study hard and finish school like previous generations were, but to attend university and even go on to do post-graduate degrees. With this being the norm, and what was expected of us, we weren’t exactly prepared to end up feeling worthless, with none of the amazing job prospects we were brought up to believe we were going to get and a lot of people ending up emigrating or relying on parental or government support after college.

being a true millennial I have this, maybe slightly deluded, idea that I should be working in a job I love and enjoy

However, I also think that because we were brought up in a country where the majority of people led fairly comfortable and lavish lifestyles that we know what we can have. But maybe, in a cruel twist of fate we’ve also seen first hand what happens when people get too greedy and don’t really think about things enough. So now we have a generation of ambitious, yet understandbly cautious, dreamers who want to see the country built up again. Older generations might think we’re lazy and uncommitted but I just think we don’t really want to settle for something we’re not 100% passionate about – for a great article, particularly for any employers have a read of this article from the Harvard Business Review.

“Older generations might think we’re lazy and uncommitted but I just think we don’t really want to settle for something we’re not 100% passionate about”

In my case, I decided to take a break from studying for a year to see if maybe it was just a bit of burn-out from so long studying. I thought that a year out might re-ignite my passion for science and if not, at least I would have saved up enough money to back and do what I wanted, once I had figured that out… However, part of me got nervous about being idle so I went and applied for, and got accepted onto a PhD in Cancer Research in Dublin. All I needed to do was get government funding, which I thought that with having a 1.1 degree and coming top of my Masters Class that I would get. However, with the current economic situation the government seriously cut funding so that was the end of that. I could have re-applied the next year but my Mom always has a saying of “what’s for you won’t pass you” so I just accepted that maybe it wasn’t for me. But then I didn’t really know what was for me…

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The two things I knew I was good at were sport and study. A combination of being built “a fine shtrong woman” and having a fairly competitive/stubborn streak probably helped with this. I rowed all throughout school and part of college. For anyone thinking of dropping sport during school to focus on study I would say don’t. I think they help balance each other out, especially if you’re somebody who would naturally put pressure on themselves as sport is an excellent stress reliever. As this article shows, participation in sport during the Leaving Cert may actually improve performance. I think the main reason is that it forces you to learn how to balance your time efficiently. If you want to train and study, you only have a limited amount of time for each so need to use it wisely. I find that when you have too much free time you actually aren’t as productive as there’s just not as much pressure.

“participation in sport during the Leaving Cert may actually improve performance”

When I quit rowing going into final year of college, not for study reasons but because I just stopped enjoying it, I found that all this new free time was just turned to wasted time. I spent a lot of it studying but it was inefficient study spaced out with lots of coffee and chocolate breaks. Also, without the structured training programme I was used to, I found it hard to motivate myself to go to the gym myself as there was nobody depending on me. It was the same during my Masters. I used the excuse that I was too busy studying to go to the gym (even though an hours workout would have been so beneficial). Since exericse gives a natural adrenaline boost and actually gives you more energy, I started turning to caffeine and junk food to try a replicate the feeling. Obviously this resulted in me gaining weight, not a huge amount, about two stone, but for me I was a totally different person to the superfit rower I had been.10635773_307811619420194_1015804089332500209_n

So, two years ago, while sitting on my laptop, procrastinating, I saw and ad for a group fitness class in Galway and after a bit of hesitation and thinking I wouldn’t be able for it I whipped out the credit card and signed up. It was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made as ever since the first class I’ve just completely changed as a person both physically and mentally.

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My initial goal was to lose weight the weight I had put on which I did over three months simply by being really strict with my diet and going to the gym (basically losing the excuses). The was no secret other than that I really wanted to do and was pretty determined to do so. But what made it so much easier was the fact that the gym I joined had such a positive and supportive atmosphere which was and still is contagious. Until you’re part of something like it you’ll see it as something very similar to a cult but once you’re in it’s great. Seeing everyone talk about and work towards their own goals gave me a new lease of life to find my own. Not that I figured out straight away what they were. Initially it was just simple things like lose X amount of weight this month, travel to this city, lift this weight, do a mud-run – small things that were attainable. I’m all for setting big goals but if you’ve been knocked down and don’t believe in yourself the first thing you need to do is accomplish small goals and start to believe in yourself again.

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After losing the weight  naturally gained a bit of confidence, but as I have always been fairly quiet and shy I wanted to gain more. So I set myself a really simple goal of becoming more confident (I don’t know how to portray sarcasm through text!). Initially I just tried to join in on group conversations on Facebook or make more of an effort to speak up in group situations. I’m naturally pretty quiet and not that there’s anything wrong with that but sometimes I really want to say something and I don’t for fear I’ll sound ridiculous (unless you know me pretty well, then I say a lot of ridiculous stuff). The first real test I put myself through was to go to a gym night out a few months in. I didn’t really know anyone, I sort of knew them from the classes but that was it. I remember turning up for the first one and walking into the bar alone, sh***ing it. However, as I’ve now figured out, things are never as bad as they seem, especially when you build them up in your head. Straight away I was talking to a group and had a great night. Then I went to the next night out, and the next and now I love them.

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In fairness, with the gym nights out I knew that I knew somebody so it wasn’t too bad. Over the last few months with my blog I’ve been invited to other events where I knew nobody (at the most recent one I turned up, gave my name, and the guy with the list actually said “did you turn up alone?” – which needless to say made me want to turn around and sprint out of there). I used to think I was too quiet and shy to ever be an outgoing person but the more I put myself out there and do things that are out of my comfort zone, the more I realise that I’m more capable than I think I am. I don’t mean for this post to be all “me, me, me” but I got a lot of inspiration from reading about other peoples experiences and seeing what they do so hopefully my post can be a bit of inspiration for anyone who feels like they’re “too quiet or shy or introverted” to do the things they want to do – “You are what you think you are so fake it ’til you make it”.harbour 12

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On the subject of “making it” – I’m still trying to figure out what that it for me career wise. Since starting the blog I’ve realised how much I love researching food and nutrition and how it relates to health disease. I also realised I actually like working with people. I feel like I’ve found something I enjoy and thankfully relates to the education I already have. So after going a very long way about it, I’m starting a Masters in Human Nutrition this September. Hopefully this time next year I’ll have graduated and be working in the area of nutrition. For anyone else who is in the same position, either after graduating and not knowing what to do next or working in a job you hate getting up for then take time to figure out what it is you love and want to do (don’t go handing in your notice tomorrow though! Spend some time each day figuring out what it is that you enjoy doing i.e. what do you do in your free time and see if it’s a viable career option).

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Looking back on the last two years, or 730 days – because if you look at things and take life one day at a time it’s a hell of a lot easier than trying to predict where you’ll be in two years – I’ve changed a lot. It started off with a physical change, which is what most people want, or think they want, but if you don’t also change mentally then it probably doesn’t matter. If you are overweight and unhappy, you won’t necessarily become happy by losing weight. On “the journey” you need to discover what actually makes you happy, what you value and what you want because physical looks don’t last forever and don’t really matter once you’re happy and healthy. For some people “being happy” may mean being CEO of a large corporation and having millions of euros but for others it can just mean having a job you enjoy doing and enough money to just not have to worry about it. The grass will always be greener but most people will agree it’s the small things and experience in life that matter. I don’t look back at the last two years and think about how much money I made (not a lot) but I look at the things I did and the people I met.  I’ve become healthier, I’ve become more confident, I’ve put myself out there and I’ve completed challenges and mud-runs as part of a team for a good cause. These aren’t crazy unobtainable achievements for others to do either. They’re a lot easier to do than make a million euro and in the long run they’ll probably also make you a more satisfied person.

So on that note I hope you enjoyed reading this blog post as it’s one I’ve been writing for a while and wasn’t sure if I was going to publish. But if anyone out there can resonate with anything I’ve set and feel inspired then it was worth it. I’ll leave you with this quote which is one I keep coming back to myself time and time again for motivation…
feel the fear

Aisling