With every percentage

That scrappy bit of paper above is a list of life ambitions I wrote, aged 18. You can see I didn’t exactly hold back.

That scrappy bit of paper is a list of life ambitions  I wrote, aged 18.  I didn’t exactly hold back. In full it reads:

write at least one novel
have a photographic exhibition
speak 5 languages
save someone’s life
work for UN/NATO
sing in a band
visit over 50 countries
publish a historical/political work

learn a form of martial art.

To complete this grandiose document I then apparently scribbled some train times upside down at the bottom. In a similar vein, I didn’t find this note carefully stored for future reflection but by chance, stuffed in an old folder, when I recently moved house.

A few ambitions have changed in the 10 years since then; I never did apply for that NATO job nor have I seriously picked up a camera since I was 19. Ambitions change as we grow older, sometimes for better sometimes not (although me not singing in a band is almost certainly doing the world a favour). But what really hits me looking back on that list now, is the fact I had no limitations. My 18 year old self saw no reason for me to dream smaller or be cautious.

And why should I have been? At 18 I hadn’t had a single IV admission, I didn’t take any regular nebulisers, I hadn’t developed CF related diabetes, I only took about 10 pills a day. I’d just been prescribed my first inhaler. I was not by any stretch, what you would expect from a young adult with CF. I am proud to have dreamed so big.

The thing is, those big dreams may have evolved but they haven’t gone anywhere. I am loath to accept limitations, and the list I’d write aged 28 is just as ambitious as the old one, Cystic Fibrosis or not. But a little life experience has taught me that achieving every dream takes time and compromise.

A thought popped into my head the other day, and I found myself speculating how much lung function I had permanently lost in the last 3 years due to normal stresses like long hours at work and city air. I settled on 6 percent. Lung function fluctuates naturally, mine has gone up and down by 20% in the last year depending on how well and generally fit I am. But there is something called a baseline measurement in lung function, and CF doctors will use it to assess what your best figure is.

After my morbid moment, I mentally slapped myself and went back to mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed. But navel-gazing Elly had a point, there’s an opportunity cost in everything we do.  We all need a method of measuring how we spend our time – even if spent percentages of lung function is a little niche – how else will we work towards our goals?

I thought about all the hours that made up those three years, some spent in pursuit of goals big and small, others spent happily pursuing no goal at all. I wouldn’t go back and change them; they’ve led to personal and professional achievements I’m proud of. But I do wish I’d spent more of that 6% in pursuit of the things I really measure myself by. The motivations, beliefs and dreams that inspired that little list in an A5 notebook aged 18.

Which is why, 2 weeks ago, I quit my job. I’m spending the next few weeks working on a writing project I’ve been awarded a grant for.  Beyond that I’m looking for a role in a creative agency where I can work on the kind of social change, charity and sustainability projects that get me really excited.

I’d like to make every percentage count.

“Allow yourself a stumble or two.”

I moved to London late November last year all full of hope and expectations for the year to come. I’d got a new job and things were looking good. Since returning from Korea in March of last year I had worked as a contract Bank Teller amongst other temp roles. To begin with I didn’t mind; it was interesting to learn about life on the other side of the till, although I did begin to struggle defending the practices of the bank to customers when I fundamentally disagreed with the realities of the global banking system. Anyway, I digress.

By November last year,  I was bored out of my mind and ready for the next step. It was time to find myself in London I decided. Or just find a job as it turned out, the rest would have to wait. I interviewed for a couple of roles and then I was offered a job, fantastic! I started the next week. I knew my new job was not going to provide unparalleled intellectual stimulation but it would be a foot in the door and hopefully set me on a path to better things.

I’d like to reach back into early November 2012 and give myself a slap for being so naive and optimistic. I’d been told by many people that their first job in London left much to be desired but I was positive that wouldn’t happen to me. 10 months later and approximately 400,000 codes entered into spreadsheets, countless phone calls of abuse from suppliers and the same repetitive email enquiries answered many, many times a day and I’m prepared to admit I was wrong.

But early on into this adventure I wondered if I’d even be able to handle a more demanding job. That’s because less than a month after moving to London I ended up in hospital for 2 weeks. My lung function had reached its lowest in nearly 5 years, I barely had the energy or breath to walk 200 yards and I was put on a 24 hour drip of aminophiline to open my airways. The doctors didn’t actually know what was wrong as I didn’t have a chest infection as far as they could tell and most of the tests used to determine infection came back normal.

There’s rarely a convenient time to spend 2 weeks in hospital, but 3 weeks into a new job is probably one of the worse times. I was worried they wouldn’t believe I was sick and just tell me not to come back. The worst thing was my health had been pretty stable in the last 2 years and this was only the second emergency admission in my life. I really didn’t know how to explain to work that this was not normal for me. How were they to know?

I was discharged on Christmas eve and picked up a lot over the Christmas break, ready to return to work in January. The doctors still don’t know what was wrong and have put it down to a freak virus. I’ve since been told that almost everyone gets ill when they move to London. I wish I’d known that at the time!

London air may not be the sweetest, but I like it nonetheless. Since then my lungs have been fairly well behaved. By May, I decided that it was time to focus on a career path and try to get into advertising. It’s not an industry without flaws but there are many reasons why I decided to pursue it.

I’ve realised there are rarely objective milestones or achievements. What is an aspiration to one person may seem easy or undesirable to another. A person may have achieved many of the things society tells us are desirable; good grades at school, a well-paying job (mine wasn’t!) but those achievements mean little to them if they think they should be doing something else, doing better.

Last week I was offered my first job in advertising. It is not the be all and end all, neither will it be everything I want it to be. But I have worked hard to get it; it is an achievement by my own standards and so I am very happy to have it.

I may have gone on a tangent but there is a lesson in here somewhere. Healthwise and career wise, this year has not been what I expected. There were times when I was convinced I was going in the wrong direction and I wasn’t going to get there, wherever ‘there’ was. Of course, where I’m going next won’t be quite what I expected either but the fact that I now feel like I’m going somewhere is the important bit.

Note to past self: you’ll keep on stumbling so try not to complain too much, just keep on walking.