Friday, 8 September 2017

Home again (And why I am learning the importance of Time)

So last week I packed my bags, filled cardboard boxes and made the trip back to my parents.

I am now in Northampton till the end of the month.

When I made the decision to go back, I had a lot of conflicting thoughts, namely:
1. Why? Why am I going back when I intentionally went so far away?
2. Can I cope with the lack of independence that living with parents entails again?
3. Is this regressive?
And 4. I need some time off.

That number 4 is the crucial argument, the one that won me over.
I have been working full-time, from the day after my last exam till last Friday. I have created four pieces of national work, I have developed some good practice and I have learned a hell of a lot with one of the biggest charitable organisations in Wales.

Because of that, life has passed in a bit of a blur since that magical letter telling me I had secured my 2:1.
I have tried to see as many friends as I can, and as many members of my family as I can, but when you're working full time, about three hours away from most of your family/friends, it's difficult.

Last weekend I secured a position, beginning October, as a British Youth Council Trustee, something I've wanted to be for several years, with an organisation I have represented for the last 18 months. I am so proud of myself for that, and the desire to move immediately back to Wales and begin working in the not-for-profit sector is immense.
But that's not what I need right now, I think.

I need a few weeks of downtime, I need a few weeks of catching up on Game of Thrones, and drinking hot chocolate, and conquering the world in any game that lets me.
And I need to breathe, and go to the pub with friends, and have long, essentially meaningless conversations about politics and life and growing up.

I need some time off.

That's a very difficult 5 words for me. My Father is the same, we have had many conversations about our innate desire to always be busy.
The problem is, if you're working full-time, and your head is consumed with work, you miss the fun of the fair.
The golden rule is working to live, and I'd like to add a caveat.
"Work to Live, occasionally don't work and enjoy it."
Not as catchy, but just as important.

I find it incredibly easy to throw myself into things. Then several months later I lift my head out of the project and realise I need some time to myself.
The biggest lesson I guess I'm learning is being kind to me.

I'm certain that's a lesson I will continue to learn till the day I die.

I am proud of myself. That's a sentence I didn't think I'd be saying about five years ago. I am so well positioned to do what I want to do. That's another sentence I didn't think I'd be saying about five years ago.
It's time to relax a bit, eat, drink, and catch up with people I care about. I'll do that till the end of the month, and then throw myself back into everything.
I think I deserve that much.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

A letter to 18 year old Me (part 2)

Hi, I am Joe. 

I've just graduated from Cardiff University, with a BA in Ancient History & Religious Studies. I'm now working as much as possible in Cardiff, in the not-for-profit sector, and I am really enjoying it.

I've changed a lot over the past three years, this right here is a part 2 of a letter to me, three years ago.
(Part 1 is here)

Hi again, Joe from three years ago.

I don't know about you, but I really enjoyed writing some life tips to you last week. 

I've got a final five for you, if you're not bored sick of me. Well, I hope you're not, because you're me. This got very existential.

6. Indulge creativity
There's a time in a few years where you have a full-time job, and bills to pay. Right now, you've got the most time you'll ever have in the world, and you'd better use it. Spend a day with the guitar. Start drawing again. Enjoy creating for the pleasure of creating, not for any other reason. And bloody hell, believe in yourself you dweeb. Part of that is consuming creativity too, stop watching crap tv, I know it's a novel concept to be able to watch telly, but seriously, pick up a book. Read some poetry. Watch good films. Be a #CulchaVulcha for a bit, and enjoy it. Ooh and podcasts/Radio 4/audio books.

7. Cook
I guess this pointer is a bit like No#6, but it's something you'll really love in the future. 
Have you ever made pancakes with blueberries and cream? 
No? They're great. 
Have you ever made proper pad thai?
No? It's great.
And you'll make an amazing pasta bake, like, you'll just take the tray upstairs, screw bowls.
If you start now, you might know what herbs are, and I'd really appreciate that now.

One day you will be designated pancake maker for your house; it's a heavy burden, but a tasty one.

8. Stop wearing that jacket, you know the one
'Nuff said.

9. Start thinking about what you care about
This is a biggie. Right now,  you're a big mouth, with a veneer of intelligence. You really really think you know everything about every topic under the sun. 

I hate to break it to you flower, but you ain't jack. You're about to meet people your age who are experts in their respective fields, you'll meet some stupidly clever people. Stop nodding along without knowing what they are talking about, stop trying to look intelligent, listen to them instead. Ask dumb questions. 
"Better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than open it and remove all doubt" doesn't apply to learning. 
Because honestly, you are going to get some really good opportunities in the near future, be brave in them. Take every opportunity to learn. 

10. Think about your past, carefully.
Role models will dominate your head a bit, guaranteed. A few will surprise you. A few will shock you. A few will raise so high in your estimation. Be willing for that change to happen, and also:
Be willing for that unshakeable pride in your upbringing to whirl around your head for a year or two.
That will dominate your thoughts.
All that pride in the empathy, people skills, maturity, don't trust it. I'm coming back to the conclusion of the last little letter, but trust your family, and trust your close friends, and don't trust much else. 

Love you, you little git. 

All best

Future Joe.    

Monday, 7 August 2017

A letter to 18 year old Me (part 1)

Hi, I am Joe. 

I've just graduated from Cardiff University, with a BA in Ancient History & Religious Studies. I'm now working as much as possible in Cardiff, in the not-for-profit sector, and I am really enjoying it.

I've changed a lot over the past three years, this right here is a letter to me, three years ago.

Hi Joe three years ago. 

What a smelly boy you are. Good music taste though. That guitar you don't put down will be a really good friend to you, look after it. 

Here are a few words of advice, from future you. Hope they're helpful. 

And seriously, have a shower.

1. Takeaways are wonderful. But don't get them every week, they're really expensive.
That big loan and grant you have, don't spend it on takeaways. I know, you come from a family that didn't do takeaways. And it's so easy isn't it, to treat your body really badly, when quick tasty MSGy (it's a word) food is just round the corner. But the novelty factor of them will wear off, after way too much money spent on a variety of Chinese food that a Chinese person will punch you for calling Chinese food. And God it's not good for you. Future you will need to eat healthy for a few months at the end of University to drop that tummy.

2. Packed lunch
Spend £7 a week on lunch, big sandwiches/yogurts/grapes/crisps. 
Spend £17.50 a week on lunch, pasta/drink/crisps. 
Meal deals are the same as number 1, convenience = expensive (and not as filling as homemade)
This one's a no-brainer. Stop playing FIFA and drinking all the time, spend ten minutes making yourself lunch. Go on. You'll have so much more money to drink with. 

3. Blog more/Write more
Write a blog, boy. My blog has been for me, one of the most enjoyable explorations of self & ideas over the last few years. My journal similarly, the one you haven't written yet, has been amazing fun, and quite poignant every now and then. I find writing about my day, every day, is such a good habit, because in 5 years time when I look back to the 'bliss of university' I'll remember the mold on the ceilings and the bowl of plain pasta for dinner you just ate. 
In a less negative light, blogging and writing will create some awesome opportunities for you later. If you start now, who knows, future you could get paid to do it.

4. Do the things you enjoy
You will one day stop caring what people think of you so much. I know, I know. The crippling anxiety of what the person in the flat next door thinks of your new shirt is painful, but you won't live near them for much longer. Soon you'll be living with some equally awesome people, and you know that imagination you have, you'll be playing all sorts of awesome games that use that imagination. You'll meet some of the coolest people in your life, and have some amazing conversations with them. Stay close to them. Stay close to people who are just as odd as you are, and who don't care about it.

5. Trust your support network, you dummy
Sorry to say it, but there's going to be a lot of hurt in your next three years. You're going to get kicked about a bit, punched about a bit, and occasionally mistreated. The police won't be too much use, and I'm sorry about that. But remember, you little shit, you have one of the best and most supportive groups of friends you could hope for. Use them. You know your Dad? He's actually pretty good at listening for an hour to your ramblings. You know your sister? Believe it or not, she's experienced a lot of what you have, being your sister and everything, and she cares about you. You know your friends? Well you will lose a few, but the ones who stick around are the most worthwhile people in your life. They'll really help. And those takeaways I mentioned at the start? Don't feel bad about getting them sometimes, when you're feeling really low. I don't mind eating healthy now, so you can feel a little bit better on that evening. You'll know the one I mean. 

And look, me from three years ago, I know you didn't think it would be possible, but you turn out to be alright. You have a few amazing friends, too. You will develop. You will quite like you in a few years time. 

Sorry for getting emotional on you. I'll write to you in a few days with some more things you might want to know. 


Sunday, 23 July 2017

I hate dancing in the rain

There's a really interesting quote I heard recently: "It's never your successful friends who share inspirational quotes".

I had a big think about that statement. I am naturally quite a cynical person, a Christian upbringing has taught me to sniff out hypocrisy from a hundred yards. So I was pre-disposed to agree here. It ticked my box of hating quotes like "It's not about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about dancing in the rain".
Grrrrrrrrr that quote makes me want to break every picture and rip every tee-shirt emblazoned with it.
The pure butterflies and everything is happy-ness of it incites a primal rage inside me, in a way only queue-jumpers and people who walk slowly normally incite.
(How British am I?)

Don't get me wrong, I bloody love a good quote - I started my last blog with one - but the sheer twee-ness of some occasionally drives me up the wall.

NB. I think, just to restore my faith in quotes (and to balance out the good/bad ratio of quotes in this blog), I'm going to put in some bangers for the rest of the piece.

I eventually calmed myself down from that pinnacle of rage, and had another think. I realised that there was a time a few years ago, hell, 12 months ago, that I worked in epiphanies.

I'd go through a funk of making it through days, being directionless, ("If a man does not know to what port he is sailing, no wind is favourable" - Seneca the Younger) days were obstacles to climb over until the next thing happened. Then every few weeks, I'd watch a really inspirational video, or I'd see the most beautiful sunset, and then for the next day or two I would smash life, doing all my work, eating healthy, staying on top of everything, and nicely tiring myself out for a few weeks until the next inspirational video or beautiful sunset came along.

The thing was, I didn't have any responsibilities, I didn't have things to do. I could afford to be directionless.

University began to change that, I suppose. But starting full-time work again was a bigger challenge to my epiphany-led life. Before I had others relying on me, I could afford to share inspirational quotes to Facebook, because I could afford to live a life of peaks and troughs.
I guess that is part of growing up, isn't it. I guess that's part of not being quite such a hormonal shotgun of emotion all the time.

I have noticed a lot of blogs I write are about things I realise. And every few months I'd look back on the last blog, and have developed a more refined understanding of thing X I cataclysmically realised all that time ago.

I guess that was my own form of inspirational quotes.

For me, life's not about inspirational quotes, life's not about constant 'epiphanies'. It's about the slow grind of progress, edging your way towards something you believe in. And God, I'm young. I've got all the time in the world to slowly grind towards something I believe in.

The only 'inspirational' 'motivational' thing I have in my life, and it's right at the front, and the only one you might ever see me share, is about not working to sustain.

Whatever I do, I want to create.
Whatever I do, I want to be in the deep end.
To quote a song from a very different time in my life: Whatever I do, I never want to be comfortable.
As long as I'm out of my depth, I'm happy.
"Then on the shore of the wide world I stand alone, and think till love and fame to nothingness do sink." - John Keats

Monday, 17 July 2017

*BREAKING* Votes@16 in Wales?

Starting today, Welsh government are introducing a consultation on electoral reform, designed to make voting more accessible and more available. It's to be a 12 week consultation, with some fairly major changes being discussed. 
When it's all said and done, it looks to implement the biggest change to the Welsh electoral system since 1970 - when the voting age was lowered to 18. 

Here are the highlights of the new Local Government Bill:
  • 16-17 year olds given the right to vote in council elections, under powers given to the Welsh National Assembly under the Wales Act
  • Councils given the right to determine whether they implement a First-Past-The-Post system, or a Single Transferable Vote
  • Electronic voting at polling stations, and mobile polling stations
  • Welsh Government are examining whether all foreign citizens resident in Wales should have the right to vote in local elections
  • A "root and branch" review of town and community councils
You will have heard this blog demand Votes@16 for a long time now. Theresa May and the Tories are the only major six party to oppose it. Cabinet Secretary for Local Government Mark Drakeford, agrees: "There’s no reason why 16 and 17 year olds can marry, pay taxes and join the army but can’t vote in our elections." With turnout of 18-24 year olds at a high in the last general election - around 55%, and turnout of Scottish youngsters in the Scottish referendum at a huge 77%, there is no better time. 

However as British Youth Council chair of Trustees Anna Rose Barker states, "what is severely lacking is the government's response to young people" . She is correct. UK politics seems to view young people as a nice sub-section, and a group to meet to tick a box, not a group of people, who want to be listened to. 

And voting rights for 16-18s is all well and good, but it feels a little like Welsh Government are fumbling around trimming branches while the roots remain bad. There needs to be Votes@16, there also needs to be PSHE lessons for young people, taught in schools, so they grow up as Voters, that the young people in Wales learn the benefits of the youth vote. 

Young people are fed up of being talked about. 

Welsh Government are hopefully going to implement another step in changing that.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

"The World is worth fighting for"

I've had a lot of time recently for reflection.

A lot of the reflection has been internal - about how I have been shaped over the past three years, and about what university has meant to me.

Some of the reflection has been external. Into the insanity that is modern politics at the moment, and the frequency with which terror and tribalism have crept into lives.

The first year or so in Cardiff was full of naivety on my part. I used to walk at all hours, anyone walking behind me didn't make my pulse quicken, didn't make me cross the road, twice, to make sure I wasn't being followed.
I wasn't bothered by aggression.

A few things which I have previously written about shattered that naivety. I was going to say "a little", but you can't shatter something a little. Once something is shattered, piecing it together is quite tricky.

The second year in Cardiff was full of a sense of purpose, purpose I hadn't experienced before.
I was in a city I could do things in. I was in a city where I could make change happen.
I got into youth politics, I got into social action. I did some really cool things.

A few things which I have previously written about honed that purpose. As I cultivated some awareness, the burning desire to do things, the burning desire to throw time at people and action threatened to overwhelm a bit.

This final year in Cardiff has been full of replacing role models, and learning to be kind to myself. Learning to pick battles. Learning the importance of an early night, and sometimes of cancelling to catch up on myself.

Trump has been a thing for almost all of my final year.
Brexit has been a thing for almost all of my final year.

They're two crazy things I'm still not quite familiar with.

The sector I would like to work in and devote time to is hugely reliant on EU funding. How well the 3rd sector will cope when EU payments are phased out, I don't know. It will survive, I'm certain of that much, charity always survives change, it has to.
Whether the government will pick up the slack though, I'm even less certain.

I talk about characterization of the past three years, well these past few months have been characterized by uncertainty.

But with every storm is the end of that storm - the petrichor, the clouds scuttling away, the fresh rays of sunlight.

I guess I'm saying with this entire post that I'm looking forward to the end of this storm.

"The World is a fine place and worth fighting for" - Ernest Hemingway

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Memoirs of a (nearly) ex-UK Young Ambassador

                                                       National working group with UKYA – Hard at work! 

All good things come to an end. The classic proverb.

All fixed term positions come to an end. The slightly less classic proverb, but just as true nonetheless.

I am sad to say that as of July I will no longer represent the young people of Wales as UK Young Ambassador, with the British Youth Council. There's an odd comma in there, because of course I'll continue to champion the young people of Wales, and more widely in the UK, just without the title.

I’m writing this blog as if I was talking to an elderly family member, attempting to explain to them how I found the experience, because by necessity I’ve gotten good at this talk.

Joe, what actually is a UK Young Ambassador?

So, in my role as a representative I voice the views of young people in Wales, particularly through the medium of structured dialogue (If you want more info on SD, Click here). Structured dialogue is a way for young people to get involved with current affairs & politics; we asked them a whole lot of questions through surveys, round table events, and in working groups just exactly what they thought about some key issues.
The key issues we examined were Community and Diversity, particularly important with Brexit looming. That boiled down to a lot of hard work, a lot of frenzied scribbling at the back of coffee shops, late night phone calls, a mind-boggling number of train journeys, and being way out of my depth but learning to swim.

With my wonderful co-representative for Wales, Arooj Khan, we met with representatives from each major political party in Wales, we met the councillors and we met the Welsh Assembly members. In and out of the Senedd (Welsh Parliament building) about three times a week at one point. We talked to young people, in centres in Cardiff and in London.

(Actually one of my biggest regrets as a young ambassador for Wales was that I didn't remove myself from Cardiff enough. Even though I was in my final year of university, I still wish I had made more of an effort on that particular point.)

As a full team of 8 UK Young Ambassadors we also surveyed many young people across the UK. Several of us then wrote our findings on Community and Diversity into a 5000 word report, (you can read my summary of that report here) on a roasting afternoon in a sweltering London office. 

I also got to travel a lot, and represent, a lot. I did some work with the Royal Commonwealth Society in Wales, chairing a meeting of about 80 young people, I got to go to the International Culture Summit in Edinburgh as a delegate – I was and am very lucky to have these opportunities.

                                                      RCS Commonwealth Youth Summit in Wales

So that’s what you did, how did you find it?

I think I was a left-field candidate for the role. I am older than most of the other ambassadors and my experience of representation has been a little more hands-on than most.

So for the first six months? I was utterly out of my depth. I didn't know the relentless acronyms, and not having the officially recognised youth representation experience that everyone else seemed to have felt like it was counting against me.
I remember midway through the first residential, texting my Dad, telling him I shouldn't be there, everyone there had been through so much, and knew so much. 
They all knew the acronyms.

And I was just J.o.e. (Just Observing Everyone)

But quickly realising I was a little rough around the edges in terms of traditional youth representation was the best bit, as I could make it my business to be the one who put the most effort in, at every meeting, on every task. 
And I learned.

In summary, I'd say I found it nerve-wracking, and easily one of the best experiences I have had so far in my life. The responsibility and platform to demonstrate my abilities has been amazing. I have had the opportunity at opportunity, which is priceless at this age (or any age!). These included:

·         Co-authoring a national report.
·         Representing UK young people in Scottish Parliament with Secretaries of State from around the world.
·         Working with Google at Google HQ to improve data analytics for our surveys and online material. 
·         Getting to talk at several secondary schools about the charity sector and how to get involved.
·         Using the skills learned to improve other representative systems at my University.
·         Being brilliantly over my head, and clawing my way to the surface. 

It's been a lot of hard work, but a lot of fun. I have learned so much. I have met so many amazing people. 
And I can't wait to continue in my representation. 

I'll hand the badge over (there's not actually a badge), but UKYA has enabled me to continue championing the rights of young people wherever I end up.

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