Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Finding Your Purpose: The Journey To Stardom


night sky over Ayers Rock/Uluru  photo credit

Do you ever look up at a starry sky on a clear night and feel overwhelmed by your utter insignificance? In the great scheme of things, you are a speck of dust, existing for merely a millisecond in the history of time. I remember the exact moment in my life that this felt most apparent...

I was backpacking across Australia: a group of us way out in the outback, the dusty Red Centre, camping beneath the stars one night, on a mission to reach Ayers Rock - or Uluru as it's more accurately known - in time for sunrise.

Now I use the term 'camping' in the loosest sense of the word, since we had no tents; we were just lying in a row in our sleeping bags directly on the dry and cracked red earth, hiking boots tucked inside our sleeping bags so that they wouldn't be stolen in the night by the circling dingos, who sporadically startled us with piercing cries.


Sleeping under the stars

In between flicking on flashlights to see if anything was about to feast on us and brushing insects from our faces, we finally settled enough to gaze silently up at the huge expanse of black sky and marvel at the bright, white, twinkling stars. With not a single light or building for miles around it was probably the best, the clearest, view of the universe that any of us - a group of travelling city-dwellers from around the world - had ever seen.

As we lay on our backs, heads fuzzy from exhaustion and warm beer, staring up at the sky whilst one of the more astute astronomers amongst us pointed out the various constellations, we agreed that we had never felt smaller, or more irrelevant, than at that moment.

It's easy to be overwhelmed by life; to feel like a tiny ant standing at the foot of a giant mountain. Sometimes, I contemplate the scale of a task, such as gathering 100k signatures for my petition (challenging the NHS's new laissez-faire approach to cancer screening) and it feels impossible.

It's all too easy to doubt yourself, to ask "why am I bothering?" or "what's the point?" The pessimist in me mutters "another 40 years and you'll be dead and forgotten anyway" - which is a pretty dark way of looking at things (although on the flip side it does help keep worries in perspective).

But then I remember that an ant is actually one of the strongest creatures there is, able to carry over fifty times it's own bodyweight. This video, which I filmed in Costa Rica, demonstrates the impressive strength and resourcefulness of leafcutter ants:




But that's nothing! A dung beetle can pull 1141 times it's own body weight, making it the strongest animal on Earth for it's body weight. Not a rhino, an ox or an elephant - a dung beetle. Think about that for a moment. I try to remember these facts whenever feelings of my own insignificance challenge my sense of self-worth.

As humans, we often measure our value in terms of our job, earnings, looks, popularity or possessions. You don't need to be a CEO, a celebrity or a supermodel to be worthy. You just are. Being a decent human being is enough; you are enough. But one thing I've learnt is that having a real purpose, a passion, a goal, is what gives us a sense of self-worth and what, ultimately, makes us happy.

"Having a purpose is the difference between making a living and making a life" - Tom Thiss

For years I went to work, living for the weekends and holidays, without any real plan or focus. I'd assumed, somewhere in the back of my subconscious mind, that at some point soon I'd become a mother, which would then become my purpose.

My older, feminist self shudders at this admission. Sure, I worked long and hard, bought property and upgraded: from flat to house to bigger house. But it wasn't the product of a burning passion; I just had a regular managerial job and clocked up the hours. Alas, motherhood was not to be, so then my entire being was thrown into question. What was my purpose now? What had I been working towards? What was the point of me? Years of agonising self-hatred and despair followed. What was the meaning of my life?


Life may have no meaning; but you can create a purpose

Then, one day, I rediscovered my passion for writing - a pastime that had been largely discarded, along with sketching and netball, soon after I left school, to be replaced with the monotony of working-class life; nose to the grindstone. Adulting had taken over.

Suddenly, the cloud lifted and I had a purpose. With renewed vigour, I'd wake early in the morning to write a blog post before work. My articles started getting more hits. I had one featured in a magazine, and then another. I drew on my life experiences and began campaigning to help others on physical and mental health issues, particularly cervical cancer and infertility. My excitement grew along with my stats. I was using my blog to do good; there was a reason to get up in the morning. Perhaps I could have a legacy after all. Finally, I had a voice.

Feeling proud: my first published article

Whenever I encounter a setback and that sensation of being tiny and insignificant threatens to overwhelm me, something inspiring happens - like a retweet by a celebrity or a request from Washington to appear as a guest on a podcast - and my confidence is buoyed once more. A tweet last week to Piers Morgan was read over 203,000 times and later quoted in The Sun. Thanks to the internet, the world is now a much smaller place:




Some might say, "So what?" "Who cares?" Haters gonna hate. The bigger your dreams, the more you'll come up against resistance to them. If your "purpose" brings you joy and benefits others (or at least doesn't affect anyone else negatively), then keep your head down, blinkers on and teeth clenched in dogged determination.

On a basic quantum level, all the matter in the universe is made up of stardust. As Moby sang:

 "No one can stop us now
 'Cause we are all made of stars..."




You don't have to be famous to be a star; you already are one. So find your mission, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem in the great scheme of things, and pursue the hell outta that shit. We all want to leave our mark, a footprint (and not just a carbon one) to show that we were here, we existed. We mattered.

When you find a hobby, job or some passion that makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning and crack on, you've found your raison d'ĂȘtre. When you're fully immersed in that passion, when you've found your flow, you'll experience true happiness.

It's never too small, and it's never too late. Don't simply accept the status quo. If you found your passion at an early age: congratulations! Lucky you. If you've not found yours yet, there's still time (but not a lot; don't rest on your laurels). 

Try this simple exercise, which can help you find your life's purpose.

So get out there, find your purpose - whatever that may be - then live boldly: be your authentic self and shine like the star you are.

Now, when I look up at the night sky contemplating the infinity of the universe, I no longer feel irrelevant; I feel exhilarated by the infinite possibilities...


my first glimpse of the sun rising over Ayers Rock

Inspiring links:

Before I die i want to... by Candy Chang (NSFW warning: this one'll make you blub)
Personal excellence: A self-development site by Celestine Chua
TED Talks to find your purpose
7 strange questions that help you find your life purpose, by Mark Manson
3 unexpected ways to find your life purpose, by Shannon Kaiser


Fancy reading my back-story before you go any further? You can find my other blogs at:
www.costaricachica1.blogspot.com

Follow me:

Twitter: @SamanthaWalsh76
Instagram: wanderingblonde76



Friday, 27 January 2017

Cervical Cancer Prevention: Please Sign My Petition! I'm #AtYourCervix




Samantha Walsh, #AtYourCervix!

Hello guys, I'm clocking in and reporting for duty. The mission? To Save Your Cervix! Think of me as your friendly Customer Cervix Advisor.

Do you have a cervix, or know someone who does?

Then in that case this petition is for you! I'm campaigning to get the wording of the smear test invitation letter amended to actively encourage women to attend screening, including re-adding the phone number to call to book your appointment, which has actually been removed from the letter as of last year! I know, crazy right?

At a time when around 30% of women don't attend screening these cost-cutting changes to the letter feel irresponsible at best. If you agree, please sign my petition by clicking the link below:


 PLEASE CLICK HERE TO SIGN!

Thank you, Birds Eye Viewers! Xxx



EXCITING UPDATE 31/1/17:

Just a few days after starting this petition, I got a tweet from Jo's Trust which reassured me that all my months of campaigning had not been in vain! The letter changes (which I initially drew the attention of the charities Jo's Trust and The Eve Appeal to) had been debated in parliament, leading to an agreement that the cervical screening invitation letter did indeed need to be reviewed and updated. They will be working on amending the wording to encourage attendance. Wahoo! I'm totally made up about this! (there may even have been tears).
I feel like the renegade master: power to the people! High five ladies!

https://www.facebook.com/wanderingblonde/posts/375255879514808

Read the parliamentary transcript here





Fancy reading my back-story before you go any further? You can find my other blogs at:
www.costaricachica1.blogspot.com

Follow me:

Twitter: @SamanthaWalsh76
Instagram: wanderingblonde76

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Use It Up, Wear It Out


This post is inspired by a conversation I had with a customer in my shop a few months ago; one which left me feeling a tad melancholy, and which I've thought about several times since...

The customer in question had popped in to re-purchase some of her favourite products, explaining that she'd first come across them whilst clearing out the house of her mother, who had sadly passed away some months prior. Her dear old Mum, being from the "make do and mend" generation, would darn her socks and wear her functional (but dreary) clothes until they were threadbare, despite the fact she had far nicer ones hanging in the wardrobe. Those luxurious garments were kept solely "for best," she'd declared to her daughter solemnly. The same applied to her "posh smellies" (i.e. the L'Occitane products I sell).

This is completely understandable, especially for a generation who has lived through hardship, war, and rationing. It's nice to have some things that feel special when you use or wear them. But the sticking point? Well, what if those special occasions - the glory days of fun and frolics spent draped in pearls and silk, hair coiffed, quaffing champagne from your finest crystal - what if those days....whisper it....never come?

This customer choked back tears as she told me how she had come across drawers full of expensive, albeit expired, fragrances and beauty products; discoloured Chanel perfumes and old-fashioned powder puffs with fading labels. She had only ever seen her mother use Cussons Imperial Leather soap and basic Nivea - you know, the one in the blue tub. She had clearly been saving all the good stuff "for best."

Amongst the products she discovered were some L'Occitane soaps, which the customer then used up (solid products survive longer than their liquid counterparts; water-based ones need preservatives). She now uses and repurchases the products she found at her mother's house, partly as a way of feeling closer to her mum, but also, I think, to apply the important lesson she'd learnt from her: don't save things for best; make every day a 'best' day.

This conversation was poignant for me, having helped my mum clear out my grandad's house a couple of years ago when he moved to a residential care home.  The modest terraced house needed to be returned to the council, so we set about packing up fifty-odd years' worth of life and memories into boxes: black and white photos, nick-nacks, tarnished silverware. It was quite emotional, particularly as she'd grown up in that house. We came across various brand new items belonging to my nan, who had passed away several years earlier. It brings a lump to my throat thinking about it. What was she saving it all for?

As a young girl I used to squirrel away my Body Shop bath pearls and Strawberry Body Shampoo that I'd spent my pocket money on - although I was usually hiding them from my younger sister rather than myself. I remember my mum's shocked expression, years ago, when she noticed me using an expensive cutlery set, which my grandparents had recently gifted my ex and I as a wedding present:

"Are you not saving it for best?" she asked. My answer was simple: "Mum. For one, I'm not much of a cook, so if I saved it for dinner parties it'd never see the light of day. And two, I might die tomorrow. Surely it's better to use it now...even if it is just for eating beans out of a can." (I may have mumbled that last bit).

These days, I make a conscious decision not to save things for best - although I do use them sparingly; I have to remind my partner that it's not called "Precious Cream" for nothing, as he greedily scoops out half the pot with a giant paw, as a bear would honey. I remember "saving" a beautiful dress once, only to take it out of the cupboard a year later to find a bunch of merciless moths had turned it into a (very expensive) meal. The little critters. I was gutted. Similarly, I cherished my first-ever curvaceous bottle of Gaultier's Classique eau de parfum so much that it'd gone off by the time I got halfway through it.

So now I wear it/use it/do it/whatever. 'Things' don't last - and neither do people.

I'd rather be that eccentric old lady dressed in faux fur and diamonds and reeking of expensive French cologne to go and collect her pension, than the one whose relatives later discover said diamonds*, nestling unworn in their pristine box, whilst clearing out my house after I've gone...


The inimitable icon Iris Apfel, whose philosophy is More Is More, still bossing it at 95.
Follow her on Instagram here.
  Photo credit



*Before anyone burgles my house: I don't own diamonds - it's called artistic license.

Fancy reading my back-story before you go any further? You can find my other blogs at:
www.costaricachica1.blogspot.com

Follow me:

Twitter: @SamanthaWalsh76
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Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Crocodoil: Snap It Up!

When I was first invited to test CrocodOil my initial reaction was "Is this a crock...?"

...closely followed by: "Surely people don't rub oil from a crocodile into their skin? Their prehistoric-looking hide doesn't look too supple to me; if it's so full of goodness why do they look as though they're in need of slathering on a decent moisturiser themselves, huh?" When you picture a crocodile you're hardly conjuring up images of baby-smooth skin. "And anyway, aren't they an endangered species?"

At the mention of Crocs I usually get a mental image of those ugly rubber shoes with the holes - you know, to let your dignity seep out? I shudder at the thought. I've been working in the beauty industry for over twenty years, yet I'd never heard of crocodile oil, so I was intrigued...

Actually, crocodile oil has been used for centuries to treat a variety of skin conditions, from eczema to psoriasis, burns to bites, as well as in anti-ageing preparations - although it's relatively new to the UK market. I find several respected publications running glowing features about it, such as Marie Claire, InStyle and The Telegraph.

Peering into the mirror at my rough forty-something skin and sunken little eyes I'm all too aware that a harsh British winter has left me looking, well, a tad reptilian myself, so, curiosity piqued, I decide to get back in touch with Barbara Bantleman, CEO of Crocodoil, for more information.

I fire my questions at Babs, and she's quick to reassure me that the crocodiles used in her skin preparations are farmed primarily for their meat, and that the skins are used as a by-product by the fashion and beauty industries in much the same way as cattle. However, the farms CrocodOil work with go one step further and release up to 30% of the baby crocs they rear back into the wild, contributing to the South African Nile crocs they use coming off the endangered list. The crocodiles must be carefully cared for: any damage to skins would render them worthless, so it's in the interests of the farmers to ensure their wellbeing. Hmm..so far, so fair.

She goes on to explain that the crocodiles are farmed in a natural environment over a large area; there's no use of hormones or pesticides; no animal testing - and the products themselves are created in a UK laboratory, independently tested and are EU cosmetic licensed.


Free range crocs on the farm in South Africa


Having ticked the animal welfare and ethics boxes, I'm eager to test the product for myself. Crocodile oil contains naturally-occurring terpines which are known antiseptics, oleic acid for cell regeneration and sapogens to soften the skin. It's rich in omegas 3, 6 and 9: essential fatty acids (EFAs) needed for the body’s functions, with strong anti-inflammatory properties which can’t be produced by the body itself. It also contains linoleic acid, which eases muscle aches and joint pain, as well as antioxidant vitamin A to fight free radicals and helps repair skin.

CrocodOil is 100% pure, with only healing vitamin E and neroli (orange blossom) essential oil added to it, which gives a delicate floral fragrance, as well as being antiseptic and radiance-boosting. The product contains just these three ingredients; no chemicals, no preservatives.


15ml CrocodOil

The product I'm testing is the 15ml pump dispenser which retails at £28. My initial reservations about the morality around using an animal-derived product on my skin are appeased when I do my research. Animal fats are present in so many household items, from face creams to toothpaste, carrier bags, candles, soap, and anything requiring glue. Even the new five pound notes contain animal fat. If you're using the meat from the animal, there's no further harm in using the fat, which would otherwise be thrown away. No crocodiles are killed solely for the oil.

The Nile crocodile is a common species, farmed extensively as food in South Africa.  If I eat meat and own leather bags and shoes, then really what's the difference? I appreciate it may not be for everyone, and I respect your opinion on this one; I'll leave it you to decide. I slather on a generous layer and take to my social media accounts to share my discovery...

Some friends react in the same way that I initially did: voicing their concerns. Others get in touch to share their successful experiences with similar oils, such as Emu Oil, used by Hollywood stars such as Cate Blanchett, who swears by their rejuvenating and healing properties.

Like most women of my age, I'm keen to look as young on the outside as I still feel on the inside, yet am unwilling to succumb to the stunned-bunny look that often comes with Botox. And besides, I want my pocket money for more important things - like wine...and cake.

The following morning: to my surprise I wake up with the smoothest, softest skin I've had in years. I'm gobsmacked. Andy tries it too and is similarly impressed. My dad has always suffered with very dry skin and also found it beneficial. Over the following days my skin certainly appears more radiant and make-up glides on smoothly. The oil is also recommended for hands and nails, ragged cuticles, a scrawny neck, stretchmarks, cracked heels - none of which I have, of course <coughs>.

Needless to say though, if these benefits continue, I'll certainly be getting some more. If the expression "Dry January" applies more to the state of your skin than your abstinence from alcohol this month, you might want to snap some up too...




NB: I have not been paid for this article and am not affiliated to CrocodOil in any way. I was supplied with the product and asked to write an impartial review. 


Fancy reading my back-story before you go any further? You can find my other blogs at:
www.costaricachica1.blogspot.com

Follow me:

Twitter: @SamanthaWalsh76
Instagram: wanderingblonde76


Wednesday, 4 January 2017

My New Year's Resolution: Work Less, Live More




It's around this time, when my bodily constitution is around 40% alcohol, 20% pigs in blankets and the remainder squishy, squidgy Camembert rolling over my waistband, that the post-Christmas regret sets in and I frantically scribble down a list of all of my favourite pastimes, whack the word STOP in front of them, and off I go, lumbering into the New Year, unlikely resolutions tucked in my back pocket - and the faint whiff of imminent failure (along with rotting sprouts) already carrying on the air.

Let's face it, the only way I'm going to stop all my guilty pleasures is if someone wires my jaw shut in the night, brings back prohibition and closes every nightclub in London (if Westminster Council have their way, the last one is a distinct possibility). Yep, I'm an embarrassingly old Graver (grey raver): one foot in the rave.

I don't mean to kill your "New Year, New Me" buzz as you skip off happily to the gym, chanting positive mantras and sipping on a green juice that you got up at 6am to prepare, but in my experience these out-of-character transformations tend to fall on their arse approximately three weeks into January when, suffering from stress, SAD and disillusioned by Dry January, my phone jumps back into life as various mates fall off the wagon...and back into the pub. Thank God for that. I hate drinking alone.

I'm not dismissing making positive changes to your life; on the contrary, I'm all for learning, improving and evolving, but I find that change happens when you're mentally in the right place - not because society dictates that the first of January is the day on which we ditch all our bad habits and become mung bean-munching paragons of virtue. It's just not realistic.

Change is more sustainable when it stems from passion rather than obligation. Last year I rediscovered my love of writing. Maintaining my blog has been relatively simple, as it's something I truly enjoy. Funnily enough, the diet and exercise regime I also pledged to keep up crashed and burned at the first hurdle. Strange that.

One day last year, having pulled an all-nighter and smelling like an overflowing ashtray, I decided I was finally ready to stop smoking. I haven't lit up since and it's been surprisingly easy. I'd half-heartedly vowed to give up the cancer sticks practically every New Year's Eve for the last 20-odd years, but I knew deep down it was just an empty promise mumbled to myself; my heart simply wasn't in it.

So this year I've decided to give myself just one simple resolution: work less, live more. I've worked relentlessly since I was a teenager, with just the occasional sabbatical to go travelling. Not being able to have a baby means I've not had the pleasure of taking those child-rearing years off work like most of my peers. I decided a few months ago that just because I wasn't blessed with the gift of a family why should I deny myself the greatest gift of all: the gift of time?

Over the past four years, since I downsized my home and life - reluctantly at first due to my newly-single status - I've noticed a shift in my attitude. Whereas in years gone by I'd spend every last penny of my wages on buying shoes, clothes and nice things for the house, now I think carefully about whether I really want or need that item...and usually decide against buying it. My motto has become buy less, do more. I want to spend my money on living not having.

So it's a natural progression that I've now opted to reduce my working hours in line with my simpler life. As of this week, I'm cutting my hours to four days in seven. Put simply, as I get older I value my time over money. I'm trading in a chunk of my salary in exchange for an extra day a week doing what I want; I'm effectively buying a slice of my life back.

The way I see it, no amount of money is more precious than time. As long as I have food to eat, a roof over my head and enough spare cash for a spot of travel and fun, I'm happy to make sacrifices elsewhere. Once you have the essentials in life, everything else is just future landfill.

Rather than slog like a hamster in a wheel five days a week, month in, month out, focusing my beady little rodent eyes on some abstract concept of a relaxing retirement, I'm going to grab a little sliver of my time back now, while I'm still young enough - and healthy enough - to spend it doing the things I love.

Because here's the thing: life is what happens whilst you're making plans for the future. Yes you can avoid risk, stick to your resolutions, get a pension, eat your greens...but for what? A couple of extra eventless years tagged onto the end of your life in an old folks' home, blanket across your knees, rheumy eyes gazing off into the middle distance? No ta - I want more free time now.

For me, 2017 is going to be about finding a better work/life balance, making memories and pursuing my dreams. I'm going to write my first novel. There, I've said it, so I'll have to do it now. It might crash and burn, but I have to at least try (I've actually started writing books before but given up a few chapters in...but hey, God loves a trier, eh?). I'm going to sprinkle salt on the slug of self-doubt and plough on.

Sometimes we're so focused on making a living that we forget to make a life. The calendar flips over at an alarming rate; before you know it there won't be any time left to do all the things you really want to.

When I'm drawing my final breaths and my life flashes before my eyes, I don't want to have to press fast forward on great boring swathes of Sam Walsh: The Movie because most of it has been filmed at work...



photo credit

This article has also appeared in  The Huffington Post.

Fancy reading my back-story before you go any further? You can find my other blogs at:
www.costaricachica1.blogspot.com