A few years ago, I watched my sister pack up her life in a moving van and dispatch herself to London. I remember her waving in the passenger seat with a novelty bottle of champagne to celebrate the beginning of her new life in the city. I was jealous.
Like the majority of people in London, I’m not from London. I’m from a fairly unidentifiable settlement about an hour away – The Midlands. The idea of escaping the humdrum of middle England existence appealed to me as it did to her, and at the time I said to my parents, in the kind of moribund way I’m quite apt to do, ‘I wonder if I’ll ever get there.’
Spoiler, I did. Two weeks after graduating, I upped sticks and moved into a flatshare I found on the internet. This was quicker progress than basically anyone I knew, which made me feel vaguely superior and like I had My Shit Together. But here comes lesson number one of this story of my beginnings: though they may look like they do, no one, ever, feels like their shit is together.
London is a chew-you-up-and-spit-you-out kind of a place; rent is expensive, travel will basically bankrupt you to the point where you actually consider walking the 10.8 miles to work because £40 a week on an Oyster is daylight robbery when you’re delayed every single day. Hell, fun is expensive – drinks for £16 and a cinema ticket for £20. But it is a vibrant place, where you can stumble upon streets from the Monopoly board and Gwyneth Paltrow on a Kensington corner (true story, I believe she thought I was assaulting her). The sense of opportunity, the sense of wealth is what attracts thousands of fresh-faced small-town graduates to this unaffordable, sprawling blob across the South East. That, and the sheer amount of jobs.
I’ve done my fair share of looking for jobs, and overwhelmingly, London has the most. This is news to no one, but it does give a sense that once you’re here, your professional life is held to ransom by this behemoth city that may release you to the veritable nirvanas of Manchester, Edinburgh or Southampton for good behaviour. But I wasn’t fazed, and I jumped right in. The night before one of my interviews, I ate Mexican. Mexican does not agree with me. I passed wind surreptitiously throughout the entire night, prompting my boyfriend to say, ‘Right, I’m going to be completely honest, it stinks in here. You really do smell. I really think you should have a shower, like now.’ At which point, ashamed, I yelled, ‘I know! I’m sick! Do you really think I need you TO JUST POINT OUT ALL MY FLAWS BEFORE AN INTERVIEW? God!’ Then I cried in the shower about my lamentable food choice. Lesson two: sometimes you literally won’t have your shit together, but try and pretend for an interview.
I didn’t get that job, but I’m pretty sure it was because it was for quite a high fashion buying position and they noticed my mum had sewn my name into my coat.
For at least the first six months of my first job, I wore an expression that can only be described (and was described on my review) as ‘don’t-fucking-talk-to-me’. This was largely down to the fact that every time anyone did, it felt as though my tongue was too big for my mouth and any attempt at forming words resulted in a kind of ‘oh yeah, oh because, yes, right, I know, ha, bgjjssshefederk’ noise, possibly with a small yet visible expulsion of spit. Thankfully, this is now under control; lesson two-point-one, get your spit together too.
I fared better in the next job, with some great friends and a fast-paced environment. That is, until the workload went mad, I was working all hours and the tiredness resulted in me physically crying into a GBK burger whilst a colleague gingerly patted me with a paper towel. But there’s a lesson here too; you learn about yourself when shit’s going down. In work, in life, there is no way of cultivating it to avoid bad times, they will come regardless. The early stages of adulthood, the burgeoning of a real, independent life, are meant for you to learn how you cope best when things aren’t going your way. It’s okay to falter, to have false starts and to feel like your beginnings are slower or duller than other people’s; it’s all just part of your own personal architecture. Embrace the chaos of beginnings; it’s not supposed to be all sorted yet.
The culmination of all this? During the GBK crying episode, someone took me aside, looked me square in the panda eyes and said, ‘Listen. You got this.’ So we arrive at lesson four. In your beginnings, in your endings, all through everything, in a corner of your mind, store that away.
Take on a job, take on London, take on new things you’re not sure you can do. Dear Damsels – you got this shit.
Olivia Sleet | @oliviasleet
Olivia Sleet is a writer, reader and roll neck enthusiast. She lives in London, eating gingerbread whilst trying to look like Pattie Boyd and write like Donna Tartt.