I spent most of my life beating myself up hard and always feeling terrible for being anything less than ‘perfect’ (and of course the bar for ‘perfection’ was always moving so it was an impossible goal).
This included the ‘big’ things like getting anything less than an A in exams, not being thin enough, not having a fancy title at a multinational corporate organisation by the time I was 30.
It also included the ‘smaller’ inconsequential things like forgetting an item on my shopping list; finding a typo in an email; missing a train.
If any of this sounds familiar it’s because almost all of us are made to believe in some form of perfection in one area of our lives or another.
Family pressures, social ideals, cultural norms, the standards we create and hold ourselves to – all of these converge to create exceedingly hard, high expectations that we try to live by…
… and anything less than feels messy, uncomfortable, icky, flawed, disastrous, and fully ‘deserving’ of our self-punishing contempt.
I was terrified of messiness, imperfections, any hint of failure and what I believed all this said about me.
But karma, the universe, my own higher self had other plans for me.
Repeatedly, over and over, I found myself thrown in the deep end of a hot mess – the kind I had absolutely no control over in any way.
Each time, I was confronted with two choices – let myself get utterly consumed by the mess. Or wade the hell out of it.
Read on for my stories.
Or tell me yours so I can support you through your messiness.
My Messy Stories
The messiness of high control
First: for years, I was part of an organisation which became increasingly controlling, demanding and abusive. Mistakes were certainly not allowed. Literal physical and emotional punishments, threats and blackmail were an everyday experience. There was no room for anything that wasn’t instant perfection, extremely high levels of ‘performance’ and compulsory positivity.
When I finally ran away from the group (literally – bolted out the door without my shoes on, got in my car and drove as fast and as far as I could), the whole process of leaving and rebuilding my life from scratch again at the age of 32 was messy as hell. I felt broken and exhausted; I didn’t know who I was anymore, what I could or couldn’t do, what it meant to be ‘okay’.
I had to relearn boundaries
what would help me grow and what kept me small
what I would allow into my life and what I would refuse to accept
what lit me up and what quashed my spirit
It was like being in a big pile of rubble and sorting through it all to figure out what was real and valuable, and what wasn’t.
The messiness of beauty
When I finally picked myself up enough to move to another job, I worked in a luxury fashion magazine – where we dealt in the everyday business of only immaculate perfection: Images of exceptionally beautiful women, perfectly curated and crafted artwork and design, the precise number of words to fit a precise column width.
I loved the buzz of being back in media and I adored the people I got to work with – loving, fun men and women who themselves were wonderfully messy and real and human.
But hell can the business of beauty be fraught with persistent feelings of incongruence. I would never look like the gorgeous airbrushed women we styled and featured on our pages – next to them, my ‘not-enoughness’, imperfections and failures could only be amplified and ever more strongly felt.
This was already a life-long struggle – I would always feel too fat, not tall enough, too flat-chested. I’d already gone through the whole gambit of eating disorders, crash-dieting, laxatives, meagre meal-replacement drinks. I’d over-exercised to the point of injury, damaging my knees so that they still give me trouble.
In the pursuit of an imaginary beauty, I had well and truly messed myself up. And now, deep in the land of glamorous perfection, I had to choose – let myself continue to feel forever ‘unpretty’ or own my own brand of glorious beauty anyway.
It’s still a work in progress…
The messiness of intellect
Because I am a glutton for punishment, I decided to move from fashion back to academia.
I’ve always been quite clever with nerdy, bookish stuff and thought I’d go back to do a PhD. Ooh, fancy.
I actually loved all four years of my research. I had an excellent, inspiring, wildly loving supervisor, had loads of supportive friends and finally felt like I was doing deep work on an issue that had been dear to me all my life: body image and beauty ideals.
I was living my best life. My supervisors loved and believed in my work; I won awards for speaking about my research; I was an active member in my university’s academic community and was being invited to deliver training for fellow PhD researchers even before I’d completed my thesis.
And then it all came crashing down.
At my viva (oral defence/examination), the examiners told me that my work was “deeply flawed” and “didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know”. The parts of the thesis that I was most proud of did not land at all with the examiners.
I had to substantially revise and resubmit the thesis for a second round of assessment and that subsequent year of working on these revisions was a whole new kind of disheartening, squashed, fucked-up mess.I felt like a total loser. I was confronted with the ‘truth’ that this wasn’t just a bout of imposter syndrome, that I was an imposter and I had been found out for the incapable, incompetent failure I really was.
Here I was again – deciding whether to let someone else’s opinion of me/my work define my worth and ability
or to recall my own damn awesomeness and own it.
I wrote the revisions kicking and screaming. Even as I wrote them, I didn’t know if the revised thesis would be accepted. After this whole horrifying year, they might still fail me and I wouldn’t get the PhD.
BUT in the midst of all of that, I thought back on everything I had accomplished during the PhD and the mad ride that was my adulthood, and had the biggest aha moment of my life.
I know what I’m capable of. I know what I can do. I know that what I bring to the table is excellent, thoughtful and bloody good.
And that was enough.
I drew a hard boundary this enoughness. I put on my crown, staked my sceptre in the ground and owned my awesome
I passed the PhD (yay!), went on to set up my own PhD and life coaching business and now work with PhD students and other non-academic humans to do fucking great things in the world.
Finally, after landing over and over and over again in deep imperfections, mistakes and hot damn messiness, I decided:
From within the mess…
I would find and create my own magic
I would live with ease and flow – my way
I would spark my own joy
I would reign sovereign within my boundaries
And I would put myself back into the centre of my ‘you-niverse’.
Now, I want to help you do the same. To emerge from whatever feels messy and uncomfortable and hard, to find your own version of magic, ease, flow, and reign sovereign in your own magnificent you-niverse.
Come talk to me about how to find that magic of your own.
I have a PhD in Women’s Studies from the University of York, UK. My doctoral research examined the women’s responses and resistances to contemporary beauty ideals.
Upon completing my PhD in 2021, I developed my own suite of ‘Messy PhD’ postgraduate research workshops, which supports PGRs to enjoy better wellbeing, productivity and work-life balance in the doctoral research.
Before coming back to academia, I worked as a journalist/writer in English-language media in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with experience in newspapers, magazines, public relations.
I love talking (ha!), public speaking and public engagement for researchers. I won the People’s Choice Award for Vitae (UK)’s 3 Minute Thesis competition 2018. I was also a finalist at a Falling Walls, Surrey in the same year. I went on to conduct training in public engagement for PhD students at the University of York and the University of Muenster.
I’m not just a coach, right? I am and do all kinds of other things, and these other parts of me have a huge influence on what I bring into my training/coaching work and philosophy.
Where I’ve lived
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
York, United Kingdom
Things I love
Tarot cards (my favourite decks: The Wild Kuan Yin Oracle, Sacred Rebels Oracle, The Goddess Oracle, The Muse Tarot, Moonchild Tarot, The Wild Unknown)
Being of service
Yorkshire + the Yorkshire coast
If my coaching philosophy was a person…
The Golden Girls
Tina from Bob’s Burgers
Ursula from The Little Mermaid
The Witch from Hansel and Gretel
The collective cast of Shameless
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