The first task to tackle in my Dawn French ‘Me You Diary’ was to list everything that I am. I thought I’d find it quite difficult but actually, once you open your mind it’s easy to do. For example, I started with the easy things: a daughter, a sister, a friend, a teacher but then, having looked at Dawns very funny list I went to town: a baker, a music lover, a listener, an Idris Elba fan, a Neighbours watcher, an author…you get the idea. However, this then lead to me thinking about what makes me the person I am – partly a nature, nurture line of thinking but more intrinsically, it got me to thinking about the people who have helped me become the person I am.
Throughout our lives, from day one, we encounter people who will influence us. Some in a negative way but on the whole, no matter who we meet, they will teach us something. From a very young age I knew I wanted to teach or work with children and this was partly down to my parents but really it was down to the teachers that I had at Primary School – the ones who cared, were kind and helped me, accepted me for who I was and always encouraged me to try my best. I think throughout our school, college, university and work lives we will work with people who expand our knowledge, challenge our thought processes and teach us new ways to approach things. I really do believe you are never too old to learn something new.
When I looked at my personal life, I thought about the people who are in my life now and those who aren’t and everyone that I though of, I could name something they taught me. Something that they contributed to making me, me. Granted some of these things started with, “They taught me to never be….” but that’s just life and negative experiences often mean you become a better, stronger person anyway.
For me, I have been shaped from a huge circle of my parents friends. My mum and dad have the most amazing group of extended family! They have taught me to cherish, respect and nurture my friendships, to never take them for granted and they have done that through holding parties, dinners, writing emails and letters and visiting people whenever they can. It’s so important to maintain friendships because they are what gets us through not only the tough times but are who you want by your side to experience all the happy times too.
I am lucky that I have a strong unit of close friends too and over the years they too have taught be invaluable lessons. One main one being, that you do not have to remain friends with someone if they cause you hurt and stress. Just because you’ve had good times, like with a relationship, sometimes things can’t be fixed and that’s okay. You wouldn’t stay in a relationship with someone who makes you unhappy so why do that with a friendship? It’s a really hard lesson to learn but one that many experience and eventually, you’ll remember the good times but move forward knowing that you only have friends that truly get you, understand you and accept you for who you are, faults and all.
My friends and family have also shaped me into a person who tries to see that the glass is half full. Being positive helps in so many aspects of life and whilst I am a terrible worrier and can have a moan with the best of people, I have definitely moulded myself into someone who tries her best to see things in a positive light. And that ties in with checking myself in terms of ensuring that no matter what I am going though, to still be aware of what is going on with others – we are all going through something or other and it’s so important to talk, share and face things as a unit.
Something I have learnt within the last 5-10 years is to stand up for myself more. To speak the truth, ask for help when I need it, be brave enough to speak up when something isn’t right, say no to things that I disagree with or don’t want to do and try not to feel guilty about it. These lessons have come from a whole range of people – work colleagues, therapists, parents but mainly it’s been something that I have wanted to change about myself. Being a ‘yes’ person can have many amazing connotations but saying yes all the time can also get you into a tired, bald, stressed out, ill human being state and nobody wants that! For a long time by saying no, speaking up etc I felt guilty and selfish but I now see it as looking after myself. Self preservation would now feature in my top 3 of what I do to look after myself. Making those simple changes are hard to do and you have to be brave enough to implement them and if you’re like me it’ll be a phased introduction into your life but believe me, it’s totally worth it.
Time. This is something we all have to give. It’s free and you can always make it. I am a real advocate that if you want to make time for someone, you can. Simple as that. No arguments, no excuses. If I can manage to stay in contact with one friend in Dubai and one in Chicago, all in different time zones, we can all manage a quick – Hi, thinking of you, how you doing? – text.
The majority of people who have been in my life have the most amazing sense of humour. Laughing keeps you going – living with my mum teaches me that every day! Yes, we all have days where we don’t want to laugh or be merry but if you can find humour in a situation, a smile will make you feel lifted and again, this is something that I try my very best to do.
Take opportunities that come your way. Sometimes you have to face your fears and do it anyway. My family has always been of the thought that you should try new things, stretch yourself and have adventures. Grasp opportunities as and when you can because you never know when you’ll have that chance again. Over the years I’ve had dance lessons, swimming lessons, singing lessons, become a life guard in America, learnt the violin (badly), flown in a helicopter, lived and worked abroad, sailed around the Whitsundays, hiked the Grand Canyon, helped in an elephant orphanage, seen the pyramids in Egypt…and in turn they have shaped the person I am. They’ve given me life experiences and memories to talk about with others and made me a much more rounded individual. I’d rather have an album full of photos and diaries full of memories than a bank full of money and nothing to talk about!
I could go on forever about other things that make me, me but put simply into a list, here are my top tips for what’s helped me become the person I am today.
- Surround yourself with family and friends
- Don’t be afraid of self-preservation
- Give time and spend time with interesting, fun people
- Have adventures and experience all that life offers you
- Laugh often
- Be positive
- Learn from others – let bad experiences shape you as much as the good ones
- Don’t be in any kind of relationship that is a detriment to your own happiness
- Keep learning
- Never apologise for being you.
Point 10 is one I am beginning to take on board more. We recently went to the cinema to see ‘The Greatest Showman.’ If you haven’t seen it yet – GO! The main song has become a bit of a personal anthem! It’s called This is Me. The more I listen to the lyrics, the more chords are struck within me. I’ve hidden away so much because of how I feel about myself – “I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars, run away, they say, no-one will love you as you are.” That sums me up in so many ways. But it turns into a song that is about empowerment, taking strength from bad experiences and that we are all glorious in our own ways. So I’ll end the blog with a verse and chorus of the song that brings tears to my eyes but also gives me strength…check out the video on YouTube of Keala Settle singing the song in the audition room to get the film green lit…if that doesn’t make you cry, I don’t know what will!
“Another round of bullets hits my skin, well fire away, ‘cos today I won’t let the shame sink in. We are bursting through the barricades and reaching for the sun, we are warriors, yeah that’s what we’ve become.
I won’t let them break me down to dust, I know that there’s a place for us, for we are glorious.
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down, gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out. I am brave, I am bruised, I am who I’m meant to be…this is me.
Look out ‘cos here I come, and I’m marching on to the beat I drum, I’m not scared to be seen, I make no apologies….this is me.”