Tuesday, 31 August 2010

I ain't afraid of no cenobytes.

When I was little I was afraid of the dark. I remember watching Hellraiser at a very young age and from then on being scared that Pinhead was going to come crashing through my bedroom walls and drag me off to the deepest darkest depths of hell for crimes against kitties any time I turned out the lights (I once trimmed the family cat’s whiskers because I thought he had split ends. He got stuck under the gate. I also once put a clothes peg on the other cat’s tail just to see if he’d notice. He did. And he didn’t like it).

Of course I’m 30 now. I’m not afraid of monsters anymore. In fact I’ve come to have a rather too comfortable symbiotic relationship with a particularly large one of the green-eyed variety.

Yes, I confess, it’s a well-known fact among my family and close friends that I suffer horrendously from low self-esteem and that I have a truly unparalleled talent for self-deprecation. I’m constantly comparing myself to other people and unwillingly manage to convince myself that everyone else is better than me somehow. I’ve been like this for as long as I can remember and frankly it wears me out. It’s because I think too much, I over-analyse everything to the point of mental self-destruction and up until now I’ve always considered this trait to be a very negative thing. I mean, come on, who’d actually WANT to be constantly comparing themselves to old school-buddies, exes, work colleagues, fellow students and even strangers I know nothing about. What purpose does it serve? Answer: none other than to make me feel like I haven’t achieved anything with my 30.25 years.

In recent months however I had an epiphany. I’ve come to the incredible realisation that my jealousy is actually very productive. Confused? Allow me to explain. I recently discovered that an old friend of mine is now doing quite well for themselves. Not in the earning a 6-figure-salary sense, but has gone after something they’re passionate about and is really making it work for them. Now upon discovering this I sank into a self-deprecating mess (why, oh why can’t things like that happen to me?!). I wallowed in self-pity for a brief time and then I sat up in my chair, brushed myself off and thought to myself, hang on a minute, they’re no different to me, if this person can do it I’m blummin well sure I can too. So I started a little one-sided competition. I thought about what would be the biggest and best achievement for me, something that if I succeeded I could genuinely say I was proud of myself and other people would view me as having accomplished something good. That achievement for me is getting a PhD and as I explained in one of my earlier ramblings I started my thinking at the end goal and worked my way backwards to try and figure out what steps I would need to take in order to get there. So having figured out what I wanted to achieve I set about making it work and in quite a short space of time (few months, maybe) have already managed to improve myself, and hopefully my chances of reaching that goal, tenfold. That initial pang of jealousy has spawned my vampiritic-thirst for self-improvement. My jealousy and penchant for mental self-abuse has actually been the catalyst for me starting to turn elements of my life on their kilter.

I’m undecided whether the competition is with myself, this old friend or the big bad world in general but frankly it doesn’t matter does it. I’m on the path now, gaining momentum all the time, like an ever burgeoning snowball tumbling down a hillside picking up experience and knowledge along the way.

So if I’m now a metaphorical snowball on a path towards self-improvement and mental rest, then all I have to say on the matter is “since I’ve now a place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow”.*

*Bastardisation of Dean Martin recognised and profusely apologised for.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Oh dear. Oh deary dear. Oh double-deary dear!

The course materials for my final Undergrad course arrived yesterday.  It starts in October, which overlaps with my Philosophy course ending, I knew this when I signed up.

Trouble is, my Philosophy exam is on October 15th, and my first TMA for this next course is due on the 20th October!!  Yikes, that's dangerously close together...  This will require some very careful planning and LOTS of revision.

I also discovered on Wednesday that I have a Social Science Faculty meeting in Milton Keynes on Wednesday 13th October.  Why do I do this to myself?!

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

I did something amazing today...

I gave blood.

Utterly irrelevant to the blog I know, but I was shocked at how few people there were there to donate this time.

If you're not already a donor, why not?

Monday, 23 August 2010

Wet-eared 18 year olds and eroded pathways.

What is it about 18 year olds?! A-Level results came out last Friday and the main news topic for the following few days was the paradoxical tale firstly of record levels of pass rates and how many students are now getting A*’s and secondly how many students who didn’t get their expected grades will miss out on Uni places and how many LESS clearing places there are compared to last year. The news stories were making out like thousands of students were gonna suddenly be turfed out on the street because they a) couldn't get a Uni place, which as a result means that they b) can't get a job (no one will hire them you see, they're uneducated!).

My blood boils when I see stories like that for more than one reason. I have two simple little vowels for those masses of students who didn't get the grades necessary to go to their chosen uni - O U. Okay okay, so I know the OU isn't exactly the first choice for 18 year olds, I mean I would imagine a lot of fresh-faced 18 year olds are marginally more interested in student life and the students union than study life and library facilities but if they genuinely believe that they won’t be able to get a decent job without a University education then honestly, they could do a LOT worse than study with the OU. Besides, it’s cheaper than going to a redbrick, means you can study anywhere in the country and generally OU degrees are held in very high regard.

But why do they NEED to get a degree anyway? I don’t profess to be hugely knowledgeable on the subject (no pun intended) but it seems like degrees are two-a-penny these days anyway. When I first set out with the OU to study towards a degree I was so excited thinking how brilliant it would be to get my letters, but as time has gone on I’ve realised that having a degree isn’t anything out of the ordinary any more. In order to stand out you need something a bit more. BBC Breakfast had a piece on their Saturday morning programme about just this matter. The piece was trying to illustrate that employers aren’t necessarily as impressed with “Student X” who knuckled down at Uni and managed to get a First Class honours degree as they are with “Student Y” who still managed to get an Upper 2nd but during their time at Uni did some volunteer work, sat on a few Uni committees and gained a bit of life experience in the process.

I, on the other hand am “Student Z”. I didn’t do any A-Levels. I started them... But then got distracted by anything and everything and dropped out halfway through to get a job instead. I never regretted dropping out; it was the right decision for me at the time and didn’t hamper my opportunity to do a degree anyway so I have to question whether there would’ve been any point in doing them. My beloved, bless his almost-40-year-old cotton socks, can’t even remember what subjects he took at A-Level let alone what results he got! So honestly, is there any point? (As an aside, he did a degree in Accountancy and now works as a mountain bike mechanic... Go figure!). At 16 years old when you’re trying to decide what subjects to take (which you have to pick carefully because they feed on towards a chosen degree subject) how on earth do you know what you want to do with the rest of your life?? If I HAD thought about my A-Levels properly would I have picked subjects I thought would lead on to a decent career, or would I have picked subjects I just found interesting? The joy of the OU is that I’ve been able to indulge myself with that one subject I always fancied studying but didn’t think would get me anywhere career-wise; Philosophy. As it turns out, Philosophy links in quite nicely to the career path I now intend treading but at 16 years old how was I to know that? No one ever asked me what I wanted to do in the future so what chance would I have stood?

There’s a lot of competition out there at the minute for training/jobs/experience and whatnot so it seems in order to have the best possible chance you need more than just education or intellect, you need to have proven initiative and enterprise, enthusiasm and sensibility; something that shows employers that you’re more than just willing and able.

Who would’ve thought the day would come when a degree was barely even worth putting on your CV eh. I’d best hurry up and get onto a PhD before the same happens with them!!

Friday, 20 August 2010

Zinn and the art of mountain biking [sic]

I went out for a pootle on my mountain bike last night with a few friends to the local woods (I say local, they're actually 18 miles from my house but who's counting when the singletrack is that good!).  Among these friends were two Doctors.  One MD and one PhD.  Both are well aware of my blog and my aspirations to join the ranks of academia.  In a jesting tone whilst discussing the finer points of mountain bike trail building and maintenance I said to Dr PhD "no fair, I want a PhD too", to which he simply replied "work harder".


Monday, 16 August 2010

But I don't even know how to fish?!

My sister-in-law is amazing.  I absolutely adore her.  She's utterly gorgeous, has an incredible laid back attitude to life the universe and everything, puts a smile on my brother's face I've never seen so big and gives Nigella a heck of a run for her money when it comes to cooking and baking.  I'd happily volunteer that I'm incredibly envious of her (although it's no secret that I'm prone to the allure of the green eyed monster on a practically daily basis), so needless to say I was quite stunned with something she said to me during a text conversation the other week.  We were talking about the fact that I became the mortgaged owner of my house on Friday 13th (of August 1999) and I jokingly said that I was doomed from the start.  She replied "What you like!  You'd fall in a river and come up with a salmon you would!".  You wha?  I don't know how to fish?!


I've never considered myself a very lucky person, I've had my fair share of ups and downs like most people and my family has been through some testing times in the last few years so I'm not lucky am I?

Hang on a minute...  Do I even believe in luck?

Which cap do I put on here, my science one or my philosophical one?

I can't help but think about it from a practical and empirical point of view (scientist at heart obviously).  I don't believe in luck.  Certainly not in the "ooh you're so lucky in life" sense anyway, I believe I'm lucky to have the opportunity to live a life, I believe I'm lucky to have the family and friends I have, and probably most of all I think I'm lucky to speak English as my first language (phew, I wouldn't fancy having to learn it, muchos complicatidos!).  But lucky in life?  Naaa.  It's all a bunch of numbers and statistics and probabilities and chance and whatnot.

Good fortune out can only equal effort in.  To assist in my explanation of this let me take a quote from a song.  It was a one-hit-wonder type song a few years back by a band called Len but it's a lyric which has stuck with me since I first heard it, it says "of course you can't become if you only say what you would've done".  If there's something you want to achieve you're gonna have to put some effort into getting it, there's no magical genie to snap his fingers a hey-presto it up for you.  If you don't put any work into achieving it you'll likely still be twiddling your thumbs in years to come resenting yourself for what you could've/would've done.  It's not easy.  Stuff gets in the way.  Hurdles crop up.  Enthusiasm wanes.  However, the next line in the song reads "so I missed a million miles of fun".  You'll never know how different things will be unless you strive for your goal.  My goal is being able to earn a good living from something I find interesting and stimulating and proving to myself and my family that I'm smarter than I let myself believe I am.  The thought of waking up one morning knowing I've achieved what I set out to do is so exciting it makes me wanna hop around the living room like a little kid on Christmas eve!  But I won't, I'm 30 now, I should be sensible and mature (best not let on about the stash of Curly Wurly's in the fridge then eh?!).

When I decided that I wanted to aim for a PhD I knew I was going to be up against some challenges, but I've already attempted to overcome some of them.  My propensity for fads is definitely one of them, at some point in my life I've been interested in just about everything however my education is different; I consider it a commitment to a better life whereas fads are simply activities to pass some time.
Another hurdle would be my severe lack of experience.  I have a reasonable job at present however it doesn't provide me with any knowledge or experience to go towards my end goal (although the company is quite nifty at getting grants for training and my boss is always more than willing to let me go on courses somehow related to my job, it's how I learned British Sign Language), so I've tried to seek the means of getting some experience and knowledge elsewhere; namely things like signing up to be a school governor, volunteering on local committees, getting involved in the Open Uni Student Association as a Central Rep and local branch officer, but these are all things I've had to initiate myself.  No one has offered me these positions, I've had to seek them out myself, Lady Luck doesn't smile on you where things like that are concerned.  It hasn't been difficult to get them; there's a nationwide shortage of local authority appointed school governors, the local community committee is open to all and my branch of OUSA was dormant so it didn't take much to be voted on it as an officer.  But all that is beside the point, I still had to do the research to find out about the various things, and then volunteer to be involved and now I have to maintain involvement to reap the benefit from it.

There's still more I want to get involved in, the committees don't actually take up much time so there's room to fit more in but for now I'm concentrating on my actual studies and getting off to a smooth running with those things I'm already involved in, what's the point in becoming involved unless I give it my best efforts eh?!

I think I've rambled on a bit there in trying to get the point across that luck is self-administered so how about I sum up in one short, concise statement...  Here goes...

If you're gonna go falling in rivers, learn how to fish first.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Does inactivity breed laziness?

I've been off work this past week on holiday, as has my better half.  We haven't been anywhere, in fact we took the week off to try and get a few DIY jobs finished off in the house.  Success.  Hallway now looks fantabulous, kitchen tiling is booked for asap etc etc blah blah.  Enough about my homemaking, it's not that exciting and given that I bought my house 11 years ago I really ought to have done this level of thorough decorating WAAAYY before now.  Also, given that the DIY hasn't exactly taken up every hour of every day you'd think I'd have managed to get loads of extra studying done too.

Something about being on "holiday" has made me somehow forget about the fact that my next TMA is due in (now) less than 4 weeks.  Hmm.  Are you allowed holidays when you're studying?  Surely the whole "self-study" thing means you can do it whenever you want?  Well I've given this careful consideration and I don't somehow think it really works like that.  I think in order to maintain a good study pattern and give myself a chance to fully understand the material I need to approach my studies as if I were at a redbrick involving regular lectures and seminars.  If I leave studies too late and bunch it all up then it doesn't give me a chance to contact the tutor should I need anything clarified.  Given that I've not studied for the last 10 days that equates to the equivalent of about 20 hours of study which I have to catch up on over the next 20 days (4 weeks really but 1 of those has to be allowed for writing the TMA).  An extra hour per day?  Doesn't sound like much but if I'd left it any longer it would've mounted up.  I've studied plenty of courses and (due to unavoidable circumstances) had to drop out of a couple due to falling too far behind to know that keeping up to pace with work is pretty darned important.  The OU give you a study calendar with each course which is a guide to what volume of study you shoud be doing each week; how many chapters, which cd's etc so it lets me know how far through the book I need to be by the end of this coming week.  So my week off hasn't really affected my study by that much, and back to work means back to usual routine involving work, study and play.

Our week off hasn't been a complete waste as far as my journey goes though, during the week I've put into action a couple of my previous ideas.  We've been walking a couple of times (much to the delight of our dog), I've started a strength training programme, I've... wait for it... been out on my BIKE today riding across the Northumberland Moors (I'm very sore all over but by god it was good fun!), I've started taking a few supplements to aid concentration and I've started a bumper book of crosswords to help the ol' grey matter.  It was only £1.99 from the local supermarche so I figured if it doesn't help then it's no great loss.

Plans for this coming week:
  1. Spend whatever time I realistically can getting up to date with the course material
  2. Despite being in sooo much pain, continue on with strength training programme (my muscles cry no, but that's the point)
  3. Get out for another couple of bike rides.

If there's one thing I've learned from my week off work it's that I study better when I have a busy routine in which to have to slot it in.  I can so easily see how the hoardes of unemployed in this country can slip into unhealthy unintentionally lazy ways; if you have nothing/not much to do during the day it's unfortunately easier to sit around the house and do nothing than get off your backside and do something productive.  The catch-22 is that if you can manage to drag yourself to do something productive, it's far easier to keep going.

Inactivity breeds laziness.
Activity breeds momentum.