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I’ve found myself re-counting numbers recently. Second guessing myself. This morning, I counted the handful of change for my morning cappuccino three times. Three. Clearly, the trust has gone.

Maths has never been my strong suit, but still. It’s starting to verge on the ridiculous. At work I find myself struggling to grasp what the month number for May is (it’s five…isn’t it?). Is this just age? Surely not, I’m barely 32. The years of alcohol? Hmmm. I have a nagging feeling the reason behind this strange emergence of Dyscalculia is because I find myself in, well, a strange period in my life.

calc ageI have begun to question things in ways that haven’t crossed my mind for at least ten years. And it’s really annoying because, with my questions remaining unanswered, I feel lost and discontent. And the other, even more annoying, thing is that it’s only me that can provide any answers.

It’s funny how it is generally acknowledged that you become wiser the older you get and, by default, more confident. But my confidence is no longer the unwavering warrior it was when I was younger and knew nothing. Sure, I’ve got less tolerant of the selfishness of others and I am more likely to say so rather than hush into a corner and somehow blame their behaviour on my faults. And yes, I’ve become openly accepting of those with whom I shall never be friends, who shall never like me and vice versa. We are all different. But am I more confident with age? In a word (well, two) – not quite.

I suppose it depends on what confidence means to you. For some I imagine it’s having the guts to go out on stage in front of hundreds of people. To be able to take a risk, make that scary career change. For me, it’s having the strength of self-conviction – the total assurance that everything will turn out ok in the end, because you are you, and you can handle it.

My self-possession rose and peaked almost out of nowhere between the ages of 24 and 29. With hindsight – something I’m pretty sick of now – I realise this time is The Golden Period. The pressure is off. You become aware, for the first time, how far you have come in such little time. Your twenties bring with them an intense personal growth spurt that you have no real control over – grown-up stuff just happens to you whether you want it or not. You accept this fact, grow from it. You have money. You are young. You sit back and enjoy it for a bit. Uncomplicated confidence. You are going places and you know it.

But then you hit 30. Ouch. All that confidence so flippantly built ebbs away. But this time the subtle change in yourself, so frivolously disregarded when it moved in the other direction, does not go unnoticed. It starts to drive you a bit mad. You get angry with yourself. How could you let this happen? Why did you sit back and relax while youth and all its opportunities passed you by – look at all those chances you were too lazy to take. And now, now you’re just too old to do things. You’ve got commitments.

It turns out my star didn’t rise at the same trajectory and speed (hell, I don’t move at the same speed) as was mapped out in my twenties. I got too comfortable. Smug. Other people are younger than me now. It is annoying. They are annoying. To make matters worse they are more skilled than I both was and am now – they’ve been forced to do more internships than I’ve had hot toddies. They don’t need to do IT training. They don’t even call it IT – to them, technology is just life.

Life is hard enough as it is. And when the total confidence that everything will work out how you want it leaves the room, what do you do? For me, well, I’ve got to work out what it is that I want – it turns out thirty-something Gemma might have different (less ambitious) ambitions from those of ten years ago. And it’s sobering to admit that to yourself.

I think the key is nailing that fine balance between accepting who you are and what you can achieve whilst still treating yourself with the respect to challenge yourself and grow. Maybe once I solve that equation two and two might start to make four again.

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Blog post – Walking in Heels

I’ve never been able to walk in high heels. Rarely does the powerful click clack of sex and glamour resonate in my wake. I can’t even cope with a kitten.

Of course I tried that kind of femininity on for size for a period in my youth, as most of us do. There’s that right of passage, the first time we sneak into our mother’s wardrobe and trial our little feet in those giant, cartoonish courts. We realise right then how uncomfortable they are, but for some reason we persevere. I gave heels another go in my late teens – I’d managed to conquer a pair of sky-high bright white trainer-wedges, a la The Spice Girls, the previous year. So, I had high hopes. But of course, we all know wedges don’t count as a true heel, and my trainers were certainly not a true test of my walking ability. After wearing a pair of not-even-that-high sandals from Select for my 18th birthday jaunt to Pizza Hut, the next morning I vowed never to wear heels again.

I just can’t seem to physically master them. I read a hilarious piece in The Telegraph about a journalist – struck with the same affliction – who was sent to some terrifying woman’s class on how to walk in heels. I mean, there’s a class in everything isn’t there. This woman apparently wore high (high) heels all the time. Everywhere. Well, obviously she’s insane. And no doubt now riddled with back problems. Anyway, it made me wonder if a class of that ilk would have any impact on me. But I fear it would be futile.

In theory I should have the genetic equipment to walk in heels quite competently. My sister owns more than 200 pair of shoes. Yes, 200. They consumed our verandah in a slow painful suffocation, before spreading their chaos throughout the rest of the house. She used to go to work in them. The library. The dentist. She’d never consider going on a night out in a pair of flats. Heels are just in her psyche. And she didn’t need any pricey training sessions to show her how to walk. Here’s a flesh and blood relative who can function normally – glamorously – in a pair of stilettos. Surely I can follow in her footsteps?

But whenever I try I just look like Tina Turner gone wrong. And nothing works – plasters, gel cushions, only walking on carpets, being drunk – I’ve tried them all. Unfortunately I can’t afford to pay someone to walk around with a carpet in front of me all the time. So I have to ask myself, is it that I can’t walk in high heels? Or that I won’t?

I was reminded of this little failure of mine the other week, when I started reading a book said sister lent me: How to be Parisian. There was a line in it that touched a nerve, “What you won’t find in the Parisienne’s closet – three-inch heels. Why live life halfway?”

Well – what’s wrong with being comfortable? And not just in shoes – in your own skin?

It pains me to admit that I’m actually bothered that I can’t strut to the shops – how ridiculous, it’s just a pair of shoes after all. But that’s the thing, it’s not about the actual shoes – a heel represents much more. Sex! Power! Glamour! That’s what a pair of heels screams. Then there’s me, plodding along in my Clarkes boots and coming up short (literally). All in all it makes me feel rather inadequate, like I’m missing a major string in my bow. Killer heels are weaponry in a girl’s arsenal. -whether that’s power in attracting a mate (because that’s what heels are designed to do when it comes down to it – display your childbearing hips). Or whether it’s power in securing a high-flying job (assuming most high-flying jobs are male dominated and you’ve got to try and attract one with your childbearing hips…)

And then of course there are the rest of us, apparently not in high-flying jobs or a bearer of children, jealous spinsters unable to master the skill of walking. And we think, well actually it’s all very well looking especially lengthy-of-leg and being tall enough to look boardroom suits in the eye, but – aren’t you a bit of a slave to that shoe? That’s a friendly torture device you’re strapped into there. And you’re endorsing it. Suffering. You are in actual pain.

Of course, I’m being way too serious here (that’s flat heel wearers for you). I agree, I could accurately be accused of taking the fun right out of shoes. Because I can see that they are a bit of fun for a lot of people. They make us look good. They give us confidence, even if that confidence is based around men and hurts us in the process.

I’d much rather be comfortable. As long as I’m not getting too comfortable… Maybe I’ll sneak into my sister’s wardrobe the next time I see her, try walking in her shoes for a moment or two.

We edit ourselves as we go about life, don’t we? Not in the wholly condemnable Photoshop way employed by magazines etc, but we do present ourselves differently depending on the situation. Sometimes we choose to. Other times, we have to.

Now with this in mind, I am about to tiptoe into semi-dangerous territory as I essentially attempt to dole out advice on what people – well, women – should and should not wear. To work. Yes, I am mad.

We (most of us) do, of course, have the right to dress in whatever bloody way we like. Feminism is about the right to choose, after all. But for God’s sake ladies – pull it together when you are at work.

Just as we can’t be as gobby as we perhaps are in our personal lives, we can’t really be as loud with the clothes we wear in the workplace also. There is a time and a place, as they say. Being greeted by a crop top and leather leggings makes me uncomfortable at, say, the doctor’s surgery reception. Everywhere else – fine.

I am aware I am coming across as a ragingly conservative anti-feminist, but hear me out. Like it or not, you cannot get away from the fact that how you dress does project an image, a message to others. And at work, the only thing you want to show off is your professionalism.

I feel (relatively) passionate about this subject. On my commute to work I see a lot of other people on their way to work. A lot of young women. And there are times when when I involuntarily tut out loud as I watch one of them topple into an office in Spice Girls-eqsue trainer wedges. Cringe as a I catch a glimpse of the pants of another under a too-short skirt. Too much denim. Sports wear (literally, like they are going to the gym). A lot of skimpy, downright uncomfortable looking outfits that just seem plain incongruous with the workplace.

Maybe I’ve just been brainwashed by decades of fashion magazines – you know what I mean, those hilarious work wear sections that I’m sure most of us just flick through, yawning. Forever ¬†dispensing the same advice, the same rules. It’s all pencils, body-con, shirts, cardigans – basically stuff that makes you look like a sensible grown up in the day, but will let it’s hair down with you as you ‘transition’ into a raucous evening. Stuff that says you’re ‘serious’, ‘strong’ but still ‘feminine’. The language is silly but it does ring true. This style of dressing gives us the flexibility, that armour we need.

And far as I’m concerned, flashing the flesh hasn’t really got much to do with empowerment, other than that you have freely chosen to flash it. But, more importantly, what you have almost certainly chosen is to mark your card as someone who can mis-read a situation.

Look, I’m not deranged – I can see how in some workplaces a relaxed dress code, a controversial one even, is accepted. Welcomed, even. Hairdressers spring to mind (the kind where people have beards and piercings, tattoos a-plenty… not Nicky Clarke). Bars, too. Trendy shops. Some PR companies maybe? I don’t know.

But take my place of work, for example – a creative small business founded by an artist who went around for three years in her twenties wearing the same boiler suit everyday. So you can imagine the atmosphere is a little loose – we can pretty much wear whatever we like. However, we are also a training provider, working with vulnerable school children. So, whilst we are not exactly your typical school, we do have a duty to be good role models for the kids. We also have a responsible image to project to our partners in the schools. Plus, there are times we have to look even more grown up for the local authority.

We are also, coincidentally, an all-female team. Each one of us has to re-edit ourselves a bit, depending on who we’ve got coming in – we constantly have to meet other people’s expectations. And, as a tiny company competing with the ‘big boys’, we have to push even harder to be taken seriously. How we dress plays a part in this. It shouldn’t have to be that way, but it is. It’s obviously especially true for women, but men do have the same standards and expectations to meet also – a man coming into a meeting in a vest and shorts wouldn’t be tolerated in most workplaces.

It would be nice to think we could all just go about life true to our own code, the whole time. But this is not a reality for anyone (well, maybe Kate Moss). Perhaps this is a good thing, anyhow – I imagine we would turn out to be a pretty selfish race if we all did exactly what we wanted to, all of the time.

This mini-rant is brought on by something that happened this week, at work. One of our female students came in wearing a sheer lace corset dress and stiletto heels.

Now, we have a policy where our students are treated as fellow staff members. They are ambassadors for the company. Plus, this girl is just 14 years old. It was genuinely frightening that she had thought it was acceptable to come in dressed in the way she was – that she even owns such clothes. After a frank talking-to about self-worth and choice (my boss actually likened the get-up to that of a prostitute’s…not the most pc of strategies but I could see where she was coming from…) we had to send her home.

It can be difficult enough being taken seriously at work as it is. At the end of the day, inappropriate clothes make you look out of place. Not in a ‘I’m asserting my individuality’ way. But in an ‘I’ve judged it wrong’ way. And this does nothing for selling your skills.

I feel quite uncomfortable writing this post. I know it will rankle people. I would probably find myself a little rankled if I wasn’t the writer. But I do maintain that you can stay true to yourself as you present different versions of this self to the world. It’s not about conforming, or changing yourself. It’s about making considered decisions.

I genuinely hope that, sooner rather than later, we get to the point where men and women are finally considered as equal in the workplace, and in society in general. In such a society I imagine men will be able to choose to come into work in a skirt and feel no shame or recrimination. Women could choose to come in wearing an embellished bin liner.

But I still wouldn’t get my hair cut there.

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