The anxiety pandemic in children and adolescents and how schools have a lot to answer for

I know way too many parents who have a child who can’t cope anymore. Children with anxiety, OCD, nightmares, tics, anger issues, and more. They get diagnosed with one disorder or another, sent to the psychologist, and often medicated. How many people in your own network do you know that have kids with ‘problems’? Is this normal? Of course it isn’t. Never before in history have we seen such a great amount of mental health issues amongst children and young people in the world. You can’t tell me that is because we are now better at diagnosing these types of things. Yes, we are. But the true question is: why are there so many children suffering from mental health conditions, and what is the cause?

Nevermind Covid-19, this is the real pandemic, and all we seem to be doing is medicate our children, in order to cope with the unnatural pressures of today’s world. Instead, we should see all the mental health disorders in children for what they really are: alarm bells. Warning signs that we are completely ignoring as a society. It is not natural that more and more young people need a psychologist, just to go to school. It is not normal that they develop tics. That they need medication to numb the pain, the depression, the stress, that is raging through their small bodies.

Too many adult-led activities and over-scheduling

I look around me in the streets, in traffic, in schools, and I see stress. People seem to be constantly in a rush. To go to work, to drop off the kids, to pick them up, to go home, to be on time. Do you feel it is normal that a child has every hour of the day scheduled? They spend all day in school, then they have tons of homework, plus extracurricular activities and sports classes in the evenings and on the weekends. Everything is adult-led. When do children and young people have down-time? Time to be bored? Time to FEEL? How did we end up as humans to be so obsessed with the academic and other achievements of our children, and forget about their hearts?

When we select a school for our children, we tend to go with what others are recommending, and the reputation of the school. This usually has to do with the academic results of the children who come out the other end. When a high percentage is able to apply for university after having been to this particular school, it makes us go ‘that is a good sign, we will get our kids in there’. What we fail to do, however, is to study our children, and look at the person they really are. We quickly dismiss any shyness or sensitive characteristics, and think that a ‘good school’ will teach them how to cope with that, so they are able to become functioning adults and get a good job.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

How many of those sensitive, and often very creative, children are being failed in these schools? How many of them are being told that they are unable to concentrate, that there is a problem, that they are behind, that they need extra support? And how many of us, parents, are brave enough to say ‘no’ to that? To stand up for our children, because we recognise that our children are not failing – but the system is failing them?

Creating super-humans instead of looking after mental health

I spoke to a friend of mine the other day, who also has a sensitive child. She wanted to move her kids to a ‘better’ school, one with fancy facilities, and more status. One that would ‘push them them a bit more academically, because, as she put it, “her son needs more discipline, as he can be quite lazy”. But she made a 180 degree U-turn last week, after she spoke to a few teachers who work at another private school, with a similar excellent reputation academically. They asked her: “Are your children happy where they are right now? Do they talk about what they’ve done in school, and do you see that they are learning?” My friend said yes to all of that. “Then why move them? Is the move better for your children, or is it to do with what you think is best for them?”

I know from experience how much we feel torn as parents to “do what’s best for our children”. But more often than not, we tend to choose what we think will give them the best job opportunities in life. And it’s often also an ego-thing.

What do we want for our children? Most parents would say:”Well, we just want our children to be happy”. But what we really feel and base our decisions on, is that we want them to be able to look after themselves financially. And to achieve this, most of us believe that our children need to go to a ‘good’ school that has the highest academic standards, and to be exposed to as many sports, arts, languages, robotics classes, and other ‘educational’ experiences as possible.

It’s like parents all strive to make super-humans out of their children nowadays. Super-humans who have the best academic skills, social skills, sports achievements, and everything else that shows that they are excelling at all they do. Their kids have become their main projects. If the kids are starting to show problems, then they got to fix them, so that they can get back in the race.

Respecting our children’s boundaries

Now, ask yourself, do any of these things help your child to build a good mental health? Do they learn the skills to deal with emotional turmoil and potential burnout before the age of 18? What do they learn by working so hard every day of the week, at such a young age? They certainly don’t learn how to feel and be, instead of do. We fail to respect our children’s boundaries, and personal preferences. There is too much going on in their lives. We drag them from here to there, rushing, running, never stopping. We teach them that life is a race, and if you can’t keep up, there is something wrong with you.

I talk about this topic a lot with my friends, some of whom have children with anxiety too. You know what they all say? That their kids often yearn to be in nature. That they love going into the woods, run in the fields, simply play with sticks in a stream, lie on their back in the grass and look at the clouds. That they love rolling in the sand on the beach. And what they love most, is to just be with their parents and spend time with them, no matter what the activity is. Time off, together.

This to me says everything: our children know instinctively what is good for them, and what they need to feel balanced again. Nature. The one connection that we as humans have always had throughout history, but we have completely lost in our modern day society. Our kids know.

Our children will learn when they are relaxed and happy. They would learn whether or not they are in school. Humans are curious by nature, they want to learn. A baby learns to walk, not because we teach them how to walk; they learn by themselves. We do not have to process piles of academic information through a child’s head, for them to memorise this, feel stressed about passing many exams, only to receive a diploma that enables them to enter the next thread-mill and rat race: work. And probably a life-long trip to the therapist.

When will we stop this anxiety pandemic, and help our children find true happiness in life?

10 Creative ways to earn money while living abroad

You may be planning your move abroad, have already moved, or are still thinking about it. Whatever stage you are at, the income bit will have been on your mind. How do you find jobs in Spain for English speakers? Or in Italy, France, or anywhere else you are planning to move to? Unless you are retired and are bringing a healthy pension, moving abroad means figuring out how to earn money to pay for your lifestyle. I am Dutch, but moved abroad twice, once for love and once for the sunshine, and I managed to earn an income on both occasions. I moved to Valencia, Spain and was able to build a small business from scratch. First as a copywriter, now as a business coach. And I am a freelance tour guide too! There are possibilities, but you do have to look for them.


What can you do to start earning money abroad as an English speaking expat, when you haven’t got a job lined up?


Many expats here are looking for English-speaking jobs in Spain, and there not many available, at least, in employment. But that doesn’t mean you will sit here on the beach and be poor.

You can earn money online, in employment, or start up a small business, offering in-person services. There are many options for English speaking expats, but you have to be flexible, and look for solutions, not barriers.


The first time I moved abroad was to Scotland, when I was 26. Moving to an English-speaking country was not too frightening career-wise, as I already spoke the language, and as the UK was still part of the EU, I had no problem applying for jobs without needing any visa. So that is exactly what I did: hunting for vacancies, and applying. I landed a lovely position at an art centre, and stayed there for five years. Job done.

Fast forward twelve years (plus a couple of jobs later, becoming a mum to two children and opening a vintage furniture shop), I emigrated again. This time to sunny Spain. Scotland is wonderful, but – oh – the weather. My husband’s redundancy package allowed us a little breathing space financially, but still, we needed to find an additional income. Savings don’t last forever. This time, I didn’t speak the language fluently, and there were no vacancies to apply for. However, I managed to earn a decent income within a year’s time. I set up as a copywriter with an online business, for clients abroad. And this is just one of the many ways of finding work in Spain or other countries abroad.


english speaking jobs in spain
Photo by mentatdgt on Pexels.com

Monetise your skills, your knowledge and passion

Moving to Valencia, Spain, was exciting and a great adventure, but English speaking jobs in Spain are few and far between. That doesn’t mean there are no options though, when coming here without a job. To live and work in Spain, or another non-English speaking country, you just have to think outside the box – or more precisely: look at the wealth of skills and talents you already possess, and which you could start monetising. What are you an expert in? What could you offer in person, or online? Do you need some ideas to help you get started brainstorming?

Many people forget that they are more than capable of being their own boss, and enjoying the freedom to do what they want in life. How long have you been working for an employer now? Why are you moving to Spain or another sunny country? To be stuck in a 9-5 job? What was your dream when you were a child, or what is the thing you love doing most and are amazingly good at? What do people always pick your brains on? There is something in that. Put on your creative hat, and start brainstorming today. Get out your notebook and list all of the things you know about, are passionate about, are able to help people with. Anything. Don’t feel that you are crazy or silly. Moving abroad is crazy enough in most people’s eyes, so why not embrace that feeling? You are able to start your own business, yes you can.

Download my FREE e-book ’10 Creative Ways to Make Money While Living Abroad’

Using my experience as an expat, and as a business coach working with many creative startups, I have created a helpful short e-book of 17 pages, sharing ten ideas to make money as an English-speaking expat abroad. I also include ways to find clients and attract work, and how to organise your taxes, if you decide to go for it. All super handy for you as budding entrepreneur and adventurous human. Live your dream, design your own life!

english speaking jobs in spain

Starting a business in Spain, how easy is it?

Valencia has been crowned number #1 city for expats in the world last year, in a research done by InterNations. I am biast, of course, but I agree. Valencia is great. My husband asked me the other day:”Why do you love it here so much?” It’s everything. It’s the perfect mix of beaches, parks, culture, history and a vibrant big city atmosphere. Oh, and a fantastic climate with plenty of sunshine. I felt almost immediately at home, when we moved here in 2018, exactly three years ago tomorrow. The thing was, I didn’t even have a job went we came here. But I quickly managed to generate an income in Spain, as self-employed. How?

First a disclaimer right here; we had our savings sorted when we moved, so we did not have the pressure to frantically look for work on arrival. My biggest bit of advice to anyone considering moving to Spain is to make sure you bring enough money, or a remote work contract. Financial stress will not be worth the move, no matter how sunny it is here! Spain still suffers from high unemployment, and after the pandemic of 2020/21, this is not going to improve very soon. That doesn’t mean you cannot earn money here though. Don’t believe all those miserable keyboard warriors on expat Facebook groups who immediately shut you down when you post a question about finding work in Valencia. Yes, they are right to say it is hard, especially if you don’t speak Spanish, but there are so many opportunities. You just have to know where to look, and think outside the box.


Bring your own job or remote contract

If you can find a job in employment, great! This means that you will automatically get the right to use the (free) public health service, and you no longer need to pay for private health insurance (which costs you anything from around 60 euros for an individual, up to 250 euro a month for a family of four, depending on your package and situation). Jobs expats are most likely to find in Valencia vary. Often they end up teaching English, or working in tourism. I worked as tour guide for Dutch tourists for a while, for example, and my husband offers private English tutoring. Many also end up teaching English at one of the many private academies, or international schools.

You also find plenty of expats who have their own online business, or have a remote work contract with their employer overseas. This, of course, is ideal, as you can pretty much live anywhere as a ‘digital nomad’. Especially Americans often have this construction set up when moving to Spain, as with a ‘non-lucrative visa’ you are allowed to live here longer than three months, as long as you don’t take a job in Spain. So if you are contracted in the US, this is a good solution if you are planning to live here for more than a year. Remember, even if your business is registered overseas, or you have a work contract abroad, you still have to declare your annual income to the taxman in Spain – this is law, when you live here for more than 183 days a year.


jobs in valencia spain

Starting a business in Spain, how to register

What you see most, however, is that expats are create their own English speaking job in Spain. It is not easy to make your way into the Spanish working world if you don’t have the contacts (it’s very much a ‘who you know’ kind of system), but there are thousands of expats living here, who could well be your ideal client. Just see in the Facebook expat groups how many people are asking for an ‘English-speaking’ (fill in the blank: builder, carpenter, taxi-driver, babysitter, cleaner, hairdresser, teacher, fitness instructor, doctor, psychologist, accountant…). The options are endless. If you have a skill, monetise it! Most people start out working for cash only, to avoid having to register officially as self-employed, and to see if there is a market for their services. Once the business is growing, or when customers need invoices, you can register as ‘autónomo’, self-employed, with the tax office.

Want a free download?

To register as autónomo, I recommend you contact a relocation agency, or someone else who knows about this kind of thing, as it’s a bit complicated. They can accompany you to the tax office, help with the language and documents required, and it just takes the headache out of things. To be honest, I find all things to do with taxes in Spain complicated, and would also advise anyone to hire an accountant (‘gestor’) to do the quarterly VAT returns for you, as well as the income tax. The VAT rate is 21%. The income withholding tax (or IRPF) is 20%.


starting a business in spain
Join my Facebook group for free marketing tips, training and support for small creative businesses.

What are the fees for an autónomo?

If you are starting a business in Spain, there is a “flat fee” for new autónomos for the first two years, which makes it much more accessible for new entrepreneurs to get started and grow their business. Paying this fee gives you access to Spain’s public health service, you start building up a government pension, and you have the right to maternity pay and benefits when you somehow become incapable of working. The fee is normally €50 a month for the first year. For the next six months, the fee goes up to €137.97; and the last six months of the second year, the fee will increase again to €192. Self-employed workers in Spain who have been registered for a period of more than two years pay a minimum monthly fee of €286.10 euro.

These fees are the same as in 2020 and are not subject to review/change until 1 June 2021. The general autónomo fee in Spain will then be set at €289. When you register as an autónomo, you can choose to pay the minimum fee or pay more than what you owe to slightly increase your government pension in the long term. Most people opt for the minimum fee and start a private pension scheme under their own conditions.

How to get clients in Spain for your business

If your ideal client is local, then find out where they hang out – online and offline. The expat groups on Facebook are a good way to promote your business, in any of the weekly ‘promo threads’, or do some ‘bread crumbing’, which means replying to other people’s comments by being helpful and more subtly mentioning your business. Also, when possible, try and attend networking events around town. There are a lot of coworking spaces in Valencia, and some of them organise events where it’s great to mingle with other entrepreneurs.

If your business is completely online, then it’s a different matter. Depending on where your ideal client hangs out, tell your story, and share your message consistently on social media, your blog, and through email lists. For freelancers, there are also very useful platforms out there to offer your services, including Upwork and Fiverr. Other ideas are selling online, setting up an online store, or writing e-books, designing online courses and selling those. I know plenty of expats here in Valencia who have found their niche, and offer their services online, such as yoga teachers, nutrition experts, life coaches, and psychologists. With the internet, the possibilities are really endless, and the world is your oyster – while working from your laptop in sunny Valencia.

If you are a small business and need marketing help, feel free to hop over to my other website thecreativemarketing.coach (I offer 1-to-1 coaching and group courses). You can also join my Facebook community for free daily marketing and business tips and support, and regular live training.


marketing support valencia
Nina Eggens, The Creative Busines Coach, Valencia

www.thecreativebusiness.coach

The perfect Mother’s Day gift: a kimono to make her feel gorgeous

The past year has been tough, and I would say, particularly tough on mums who have been combining the pressure of homeschooling, holding down jobs while working from home – and keeping a fairly ‘normal’ family life going in these strange times. No wonder so many mothers around the globe feel exhausted and pretty much worn out. Mother’s Day is happening soon (Sunday the 14th of March in the UK, in many other European countries and the US it falls on Sunday the 9th of May), so let’s make all mothers feel a little extra appreciated. It’s not all about gift-buying, and I will most likely be treated to some wonderful home-made crafts and wet kisses by my own children which I adore all the same. But if you have outgrown making clay necklaces, or you feel mum just deserves it, then here’s my ‘feel-gorgeous’ suggestion, which I am sure any mother would love to receive.

A Silk Kimono for Mother’s Day

awesome mothers day gift ideas
Weartheworldlabel has some pretty kimonos, like this one at £59.99

Whether you’re buying a gift for a young new mum, who is so tired that she has forgotten how beautiful she really is, or for an older mum, who still wants to feel glam, gorgeous and sexy, you can’t go wrong with a silk kimono. It is such a luxurious feeling to slip on a silk kimono in the morning (or, hey, why not wear it on a night out, with a belt and some high heels!), it makes you instantly feel good. A mood buster for sure and a perfect gift for mother’s day. Check out the ones from KimonoDragonLimited or Weartheworldlabel.

mothers day gifts
Silk kimono by KImonoDragonLimited £41.95

awesome mothers day gift ideas
Sustainable kimonos and kaftans by AZOiiA at £137.70

Cotton kimonos

If you prefer wearing cotton over silk, then have a look at the cotton kimonos on Etsy. Like silk, cotton feels cool and breathes, but it has a very different feel to it of course.

awesome mothers day gift
Pretty cotton kimono by BeachHopeLove, at £45.20
mothers day gift ideas 2021
Gorgeous indigo blue kimono by WovenRiches, at £45.00
awesome mothers day gift
Frida Kahlo inspired cotton kimono by KarmaCollectionLK, at £44.00

Cosy kimonos for cooler climates

Silk and cotton kimonos are fine for warmer countries or in summer, but if you or your mum prefers a bathrobe or kimono to be cosy and comforting, then perhaps have a look at those that will keep you warm in the morning. This one, for example, a vintage kimono from the 1950s, in the most gorgeous colours. I know I would love wearing this one for the rest of my life.

mothers day gift ideas
Vintage Ikat kimono gown, £135.00

You can’t go wrong with an indigo blue kimono. This reversible one is hand-quilted Gaudri patchwork cotton. Check them out on AkkaCreation.

mothers day gift ideas 2021

Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links that I receive a small commission for at no cost to you. I only ever recommend products that I love and would use myself also. You can read my full affiliate disclosure in my privacy policy.

The forgotten generation of the pandemic

It’s coming up to a year soon. Friday the 13th of March 2020. That’s when it all started, when we got locked indoors with our children in Spain for 66 days. Kids had fewer rights than dogs during spring last year, because at least pups were allowed for a walk. A year next month. And the end is not in sight. Right now, we are again in a half lockdown here in Valencia, with no cafés open, no possibility to see our friends, and even the city boundaries are shut over the weekend. We have been wearing compulsory face masks outdoors, in shops and in schools, since the middle of July last year, including children as young as six.

How long does resilience last?

I am not one to start a huge debate on this blog. That’s not what my blog is about. My blog is about optimism. But right now, it’s hard to still be that upbeat person. I have watched the debates and the online mud slinging on social media, between the sheeple, the anti-vaxxers, the anti-maskers, the Qanon brigade, the obedient rule-followers, the people absolutely petrified of catching Covid and everything in between. It is a war zone. And, there is no right and wrong, really, because everyone has their own reality and circumstances. Someone whose business has gone bust because of the pandemic has a very different reality from someone who is physically not strong enough to survive a lung infection.

I have kept clear of speaking out much about this topic online, as it just upsets me to see so much hatred. Expressing any vague doubt about the strictness of the lockdowns gets you sent straight into the tin foil hat corner. But today I want to speak out. I am speaking out on behalf of the children. The forgotten generation of the pandemic. The little ones, who have just got to do what the grown-up world tells them to do, and have no say. Mask on, honey, out you go.

A very long pause in their childhood

They line up in front of their classroom each morning, with their hands stretched out in front of them, to get ‘gelled’ and disinfected. Storybooks are no longer sent home, as even the books have to be quarantined for three days. Play parks are taped off, sports lessons are cancelled. The swimming pool is closed. The kids can’t see their grandparents. No birthday parties. Children are robbed of so many things that give them joy, social connection, and (mental) health. A normal childhood, setting them up for life. Kids are spoilt rotten these days, you say? Sure, toys and games enough around the house, and sticking them in front of a screen is always an easy pacifier. But what about teaching them about life, love and common sense?

It is coming up to a year now. And I am not expecting this situation will improve much for the rest of 2021. So for the good part of nearly two years, children as young as six will have been covering their mouths, following incredibly strict rules at school, if they’ve been in school at all, and have had to constantly adapt to new situations. “Can we go to the park, mummy?” “No, sweetheart, we can’t this week.” “But we were there last week?” “Yes, I know, but we are not allowed now.” “Why mummy?” “Because of Covid.” “Is there Covid in the park, mummy?”

Rise in OCD cases

We spoke to a psychologist, who told us that her clinic is currently full of children with OCD and other anxiety disorders as a result of the pandemic. Continuous handwashing, germ paranoia, wear that mask, or you might die! Fear. Caused by an environment of scared parents, stressed teachers, passers-by keeping a ‘safe distance’. Every. Single. Day. They hear it at home, at school, on the street. They are told not to cuddle anyone, share toys, or even talk during lunch when they have their masks off for 30 minutes. Let that sink in.

Two years is a long time for a child. Even one year is an eternity. And I am no psychologist, scientist or other researcher, but I cannot help to wonder how this will have a lasting impact on the well-being and mental health of our young ones. The future generation. The ones who will have to deal with the consequences of the economic crisis as a result of lockdowns. The ones who have been told that being close to people can make you sick. The ones who, perhaps, have also lost grandparents to Covid, and now believe that everyone may die if they are not careful, distant and disinfected enough.

Built up of stress

I want to be optimistic. And I know that children are strong and adaptable. Most kids don’t appear to be depressed. Mine have shown a lot of resilience over the past year, and we certainly do our best to have a family life as normal as possible. We still try and find ways to escape into nature, or go to the beach, on weekends, enjoying a home-made picnic, and some freedom. We have to try and distract ourselves from negativity and fearmongering. But I also see, in my own children, the anxiety and frustration that has built up inside them over the past eleven months, and which may flare up in sudden, unusual outbursts of rage, over nothing. Such a lot of stress, simmering in a developing body, what does that do to a child’s health?

The hospitals are at capacity, the ICUs are full. So we have to do this for the vulnerable, the old and our public health staff. I understand. This is the general story we all know, and I am no Covid denier. I have an enormous amount of respect for nurses and doctors working their asses of to care for so many patients. And I do not want to go into a debate about how many of the dying are actually dying of Covid, or with Covid. Or the fact that nearly all people who die of (or with) Covid, are very old, and had an underlying health condition already.

But nobody is particularly concerned about how our children are doing. They just get on with it. Right?

My children have not seen their nana and grandad in Wales since Christmas 2019. Their Dutch grandparents have also been missing them for a year. We all know how fast children grow. It breaks my heart. When can we hug our grandmothers again? After a vaccine? With a mask on? Is this all worth it? Is it ‘just the way it is’ right now, a sacrifice worth making? Doesn’t nana want as many hugs as she can get in those final years of her life? And do all these rules make any difference at all to the statistics? I have yet to see some facts that stack up and are coherent across all European countries. How many Covid outbreaks are known to have started in an outdoor play park, on the swings?

But I am not looking for a fight. I am making a noise on behalf of the children. Because I want them to be heard. We read about the ‘importance of mental health of children during lockdown’, but in reality, it is never a priority. O

Every week a new set of rules, or a different restriction. We can see our friends, oh no, now we can’t. We can go to the beach, oh no, now we can’t. We can go for lunch. Oh, no we can’t. Because of Covid. “Is Coronavirus everywhere, mummy?” It is confusing for anyone, let alone a child.

On the square in front of our house, a forgotten face mask lies on a bench. A toddler waddles towards it, ready to grab it with her tiny fists. Her mother runs across and shouts in a panicky voice:”No, don’t touch! It’s Coronavirus!” She hurriedly gets her disinfectant gel out of her bag, and tells off the small child. The child looks at her with her big wild eyes. Her mummy means it.

How 2020 made me realise that I had gone in the wrong direction

Creativity runs through my veins. It is my life fuel, my elixir to go back to when I need a boost. Once I have an idea in my head, I am unstoppable. It’s like the energy just keeps flowing, and I feel so alive. Do you know that feeling, when you’ve found something you are passionate about? Whatever you may say about 2020, it’s been a year of transformation for many. The lockdowns, the changes, they have made many of us stop and think, and adapt. 2020 made it clear to me that I had gone in the wrong direction. And something had to give.

It’s coming up to three years now, since we left Scotland and moved to Spain. Moving to a sunny country sounds dreamy and amazing, and it is in many ways, but it also throws you into complete turmoil. It shakes the ground under your feet, makes you wonder who you actually are in this new country, and what you are going to do with your life, now you’re here. You really start from scratch. No friends, no family, no job. Just your husband, kids, a fluffy old cat and a truck full of furniture. And even for me, someone who is, in general, pretty resilient and flexible, it’s been a heck of a process to figure it all out.

Making money, doing the wrong thing

When we left, I felt all eyes on us from afar. “Will they make it? What are they going to do? How are they going to earn money?” I made it my job to set up a business as soon as possible, in fact, even before we moved. I know you shouldn’t care about what other people think, but you still do, and I wanted to show the home front that we were doing great! As Spain is not an easy place to find work, I decided to set up as a freelance copywriter. I thought, that’ll be a good bet, every business needs copy, and I am a good writer. And I wasn’t wrong.

Within a year, I found clients, mainly remote, and started to make a reasonable income as a startup business. It felt good to make money, while living in the sun! I mean, working on your laptop in a café on a Valencian beach…versus sitting in a freezing Scottish office, watching the rain lash against your window? You get the picture!

You can’t beat the blue of the Valencian sky.

But then last year, the Covid-19 lockdowns hit, and I lost some big clients. I felt stressed, and frantically promoted myself online as a copywriter, and luckily, by September, things got better. I had upped my income again, and even earned more than before. The thing was, I started to hate it. Writing web copy for a plastic cosmetic jar factory, an About page for a drone rental company…blog posts for a lease car business. Product descriptions for posh sinks and bath tubs! It was becoming soulless. The money was coming in, but the fire was going out.

On a journey back to my values

In October, while my husband decided to go away for a month to walk the famous 800km Camino the Santiago, I went on my own journey. An internal one, just here at home, in my office. I don’t know where this pull came from all of a sudden, but one thing led to another, and before I knew it, I signed up for an online business course. I started to follow money mindset coaches and business mentors, for goodness’s sake. That was a first! I bought new notebooks, did lots of journaling. I was changing. And you know where it brought me, in the end? Back to my passion.

In three months time, I rediscovered the thing that I really want to do, and what I have done nearly all of my adult life: working with creative entrepreneurs. Writing about shiny bogs and taps just ain’t cutting it when you are an artist at heart. I was missing my quirky, creative tribe! I had made ‘Soulful Living’ the tag line of this blog, but was I doing it? Nope, I had drifted away from my own values.

Photo by Alex Baker images

Marketing help for creative entrepreneurs and artists

So here I am, three months on, and I am very excited to share my new venture with you all: The Creative Business Coach. I am going to coach and train up creative entrepreneurs on how to become more visible online. In my 20+ years of working in the cultural sector as arts marketeer and audience development consultant, I met many artists, and one thing was always very clear: they find it hard to promote themselves. The lack of marketing skills, confidence and sales techniques is holding many creatives back, and I believe there is a need for change. Art is work? Well, you bet it is.

So what about the copywriting? I love writing, I love blogging, I love creating content – and storytelling is part of what I teach my clients. I am a writer at heart! So I am not giving that up. But staying true to your values also means choosing to only work with clients who you love working with. Being selective, and saying yes to clients when you feel a real connection, and the project excites you.

Have you gone through a similar transformation recently?

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What we can learn from our children this year

I’ve been feeling like a high pressure cooker lately. Just done. Boiling over regularly. Anyone else in the same boat? The stresses of this year, family life, work, and let’s not forget the freaking c-word. The other day it was late afternoon and I just had it. I broke down in front of the kids. Boiling over again. But what my son said to me then, changed everything.

“What’s the matter, mummy?” he asked, looking at me, as I sat there on the floor in the hallway feeling sorry for myself, coat still on. “It’s ok, sweetheart, mummy is just very tired!” I replied. “This year has been so horrible! I have had enough, I just want it all to be over.” The boys looked at me as if I was talking Chinese. They were still wearing their face masks, as we’d just come in from outside.

We had a nice year

Then my eldest, who had turned nine a few days earlier, said: “But mummy, this year wasn’t horrible. Why are you saying that? We had a nice year.” I looked up at him in surprise. He actually meant it. He continued: “We had my birthday, that was fun, and we went to a fun halloween party, and in the summer we went to the swimming pool. That was fun too. And it’s almost Christmas. Why are you saying it’s a horrible year?” I hugged him tightly. “You are right”, I said. “Mummy just needed a little cry. Thank you for cheering me up.”

Stupid coronavirus

I realised it is all so subjective. Our kids see things so differently. And this ignorance is bliss, of course. We get bombarded by the media, let everything get to us. We become angry and frustrated because things are not normal this year. We’ve been robbed from certain freedoms. We fight it so much internally. Store up the anxiety and anger in our bodies, creating havoc on our health. Meanwhile, the kids only focus on their own little world. They are flexible and resilient. Yes, they shout: “Stupid coronavirus!” in the street, but then they run off and play tag. And then they ask what’s for dinner.

Children are so much more accepting and living in the now. No judgement, going with the flow. As long as they get enough love, food, outside playtime and, yes, their beloved video games on the weekend, they’re happy. Face masks? Yeah, ok, wear them. Next year not needed anymore? OK, fine, take ‘em off and forget about the whole thing. No big deal. We turn all of these things into great big stories and fear in our head, adding to our heavy heart. We should play more tag.

The sun will come up tomorrow

I wish I could switch off my grownup brain for a bit. Just be. Not think about what’s been this year or what’s coming next year. Get angry at propaganda in the news, most of it lies. Right now I am sitting in my house, with a meal in the oven, a cup of tea in hand, and happy children playing Lego in the living room. The cat is purring. The sun is going down. Tomorrow the sun will come up again, and the cat will pur, and the children will be playing, and the kettle will be boiling. Nothing more, nothing less. The world may be raging in the media, but here in my house, it is still and peaceful.

And it hasn’t been a horrible year for us. It’s just that everybody is saying it, and it’s just been really unusual. My family is OK, we have work and savings, and a roof over our head. There are waves we must ride, yes, like in any household, and in life, but storms never last forever. It’s been a 10-month tornado, but right now I want to look at my children and see that there is still plenty to be grateful for.

Reflecting on a crazy year; my positives of 2020

This has been the weirdest year ever. Who would have thought we’d be walking around like surgeons, obsessing about germs and basically staying home most of the time? Anyway, as a happy story, I felt, since it is December, that I should try and end on a positive. Time for reflection, to be grateful and to look back on a year when amidst the craziness, there were beautiful things too. Here are my positives of 2020.

Opera singers on balconies

I mean, how amazing was that? You’ve probably seen the videos going viral on social media of the opera singers in Italy back in March, or people singing from their windows. In Spain, it was just like that. Like Italy, Spain had one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe. We were not allowed out, even for a walk around the block. A walk to bins was a holiday. Our kids were literally imprisoned for over 60 days, driving whole families up the walls. We were all going pretty insane.

But while times were weird and tough, I can still recall feeling the glow inside, when suddenly hearing the voice of an opera singer one street down from us (see video), singing Valencian’s anthem on a Sunday morning. The emotion, the passion, the vibrato. The burst of applause and ‘bravos’ exploding from the surrounding flats, once finished. I cried. It was a moment of feeling human, standing together, solidarity, because we were all in the same boat.

Heaps of creative online resources

With no option to go out those first few months, people spent all day on the internet. And I mean, thank god for the internet. Because other than the funny memes that kept us all entertained on social media, we were also kept fit by our favourite dance, pilates and yoga teachers who suddenly started doing Zoom lessons. Parents on Whatsapp shared amazing links to virtual museum tours or educational resources, to help each other to spice up homeschooling.

And there were plenty of wonderful living room concerts organised by artists who suddenly saw their world tours cancelled. Did you attend any? I did, and I even bought tickets! While at first, most of these things were given away for free, people quickly got used to the idea of paying for online services, as a way to support creative businesses, and because the output is often of superb quality. You miss the live experience, for sure, but it’s certainly the next best thing.

Time as a family at home

Alright, alright, by May time, we all had enough. I admit, this homeschooling malarkey was just too much for everyone. But the first weeks or even months, it was quite special, having the kids at home all of a sudden. No hectic school runs, no busy schedules, no shouting ‘where are your freakin’ shoes’ at 8.30am. Suddenly, we were still. We had all the time in the world. Nothing to do, nowhere to go. Even my work got halved as I lost a big long term client.

We built towers, we danced in the living room, we read books, we watched films, and we did endless hours of arts and crafts. To me, those first weeks were a real eye-opener. Of how busy we’d been, how we had lost connection with our children, how we had become a family-machine in a way, just surviving and getting through the weeks. I was able to simply see my children, be with them, and listen to their wondrous stories. To me, those months at home during lockdown have been very precious.

Hair dye experiment on the terrace. Why not. We had nothing else to do.

The sheer joy of freedom

But I won’t lie; being forced to stay indoors with two young boys who have so much energy, they should be plugged into the national grid, was no easy task. When the news came that children were allowed out again, it was as if Christmas had come early. We only had an hour a day, and could not go any further than 1 km from home (as I am writing this, I realise the absolute weirdness of it all!), but we explored every inch of our town.

Unknown play parks, forgotten pieces of forest to build secret dens, the endless agricultural fields, and the quiet, empty car parks for learning to ride a bike. Then, late May, when we were finally allowed to meet other people, we really counted our blessings. Sitting on a terrace on the beach, sipping an Aperol Spritz, and having a laugh with our long-lost friends, was just a relief. Freedom should never be taken for granted.

Not a bad day to celebrate freedom after lockdown

After the rain… fresh opportunities

With no tourists coming to Valencia any more, my job as a cycling tour guide for 2020 was cancelled. My copywriting jobs were also rapidly slinking, as my biggest client was an estate agent in Spain, fully dependent on expats buying second homes. I suddenly sat at home with loads of time but hardly any income. I seriously wondered if it was better to stop being self-employed, as I still had my monthly expenses and it was hardly worth it. But, me being me, I decided to keep going and looked for fresh opportunities.

Over the summer I registered myself on various platforms such as Fiverr, and after a few weeks of accepting low-paid jobs to build up testimonials and becoming more visible online, the better paid jobs were slowly trickling in. When I also started to work on money mindset, and I took the plunge to up my prices, things really started shifting. I started attracting much better clients and much nicer jobs. I since have tripled my income, despite a difficult start of the year. With so many people starting online businesses, the need for great website copy has surely gone up.

What have your highs been this year? Did you start a new business against all odds? Did you discover the joys of working from home? Have you created new habits? Leave a comment below!

When life gives you lemons…upcycle your skills.

Imagine being a happy freelancer, doing what you love, and then from one day to the next, all contracts stop and you have no idea when work will pick up again. Yep, it happened to many this year, as we all know. Ryan Godwin was one of them, a theatre set builder from London, now living in Valencia. Like everywhere in the cultural sector, all work suddenly disappeared when Covid arrived, and not just in the UK but across Europe. How does a theatre set builder reinvent himself in times of a crisis?

From flipping burgers to West End shows

“I always liked making things, being creative,” Ryan says, as we sit down in his big rough and ready workshop in the area of Cabanyal, near the beach. “I actually ended up as a set builder in the theatre world totally by accident. I was flipping burgers at an event, and got annoyed by stuff strewn on the floor of the van. So I just built some shelving to tidy it up. Turned out the owners of the burger place were West End actors. They were impressed by my carpentry and introduced me into the theatre world in London. That was the start of a 10-year career. I since worked as a set builder for many West End shows, major TV/film productions and events, including the London Fashion Week and the X Factor. It’s been a fascinating job.”

Upcycling business Valencia

“In 2019 I fancied a change though, and with set builders from the UK having a good reputation across Europe, I managed to secure some big jobs in Spain and Italy for 2020. So I was looking forward to continuing my trade, but now based in Valencia. Unfortunately the pandemic threw a spanner in the way.”

“I was faced with a sudden harsh reality of sitting at home, in Spain, with no work, a loss of identity and feeling quite depressed as a result, to be honest. I didn’t know what to do with myself. There was no work for any of us in the industry. I heard of colleagues back in London being contracted to build coffins instead. It was grim. It’s only been a few weeks or so that I am beginning to pick up the pieces.”

Upcycling business Valencia

Spice racks and bedside tables

This Autumn, Ryan decided to go back to his trusted carpentry skills and start making things for fun. Usable stuff for the home, made from scrap wood, which he finds in the street. First just some shelves, but people like his work, and he has already been commissioned to make a set of bedside tables. He is now making coffee tables, spice and wine racks, bookshelves and other unique pieces of furniture, from his Cabanyal workshop. In a corner of the large brick, industrial looking space, stand a number of cool looking pieces of furniture, made out of recycled wood. One of them a coffee table made from slats, on top of an old metal single bed frame.

Upcycling business Valencia

Upcycling old wood and telling its story

“It feels good repurposing old wood, it balances things out for me.”, he explains. “You wouldn’t believe how wasteful the set building industry is. I once worked as a set builder at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park and remember being horrified by the sight of four articulated lorries stuffed full of wood that had been used for the food stalls. None of the material could be reused, and was taken straight to the dump, only because it was covered in some food or oil. There are companies who take stuff away for recycling, but half the time it just ends up in the incinerator.”

Ryan finds usable wood and other materials left next to bins and in skips in Valencia, on the streets, anywhere, and keeps it from going to landfill. He takes stuff apart, cleans it, cuts it to size, sands it down, finishes it, and turns it into beautiful designs. “It’s fun creating things. I am a big fan of history and love the fact that something has a past. I try and leave the patina, so you still see some of that history in the wood.” He is slowly expanding his collection, trying to find out what people need and like, and then making it. An online shop is in the making too.

Ryan decided to name his new venture Made in Valencia. But perhaps it should be called re-Made in Valencia. After all, it’s not just the wood that’s been given a second chance.

You can find Ryan’s upcycling business in Valencia currently on Facebook.
His set building work can be found on his website.

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From grandma’s stuffy cupboard to statement designer piece. Meet Roc.

Mid-century modern furniture is often so beautiful and timeless, that it needs very little more than a clean and a polish. Sleek lines, minimalist looks and striking features, even after so many decades, those Scandinavian style sideboards, coffee tables and armchairs from the 1950s and 60s still look gorgeous. But some pieces become even better when someone with a good eye gets their hands on them. Caroline George of Roc Studio in Edinburgh, is one of those people. Her signature style includes strong geometric patterns to enhance the shape of the furniture. Today I am interviewing Caroline to find out more about her creative business.

Caroline, tell us more about yourself! What is your business and what do you offer?

I am the founder of Roc Studio and I bring unloved pieces of furniture back to life with my surface pattern designs. I source furniture myself, often mid-century classics like G-plan or Ercol, or customers can bring in their own pieces for a contemporary update. My business is in Edinburgh, which is also my home, where I live with my husband and two children.

What made you want to start this type of business?

I started my own business upcycling furniture already 11 years ago. First it was called Trash furniture, but it has since evolved into Roc. My degree is originally in fashion and textiles, but after working fashion for a bit I fell into interiors. I worked as a visual merchandiser at Habitat which fuelled my love for all things decor. After that I worked in property, staging and designing show homes for an upmarket developer. In 2009, I decided to turn my passion for vintage furniture into a business and I still love it. I am passionate about using what we have, being sustainable and creating an eclectic home and this is very much in the spirit of Roc as well.

What do you love most about your work?

The freedom of working for yourself is great, I kind of make it up as I go along, but it means I can pick my kids up from school and be there for them. It is not always easy juggling everything, but I wouldn’t change it.

How do you choose pieces and what is your creative process with them?

Most of the pieces I work on are a bit battered and in need of some TLC. A client might come to me with a piece of furniture or sometimes I already have a piece in my workshop, which needs an update. I don’t like to overdo the furniture and am quite minimalist in a way. I tend to work with the lines of the furniture, so if it has round handles for instance, then the design might feature circles. I always try and use colours for my designs that really bring out the beautiful warm tones in the Mid-century teak wood. Often, the client will also have an idea of the designs they like, a colour scheme in the room it sits in, or sometimes it’s just a piece of art work that they like that I can take some inspiration from.

It is quite a process from start to finish and can take many weeks. It’s not just a lick of paint and a few new drawer knobs. Usually I strip the piece of all the old varnish and if anything needs fixed then that gets done too. The doors might come off for painting, or the drawers stripped for new felt. There is always more work than you think, but the end result always makes me happy and my customers, which is the most important thing.

How has the 2020 lockdown affected your business?

At first, it was all such a shock for everyone. But I tried to keep going and then suspected I had the virus, which put me out of action for a couple of months, as I was very ill. I recovered though and still had a couple of commissions to do, so I have just continued working. Luckily my clients keep asking for furniture, so I am still surviving! I just need to keep my fingers crossed that it continues into 2021, but I stay positive.

upcycling business uk

How do customers find you, and what are your business challenges?

During lockdown, I built my new website, and I was really proud of myself that I got it done. I have an online shop on there now too, which is a new thing for me, and something I would like to build on next year. I am on all the usual social media channels, and I am trying to get better at PR and putting myself out there! Time is also always an issue. There’s never enough of it to fit everything in, so that is definitely an ongoing challenge for me. And knowing my value. Creatives are notorious for undercharging and over delivering!

What is the next step for Roc?

My goal is a bigger workshop next year with space to make my life easier. I would also like to take a holiday, haha! And I have been saying it for a long time now, but I would love to design some new products that are not quite as big as the furniture. And although most of my clients are in the UK, and especially in Edinburgh and London, I recently shipped furniture to the Netherlands, and I am now looking into shipping to Italy.

You may spot some Roc pieces where you are soon. If you are interested in seeing more of Caroline’s designs, have a look at the Roc website.