Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Moving with the times

Modern Life: A 60-Minute Guide, Henley Town Hall

Panel: Daisy Buchanan, Chidera Eggerue, Emma Gannon and Katherine Welby-Roberts

SITTING in the audience listening to these beautiful successful women share their joys and challenges has had an interesting effect on me.

Whether we like it or not, whether we feel connected or not, we belong to a generation. Yes, we may be able to relate to the one before us and the one after us, but coming of age in different years helps to shape us.

These millennial young women really brought home the effects of growing up digitally aware and involved. Between them they represented so much of what is contemporary.

As the panel’s interviewer, Daisy did not mention her book but the theme is that extended period between childhood and adulthood and finding out how to be a grown-up.

Emma’s output looks at how we have moved from the idea of a job for life to having portfolio careers that follow our passions. I am doing that myself with counselling, writing and workshops.

Katherine expanded the discussion to talk about mental health — how we are overwhelmed and yet expect so much of ourselves.

Chidera brought in the concept of beauty — who decides what is beautiful and how can we get to self-acceptance?

In some ways none of this is new and in other ways it is all new. Because of the way we live, everything is amplified and recorded. I really admire what I see as bravery in putting so much of themselves out there. They live and share in the present. They are beacons for a generation seeking good answers to difficult questions.

I was struck by Chidera’s response to a question where she said that because they make good use of selfies, etc, on social media there is “an illusion of ease but we are overwhelmed with ways of expressing ourselves”. So just as older generations made difficult things look easy, so this generation does the same.

This brought the discussion on to the topic of information overload. The panel were not just of a switched-on generation, but they had chosen to use social media in their careers, so now keeping up to date requires consuming a vast amount of ever changing content. How do they do it?

The consensus was that there would be a backlash as we can’t continue as we have been doing. Katherine admitted to keeping up in “fits and bursts” so as not to feel overloaded.

Chidera and Katherine touched on what happens when you share your story and others identify with you so much that they expect you to help them with their issues. Now they have to navigate a new challenge that they had not anticipated. How to support where possible without giving themselves over to a cause?

Once so much is shared online it remains public. Katherine talks of squirming now when she thinks of what people may have read about her, in her own words. It helped her to heal but she is not still in that place. They really have to trust that as readers we will recognise that they are on a journey and that what was true last month may not be true today.

Listening to the panel felt like eavesdropping on colleagues discussing the joys and challenges of their role. They are making active choices now and reflecting on the impact these are having on them. They shared the struggle in finding ways to switch off from the world, knowing they should but finding it hard to do so. They are conscientious.

Thankfully they can tell the differences between followers or fans and real friends. Emma also mentioned a podcast interview she did with the singer Will Young on the same subject.

Katherine, the only mother on the panel, is expecting her second child and very aware of the impact of motherhood on her body, her energy and her emotional life. The women also touched on the way social media leads us to compare ourselves with others.

It’s never been clearer to me that there is no perfect generation. Looking from one to another you see the things you wish you had in your generation but for everything that looks better they’ll be something that is more difficult. We only know what it’s like to live in our time and it’s about making the best choices from what is available.

Living online is so precarious, souls laid bare. I have managed to dabble in different parts of social media without much consistency but that also means I am not yet consumed by it.

As a parent and a counsellor, I know that modern life can be overwhelming and we constantly need to determine our boundaries and priorities so as not to get swamped.

Shirley Anstis

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