Rising to the challenge

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April 9, 2014 by Sian Rowland

I can’t believe we’re into the second quarter of 2014. As a freelancer that means a new financial year and brand new spreadsheet ready to be filled with exciting opportunities. Or something.

I set myself some new challenges at the start of the year. I wrote down a list of challenges I could fit in around my work in spare minutes here and there.  I wanted things that would help me grow in some way and keep me on my toes so I decided to try something new or different every month. They have overlapped a bit this quarter so here is the first quarter report on my Try Something New challenge.

Challenge 1: Swimming

I kept meaning to get back into swimming but needed to find a nice local pool. With the opening of the brand new Streatham leisure centre at the beginning of the year I had no excuse. I’ve been swimming every week this year and feeling stronger and fitter… if not leaner. I’ve been very excited about my bargain £3.97 goggles which are amazing and make me feel more like a serious swimmer. I’d even do a nod of recognition to my fellow speedo and goggle-clad swimmers if I could see them. To give me something to aim for I signed up for the Sport Relief Swimathon to do 60 lengths (1.5km). It was a big target for me and I worked hard to make it. It was also fun to do and I raised some money for charidee at the same time. And as Dory from Finding Nemo might say,

‘When life gets you down do you want to know what you’ve got to do? Keep swimming, keep swimming, keep swimming.’

What I learnt: goggles are awesome; swimming is brilliant for a crunchy back; the showers at Streatham pool are lovely and hot; lunchtime lane swimming takes less than an hour; it doesn’t hurt to take time out of the working day to do something healthy; I was able to raise some money for Sport Relief at the same time. 603593_10152398407191209_77923885_n

Challenge 3: learning Spanish

A friend and I booked a cheap and cheerful week in Lanzarote for February so I decided to learn a bit of Spanish. I was good at languages at school but was ushered into learning German when I really wanted to learn Spanish. I had no aptitude for German whatsoever and while I mangled the simplest sentences to the eternal anguish of my teacher, next door the Spanish class sang songs, ate tortillas and roared with laughter.  I always felt like I was missing out on something cool and fun. My husband and I have taken lots of evening classes in Italian so we can chat with our Italian friends so I thought I might have a head start. I was both right and wrong. I started learning Spanish with the Duolingo app on my phone. It builds up basic vocabulary and grammar and you type in words and sentences, speak simple phrases and play word games. You work through modules such as ‘animals’, ‘occupations’ and ‘colours’. You track your progress on a graph and it tells you- rather bossily- when your next practice is due. Although I had no call on holiday for illuminating sentences such as, ‘the monkey eats bread but the cats eat cheese’ or ‘my sponge is blue but my broom is green,’ I did pick up the basic structure. With my knowledge of Italian and some basic vocab, I was able to follow conversations. I watched Gameshows ¡Ahora Caigo! (Who’s Still Standing?) and Atrapa Un Millón Diario (Million Pound Drop) on the fuzzy tv screen in my apartment and was able to follow and answer the questions. Everyone in Lanzarote speaks English but I got to speak a little Spanish to the maid and had various conversations  in Italian/Spanish to the barman. He was thrilled that someone had made an effort and gave us free caramel vodka shots (nicer than it sounds) to celebrate ¡Hurrah!

What I learnt: Monkeys eat bread and cats eat cheese apparently and I could ask for a blue sponge if I ever needed one; verb structure is different to Italian but lots of grammar is similar; people love it when you make an effort with their language; caramel vodka is delish *hic*

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Lanzarote. It is brown.

Challenge 3:  Guest blogging

This blog is about freelancing and the highs and lows that go along with being self-employed but I’m also a writer. My next challenge was about writing occasional guest blog posts on proper writing websites. And it’s a real challenge writing for someone else’s audience. You need to get the tone right for their site and work out what their readers might be interested in. I sent a pitch email to Charlie at Urban Writers and asked if I could write about how I used her goal-setting planner to focus more in my writing. I then pitched to Lucy Hay for her amazing website Bang2write and asked if I could write about what motivates me when it all gets too much. Both times I wrote a pitch email and then sat with my finger hovering over the ‘send’ button. Both times I walked away without sending and a head full of ‘well they won’t want your crap when there are so many people better than you’ type thoughts in my head. But a challenge that is easy isn’t a challenge and I had written it on my plan so I took a deep breath and pressed ‘send.’ Both writers said yes and I’m really excited to have my stuff on their pages.

What I learnt: it’s terrifying sending a pitch email into cyber space but it’s better to have a ‘no’ than wonder ‘what if’; some people out there are interested in what I have to say. Some; guest blogging doesn’t necessarily mean you get more followers or traffic on your own blog; if it’s written down in my notebook then I have to do it!

I’m already well into Challenge 4 and yet to decide 5 and 6. What have been your challenges for 2014 and how are you getting on with them?

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2 thoughts on “Rising to the challenge

  1. I’m using Duolingo for Portuguese. Fantastic little app.

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