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What My Experience Fitting a Tap Has to Say About Tenacity
Over the past month, I’ve been trying to fit a new tap into the kitchen sink of my rental home. I have zero plumbing experience but was assured by multiple followers and YouTube videos that it was a pretty straightforward job. I asked around and friends had told me they’d paid between £150-£300 to get the job done by a professional in London, which is absolutely fair enough, because tradesmen and women can charge whatever they can get. But I was not paying that for a rental home, especially as I know that my brother, dad and grandad would have all done it themselves.
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I studied the videos intently; purchased the equipment I was advised to and ordered my £25 tap from eBay marketplace. What could go wrong?
For those of you who followed the journey on my Instagram stories, you will know the answer. For the rest of you, suffice it to say I was hampered at every hurdle. From non-existent stopcocks, seized taps, botched piping held up with string, boiling water spraying in my face for 40 minutes, boilers that wouldn’t turn off, taps which didn’t fit, nuts which didn’t fit, nuts which wouldn’t unscrew… I had to re-install the old tap twice. Typing this I can barely move my left wrist from the wrenching RSI. There were so many junctures I could have given up. When the external water tap wouldn’t twist for example. Instead, I stalked a passing Thames Water road worker. There was a moment while I was walking down the motorway (it has a pavement, lol) to get a new wrench when I did think, mate is this worth it? When the kids had to brush their teeth in mineral water because I’d left the house without water at bedtime, I certainly did some introspection. Both my fiancé and mum would have called a professional after step one didn’t work out. There is zero way they would have been lying on the floor with a plastic pipe bend digging into their coccyx. Life is too short they’d counsel. Why, when I get the bit between my teeth, can I not accept their assessment and just give in?
Call it grit, relentless tenacity or pig-headed stubbornness, however you want to term it, psychological resilience has been both the curse and blessing of my life. Living with someone like me can be infuriating, especially when it was time to quit about a week ago. I am constantly being told to let things go, both at home and in my professional life. Often, I go too far with blind persistence and knowing when to throw in the towel is a challenge I haven’t entirely conquered. Would I throw good money in the pit after bad? Probably yes. Does inevitable failure put me off? Not entirely. If I went on Grand Designs would I lose my marriage, go bankrupt and find myself residing in subsiding concrete? Not out of the question.
I’ve written about motivation here before, but this is the other part of it. We’re constantly being told that the generations of youth and relative youth – Gen-Z and millennials respectively – lack the perseverance needed to succeed. That life has been too soft on us so we can’t cope with even the smallest setbacks. I don’t identify with this at all. For most of us, the economy has been in some kind of downturn, spiral or recession every year since we left education. Living standards have nosedived, the cost of breathing has skyrocketed and we’ve danced with Trump, Brexit, Covid, the biggest sea, air and land war in Europe since WWII, inflation, a run on banks, culture shocks, climate change and a general air that the whole world is going to hell in a handcart. Sure, we can work more flexibly and people talk more openly about traumatic experiences. You don’t have to hide your agony in the way you once had to. But snowflake? Please.
My take on tenacity is that it is entirely rooted in self-belief, not some amorphous social expectation of your inner mettle. No matter who you are, at some point, life will crush your hopes and dreams into smithereens. No level of privilege insulates you from tragedy, roughly translated, all life is suffering. People you love will leave you, you will encounter sickness and injury, you will make mistakes and hurt people and they will hurt you back. The world will keep on spinning with its own set of nightmarish challenges which are completely and utterly out of your hands. You might work for 10 years for something that means everything to you just to watch it be snatched out of your hands at the last minute. You might watch your child or parent die and your heart may never beat the same way again. Life is cruel on a macro level and on the micro, it’s a daily grind. This is all just a given, providing the canvas for you to brush on the strokes of your life. Bleak AF, soz.
In the good news, if you can keep moving within the mêlée, you can achieve *big* things. If you can train the voice inside your head to say, ‘you can do this,’ you more often than not, can. I’m not big on the old manifesting malarky, but I do believe that intuitive optimism is absolutely part of the story. If we zoom out and look at the obstacles to your goals from afar, it’s easy to see that it’s often people based. On one hand you have the people ready to tell you to give up. Sometimes they do this without an ounce of malice – they just want the best for you. When my mum suggested that I stopped interning on fashion magazines after a year of not earning a dime, she did it because she saw how crushing the experience was, how exhausted I was at working 7 days a week and how much it was battering my esteem. She never stopped believing in me, she just wanted things to be easier. It took another full year for me to get there, that’s another 52 weeks of free graft often 9am-9pm with a daily four-hour commute. That was the price to get a toe in the door in media in the mid 00s and I dug deep every day to arrive. I watched hundreds of other girls fall by the wayside and then hundreds of my own interns do the same over the decade I worked on a fashion desk. How could I keep going and why didn’t they?
The story goes that it’s the school of hard knocks which builds tenacity. The more blocks you stumble over then get back up from, the more self-belief you will have to encounter the next, potentially even bigger obstacle. Looking at my youth, I don’t see so many major hazards which would have hardened me for true grit. My parents divorced when I was young, and I didn’t have an easy time with my dad. I did have a lot of responsibility as a child, but that’s the story of nearly every single parent family. Perhaps my experiences as a stage kid (I know) helped, with auditions and dashed hopes as a pre-teen. I did also fail my cycling proficiency test twice and I was genuinely bereft when I didn’t get into Oxford with my intense UCAS application. But mostly, my youth was a story of hard work translating to solid advancement and achievement. To me, that is the real crux of building tenacity: it’s far easier to be resilient when you know there is a result and a reward at the end and there really is.
As I’ve matured, I have learnt that that result and reward isn’t always what you dreamt of. In fact, they might look very different, taking your life on a trajectory you hadn’t ever considered. You don’t always get to choose the outcome of your efforts, but graft always leads to something. It is never all in vain. I often think about the months of carrying my daughter who didn’t make it, the sickness, the trauma, the heartbreak. For a long time, I’ve not been able to reconcile that with any kind of result or reward. But there is no doubt that she changed me, as a parent, as a friend, as a human. The price was far too high to pay, but it wasn’t all for nothing. Every time you try, every time you toil, every time you stick your heels in and sweat for something you passionately want, it means something and that colours your life forever, even if it’s just adding a steely alloy to your backbone.
Going back to last week’s post about trying to make it in London, there are many, many people who have told me to give up. To buy where I can more easily afford, to move somewhere more realistic. I grew up somewhere realistic. I could (just about) afford my childhood home in the suburbs. I could commute into town a couple of times a week, there are great schools nearby for my kids and people I’ve known all my life. But even writing these words makes my fingers burn. I 100% do not mean to say there is anything wrong with that area, or any other. There’s nothing better or worse about the countryside or the north or Timbuktu. They are just not my place. I would never dream of telling a Cornwall or Manchester or Outer Hebrides dweller that they should up sticks, leave their lives, their friends, jobs and aspirations to move to the frenetic capital. For so many people it would be a recipe for a mental health crisis. Ergo, vice versa for me.
No-one likes a whiner, especially one living what is objectively speaking a bloody lovely life. While I am a long-term admirer of stoicism, I’ve never managed to master a stiff upper lip. I definitely process on the go by releasing the stress and frustration before reining it back in to move forward. That can be really un-fun to witness, but internalising worry tends to do terrible things to your insides, no matter how nails you are on the outside. On one hand, if you are going to try and do something hard and extraordinary, which requires tenacity, you have to expect that it’s going to be fricking horrendous at times. Complaining about it when you had the choice to do something easier can definitely be galling for others who have taken the straightforward route and probably don’t want to hear about it. Quite rightly someone might think, you didn’t have to change that bloody tap, why should we have to listen to the trials and tribulations? Put up or shut up. On the other hand, if I just pretended that I’d merely glided from A to B, if I simply popped up a tap to tidy button and didn’t show the gnarly bits what kind of message would I be sending? It would be a lie, right? Inauthenticity at its finest. I always think that somewhere out there, there could be an 18-year-old girl from Kent or wherever, who has an ambition to do something which no-one she knows can help her with. She doesn’t have a role model, or perhaps even anyone encouraging her. Maybe she’s only got people around her telling her it’s not possible. Or someone just desperate to cheer up their house, be it a rental or not, but they’re scared they wont be able to do it seamlessly. I want them both to know that it is possible. They can do it because I did. But I also want them to be clear-eyed about the sacrifices it’s going to take and how relentless it might feel as the goalposts move. Getting the pitch right between being a whinge-a-thon and transparency is one of the hardest aspects of sharing life experiences, I know I don’t always get it right.
Tenacity is now second nature to me; I’ve got that muscle memory. But if you have often found yourself backing away from your goals as the going gets increasingly tough and know only too well that voice in your head confirming the voices of negativity outside, it’s a bitch to break those thought patterns. I know all the wisdom these days is all about the work you do on yourself, but whenever I have glimmers of self-doubt, I lean into my community, many of whom have almost unshakable self-belief. Simply being around people who are positive and believe they can achieve incredible things rubs off, it’s why I’ve gone back to LA and New York so many times in my life, to drink from the font of the relentless upswing. Yes, it’s also a bit eye roll, but man, British cynicism can seep. You are the company you keep, so do the best to put yourself amongst people who inspire you, that believe in you, that encourage you. Conversely, run like a typhoon from those who seek to amplify the doubt — that is the ultimate red flag there are no redeeming qualities which can make up for a neg.
Being really clear on what you want to achieve and why is also so fundamental to keeping things going when you reach a low ebb. I always maintain that focus is everything and you can’t split your reserves and resources too far. It is so much harder to keep the faith if you’re trying to move home, get a promotion, start a family and tick five countries off your bucket list. What are your priorities? If you had to pick one achievement that would turn the dial on your happiness what would that be? For me right now, it’s to create a wonderful home while keeping my family and professional life ticking on. When I’ve done that, I’ll refocus on to a new priority. During that time, I’m not going to suddenly be coming on leaps and bounds in my professional life—you can’t have it all, everywhere, at the same time. Fighting battles on multiple fronts is far more likely to end in defeat.
Problem solving and being nimble is another really important aspect of tenacity. With any goal, you start out with this preconceived idea of your path, and it inevitably is nothing like that. It is always harder, more complicated and asks more of you than you are often aware you have to give. It’s so important to ditch that early route map and work with what is in front of you. I didn’t expect to be getting a divorce at 30, but the only way to get back towards my goals of having a family life was to start by filling out legal forms and finding my birth certificate for the solicitor. Everything is a critical path, but one in which major spanners are inevitably thrown in the works.
And if you hadn’t gleaned from everything else above, failure is just success in waiting. Aside from my professional travails in my 20s, to become a ghostwriter in consistent employment in my mid-30s, I had to start by writing three proposals, spending I don’t know two months on each for free, only to have them all rejected. One of the authors didn’t even get back to me. I’ve also written two other proposals for books under my own name which won’t see the light of day. I’ve had articles spiked by editors on magazines and newspapers, I’ve been made (partially) redundant as an editor myself. I’ve seen the career that stalked my dreams evaporate behind a porous paywall and had to come up with a new plan. But I know the tens of thousands of words typed and poured down the literary drain, were all part of the process. They made me a better writer; they were the preface for what was to come next. The fact I’ve had to pivot so many times to use my skills in so many different formats has just made me a better storyteller. It sounds trite, but if you haven’t achieved your goal yet, you’re just still getting there.
In my 40th year, I am living the life I imagined in so many ways and even more than that, I’m the woman I always hoped I would be. I have travelled the world, eaten at the restaurants, worn the dresses, had the rollercoaster relationships, met the most inspiring, unconventional, challenging people and built networks of friends who have become family so far beyond what I could have ever expected. It has not come without knock backs, nothing worth having does. It is never too late to change the habits of a lifetime, and by starting small – perhaps training for a 5k fun run, or learning a new language for your summer hols, or yes, fitting a bloody tap on your own— you build your determination for bigger things. Tenacity isn’t genetic. It’s not God-given. It’s a skill to be mastered by anyone that is willing to learn and build up from day zero. But grip on tight and it will take you places, hopefully beyond running cold water.