Finding Happiness in Work and Avoiding Deceit!

With the population of the planet nearing 8 billion people, it makes sense that finding a job you’re truly passionate about is going to become more and more challenging. After all, the more people who roam the world, the more competition there is for any given job. Working a job you hate can make your life feel truly miserable: what’s the point of working if you aren’t happy? One thing I’ve found recently, while meandering my way through the job jungle, is that most jobs suck because you’re required to behave in a manner that is ultimately not entirely moral. This post also gives me an opportunity to rant about my most recent job and warn people of its entirely sketchy nature!

The Psychic Company

image via Clyde Fitch Report

So I’m going to start off with the best example of what I’m referring to. This section will serve as a rant but also as a warning as I feel that those who take part in such activities should be made aware of the deceitful nature of these companies. So let me start off by explaining the job: I was hired by a company called “The 7th Circle” and yes, it’s as crazy as it sounds. My job was to connect calls between people wishing to receive psychic readings and the psychics giving said readings. The job title was often referred to as a “psychic’s assistant”.

I took this job because desperate times call for desperate measures. The premise initially sounded fair. People call up and make appointments. I wouldn’t be selling anything, simply connecting calls. If they had so much as mentioned sales I would have been straight out the door. However, I soon learned that there is a sales aspect to the job (although my 4 days of employment prior to quitting didn’t give me enough time to reach that stage). However, there were some truly grizzly details that began to tear away at my very soul.

My Stance

image via Daily Express

I don’t believe in horoscopes, psychics, astrology, or anything that can be associated with magic crystals. However, I have no problem with connecting people to psychics if that is what they want to spend their money on. I mean it isn’t really any different to religion. One thing I realised early on was that this company knew they were being sketchy. For example, when signing up new clients one question you have to ask is “Do you receive disability payments from your government?” About half of the callers’ answer “yes” which leads to the follow-up question of “Are you financially independent?” So provided that person isn’t using someone else’s money, their disability checks can go straight into the hands of this company.

As I said already, I was only there for 4 days and within those 4 days each and every call grated away more and more of my very being. I won’t go into specifics but one call was from a woman who had just given birth a couple of months earlier and wanted a psychic to tell her whether she should break up with her current partner to be with someone she’d been chatting to online. Another call, which was truly heart-breaking, was someone who had spent all their money and had been forced to borrow money from friends just to hear what a psychic had to say about their life. The desperation was apparent even over the phone.

Calls like this were incredibly common and I started trying to find roundabout ways to basically explain that they shouldn’t use this service. My calls were still being monitored by the “higher ups” but I wasn’t far from just telling every client to use the last of their money on something more substantial than nonsensical calls, particularly when there are children involved.

The Truth about the Company!

image via The Ness

So the name of the company is “The Psychic Company” but their website is something like good-psychic.com (I’ve struggled to find the exact link). Suffice to say that it’s an incredibly popular website with an equally as popular call centre. People have spent 10s and even 100s of thousands of dollars through the service and the weight that they put on these psychics is more faith than I’ve ever witnessed anyone place on anything. As I said earlier, that’s completely fine…provided it’s only their life that they are putting in jeopardy.

The thing is (and I don’t say this lightly), it’s all a scam. As in beyond so much as a shadow of a doubt, it’s a scam. I’m not saying this as someone who doesn’t believe in the practices, I’m saying this as someone who had dealt first-hand with the so-called “psychics” and their money hungry desires. Let me explain exactly what I mean.

The way that we get new clients is via the website. People sign up for a free online reading. This involves giving the website your e-mail address and via this address you receive a “reading”. However, not long after you receive an ominous e-mail along the lines of “someone in your life is jealous of you” or “the love of your life is about to slip away” or “someone in your life is in danger”. All of these e-mails end with something like “call us immediately  to speak to Jenny”.

“Jenny” doesn’t even exist. When these people phone in (many of whom have received the exact same e-mail, word for word) we tell them that Jenny isn’t available right now but that her colleagues are.

The Psychics

Psychics

image via Christian Courier

This brings me back to the purpose of this post: the deceit. As of day 3, I was thinking of quitting. On day 4 I almost walked out halfway through the day. By the end of day 4 my mind was pretty much made up. I can’t play a role in allowing people to believe that these psychics are the real deal. When I was being shown the ropes, one of the “tricks of the trade” was to ask clients whether they are interested in speaking to a psychic about love and relationships or careers and finances. Their answer does not matter! They are connected to the first available psychic who is then informed beforehand that this client wishes to focus on one topic or another.

The psychics themselves are miserable. I don’t mean “oh, they deal with a lot of negative energy that messes with the functionality of the heart chakra leading to energy blockages and a messed up feng shui energy”…no, I mean that these people know that they are lying to vulnerable people. They know as well as I do that everything that comes out of their mouth is absolute bullshit! Each call ends with the assistant telling the client “Grace would love to speak to you again; she even has a date in mind just for you”.

For people who claim to believe in karma and spirituality, it seems surprising that they are so happy taking up to $7.50 per minute from people who are claiming benefits from their government. Now, not to sound judgemental here, but none of these people are working on the cure for cancer. They aren’t reading books or trying to better the world. They don’t care about global warming, the bombings in Syria, space exploration, the abortion debate, sweat shops, tensions in North Korea…you get the idea. They are content living their lives week to week because psychics tell them that better things are coming. Hope is great…but remaining financially stable (particularly when you have children) is more important.

The Rat Race

Psychics

image via YouTube

This job (and other like it) is all about deception. It’s not about providing a service, it’s about convincing people that they need the service, even when it doesn’t better their lives in any way. It’s one of the reasons I find advertising to be such a shitty thing to exist. It rarely benefits us. It’s almost entirely about convincing us that we need something that we don’t.

Now, if these psychics genuinely believed in what they were doing and didn’t use sketchy tactics to lure people in, I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with it. Like I said earlier, people can believe what they want and spend their money on what they want.

Yet this is a pattern that emerges throughout the job industry. I recently moved to Barcelona and upon arriving I took a job as a Segway Tour salesperson. I loved the sound of it! My job was to drive around on a Segway to find people interested in paying for a tour. The tours involved a group of people riding from landmark to landmark on Segways, stopping at each to learn a little something about it. Sounds good in theory, right?

Not really. Given the size of Barcelona and all the truly remarkable sights you can visit, the tour locations are by far the least amazing areas one could think of. Not only that, those giving the tour typically didn’t speak very good English (despite there being native English speakers such as myself working there) and generally speaking they didn’t offer any great insight into the tour destinations. This job was made worse by the crazy hours in the sun (keep in mind that I’m a pale-white ginger man from Scotland: I’m used to 15 degree summers with 3 days of sun a year) and the fact that we’re only paid commission. I don’t mind selling something that is worth people’s money but selling half-assed tours to boring-ass locations…no thanks.

Hard Work and Dedication

Psychics

image via Inspired 2 Go

By this point, I’m sure some of you think I’m just recoiling at the thought of working hard. I want to take a moment to discuss the job I had prior to moving to Spain: Costco. At the time, I didn’t hugely appreciate my job there. I always felt like I was meant to do more than stock shelves…but in hindsight, I realise that the job was building up to something bigger. I worked hard in that role and I enjoyed doing so. I’d take on extra hours, I’d volunteer for training in new areas, I’d help coach the newbies, and I even went to London and Paris to help set up their stores. Had I always dreamed of working there? No…but it was honest work.

I think the problem stems from the idea that we’ve been raised to believe that jobs like that are beneath us. I know that’s how I viewed it when I worked there. I now realise that’s far from the truth. I rarely felt absolutely defeated after work (unlike with the call centre and Segway jobs) despite Costco involving heavy lifting, dragging huge weights of stock out to the floor, and dealing with customers on a near-constant basis. Leaving work I’d actually feel more accomplished than anything, even if I didn’t realise it back then. If a Costco opens up in Barcelona (which I believe it will sometime in the future) then I’d happily work there.

Whether the work itself is tiring or not isn’t actually what leaves you feeling exhausted. It’s closer related to whether you feel like you’ve A) Exploited people in order to earn a very small amount of money (I was getting less than 5€ an hour for the call centre job) and B) Do you feel like what you’re doing has benefited your life in any way? At Costco I was constantly learning new things. Would I use these things in day to day life? Probably not…but I was also being very physically active and communicating with customers face to face. If you’re doing a job that relates to point B, it will probably work perfectly fine in the short term.

Does this Apply to Freelance Work?

Psychics

image via Hub Pages

So I’m circling back around to the job that I currently do: freelance writing. You may be thinking to yourself that as a freelancer I have more scope for choosing the sort of work I do. The answer is yes and no. When starting out, I had no option but to take shitty, deceptive jobs. This would include making up reviews for Amazon products (such as violins or headphones) or copywriting the work of other people. Are these moral jobs? No, of course not…but when you start out these are the only employers who will hire you.

As I’ve improved my profile, my ratings and my presence on the site (and off it), I’ve been able to choose work that closer aligns with my core values. Currently, I’m writing the audio guide content for a app that covers cities such as Rome and Bruges. It probably works out that I’m paid less than minimum wage but I feel proud of what I’m doing and I know that people are going to benefit from my work. It also improves me portfolio as a writer.

I was about to ask if this was the choice we have to make: a job that pays well but destroys your soul or a job that offers a feel-good factor while paying your pennies? But then I realised that Costco was pretty well paid, certainly one of the higher paid jobs in the retail industry. Also, the call centre and Segway sales jobs paid nothing (which is true for both examples as I literally made no money from either venture).

Final Thoughts

Psychics

image via Deviant Art

This post doesn’t really have any major point. It doesn’t propose a ground-breaking theory or discuss a hugely relevant topic. However, I think it does offer the opportunity to consider whether this is the world we live in. Does chasing your dreams mean that you’ll struggle to pay bills each month? Do we have to abandon our preconceived notions of success and instead focus on jobs that don’t make us lose all our faith in humanity?


Thanks for reading! Are you working towards your dream job or do you believe that life involves working less than ideal jobs in order to enjoy our time outside of it? Let me know down below! 

Don’t forget to follow me on here and on Twitter to stay up to date with my posts!

If you have anything to add or perhaps a suggestion for a future post, leave a comment!

Peace!

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Freelancer: How to Avoid Scams and Find Solid Work!

So if you’ve read any of my posts before, you’ll be fully aware that I tend to rant about stuff (hence the hugely unimaginative name for my blog) and perhaps you’ve even read my previous Freelancer post which details by almost entirely negative experience when taking the initial steps towards becoming a freelance writer. Today, I’m going to try and summarise some of the main points that can help you to not only find solid work but avoid all the dipshits who will try and take your time, money or both. I’ll throw in a few personal experiences here and there but ultimately I’m going to try and keep this as concise as possible…something I inevitably failed to do!

What is Freelancer?

Freelancer

image via CareerLancer

So Freelancer is a hub, of sorts, whereby freelance workers can find employment (and vice versa). I hate many, many, MANY aspects of it because the site, it’s rules and it’s charges are absolutely criminal…but once you start finding work, you can’t help but look beyond these downsides. It should be noted that if you can find work ANYWHERE else, I’d recommend doing so. I tried UpWork but even once my profile was approved I couldn’t find a single job. So this post will focus solely on Freelancer but I’m sure much of what I’m going to say here can be applied to other similar sites.

Main Freelancer Scams

Freelancer

image via Get the Gloss

Again, if you want to see the negative side of Freelancer (which is the side that greets you upon joining) then you only have to head over to my previous post on the topic. I’m sure you’ll be able to feel my rage through the screen. Freelancer is not a friendly place! Not only are many, many people looking to rip you off (one way or the other) but the staff and their “rules” are not going to help you out in the slightest. Sure, if you report someone then they will deal with it…but if you lose money or don’t get paid then they pretty much just leave you to struggle with it on your own. As such, I’m going to take you through some of the common problems you will likely encounter, how you can avoid them and some of the tell-tale signs of a scammer.

Stealing your Time

One problem you are almost guaranteed to encounter is people who don’t pay you. I know, I know, you’re wondering why I’ve titled this section “stealing your time” rather than “stealing your money”…trust me, all will be explained! So when you accept work from anybody, you essentially enter into a contract with them: in exchange for you completing the tasked job, they will pay you the agreed upon amount of money. In an ideal world, that is exactly how it would work. Freelancer is far from ideal.

Any time you start off with a new employer, you run the risk that you’ll work your ass off and then they’ll simply take the work and vanish. When I first started out this happened to me a lot! There are of course some simple steps to take in order to avoid this from happening. We’ll take a look at these in a moment.

Stealing your Money

Of course Freelancer is in many ways an investment…an investment that will not pay off if you can’t avoid the scammers. As I mentioned before, Freelancer will do NOTHING in relation to your money. Here’s why this is a problem for you: Every single time you accept a new project, you get charged a fee. This fee varies but is usually an absolute minimum of 3 pounds, dollars, Euros or whatever else. Long story short, you have to pay to work for an employer. You’re essentially betting that they will pay you. We’ll touch on this in more detail during the next section but one thing to keep in mind is don’t hastily accept projects without discussing details with employer first.

Also keep in mind that people can be dicks…and so you might accept a project that sounds great and then the person just leaves. Sure, you don’t lose any time because you haven’t done any work yet…but you do lose money. I was spending more money than I was making when I first started out and the staff at Freelancer refuse to do anything to help because freelancers being ripped off benefits them. The system isn’t broken; it works exactly how they planned it.

These are basically the two main issues you’re going to encounter. So how can you avoid these? In all honesty, I’m not sure you can completely. When you first join the site you have no reputation at all. Nobody paying a decent amount of money is going to want to employ you and so you need to dive into the murky waters and just hope that the greedy river goblins don’t drag you down under!

Avoiding the Scammers

Freelancer

image via R Capital Associates

Let’s take a look at the simplest methods for staying away from these scummy pieces of shit! I’ll write this based on the assumption that you’re completely new to Freelancer and therefore have no reputation, no reviews and often no choice but to aim low.

1. No Reputation or Information

The first red flag is a pretty standard one. If the profile contacting you is brand new (especially if it was made within the last week) and is blank, then they probably have no long term plans for the site. Sometimes, when you click on a profile, it will take you to the employee page instead of the employer page. This means that even a reputable employer may appear to have no reviews. You can always ask the employer if they’ve work on the site before and you can ask for a direct link to their employer page if you’re having any problems.

Similarly, if the profile has a small number of reviews but ultimately still appears largely blank, this can be a red flag. You don’t want to rely entirely on the reviews as many profiles will work with other profiles to give fake reviews. Obviously if they have an incredibly large sample then you have less to worry about. A blank profile alone isn’t enough to ditch a potential employer but its the first red flag out of what could be many.

2. Taking Work Off-Site

This is something that the Freelancer site will reiterate to you over and over again…of course, the reason they do it is because they don’t want their site to be used for networking and then to lose out on off-site financial transactions. They also claim that it relates to their ability to help site users but that’s absolute bullshit. Not once have they helped me in any way and they won’t ever, ever, EVER give you any money back.

However, not a single person who wanted to move the conversation off-site was fully trustworthy. One of them even paid me for half the work and then just disappeared from the face of the world. Bearing in mind that half the work was about 12 articles! I keep using free versions of copyscape to try and track down the work that I did for them! Other examples include transcribing jobs that involved working over a long period of time before being able to “claim” money. Sketchy projects like these should be avoided where possible.

3. Always, Always, ALWAYS Use the Milestone System

When you first start out, you’re going to come across a lot of incredible sounding jobs. These jobs will often state straight away that payment is every Tuesday or every two weeks or even every month. I even had someone try to hire me for 6 months of work, claiming that I’d get paid at the end. Even if the project sounds like your dream job, keep your expectations low and remain level-headed.

The simplest way to root out a scammer is to demand that you’re paid for each piece of work. You don’t have to be aggressive or rude about it. For example, whenever I bid for a project I always mention that I work strictly through the milestone system. To clarify this point, I’ll confirm with any potential employer BEFORE accepting the project that payment will be for each portion/piece of work. Any respectable employer will agree to that. After all, you know nothing about this person. Are you just supposed to take it on faith that they’ll keep their word?

Once you start to build a professional relationship with someone and you know that payment won’t be an issue, you can begin to cut back on the use of the milestone system. For example, my current employer started off by paying me per article, then every two articles. Once I started getting regular work, this spread to once a week and now I tend to just wait until I’ve completed the project in its entirety before asking for payment. So my advice would be to set up any sort of milestone just to find out if a potential employer is actually willing to pay or not.

4. Get ALL the Details before Accepting a Project

Again, this may seem like common sense but once you start finding projects that sound interesting, it can be a natural reaction to jump the gun a little bit. No matter how compelling and detailed a project description was when you bid for it, establish everything you can about the project within the chat function on the site. The more details you can compile within this window, the better. Ask questions such as: When is the deadline? What sort of work is it? How long does everything need to be? What is the total payment? How will the milestone payments be divided up? What style of writing will it be?

You’re probably wondering why this is so important prior to accepting any project. It actually serves three functions. For starters, it helps root out scammers from the get go. They tend to reveal details that simply sound sketchy or they will try to keep certain details from you. Secondly, it will stop you from accepting a project that will be hell to complete. I’ve made the mistake of accepting a project with very few details and while they only took a few hours to complete, it was painfully dull. The problem is that as soon as you accept the project you’re financially invested and so to just breakeven, you have to complete the work. Failure to do so not only results in loss of money but also in a negative review. This brings me to my third point.

In the event that your employer tries to dupe you into doing more work and you’re worried that failing to do so will result in negative reviews, you NEED to have all the information at hand. Freelancer staff can remove negative reviews if (and only if) you can provide evidence that the employer was being dishonest or manipulative in some way. So have everything detailed in the chat is a great back-up option.

5. If It Sounds Too Good to be True, It Usually Is

Another worrying scam that I’ve only recently encountered on the site is people trying to steal your identity. Freelancer isn’t the only freelance site but as far as I’ve found, it’s actually one of the easier ones to get work from. Upwork, for example, requires you to be approved. As such, people will steal your identity (sometimes through promising payment for doing so) and will use your face and qualifications on other sites. My encounter with this was a guy offering me a project involving writing film reviews. The pay was good (too good) and he claimed he needed proof of my qualifications and UK residency.

I don’t actually live in the UK but according to my driver’s license, I do. So I sent this scumbag my scanned copy of my university degree and a photo of me holding my driver’s license. I purposefully hid my full address as I was aware that the whole ordeal seemed off. The piece of shit then came up with some excuse like “my marketing manager has just informed me that we need your full address to send you information that can’t be sent online”. On that note I reported him and his account was deleted.

The first red flag should have been the payment though. That’s not to say that you won’t find great offers on Freelancer. I get paid more now in two weeks than I would in a month at my previous job…but you have to weigh up everything about the employer, the work and all the other aspects I’ve mentioned so far.

6. Use Freelancer as Intended

The final point I’m going to mention is related to other project types that you may come across on Freelancer. As I mentioned in the last point, people may try and employ you to set up profiles in your name and with your experience on other sites. This will typically involve uploading confirmation photos, forms of ID, etc. Don’t…just don’t! These are never, ever, ever going to end well and you’re just allowing yourself to be noticed in a negative light on these other sites. When I first started on Freelancer, I fell for one of these scams because it sounded simple.

For over a month, this person used a profile that was in my name and with my photo and information. I refused to give up complete control of the account and when they refused to pay me (the account had already been blocked by this stage) I simply messaged the staff at UpWork and explained the situation in full. All I wanted was to have my information removed.

Another example is people trying to buy bitcoins. I almost fell for this one and it is only through complete luck that I didn’t. Some guy was looking to buy bitcoins for more than they are worth. I had some spare and thought, why not? What you have to remember is that transactions can be reversed. So this guy sent me like $200 which appeared on my Freelancer account. I was just about to send him the bitcoins, I had everything set up and just need to click “done”…when I thought I’d double check the money…and it was gone. This guy had essentially reported himself to Freelancer who reversed the transaction because it broke terms and conditions and had I sent him the bitcoins, I’d have been down over $100. Just use Freelancer for the jobs it allows. I mean the staff aren’t going to help you with anything anyway but they certainly won’t help you if you break their rules.

7. Freelancer is NOT Your Friend

This point might sound a little ridiculous but it’s something that I’ve mentioned a bit throughout this post. However, after posting this article I decided that I should come back and make this lesson/warning a point of its own: Freelancer is NOT your friend. The staff are not there to help you, they aren’t there to help you earn money, they aren’t there to make sure that you get a fair deal, they aren’t there to stop you getting ripped off. No…their sole function is to earn money for the site and avoid people taking business off-site.

Am I paranoid? Possibly…but not in regards to this. I recently completed a project and in doing so one of my milestones had to be updated to a higher amount. To do this, the employer has to send the employee (me) a milestone removal request. When you receive this request, it comes with the following message:

Once you approve the request, the milestone will be removed from the project. If you decline, the milestone will remain unchanged. However, it’s likely your employer will initiate a dispute process and may leave a negative review.”

So essentially, if you read between the lines here, Freelancer are telling you that failure to accept this change (regardless of what the change is) will likely result in the employer giving you negative feedback.

I subsequently ended up on another page and found this:

Please note, the only way to gain feedback and reputation is to be paid through Freelancer.com. The higher your reputation, the higher you will appear in the bid list for future projects. 
Freelancers with the highest reputation are earning hundreds of thousands of dollars per year!
Remember to communicate regularly with the employer. Lack of communication is the leading cause of problems.

Even when they are trying to sell you the idea of joining Freelancer, they are still trying to stop you from taking money or work off-site. I can understand this from a business perspective but shouldn’t customer support be the priority? This company is so focused on earning money that their moral compass spins Beyblade (90s reference).

Assume that Freelancer will not support you, no matter how right or wrong you may be, because chances are they won’t!

Finding Solid Work

Freelancer

image via Tech Juice

Obviously, the main goal of any freelancer is to find solid work. Going from project to project, achieving very little experience or money is not a great long-term plan. When you first join, you’re going to be slightly disadvantaged but everyone starts off in the same position. In this section I’m going to share some tips for finding solid work.

1. Flesh out Your Profile

This one should go without saying. If your profile is blank, you don’t have a picture, you haven’t uploaded any examples of your work into your portfolio and you haven’t worked a single project yet, then you’re unlikely to find any long-term work. Take some time to really sell yourself! If you don’t have examples of any work then write some. I simply used previously written blog posts or university essays as mine. Simply edit them, make them presentable, and then upload them. It’s really that simple.

2. Take Advantage of Freelancer Offers

On top of charging you fees per project, Freelancer also has the audacity to limit site functionality to those unwilling to pay for a membership. When you’re starting out on Freelancer, using the free membership is going to be extremely challenging. You only get 8 bids and it takes about 90 hours for just 1 bid to regenerate. However, they will often offer trial memberships for new members and if they do, take it! I got about 300 bids with my trial membership. Just remember to go on and deactivate the auto-renewal. I simply set a reminder on my calendar for the day before it would renew and then I cancelled it.

If there aren’t any trial memberships available, I would recommend paying for one month of membership. Starting out on Freelancer is all about building up a reputation and with 8 bids, that’s going to be nearly impossible. Look at it this way, you’ll likely use up all 8 bids on your first day and in order for you to regenerate all 8, you need to wait 30 days!!! Obviously the bids regenerate one at a time so you won’t be completely without bids but getting work with a blank profile is challenging and you really do need as many bids as possible.

3. Start from the Bottom

Step 3 is unfortunately not a fun one. When you’re new to Freelancer and have zero reviews, you’re going to have to do some boring-ass work. Not only is it boring but it pays practically nothing. You need to just look at it as an investment. As long as you’re making enough money to at least cover your membership (if you had to pay for one) and your fees, then do anything you can. Find work that is simple and quick!

My advice would be to go for small pieces of work that require little to no time. Even if you do them for free, most reviews are done per project so if you do 5 or 6 small projects that take maybe two or three hours then you’ll already be off to a great start. This is the only time I’d suggest working for the middle men (something we’ll touch on in a moment). Ideally, you want to get each small piece of work from a different employer but make sure that it is related to the work that you want to do. For example, if you want to write creatively, don’t do SEO or copywriting. Do creative writing! Only move to other areas if you’re struggling to find any work at all.

4. Demonstrate your Ability

Working through Freelancer is one way to demonstrate you writing ability (assuming that that is the area of work you’re doing) but you need sources from outside the website as well. The more ways that you can demonstrate your passion for your work, the more likely it is that people will hire you for more long-term projects. If you’re planning on doing blog writing, then start a blog.

I have three blogs on the go at the minute: this one, my mental health/travel blog and a random weed blog. So I cover a range of different topics. If you don’t have the time or energy to start your own blog then you need to at least contribute to an already existing blog. If you need a way to do this then follow this link and you can write a guest post on my travel blog. Then at least you can send evidence of your work.

Similarly, if you’re trying to enter a niche area of writing, you need to demonstrate a passion for it. I regularly contribute to a movie review site called Movie Babble, where I’ve written about Braveheart and Star Wars movies. Why? Because I love writing about movies and it’s the area I hope to one day work in. Even if you only write one guest post somewhere, it’s just another piece of evidence that demonstrates your ability and passion.

5. Avoid the Middle Men

Now, this one is going to seem a little strange and ultimately, you may choose to ignore this step depending on the sort of work you wish to be involved with. The “middle men” are employers who are part of an agency. Working for them is going to pay very little, involve incredibly dull work and rarely benefit your exposure (if at all). This is how the middle men work:

They bid on as many jobs as they can find (sometimes on other websites). They then hire people like you to do the work, paying you half (sometimes less) of what they are getting paid. Typically, they give you multiple pieces of work involving various types of writing and payment is usually delayed quite drastically. You then get one review for 6 or so pieces of work while their profile gets a positive review from you and from the original employer. This then boosts their profile and allows them to get more and more projects.

I suggest avoiding these people for two reasons. A) They are shady as fuck! That’s not really a reason but I felt like I should mention it. As I said a moment ago, payments are always delayed, you’re paid very little and they are awful at leaving reviews. When you’re starting out, it can be a handy place to start but once you’ve already received several reviews, you need to move away. You can get solid work from such people but you will not make much money doing so. B) Allowing these people to win more and more project bids means there is less and less work going directly to Freelancers. It just creates more of a long-term problem.

6. Build Relationships

When you’re starting out, you’ll find that you build relationships with people. If they only offer you pennies for work and they are nothing more than a stepping stone then just forget about it and move on…but if you’re writing frequently for them and you know they’ll need more work in the future then don’t be afraid to ask for more money. For example, if you had written for the same employer for a few months because the work was pleasant enough but the pay was a little less than what you needed. Wait until you’ve completed a project and when they offer you a new one, simply state that you can only do it for an increase in payment.

Similarly, if you work for someone and the work isn’t incredibly boring but the payment isn’t great, provided it isn’t taking up too much of your time, it can be useful to continue doing the work. To give you an example, when I first started out and had reached the stage of clawing my way out of the mud, I got work writing blog posts about Pompeii, Italy. My employer and I got on well, I did everything to his guidelines and met all expectations and as I enjoyed writing about the topic, I continued to do so. Was I getting rich? No…but I was still getting paid, still getting reviews and creating more examples of my work, ultimately creating a higher level of exposure.

Now, I’m working once again for the same employer but this time I’m writing information on Ancient Roman structures for a Rome guide app. I love learning about history and Rome is one of my favourite places in the world so the opportunity is excellent. Not only that, but once it’s completed and released, I can download the app and demonstrate it as my work.

7. Exposure

Exposure isn’t as big an issue when you’re first starting out. That being said, the more published work that you can get your name attached to, the better. This is usually a problem when you’re starting out as most of the work isn’t related to you. You might be doing someone’s psychology homework (true story) or gathering information on types of violins (also a true story). So in these instances you’re not going to be involved with the process beyond supplying your work.

However, if people are asking you to write blog posts or something similar, then getting your name somewhere on the website (or at least getting a link that you can send future potential employers) is a vital step. That adds to the previous point of developing relationships with your employers. If you can get to know them and ask for your name to be credited somewhere (even if it means you’re paid slightly less) then it’s worth doing.


Thanks for reading! Are there any other insights I can offer you about freelancer work (particularly on Freelancer) or do you have any questions? Let me know down below! 

Don’t forget to follow me on here and on Twitter to stay up to date with my posts!

If you have anything to add or perhaps a suggestion for a future post, leave a comment!

Peace!

The Quarter Life Crisis!

As I near the age of 25, I’ve come to realise that there is an aspect of life that nobody warns you about. I don’t think any adult as I was growing up ever mentioned their 20s as being a time of horror or confusion. We always hear about the clichéd mid-life crisis where in the movies someone in their late 40s/early 50s randomly decides to dye their hair or buy a motorbike. But what about the quarter-life crisis…why is that never mentioned?

Perhaps you’re wondering what I’m talking about. Maybe you’ve never heard the term before and you’re wondering how anyone could have a crisis at the age of 25. Surely I’m just being dramatic, right? Well, I wish (and perhaps even hope) that that is indeed the case. Sadly, there seems to be a growing body of evidence that I am moving across the border from “young adult” to “adult”. This isn’t a friendly border that greets you with flower necklaces (or Leis) and champagne. No, this is a hostile border with armed guards and vigorous, even invasive searches. It marks a change: one where you begin to realise that you’re not that young anymore. I mean if you compare yourself to others, you may seem young but you know in your heart that there are doors closing behind you that will never be open again…and it’s a little terrifying.

The Hair!

Mid Life Crisis

image via WordPress

So what is actually going on? Well, a receding hairline for one. That’s right, the male-pattern baldness gene which I always knew was inevitably coming my way has finally been activated: Similar to a Treadstone agent from the Bourne movies. One of the worst things about this is that once you become aware of it, you feel like it’s constantly getting worse. I’ve always had thick hair and after a few months of not getting it cut, I usually feel like I’m wearing a door-mat on my head. Yet as I near the 3-month mark I can run my hands through my hair and notice how unusually thin it is. It feels wispy and it serves to remind me of what my grandparent’s hair was like not long before their death.  Many people can go bald and own it but I have an abnormally large head and baldness would not suit me. I have the perfect comparison picture which I’m going to upload above. In fact, since you’re reading this, you’ve already seen it!

The Teeth

Mid Life Crisis

image via Luxtimes

My teeth have started to become a problem as well. I’ve always regretted not getting braces because my bottom teeth are all over the place but not quite erratic enough to create any medical issue…or at least they weren’t. When I first started writing this post (about a month ago) I had been suffering from wisdom tooth pain for 6 months. Not from one tooth or two teeth but three wisdom teeth. Luckily my dentist assures me that they’re just moving but aren’t creating any long-term damage. I still have this fear that my teeth are all moving like continents and that the removal of wisdom teeth (if it eventually happens) won’t change that without braces (which cost a small fortune and would look bizarre on a 25 year old balding man!

The Body

Mid life crisis

image via YouTube

I’ve also found that going to the gym has started to become more difficult. Where I used to be able to laze around for months, only moving off the sofa to eat, wash, use the bathroom, sleep and then return to the gym with a similar level of strength. I now find that even when I’m regularly going to the gym, my strength isn’t improving. This could be down to diet but if anything my diet has improved: I’ve cut out refined carbs as much as possible and I certainly eat less junk food. I’ve barely touched alcohol so far this year and my drug intake has also been drastically lower. By all accounts my gym game should be the best it has ever been! Yet even finding the motivation to go is a challenging endeavour!

This doesn’t even touch upon the sore feet and legs I get from going down the couple of flights of stairs from the flat to the street outside. I can run quite happily and my legs barely suffer (at least that was the case the last time I went for a run) but small walks seem to rip the energy right out of me.

Another thing is my metabolism. I’ve always had an incredibly high and efficient metabolism and my flatmate used to describe me as “carb-resistant” because I could live of carbohydrates and not put on any weight…but over the last 6 months or so, my metabolism has been starting to slow. In truth, this could be due to a number of things but part of my always knew this day would come. I’ve joked about it with people in the past: about how one day it will all just hit me and those chippies for lunch and bags of sweet and sugary drinks that I consumed over the course of two decades will suddenly take their toll.

The Mind

Mid life crisis

image via WakingTimes

A quarter-life crisis isn’t limited to just physical effects though. I find myself feeling mental side effects as well. These are most likely due to my sudden awareness of the physical aspects but it’s still all a bit bizarre. I’ve never really been a night owl by any means. I mean on nights out I can stay up as late as anyone but on a day-to-day basis I’ve always leaned more towards an early night (unless I’m binging a new game like Assassin’s Creed). Recently, this seems to be even more the case as I find myself waking up earlier and going to bed earlier. As of this morning, I was naturally awake at 6:58 and up working by 8.

Of course now that I’m living in Spain I should have adjusted to having siesta in the heat of the afternoon (which is a whole other topic on its own). Instead, I find myself feeling pretty awake until about 5 and then the rest of the evening I can barely function due to sheer tiredness.

That doesn’t even cover the other impacts that aging has brought on. Where I used to be able to binge TV shows and films, I find myself getting bored. In truth, this could perhaps be a positive change as I spend WAY too much of my time watching movies and TV shows…but when I’m going to be bored regardless, at least I could stick a film on that I’d seen a million times already and still enjoy it.

The Money

Mid life crisis

image via The Oklahoma Eagle

Now, before I start discussing money it is important to realise that some stereotypes are based on facts and as a Scottish person, yes, I tend to be quite tight with my money. I can think of many examples through my life where I chose not to buy something simply because I didn’t want to spend my own money. Granted, the opposite of this has also been true where impulse has led to me returning from work with a Playstation 4 (which I returned the next day).

Yet now, more than ever, I find myself thinking about everything I buy. My mind focuses on the work aspect i.e. how much work do I need to do in order to cover the cost of what I’m buying. Do you have data limits set on your phone? I have similar limits mentally set on my bank and when I reach a certain level of cash alarm bells ring. Again, this isn’t perhaps entirely a negative development but it does make me full super old. It’s important to realise that I’m not a mature person. I have a bag of googly eyes in my bag that will be getting attached to inanimate objects in the near future!

The Career

Mid life crisis

image via Everyday Author

An additional mental aspect that hits you around this age is your career. When you’re aged 15, 18, 21, even 23, you feel like you’ve “got time”. You’ve got time to go to university, you’ve got time to start a career from the bottom and work your way up, you’ve got time to decide where you want to be in life and put some sort of a plan into action. Time, time, time, time, time! As you near 25, you soon begin to realise that many people already have this plan: they’re working in a job that is taking them towards their chosen destination, they’ve built up a CV with managers who will give them references. Up until recently, one of my references on my CV was the shop where I did my paper round for 5 years!

This fact sort of sends you into an existential crisis of sorts where you start to realise that you aren’t that great at anything. When I was a kid, I wanted to be an author (a dream I’ve since circled back to), then I wanted to be an entrepreneur (until I realised I have the charisma of a log!), then it was a clinical psychologist (until I realised that you needed to have a ton of experience before getting into an entry level psychology job) and so I settled on becoming a police officer (until I realised that I love drugs and strongly disagree with the drug laws in my country). So perhaps it is some form of regression that has me once again knocking on the doors of authorship in search of a career!

The End

Mid life crisis

image via Behance

Strangely, despite my life not nearing its end (not that any of us actually know that…but we can hope) I do find myself considering the mortality of others. I’ll see the parents of school friends and be shocked, even speechless, at how much older they look. When you grow up with people, you never look at them and think “wow, he’s aged drastically since those days when we used to use sticks as pretend lightsabres!” but when you see someone’s parent after some amount of time, it sort of hits you like a brick wall.

This of course then leads you to considering the mortality of other people: siblings, parents, aunties, uncles, cousins, friends, pets…pets especially! My dog is like 12 this year and my last dog died at the age of 13. It’s a little worrying! There is a moment every now and again where I genuinely worry that any day now I’m going to look in the mirror and be unable to recognise myself. What if I’m actually sitting in a home for the living dead right now and I’ve lost all my memories from the summer of 2018 onwards? I look around and don’t recognise a single person, where I am, my own possessions…myself. Do I feel angry? Upset? Cheated? If you lose all those memories and die without them…have you really lived?

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life!

Mid life crisis

image via Genius

I was going on that but it seemed a little dark and gloomy. Allow me to clarify that I’m not regularly fearing the great abyss and the general aging process isn’t what scares me…rather it’s our inability to focus on the present that causes time to appear to whizz by. Time is merciless, it’s ruthless, and it doesn’t waver or flutter for anyone. You can’t tame time: it’s like a winding, powerful, flooded river which froths over sharp rocks and cascades down giant waterfalls. You’re riding along on an inflatable ring, watching as each sight goes by, wishing that you could get a few moments longer to admire the view…but each moment you waste struggling against the power of the river only causes you to miss more!


Thanks for reading! Have any of you hit the dreaded quarter-life crisis? Let me know down below! 

Don’t forget to follow me on here and on Twitter to stay up to date with my posts!

If you have anything to add or perhaps a suggestion for a future post, leave a comment!

Peace!

My First Psilocybin (Magic Mushroom) Experience!

So today (or at least the day I wrote this), after many, many years of building up to being in the right frame of mind, I’m going to experience a magic mushroom trip. I’m writing this prior to taking anything so that you can understand my frame of mind and my expectations. To let you know exactly what my plan is, I have liquid psilocybin and I’ll be taking the equivalent of 1 gram of magic mushrooms. If I begin to trip and it’s not too intense then I might take more with my maximum amount being 2 grams. I’d imagine I’ll probably stick to the 1 gram for today: Testing the waters, so to speak.

I’ve never taken any psychedelics before. I’ve experienced minor trips on MDMA after taking slightly too much (one time I thought I was flying a plane and the other I felt like I was in Assassin’s Creed) but this will be my first time properly delving into this realm. I’ve taken a range of precautions to ensure I have not only a safe trip but an enjoyable one.

For example, I have a reliable person babysitting me (or more accurately, being sober minded and in the same flat just in case I hit a bump in the road). I’ve also written a note to myself explaining that the trip is temporary and that if I start thinking negatively, I should carry out one of several steps. I have a ton of chilled and happy music on my phone that I’m going to listen to at least for the start of the trip to keep me in a positive mind-set.

I’m going to have a notepad with me wherever I am just in case I feel like taking notes but since I have no real experience with tripping, I have no idea what I’ll feel like doing or even be capable of doing. I’ve read up on the topic rather extensively so I understand (as best as one can without having experienced it oneself) what I should feel during the trip. What do I hope to accomplish? At this stage, my only real aim is to experience the trip. If all goes well then I’ll up the dose next time in search of a more spiritual experience. I guess I’ll see you on the other side!

During the Trip

Trip

Image via Faze

So I’ve taken the equivalent of 1 gram of magic mushrooms. I can certainly feel the initial stages. The movement in my stomach was very noticeable at first. Not quite a pain but certainly a discomfort. What is really weird is that I am typing all of this without remotely looking at the keyboard. Somewhat strange that my typing ability has improved while on psychedelics. I DEFINITELY felt the waves that everyone has described. I wasn’t sure exactly what that would feel like. Waves? I wondered…but I totally get it. ‘Waves’ is just the perfect way to describe it.

I felt like I was getting the first set of visuals but that seems to have passed now. I was staring at the duvet cover hanging on the door which is grey with black swirls. To me, it looked as if the duvet cover was being pulled over the door from the other side. I stared at my pupils for a little bit in the mirror while I was in the bathroom peeing there and they almost seemed like they were pulsating but I don’t actually know if your pupils change at all on shrooms or whether it was just part of the visual effects.

I’ve reached the point that I sort of half expected whereby I’ve felt the waves and had some minor visuals but that’s it and I feel like I’ve already passed the peak. So I’m going to take the other 1g worth. I still feel like there is stuff going on but it does seem very minor and not hugely intense. People described it as feeling high or stoned which is very true but even that seems to have worn off a little bit. Like if I was smoking weed I’d smoke another joint by this level. Damn, I wish I had weed…

Dose #2

Trip

image via Tumblr

So here we go, I’ve already taken a 2nd dose. My slight concern (which mostly stems from my experience of taking MDMA) is that just as I take the 2nd dose, I’d fully come up on the first dose. Speaking of which, I can feel it starting to take effect already. I’m getting the same stomach pain (although it’s not so much pain as simply my stomach feeling like its doing stuff) and I’m getting very, very slight nausea but I’d eaten between doses so that’s to be expected.

After the Trip

Trip

image via Daily Express

So I stopped being able to type after my 2nd dose but I did occasionally make small notes in my notebook which I expanded on towards the end of the trip. Where the first dose had led to very minor visuals, the 2nd dose caused colours to change, the floor to move like a conveyor belt, cupboards to appear to breathe and other such things. I stared out the window of my flat a lot and simply watched the goings on outside. There is a square with a play park in it and I was amazed at these kids using their imagination. One of them was pretending to be injured while the other pretended to cast a spell. I felt like I was watching some intense moment of a film.

I did come close to darkness though. During the trip I couldn’t work out what a bad trip would feel like. It was almost like the very notion was beyond my imagination. However, one of the times I was looking out of the window,  I felt it. Luckily I managed to avoid the bad trip itself but here is how I described it in my notepad:

I felt like a bad trip just narrowly avoided me like an asteroid whizzing past the Earth. It was like the shadow was over me. It made me think of Venom in Spider-Man.”

I remember the bad trip almost felt like a life or a presence. If I follow on with the asteroid example, it was like the asteroid was alive and trying to hit Earth. Almost like a Galactus figure (Marvel reference) or something. It was like I could sense impending doom. Sort of like the bad trip eclipsed the sun. Luckily, as I mentioned, the feeling passed by and I was able to continue with my trip.

Back to the Fun Visuals

Trip

image via Today’s Christian Woman

I saw some pretty crazy visuals after the 2nd dose. The ones I made note of in particular were as follows:

  • I looked outside at a line of trees visible from the window of my flat. At this time of year they are incredibly green on a normal day but on shrooms this was even more the case. One tree in particular looked insane! It was almost like it was on fire but without burning (Moses eat your heart out). The flames weren’t red or orange but rather they were gold or silver. They reminded me of one thing in particular. If you’ve ever driven on a hot, dry day you occasionally see puddles that aren’t there. It was like the tree was glowing and burning but with these puddles rather than fire.
  • There is a clock on the wall in the living room which I found myself staring at for what felt like a long time (it probably wasn’t). The clock was like a planet being bombarded with colourful dust which made me think of like solar radiation. Everything other than the clock was almost blurred by this dust/radiation but the clock itself was crystal clear.
  • I had lined up some photos from the Hubble Telescope to view during my trip. I enjoy looking at these photos sober-minded but I figured staring into the universe might be quite fun under the influence of psilocybin. It was certainly an experience. I found that the pictures not only changed colour but also appeared to move. At times it felt like I was watching a live stream of some distance galaxy. The fun thing was that new aspects of the images would appear such as stars I hadn’t noticed before. It became a little too intense so after 5 or so photos I decided to move on.

Embracing the Darkness

Trip

image via Science News

I found myself (after the peak of the 2nd dose) going to bed. Not to sleep but rather to meditate. My eyes were super sensitive to light and even with an eye mask on and my eyes closed, my brain was still detecting too much light. I closed the blinds and all the doors, put the eye mask on, closed my eyes and found myself still not in complete darkness. I could feel myself being drawn towards the geometric swirl that to me resembled a black hole. As I drifted towards and into it, a calming, quiet darkness enveloped me and I felt at ease. I was listening to a Sam Harris meditation from YouTube which I turned off about 5 minutes in because it was actually more distracting than silence.

Unfortunately, silence opened me up to hearing neighbours arguing or at least talking very loudly. Music and voices were too much for my brain so I decided to put some white noise on. The static was actually very relaxing and the strange thing was that it started to sound like a waterfall.

Eventually, when the shrooms were really beginning to wear off, I decided to just look through photos and videos on my phone while curled up in bed. Hunger soon overwhelmed me and getting out of bed marked the end of my trip. I still felt the presence of the drug in my brain but there were no physicals effects or visuals.

Reflecting on the Experience

Trip

image via Flickr

As I mentioned at the start, the purpose of this trip wasn’t to blow my brain or search for a spiritual experience. It was simply a test run to allow myself to adjust to the effects of the drug. Now that I know the stages and have an idea of the feelings, what works for me and what doesn’t, I can increase the dose during my next trip to 2.5/3 grams worth of magic mushrooms.

I would love to try it out in nature. Perhaps not in Spain because I think the feeling of being in “unknown” territory would play on my mind a little but in Scotland I can think of several locations that would be isolated enough to comfortably take shrooms out in nature. I think that I’ll also be sure to have weed (in the form of pre-rolled joints) during my next trip. The comedown wasn’t horrible at all but I think it would have been drastically improved be a little smokey smoke.


Thanks for reading! Have you ever tried psilocybin? Is an experience that intrigues you? Let me know down below! 

Don’t forget to follow me on here and on Twitter to stay up to date with my posts!

If you have anything to add or perhaps a suggestion for a future post, leave a comment!

Peace!

My Meditation Experience

 

I had this weird experience while listening to the Sam Harris guided meditation on Youtube (find a link at the bottom). Just to clarify before I go any further, I’m not religious whatsoever. I would class myself as spiritual but I’ve never really had any major experiences with my consciousness, even while meditating. I’d meditated many, many times and while it has been beneficial, my experience was never particularly bizarre. So for maybe the 10th or so time, I listened to this track. It also started off fairly routine with the focused breathing and becoming aware of sounds in the room. But when I first started becoming aware of my consciousness, I felt it expand.

Imagine the sun expanding and swallowing the Earth but rather than being yellow, its black, or at least very dark navy blue. It was like I was sinking into an expanding sun. Maybe it was more like a black hole. It got darker and darker the further I sunk.My heart rate actually increased and I could feel myself beginning to sweat. I almost lost my focus at this point because it was such an unusual experience for me. I guess it’s kind of similar to when you realise you’re lucid dreaming and get too excited and ultimately wake up. Luckily, I managed to concentrate on my breathing enough to continue.

When the audio reached the part where you open your eyes, I felt like what I was seeing wasn’t there: Like by opening my eyes I wasn’t seeing the outside world but more a projection of it. Like it could be real but more than like a screen was just turned on in my consciousness. I guess it could be compared to when a blank tv is turned on or a game loads up. The difference being that it was connected to the very base level of my mind. This was one of the creepy parts of the meditation as it made me feel like someone had just loaded reality onto my brain’s TV screen. I may not even be where my eyes are seeing. It could be like controlling a drone as it flies miles away. I guess that is kind of similar to how vision works.

When I closed my eyes again I started to notice bizarre feelings. Why were they bizarre? Well not only could I feel them, but I could also see them. The pressure on my back from the seat I was leaning against was a red wire or rope going straight from the bottom of my consciousness right up to the top. The seat colour itself was also red but that may have just been a coincidence as I couldn’t see or really remember the seat at this point in time. I could see my feet touching the floor as a green string, also going from the bottom to the top of my conscious field. I could see my hands touching my knees as bluey-green wire. This is where things started to get really trippy!

As I moved my hands, the string moved. Not necessarily because of the movement itself but more because of the change in sensation. Wiggling my fingers made the bluey-green strings vibrate. The more sensations I created, the more they vibrated until they became a sort of wiggle. They resembled a fluctuation chart going from its highest point to its lowest point over and over again: Like rolling hills that swoop down into sunken valleys. The weird thing was being able to experiment with this. Moving one part of my body and watching as the coloured string vibrated differently depending on the physical sensation I was feeling.

As I reached the second part where I opened my eyes, I felt my consciousness expanding (the same feeling of the sun expanding). I felt like I was in my head but also leaving it at the same time. Like my point of view stayed the same but the reach of my consciousness grew. It soon felt like I could reach out with my consciousness. Like at any moment I would make contact with the ceiling or the floor or the piece of paper that I could see. That at any moment I’d feel it as if I was touching it with my hand. I felt like my consciousness was a balloon gradually inflating. The centre of the balloon or sun stays in the same place; much like my centre but it is still expanding and reaching further.

So yeah, this was my most interesting and unique meditation experience (up until the day before I wrote this, I’ll write about that one soon). I’d had times where I’d come out of meditation at the end feelings a little strange or different but this was the first time I’d had proper visuals. Not to mention the whole expansion of consciousness feelings. I’m not sure that’s what people mean when they use the term ‘expansion of consciousness’ but that’s how it felt to me.

 

 

As always, feel free to comment with any questions or opinions. Hit the subscribe button to see more of my random-ass posts. Alternatively, follow my new and still empty Twitter @BakedHaggis to keep up to date with what I’m doing. Thanks for reading!

 

Sam Harris Meditation Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OboD7JrT0NE

Also, check out Sam Harris’s book Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion which is where I first found this guided meditation and learned that I could be spiritual simply by viewing consciousness differently and without having to believe in a God.

Freelancer: Why get paid FOR work when you can pay TO work?

So I recently moved to Spain with my girlfriend. I don’t speak Spanish (although I am learning, just very slowly) and I have yet to find a job. I’ve only been here a week but I came to terms with the fact that without a basic understanding of the language, finding a job could be quite challenging. So my solution was to find a job online. I’d started looking before I moved out here and had discovered two freelance writing websites that basically allow you to do writing, data entry, proof-reading, etc for people and get paid to do it. Now, my writing ability is at an average level. It certainly isn’t the highest quality but I can manage the basics at least. So off I went and created my profiles on these websites. The first one, called UpWork, has repeatedly rejected my profile from being accepted onto their website. Apparently they have too many people who match my skills and experience level. So I moved onto the follow-up: Freelancer. I entered with optimism and I left wondering why I would ever have viewed it as anything but a waste of time and money. It all sounds perfect in theory but time and time again I learnt a valuable lesson: People are pieces of shit and Freelancer.com controlled by either morons or scum…quite possibly both!

So let me admit that there are definitely some positive aspects to the site: For one thing, it seems to be very easy to use and navigate your way around, everything seems to work how it’s supposed to and their systems for finding work that match your skillset are pretty good. Of course, that doesn’t remotely begin to make up for the rest of the bullshit you have to wade through.

First of all, in order to get a job you have to “bid”. Now as a free user, you get something like 8 bids which slowly build up again over time. Every project you bid on will have anywhere between 15-120 other people bidding on it as well. If any of these people has a reputation then it is automatically seen as better than your lack of one. So automatically you start off at a disadvantage. Getting your foot in the door is nearly impossible and you end up having to take on huge workloads for practically nothing. Of course Freelancer offers the opportunity to take their tests in order to display your ability. For example, the most frequent one I saw was a ‘level 1 English (US) Test’ which, even as a UK native, I think I could pass. On UpWork you can take as many tests as you like, all of which are completely free. On Freelancer however, this is not the case. This absolutely basic test costs you £5. That might not seem a lot but just keep track of these small costs as we go along and you’ll begin to see why it’s an issue. Luckily for me (or unluckily) Freelancer were offering a 2 week free trial of their “premium membership” which gives you 300 bids. Considering I had used all 8 of mine up in one day, I figured I may as well agree to the free trial and just make the most of it for those two weeks. I mean if it works out then it might even be worth paying for: this premium membership usually costs £19.95 per month. You apparently receive a list of benefits with it but from what I could see, the only useful items were the extra bids and the shiny orange logo that appears on your profile to display your premium status!

So I got to work bidding on projects, contacting people and trying to make my profile a bit more sellable. I added examples of my writing from my blog, as well as some of my academic writing and I even cut down a research report to make it a bit more manageable and uploaded that as well. So as far as I could tell, I displayed my experience and ability for all to see. I didn’t get much of a response on the first day but on the second I thought I’d found the ideal job. An “employer” wanted me to write 5-6 500 word articles every day, 6 days a week. I mean the articles themselves were hardly riveting but it allowed me to work on my writing and research a little bit and get paid to do so; I wasn’t going to start complaining…yet. The issue with this first person was that they’d asked to take communications off Freelancer which I now realise is a major red flag. At the time, I figured that maybe people preferred to discuss things off Freelancer as the site’s chat function is incredibly annoying and tends to be more of a hassle than anything. So I completed my first article, sent it to the guy and got ready to start the second. This was when I received a job offer from another person. The pay was better, they were going to set up the payments through Freelancer and the articles seemed a hell of a lot more interesting. I figured why not do both? So I got to work on this new article, finished it quickly and sent it to the guy. This is where I started to realise how naïve I had been. I messaged the guy on Freelancer and soon discovered that his account had been closed. I had already received an email from Freelancer stating the amount of money I’d earned from that job so I figured that at least I was going to get paid…no. You see, despite the fact that Freelancer takes a percentage of any job from the employee, that money is taken BEFORE you get paid for the job. I mean if they don’t’ have the sense to see the very obvious solution to this then perhaps they are just a group of people who share one brain among 30 of them. So in essence, I had just paid Freelancer £5 so that I could write an article on headphones. I made my first contact with Freelancer via the live chat function and explained that I just didn’t understand: how could they take money from me if there was no guarantee? Obviously (I say obviously, but clearly you require significantly more brain power than those behind the curtain at Freelancer) the smart thing to do would be to take that “deposit” from both parties and in the event that one side bails or turns out to be a scam, then the innocent person gets their money back and Freelancer keeps the other. That doesn’t even cover the time and effort already wasted. I was in the unfortunate position of still having to do articles for the other guy but I wasn’t about to have my time wasted any further: I told him that unless we did it on an article to article basis, then I wasn’t about to complete any more for him. He started preaching about how he wasn’t a scammer and how I’d get all the payments at the end of the week but considering this was all off Freelancer, I decided not to bother. At least I hadn’t paid any moronic deposit for the opportunity to do his work. I mean if Freelancer can’t even provide any sort of guarantee then I wasn’t going to hold my breath for dealings going on outside the site.

So off I went again, searching for some more reliable sources of work. I quite quickly found a man who needed several pages of text proof-read and corrected. He didn’t have any ratings but he agreed to pay in milestones. So I figured that this time I had nothing to lose. I started sorting through the work, making all the corrections and I messaged him as each page was done. At the start, he had told me that he needed this work completed within 3 hours. I went by that deadline and within 3 hours I messaged him to await further instructions. No reply. I messaged again and again, getting more annoyed with every hour that went by until I just took a deep breath and moved on. So now I’d been scammed out of work but I’d also been scammed out of work without even sending it to the person. Who are these people that go on and just waste people’s time and money like that? I’d just lost another £5 to Freelancer for doing work that I didn’t get paid for. I messaged them via the live chat again to find a solution to this problem. The person I talked to didn’t seem to grasp the concept at all. I mentioned the 3 hour deadline and kept getting responses like “it’s only been 3 hours, they might be busy” and “give it more time”…what they couldn’t or wouldn’t admit was that I had been ripped off. Not so much by this employer but actually by Freelancer.

Finally, I found a job with someone who had high ratings. Was this about to be the moment my Freelancer experience finally turned around? No, no it was not! This individual was going to pay me $2.50 per article (about 250 words each) which is about £1.91, meaning I’d have to do at least 6 of these just to cover the losses I’d made so far on the site. Since only geniuses such as them would charge you a percentage of what you’ll get paid before you do get paid. Anyway, I would have 9 articles to do in total which would at least bring me back up to breaking even. I got to work writing the articles but as experience had taught me, I wasn’t about to do all this work without some sort of guarantee. I messaged this new employer and explained that I’d send him one article at a time and he could release the funds as we go. No reply. I figured I’d write a few more articles while I wait on a response just so I can be ready. He’d given me a deadline of 20 hours and since I’d been busy for most of that, I didn’t have a huge amount of time left. No reply. I messaged him again explaining that I would even send two articles at a time if he released $5 afterwards. When he did eventually reply, it was to complain about the fact that he didn’t want to release the money that way. I explained that I’d already lost money on this site and that I wasn’t prepared to do so again. He just kept telling me to send the rest of the articles and then I’d get paid. A whole day went by of me explaining to him that I’d only send more if he paid me for the ones I’d already sent him. After a day or so, he finally told me that he would find someone else to do the work if I didn’t send it. The most annoying aspect of this wasn’t even doing the work without getting paid: it was that I couldn’t even leave the guy a bad review as he could just respond with an equally as negative one and it would make my profile look horrific.

In the end I did finally get a genuine job. I was hired to proof-read and correct a website and the dude paid me in the end. So you would think that I’d be ending this article on a happy note? Not even slightly. I end this post with a warning: Stay as far away from Freelancer.com as you possibly can! Use UpWork or any other freelance website but NOT Freelancer.com. My only successful job paid $30 and while most of this would just cover the losses I’d made trying to find one genuine job on this site, I still viewed it as a moment of success. I wasn’t any more optimistic in relation to the sites functionality and I certainly wasn’t any more trusting of the staff behind it or the employers hiring on it but still, one tiny moment of sunshine breaking through the grey. To avoid any possibility of losing these funds, I immediately went on to withdraw them. Keep in mind that Freelancer had had absolutely no issue whatsoever in taking funds from my account without actually warning me about it (apparently it’s hidden away in a section of their website) yet when I went to withdraw money, my Paypal account suddenly “wasn’t verified”. So they had been trigger happy in draining some Paypal account that hadn’t been verified but when it came to putting money into that account there is suddenly an issue. Once again, I sought the wisdom of the single brained staff (although maybe I’m being generous in assuming that they have one brain between them) of Freelancer’s live chat support. Over and over again I was told that I’d have to contact Paypal. Now, I had been on Paypal over and over again and hadn’t seen a single issue with my verification. I told a little white lie to this barely functional zombie typing on the other end of the chat and suggested that I’d already been in contact with Paypal. I remarked on how confused Paypal had been that Freelancer would be able to take funds from an unverified account but not deposit them. This swiftly led the cave-dweller to send me a link that allowed me to withdraw me funds. Of course, for security reasons, I was required to wait 15 days before said funds would leave Freelancer. This is yet to happen and I can’t say I’m holding my breath. What I expect to happen is that my account will get blocked or suspended for some ridiculously moronic reason and my funds will be lost to limbo *cough* Freelancer’s wallet *cough*.

To my shock yet not necessarily to my surprise, I ended up being unable to withdraw this $30. What happened? Well, I received a job that would pay me $200. Somehow, God knows why, despite all the failings so far and all the scams, hoodwinks, bamboozles, high jinks, etc that I’d already been dragged through, my brain lit up with excitement. Do I even need to tell you what happened? I guess I sort of do as this was once again a whole new situation that cements just how useless Freelancer.com. I had received the payment, it was right there on my Freelancer.com account and just as I went to withdraw it, it vanished. Gone! Poof! Up in smoke! What happened? The transaction was reversed…not because of anything I’d done (other than fucking hard work) but because apparently the user who had sent me the money had violated the site’s terms and conditions in some way and since his account was now blocked, they had to reverse the transaction. A transaction that cost me $20 to accept in a non-refundable deposit that helps pay the wage of money-hungry troglodytes who have been soulless since agreeing to work for Satan’s website: Freelancer.com

So why is Freelancer.com so popular? I’ll tell you why: You get people going on to rip off others who are looking for work. Freelancer have little reason to try and solve any of the problems because they make money from people like me. If they don’t even have the common sense to take deposits from both sides in order to cover the losses when one party bails then perhaps they are just a group of people who share a single brain cell among 30 of them. It really isn’t that difficult to organise. I mean you could have both parties put forward say 50% of payment which gets held in limbo. In the event that the work isn’t completed, then the employee loses their deposit. In the event the employer vanishes or runs off with the work, at least the employee gets something to cover the costs of the retarded fee system that Freelancer runs; At the absolute very least, they should wait until payment has been sent and a job has been successfully completed before they start charging people money. Especially since that is what all their information implies as you go through the process. Freelancer.com may sound (at first) like the ideal situation for any writers but it’s a black hole full of sick and evil people who only exist there to rip you off for everything that they can. If you want to get some people to write articles for free for you, then by all means, visit the website as the staff there will be more than willing to assist you in your schemes and scams. I’d even recommend you message them via the live chat and explain your plans to them. They’ll probably offer you a VIP membership or pay you to act like a genuine employer just so they can make even more money from the sorry sods such as myself…

My Adventure: The Good, the Bad and the Unforgettable

So having made it back home, all be it rather reluctantly, I figured I may as well update those of you who are interested on my recent trip to Thailand. I’ll admit that it wasn’t as much a trip to Thailand as it was a trip to Cambodia but I’ll get to that later. Ultimately there were some high points (in some instances quite literally) and some low points but I have survived. Don’t worry, I’m going to try to avoid simply writing about every tiny little thing I did. I mean I could discuss the temples i’d visited or the complete shock of visiting the killing fields or any number of things but instead I want to focus more on the experience and the emotional ups and downs that were part of the journey. Anyway, here we go…

So as I already mentioned, my trip to Thailand was rather short lived. My first day there was a bit overwhelming and if I’d written a post on that day it would have been largely negative. Ignoring the 14 hours of travelling, the lack of food, the tiredness, dehydration or the fact that it was more than 30 degrees hotter than where I’d left, I was in pretty good spirits when I landed. I liked that I was on a little adventure and looked forward to kicking it all off. That didn’t last too long though as I quickly got crammed into a train to the point that I didn’t even have space to pull my phone out of my pocket but getting off only added to my general discomfort: even with google maps I was incredibly lost and had 6 hours to kill before I could check-in to my hostel. I won’t write about every single day of my trip but I feel like I need to take you through this one as it was quite an experience. I got talking to a very nice local man who gave me suggestions of what to see and where I could go to kill some time and who ultimately bargained with a tuk-tuk driver on my behalf. He had suggested that I visit the ARC reservation centre (or something similar) where I could ask about booking buses and other such things. I didn’t realise it at the time but this was somewhat foreshadowing for how my day was to go. Arriving at this place, I was greeted with an open door which I immediately walked away from as I had zero interest in booking anything right there and then. Instead, I chose to walk to my hostel which was about an hour away. Along this journey I met another friendly local. He began telling me all these things I could see such as the lucky Buddha or the Standing Buddha, both of which intrigued me. He then started telling me about this fabric shop that for one week was allowing members of the public to go in and see how everything was made, he also recommended a tourist information as they apparently would help me see what else I could do in and around Bangkok. This man waved down a ride for me and for only 30 baht (less than £1) he would drive me to all these places. So I went to the lucky Buddha and then the standing Buddha and even though I was supposed to have two stops in between, I told the man that I wanted to go straight to the Golden Mount which was pretty near to my hostel. Apparently that wasn’t really an option for me and I was practically kidnapped to this random factory shop which in actually was a suit store. Suffering from exhaustion and dehydration, my brain was not at its most functional and it didn’t really click what was going on so on I went into this “fabric factory” with no idea what to expect. What I got was a man trying to make me a suit. He gave me a nice cold bottle of water and started asking what colour of suit I wanted. I tried my best to explain to him that a) I was clearly very confused as to what this place was and b) I really had no interest in buying a suit. Of course “no” doesn’t mean no in such instances and so he kept selling and kept selling. When he did finally realise that I was never going to part with my cash, he went off in a huff. He didn’t say goodbye, he didn’t even say he was done talking to me, he literally just wandered away; taking that as my cue to leave I went out and continued my Bangkok tour. The next stop was the tourist information and once again, despite my protests, my driver insisted that I go and get “free information”. I was beginning to wise up a little at this stage and as I entered the tourist information, I knew what to expect. In fairness, the women here were actually pretty helpful and were a lot more understanding about the fact that I’d basically just been kidnapped and brought here and really had no intention of buying a tour to the jungle or a waterfall right there and then. Leaving, I was ready to head to the Golden Mount but nope, my driver insisted we visit a 2nd suit shop. This time he was honest with me and explained that if he takes customers to these shops he gets a fuel coupon and he assured me that it didn’t matter whether I bought a suit or not. Somewhat sympathetic and in all honesty just too tired to argue, I agreed to go to this place. I was however beginning to lose my patience and as I walked into this shop and had the man explain to me that their suits were amazing quality and super cheap, I told him the truth: “I have absolutely no interest in buying a suit right now. I’m not going to bullshit you because I don’t want to waste your time but I’ve only been here a day and I’ve been taken to two of these shops under false pretences and if you don’t mind I’ll have a look and see if there is anything I like but I’d be buying it another day.” Apparently honesty is not always the best policy as I was quickly thrown out of the shop and my driver did not get his coupon. He then reluctantly drove me to the Golden Mount and I gave him like 50 baht because I felt a little bad since he was after all just trying to earn some money. I’d never even heard of the Golden Mount (mainly due to the lack of research I’d done before this trip) but as I ascended the steps, I couldn’t help but feel that I was doing some sort of test. I hadn’t eaten since the start of my 2nd flight which had probably been about 8 hours ago at this stage, I definitely hadn’t drank enough water and I was carrying everything I had with me on my back. Each step made me feel more and more light-headed and by the time I reached the top, I really couldn’t appreciate how wonderful it all was. It was just too warm and so I made my way back down and decided it was time to get to the hostel before I fainted. Other than going for food with a Canadian guy from my hostel and then being shown around by a local woman, that pretty much sums up my day. I’ll admit, at that point 3 weeks felt like an eternity and in all honesty I didn’t think I was going to be able to do it. I would feel that way another two times on my trip.

Just to get the negativity out of the way, here are the other two times I doubted I’d survive the rest of my time in SE Asia: the second time was my final night in Bangkok. We’d been out on the infamous Khao San Road until everything closed and had then stayed up at the hostel for another couple of hours. We had to get up at 7 for a “9 hour” bus journey to Siem Reap in Cambodia and at 5 or 6 in the morning everyone in our room was awake because some guy had come back drunk and pissed himself in the bed (I’m still not sure if he was on the top or bottom bunk). At this time I felt awful: I was tired, a little nauseous and the thought of being on a bus soon just filled me with dread. I remember wondering if my whole trip was going to be like this? Should I just book flights home and call the mission a failure? I felt better in the morning but I still remember the feeling well. The third time I felt this way was for a much more valid reason: After staying on Koh Rong I made my way across to Koh Rong Sanloem with plans to attend a jungle party the night before the full moon party. I missed what sounds like the best party ever because I started being as violently sick as a person can be: Barely making it out of the room, id fall down the 4 or 5 stairs and just collapse to the ground as I threw up in the bushes, practically dragging myself in the dirt up the rocky path that led the 100 or so yards to the toilets. Most of the time I’d be done being sick by the time I made it there but every single time I’d be in extreme physical pain as my body contracted as if I were being dosed with high voltage electrical shocks. When I did end up in the toilet I’d be so nauseous and light headed, the world spinning around me as if I could suddenly sense it spinning through space, that I’d be physically unable to walk back to my room. On one occasion I had to actually ask two random girls if they could help me. I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone and that was without a doubt the most ill I have ever been in my entire life!

So for those of you who read my previous post (and for those of you who haven’t) you’ll remember that I had a few major anxieties related to this trip, 3 in particular: 1) The social aspect. I wasn’t sure how well I’d cope being forced into social situations with lots of new people and having to live in small rooms with strangers. 2) The food. As a VERY fussy eater I had no idea how well I’d deal with having less access to my usual diet and it worried me that I might literally starve to death. 3) Spiders. Without a doubt spiders are my biggest fear and given what I’d heard about surrounding areas, it concerned me that I might have to deal with what would be giant, potentially man-eating spiders. So how did I cope? Surprisingly well actually! The only time I had any real issue with spiders was on Koh Rong when we were staying in little thatched huts that basically just had a mattress and a mosquito net inside. Walking past the toilets at one stage I noticed a massive spider on the wall which didn’t make me fully confident that I’d be able to enter those toilets the rest of the time I was there. As I reached my room just after this moment, one of the guys I was travelling with proceeded to point out that a pretty big spider had just ran under the bed. To top it all off, after a night on the beach that ended with me being drunk and high, I walked back to the room with the same travelling companion only to notice a massive spider on the net. If I had been sober, I would have freaked and probably wouldn’t have slept but that night I slept like a baby! After that, I wasn’t too bothered about spiders. I trekked through the jungle without any anxiety, I slept in the huts without worrying about any night time spider attacks, I even hung clothes on the hut walls and managed not to be overly concerned about the very real possibility of spiders crawling in.

The next issue was of course the food which I did try to get over as early as the flights. On each flight we were given an option of three meals and both times I went for something that I wouldn’t have eaten normally. I’ll admit that my first meal in Bangkok was French fries but after that I tried various street foods and ordered stuff in restaurants that I’d never tried before. Did I try every single thing? Of course not, there was still some foods that even just the sight or smell of made my stomach churn. That being said, I tried snake which I hadn’t expected at all. Did it taste bad? Definitely not, I actually seemed to be one of the few people who enjoyed it. The texture however was a little off-putting. I’m not sure all the chewing gum in the world could have prepared my jaw for how long I’d have to chew that snake for before I could swallow it. While I did try new food to begin with, Western influence is very prevalent and in some places it’s easier to find steak and chips or a cooked breakfast than it is to find a local meal. When you’re hungry, sometimes a little hungover and often feeling a bit lazy it’s all too easy to simply eat at your hostel rather than go hunting for some food that you may or may not like. There is one food that I did go hunting for though: a happy pizza…but more on that later. So spiders, check. Food, check. How about the social aspect?

Really my first hurdle to jump was the flight itself. In the past I’d had anxiety attacks not from the flying but from being crammed into a small metal tube with strangers who ultimately invade your personal space. The last time I’d been on a plane I’d taken propranolol and even though I’d brought it with me on this trip, I never had any need of it. So I view that as a mini success. I’ll admit that meeting new people wasn’t super easy but it also wasn’t difficult either. At the end of the day everyone is in the same boat and nobody really wants to sit on their own the entire time, not even me, so once you get talking to someone you pretty quickly feel like you’ve known them for a long time, especially if you truly connect with them (this does have its downsides though which I’ll discuss later). I met some people on this trip that were just incredible and I’ve never been surrounded by as many like-minded individuals in all my life. Being able to start a conversation about something rather controversial back home might raise a few eyebrows but out there it was encouraged. Sharing different opinions was just seen as part of the experience and as someone who loves to voice his opinions, I couldn’t have felt more at home. Nobody wanted to discuss football or who slept with who at work or whether we should go to the same pub or club that we spend all our time in anyway. Instead people wanted to talk about drugs, politics, religion, entire philosophies about life and the universe. I was travelling with a friend who arrived on my 2nd day in Bangkok and before the trip I hoped it would stay just the two of us for the entire duration we were travelling together. By the end, I can’t imagine how horrific that could have been. We amassed this group of wonderful individuals from all around the world who we travelled with at different points of our journey. It might sound a bit clichéd but they felt like family or like I’d known them my whole life.

In the nature of trying new things, I had my eye out for any new experiences that may be offered in Thailand or Cambodia. Considering I’d stopped off in Abu Dhabi where the penalty for bringing drugs into the country is literally death, I wasn’t sure how Thailand or Cambodia would handle the concept. On Khao San road I experienced “laughing gas” for the first time which to me was a bit of a stupid drug. I’ll admit, I had a lot of fun and probably bought 8 or 9 balloons while there but it felt a bit like a tease. As someone who has partied with MDMA, I found that laughing gas momentarily gave you the feeling of coming up: you get pins and needles in your extremities, your head goes a little fuzzy and you find yourself feeling a little euphoric. For someone who has never taken drugs I can see the attraction but for me it was a bit like being promised sex, getting a lap dance only to find out that that’s it over or being promised pizza, watching it being made and then being given a crust. Like I said though, it was fun just not that fun. It’s very obvious why it appeals to the tourists, especially on Khao San Road. While in Siem Reap, I encountered some wonderful people (one of whom was a doctor) who before we all left for an 8 or so hour bus journey had informed me of one major area that was rather lenient in Cambodia: pharmaceuticals. Now I’d never taken Valium and my only knowledge of it was based on US films so the idea of taking some had never really crossed my mind until it was explained that taking one before a night bus journey would help me sleep, something I have great difficulty doing while travelling. For $1 I got 10 10mg Valium pills and as we all got comfy on our beds on the night bus I broke mine in half (following the advice of my new doctor friend) and sure enough, I slept pretty well initially. After two hours we stopped for a toilet break which it turned out I was in desperate need of and after getting back on the bus, I decided to take the other half. I’m not sure how much everyone else took but when we all woke up, we’d already been at our destination for 45 minutes and the driver simply hadn’t told us. I did this another two times on my trip, one time where it had been essential as I had a “12 hour” (turned out to be 16 hours which was a common theme with Cambodian travel) in what seemed like a single night bus bed with a fairly large Cambodian gentleman. I do however see why Valium users have a problem with addiction. I binned mine before my flight not because of security but because I knew that it would be all too easy to take one whenever I was struggling to sleep or if I needed to relax. I’m not even sure what the risks are but it’s something I don’t plan on taking again anytime soon. One thing I wouldn’t mind taking again soon, however, is a happy pizza. I’d missed out on trying one in Siem Reap because despite searching I just couldn’t find anywhere until the day we left. Luckily, by the time we got to Kampot I was travelling with several people who were also very eager to try one. Finding a place wasn’t a problem and so we ordered a pizza and I also ordered a happy shake which didn’t taste too bad but involved more chewing than a typical shake does. A couple of hours after consumption none of us seemed to really be feeling anything. We were told that the happy pizzas here weren’t prepared properly and that Siem Reap did them better but having eaten at around 10, I found myself playing snap at 2 in the morning with one of the other happy pizza triers and we were both definitely very high. I remember lying on my back just looking up at the stars for an incredibly long time. I mean I do that normally so that isn’t an indicator of whether I’m high or not but the thoughts that were going through my head were: I was picturing all these different stars and what sort of planets they might have and whether there are little aliens on these planets that are also high and looking up at our star, wondering the exact same thing. There is a star on the shoulder of the constellation Orion known as Betelgeuse which gives off a red colour and could literally supernova at any minute. While looking at this star I was imagining what it would look like and how I’d react if it happened right now. There were even times I thought I saw the stars move which was probably more due to tiredness than anything else. So my experience with happy shakes and pizzas is definitely something I’d recommend and would repeat without hesitation. The one thing I would be less confident in repeating would be smoking the weed down there. While on Koh Rong we stayed at this lovely little hostel where the thatched huts and spiders were located and they sold big joints at the bar for $3.50. I hadn’t smoked weed in a while and this was before the happy pizzas so one day I bought one and decided to smoke it pretty early on in the day while we chilled at the beach. Only one of the girls I was travelling with wanted to partake so we shared this joint and decided to kick back and relax. I knew after just one toke of this joint that it wasn’t going to be all fun and games but by the end I basically knew how it felt to be a vegetable. Of course the rest of our group chose this moment to inform us that we’d be walking round to the next beach to get some food. The journey itself is a bit of a blur but I remember sitting at the bar ordering garlic bread which was the driest thing I have ever eaten. I rarely get paranoid when I’m high and I’m not even sure I’d describe this moment as paranoia so much as just confusion but while at the bar these two girls sat to my left, pretty close to me, while all my group was on my right. My bottle of water (which is of course as important to me then as air itself) was to my left. I’m fairly sure one of the girls drank from my bottle which threw me down this rabbit hole of asking whether that bottle was mine? Should I drink from it again or just buy a new one? If that isn’t my bottle then where is my bottle? I then started to think they were trying to steal my bottle from me because they thought it was there’s when in fact it was mine. It was a lot to deal with but after a nap on a hammock I felt a little better. That was until I learnt of the hour long walk to another beach we were about to do. The distance itself seemed bad enough but as we walked we ended up clambering over rocks (which I usually love) and walking through the jungle. It was all a bit much and eventually we had to get a boat from some sketchy hotel we’d come across and I didn’t actually feel completely there on a cognitive level until we arrived at our final destination. Maybe it was just strong weed, maybe it was because I hadn’t smoked in a long time or maybe there was something else in it but without a doubt that is the most high I have ever felt in my entire life and it’s certainly the longest lasting high. After the first hour or two it was enjoyable but I just didn’t think I could cope to begin with. I didn’t make things better for myself that same evening when after enjoying a happy hour and returning to our beach to drink, I decided to once again smoke a joint. This time I didn’t even smoke half of what I’d smoked the day before but combined with the alcohol it left my lying on the beach clinging onto the world as if I could fall off. I couldn’t walk or talk or function at all really but we had stayed up to see the glow in the dark plankton and my friends helped me up, practically carried me to the water and then left me there in awe as I pulled my hands and feet through the water. The sight was truly incredible as it gave the illusion of a sort of green, static electricity. The walk back to the fire which was probably only 75 yards away felt like a marathon but at least I’d seen the plankton.

Of course there were other new experiences out-with the drug category and possibly my favourite of these was the Thai massage (no they did not include happy endings, get your mind out of the gutter). I went for three in total, all a little different but all left me feeling pretty relaxed. A Thai massage is not what you’d expect it to be: if you want a soft, pain-free experience then I suggest you try something different because about 50% of the time you’ll be in pain. I actually witnessed a grown man practically sobbing after receiving one, much to the entertainment of the women that worked there. Despite the almost constant pain, I still found myself drifting off a couple of times while receiving one of these massages. You wear these comfortable pyjama-like clothes and it’s usually dark and the atmosphere just invites you to sleep. Maybe some people would find it difficult to drift off while having a grown woman walk across your spine or twist your limbs into unnatural positions but that didn’t seem to be a problem for me. Strange that I can drift off under such circumstances but can’t sleep on a bus or plane without taking drugs. Another new experience for me was receiving a henna tattoo which is basically just a temporary tattoo that is done in a substance similar to permanent marker. I had been told they lasted around 3 weeks but mine was completely gone in less than 2 and had already begun to fade in less than 1. I had been tempted to get a less traditional symbol such as the Assassin’s Creed symbol or something similar but instead I went for a sun with the eye of Horus located in the centre. Regrettably I never thought to take a photo of it and by the time I did it had already started to fade. Even after letting it dry for several hours, I woke up the next morning with about 3 different versions of it imprinted across my body as well as several on the bed. I had also gone to a tattoo parlour on one of my last days, picked out what I was going to get and then had been told it would cost $80 which was just ridiculous. Really the only reason you’d get a tattoo over there (apart from a traditional bamboo tattoo) is because they are cheap. You know that it might not be a work of art and you know it might not be 100% safe which is why it is usually cheaper. While I did consider the idea, I decided that I wasn’t going to spend that amount of money on what could potentially be an awful tattoo. One final experience that I’m certainly going to miss is the bum gun; what’s the bum gun? Well, the bum gun is quite simply a hose that you use to wash your asshole after taking a shit (to be blunt about it). At first I was hesitant but once you’ve grown used to it, you never want to go back. It’s cleaner and less time-consuming. If I could install one in my bathroom I definitely would. I know plenty of people who refused to use it while over there and I was part of that group initially but I have seen the light and switched teams. If you are ever in a country with such an incredible piece of bathroom technology I recommend you give it a shot. Be warned though: in some places the water pressure is drastically higher and you can get quite a shock when you basically use a water cannon to try and spray you asshole!

Overall it was certainly an experience and one that I would love to repeat. I considered quitting my job several times just to stay out there for a few more weeks but realistically that just wasn’t an option for me. While I wouldn’t change a single thing about this trip (apart from maybe the getting ill incident that caused me to miss an incredible jungle party) if I were to go on a similar trip I think I’d avoid party hostels for at least most of the journey. I mean they are insanely fun and a great way to meet people but going out to drink every single night is not only expensive but also pretty damaging. I also found that while I still managed to explore the temples and such, I would be tired or even just hungover in general and perhaps didn’t appreciate them or experience them to the fullest. I also think that if I were to do it again I’d want to set out with a group of people initially and travel with them for the duration. Why? Well partly because travelling with one person is always going to lead to tension just due to the stress. As an introvert, I need time to myself in order to recharge and that’s something you just don’t get while travelling around hostels and so I know myself well enough to notice it stressing me out. However, the biggest reason I’d prefer to travel in a group to begin with is because travelling alone or in small numbers leads you to meet new people. Is that a bad thing? Of course not, as I mentioned, some of the people I met on this holiday are some of the most wonderful and like-minded people I’ve met in my entire life but it all has to come to an end sooner or later and given that you’re meeting people from around the world, it is unrealistic to assume that you’ll see them again. I mean who knows, maybe I will see them again but you know it isn’t guaranteed. I’ve gone to funerals without crying, I’ve watched sad films without crying, I visited the killing fields and listened to a man discuss “the killing tree” without crying, in all honesty I actually don’t remember the last time I cried but saying goodbye to these people certainly had me close to it. When I said goodbye to the first group it was unlike anything I’d ever experienced: how could I meet these incredible people and then have them leave my life forever? I’d only known them for a few days but somehow it was like I’d known them my whole life. Saying goodbye to my final group as I left for Bangkok was truly painful. At first it didn’t really bother me: I said goodbye, hugged everyone, shouted some things as I walked away and it wasn’t until I was driving past them in the van that was to take me to the bus that I suddenly felt it: emotional pain, like the scene from Indiana Jones where a guy literally has his heart ripped from his chest, watching it beat in front of him. When I think back to that moment I still feel the exact same way and I’m not sure how often someone could repeat that moment before it started to take its toll. Does the positive emotions and experiences outweigh the negative ending? I’d say it does but it doesn’t make the goodbye or the memory of it any easier.

Journey into the Unknown!

For anyone who reads my posts regularly (which may be nobody) you’ll be aware that while my posts are usually rants (hence the name of my blog) that convey my opinion on some trivial matter such as a film or game series, I tend not to reflect on my own personal life.

Today I have decided to go out-with my usual post-type and share with you some insights into my mind and current life plans. Usually I try to introduce the topics I plan to cover but this is mostly going to be off the top of my head as I’m writing so we’ll just see how it goes.

 

I’m mostly going to discuss a trip I’m about to take but I feel like in order for you to understand my concerns and fears I need to invite you inside my little bubble of a life just to highlight how far outside my comfort zone I’m about to go. These pieces of information may seem rather random right now but I swear it makes sense in relation to this post. Let me briefly describe to you why I never really go out and experience life to the fullest:

For starters I have awful social anxiety…I’m not even sure if it’s limited to social situations, maybe I just have anxiety in general, but certainly a key component of it is social. It can sometimes takes me months before I feel comfortable talking to someone in a normal capacity so typical day-to-day situations tend to involve me going out of my way to avoid social interaction with strangers.

For a very long time I was unable to get a job because most jobs involved social interaction and the thought alone made me feel ill. I started having anxiety attacks in exams which soon spread to other situations (to be fair, I was at uni at the time and most of these situations also involved me being hungover so I think it was my mind associating feeling nauseous with certain situations). Suffice to say that several times while at the cinema I would spend most of the film trying to convince myself that I didn’t need to get up and leave which as a movie lover (possibly addict) was incredibly disappointing. I have improved a fair bit but perhaps that’s a discussion for another time. On top of my social issues, I am also one of the fussiest eaters you will ever meet. For as long as I can remember I haven’t eaten any fruit or vegetables which as you can imagine, limits my diet quite a bit. It’s not like I eat everything else either, I basically have the diet of a 15 year old that has been left to fend for himself.

To add to my already limiting characteristics I also have a phobia of spiders but not just your run of the mill phobia, oh no, I am absolutely scared to death of the little bastards. Let’s just say that I’ve fallen out of a lot of trees as a result of this highly irrational fear. You can therefore assume that I will not be visiting Australia any time soon (in fact Antarctica is looking all the more promising). I do understand that Australia really isn’t that far from Thailand and that I’m most likely walking into the real world equivalent of the Forbidden Forrest with its nest of extremely large spiders.

Again, I have somewhat improved on this over the last few years but if a spider is bigger than a thumbnail (for example) then chances are I won’t be able to deal with it unless it’s on the floor and I can drop a very heavy book on it. So this should hopefully paint a fairly clear picture as to why I have the time to sit at home writing blog posts about Star Wars, Assassins Creed, drug laws etc…now let me share with you how I’m about to be catapulted out of my comfort zone.

I’ve been working for the last 6 months and recently realised how badly I need a holiday. As someone who lives in Scotland, I’ve never ventured outside of Europe and even my trips out of the UK have been to areas where the lifestyle is pretty much the same e.g. Italy, Rome or Spain. My initial thought was Egypt because out of everywhere in the world, that is where I want to visit the most. I had looked at flights and hotels but quite quickly came to the conclusion that if I went to Egypt alone I just wouldn’t experience everything there was on offer.

I’d go look at stuff but not really immerse myself in the culture. Luckily, a friend of mine was planning a holiday to Thailand and some of the surrounding countries. I’d personally never even considered visiting anywhere near there for a whole host of reasons (primarily the spider issue) but when given the options of going there for three weeks or waiting months, taking time off work and ultimately going nowhere and doing nothing with my time, I felt that the first option was the one that would be most beneficial. So I handed in a holiday form, it just got approved yesterday and my flights are booked to head out on my adventure.

I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t considered not going at least 15 times today alone but you have to understand that I get cold feet with every single decision I make. Committing to any sort of party, event, holiday, anything will be followed by my brain giving me a list of reasons why not going could be the better option. Obviously the biggest ones that come to mind are things like giant spiders (or even just small spiders…really any spiders at all), the language barrier (but even just the social aspect with or without there being a language barrier), and of course the food. I’ve read that places like Bangkok are incredibly sociable cities and that the nightlife is amazing but I can’t imagine that being the case for someone who struggles to start and hold a conversation.

So why am I going? I feel such a trip could be make or break: No matter what, I’m going to be forced out my comfort zone so it’ll either push me to evolve or it will snap my psyche and leave me in the foetal position on a foreign continent. One of the biggest comforts (which is also somehow one of the fears) is that I’ll be just under 6,000 miles away from home. I’m going to feel like Sam and Frodo leaving the Shire. Strangely enough, one of the best ways for me to motivate myself in any situation is to relate it to a game or a film.

I guess it’s sort of my coping mechanism that also acts as an incentive. Different games/films make me want to do different things, for example: Far Cry 3 makes me want to try skydiving or get a tattoo or explore new cultures; 127 hours makes me want to explore and climb, to find adventure where I can, even if I’m doing it alone; Warrior makes me want to go to the gym…you get the idea. We will of course ignore the fact that the first two exams have pretty horrific outcomes for those involved and should really be adverts against exploring rather than what I use them for. So in order to prepare myself for this “adventure” I have started playing Far Cry 3 again (which happens to take place on an island in the area I’m visiting, although whether it is based on a real island or not is beyond my knowledge).

So why am I writing this post? I guess the same reason that people talk about their problems: it’s therapeutic. If I share my fears with random strangers on the internet then in a sense I’ve acknowledged that these fears are indeed real but that they shouldn’t hold me back from enjoying life. I mean we only get one, right? So what if a giant, face-eating spider jumps out of a tree and proceeds to chase me down the road…I should just look at it as life experience or inspiration for my book.

I mean if I stay trapped inside the boring little town where going to the pub to watch football is the highlight of everyone’s week then how am I ever going to look back on my life with fondness? Another way of looking at it: what if the Animus from Assassin’s Creed becomes a real piece of technology and someone tries to look back on my life (not that I plan on having children but that’s not the point). All they would see is me sitting at home watching films or reading. Would I rather they see that or would I rather they watched as I walk with elephants or visit ancient temples?

If I survive and make it back to bonnie Scotland then I’ll be sure to update this or write a new post which shares me experiences. If this is my last post then just assume that I died either by being killed by a spider or trying to escape one!

[Better Title Pending] – Book Extract

So, unlike my other posts this one is neither a rant nor a rave. Instead I am hoping to receive some feedback on a small extract from a book that I am beginning to write. This is the only scene from the book that I’ve started writing up in any sort of great capacity. I would delve into the content of my book to explain the background but I couldn’t possibly explain it in the detail I would like. Anyway, this scene is pretty self-explanatory and I’d appreciate any sort of advice or feedback regarding its content. This wouldn’t be the final edit of this particular moment but some direction on what I’m doing right or wrong would be great.

It’s probably worth mentioning that the character referred to as ‘H’ in this extract will have a full name but that hasn’t been decided on yet.

 

“How was it that we could sense the ice underfoot? The snow covered all in both texture and sight, and for all we knew it was dirt or ancient road or grass that we slowly crept across…but no, something about this moment echoed ice. It was impossible to tell how thick the frozen film of water was across this vast loch. There were no cracks, no sudden noises, no sinking feeling  to suggest that we could soon feel the ice cold grip of the water below, possibly to never resurface. The image was in my head and no matter how hard I tried, I could not force it to leave. “Maybe we should just go around” I suggested to H, although it came out as more of a plea than a suggestion and his lack of a response was in itself as unnerving as his continued path forward. I looked in either direction and came to terms with the sheer size of this loch. I didn’t remember it being quite as big but as I kept telling myself; it had been a long time since I was last here. My bag weighed the same as me, if not more, and the clothes I had been wearing would soak water up like a sponge. If I fell into the water my lungs would be full of water almost as quickly as the air would leave them. Falling in would be game over. My mind compared each step to taking a turn in a game of Jenga: the first few are ok; in fact they seem impossibly easy. Soon it becomes more challenging and eventually it isn’t a case of ‘if’ the tower will fall, but is instead a matter of ‘when’. H was far off into the distance and his carelessness seemed to be working out well for him so far. The logical thing therefore would be to walk where he walked. Where were his footprints? I looked around but there were none to be seen. I would have let out an anxious laugh in that moment, were it not for the groan that erupted from below my feet as I began to walk in the same direction as H. It sounded like an old wooden door as it creaks slowly open in the wind. My mind was telling me to stand completely still and balance my weight out as evenly as possible on the ice…my body, with its circling overflow of adrenaline had other plans. I wouldn’t describe what I was doing as a run. Instead, it was almost as if I were trying to ice skate but without the skates. What was I doing? I would wonder to myself as the sound of cracking ice seemed to chase me like some sort of monster, snapping at my ankles as I began to increase my pace. The ice was similar to a playful dog: if you stand still and stay calm, it barely reacts. If, however, you sprint in the opposite direction, it will undoubtedly chase after you, catching up in seconds. I could no longer even see H and rather than try and find him, I simply began to aim for the nearest bit of land. The constant white colour made it very difficult to say how far away I was from safety but my lack of fitness, both physically and mentally, was beginning to take its toll. Have you ever been running and you become overly aware of you movements in such a way that you throw off your rhythm, causing you to misstep? If not, it’s a bizarre sensation that in most situations simply results in you taking an odd step before getting back into the swing of things. In this instance I was less fortunate, and due to the arguably impractical shape and size of the boots I was wearing I went from running one moment, to sliding (somewhat)on my stomach in the next. After my initial impact on the ground, the ice seemed to calm down instantly. The loch became eerily quiet as I lay perfectly still. The numbness of my face due to the snow it was resting on felt insignificant in comparison to how cold I would be if the ice decided I was too heavy a burden, although arguably I would probably feel cold for a much shorter amount of time. I slowly lifted my face up and took a glance at the distance I still had to cover. I still had at least 200 yards to go before I made it to certain land. Part of me began to wonder where H was; had he fallen in? Then the selfish side of me kicked in and couldn’t actually care. I knew I could deal with H when I’d sorted my own crisis. My plan was simple: slowly stand up…and then run! As the plan went through my head, I couldn’t help but nod in agreement with myself before slowly beginning to stand to put it in practice. The ice didn’t agree on the successful outcome of this operation and soon began to voice its disagreement with growls and groans. I could feel each crack like a vibration. Maybe a plan B would be necessary. Looking at it from a logical standpoint, my options seemed clear: lose some weight. Of course at this stage cardio and dieting wouldn’t give me the immediate results I needed so instead I began to take off my bag. I slid it slightly away from myself which actually moved me more than it moved the bag but it separated the weight and seemed to appease the ice god that was judging me from below. I opened the top and slid my gloved hands down the side of the bag to try and grab the rope. When you’re trying not to move it becomes surprisingly difficult to pull one particular item from a stuffed bag. I knew the rope wasn’t going to cover the entire distance but at the very least it would reach shallower levels of water. I untangled it all and tied one end to the bag and one to me. My next move probably wouldn’t have been advised by, well, anyone: I began to take my boots off and used the laces to attach them to the side of the bag. I knew I could run faster and lighter without them on but it also removed the possibility of me tripping over them again. The socks The Third Eye had been kind enough to provide where warm and comfy but not much use against standing in snow without any footwear on. I stretched my arms and legs out and began to slowly raise myself up from the ground. Just as I put all my weight onto my feet, I felt that familiar vibration accompanied by the sound of the ice beginning to crack again. I took a few seconds to pause and think this time but ultimately the decision was the same as before: run! As I sprinted, I felt a lot less at risk now without the bag and the boots on. The sound of ice cracking sounded fairly distant behind me and as quickly as a foot touched the ice, it was off again. For a moment during my sprint I completely forgot that I was tied to a heavy bag and a pair of boots and realised I would have to slow down before the rope ran out. Sadly, my slowing down was not as speedy as was necessary and the rope tugged hard on my waist. This in turn caused me to put more weight on my feet and led to quite a significant crack in the ice. It was the first time I could actually see the crack through the layer of snow that covered the loch. My right foot sunk through the ice and the water grabbed at my ankles like the thin, sharp fingers of some mythical ice creature. I fell down to the ground once more but rather than lie still, I began to crawl. My knees were sinking into the ice more than I cared for but I only had a few more metres to go. I figured at this stage that falling in would not be fatal or even lethal so I decided to stand up and walk the rest. Rather comically to anyone who would have witnessed it, this marked the moment where my left foot sunk through the ice, getting drastically wetter than its companion. I could only shake my head in disbelief both at making it across and at the rather frustrating sock incident but as I sat down I couldn’t help but grin. I grabbed the rope and began to drag that bag towards land, or at least, solid land. Despite how uncomfortable my feet had felt in the boots initially, it was nothing in comparison to sliding my wet, cold and sore feet into them now. Keeping the wet socks on wasn’t wise but it would have to do until we got a shelter set up somewhere. It was at this point that I remembered that I didn’t know where H was. The wind was beginning to pick up and the thick, grey clouds were only making darkness seem to descend faster. I was going to shout on him, to search and try to find him but part of me knew that it would be a waste of time. I’m sure he was probably thinking the same way I was and had simply gone to find somewhere to set up a shelter. There was a small, woodland area near the top of the ridge in front of me so with wet feet I picked up my bag and began walking.”

 

Thank you for reading!