2019…The end of a terrific year but also the end of what has been quite the decade! Looking back on the past decade it’s actually been quite the whirlwind. If my 2010 self was to read what I was to do and become in the next nine years, I don’t quite think he’d believe it. I’ve been on a journey of transformation, I’m a million miles away from that jaded and lost boy in 2010. 2010 me was I feel looking back, an outsider who never really fitted in. Present but vacant, slightly out of sync with everyone else. Someone who knew what they wanted to be but was not in a place where they could be that. I started the decade, lost.
Its been well documented those who have followed me on this journey from day one about my disdain for sixth form and what went on in a particular classroom. This blog, while a million miles away from those early days of blog writing as a release and as a weapon, has its roots from the immaturity of sixth form. My passion for writing blogs was born out of that shitshow. There were many gems from Maricourt but there was a toxic group that I could not wait to leave behind.
My life got significantly better when at the start of the decade I went to University. I had felt like I was hemmed in, in school. Learn hard, put the effort in, get the grades, get out. That’s what school was to me. One of my standout moments of this decade was and will always be that first-year residential field trip to Slapton in Feb of 2011. This decade I’ve had a few vital and pivotal moments where if I had chosen the other side of the coin, the other decision, life would be vastly different today. The first of that, was that February night on a cold, windswept Slapton beach. I still remember it vividly, the fresh sea breeze that tickled your face, the gentle and rhythmic pulse of the distant lighthouse casting a beam of light across the sand. Looking up and taking in a deep breath of air, exhaling and watching it disappear into the most unbelievably clear sky I had ever seen. It felt like the entire universe was out that night, the bluest of blue stars twinkled above like diamonds.
Before that night, I was ready to quit University. I had made up my mind, it wasn’t for me. I wasn’t challenged enough, I was constantly ill, I hated the commute. I was all but done. This first-year field trip was in my mind, a swansong. It just turned out to my surprise to be the start of an epic journey in academia. That night as we pulled up some driftwood and sat on large boulders, laughing and sharing stories into the night. I suddenly realised that with this group of people, we were all broken in some way and for the first time in my life, that wasn’t an issue. For the first time in such a long time, I had people around me who actually didn’t care about who you are or where in high school. They all had flaws as did I, and they didn’t care. They were human. I formed friendships that night that have lasted the sands of time. That field trip changed everything. I fell back in love with Geography because of that field trip, I realised that I could be who I wanted to be here, with these people.
Sitting here now having completed a BSc, an MSc and recently a PhD, it seems crazy to me that I was so close to giving up all of that if it wasn’t for that goddamn beach and the chats that night. Not to forget Susan (you had to be there).
Undergraduate years of 2010-2013 was a period of some crazy emotions. Once I committed to academic life, I found a place I could call home. I found something I was good at and oh boy it was one hell of a good time! Every day in Uni was a laugh with my Uni pals, Anthony, Alex, Mary, Hannah, Chloe, Stacey. The latter, well we all know how that particular episode of the decade turned out. I had fallen in love. I let my walls down 100% again for someone for the first time in a few years and for those two years it was awe-inspiring, it was beautiful and it was terrifying all at the same time. As time has passed and the wounds have healed, I can look back on those times with a real warm glow. Now longer jaded by heartache and bitterness. I owe her a lot for building the foundations of the person I am today. There are a lot of aspects of me today that define me that were unlocked by her. For one small example, cooking. I couldn’t cook beans on toast before I met her and would never venture outside of any dish that wasn’t made in the British isles! Yet with an Italian passion for food, that was unlocked in me. Food and cooking is a huge part of who I am now. I love to cook and I’m always cooking food for family and friends and dishes from all over the world!
Then in 2013, as I was feeling on top of the world…it all came crashing down. The rug was whipped from under my feet. The breakup hit me out of the blue and knocked me for six for years! 2013-14 was brutal. I was depressed, everything was a struggle. Looking back now, I see why I struggled so much with it. As a very guarded person, I felt like I was betrayed when I let all of my walls down, the real emotional me was vulnerable and to then have that heart stood on in the fashion that she did was tough. Did it help that she got with the guy she was ‘just friends with at the party’ that I didn’t go to, two weeks after she broke it up out of the blue? No. No, it didn’t. Did it also help my recovery that we shared every class together and friendship group for that final year? No, that didn’t help either.
Truth be told though I was seething, I was angry, I was hurt. But actually, I was mad at myself. I am an achiever. It’s what I do, I set a goal and I will achieve it. I have a long list of honours, accolades and achievements. Yet, one had always evaded me. I would trade in all of my awards to just be loved by someone, to grow old with them and to have my own family. When she ended it, to me, it was a colossal failure on my part. It’s something that I did or didn’t do, it was my fault in some way is how I perceived it. I had a taste of that ultimate goal for it to no longer exist. It was tough.
2013 was by far the most challenging year of the decade for me. A week after I was hit by that out of the blue break up, I was informed that my eyes where 0.5 outside of the limit for becoming an Air Traffic Controller. A dream job that I had worked towards ever since I was little. My choices in school and even degree level were all geared up towards becoming an Air Traffic Controller. It’s all I ever wanted to do. In the space of 7 days, I had lost two dreams, out of the blue. I was once again, lost.
From 2010 to the start of 2013, I had discovered for the most part who I was as a person. I grew very self-assured of myself. 2013 knocked me right back to 2010. I didn’t know me anymore. I had spent years having such confidence in myself to looking in the mirror and not even recognising who I was. Every day was an effort. Academia became a lifeline again, amongst all of this dissertations had begun. The only way out of this hole I thought was to put everything into that dissertation. One last hurrah. Do well in this, get a good degree, build myself back up again, reinvent me again. I used all those emotions of anger and hurt and turned them into productivity. Which worked. I aced that dissertation and in the process fell in love with research. I was selected to go and present it at the biggest undergraduate conference in Plymouth. Backed by my supervisor and my friends, I didn’t think I was worthy but they believed. They pushed me to do it. From the back of that, I was selected to present that research in Parliament and came in the top 20 UK undergraduate researchers of the year. Not bad work for when I was at my lowest. That was the slow road to recovery.
Final year was a slog, but I finished with a 2:1. The goal was done. I had never felt prouder than that first graduation day, looking back at the certificate. It didn’t to me denote a degree, whenever I think back to my BSc days, it indicates all those made changes in my life, the soaring highs and greatest of lows. To me, it reminds me that I’m glad that I have that no matter how shit I feel, I have that inner stubbornness that just will never, ever, give up. No matter how much the odds are stacked against me. You pick yourself up, you keep working hard, you never give up.
2014 and 15 were all about my Masters Things they never tell you about when starting a Masters Degree. Because I was still recovering from 2013 I don’t think at the time I really appreciated those years for what they were. A period of reflection, rebuilding, rebranding, regrowing. By the time our first residential to the desert in October came around, I saw the MSc as a new start. That summer I had clarity, I had dealt with a lot of stuff, I for the first time actually accepted me for me. I now knew what I wanted out of life and one of those things was to collect degrees. I loved research, I wanted to become a researcher. I wanted to help people in a way that I knew I could, via research. The MSc was academically very challenging but I adored that challenge. Being pushed every day intellectually was fun! It was such a great topic to study and my fellow classmates where legends. I feel really bad that we all never really stayed in touch but they were so perfect for that part of my life. I am grateful for every single one of them. That desert field trip without a doubt is the funniest field trip I have ever been on. God, I loved that course!2014…a year of rebuilding and success!
2015 came another of those giant what-if moments, those crossroad decisions, a flip of a coin, a fork in the road of life. I’d finished my Masters, I’m now healed, I’m back to myself, I have the whole world ahead of me. Then the two jobs come at once. 29k 3 year contract in Nottingham with a global consultancy firm, or a 16k part-time tempory one year job as a research assistant. I was utterly torn between the logically me and the emotional me. Head and my Dad, wherein the consultancy job. No question. Financial security, job security, job progression, independence, moving out, new city. Yet, my heart wasn’t in it. I had fallen in love from Undergrad with research, but it was a lot of work, it didn’t pay well and there was no guarantee it would last longer than a year. I was conflicted, my parents were conflicted. Take the Nottingham job and I would be leaving home, I’d be leaving Liverpool, my life and I’d be on a career path in environmental consultancy.
On the other hand, take the RA job, stay at home but do something I was madly passionate about and really enjoyed but for pretty crap pay.
Then that talk at the river happened. Both of us, me and Chloe at a crossroads in life, both with massive decisions to make. Chloe, I have no doubt is my guardian angel. At the beach in Slapton, there during the hard times, there again at the river now a big life decision was to be made. My confidant, my guiding light, my soundboard. I summed Chloe up and the rest of my close friends up so well in this blog here:My dedication to the inner circle! After hours for the first time in a while, I had clarity over that decision. My mind was made up all because of her, I made the decision. I declined the consultancy job and for the first time ever the logical me went with my heart. I took the RA job. I turned onto the path of academia which has led me to where I am today.
2015-2016 where the RA years (My 2016, a cracking year! ) (My Facebook status’ of the year and what a story it tells of 2015.) An incredibly rewarding, stressful, intense training I could ever receive being an RA in the department. I thought my development rate was staggering from BSc to MSc, but as an RA, I developed more in those years there than I had all the other years combined. I adored that job, as much as it was mental! It cemented to me that this is what I wanted to do as a career now. The research was home, I had found not where I expected to be but clearly where I was meant to be. I worked on a vast amount of projects, learnt so much and got to work with the most incredibly supportive colleagues a young RA could ever ask for! I was pushed to my limits and beyond in that job. It only became apparent when I started my PhD how much training I had unknowingly been through as the departments RA. I was a seasoned researcher soldier by the time the PhD wars came. I felt like a general when I walked into PhD life. To this day, those intense years where the best in terms of training for research and my career and it put me in a great position.
Here we go again, three-year cycles in life, all going well and here comes the downer. Funding cuts across the University. RAs well we’re disposable. First to be cut was me. Here I am again, back at this familiar road. Find something I’m good at and I like and here comes something to take it away. Oddly, I was different this time. The disappointment didn’t come as a surprise, things were going too well so I was expecting this to occur. But more than that, after so many disappointments and setbacks in my life I was just like meh, okay, it’s another one, I’ll deal with it like I always do. No worries! I was gutted to be leaving the department but I also felt that maybe this was a blessing in disguise. A new chance to see this as rather than a setback, a new adventure, a new challenge. Since 2013 I’ve had the mindset of turning negatives into positives, even if that is only a small positive. I had learnt all that I could there, I couldn’t progress without a PhD. So PhD it is.
I’ve always been a firm believer that if you have the right attitude in life, if you work hard, then you build a door. If you do that, then life will give you opportunities and if you’ve worked hard and in the right way, then the opportunity will come and knock at that door that you’ve built. The day after I was told I was going to be unemployed, the PhD scholarship at LJMU was posted. My boss saw it, sent it to me. I quote “Jesus Tony, this PhD looks like it’s been written for you! Drones in fieldwork! You should apply”. There was an opportunity, knocking very loudly! I was so very nearly not going to apply until my work mum Sara knocked some sense into me (one of the very many unsung heroes of this decade for me! Thank you Sara!). I applied, did the interview, got the scholarship and the rest is history as they say!
2016-2019 and that’s where we end this decade. The PhD years. These past three years would never have happened without that decision way back in 2010 or that one in 2015. It’s a weird life when you think about it. If I had my way, I like to think I would have been an air traffic controller now, with a wife and maybe a kid. But life has a funny way of getting you where you need to be, not where you want to be. Here I am, in 2019, as a Doctor. I never thought or even entertained the thought that one day I would be Dr Cliffe, I’d be an editor of a Journal and a Senior Lecturer at 27 years old. Yet, for all of that journey, I am immensely proud that I am here. That I never gave up and that I feel I am where I’m meant to be right now. The past three years have undoubtedly been the best of the decade. I have so much love for my time on the PhD and the people who were in it My final day and my goodbye. I have grown again as a person to someone who I feel is the best and most rounded version of me there has ever been. The past three years have been the most intellectually challenging journey. It’s also been the most personally challenging as I’ve worked towards the highest academic qualification you can get. It’s been a fabulous time, especially all the friendships, relationships and travel that it brought me!
However, the past three years would not have been possible without my fellow PGRs, especially H105. They have been my rock throughout all of this! Friends that I know I will have forever! The battle of the Viva and my ode to H105 A perfect weekend: A wedding and Friendships Yet, they’re not alone in my thoughts as I look back on this decade. You see, for every fail and trust me I have 1000 fails to every one of my successes. You see, whether I’ve failed or I’ve achieved I’ve never been alone. I’ve had people in my life for those ten years who’ve been through everything, I’ve had people who’ve come and gone. Each time was leaving a piece of them with me that has changed me. People have left me with positives and some with lessons. I’ve had so many unsung heroes on this journey, so many people who when I lost faith, put their faith in me. I’ve had the most amazing mentors who backed me when I didn’t back myself, who pushed me beyond my perceived limits to see what I was truly capable of. This decade is littered with the most amazing, kind-hearted, dedicated, and loyal people I have ever met. I have had friends like Chloe, Emma, Hannah, Luke, Laura, Vic, Katie, the list goes on who have stood by me through thick and thin. Who has never waivered, who always believe in me and what I stand for. Without out, I wouldn’t be possible.
I feel as I end this decade that I am incredibly wealthy in terms of the company that I now keep. 2010 me was a lost boy who didn’t fit in. 2019 me is a man who has found a home, a family. I may not be where I thought I would be, but I’m where I feel I’m meant to be.
Let’s see what the new decade holds, 2010-2010 was the decade of achievement…I’m ready for the adventure of this new decade. What it will be called I guess I’ll find out in 10 years, but I am ready for it to be written!
Decade of Achievement
- A – Levels
- UK’s first parliamentary school speaker award winner
- UK Good Citizen of the year award
- BSc Geography
- Novel published on Amazon
- Top 20 UK undergraduate researchers (2013)
- MSc Sustainability
- Outstanding Academic Support staff overall winner 2016
- Editor of IJSaP
- 4 papers published
- Driving Licence
- Senior Lecturer
- Deputy Chair of Ethics
- Post Graduate Assessment Officer