UPSIDE DOWN CAREERS: HOW I SHIMMIED INTO THE MEDIA AND JOURNALISM

By Sophie Mei Lan 

There’s not many journalists who can say that their most powerful stories to date stemmed from back bending on the floors of Shisha Bars as a professional bellydancer, and it’s something I always felt embarrassed about when presenting as a guest lecture in front of the next generation of journalists. 

These blurred lines between personal and professional from a paid hobby as a performer to my professional life as a journalist and business owner used to make me comfortable as I struggled to fit in whether it be in the entertainment world where most people were from private acting schools unlike me who shimmied her way through community groups and funded courses for the “under-represented” or in the media world where it is also not always what you know but who you know. 

Somehow I managed to navigate my own way through the side door of the stage. 

But I would secretly straddling roles as I tried to hide my multi-faceted life as an aspiring woman in the media who loved (and needed to earn the cash to fund my efforts) performing as a dancer. My multidimensional life became even more complex as a young mum with classed ‘disabilities’ and in one day alone I would drop my daughter off at nursery en route to a social enterprise course to fund a community magazine, before quickly changing into student clothes for a postgraduate journalism lecture, before a business meeting, then changing into a bellydance costume to perform that night before returning home to care for my daughter and then the following morning I would reappear in smart clothes on the news desk of a national newspaper before collecting my daughter and my long commute to home to tend to housework and admin for my journalism, businesses, hobbies and life. 

I felt less superhero and more like a Quick Change Artist, my scarcity mindset of “where there’s muck, there’s brass,” meant I was always hustling trying desperately to reach this ‘other world’ of a career as a journalist. Ironically, rather than asking to be paid for my endless ‘work experience’ stints, I would try self-fund my dream and make ends meet elsewhere. 

In recent times however we have all been forced to accept and celebrate the spectrum of humanity we come into contact with via video call ‘unveiling our professional masks’ with so many others are working flexibly from home. 

It was during a video call with my life coach Emily of Quantum Coaching where I had the realisation that I too was responsible for transforming my mindset rooted in my own past and me subconsciously trudging a ‘rags to riches’ fairytale, when in fact we are one world and the ultimate transformation comes from within, as Emily said: “Most of those money sayings are outdated and only serve to keep us in our past. If how we feel about ourselves is determined by anything external, we give away personal power. If something outside of ourselves has the power to make us feel worthy, valued and happy, then it has the power to take that away too. But when we love ourselves unconditionally and hold our value high, money is welcome as an expression of love, gratitude and appreciation.” 

With a rekindled fire in my belly and the new found confidence of speaking up on Zoom for myself and others from the comfort of my own creative home office, I realised that ‘true empowerment’ and inclusivity, means that to truly inspire the next generation and myself that we need to pay for people’s skills and services, because of their background, not just promote a more diverse world, we need to cherish and cheerlead it.

Read more from me at https://Thesparklecoach.com and read more on northern women in business at sparkleupnorth.com

It had previously been primarily women having to explain their need for flexible working hours, but as we all move to one much more flexible world with our colleagues, leaders and teachers feeling less on a hierarchical chain as we share video calls with screeching children, dogs barking and many a creative backdrop cutting through the normal sterile office backdrop we see on the news. 

As one business coffee appointment called it, who turned out to be a fellow creative thanks to displaying her array of craftwork on display at home via Microsoft Teams: “We are “multi-potentialists,” replacing my self-proclaimed misfit badge.

It felt a relief, having always felt held back by needing to have one niche or ‘USP’ in my pitches and CV which so many of us have had to dust off in recent times… to being able to showcase rather than hide my spectrum of skills as secrets. 

With that gusto I then revealed to my call the ‘secret’ behind my sparkly office curtains, which is an array of dance costumes and gym equipment nestled away from my traditional work-from-home media suite. Even though my wide vocabulary of mind and body fitness informs my journalism these days. 

After all there is no competition, there is only one you. 

These blurred lines actually helped us to carve a much deeper profound connection in just one quick meeting.  

It is such an asset to have diversity at the forefront of a more fruitful world where people can thrive. 

The less I too have witnessed the professional and personal world as two separate entities, much like I felt my ‘impoverished’ background as a bellydancer was a million miles away from the ‘rich’ I would often perform for, the more optimistic I feel now that I have overcome my own divisive barriers which were holding me back, as we are one world and there is an abundance of opportunity and money to pay for us all. So if you have the strength to speak up for someone who is yet to actualise their potential, make sure you offer them a space to flourish. 

I am now proudly showcasing my closet of sequins to add some sparkle to the normal ‘bookcase’ or ‘business banner’ backdrop we often see, who knows maybe I’ll be presenting Channel 4 News with all my sparkles on show one day! One thing I do know is that the more money is shared amongst those of us with values the much more prosperous a universe we will live in. 

I have now openly embraced the power of being multifaceted, embracing my beauty of a creative laterally thinking brain and,With a new-found confidence 


Read more from me at https://MAMAMEI.co.UK and read more on northern women in business at sparkleupnorth.com

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