Gemma Cairney: ‘The Yellow Pages To Life Would Be Quite Handy Right Now’

From millennial adulting to the internet's role in how we deal with life, here's what happened when we chatted to Gemma Cairney about her new book ‘Open’

Gemma Cairney: ‘The Yellow Pages To Life Would Be Quite Handy Right Now’

by Jazmin Kopotsha |

We're at a really specific point in our lives, you guys. And it’s one that generations before and after us won’t have quite experienced in the same way. You see, we 20-somethings/millennials/team gen-Y are the last generation to know what it’s like to be young and without the internet. I’m talking pre-dial-up. Before our first instinct was to jump on MSN messenger rather than physically going over to your mate’s house to say hello. Your Nokia 3310 that didn't connect to GPS.

As we've grown up, we've watched it all change. We’ve watched our lives move online and arguably become a whole lot more complicated than it used to be. It's pretty special if you think about it. We've got a really unique position of understanding of what it's like to grow up in the big bad digital age. The difficult thing, though, is that we've just had to kind of muddle out way through it. There wasn't really a guidebook to navigating your formative years as the world turns digital and your whole world simultaneously becomes smaller and a whole lot bigger.

But one fantastic woman who has living it with us is Gemma Cairney, and she's recently released a book called *Open: A Toolkit for how Magic And Messed Up Life Can Be *(which is also now an audiobook if you fancy). She talks all things growing up. It's honest, it's funny and it'll probably speak to you just as much (if maybe in a slightly different way) as it is will for your annoying younger sibling, which is nice.

So, we caught up with Gemma to talk a bit about millennial adulting, getting to grips with life online and learning to be okay with the really rubbish bits of growing up.

Hi Gemma! So, you speak a lot about how it’s okay for life to be scary and messy. When did you realise that it was okay and accept the whole being a grown-up thing?

It was really scary to have this aim - that suddenly you achieve grown-up-ness and that everything is okay and achievable. You might have got the job of your dreams, a ring on your finger or have a mortgage. Those tick boxes feel such hard things and then when you get them you expect suddenly everything’s okay.

I’ve had the dream job and I’ve got a mortgage and I don’t have a ring on my finger but I realise that nothing is ever perfect, and even when you tick those boxes for the first time, you can’t change the wildness of life. You can’t change the fact that you will have days where everything will feel wondrous and days when everything feels strange because of the sky, or because you’ve received some bad news or your worrying about a friend.

I don’t think that I ever got to a point where I felt like a grown up but what I do feel is a bit more humbled to the amount of years that I’ve been on the planet. Heartbreak is no stranger to me, loneliness is no stranger, I’ve dealt with people dying, I’ve been in toxic relationships, I’ve had horrendous hangovers. Being open to the fact that life can be both up and down is kind of what keeps personally me going because I’m just excited by the good times.

Do you think the internet and being on social media all the time has changed how we deal with things?

We’ve got two separate lives to worry about. We worry about how we come across face to face day to day. But then we’re also worried about how we’re coming across in this virtual reality world as well. So, if you’re having an amazing moment at a party or are on holiday, not only are you not enjoying that moment anymore you’re actually thinking about how you can portray that and give it to your friends online. And that is an extra whole layer of thought.

We are controlling two lives and I think it’s really good to be aware of. I don’t think we need to necessarily fear it or feel down about it, I think we just need to just prepare ourselves for the realness that of course, the online world has the potential to exacerbate low mood or insecurities and we the way we experiment with what it means to us is really important.

Definitely! And I guess as generations move on we grow up in different ways. So, the generation to come after those of us who don’t know anything other than a life online will probably manage their lives very differently again.

That’s the thing, it’s really hard to keep a lid on or communicate in a universal language generationally but also regionally. I went all around the country on the bus tour with the book and in a big yellow double decker bus and we arrived at schools talking about everything in the book to people probably between the ages of 12 and 16, but also beyond. We did Women Of The World festival both in London and Hull, and you just notice that we’re all in little pockets now and different bubbles and what those bubbles are is so important to us. They are different depending on where you go and who you associate yourself with.

While you were travelling around talking to people for the book, was there anything you found particularly challenging to address?

Well, speaking of the internet, I definitely started to become a little bit like obsessive about how worrying I found it as an informational tool. Things can be taken in so many directions and it can be overwhelming. So, for example, when I was researching self-harm, it’s such a big topic in the book because it came up at a school and some students were really terrified of it - it had taken hold of their year group and it had become quite a trend.

When I tried to research it because I’ve never really experienced self-harm I found more damaging imagery online than I found helpful advice. I found it really worrying as a concept because as young vulnerable people trying to get information on something, you could come across stuff that ends up being bad for you rather than giving you the resources you were searching for in the first place.

That kind of spurred me on because making sure the book was safeguarded, modified, careful and thought out. It’s a place to go that has advice, and there’s expert advice in there as well as my own. That’s really spurred me on to write a book full of so many different subject matters because I felt like a sort of yellow pages to life would be quite handy right now in the world of the internet.

I think we accidently take away the things that gives us so much. We suddenly turned around and everything is all on our phones. We suddenly turned around and we weren’t having conversations face to face anymore we’re shouting into Facebook. I really enjoyed exploring hat as a concept and writing it down and also the reaction is really profound for me. The way people are reacting is more than I ever could have hoped for. It really speaks to the right people and the right way and that for me whether that’s one sentence, or the whole thing or the glitter on the front or an interactive moment or something that really laugh out loud, so many things.

Is there any advice that you were given in your early 20s that you still carry with you today?

Yeah, it’s just that every day is a new day. I definitely think that there are some terrible days that I’ve had, just things like that fear but it so maddening how one night’s sleep can change it, you know? An end of a relationship, a trauma, a worry, an embarrassment, an insecurity, it can go feel so different with time so I think really let time be your friend rather than trying to escape it.

That’s definitely something I wish I knew sooner. We have a habit of wish for everything to be perfect straight away.

You just need to take those moments to your advantage. Once you’ve dealt with stuff you then know how to deal with it and it makes you stronger. And do things that make you feel good! That ca be so personal to you but like, equip yourself with the tools of knowing what makes you feel good. Whether that’s something as structured as going to therapy because you need it or something really dreamy and pampering as going to the sauna at your local leisure centre as a chance to switch off. Find a way of losing yourself in something that’s really positive for you.

Open: A Toolkit for How Magic and Messed Up Life Can Be narrated by Gemma Cairney is out now on

Like this? You might also be interested in…

Gemma Cairney Travelled The World For WOW Festival To Find Out What Young Girls Are Really Thinking

What Would Beyonce Do?! Comedian Luisa Omielan Sorts Your Life Out For You

Emma Gannon, Author Of Ctrl Alt Delete, Solves Your Online Dilemmas

Follow Jazmin on Instagram @JazKopotsha

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us