acceptance

On Turning 30: The End of an Era and the Land of Tomorrows

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There are four days until I turn thirty. Thirty! The big, elusive number that’s always hung up there on the shelf of somedays, a number I think on some level I’ve probably believed may perhaps hold within it the feeling of actually being a grown up. I know I’m not the only one sitting at the end of my twenties still wondering when I’m going to feel like an adult – I hear it all the time. Yes, I have a job, a car, real bills, food I buy myself (yes, sometimes rice pudding is a perfectly acceptable breakfast), and a sweet cat I all too often consider listing as a dependent, but I don’t feel there’s yet been a moment where I’ve felt there’s been a clear-cut, unequivocal moment that defined the transition from young person to responsible adult; girl to woman. I still feel uncomfortable referring to myself as the latter. I think I’ll always be that girl. The optimist. The hoper of far-flung hopes and the dreamer of impossible dreams. (Points if you caught that one.) But not a grown-up. I’ve looked forward to thirty for some time now – I still get ID’d, I still get the gasps from people ten years my junior that no, I’m not really in the same age bracket, and from people in the working world shocked to hear I’m in my second decade of employment and actually have a couple of management positions under my belt. I’m excited to hold up my card and have it reflect an age where generally people are seen as a little more together, and I’m excited to put the rollercoaster adventure that was my twenties in the memory box. I’m actually in a little bit of disbelief to be saying goodbye to them and all they’ve been.

My twenties were life-changing. I think I levelled up as a person at least twice – I had a horrid anxiety disorder for years that prevented me doing basically anything, I ended up in the hospital a few times, I broke bones, got beaten up and had a bunch of money stolen, got married despite crying the night before knowing full well I shouldn’t be doing it because nothing about that relationship was right, got banned from catholic churches, got divorced when he went religion-crazy, uprooted myself and moved countless times, and learned about the power of choice, action, and developed an awareness of our ephemeral existence and decided life was far too short to spend not trying to make it exactly what you dream of. There are things outside of our control that may pose limitations, but there are things within us – hopes, dreams, attitudes, and determination – that we have the power to simply activate and put into motion.

choose

In my twenties, I learned to stop seeing my sensitivity as a terrible thing and actually learn techniques that would help keep me more bearable to others and to myself instead of spiralling into fits of worry about imaginary things inside my head. I studied psychology and neuroscience relentlessly, and learned all sorts of helpful things about abandonment issues and deficiencies in object constancy. I trained myself to be grateful for at least three things every single day, to express that gratitude, and I decided to make a point of letting everyone I know and love just how awesome they are. I decided that success didn’t mean financial wealth, it meant value to others. I wanted to be the friend to everyone I always wished I had when I was going through stupid stuff, and a big goal of mine was for everyone to know I’d always be there for them no matter what. Because loneliness can, as my friend John says, “suck a d**k”.

I learned an instrument and started putting my voice on the interwebs. I was terrified, but I wanted to sing so badly. I spent many nights crying because I was so scared of anyone hearing and judging me, and I’m not saying I’m good by any means, but the act of repeatedly doing it as well as learning an instrument led me to making music with friends, and though at first I cried and made them look the other way, now we have half a dozen songs under our belt ready for polishing and hopefully an EP and some shows in the near future. I volunteered to be in videos and do voiceovers, and I started being funny. Something I always admired in my dad and something I knew I had inside me, but I’d always been too scared to try. I was known as quiet and shy – until I started a new job and nobody knew me from Adam’s house cat – so I started subtly, making wise cracks in newsletters and company profiles, and it slowly transformed into being known as “the extrovert of the office”. It was like every Christmas had come at once. Finally, people were starting to see me the way I always wanted to be seen. And I learned that that sort of thing fuels me to keep going. When small victories become real things, when wishes become habits, and who you always were finally starts to be strong enough to emerge on the outside, it’s addictive, and slowly all the old ways of thinking and seeing are transformed into something healthier, better.

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I also learned that I’m a bit of an emotional sponge. I try to be the eternal optimist, because that rubs off on people, and the world is a better place with more happy people in it. But I also find (maybe it’s an INFJ thing) that I absorb other people’s emotions like a sponge, and this takes me back to that place where I used to fear everything like a crazy person. One thing I’m learning lots lately is the power of our own thoughts in shaping our realities, which I touched on in my last post, along with words of wisdom from a movie I was lucky enough to see recently: Tomorrowland is full of adventure, sci-fi brilliance, imagination, but also science, philosophy, and some incredibly wise food for thought.

I didn’t realise how brilliant Brad Bird was until I looked him up after this. The SimpsonsRatatouilleThe IncrediblesMission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol? That’s one heck of a resume. And Tomorrowland may be on the shortlist of my favourite movies ever. It teaches the power of “feeding the right wolf”. “There are two wolves,” one of our leads says to her father. “One bright and hopeful, and one dark and cynical. Which wolf wins? Whichever one you feed.” How often do we fall into our own pits of self-absorption whenever things aren’t going quite right? We may be having a bad day, work might be throwing us unexpected challenges, our bodies might feel stiff and sore, or we may be overtired. We complain about these things because societally, that’s normal. That’s expected. A swarm of whiners in eternal competition to see who’s worse off.

Sympathy has a certain allure when we’re feeling crappy, but self-victimization and bringing others down to our own pity parties definitely doesn’t. With every word we utter, we have the power to influence someone else’s mood. Day. Life, even. With every attitude we adopt, we shape the lens of our own life. With every thought, the more we feed it, the more it shapes us, and in turn affects everyone we subsequently encounter. Do you want the root of it all to spread negativity, to your own days and to those around you? Or do you want to realise that life just happens, good or bad, accept it, and focus on making the most of the next minute? It’s an issue the film explores wonderfully. It makes the point that we, as humans, thrive on chaos. We devour unrest and catastrophe – we claim to desire inspiration and salvation, yet instead, adopt the easy route of depression. As a brilliant Hugh Laurie states during the movie: “You’ve got simultaneous epidemics of obesity AND starvation; explain that one. Bees and butterflies start to disappear, the glaciers melt, the algae blooms. All around you, the coal mine canaries are dropping dead and you won’t take the hint. In every moment there’s a possibility of a better future, but you people won’t believe it. And because you won’t believe it, you won’t do what is necessary to make it a reality.”

The film was full of writing that made me sit on the edge of my seat and applaud. (“Why do you love the stars so much?” “Because I want to go there.” “But what if nothing’s there?” “What if everything is there?” #swoon) It shows big problems with our world, and how the future, in growing up, may not be all it was cracked up to be when we were children. It shows that anyone; young and untainted or old and jaded, can choose to respond to a problem not with complaint, but with questions; can we fix it? as well we the bravery to try. Things can become difficult. It’s part of life. Everyone can get overwhelmed and things can feel impossible. But we can all look around, and find something we can do right now. Something that makes everything a little better. And decide to build a better future this very moment. Every course of action starts with the right attitude. There are all sorts of philosophical topics tackled in Tomorrowland, great performances, robots, time travel, alternate dimensions, spaceships, rockets, and a fantastic cast, but above all, it’s an enormous life lesson packaged in an adventure of the imagination, and it will leave you inspired, introspective, and exhilarated. Go and see it right now.

I wrap up my twenties with a heart that may have a few bruises and scars, but ones that will forever remind me of everything I’ve learned. I’m incredibly thankful for everything that happened in the last decade – every tear, every laugh, every friendship, every sunset, every hope lost and gained, every dream that shone bright enough to fuel action. Every sadness that made me want something different, every leader whose kindness and influence inspired me, every time I was thanked or felt thankful. Every movie or song, performance, story, or piece of art that made me feel proud to belong to the human race. Every adventure or act of serendipity. Everyone who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. Every fellow dreamer. Every quiet sign from the universe. Everyone who demonstrated love and kindness, and everyone who demonstrated the opposite, because it showed me exactly the sort of person I want to be. I feel I’m ending this decade as I would a school year, emerging with memories, life-long friendships and relationships built on authenticity, and life lessons I’m excited to carry into my thirties. I always wanted to have confidence, skills, passion, humour, gratitude, wit and compassion. I always wanted those things to be known. I always wanted to love unconditionally, to have such beautiful souls around me that have let me in, to sincerely know them, and to bring the good to their lives that they do to mine.

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On the edge of a new decade, I feel extremely lucky to be able to count many of those once-dreams as realities. I’m excited for my thirties. In a month, I am kicking them off with Fringe festival and friends (my favourite time of year), and with the love of my life on an epic 8-country adventure across Europe. I’m writing songs, building a business, expanding my skills, looking at the stars, and soaking up the sky. I vow to always be striving to be better, to always choose kindness, to not fall victim to what’s easy, and to always try to do what’s right. I vow to make my default attitude one of acceptance and action, to leave a good story behind, and to try hard not to get swallowed by my own fears or emotions. It may take a little while, but by eliminating excuses, procrastination, and shunning negative societal norms, and instead adopting an awareness of our own transience and making the absolute most of it, we truly can map the course of our own lives any moment we decide to.

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The Butterfly Effect

 “Wisdom comes from experience.
Experience is often a result of lack of wisdom.”

– Terry Pratchett

Contrary to popular belief, I’m twenty-six years old. (I’m really hoping for some sort of prize if I still get asked for ID a decade after turning eighteen.) I’m at That Age where everyone around me seems to be busy Being Grown Ups and doing all the things my teenage self thought I’d probably be doing now too. Friends are earning degrees, planning weddings, welcoming babies, climbing the corporate ladder, celebrating anniversaries, buying cars and houses, and all the while I’m reminded that the clock is ticking, thirty is just around the corner, and my life is far from what I thought it would be.  I think we all have ideas of what our lives will look like when we’re younger, largely based on the patterns of those around us (my parents met each other at sixteen, married at twenty and had me two years later – and for most of my high school years, I thought this was probably going to be my life course too! Prime opportunity to make use of the word “crikey”?), added to interests, goals, hopes and dreams… but how many of us actually end up living out the life we imagined we would?

By my mid-twenties, I definitely thought I’d have graduated university. I thought I’d have been married a few years, maybe with a kid on the way around this age, and I thought I’d be living in my own house. Not a big house, mind – I envisioned a little bungalow somewhere with hardwood floors, walls I’d painted turquoise and sage green, and a garden I’d somehow enjoy tending. I definitely thought I’d be able to drive, and though I was passionate about pursuing psychology, I was told I’d never find a job in it, so I imagined I’d be using my finished university degree in driving to work every day to my job as an English teacher, which would be unaffected by any sort of social anxiety, and which I would love. I imagined the only debt I had being the mortgage on my house, and I imagined planning trips every year to faraway places. I imagined having taken a year off in my early twenties to launch myself across the Atlantic and explore India or Australia, and I think I always imagined I’d be living back in Europe. I imagined getting home from work by 4:30 and having an hour or two to catch up on housework, prepare actual meals from actual recipe books (and actually enjoy cooking), and sit down at my dark cherry mahogany dining suite with my family, a glass of wine in hand and classical music floating in from the living room. I imagined spending the rest of the evening in a nicely decorated study, catching up on marking, and I imagined going to bed by 10:00 with enough time to read every night.

How frightfully grown-up my illusory mid-twenties were going to be. And how frightfully boring

I ended up moving out at eighteen with someone I was dating at the time, and when that fell apart, moved straight back to my parents’ basement for three weeks before finding the first of a series of flatmates that ended up being… let’s say… interesting characters. I moved five times in seven years, cohabitating with people who didn’t realise the expenses of living alone (and moving straight back home after a few months), didn’t own plates or cutlery (and insisted on stockpiling all mine in their bedrooms for weeks at a time in what I can only imagine were endeavours at breaking some sort of horrible Guinness record), and stole movies and CDs. People who took monthly phone and Internet cheques from me, deposited them in their bank account, had us disconnected, and then broke my bedroom door in an effort to burgle their way in to use my computer. I ended up dating a series of bad people who left my self esteem in tatters, and ended up agreeing to marry multiple times because I thought that’s just what people did – that life isn’t perfect, people aren’t perfect, and we just go through the motions. I never imagined for a second that soulmates and fairytale love existed in the real world and ended up settling for what I thought I was worth, getting myself thousands of dollars in debt, emotionally and physically abused, and picking up pieces repeatedly as a result of my own inability to believe I was worth any more. I dropped out of university two years in because I couldn’t afford to keep going and live on my own, and because my dream of teaching English didn’t line up with the anxiety disorder I’d developed (and subsequent incapability of speaking in public). I lived in a series of apartments, I went through a series of groups of friends, and I drifted for years, just floating along through life, never taking any risks, always settling for less, never truly fitting in and never truly comfortable with who I was. No direction, no assets, and definitely nowhere near the picture I’d drawn of what life was going to be. But you know what? Being where I am now, I genuinely couldn’t be more thankful that things happened the way they did.

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
– Helen Keller

So I didn’t finish university – it doesn’t mean I’m not clever. I know I kept up an excellent GPA, and I know I still spend much of my free time reading and learning more about science, psychology, language and the world around me. Textbook clever, I think, is just as valid as real-world clever. So I’m still thoroughly undomesticated – I still hate cooking and would rather do six loads of laundry one Saturday afternoon a month than keep up with it weekly, but I keep things clean, and I spend my time on other, more interesting things, like writing or sci-fi nights with friends. I know the person I am today is a result of having been through complete and utter crap – and it’s not easy, but I fully admit I was the only one who allowed that crap to happen. That’s why I’m so determined today to stand up for myself, stand up for what I believe to be right, stand up for others who’re taken advantage of or can’t see their potential, and stand up for my own self worth. If life had been easy, if I hadn’t wanted for things so desperately, I would never have had any reason to push myself out of my comfort zone. If things had fallen into my lap, I could have been living the life I imagined, thoroughly sheltered from real world experience, thoroughly limited in my outlook on life, and thoroughly bored. As one of my favourite musicians once said, “darkness defines where the light is”, and I firmly believe that things are so much more meaningful, and so very much more appreciated when you’ve had to work to get them. If things had been easy, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I wouldn’t have challenged myself, I wouldn’t have attempted things I wanted to be able to do, I wouldn’t have met half the amazing people I have in my life today, and I would never have experienced soul-stirring, life-changing, epic, fairytale love I thought only existed in fiction. I wouldn’t have learned to prioritize making a difference over making money, and I wouldn’t have learned how incredibly much there is in this life to learn, to attempt, to soak up, to throw yourself into and to experience with every fibre of your being. I wouldn’t have felt the need to tell those I love just how much they mean, I would have taken things for granted, and I wouldn’t have learned the valuable lesson of acceptance. I wouldn’t have stories or battle scars, and I wouldn’t be fuelled by such insatiable passion for making the most of the time we have.

“What are you thinking?” he asks.

I know he hates it when I cry – he is completely undone by the sight of tears – so I blink hard against the sting. “I’m thinking how thankful I am for everything,” I say, “even the bad stuff. Every sleepless night, every second of being lonely, every time the car broke down, every wad of gum on my shoe, every late bill and losing lottery ticket and bruise and broken dish and piece of burnt toast.”

His voice is soft. “Why, darling?”

“Because it all led me here to you.”
– Lisa Kleypas

Life may be far from what I imagined, but I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. There’s something about catching or missing a trainbumping into someone instead of passing them by, the wrong person getting their hands on an ordinary sports almanac, or preventing the wrong medication being given that may help illustrate my point – I do think there’s something thoroughly fascinating about the whole butterfly effect. I may not have a degree, a family, a house or a car, but I reckon I’ve got life experience by the bucketload. In the past, at times, things have definitely felt confusing and downright catastrophic. But they all led me to the here and now. They made me stronger, more aware, and more passionate. More grateful and more determined. They led me to true friends, true love, and true appreciation of what’s really important in life. My timeline may be off, and I may have taken a few wrong turns. But at the end of it, it was a terribly big adventure, and from where I’m sitting now as a result of the course things took, I wouldn’t wish for things to have been different at all.

Now, somebody stop me before I embarrass myself terribly and start quoting Rascal Flatts. 🙂 How about you? How do you feel about the darker times in your past? And did your life turn out the way you’d imagined it would? 

Peel the scars from off my back, I don’t need them any more

Peel the scars from off my back,
I don’t need them any more,
You can throw them out
Or keep them in your mason jars,
I’ve come home

– Lyrics from the beautiful Welcome Home (Radical Face)

If you told me a month ago I would now be happier and feeling more at home than I have in my entire life, I probably would have sent you back to the TARDIS to try another point in spacetime after clearly getting the wrong coordinates. I didn’t imagine that in such a short time, what would commonly be seen as one of the worst things that could happen in a lifetime was the catalyst that led me toward the path that genuinely feels more right than anything. I’ve always been a huge advocate for the power of choice, and when everything that’s supposedly certain is pulled out from under your feet leaving you hanging in mid-air, you really do have one: panicking at the loss of control, or shifting your focus toward something you can, and trusting that by allowing yourself to be open to a whole new beginning instead of frantically clinging onto a door already closed, the universe will deliver. And here I sit, a few months later, more secure, happy, and genuinely at peace than I think I ever have been. But I’m not going to lie and say that dealing with people’s reaction to the supposedly abnormal feelings of wellbeing hasn’t been a challenge.

There aren’t a lot of things in life that bother me, but one of them definitely comes in the form of people passing judgment before hearing a whole story, or put more simply: gossip. There have been all sorts of interesting studies about our propensity for talking about people who aren’t in the room, and the psychology of it is rather fascinating. On the plus side, it serves as something that bonds social group members together and can result in feelings of interconnectedness and belonging. But on the reverse, it can destroy friendships and reputations, and can lead one to feelings of alienation, humiliation and belittlement over invented or assumed stories passed through the rumour mill with little to no truth at all. So why is it that the human race is so quick to judge others without first bothering to hear the truth?

As I’m sure many of us experience at some point or another, I’m no stranger to being talked about. I think us bloggers especially may even inadvertently bring it upon ourselves: by putting our hearts, hopes, fears and dreams out there for the whole world to see, naturally there are going to be some old blasts from the past, jealous haters or other Internet trolls that are going to latch onto something you say and use it to fuel spiteful comments or make judgment about you. Something I’ve been tossing about my head lately is something about which I’m not sure how to feel: you know I’m hugely passionate about the idea of giving your all to everyone and everything, but the trouble with always pouring your soul into every open door is the fact that every subsequent occupant will have a piece of you that may no longer reflect the person you are today. This leads to incredible frustration when judgments are passed on those pieces of the past – everyone’s life path is strewn with wrong turns and mistakes here and there, but we become who we are today by learning from them. They’re not one-stop destinations that accurately describe present-day you, but when people’s only impression of you is from a period in which you were learning those lessons, the consequential judgment and skepticism can be hard to take.

Yes, I believe the past plays a huge role in shaping who we are now, but I don’t think we have to wear our history like a map on our face.  Enormous feelings of discontent can evaporate when you realise you have the choice to play along with people’s tendencies to define you by your past, or see yourself as the only true author of your own future. You may have been someone else once, but that doesn’t mean you’re the same person today. If nobody ever learned or grew or changed their ways, what a stale, hopeless world we would find ourselves in. The past definitely shapes who we become, but it doesn’t need to accompany us every day telling us who we “are”. The danger comes when we start to give credit to other people’s decisions that we are the sum of our past mistakes. If we keep telling ourselves the same stories, we start to believe them.  And in doing so, we construct our own prison cells caging us in from our true potential.

It’s tough not to listen when it feels like the rest of the world’s definition of you is stuck on who you were, overlooking the possibility you could have done any sort of growth since. For the last few weeks, I have been infinitely happier, more content and more secure than I can ever remember being. Lame sap that I am, I told someone recently that in hindsight, it seems that until this point, I’d been living with only ten percent of my heart and simply assuming that that was what life was. Feelings of intense wellbeing and the loss of fear and anxiety that have been such fierce companions for so long are now, for the first time, daily occurences, but people are having a hard time believing it, and tend to meet my mentality with suspicion. Lately, I’m filled with such passion, joy, and a sense of certainty – it feels like I’ve been living in a world of black and white and I’ve finally stepped into technicolour. But why is it so hard to believe that I’m fully capable of being happy? 

The reason I’ve been able to move forward so quickly is, I think, through acceptance. It was one of the goals I wanted to implement this year and it’s something that’s helped me see things with incredible clarity. I look back on the last few years and see so clearly that I was settling; on the surface, going through the motions of what one would assume to be a relatively typical life, yet on the inside, wishing every day for things to be that little bit different. Wishing I didn’t have to worry, or second-guess. Wishing I didn’t have to wonder about what was being said behind my back. Wishing for contentment, security, and genuine happiness. Wishing for compatibility. Wishing for the feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach to go away, and wishing that the stuff of fairytales existed in the real world. Wishing I didn’t have to wish so much. Looking back, I know without any shadow of a doubt that that ongoing feeling of discontent was a sign from the universe, and I’ve learned that if something feels wrong, it probably is, and no matter how much you overlook it, go along with a pretense or invest in endeavours to fix it, if you are on the wrong path, something spectacularly catastrophic will happen to open your eyes, and force you onto the right one. It’s happened before, and as a result, it made it that much easier to recognise this time around. I’m genuinely grateful for things taking the direction they did, because they led me to what currently feels like the best chapter of my entire life. And when you know in your heart that things genuinely happen for a reason, that things weren’t right, and that the only thing you can control is the here and now… it makes getting on with the future that much easier. Another goal of mine this year was not to waste any time. So why not choose action? Why not grab hold of opportunities life throws your way and have faith that they could be amazing? I can understand holding onto the past if you’ve lost something that was. But when it was something ultimately uncertain and at times, destructive, why not allow yourself close the door behind you and step into a brighter future just because it may not be the social norm?

There will always be people who’ll judge. There will always be societal pressure to do things a certain way, and there will always be questions, rumours or misunderstandings. There will always be people who will define you by your past actions, but at the end of the day, only you know your true heart, and the person you are today. The past will always be there, but it cannot be changed. The only thing any of us can ultimately control is our life from this point on. So why not leave history where it belongs, make the most of our time, and focus on a better future? If you’re making the right choices for you, gossip and judgment can’t really hold that much weight at all.

So it goes…

FINALLY, after what feels like absolutely months, I can say I’ve returned to the online world! I feel absolutely horrible I haven’t been able to keep up with you or write back to your lovely comments, but last week, with the help of a team of wonderful boys, I moved, got The Men in, the Internet hooked up, and am currently in the process of catching up on everything. Come to think of it, this may take another week. 🙂 

Unsurprisingly, a couple of things that seem to have worked their way into my mind as of late and taken up residence are the ideas of risk and change. If I were to describe the events of the last few months, you might wonder why said mind hasn’t handed in its proverbial resignation (seriously, when DIY espionage, treason, and a hundred-and-eighty-degree turn in life path, people, relationships, accommodation and finances all crop up within a few weeks of each other, sometimes the only thing you can do is laugh!). But in keeping with one of the goals I wanted to put into practice, I seem to have latched on tightly to the notion of acceptance, and consequently hitched a surprisingly comfortable ride through the last few weeks. 

Every hand we are dealt by the universe is accompanied by a choice of reaction, and if the last year has taught me anything at all, it’s the power that lies within every one of us to choose our response. For a long time, it used to be panic, and despite the best counselling efforts of one Mr. Adams, crap would happen, and I’d fly into a fit of despair. The rug would be pulled from under my feet, everything would go up in the air, and I’d find myself scrambling frantically in an attempt to maintain some semblance of control. But at the end of the day, panic is just one option of many. My boss once described a metaphor for change that’s stuck with me to this day: a trapeze artist swings through the air, and unless she takes a leap of faith in grabbing onto the next bar, momentum will slow to a stop and she will be left hanging.  There is a comfort in holding onto what’s comfortable, held back by the fear of free-falling through the air, heart racing, nerves pounding, not knowing when or where the next bar will come. But if you don’t take a leap, you’ll be left hanging, until the only way left is down. Sometimes a leap of faith is exactly what’s needed to launch you toward bigger and better things. 

breaking at the seams, heaving at the brace
sheets all billowing, the breaking of the day
the sea is not my friend, the seasons they conspire
yet still I choose to swim, and slip beneath the tide
James Vincent McMorrow, If I Had a Boat

It seems that lately I’ve become incredibly passionate about the idea of change. I think without it, one stifles all possibilities of future growth, of becoming more, of doing more and seeing more and exploring our unchartered potential… I don’t want to get to the end of my life, look back on my map and see that the ship never left the harbour. Someone once said that ships are safe in a harbour, but that that wasn’t what ships were for. I want to look back and see trails across stormy seas through torrential rainstorms and bands of pirates, up to new countries and through new sights and civilizations, stopping for treasure and beautiful sunsets and meeting a plethora of all sorts of fascinating people with whom I’ll share stories and build memories and from whom I’ll learn great lessons. I want to see it full of adventure and culture and colour, and I want to be left with battle scars that tell the story of a life well lived. I don’t want to settle for what’s comfortable. Settling’s better left in Catan. 

One does not discover new lands without consenting to
lose sight of the shore for a very long time. –
André Gide

I recently met somebody fantastic who has the words “so it goes” etched across his arm. Apparently I’d been living under a rock, and wasn’t familiar with Kurt Vonnegut (!), but in its stark simplicity I think it’s the perfect summation of an attitude with which to face life. Everything you could need is packed into three simple words that simultaneously accept and dismiss absolutely everything. Which is brilliant. There has been no shortage of people lately asking if I’m okay, telling me I must be doing terribly, and expressing confusion or doubt when I genuinely tell them I’m fine. These three words encapsulate the spirit with which I want to live: crap happens, and at the time it sucks, but it’s fine. We keep calm, as they say, and carry on. We focus our energies on forging a better future, not on futile attempts at rewriting an already written past. 

So in the spirit of great change and acceptance, a natural successor would be that of risk. It’s hard to imagine any change taking place without taking a risk first, but we seem so conditioned to construct walls of caution and fear around our hearts that we inadvertently become prisoners of our own design, and go through life staying in one place, allowing fear of hurt or failure to cage us in, outweighing the hope or potential of something more brilliant. It’s sad that people’s first reaction to my state of mind is one of surprise – why not choose to be fine? Why not take big leaps into creating the future? Why waste time on things that have already happened and doors that have been closed; why not learn their lessons as fast as you can and move on with life’s next chapter? If you take a risk and things work out, you’ll be that much happier; if they don’t, you’ll be that much wiser.

I was reading an interesting article recently about a study on the number one contributor of happiness. Money, health, attractiveness, popularity, and a hot sex life were all expected answers, but according to a report by The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “all these mentioned life goodies were topped by the biggest life goodie of them all: autonomy – defined as “the feeling that your life – its activities and habits — are self-chosen and self-endorsed.”

This makes sense, when you take a moment to contemplate how lovely autonomy can make you feel – and how miserable its absence can make you. In fact, when you’re upset about something in your life – a  break up, a job problem, your weight – it’s usually because you’re feeling as if you’re no longer in control of this area your life. “Having a strong sense of controlling one’s life is a more dependable predictor of positive feelings of well-being than any of the objective conditions of life we have considered,” says Campbell.  A University of Michigan nationwide survey also sings the praises of autonomy – reporting how the 15% of Americans who claimed they felt “in control of their lives” also raved about having “extraordinarily positive feelings of happiness.”

It’s all about how you choose to react, and I believe that with a focus on choice, action, acceptance and attitude, risk really can be a win-win thing. Life happens. We just have to allow hope to be of greater weight than fear, and be active participants in shaping our future. The possibilities are endless if we only take a leap once in a while, and, as they say, choose to build wings on the way down.

Here’s to change, to taking big, giant leaps into the unknown and risking your heart for the sake of possible brilliance. Here’s to resilience, to the power of choice, and to making the most of every precious moment we’re given. Here’s to everything that’s ever been, everything that ever will be, and to shaping everything that exists in the here and now. Here’s to great stories, battle scars, epic lessons, and infinite potential. Here’s to writing the next chapter. Here’s to risking it all, and hoping for the best. Here’s to life. After all, we only get one.

“My belief is that in life, people will take you very much at your own reckoning…”

First and foremost, I’m going to commit one of those unspoken sins of blogging: apologising for my absence. (I know. Fired.) I’m in the process of organising, well, my new life, and as exciting, nerve-wracking, and crazy everything is, I genuinely miss being in touch with all of you. Like a lot. After this weekend when I am fully settled into a new place, normality can start to resume, and I cannot wait to catch up with each and every one of you!

Now, in the spirit of returning to our regularly scheduled programming, there’s something that’s cropped up and made itself known in various avenues of life as of late: the idea of discrepancy. Psychology and the study of human behaviour is something that’s always fascinated me, and as a result I’ve done a lot of reading on the human mind and spirit. I’m lucky enough to have studied it at work, too, and the opportunity to have learned counselling theories and techniques to help others has been nothing short of a blessing. It was in this learning process that it first dawned on me what a powerful catalyst discrepancy can be for positive change: if there’s a giant, gaping chasm between where you are and where you want to be (or indeed who you are, and who you want to be), then what could be a more motivating reason for change?

Generally, I think it’s way too easy an option, when things in life aren’t what you’d hoped, to resign yourself to fretting and complaining without actually doing anything about it. It’s an easy option because all it requires is a vocalization of discontent and no actual risk or action to change anything. Making an action plan, as does any change of the status quo, requires courage, because ultimately, we are in the present situation because we can survive comfortably in it. Maybe not ideally, but it’s not killing us, and so subsequently it outweighs the potential risk in shaking things up. But is that any way to live? We only get one life, and it’s ticking away with every passing moment. Why not recognise that discrepancy and instead of using it to fuel a passive negativity, use it to propel yourself toward the future you actually want?

I mentioned earlier that the idea of discrepancy had become somewhat of a regular visitor these days. It first arrived in the form of a quote I received in an e-mail from someone very dear to me: “And, above all things, never think that you’re not good enough yourself. A man should never think that. My belief is that in life, people will take you very much at your own reckoning.  Now, what have I been saying for the last year? That the very reason I thrust myself in at the deep end into all the things I was afraid of was yes, primarily because I wanted to take control of my life and not be controlled by fear; but very much in addition to that, because I wanted to be seen as someone who was capable, courageous, fun and intelligent – someone who could have some sort of an impact in this world. Said impact may be small, but I’ve always maintained that if one person somewhere saw what I was doing and felt they could, too, then all the butterflies, nausea, shaky limbs and potential for humiliation would be worth it. And the desire for that outweighs fear every time.

That being said, here’s the part where I admit my own hypocrisy: to this day, I haven’t been able to cross off the one goal I’d hoped to more than anything. I wanted to stop listening to the inner voices that for so long have occupied my head; setting up residence and plastering the walls of my mind with their can’ts, won’ts, and not good enoughs. I think I’ve made a little progress, but my natural reaction to so many parts of myself is still one of negativity. I see myself in the mirror and instinctively begin a mental list of all the things I wish were different. My weight, height, skin, hair, facial structure… the list goes on, and in writing it down I recognise that I’m talking the talk, but not walking the walk. I tell others to focus their energy on things they can control, and not waste time musing about things they can’t. At the end of the day, we can’t change the past, but by choosing to pave the way for a better future from this moment forward, we’re using our mental energy proactively instead of wastefully. Practising acceptance of rather than resigning to life can go a long way in developing a healthy attitude to carry you through it. Yet I’m not living it out myself.

“If we divine a discrepancy between a man’s words and his character, the whole impression of him becomes broken and painful; he revolts the imagination by his lack of unity, and even the good in him is hardly accepted.”
– Charles Horton Cooley

But as hard as I try to put it into practice in external things, when it comes to dealing with my own self-image, I’m still doing just the opposite. I’ll sit across from somebody at dinner and allow worry to run rampant through my head, worry that the whole time they’ll internally be taking note of all the things that I worry about myself. That I’m too quiet, or not quick-witted enough. That I’m horribly disproportionate, or unattractive. That I thrust open the doors of my heart far too widely and far too quickly, that I’m emotionally too intense, and therefore abnormal or intimidating. That this plaguing self-doubt is scrawled all over my face, a traitor to the person I want so desperately to be. Another friend has been calling me on it lately. Pointing out the discrepancy between my negative self esteem and the positive influence I want to be. When someone calls you on something that is in such stark contrast with everything you’re trying to be, a natural reaction is one of opposition. Nobody likes having their flaws pointed out, and furthermore, nobody likes being called a hypocrite. So I ask myself what’s a more worthwhile use of my time – whining and making a lame endeavour to tell my friend why he’s wrong, or actually doing something about it?

I refuse to be a fraud. I so desperately want to be a person of substance and integrity but I’m never going to be able to make an impact in the world if I can’t apply the same attitude across the board, starting with myself.  I look back at the aforementioned quote. People will take you very much at your own reckoning. If I’m trying to put positivity out there into the world yet cannot apply it internally, then how is it ever going to be 100% genuine? If I say the words, but internally tell myself I’m not good enough, how can they come from a place of integrity? The discrepancy is alarming. And I have to do something about it. I’ve talked about changing my self-image before, but I’ve never actively done anything about it. And that’s hard to admit. I’ve filled my time with endeavours to conquer one-time goals instead of working on changing an entire mindset. Because it’s difficult. But if I want to uphold and spread the idea of being an active participant in the course of one’s life, I have to start from within. Any ideas on where exactly to begin, however, would be greatly, greatly appreciated.

In the spirit of substantial quotes, I end with one from my favourite movie:

 Let’s try this again.

Well played, Universe

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you’ll probably know there are a few things I’m rather passionate about. Music, great writing, history, education, science, compassion, travel… these all hold special places in my heart. Bigger things, challenges, growth, introspection, and the psychology behind so many things we experience along our paths also enthrall me. I’d love to be a fly on the wall of humanity, witnessing the ways in which we live, interact with each other, think of and define ourselves, react and relate to people and events, and why every one of us is so very different. To watch our minds’ internal hardwirings mesh with our hearts’ deepest emotions, combine with the global supporting cast, and see the endless dramatic possibilities play out on the stage that is our lifetime.

Gravitation is one of the fundamentals of nature (I did say ‘science’…), in which objects with mass attract one another. But I think the same philosophy can also be applied to our interpersonal relationships – applied to that global cast of characters that have starring roles at various stages in our life.  I like to think people come in and out of our lives being gravitationally pulled in and out of each other’s orbit, in an elaborate dance orchestrated by the Universe, only learning the steps as we go.  Sometimes we try and make it work – just because the person has arrived in our life, we automatically think we’re supposed to have some sort of relationship with them – but I think certain people are placed in our lives to teach us lessons, not just to befriend.

Interpersonal relationships and their subsequent timing, strengthening, weakening, death and resurrection absolutely fascinate me. I’m a firm believer that everything in life has its right time for happening, and a lot of personal frustration can stem from wanting to have control over when things happen in our life rather than having faith that they will, when they’re supposed to. This can happen with wanting the right job, the right house, the right friends, the right partner… we grow up with this notion that by a certain age, we should have certain things, and if they haven’t happened yet, we go into panic mode. We start believing there must be something wrong with ourselves, especially when surrounded by Things Happening for Everyone Else, and it’s natural to start comparing ourselves. We become frustrated and start delving into action plans, trying to take control over something the Universe will ultimately provide when the timing is right.  I believe there are lessons that need to be learned before certain things can happen. These lessons will only get more pronounced and more difficult if we don’t take the hint the first time around, and will ultimately end up being those Major Life Lessons we look back on sometimes as turning points – times when things started to turn around.I’ve had a couple of instances of this in my life, the biggest probably being the lesson of learning to have some sort of self-worth. Going through a string of awful boyfriends in my late teens/early twenties; people who lied, cheated, became emotionally and physically abusive, that I continued to stay with because I didn’t feel I was worth any better. I honestly thought I’d be better off taking what I could get, even it if put me at risk, because it’d be better than being alone. I want to take my younger self and give her a good shaking for allowing this to happen, but you know what? I had to go through it because it was a lesson I needed to learn. The Universe had hinted at it with the first Bad Boyfriend, hinted a little harder with the next, and slapped me in the face with it with the final one when I ended up questioned by the police about how I’d been treated, and spending a chunk of time in the hospital.  If that’s not a sign I needed to change things, I don’t know what is. But it was the wanting to have control that made it get to that point. Lesson learned, however, and once I’d learned that I had to start believing I was worth more, and set some standards for what’s acceptable, then I was delivered an incredible man who’s helped me grow, believe in myself, and I’ll be marrying in seven weeks’ time.

The other big lesson is one I still believe I’m learning. Do you ever have people in your life who keep showing up, when you wish you could close the door on them and never have to see or hear about them again? People from the past who’ve hurt you, old flames, former friends, people who define you by who you were when you knew them, refuse to see the person you’ve become, and just keep showing up? It’s frustrating. You see their face somewhere and you want to ask the Universe why – why are they still here when all I want to do is move on? The interwoven fabrics of our social networks, especially in the day and age of the Internet, can make this especially hard, and just because you’ve moved on from one relationship doesn’t mean everyone else in both parties’ networks feels the same way.  So what’s the lesson here? Lately, I’ve come to the realisation that the Universe is trying to teach me the lesson of acceptance. Allowing things to be, without reacting to them, without getting frustrated, defensive or annoyed. Accepting the situation that this person still exists and you may bump into them every once in a while, and that’s okay. Let go of frustration, because you know what?

Who cares. This was what a good friend told me a couple of weeks ago when I started fretting about something I couldn’t control. Who cares? Nobody. Nobody at all cares, and if you’ve moved on from a relationship with someone, it doesn’t matter if they still show their face every once in a while. Yes, it would be nice if once doors had been closed on bad relationships, you never had to be reminded of them again, but the reality proves otherwise. You have no control over it, so just accept that they’re here, without getting exasperated about it. Accept that you’ve become a better person since, and it doesn’t matter what the other party thinks, because they’re not in your life any more. There will always be people who’ll talk. People who’ll never move on from the chapter in which your lives intersected. People will be pulled in and out of your gravitational orbit for some reason or another, and you may not want them to. But that’s okay. As long as you make the choice to live the life you want, make the right choices, be the best person you can be, grow from experiences, let go of the past, and focus on making the present the best you can, that’s all you can control.  I think I’m learning this lesson as we speak – and I’m already feeling a whole lot better.

Hear that, Universe?

You can also find this post over at Aly’s blog, Breathe Gently, who I was lucky enough to meet in London this summer! If you don’t read her already, I’d highly recommend checking her blog out – she’s an absolute sweetheart, has an amazing story, and is currently travelling across the world 🙂