choice

What matters most must never be at the mercy of what matters least.

It’s been just over a month since I made the move to living solo, and life since has been quite unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. There have been a lot of adjustments, and not all of them have come easily (especially learning to budget! Seriously, send help), but the biggest change I’ve noticed is that of my own mentality. I don’t know if it’s a result of my new quarters, my new neighbourhood, or the people I’ve been spending my time with, but my heart and mind have been fuelled with a renewed energy that has given rise to a sense of passion, priority and direction. I’m riding on the momentum and I’m happy to report that train shows no sign of stopping any time soon. 🙂 But, in a similar spirit to that of my recent move, in order to make room for the new and exciting, one must first declutter and dispose of the old and useless. 

“I find the key is to think of a day as units of time, each unit consisting of no more than thirty minutes. Full hours can be a little bit intimidating and most activities take about half an hour. Taking a bath: one unit, watching Countdown: one unit, web-based research: two units, exercising: three units, having my hair carefully dishevelled: four units. It’s amazing how the day fills up, and I often wonder, to be absolutely honest, if I’d ever have time for a job. How do people cram them in?”
– About a Boy

I think it ties into what seems to have become the most significant of the five goals I put in place for this year: not wasting a moment of the time I have been given. You hear all the time that at the end of their lives, more than anything, people tend to regret the things they didn’t do. The words they didn’t say, the risks they didn’t take, and the time they didn’t spend investing in something lasting and meaningful. I’ve found that by attempting to constantly remind myself of the big picture, it’s helped me become more mindful of the present-moment choices I’m making, and really prioritise my time. I remember last year writing a post about how I didn’t understand how people made time for work, exercise, keeping on top of chores, writing, reading, Facebooking, or socialising. But if you work on making it a habit to ask yourself if something truly holds the weight in the grand scheme of things you may feel it does right now, you can weed out the wasteful, and focus on the meaningful.

I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling like the world’s pace seems to be moving faster with every passing day. (Yes, I realise that with that statement comes the risk of publicly channelling my inner old fart.) I think it has much to do with technology:  we’re so used to so much information being instantaneous that we’ve inadvertently constructed the mass illusion that we don’t have as much time as we used to, and that the world is more fast-paced and demanding that ever. Add to the fact that the majority of human contact has experienced a paradigm shift from dinner parties and coffee dates to texts, blogs and e-mails, and we add a sense of isolation to the mix: we feel anxious about all the things we have to do, and we feel we have to do it all alone. Yet our actions are in direct conflict with actually doing anything about it: we spend hours checking status updates, creeping photographs and reading online tabloids about gossip and scandal, and then have the nerve to say we don’t have enough time for the things we need to do! It can be easily addressed when boiled down to a simple idea: if you don’t like something, change it.

A friend of mine recently called people out on it. She’s a giant bookworm, and someone had made a remark about not understanding how she could possibly get through so many novels in a month, irritatingly exclaiming that they wished they had the time to indulge in reading. The thing is, we all have the exact same amount of time – we just choose to spend it differently. Becoming aware of wasteful habits allows us to make different choices, eliminate what’s ultimately meaningless, and spend our time on things that really are important. I like to think this can be applied not just to activities, but on people too – when having an argument, for instance, taking a second to remind yourself that your immediate anger and frustration with someone is probably outweighed in the big picture by how much you care about them. Just ask yourself: if today was your last day on earth, would you want to spend it on something that’s really a waste of time? Would you choose to fight with someone, or enjoy just being with each other? Would you choose to surf the Internet, or do something you’ve always wanted to do? I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve learned to be okay with having dishes unwashed overnight, or laundry not done one weekend. Life’s too short sometimes to get caught up in the obligations to the mundane, and a messy room once in a while can be indicative of time better spent actually living. 🙂

“I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humour, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”
– Goethe

It shouldn’t have to take getting to your final breaths to realise what matters. We can all be proactive right now. Recognise the faux significance of the immediate and ephemeral. And with people, words, and actions, make a choice to prioritise what’s really important.

So in that spirit, I’ve been doing a bit of an evaluation on my habits. I mentioned earlier that lately, I’ve felt a new sense of passion, energy and direction, and the amazing thing is that I can start reorganizing my life this very moment. One thing I’m guilty of is spending too much time online. Sometimes it’s spent well – keeping in touch with friends elsewhere on the globe, or reading articles on psychology or science I’d still consider productive. But no matter how compelling, reading blogs about people I have no connection to, streaming episodes of Britain’s Next Top Model or The Bachelorette (what? It’s a fascinating study in social neurosis!) or catching up on the latest in the life of Cheryl Cole are not indicative of time well spent. And if this was my last day on earth, these things wouldn’t even be on the list. So I’m determined to start shaping a life I hope will allow me to avoid later regret. Dive into those things I’m drawn to, keep tackling those fears, retrain myself to stop wasting mental energy on worry and insecurity, and peel those ideas, dreams and “one days” from the walls of my mind and thrust them into the real world. Stop wishing, stop wasting, and start living with intent. There are so many things I want to do, and as Mr. Obama recently said, it shouldn’t take the risk of catastrophe to get people to do the right thing. The right thing is making the most of every moment we’re given, choosing the eternal over the evanescent, and learning how to spend our time, thought and energy wisely. The road I’ve been on may have become drained and routine, but the path ahead is glittering. I can’t wait to dive straight in to new ventures, lifestyle changes, and creative ideas over the next little while. I’ve been guilty of saying I don’t have time for this and that for too long. Of course I do. I just have to make room. This may mean less frequent stops in the blogosphere, but at the end of it, I’ll be able to say I lived, and made use of everything I was given. Or at least tried my damnedest.

Stars, hide your fires, for these here are my desires
And I won’t give them up to you this time around
And so, I’ll be found with my stake stuck in this ground
Marking the territory of this newly impassioned soul
Mumford and Sons

Let the next chapter commence!

My New Confusion (and other future album titles)

Caveat: This post was very nearly entitled How to Lose Friends and Alienate Everyone: Further Lessons in Social Suicide. Another: This post is rather long. You may want to put the kettle on. You should really know that this post is not intended to offend, and if incidences of such result, please accept my most sincere apologies. But if you’re reading this, you’re probably fully aware that I don’t hide my thoughts – and this post is simply an exploration of some new ideas, written in the hopes of hearing some of yours.

Now, studying the psychology behind human personalities, thought processes and social interactions has always been a passion of mine. Perhaps it’s the science geek in me, but I’ve always had a keen interest in examining the inner workings of something to figure out how and why it works the way it does. Throughout the process of self-investigation, I’ve learned an awful lot that’s helped me become more comfortable in my own skin – desperate desires to be something else have transformed into the aspiration to simply develop and hone who I already am, and an understanding of true introversion, personality type and priorities has helped certain social anxieties evaporate. One thing I’ve learned about being an INFJ (also known as “The Counsellor”) is the tendency to want to fix things: whether it’s a problem in the workplace, in a friend’s life, or in my own, my first instinct is to go into action plan mode and set about restoring the balance. I derive an immense satisfaction from problem-solving, which I think can be a good thing – but on the flipside, it gives way to intense feelings of discontent when a solution cannot easily be found.

Lately I’ve been faced with a bit of a problem – a problem of the soul. Not too long ago, I posted a giant essay on my spiritual belief system – on how I came to believe what I do, what I don’t, and how it shapes my world view. For the majority of my life, I never really had a solid set of beliefs – I was open to a lot of things, but growing up, no one belief system was laid down as fact (something for which I am incredibly grateful; I believe curiosity and learning one’s own lessons results in something ultimately far more meaningful than something that at the end of the day is only somebody else’s version of truth). Over the years, I’ve been exposed to Christianity in various denominations and guises — Seventh Day Adventism, Atheism, Buddhism, Taoism and simple spiritual curiosity, and subsequently have pulled pieces and ideas from here and there to shape what I can get behind, and what I can’t.  As I’d previously written, something I’d decided was that I simply wasn’t able to stick any sort of label on myself: if you do, you acknowledge that you are different from everyone who believes anything other than you, and subsequently participate in the continuation of human division. Instead of uniting and focusing on the main principles of a religion, people get caught up in the politics of what makes “my” denomination different from “yours”. And that doesn’t make any sense to me at all – surely a spirit of unity would make this a better world than a splintered race divided?

You may have noticed I’ve made an ongoing reference to the Universe in many a post, and in recent years, the idea that life events play out as signs from such to steer us toward the right path is something that’s helped me deal with a whole lot of crap. But a recent conversation has made me think of this philosophy in a whole new light: where do the people who are condemned to live awful lives fit in? Sure, we all go through major challenges in life. And I firmly believe every one of us possesses the ability to choose the attitude with which we face those hurdles. Seeing them as signs from the Universe to open my eyes to what’s really important in life is something that’s facilitated dealing with the tough stuff – it’s made me evaluate how I really feel, what I really want, what I’ll bear and what I won’t stand for, and has helped me more and more when life throws curveballs to apply the philosophy that this too, shall pass. But what about those people forced to live an existence in a war-torn country, or people born into families whose households explode with domestic violence? What about those people with terrible diseases, or who lose everything in giant natural disasters? Is the Universe asking them to “just learn from it”?  I’m almost furious with myself for allowing my outlook to become so limited. I feel I’ve done nothing more than observe patterns, hypothesise explanations, and conclude it as fact simply because it’s what suits me. I feel incredibly unsettled if so, because it means my world view extends to nothing beyond my own field of vision. And that’s incredibly small-minded, and in direct conflict with how I want to live.

When it comes to faith in something more, I’ve always harboured a slight opposition toward those who put on their Sunday best, drive past all the homeless people and go to church every Sunday while allowing the words they utter inside evaporate the moment they step outside after the service. I was talking with a friend of mine recently whose mother’s behaviour had wildly affected her view toward religion: she’d attended services daily, preaching love, forgiveness and servanthood, and would get home afterward and beat her children for not doing as they’re told. But read Proverbs 13:24Proverbs 22:15 or Proverbs 23:13-14, and apparently, that’s perfectly okay. And I don’t understand how something that permits such actions could be a good thing. As well, hypocrisy has always bothered me immensely, and I’ve never been able to stomach the idea of so-called believers whose daily actions defy the doctrine to which they are supposedly devoted. I’ve witnessed first hand people who claim to be “good Christians,” yet partake in all sorts of behaviours that fuel division, malice and hatred. I’ve never really fully understood why something that makes people feel unworthy and guilty, and holds the promise of a reward like a carrot on a stick is seen as a model for creating good people. Surely people can be good on the basis of making intelligent decisions and doing good deeds regardless? But that’s not to say there aren’t an enormous amount of truly wonderful people who live lives of integrity founded on their belief in a higher power. The Dalai Lama once said that he fully believed anyone was capable of living a good life with or without religion. I completely agree. I saw this recently, and found it rather interesting indeed.

I see so many hypocritical so-called religious people, and I see just as many non-religious folk going about the world spreading love and making a real difference. I don’t believe one has to have religion in order to be considered a good person. Like I said, if I can’t get behind something 100%, then I can’t call myself a follower of anything at all. So where does that leave me in terms of what up until this point has been my answer to life? No longer does my equation solve every problem. My eyes have been opened to the fact that it has only ever really suited the ones to which I selectively applied it. And that makes me feel nothing more than a fraud, and leaves me stranded at a crossroads of blank signs.

Where does one turn when a belief system has been proved flawed? When one size no longer fits all, yet has provided comfort in terms of being able to deal with life’s challenges? Just because something is comfortable doesn’t mean it’s real. Surely everything would be much more comfortable if we were always surrounded by a nice fluffy cushion – it doesn’t make it real life. But if the idea of the Universe providing signs to steer us each onto our respective life paths is unfounded in terms of the grand scheme of the world, then what the heck does it all mean? On one hand, if life really is entirely within our control, perhaps what’s been a prevailing force as of late is exactly what it’s all about: realising our innate power of choice and making the right decisions even when they’re difficult. That doesn’t really address the topics of causality, free will or determinism, but that’s far too complicated a topic that’s better shelved for future discussion. But on the other, if I abandon the philosophy that I genuinely believe has helped me grow into a better human being, I risk dealing with future blows in unhealthy ways. Plus it doesn’t explain at all why those fated to all sorts of terrible circumstances must live with the hands they are dealt. My belief has allowed me to quickly move forward with life following challenges: knowing that it happened for a reason has helped me accept it, and focus my energy on the here and now instead of futile questioning and endeavours at rewriting an already written past. But if there is no reason for anything and our fate really lies solely in our own hands, then how does that explain why bad things happen to good people?

I realise I’m starting to wax ever so slightly philosophical here. But I’m a geek, and I like my problems to have solutions. Being unable to come up with an answer leaves me feeling a little helpless, and I don’t think any of us deal well with a loss of control. I’m in a bit of a limbo, I think, and I’m not really sure where to go from here. Faith in the Universe, fate or destiny just because it makes things easier sometimes goes against my advocacy for intelligence and education. Yet I can’t help but channel Fox Mulder a little here, and still feel I want to believe. But what I’m not certain about is the real reason why. I’m curious though, to hear of how you arrived at your personal belief system, and why it makes sense for you. How did you come to believe what you do, and what makes your truth real?

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.

Twenty-Six

Today marks the start of a new beginning for me in more ways than I’d initially anticipated. This time last year, I was turning twenty-five, and after really taking a good look at my life, I set about making The List. I had every intention of tackling everything on it, but having experienced several of life’s most traumatic events in the last two months (resulting in a stress score off the chart), apparently I’m sitting about an “80% chance of stress-related illness in the immediate future.” Excellent! I’m not one for excuses, but then again I’m usually not one to deal well with underachieving either, so to facilitate being okay with falling a little short, I have to give myself a bit of a break.  

Making the list had to be one of the best things I’ve ever done – it forced me to get outside of my comfort zone and really put ideas into action. The past twelve months have been full of introspection, growth and self awareness, and for the first time in my life I can say that I’ve been an active participant in becoming the person I want to be. The biggest thing I’ve become aware of is that life can take the course of your desire if you consistently make an effort to take action, and turn “I wish” into “I will”. But as much as I like to think of this mentality as a strength, it has come to my attention in the last few weeks that it can be just as much a weakness. I think taking control of your life is a really good thing. But beating yourself up for not being where you want to be isn’t quite as healthy.  A friend e-mailed me a couple of weeks ago with this very idea, and it really took me by surprise: 

“I love that you’ve been setting goals to stretch yourself over the past year, but sometimes I’ve felt a little like you might be forcing yourself to bend in directions that are uncomfortable instead of focusing on accepting and loving yourself – which makes everything easier, and every challenge you take on more achievable! I’ve been reading a book that’s really resonated with me, and I think it would be a really timely thing for you to start reading while you’re going through all of this uncertainty and change. It walks you through the author’s process of working on the parts of her personality and heart that haven’t been working for her, and takes you through accepting yourself. It also shows you how to set boundaries for how other people treat you, how to be more compassionate, how to stop trying to force other people to live up to your expectations of them, how to be more vulnerable and how to stop trying to prove you’re worthwhile to yourself. It’s really moving and insightful, and I think it would be an incredible read for you to check out!” 

I’ve been so driven by the idea of “if you don’t like something, change it” lately that the idea of becoming the best version of myself completely passed me by. I still very much believe that anyone can make a conscious decision to make choices that correlate with the life they want to live and person they want to be, but after reading my friend’s e-mail, I can’t shake the idea of us all being programmed with our unique personalities, tendencies, preferences and eccentricities for a reason, and that if we just focused on honing what we already had instead of trying to be something that didn’t come naturally, that might just be the ticket. I’m definitely going to pick up the book. 

This is a question I remember struggling with at work on occasion, too. It first came up when I first started at my job a couple of years ago when delivering presentations, giving tours and facilitating group workshops were added to my job description. At the time, I was a nervous wreck seeing a therapist for an anxiety disorder, and the thought of speaking up in the lunch room terrified me, let alone standing in front of a classroom full of people. But I so desperately wanted to be someone who could speak publicly with confidence that I was determined to throw myself in at the deep end. Maybe it’s my lack of patience, but when I want something, I don’t waste any time in trying to get it. People say to take small steps, but I hate the idea of taking the scenic route when you could shoot straight for the destination; use more time in the place you want to be and less time getting there.  Again, a strength and a weakness. The reason I do this is because I try to remind myself at every opportunity that we’re each only given a set amount of time on this earth, and I don’t want to waste a second. It’s a common mentality that any new venture or major change is “going to take time.” But I can’t seem to get behind that. Things don’t have to be half as complicated as people sometimes make out. Sometimes things really can be as easy as asking yourself if your current behaviour is in line with how you want to live your life, and if not, making a switch. Anything new is going to be uncomfortable at first. It’s through making a decision to stick with it that things become easier – focusing on the big picture, and choosing to make every action and decision in correlation with what you want that to be. 

Random tangent over; back to today. One year since I made a list that changed my life. I want the next year to have just as big an impact as the last, but I don’t think another twenty-seven goals is the way to do it this time. I don’t want to spread myself too thin. The list has inspired me to take control of my life, and rather than tackle a bunch of one-time endeavours, I’d much rather focus on a handful of things that I can put into practice at every opportunity of every day in the hopes that this time next year, they’ll have transitioned from hopes to habits.  All that being said, here are my goals for 26: 

  1. Don’t take the easy option. The things that are worth doing are often at the end of the most treacherous path, but they say that with great risk comes great reward.  I want to make a conscious decision to always prioritise courage over fear, and do what’s right instead of what’s easy or convenient.   
  2. Stop wasting time and go for the things that matter in the long run. There are infinite avenues this could be applied to, and though people say I may be young and have the rest of my life to do lots of things, I could also be hit by a bus tomorrow. I want to live every day as if I may not have another one, and use up every last drop on things that matter. Time spent dreaming is wonderful, but not quite as wonderful as time spent living.
  3. Work hard on being the best version of myself I can be. Sure, I might want to be someone who’s comfortable in front of a crowd, someone who can think on their feet, someone with the strength to not take things personally and someone who lights up a room. This past year, I tried. But that’s not me. I’m an introvert, and I need to learn to be okay with that. I’m a deeply emotional creature, and I’m not going to stop feeling for the sake of avoiding potential heartache. Instead of trying to change things or seeing parts of myself as weaknesses, I want to learn to embrace them and somehow, see them all as strengths.
  4. Practice acceptance. A book that changed my life planted this seed in my mind, and it’s taken root in my heart and grown inside my soul. Related to the goal of not wasting time, I want to live in the present and focus my attention on this point forward instead of this point backward. Everything that happens in life has already happened, and we all have a choice as to how we’re going to react to it. We can linger for hours, weeks or months over events, but spending time musing isn’t going to change something that’s already taken place. But though none of us can go back and change the past (I may think differently after my TARDIS arrives), but we can choose to accept it for what it is, and the only thing we can control is our own course of action and the spending of our own time and mental energy. The past truly has no power over the present moment, and as said book’s author stated, “negative feelings are resistance. Whenever they arise it is a signal to wake up, get present and get out of your mind. Pain is self-created as some form of non-acceptance or unconscious resistance to what is.” By simply accepting what is, I want to free my mind to focus on a better future from the present moment on.
  5. Invest my heart and soul fully into every relationship. I refuse to hide who I am, and if anyone is going to be in my life, I want them to be in it for who I truly am inside. Genuine human connection is one of the most wonderful things in the universe, and life’s too short not to take that risk for the sake of not getting hurt. I return to something one of my best friends once said: “I have this dream of being best friends with everyone in the world. I’ve also always been a proponent of using the word “love” more in everyday life. People in general are just a little more scared to use it I guess.”  I want to give my heart to the world. If it gets trampled a little, it’ll earn a few battle scars and garner a few war stories. It’ll build character, and it will always bounce back. People that are important to me deserve to know that at every opportunity. 

A common thread throughout these goals is risk. And I don’t think it could be said any better than in the words of one Mr. Roosevelt: 

“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.” 

Here’s to a year of putting it all on the line, taking risks, and living with passion and integrity. Here’s to hoping that with practice, it’ll all become second nature. And here’s to hoping that this time next year, I’ll be that much closer to being the best version of my genuine self I can be – and be comfortable in my own skin. Huge thanks to my good friend for inspiring my path for the year ahead.  🙂

What would you do if nobody was watching? Scratch that, what would you do if EVERYONE was watching?

I’ve been thinking about this question ever since having a discussion with a colleague last week, who was telling a story about how he’d had his girlfriend over one night, and somehow her phone had dialled her dad, who’d become inadvertently privy to everything they’d been discussing. When they realised what had happened, initially they panicked – but my co-worker said that the question (and reaction) had been rolling around his head ever since.  People always talk about the measure of a good, honest person as lying in the actions they take when nobody is watching. But what about the flipside? What if you knew that someone you cared about, or wanted to impress were watching? What if everybody was watching? Would you modify your behaviour? And if the answer is yes, does that mean you’re not a person of integrity?

This may not be a comfortable question to ask yourself. I’ve been asking myself for the last few days, and I must admit, the process has left me feeling somewhat uneasy. As I’m sure is the case for most people, we all like to think we’re people of our word. But integrity isn’t simply not lying; it’s the unity of our thoughts, words and actions regardless of company or circumstance. Integrity is when what we think lines up with what we say and what we do no matter whose presence we may be in. There is nothing to hide, no divided loyalty, no masks adorned or games played. There is no difference between what we appear to be to a stranger, and who we are inside, or who our closest family knows us to be. Yet if we all think we’re people of integrity, how come we all know someone who can talk the talk but not walk the walk? Something doesn’t add up. I can easily list a dozen people who claim to value health, yet choose to be a smoker. More who’d claim never to steal anything, yet regularly download movies and music illegally. I can think of people who’ll say they value their spouse, their children, their job and their own wellbeing, in that order. But when you take a look at their bank account or their Google calendar, it’s full of trivial expenses on ephemeral feelings of joy – rounds of golf, or wings and beer with friends, and an arrival home at 11 PM to the wife claimed to be at the top of the list of priorities.

Unfortunately, I think integrity is losing its value. The majority of people spend so much time focusing on reputation and how other people see us that there’s no reserve left over to focus on being the most authentic and genuine person we can be. In today’s society, image is a greater priority than integrity, and it may seem unnatural to focus energy on the reverse. So if all anybody cares about is how other people see them, by prioritising in the same way, each of us contributes to a superficial society – one in which our time and energy is spent on creating the best personas we can to impress different people, rather than on building a unity of thought, words and actions.  When I first started blogging seriously, I had a couple of goals: one, to have an outlet in which to pour my hopes, dreams and struggles honestly, to hold myself accountable to growing, and not to hold back; two, to one day reach some of those dreams, maybe overcome a couple of those hurdles, and in the process, hopefully inspire someone somewhere else and make them feel they could do the same.  But being able to have a good influence on someone requires them to put their confidence in you, and nobody will put their confidence in someone who’s not credible, and the only way you build credibility… is by having integrity.

The thing that made me uncomfortable in asking myself if I genuinely do have integrity wasn’t the anecdote of having a partner’s parents on the other end of an unintended phone call, or visualising a neighbour outside my open window while I happened to be in a wild fit of over over-emotion and stubbornness. The thing that made me feel uneasy came in the form of a question from a fantastic book I’m currently reading, a chapter of which ended thusly:

The people closest to you know you the best, and are therefore in the best position to discern your consistency as an employer, leader, spouse, parent or child. If you asked the various people in your life how you are doing in the area of integrity, how do you think they would respond? 

A. You live by the highest standards, and you do what you say and say what you do.
B. Y
ou’re consistent most of the time and easily engender trust.
C. You could stand to become more consistent in words and deeds.
D. You’re a mystery – people rarely know what you believe and how you’ll act. 

As I read, something sunk somewhere in the region of the pit of my stomach. I desperately wanted to answer with A, but I knew it wasn’t entirely true. I’m not to proud to admit that I’m full of words and declarations of focusing on the big picture, on what’s ultimately most important in life… yet am all too often quick to voice my frustration or others’ wrongdoings.  I tell other people to practice forgiveness and focus on creating a better future, yet bring up things in the past that cannot be changed by my harping on about them.  I say one thing yet often practice entirely another. I moved on to B. I could settle for second place, right? I think I’m consistent most of the time, and I like to think I engender trust from others. But I’m not the one who decides whether or not that’s true. C. I could stand to become more consistent in words and deeds. On reflection, this is the only one so far that I can agree with wholeheartedly. At least I didn’t get a D – I am certain I wear my heart on my sleeve, and am not afraid to open up my life like a book for anyone to peruse. I’m positive I’m anything but a mystery. But a C doesn’t sit well in this over-achiever’s heart.

So I revert back to how I dealt with everything else I wanted to change over the last year, and decide to just make the choice to go with what I want to be rather than what I am. Make a conscious decision in every passing moment to act in accordance with my values, and not the fleeting emotional temptations of the moment. It’s tough, but it’s not impossible. And, as Aristotle once said, we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit. And with enough practice and dedication, we can all become precisely what we want to be: people of utmost integrity.