to thine own self be true

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.

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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.  🙂

Gift Giving

It’s the holiday season, and I’m sure most of us have spent the last few weeks scouring shops and websites in hopes of finding the perfect present that will undoubtedly light up the face of a loved one come Christmas Day. Gifts of all sizes are wrapped in pretty paper and adorned with ribbons and bows, and tucked under a warmly glowing tree for safe keeping, until the day arrives when they get to do their job: make someone’s day. Gift-giving has undoubtedly been on many minds these last few weeks, and I’ve seen no shortage of wishlists floating around the blogosphere – but today, I want to address something else related to gifts: those which were given to us at birth.

In some way or another, we are all gifted. Some of us are fantastic listeners, great writers, artists, or musicians. Some of us understand chemicals and equations, or the inner workings of technology, and some of us are born to sing or spread a message throughout the world. Some of us are born to be on the stage, and some of us allow our imaginations to soar onto the pages of books published by the million, working their way into the hearts of a generation. Let’s think about that for a second – because there are so many of us out there who’ve written about hopes and dreams and secret passions, yet used fear and excuses to not explore and develop them. “But what if I’m not good enough?” has become something of a mantra throughout the collective consciousness, resulting in thousands of potential gifts being locked up and hidden away, quashing any potential in the slightest they could have to make this world or someone’s life that little bit better.

I received an e-mail recently from a man whose story I was lucky enough to hear last summer, Patrick Combs. He had an interesting point about worldwide phenomenon Stephenie Meyer*, the biggest selling author of the last two years: she almost didn’t submit Twilight to publishers because she thought her writing wasn’t good enough. [Pause.] Potential irony aside, clearly by taking a leap of faith in offering her gift to the world, she found her calling, made millions, and won over the teenage masses with tales of angst fantasy, romance and adventure. What if dear old J.K. had never allowed Harry Potter to see the light of day? What if she continued to write on trains and in coffee shops, and kept the stories bound in paper journals, only ever given to her children and perhaps a few friends? By choosing to give her gift to the world, she helped a generation move away from their Playstations and fall in love with reading all over again. Patrick had further interesting points:

Five years ago I had a strong sense that I wanted to be a speaker and I became one. But now I’m back to wondering what I should TRULY be doing with my life, and now the ‘What to do with my life?’ question seems more important than ever. First off, the panic I’ve felt this week stems from a deep seated fear: Fear of missing my calling.

Wouldn’t it be awful to miss your calling? What could be worse? Also, I’m certain that “success” isn’t what I’m after. Simply reaching the top is not what I’m out to do. I’m out to give the gift I was meant to give – whether doing so ultimately makes me rich, middle class, or poor. Famous, notable, or unknown. Getting to the top of your field can’t be as important as becoming what you were put on the planet to become. Fulfilling your calling has to be the peak of the pyramid. Giving your gift – the one gift you can and were born to give – must be the ticket.

via carolineeez.tumblr.com

I’ve seen countless people going through their lives – myself very much included – being held back by feelings of inadequacy. I believe we were all given gifts the day we were born, and we are all drawn toward certain interests, hobbies and passions so we can tap into them, open them up, and give them to the world. Yet so often, they are held hostage, hidden away untouched and unused, and never given the opportunity to shine.

As I’d mentioned, I’ve seen a lot of wishlists floating around in the last few weeks leading up to Christmas. TV boxsets, makeup, gadgets, and mp3 players may result in a smile for a few days, but they are all temporal. Why not choose ones that could last a lifetime? We’ve all had great Christmas presents, and we’ve all had one or two pretty rubbish ones. Why is it that when it comes to a naff Christmas gift, we don’t hesitate in going straight back to Best Buy on Boxing Day to exchange it for something better, yet when it comes to the gifts we’re given in our very souls, we’re perfectly content to accept the useless (fear, anxiety, and self-doubt), and refuse to enjoy the brilliant?  On my wishlist this year, I want to open the great gifts. The ones I want to someday offer to the world through compassion, song, speech and written word. I want to make the choice to accept and recognize them instead of settling for a cheap, half-hearted knock-off tainted by what I’ve settled for for so long.

This Christmas, in the spirit of gift-giving, ask yourself if you’re ready to give yours. Follow those passions and release those fears, do what feels comes naturally, and go after what makes you bubble with enthusiasm. Cultivate your talents, listen to your dreams, and follow your heart. You never know whose Christmas you might end up making the best yet.

* While we’re on the subject of Twilight… (I’m sorry :))

The Disease of Perfectionism

Recently, I had one of those “Message from the Universe” moments. You know, when you encounter the same message repeatedly in a plethora of different situations all within a relatively short time frame? I love it when this happens. This time around, I was at singing class, having just finished what must have been my 8th or 9th attempt at getting this one bar of music down. I don’t read music, and I don’t know what the different notes mean with regards to tempo, so I was struggling a little with this one bar. I’d got it right first time, but in every subsequent attempt, I found myself getting stuck at the same point. Overthinking it, overprocessing, frantically trying to figure it out, panicking as the melody caught up and overtook my internal efforts, resulting in messing it up each and every time. After a few goes, I think I got it, but my coach said something at the end that began the theme of the next few days:

“Perfection is never the goal. When you think about it too much, you stop learning – you should trust your instincts more, because they’re right!”

I went off into the night, that sentiment floating around my mind, and thought no more of it until the very next day, when an article forwarded to me by a friend sat in my inbox, entitled The Disease of PerfectionismHow aptly timed (and, if I may say, how very Borg!). I immediately opened it, and was intrigued by the first few lines: “It’s amazing that people admit to being perfectionists. To me, it’s a disorder, not unlike obsessive-compulsive disorder. And like obsessive-compulsive disorder, perfectionism messes you up.”

I’ve seen a lot of “Protesting Perfect” blog posts floating about lately, which I think originated at this wonderful one,  and it’s made me really happy to see so many people recognising that we don’t NEED to be perfect, and taking a stand against it. Not only acknowledging, but embracing our imperfections for what they are – part of who we are. One man’s flaw, after all, is another man’s perfection.  Take a look around. If a friend of yours said something silly, tripped over their shoelaces, or stated an incorrect fact, would you think less of them? Probably not. You’d both laugh about it in a few minutes, and it’d be something that’s evaporated into the past, barely even remembered by the same time tomorrow. So why are we so afraid to make mistakes?

“The huge problem with perfectionism is that people stop learning when they’re constantly afraid of being wrong. We learn by making mistakes. The only way we understand ourselves is to test our limits. If we don’t want anyone to know we make mistakes, which is how perfectionists tend to behave, we are actually hiding our true selves.”

When I read those words, I’m pretty sure my heart skipped a beat. How many posts have I written in the last few months about staying true to yourself? About being genuine, regardless of it costing readership, comment counts, or social acquaintances? I think the Universe tried to send me this message once more this week, when I was attending a Journal Therapy workshop put on by one of my best friends. The first exercise was the “5-Minute Sprint”, where we were given a question (a big one, like “Who Am I?”, “Why Am I Here?” etc. – something that would usually demand an awful lot of thought), and had five minutes to write the first thing that came to mind. At first, I panicked – in true introvert fashion, I like to take my time to construct my thoughts and write them well, paying strict attention to flow, grammar and language – but when it came to sharing, I realised I was having another Universe moment, and thought of the above excerpt, and my voice lesson experience. When I think about it too much and focus on being or creating something perfect, I lose the raw, natural essence of it all. By being forced to write instinctively, without giving the inner critic time to catch up, I was allowed to be my true self. So why do I devote so much energy to perfectionism?

The realisation that we only have a finite amount of mental energy has been somewhat of a theme as of late. I am guilty of having spent far too long allowing futile, unproductive, negative thoughts consume my mind. Setting goals is one thing, but beating yourself up every day for not having achieved them on the journey to accomplishment is entirely another. In my job, I make a point of encouraging others to learn at their own pace, offering support and telling them it’s okay if it takes a little while, it’s okay if they make mistakes, that they’ll learn from them, and that they’ll get there in the end. Yet I tell myself the opposite story. There’s no such thing as a learning curve. You need to be good at it now. If you screw up, you’ll look like a failure. You’ll wear your mistakes like a giant badge for all to see and judge.

The act of writing this out forces me to see this ridiculous mantra of hypocrisy and self-created falsehood. Nobody thinks this way, and by choosing to spend time giving power to thoughts like this, I’m robbing myself of authenticity as well as of time that could be spent infinitely more constructively.  I’m spinning my wheels in a frenzy and remaining absolutely stationary. And what’s the point of that?

As I believe everyone has the choice with how they spend their time externally, I always advocate for the fact that everyone also has the choice regarding how they spend their internal thoughts. Inner critics may have worked their way into our minds, entangled and entwined themselves around our every thought, masquerading as reality, but through the simple act of recognition and choice, we can cut the strings. Realise nobody cares if we’re perfect, and all anybody cares about is if we’re real. By focusing and ruminating on being perfect, we lose our true selves. So let’s put an end to it now. If we have imperfections, it’s okay. It makes us human. If we have ones we really dislike, we have the power to work at changing them. We can choose to work hard at being a good person instead of working hard at beating ourselves up for not being perfect. We can choose to spend our time and energy productively, or self destructively. We can learn to see ourselves through the eyes of others, and give ourselves a bit of a break.

Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone has the choice to learn from them. And at the end of the day, simply ask yourself the question: Does anybody really care if you’re not perfect, or if you make a mistake? Imperfections are the source of growth, of learning, of adventure. And most of all, I think, of sincerity.

The Niche Philosophy

Lately, it seems in all walks of life I’m coming across the same message: in order to be successful at something, you have to find your niche. I’d started thinking about this after our work retreat on teamwork a few weeks ago – we’d gone through six “indisputable laws” of successful team building, and the one I’d had the most trouble with was Law 3: The Law of the Niche. It stated that all players have a place where they add the most value, and if you weren’t working in an area you are naturally gifted and passionate about, you’ll never be as successful as if you are. If you try something you’re not naturally talented at, you’ll only ever be a 5/10. But if you work in your niche, you’ll hit 10s every day. This initiated a gaping chasm of worry in the pit of my stomach – all I’ve been trying to do for the last year is dive into things that make me uncomfortable, riding on the hope that repeat exposure will eventually make them totally fine. The idea being presented, though it made complete sense, was entirely contrary to everything I’ve been trying to do. Said chasm was further widened when we were all asked to go around the room stating what our niche was, and were we working in it?  “No,” I thought to myself – “but how do I declare that to the boss who just gave me a new position, in front of all my colleagues?”

Initially, I thought my niche was a given – what I love doing at work is working in roles that allow me to be creative. Writing, designing, directing videos, creating advertising, doing radio – these were the sorts of things that were part of my job before the term ended. Now, the majority of my position involves things that aren’t quite such a natural fit: group facilitation, spreadsheets, and reports.  Not so within my comfort zone. As we were going around the room, before they got to me, one of my (teacher) coworkers spoke up. “I don’t think of it as teaching,” she said, “I think of it as encouraging people to want to learn.”  Now that really hit home. The thought of standing up in front of a class still makes me nauseous, but with practice it’s getting easier. Regardless, I don’t think it will ever be my “niche”.  Encouraging others to want to learn however… has my name all over it. I’d always wanted to be a teacher throughout my adolescent life, before I realised I was afraid of public speaking. I’d always adored learning, too – I remember reading Jane Eyre in the hallways one lunch time and being stopped by an impressed English teacher and feeling awfully proud, wishing my classmates could experience this great piece of literature but saddened they seemed more interested in whose party to go to that weekend.  I’ve always loved learning, so when I heard it framed like that, I thought maybe I am in my niche after all. I have the freedom to create curriculum, to design slideshows, to write cover letters and resumes and to encourage people to learn. And looking at it like that made me feel a whole lot better.

Finding my niche in the blogging world has been similarly difficult – mainly due to the fact that I refuse to have one! I see lots of blogs evolve from a collection of diverse thoughts into ones that limit themselves to one or two topics, and have their readership skyrocket through the roof. It continually baffles me – if you want to be a “successful” blogger, you have to be confined into a handful of areas if you want to keep the traffic coming back. But I’ve seen it work all the time. Lately, I think I’ve come to the realisation that it’s perfectly okay to write about what I want to write about regardless of whether or not people are going to be interested. If I’m going to lose readers because I write about Star Trek or obscure music one day, so be it. Why keep your passions hidden, and say what you think other people would rather you say? I feel like a bit of an outsider in the blogging world sometimes – everybody seems to know the ins and outs of each others’ lives, because a lot of people tweet and write about the goings-on of their hour-to-hour existence. Trips taken, friends visited, meals created or books read. There’s nothing wrong with this at all – this is how I keep in touch with many people I care about! I guess I just don’t know if my everyday life is really worth writing about. I don’t know if I could be proud to write about the cookies I baked last week, the invitations I printed on Sunday, or the toys I bought for my little cat. Because in reading about what I did, you’re not reading about me. Writing about my thoughts, however? That’s a different story.

This blog is more than a journal. More than a chronological account of what I did over the last few years. It’s an all-encompassing chronicle of my thoughts and opinions, hopes and dreams, loves, loathes, fears and passions on top of the things that filter into my day-to-day existence.  I sometimes wish we could all walk around with personal profiles attached to sandwich boards draped over our shoulders. Creative. Animal lover. Nerd. Bookworm. Longs for Home. Artistically Inclined, but Lover of the World of Science. Hopeless Romantic. Wants to Make a Difference. None of us can walk about the world and trust that the right people will just fall into it, but by writing what I do on this blog, I can put myself out there. People can look at my words and see my journey, my story, my thoughts, wonderings, hopes and dreams. Individually, they may be haphazard, random, irregular and about as cohesive as Paris Hilton’s recounting of The Canterbury Tales, but in total, they make up me. All of me. Not one part of me put on show for the sake of “that’s what’ll make me popular”.

I’ll never be a niche blogger, or a subscriber to the rules of “successful” blogging. At any moment of any day, the best friend I haven’t met yet may come across my blog – do I really want my first impression to be one-dimensional? No. I want to be known as someone with real thoughts and feelings, whose heart, interests and passions aren’t caged into a cookie-cutter mould to please the masses. I want to write when I’m passionate about something, which may be three times a week, or may be twice a fortnight. I’d much rather have something substantial than post just for the sake of having something new.  I want my blog to be genuine and real, because I want my relationships to be the same.  I’m not going to limit myself to the things that’ll increase traffic. I don’t want it if it’s drawn by something that isn’t the real deal. I’ve always been a hearts-on-sleeves kind of girl, and if that means not fitting in, I’ll take it. As the Bard once wisely said, “this above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” In twenty years, these blog posts will be in the archives of history, the commenters will have moved on, and all that remains of this chapter of your life may be the words you wrote. Wouldn’t you rather know, from the bottom of your heart, that they reflected you?

Sometimes, when we fall, we fly

It’s been almost a quarter of a year (blimey!) since I posted the list of things I wanted to do before I turn 26. This means I’ve used up 25% of my timeline! Unmonitored resolutions can end up being lost in the universe, never having had the chance to have an impact on a life. I think it’s a good thing, when you make goals for yourself, to check in every once in a while, and make sure you’re still on track. Especially when the whole reason for doing it is a big one. I look back at old posts, sometimes, and see that scared, frail girl, and it propels me to keep trying – every tiny victory, no matter how small, is another slap in the face of fear. I know anxiety and worry are things that plague so many people, and I know how helpess they can make you feel. I want to do everything on this list, everything that ever terrified me, and hopefully one day, be free of it all – it’s been my biggest dream for a number of years now. I feel like I’m in a way better place – I still can’t get over the fact that my job title is now Facilitator – but it doesn’t mean I’m what I’d consider confident yet. I still wonder why I was picked. But it’s an ongoing process of choosing fight over flight, and I’m hoping, with enough practice, one day, it’ll feel natural.

So, that list? Here’s the lowdown on the progress so far:

1. Get in crazy good shape.
2. Become a hot yoga person.
These were the “physical” sort of things on my list – as we established last week, fitness isn’t something that’s been a big part of my life, and I’ve always used back pain, being too busy, or not being able to afford memberships as an excuse. Over the last three months I’ve told myself to stop being such a princess and suck it up: I’ve been doing exercises for my back several times a week. I’ve also begun sticking to my goal of running more than once a week, and took an introductory month of hot yoga (while it was cheap). I even got Sweet started too – he totally fell in love with it and ended up going more often than I was! Unfortunately the price has gone up – so right now, I’m exploring other options in the city, and hopefully finding somewhere less riduculously priced. I loved hot yoga – it was incredibly calming – the first session was done by candlelight with a live acoustic musician! – and I can’t deny it helped my back significantly while I was doing it.

5. Get my driver’s licence.
I renewed my learners, and the card came in last week! Which means I’m legally now able to be behind the wheel. I’m going to start taking lessons with my Dad ASAP – I only have another 8 weeks before the snow hits!

7. Meet new people.
Since I made the list, I started going to local Meetup groups and sought out some new local penpals (despite the potential to look a total weirdo in the process!). In the last few months, I’ve been blessed to have met some incredible people – people who bring joy, inspiration, encouragement, and real friendship to my life. One of them had to move away – which was pretty tough, but the texts and long distance phone calls make it that much easier. Another couple of them, I soon found out, live a few blocks from us, and have become friends with Sweet, too, and the last few months have been filled with many a night of great conversation, laughs, song, life stories, and dreams, and I’m so incredibly excited they said yes to being part of our wedding party in December!

9. Plan meals, be healthier, and cook better.
Adjusting to planning meals a week ahead of time has been a challenge, but luckily Sweet is a whiz in the kitchen and has been whipping up all sorts of healthy, delicious stuff! (Note to self: share recipes!) I’ve also been good nutritionally, and have been starting every morning off with a Green Monster full of spinach, fruit, vitamins and nutrients. Blended fruit and veg is so much more convenient than eating it. And, thanks to your AMAZING outpour of advice, I’m learning to snack healthily throughout the day too, and not starve myself.

15. Teach a class full of people without being scared.
I’d taught small groups before, but last month, I had my first full on class. THIRTY. ADULT. LEARNERS put up with me for a couple of hours, teaching them about customer service and good habits of successful employees, and actually enjoyed it. The feeling I got after finishing was indescribable – I actually felt like I’d made a difference, and I couldn’t wait to start developing the rest of the materials. Self awareness, communication skills, interview techniques… are all modules I’m going to be responsible for in the coming few weeks. I’ve been given a position where I can pass on information that could change people’s lives for the better – and I have to remind myself that’s so much higher a priority than my own fear ever will be.

18. Go on a blogger meetup.
I was thrilled to meet Stephen and Aly in London a few weeks ago, and this Friday, I leave for 4 days in Chicago! I will be sharing pyjama parties, sightseeing, brewery tours, secret bars, skydecks and fancy dinners with some of my favourite people in the world – words cannot express how excited I am to meet Ashley, Brittany, Nate, Jen and Phampants – two more days until they get the BIGGEST HUGS EVER.

19. See more of the world and soak up every last drop.
England and Spain were amazing, Chicago next week will be so much fun, and Mexico will be jaw-dropping. As will, perhaps, my bank account balance at the end of this year, but you only live once.

20. Do more home decor.
We rent our house, which, though wonderfully homey, has rather bare cream walls. Last month I splurged and bought some of my favourite pieces of art, framed them, and hung them around the house, replacing some old TV and band posters (sniff). I also printed some pages from medieval manuscripts and had them blown up and framed, so all along wall beside the stairs is now historical artwork that indulges my nerdy side – and looks just lovely.

21. Finish my tattoo.
After the disastrous results of attempts one, two, and three, I finally found someone who’s going to finish the thing – make it completely different, completely beautiful, and completely new. T-35 days until the appointment!

The verdict: I think I’m doing okay! I’m far from being close to the finish line, and I’m not going to deny, some of the hardest ones are still to come. Some are going to be fun, some scary, and some still seem near impossible – but I’m determined to try. Doing this experiment has been a rollercoaster of emotions, so far, but I think it’s worth it. I just feel I need to prove I can be the person I want to be – and not the person I was. Yes, the past helps us become who we are today, but it also has no control over how the future unfolds unless you let it. A blog friend of mine said it well last week:

Too many of us live behind walls of our own design. We hide our true selves because we feel weird, or that we won’t be accepted. We feel that we need this acceptance to live; we need to feel normal, related-to, and understood. Many of us, however, don’t feel understood. We might feel loved, appreciated, welcomed, and accepted, but rarely do we feel understood.

So many of us let this fear of nonacceptance rule our lives. We keep our hopes and dreams and true selves locked away, worried about what other people might think if they were ever to see the light. And it’s a shame. It’s a waste. And it leads to an unfulfilling, unmeaningful, hollow existence.  I think we can all choose whether or not we allow those walls to stay up, or if we want to break them down and put ourselves out there. If you’re met with adversity from putting yourself out there, you have the choice as to how to take it. Is it going to dictate the way you live your life, or are you going to take control of your own? At the end of my last day of being 25, I don’t know if I’ll have achieved everything I set out to do. I might try and fail miserably. I might get hurt. I might get laughed at, and I might get gossiped about. But at the end of the day, I’ll have tried. And if, somehow, I manage to do it? I want anyone who’s ever lived by the reigns of fear to believe they can break free too. For now, I’ll keep trying. Fight over flight. In the eternal hope that, as a favourite blogger shared, “first, you jump off the cliff, and you build wings on the way down.”

Did you set goals for yourself this year? New Year’s Resolutions, or Four Simple Goals perhaps? How are you keeping yourself on track?