Carving your own path

Tomorrow is my last day of work, most of my jobs have been handed over, and my things packed up and taken home throughout the week. Looking at the contents of the sweet jar on my desk, it’s evident that no one likes butter mintoes.

I’ve had some great offers of contract work here and there when I leave which is encouraging, but I can’t shake the feeling that soon I’ll have to look after myself, no technical team on hand to fix my emails or my phone lines, no steady stream of work handed to me, no office lit and heated just waiting to house me. I remember when I was younger and my archaic laptop died on me. Many of friends had just been bought new laptops from their parents, and as I calculated my money and buried myself in indecipherable research for a new PC I remember thinking how independence seemed pretty rubbish and I would fantasise about a long lost uncle just wanting to give me a top of the range computer. Needless to say, that never happened, but I do remember the sense of pride when my computer arrived, and worked. 4 years later, that computer still exists, I had it rebuilt and gave to my parents so they could join the broadband generation.

I feel much the same today as I hand back the laptop, phone, passwords, start to calculate the pennies, and there is that same feeling that standing on your own two feet can be shaky, cold and hard. But that’s also the beauty of facing difficult things. Once you’ve conquered them, they’re no longer as uncomfortable, and just like a toddler, after all those bumps on the ground, one day your legs hold you and you walk, and then you run. One of the reasons we learn and develop so well when we’re younger is we start with a clean slate. We don’t know of anything to be afraid of, or indeed embarrassed about – quite often those bumps to the ground result in fits of giggles and praise for trying. When you’re older however, the bumps can make us feel bad and we don’t always have someone there to encourage us to take the next step.

Progress cannot be made without the setbacks, and for those who want to break out and try something new, there are plenty of people who take delight in the setback of others. It can be difficult not to let them get under your skin, but try and remember that those who tell you that you can’t, shouldn’t do something are more often than not talking from a standpoint of envy. If you are happy with your life, it is easy to be happy for others, but if there are things you would like to change, and you see someone else changing those things in their life, quite naturally you may harbour resentment.

So if people are knocking you, even though it’s hard to gee yourself up, the chances are you’re doing something right. And even if you’re not, as long as you’re learning, there’s no such thing as failure.

Fear of Failure and Mediocrity

Pooh Bear and Christopher Robin

Pooh Bear and Christopher Robin

It’s my last night at the cottage and I will be very sad to leave. I’ve had a wonderful time walking, reading, writing, napping, catching up on CSI thanks to the wonders of Freeview at the cottage, and discovering a new firm favourite – the Gilmore Girls. Fabulously written, and very well acted – I want to live there!

Being in the middle of A.A Milne country I have seen the Pooh bear bridge, went to piglet’s house – but he wasn’t in and also got to see the enchanted place, which was beautiful and peaceful. I had bought a Winnie the Pooh book to read whilst I was up here, and the story that stayed with me was the last one called “The Enchanted Place”. It’s here where Pooh and Christopher Robin leave each other, presumably for Christopher to go to school, and there is a moment between them:

“Still with his eyes on the world Christopher Robin put out a hand and felt for Pooh’s paw.

“Pooh,” Said Christopher Robin earnestly, “if I – if I’m not quite -” he stopped and tried again – “Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand, won’t you?””

My week here has made me excited about soon being able to have the time to pursue my own interests, but there is a doubt that I might not be able to achieve whatever I think it is I want. I’ve often felt this, and shied away from putting myself in a position where I really have to test myself. That time is now running out. I have three more weeks of job security and then I suppose the real fun begins!

My boyfriend is picking me up tomorrow morning, I have spent all day writing and working on my short stories so tonight I’m packing up my laptop and relaxing. I have a can of Dr Pepper, a pork pie, some Twiglets and a Muller yoghurt that I ironically ran 5 miles this morning to buy…

Be your own fan

One of the biggest influencing factors preventing us from acting the way we want to, is worrying about what other people think and how they will react to you. You’ve had a bad day at work, your boss was unreasonable and embarrassed you in front of your colleagues. After work in the pub you tell your friends all the things you should have said – but why didn’t you? Because you don’t want to upset your boss, and ruin your chance for that promotion, so you keep quiet, and continue to let him treat you in the same way.

The danger comes when we start to believe that other’s opinions are a reflection on who we are as a person. That might sound obvious, and you don’t have to be timid to be under the influence of other people’s opinions. If we feel guilty for not wanting to go to a party, but go anyway because we’re expected to, we’re compromising our own needs to keep other people happy. If making other people happy is more important to you, then there’s no need to change, but if you’re feeling as though you’re suppressing a part of you to fit in, then it might be time to become your own number one fan.

Have you ever been with a group of people and just felt as though you don’t quite fit in, but you continue to spend time with them because what’s the alternative? It might be the habit of drinking on a Friday night with work mates, when you’d be happier staying in, but you can’t do that because it’s Friday and, well, everyone’s going for a drink. Or perhaps your friends have been able to make you feel bad about something you did – leaving a party early, not calling often enough, drinking too much or not enough. If you have experienced this then you have given people the power to choose how you should feel and act when really, the only person with all the information to make the best choices for you is…well, you.

Other people are at their most powerful to influence us when we care about their opinion, but if you place stock in what others think and say about you, you inhibit your ability to grow freely as you develop with one eye on someone else’s reaction.

If everyone is your customer…then no one is your customer

It is impossible to please everyone, and why should we even try? Take for example a controversial figure like Amy Winehouse. Some people can’t stand her and think she is a talentless waste, good only for car crash tabloid exposure. On the other hand, some people love her and think she has a genius talent and gift for music. So who is right? I’ve no doubt even you might have an opinion, but for all these debates about her talent going back and forth, they don’t actually affect who she is…unless she lets them. If she never reads an article about herself again she will continue to exist, live breathe, get hungry, cry at what she finds upsetting, laugh at what amuses her, and possibly make music that she enjoys. It is the same for us. Have you ever noticed that different people react to you differently even when you stay the same? Some people like you more than others, and some people can’t stand you. I think the key is to not want to find out. The more honest you are with yourself about who you are and what you are interested in, the more you will attract people who reflect that. It is not about right or wrong, it is about differences. We would never expect an apple to taste like an orange, and yet we sometimes expect our friends to support us or act in a way we want them to because that’s what “friends do”, and likewise, they may expect that from us.

My first experience of really being myself was after university. I had some good friends at university but often felt like a square peg in a round hole and would continually try to reinvent the way I acted, forcing myself much to my own misery to fit in with people I felt I should be spending time with. After university I went to Canada on my own with a group of other travellers through BUNAC. On the first night in the hostel I had that same sinking feeling that I wasn’t going to fit in. Everyone was excited and bustling around and the two self appointed leaders of the group were telling everyone to drink up our drinks and all head out for a meal together. I felt like I was back at university and the popular clique had already managed to carve itself out. And then I spotted a boy and a girl looking with bemusement at the rest of the group as they were told to “drink up”. They had a pitcher or beer between the two of them and looked like they had no intention to hurry and didn’t care what anyone else thought. I smiled. Something told me these were my people. Over many more beers we ended up living together that year and for the first time in a long time I was completely myself and they liked me for it. This gave me confidence to trust that in an abundance of people out there, the more I am myself, the more I will meet people like myself, and spend less time with people I don’t enjoy. For the most part this has worked.

It doesn’t mean I don’t have friends who aren’t completely different from me, but I don’t expect them to change as they don’t expect me to act in a way I don’t want to. It also doesn’t mean I never accept another point of view, or someone else’s advice on something. Sometimes others can be a positive influence on us, make us try things we enjoy but ultimately, the choice is yours. IT’s the same for criticism, it only counts if you believe it and if you believe it, use it to improve.

Next time someone disagrees with something you’ve done remind yourself that for every argument there is a counter argument- be your own number one fan. If you’re happy with your actions, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. If you’re not happy with your actions, don’t regret, them seem them as an opportunity to learn. You don’t need to tell that person, but you can tell yourself and as long as you agree with yourself nothing else much matters

On a side note – I’m wondering how long this optimism is going to last.

Ploughing to Prevent Regret – Monday 3rd Nov 08

Getting away from it all

Getting away from it all

I am writing this from a cottage in a remote location as a result of doing something I have always wanted to do. For years I have had a romanticised notion of packing up and getting away from everything to take a holiday on my own, and for years I have denied myself. Convinced that people would think I was strange, my friends would be offended, my parents would worry about me being alone, I would get bored, I wouldn’t be able to travel anywhere (I don’t drive), it would be expensive and dangerous. I finally plucked up the courage to use some holiday days (unnecessary as I resigned since then) and go. A bit of research found somewhere that ticked the boxes and even some of my friends thought the idea sounded fantastic (though some thought I was a little odd!). Today is day three and as I look at the beautifully cloudy and green country landscape, with the cosy lamps on and the Aga murmuring behind me, my only regret was that I hadn’t done this sooner. How often do we finally take the plunge with a dream only to discover it wasn’t as difficult as we first thought, and wish we had done it sooner?

Regret can be painful, but it is a useful indicator of dreams we wish to pursue. Failing to learn from your current regrets may see you continue to notch up missed opportunities and become consumed with the idea of what might have been if only…

We learn from regret by recognising the situations where we wished we had acted differently, and preparing ourselves (ploughing – I’ll come to this a little later) to act differently in the future. We can spend hours regretting something we have or haven’t done, and though we are recognising the situation, often we’re not actually learning from it, we’re not focused on moving forward, we’re stuck, immobilised by regret.

The Bonus Feature “Alternative Ending” – currently not available in the DVD of life.

My dad has an interesting perspective on regret, which almost always leads to getting knocked over by a truck. He can turn any regret into an “alternative ending” which, although undoes your regretful action…well… watch for yourself:

ME: “If only I hadn’t thrown away that receipt I could have swapped these shoes for a better pair…”(great sadness and bad feeling in the stomach)

MY DAD: “Ahh yes, but let’s say that you still had the receipt, you went back to the shop and swapped your shoes, but in your excitement at the new shoes, you run out from the shop, into the road and get hit by a truck…and then die.”

I have heard my dad say this many time and though the logic is simple, it is a great exercise in perspective and helps you stop thinking too much about some of the “what ifs” in the world. Looking at what could have happened is useless if we’re hoping it will happen through time travel, but if we’re assessing it based on how we can act differently in the future (saving the receipt till I’m sure I like the shoes – always helpful if you’re flat footed but get seduced by heels every time you’re in a shop…) then it is an essential part of growing.

Growing, ploughing? Has the countryside gone to your head?

Perhaps, but stay with me on this one…

Regret often indicates a desire for something we were unable to achieve: asking someone for a date, speaking your mind in an argument, not completing that essay in time or treating someone badly for example. The 20:20 vision of hindsight oversimplifies the situation and it is easy to either beat yourself up about where you went wrong, or dismiss that there was anything you could have done to change the outcome: “They would probably have said no…I’m just not confident enough…I had too much on at the time…he shouldn’t have provoked me.”

Does this sound familiar? Neither of the above is enabling us to learn from our past and grow…and that brings us back to ploughing.

To grow crops you have to prepare the land. You can’t just throw seed down on a nice looking field of grass and hope you turn it into Barley. Have you ever seen a ploughed field? It looks muddy, messy and clumsy – the best foundation for change into something new. And that is what’s needed to change our actions over our current regrets. I’ve got many things I wished I had done that I hope to pursue and giving up my job is probably the muddiest and clumsiest thing I could do! But change doesn’t always have to be so drastic I don’t think. Sometimes bitesize changes can be just as, if not more helpful in undoing our habits which generate the same results.

Bitesize change – the fear vaccination

To go after something we regret not doing, most people have to get over the fear that has prevented them from getting it in the past. Fear of seeming selfish, fear of rejection, fear of embarrassment or fear of failure. These fears can seem terrifying enough and to start the change we have to open ourselves up to small doses of the uncomfortable feelings of being embarrassed, rejected and failing. Pretty much like a vaccination. A small change repeated again and again can soon form a better habit, until we’re no longer worried about being embarrassed because it’s happened so often you realise you can survive it. Such “bite size” exercises can help vaccinate you against your fears so that current regrets are opportunities to learn and not just excuses to drink vodka and listen to country music…

Some Bitesize change exercises could be inviting someone out for a drink (and not minding if they say no), asking a question in a meeting about something you don’t understand, giving someone a compliment and meaning it. Anything which inches you outside of what you’re comfortable doing means the next step shouldn’t be so big…and so on and so on.

My biggest fear is failure, but rather than the Bitesize approach I’m taking a leap into the unknown. I suppose we just need to watch this space and see what happens to me!

Dare to be Different Sunday 26th Oct 99 days without alcohol

Phil Spector

Phil Spector

Last night whilst surfing the five channels remaining since the death of our digi-box (another contributory to me giving up my job may also have been the cutback of television and denial of my CSI marathon evenings) I stumbled on the documentary “The Agony and Ecstasy of Phil Spector”by Anthony Wall and Vikram Jayanti. I knew very little about Phil Spector, except that he was a music producer and had been on trial for murder. The court scenes, music and eccentricity of the man hooked me into watching the complete film.

Trial aside, I was mesmerised by the interviews with Mr. Spector, as he likened himself to Da Vinci and Gallileo in his work. His confidence wasn’t that of bravado, but a more powerful unwavering belief in his own talents. Whilst he admitted that he never expected positive receptions from other people, he didn’t feel this was a reflection on his own talents but compared himself to Galileo trying to convince people the world wasn’t flat. I don’t doubt this impermeable self-belief has contributed greatly to his success. He expected criticism as part of creating art, but I get the distinct feeling that he was perhaps his hardest critic and not influenced by other people’s thoughts. In response to Paul McCartney reworking the “Let it Be” album and removing all of Spector’s arrangements he calmly stated “he got me mixed up with somebody who gives a shit.” And I’m inclined to believe him.

Talking about his time in high school, he mentioned that the graduating theme was “Dare to be different” and he believes only he challenged anything and actually achieved this. It is evident that Mr. Spector carved out his own path and was himself whether others liked him or not. His reputation for violence, tantrums and manipulation has earned him a reputation for being very difficult. He dismisses claims that he is difficult and explains he actually likes to be left alone, and if he is left alone he can’t be difficult with anyone, can he?

I think many people don’t dare to be different, or do so only within the realms of acceptability and how often do we hold our tongue for the sake of diplomacy and tact? I’ve often envied those who can speak their mind and stand by their convictions regardless of who agrees with them. Often, the discomfort of disapproval keeps us in line. This makes interactions on a daily basis amiable but in the long term fear of discomfort often inhibits us from getting in touch with our true desires.

I don’t want to deliberately upset anyone for the sake of it, and I’m not sure I have the self confidence of Mr. Spector, but I was inspired at his ability to strip away the world around him and focus on his pursuits and achieve. I wonder if I will be able to find more confidence in what I do by pursuing ventures of my own interest or if I will get feasted on and deterred by others? Can I be mentor, critic and friend when it comes to my work and can I eventually live my life impervious to the opinions of everyone else around me? I suppose only time will tell.