Baby Steps

I had a wonderful send off from work last Friday and this week I took the first shaky steps of working for myself. It’s a little strange at first getting up in the morning, getting ready and then not leaving the flat, and I will be pleased when I manage to get a computer and desk set up so I have a permanent work space at least. As my boyfriend is also self employed and mostly at home, the bedroom is being converted into an office – to the extent that the bed has to go as we’re trying to fill the spare room with a lodger / language student! My parents think I’m crazy but having the space to work at the moment and extra money coming in is more important than the luxury of a bed set up all the time and a spare front room. I think if we could have shelves built for us to sleep on, we probably would have.

My to do list at the moment is so long it’s quite daunting and it’s taking a lot of effort to stay focused and not become deterred. Having just said that I think I will spend some time tomorrow creating a “mind map”. I first discovered these when studying chemistry at A-Level and having joined the course a few months late found them an excellent source of absorbing masses of information. I have also used them to some extent at work, especially when starting a new project plan when you need to put some structure to the many ideas that come flooding in.

I received a letter yesterday informing me that a short story I had submitted to a competition some weeks back has been shortlisted in the final 10 for adjudication. I know it’s purely coincidence that it arrived on my first day out of work but I took it as an encouraging sign!

This Friday I am going to attend a “LikeMind” event in Brighton. I discovered this group through the inspiring blog of Tim Ferriss (a contributor to me giving up my job) and this is the first meeting of their that I will be able to attend. As a newbie to the world of the self employed creative entrepreneur I am hoping to meet similar people and hear about their experiences searching for and securing work.

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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!

Don’t Look Back – Monday 27th Oct 08

Mary Engelbreit’s greeting card appeals to me at this moment in time. By now the people I am close to at work know that I am leaving and on the whole seem very happy for me. Some people think I’m being foolish leaving and not having a plan but to me it just seems more foolish to stay when my heart’s not in it. I feel liberated and in touch with myself again, even though I don’t have a clue about what it is that I want to do, but that blank canvas doesn’t frighten me too much. My last day is November the 28th and it will be the end of an era for me. It’s been one of the best learning curves of my life. After I finished university when I was 21 I went to work in Canada for a year with just a rucksack, return flight and no plan. It turned out to be one of the best things I ever did. 4 years later and I feel ready to take that plunge again.

Greeting card by Mary Engelbreit

Greeting card by Mary Engelbreit