Quagmires, Self-belief and Sunscreen

Humans are contrary creatures. We spend our whole lives seeking happiness, meaning and validation, but in the process somehow manage to repeatedly get dragged into the toxic quagmire of anxiety, comparison and ‘never enough’ thinking.

I’ve been languishing in the quagmire again myself this week, worrying about my son’s health – as usual – but this time also about money. We are hardly on the breadline, but we are managing on one income this year. It was a decision we took together that we were – and still are – confident in, but nonetheless there are moments when we waver. Like when the bills are more than we’d anticipated, or when we check the account and realise that we’ve been more frivolous than we should have been for the past few weeks. We knew that moving back to London on one salary would be painful and so it is proving to be.

But it’s important to keep in mind the bigger picture. We made this choice because it’s best for our family that I become self-employed. And the career I have chosen – coaching – is one that is still largely unregulated and full of amateurs. To stand out amongst the crowd I need credibility, and to build credibility I need credentials. The path I have chosen begins with further study, which is why I am taking this year to return to my MSc in Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology at the University of East London. It’s not been an easy road so far this year with my son’s ill health hampering my ability to study, but nonetheless I am managing to forge ahead. Some people have commented that perhaps it’s too much to have a one year old and study for a degree, but keeping up the momentum is critical for my confidence and self-belief.

On that note, I have a tattoo on my right arm which says ‘Believe’ (or ‘Belieber’ as my husband takes great pleasure in saying to wind me up, due to the curly script in which it’s written. But I digress..), in a nod to my writing ambitions. I got the tattoo some years ago when I took the decision to accept a four days per week role in order to devote one day a week to my writing. For a while it went well, I got some commissions for features, was shortlisted for a fiction competition and really felt I was on the right track. But for myriad reasons I got demotivated, lost my confidence, and before long my writing day had turned into an extra day of weekend. I have always regretted this, and, ironically thanks to my tattoo, now have a permanent reminder of what happens when you don’t believe in yourself. But you know what? It spurs me on to never make the same mistake again. This time around I’m older and wiser, and I know in my heart that coaching is what I want and need to do. It will take time and require sacrifice, but I am now in a place where I am able to accept and embrace those truths.

All that said, I still have moments of weakness and self-doubt. I’m only human, after all. But life has a funny way of showing you the way, if only you look for the signs. Take this morning, for example. After a bit of a rough night/morning with my son (bad conjunctivitis, yet another cough, pre-toddler mood swings) I got him to nursery later than planned and was running late for my Body Balance class at Studio Society (I know I sound like such a Hampstead Mum, but I cannot tell you how much this class sorts my head out, it’s literally balm for the soul). I was rushing along the road, battling with my brolly against the wind and the commuters, checking my watch every two seconds to see how late I was going to be and feeling general sense of stress and unease. Then I consciously took a moment to check myself, noting that checking my watch was pointless as it wouldn’t get me there any faster. I decided to let go of the anxiety and trust that my legs would carry me there as fast as they could. If I was a few minutes late to class, so what? The world would keep on turning. And in the end, not only was I only a couple of minutes late, but for the first time today the teacher was ten minutes late! There seemed a certain serendipity in that outcome, and certainly a life lesson.

I have one final point to make in this meandering but cathartic post. In 1999, the year I left school and started university (literally showing my age here), Baz Luhrmann’s song Sunscreen was released. In the years hence I have often found myself returning to the lyrics, and this morning was reminded of these ones specifically:

The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that
never crossed your worried mind
the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.

When I’m in the quagmire of anxiety, comparison and ‘never enough,’ I try to remind myself that none of the things I am worrying about are actually significant. All that really matters in life, at least as far as I’m concerned, are love (loving and being loved by friends and family) and health. I’m at an age where it’s becoming harder to convincingly wear the cloak of invincibility. Several people close to me have experienced cancer in the past year, and right there are the real troubles that Baz Luhrmann talked about. So for as long as I’m fighting for my lifestyle rather than for my life, I will try to remember how very lucky I am.

sunscreen

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Don’t Forget to Look Up / Thinking Big

In a previous blog post many moons (and blogging sites and Internet galaxies) ago I wrote about an occasion when I was walking down Clapham High Street and it dawned on me that, prior to that moment, I had never along that road raised my eyes upwards – to look above the shops and restaurants I was walking past, to notice the tops of the buildings, the art deco flats, the various architectural accomplishments (and, indeed, failures), to simply get a peep inside the windows through which so many simultaneous lives were being lived out above the level of the ground floor.

The point of my sharing that anecdote is that so many of us go through life with blinkers on, failing to see so many of the things that are staring us right in the face. We follow the pattern of getting up, taking the tube to work, trawling through our to do lists with barely a break for breath, let alone lunch. Then, at the end of the day, we drag our weary work-beaten selves to our homes or – if we can muster the energy – to the gym or to the pub where we can re-energise or socialise and temporarily forget that the inescapable cycle will resume again in just a few hours’ time. We are, in short, slaves to our routines, and so rarely take the time or trouble to break from them each day for just a moment to re-engage with the world around us.

On that note, I’m currently reading (or, to be more precise, dipping in and out of) The Artist’s Way, a self-help book by American Julia Cameron written way back in 1992 that promises to help the reader creatively unblock themselves. Whilst some of the book is a bit too spiritually far out for me, one thing I love is the concept of taking time out of the routine each week for an ‘artist date’ – some quality time with yourself and your imagination doing something out of the ordinary. This, Cameron says, is how we artists can fill up the creative wells within us, that are depleted by the daily monotony of our lives.

In light of all of the above today, therefore, I took myself off for a wander down to Borough Market during my lunch break (I’m ashamed to admit it was the first time I’ve done this in a year of working in London Bridge). The moment I arrived my senses were assaulted with a vast array of sights, sounds and smells. I happily snapped away with my camera before settling on a wall in the garden beside Southwark Cathedral to eat a vegetable thali and watch the world go by. I hadn’t been there long when I spotted a woman in a long trench coat wearing a fake pair of glasses with a plastic nose attached. She was standing at the gate pretending to read a newspaper, whilst casting furtive glances all around. No sooner had I approached to take a picture than she was off, disappearing through the gate into the market. But not before I caught this shot of her.

Whether that display was art or madness I’ll never know, but what I do know is this: I’m so glad I went on my artist date today, and so grateful for all that I saw and did there. As a good friend recently said to me: “You’re only as big as the picture you’re in.”  So why not make it bigger?

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