New Endings

Today I am tired: dog-tired. Lately I’ve been burning the candle at both ends and the outcome is not pretty – bad skin, concentration span of a gnat (not intimately knowing their cognitive capabilities, I acknowledge this may be unfair to gnats) and the general feeling that I am clinging to my raft on the fast-flowing river of life by the tips of my fingers, with only moments to spare before I fall off and am pulled beneath the murky depths (that last bit was the hungover melodrama speaking, best to ignore it).

But today four things happened that snapped me out of the downward-spiralling torrrent of my own selfish emotions:

  1. I read the news from Calais, where fire is ravaging through the Jungle camp as I type this, and, at the very same time, unaccompanied minors are being sent back there to wait until they can be processed.
  2. I heard a piece of  news from England, which nearly made my heart burst with happiness and joy.
  3. I received my fourth book through the Facebook book exchange I signed up to a couple of weeks ago, which has gone some way towards restoring my faith in humanity.
  4. I watched this video by Prince Ea, which made me realise that those of us who are lucky enough to live in relative freedom are the masters of our own destiny. We can make as many excuses as we like for why we don’t put ourselves out there, but in the end all that will come of our procrastination is regret.

Too often we let our minds wander, thinking of all the paths we could go down but failing to take even the first step along one of them. Fear is a paralysing force, and a toxic one. So many of us stay in the trap our fearful minds have set for us, instead of facing our fear head on and saying, you know what? I’m not falling for this. Not again.

Collectively, as Sapiens (I urge you to read that, by the way, it will change your perspective on everything), we’re not doing that great a job of things: segregating ourselves by our countries of origin and religious beliefs, killing our planet, killing one another. But individually we can still make a difference. For all our faults, we humans have such capacity for kindness, for love, for hope. Even in the Jungle, where those awful fires are burning and people’s future is so uncertain, people are dancing. I’m sure those very people could teach the rest of us a lot about what it means to be happy, and how little we really need to find happiness, and peace in our hearts.

As Prince Ea says in his video, you cannot go back and make a new beginning. But you can start now, and make a brand new ending. It’s not too late to change ourselves, or to change the world. All it takes is courage: to feel our fear and do it anyway. I don’t know about you, but I plan to do exactly that.

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Banishing Self-Indulgence

Earlier today I wrote one of those typical woe is me blog posts, alluding to how hard everything felt, how lacking I was in inspiration etc. But before I posted it I stopped, my finger hovering over the mouse key, and asked myself: What good will it do to share this with the world? It may well be cathartic to get things off your chest, but haven’t you done that just by writing it? Don’t you feel a little lighter as it is? And you know what? I did feel lighter just for having written it. Much like a letter to an ex that never actually gets sent, I had expunged the negative emotions without the need to inflict them upon the world. So that was one thing that happened today.

Another thing that happened was my reading of this article, which can, I believe, be best surmised by the following excerpt:

“The 8-hour workday is too profitable for big business, not because of the amount of work people get done in eight hours (the average office worker gets less than three hours of actual work done in 8 hours) but because it makes for such a purchase-happy public. Keeping free time scarce means people pay a lot more for convenience, gratification, and any other relief they can buy. It keeps them watching television, and its commercials. It keeps them unambitious outside of work.

“We’ve been led into a culture that has been engineered to leave us tired, hungry for indulgence, willing to pay a lot for convenience and entertainment, and most importantly, vaguely dissatisfied with our lives so that we continue wanting things we don’t have. We buy so much because it always seems like something is still missing.”

I don’t know about you, but reading those two paragraphs struck a chord so deep within me that the hairs on my arms stood up of their own volition. Why? Because that person with no time to be ambitious outside work, who feels constantly dissatisfied in a way they struggle to articulate and who spends money they don’t have on ways to make themselves feel better: That person is me. And most likely also many of you. Of course (trust fund children aside) we have to work for a living (and in this respect with a four day week I can complain less than many about my lot), but it’s so true that outside work it takes (what often feels like) a superhuman effort to cultivate the kind of extracurricular activities that leave you feeling wholly satisfied and fulfilled.

But, that aside, the fact is that those with true talent and passion DO manage to make the most of the time they have, no matter how little it is. They don’t sit around complaining about being oppressed and enslaved by the organisations they work for, but rather work out ways to escape their clutches and create opportunities for work – and living – on their terms. Whether incarcerated by consumerism or not, we all have choices. And our choices are the difference between a life of success and a life of failure. Which is a pretty sobering thought.

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Compare This

Last week I read about a one-woman play that was both written and performed by a girl in her early twenties*. Instead of thinking ‘wow, that’s an impressive amount of talent at such a young age’ I’m ashamed to admit my first default reaction was ‘urgh, some people have all the luck.’ And that’s not an isolated incident. Friends’ promotions, publications, engagements and luxury holidays (to name but a few life events) have often left me cold – not because I’m so hard-hearted I can’t be happy for them, but because I can’t help but compare myself to them, and always end up feeling inadequate.

Comparison is the enemy of success. When you spend all your time comparing yourself to others you get paralysed by the fear of failure. I’ve only just found the courage to openly admit to myself I’ve been doing this for years, and begin to acknowledge that it’s not only unhealthy but also downright silly. If we obsess enough over others’ successes we may well be able to emulate them, but the pursuit of that goal can destroy all the good things in our own lives. Is it really worth that?

When we reach the pearly gates at the end of our lives wouldn’t it be better to stand up and say with pride we took our own path in life, rather than following others’? Each one of us was made unique, with different strengths and weaknesses. Why try to fit a square peg in a round hole? I can only be me. And what I’m finally coming to realise is that being me is just fine. No, not fine. Being me is great 🙂

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*In light of the above I’m going to see this play tonight. It’s time to buck the comparison trend and support a fellow female writer 🙂

The Never-Good-Enough Club

What is it about the human condition that makes it so damn hard to celebrate our achievements yet so easy to lambaste ourselves for our failures? Take my experience of today as an example: After waking at 8am still feeling exhausted from my friend’s (amazing) hen weekend I decided to have extra hour’s sleep to ensure maximum productivity for rest of day. When I re-woke up at 9am feeling good I not only wrote my morning pages for the first time in weeks, I also wrote a ‘to do’ list for the day which comprised the following: 

  • Do physio exercises
  • Write short exposition scene for sitcom class homework
  • Devise comedy sketch show idea (as above)
  • Write first episode of sitcom
  • Write dialogue piece for tomorrow’s sitcom class (homework set by guest speaker)
  • Update short story competition spreadsheet
  • Write a new short story
  • Go to shops (to purchase shampoo, floss, Brita filters and dinner, should you be interested in the mechanics of my banal daily existence)
  • Go to gym for twenty minute cycle
  • Do washing

By 10am I had showered, completed my physio exercises, eaten breakfast and written the exposition scene. By 11am I had come up with an idea for the sketch and put the washing on. By 1pm I’d done my shopping and been to the gym. By 2pm I’d written the dialogue piece, and by 5pm I’d written three quarters of the first episode of my sitcom. As I sit here at 8pm I’ve all but finished (bar a few closing lines) the sitcom episode, updated the short story competition spreadsheet, caught up with my best friend in the US (on the phone) and my good friend in Hawaii (on Whatsapp), and am now writing this post. But do I feel a sense of satisfaction? Not really, because of the ten things on today’s to do list, I only managed to complete nine. And that one outstanding task (writing a short story) is hanging over me like a dark cloud – so much so it may as well be a neon sign over my head saying ‘FAILURE.’ If only I’d got up at 8am and used that extra hour instead of sleeping in, my inner critic reasons, I might have ticked that final box and ended the day with a very different sign over my head: A sign that said ‘SUCCESS.’

The reason I’m sharing this is because I know I’m not alone; there are many others like me. Perhaps it would be better if we lowered our expectations of ourselves and set easier targets that guaranteed success. But, in doing that, would we not just be letting ourselves off the hook and accepting there are limits to our capability? True, it’s no fun always feeling like you’re underachieving because you don’t meet your own high targets, but at least you have the ambition to set high targets in the first place, and the inherent belief that, in exceptional circumstances, you are capable of meeting them.

I think the real answer to this conundrum lies in acceptance; of ourselves, of our abilities and, perhaps most importantly of all, of the distance between our dreams and our realities. We may not always manage to tick everything off our daily lists, but as long as we’re keeping up enough forward momentum to inch ever closer to fulfilling our potential, that might just be okay.

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To write or not to write (not really a question)

Day twelve of NaNoWriMo and I’m proud to announce I’m three hundred and fifty five whole words ahead of schedule, having managed a short but intense stint of writing over the past hour and a half. It’s funny how sometimes the words flow like honey and other times they stick like mud. I can’t say I’m doing the best job of sticking to the story skeleton, or that in recent chapters I haven’t strayed somewhat off the writing piste where my chapter plan is concerned, but right now none of that matters – because right now those glorious words are tumbling out one after the other, like parachutists leaping from an aeroplane.

In recent days my inner critic’s been leaping around in my mind like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, brandishing its creativity-severing axe and wailing like a banshee. At times it’s been so hard to drown it out that I’ve been tempted to succumb, not just to this writing challenge but to the challenge of writing altogether. I’ve compared myself to others – the kiss of death for any aspiring author – and concluded my writing doesn’t make the grade. I’ve even questioned just how much I want to be a writer – if it’s worth the sacrifices and the pain I know I need to endure to get to where I want to be.

But then I’ve realised (as I always do) that it doesn’t matter if I’m not as good a writer as other people. It doesn’t really even matter if I ‘make it’ as a writer or not. What matters is that writing is a part of who I am – it’s what makes me tick. And until my dying day I will keep doing it – whether there’s gold at the end of the rainbow or not.

Defining Potential

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Reading this article on the BBC News website today really struck a chord. Rumination is something I have always excelled in (shame I couldn’t have excelled in something more useful, like academia for example). Not to the point of falling into a depression, you understand, but often to the point of being paralysed by feelings of disappointment in myself – for not working harder, not being more assertive etc. (trust me, the list goes on and on).

In recent months and years, however, I have begun to develop a coping strategy in response to this. It’s gradually becoming easier to recognise when those familiar feelings of self-doubt are creeping up and to nip them in the bud. Perhaps this is a positive result of the ageing process (there have to be some, right?), whereby we come to know ourselves that little bit better as each year passes, so that over time we realise it’s not worth beating ourselves up for our failures, and is far better to just accept them and move on.

Instead of wallowing when we feel we have failed, we should celebrate when we have succeeded, because only then will we start to positively re-affirm who we are and what we can achieve. It makes me sad to see so many people failing to realise their potential in life – myself included. But what is ‘potential’ really? Maybe part of the problem is our definition of that word, and our perception of how much we are really capable of. If we were kinder to ourselves and other people perhaps it would be easier to put our failures behind us and stride into the future unencumbered?

Doldrums

Today the carefully arranged mask of Zen which I discovered in my course last week and had actually started to believe could be my true and serene self spectacularly slipped aside to reveal a considerably less calm interior. Unsurprisingly this has led to an upsurge of those familiar feelings of failure and frustration I’d hitherto been doing an impressive job of burying somewhere in the back of my unconscious (along with jealousy, bitterness, anger, rage and all the other unwanted emotions that reside there – although those ones I have at least managed to batten down the hatches on again).

The most frustrating thing is that I know the way I’m feeling is in almost entirely self-inflicted. I spent the weekend over indulging, entirely neglecting my body and mind’s requirements for healthy food, sleep and nurturing (and, let’s face it, this body and mind aren’t getting any younger). As a result both body and mind became unbalanced, and it’s only now as I begin to recognise this and pay some recompense to both that the situation can begin to be resolved. It’s hardly rocket science – disrespect your body and it will disrespect you back (or something to that effect) – though it seems I’m failing in this most rudimentary of comprehensions.

But you know what? It may be how the day began but wallowing is most certainly not how I want this day to end. The plethora of ‘problems’ I perceive when I’m tired and emotional are First World problems; none have serious repercussions. Instead of letting my brain dwell on negative thoughts I shall, for the remainder of this day, embrace the positive ones – of which there are so many – and be glad. So what if I’m tired and a bit out of sorts? I had a great weekend with my friends – and it was worth every minute. Now if somebody could just pass the Berocca…