Sink, Swim or Self-accept

Self acceptance is a wily old beast. I’ve been chasing it around for years with no success, lying in wait to ensnare it. But it’s always a step ahead, just out of reach. Tonight, though, I had a breakthrough. Because, just as it came barreling past me (as it is wont to do, teasingly), I reached out and grabbed its tail. Just for a second. I let go, obviously, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is I managed to touch it, to make it tangible and real.

Last week I wrote a list of all the things that make me feel guilty. It was long, with the obvious (obligatory) entries about health and diet and exercise. It also mentioned my penchant for a bit of crap TV from time to time, my lack of discipline to write and my lack of ambition.

This week work is ramping up. I’ve been given more responsibility, a new client and the chance to earn a promotion. I didn’t think I was ambitious, yet all of a sudden I feel hungry for it. In two days I’ve racked up several hours of overtime, but instead of feeling downbeat, put upon and weary, I feel calm, confident, happy. Why? Because I realised earlier that it is possible to just let things go; to not worry about coming home late, eating cake, not having time for the gym, not writing, occasionally watching something crap on TV (once in a while, I’m not advocating an unhealthy lifestyle, everything in moderation).

Almost none of the things I guilt over incessantly really matter. In fact, in those rare moments when my vision clears I realise that beneath the layers of guilt I am actually profoundly serene. The things on my to do list can wait until the weekend. I don’t have the mental capacity to worry about all of that as well as working this hard. I can’t do both. Or maybe I can, but I don’t want to. I choose not to. Because ultimately everything in life is a choice. And choosing to accept yourself, with all the foibles that make you who you are, is the best decision you can make.

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The Baby Monkey Metaphor

This is an honest post about an emotion that clings to my back like an orphaned baby monkey every day of my life. That emotion is guilt.

To give examples, here are some of the myriad things I feel guilty about on a daily basis: Not working hard enough; Not being ambitious enough; Not being a good enough fiancé; Not being a good enough daughter; Not being a good enough friend; Not writing; Not pursuing my life goals; Watching too much crap instead of writing/pursuing life goals; Caring too much what people think about me; Being so privileged when so many are not; Not appreciating being so privileged when so many are not; Never being satisfied/always wanting more; Eating badly; Not going to the gym; Not being mindful; Worrying about everything/sweating the small stuff; Being too apologetic; Wasting too much time on social media. I could go on. In fact, I daresay I could fill ten pages with all the things that I feel guilty about from one moment to the next. But I won’t (because I’d only feel guilty about the time I wasted writing it). It’s a depressing (if somewhat exaggerated, for the purpose of this post) truth that the only time I don’t feel guilty is when I’m sleeping, although if I remembered more of my dreams I wouldn’t be surprised if I felt guilt in most of those as well.

It never fails to amaze me how humans can be so intelligent and yet so utterly stupid at the same time. Unless felt in a justified context, for example when we have genuinely done something to upset another person, guilt – like worry and anxiety (which I could also fill a small tome about, let’s not go down that road here) – is a useless emotion. After thirty four years of living with it I can vouch for the fact it does not increase productivity – far from it, it is productivity’s antithesis. It also doesn’t improve personal relationships, or indeed help other people in the slightest. I wouldn’t go so far as to label it a selfish emotion, because it is usually underpinned by a sense of duty towards others or towards our true (non-egotistical) selves, but it sure is good at making a person introspective to the point of being boring.

So in the spirit of the age old ‘new year, new me’ mentality, it’s time to face the truth: the baby monkey on my back, whilst cute, has never led me anywhere positive; in fact, it has only led me into procrastination, anxiety and paralysing self-doubt. In short, cute or not, it’s time to ditch the monkey. Life is too short to be paralysed by useless emotions. It’s time to start fostering the useful ones.

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Breaking the Silence

It’s been a month since my last post. Life is such a whirlwind at the moment that I’m struggling to catch my breath. I mean, life’s always busy – despite my best intentions I don’t seem capable of living any other way – but having a new job that is ten times as busy as the last, in parallel with the often stressful process of planning a wedding (there’s nothing quite so thrilling – excuse the heavy sarcasm – as the feeling you get when your venue cancels on you three months after you sent the invites) is leaving precious little room for anything or anyone else (except of course my constant companion Guilt, who naturally manages to elbow his way into almost every situation).

But, tempting though it is to retreat into my head and bob up and down on the familiar sea of anxiety and worry (Guilt bobbing up and down beside me in his rubber ring), before drowning out the internal noise with crap TV and pointless social media staring (which, I won’t lie, I did a fair bit of in plucking up the courage to write this), I know in my heart that my best means of finding some clarity and peace of mind is through writing. Which is why, after several aborted attempts at updating this blog, I’ve finally sat down to do it. And also why I’ve taken the big decision to reassess my writing priorities, to take time out of screenplay writing and go back to what I love most: novel writing.

And what better way to get back into that than by attempting NaNoWriMo again in November? I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve done it before, how many first drafts of novels are languishing in the metaphorical drawer, dusty and undeveloped. And I’ve no reason to think this time will be any different. Given how crazy life is at the moment I’ve no reason to think I will even manage to complete it. I just know I want to do it, or try to do it, to get the creative juices flowing again – and drown out those hateful voices telling me that I’ll never be good enough.

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Thought this was particularly appropriate given the circumstances. Come on NaNoWriMo, let’s get that crappy first draft underway..

Blocking Time

Do you ever feel there isn’t enough time to do the things you want to do outside of your day job? Are you often just so tired at the end of the working day that all you want to do is lie on the sofa and watch crap TV just to relax your mind? But then the guilt sets in, because such activity feels like it actively diminishes your intelligence rather than bolstering it, and if you don’t use your time wisely how will you ever finish that novel/Open University course/improving tome etc.?

If you do feel that way, you’re not alone. I for one experience this cycle of worry and guilt on a daily basis. Even though I know that being a published writer is my goal, somehow it seems that writing at the end of a full day’s work (and, when I can be bothered, a post-work gym session) is always the last thing I want to do.

But then, yesterday, I struck on the most blindingly obvious and simple concept: Instead of telling myself that I had to spend the whole evening writing, with no time to do anything else (the usual mantra due to guilt at not having written enough in the preceding days/weeks), I told myself to spend just one hour working on my screenplay, at the end of which I could spend an hour watching any TV programme I liked. And at the end of that, I would go to bed and spend an hour reading my book (because, in my experience – and somewhat ironically given the benefits – when you’re feeling overtired and too busy the first thing to go is the luxury of reading before bed).

And you know what? It worked. I didn’t do a huge amount of my screenplay, but I did more than I had done in the past few days. And, more than anything, it felt like I had removed a big obstacle that had been standing in my way. I no longer felt scared of the enormity of the task I was facing, because I had broken it down into a manageable task. Moreover, I didn’t feel (as I so often do) that writing meant having to sacrifice all other enjoyment, or that I had to choose between writing and reading (a horrendous choice for a writer because without reading how can you improve your writing? Catch 22).

So often we tell ourselves that we are useless, that it’s impossible to realise our dreams. But what if we’re just framing things incorrectly? What if the problem is not our lack of talent, or even commitment, but rather the very simple and easily corrected issue of time management?

We all know that if we want to do something we must make time for it. But what makes so many people stumble at the first hurdle is the misguided view they must devote every spare moment to the pursuit of that goal. Wrong. Start small, with ten, twenty, thirty minutes a day – whatever feels achievable to you. And make sure that you stick to doing it – simple. It takes time to form a habit, and it isn’t always easy. But if you don’t start, the only person you’ll have to blame for not achieving your potential is yourself.

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The balance and the bliss

This afternoon, whilst working from home on a PR strategy document so complicated it made me want to repeatedly bang my head against a concrete wall, I began to ruminate on the importance of sometimes doing things we don’t want to do. When I became so frustrated with the document that a break was imperative I decided (somewhat irrationally, with hindsight) to do something else I didn’t want to do: Go for a run. And I’m not going to lie to you, every single step was horrendous. Beyond horrendous, actually, it being so humid the sweat was running in rivulets down my back before I’d even turned the corner of my own road.

But despite the discomfort of these activities, the important thing is that I did them – not with good grace and humour, admittedly (what do you want from me – blood?), but with something more resembling grim determination. And in doing them I managed to assuage the guilt I had been feeling about putting both activities off for the past few weeks.

It’s not just about assuaging guilt, however. One of my favourite singer-songwriters, Megan Henwood, wrote a beautiful song in which she explains why it’s important to endure harder times in our lives in order to appreciate the good ones: “Without the down and dark there would be no contrast between the high and light, the happy times, the balance and the bliss.” Now I’m not saying writing a PR strategy or going for a run when it’s humid are on a par with, say, a family bereavement or relationship break up, but no one could deny they place significantly lower on the scale of good times than winning the lottery or getting engaged.

So now my daily quota of ‘Things I Don’t Want To Do But Regrettably Have To’ has been filled, I’m off to view my new flat and spend the evening eating fine food in fine company. I might even treat myself to a glass of wine – it’s all about striking a balance, after all…