No More Apologies: Why I’m proud to be me – and why you should be proud to be you, too

I care too much what people think of me. I always have. You would think by now I would have grown a thicker skin, especially given how prolific I am on social media, which opens every one of us to ridicule and scrutiny. But I like to share and actively participate in this crazy thing called life. It’s who I am. It’s what I do. I can’t be what I’m not. No matter how much others might prefer me to be.

I thought long and hard before writing this post. I’ve been close to writing it a number of times before, but always chickened out at the last minute. Why? Because it’s difficult to admit we are vulnerable, and that the opinions of others bother us. And yet, it’s human nature that they do. Only the thickest skinned people are able to ride the waves of others’ judgement and come out unscathed; the rest of us find ourselves shipwrecked, time after time.

It’s amazing how cutting a comment can be, how deeply it can slice into your psyche, revealing all your insecurities, making you question everything about yourself. But if you can get past the sting and consider the motive, it says a lot more about the person who made the comment than it does about you. If you’re comfortable in your own skin and believe not only that you are a good person with pure intentions, but also that you have something positive to offer the world, then why shouldn’t you be exactly who you are, all of the time?

Maybe your Instagram posts aren’t to another person’s taste. Well, guess what? They can unfollow you! Maybe they feel you hog their Facebook timeline with pointless updates. Here’s an easy solution: They can turn down the frequency of your posts. Hell, they can even unfriend you if it bothers them that damn much. Nobody has to engage with another person if they don’t want to.

My point is, you shouldn’t have to tone down who you are because someone else doesn’t like it. Ever. It’s taken me almost thirty six years to realise this, but thank God I finally have. That’s why I choose not to listen to the voices of negativity. I choose to trust myself and my path and my calling. I choose to breathe. I choose to be exactly who I am meant to be. And you have every right to choose the same.

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Friends Like These

Last Friday, UK-based social media news feeds were awash with post-election bitterness. Profanities, accusations and rudeness abounded between those who were – according to their profile descriptions if not evidenced elsewhere that day – ‘friends’ with one another. Characterised by a desire to shove opinions down each other’s throats whilst savagely and wantonly disregarding the pesky facts of emotional sensitivity and human decency, this was a war of attrition using words as weapons. And by God was it unpleasant.

To quote a friend who has herself been subject to recent politically-charged vitriol:

“Friendship does not spout vile names. It involves two parties making equal effort. It involves honesty delivered with tact and kindness. It involves laughing, a lot. It involves knowing when to step in and when to step back. It involves communication, balanced and regular. Anything that feels one-sided and wrong, probably is.”

Friendship isn’t always easy. As individuals (the clue is in the name), we will rarely find people with whom we always agree. But that’s okay, because being challenged in our views is the best way we can grow – so long as those who are challenging us do so in a way that is considered, measured and, above all else, respectful. Without mutual respect, friendship cannot exist. In its place is a barren wasteland of forced opinions, deaf ears and closed hearts. This world is full enough of hatred as it is. If we turn on those closest to us, what hope is there for a better future?

Another feature of friendship that is paramount to its survival is honesty. So many people let the behaviour of so-called ‘friends’ go unchecked, despite it impacting negatively upon them, because it’s easier to put up and shut up than it is to rock the boat by being honest. But if you can’t be honest with the person in question, can you truly call your relationship a friendship?

Finally, and most importantly of all, friendship cannot flourish without kindness. When we are going through our own struggles, it is easy to forget that others have theirs too. We cannot change the way others behave towards us during challenging times, but we can try to understand and forgive negative words and behaviour, and stop ourselves from getting drawn into a vortex of negativity.

We are, all of us, only human, and our time on earth is short. Friendship is one of the greatest gifts we have, so instead of squandering it we would do well to work on nurturing it.

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Gratitude, Acceptance and Umbrellas

It’s been a while since I last updated my blog. This is, in part, because I’m currently focusing on addressing some of the issues in my life that are blocking my path to fulfilment and success. At the moment I’m reading two neuropsychology books, one on Hardwiring Happiness by Dr Rick Hanson (whose TED talk on the issue can be viewed here), and the other on conditions arising from neuropsychological damage, The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, by the brilliant (and, sadly, now also suffering from terminal cancer) Oliver Sachs. Alongside the Chopra Centre guided meditations that I am trying to do on a regular basis (which I think I mentioned in a previous post), these books have been helping me to understand some key facets* of the human condition that need cultivating in order to experience true fulfilment. These are:

Part One: Gratitude

It sounds obvious, but how many of us really take the time each day to count our blessings? I think I’ve touched on this before, but now more than ever I am realising how important it is to consciously feel gratitude in order to overcome negative emotions like anxiety, jealousy and fear. It is only by recognising the value of what we have – primarily the people in our lives who bring us joy and make us feel secure and loved – that we can create a sense of calm and acceptance. Which brings me onto…

Part Two: Acceptance

This morning I walked past the elderly homeless man who sleeps in a doorway along my route to work. For a time, during January, he disappeared, and I hoped he had found somewhere warm to spend the rest of the winter. But no such luck. Recently he has been back, huddled with his worldly belongings on the grey concrete step. I have wanted to do something for him ever since I first saw him, but was unsure whether he would welcome being approached and offered charity. Today I had my chance, as I had slipped into my bag a slice of the delicious tarte au sucre that was left over from the dinner party I hosted on Sunday night. As I passed him I had the urge to offer it to him. He declined. And you know what? I stifled the selfish compulsion to feel rebuffed, and in that moment realised that acceptance is an important part of coming to terms with life. We can’t change other people; we can only change our own thoughts, deeds and actions. I’m glad I offered him something, even if he didn’t want it, because generosity is part of being human – it connects us to one another, and it makes us feel less alone.

Part Three: Umbrellas

Also on my walk to work today, the air was damp with the drizzle I’m coming to learn is characteristic of life here in Brussels. But rather than putting up my umbrella the second I felt a droplet of water on my forehead, I deliberately waited until the rain was sufficiently heavy to warrant me being protected from it. And in that moment it occurred to me the umbrella could be used as an analogy for life:

Life is about learning when you need an umbrella to protect yourself – and when you are strong enough to walk in the rain.

The path I’m currently treading makes me feel ever more keenly that it isn’t possible to protect ourselves from the negative things in life – they are an intrinsic part of it. What matters is working on our ability to face them head on; to be humble, selfless and brave.

*Interestingly, one meaning for the word ‘facet’ in the dictionary is ‘one of the small, polished plane surfaces of a cut gem’ – it struck me this was also a good analogy for life, which has so very many different aspects, hence the image I have chosen to accompany this post.

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I never knew facets could be so beautiful.

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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P.M.A*

In recent weeks I’ve felt my old nemesis stress creep up on me. This was, in part, why I took the decision to have a week’s ‘staycation’ last week. And, as I sit here on the eve of returning to work, I have to say it’s done wonders. Not only have I achieved lots of my writing goals – the other reason for my taking some time off – I have also created some much-needed thinking and breathing space. It’s frightening how hemmed in you can feel by life if you don’t do that from time to time, and as someone whose standard response is to run away when the going gets tough – usually by going off travelling every three years or so, when the daily commute gets so much I feel murderous – I’ve been delighted to realise that the mental peace and clarity I’ve been searching for aren’t always that far afield.

I’m writing this post because I want to hang on to this feeling of positivity, and to be able to refer back to it when I inevitably have moments of sinking back below the mire. I’ve also just been leafing through a little book called ‘Carpe Diem-Make the Most of Life,’ which was lent to me by a good friend and which is full of uplifting and inspiring quotes. Despite being a pessimist by nature, in moments like this I realise how wonderful life is, and what a monumental waste of time it is to be negative. As the page in the photo rightly says, ‘You are the hero of your own story.’ And nobody likes a negative hero, right?

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*Positive Mental Attitude

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 🙂

Doldrums and Reality Checks

Oh hello, Doldrums, I wasn’t expecting to meet you again quite so soon after our last underwhelming encounter. But here you are at every junction and fork in the road, my little friends the inner critic and the procrastination monkey sitting stoically by your side.

So, what’s it to be this time, Doldrums? Because you really have done the not-good-enough theme to death now. What’s that? Oh, you’re playing the even-if-you-were-good-enough-so-are-loads-of-others card. I see. At least you’re showing some originality for once. Top marks for that.

Yes, I suppose you’re right, Doldrums, there are a great many talented writers out there who are already taking a slice of the pie, and the laws of physics (or maths? I never was good at those subjects) would decree the pie is getting smaller. And yes, it’s probably also true to say that – talent or no talent – my chances of getting anywhere near the pie in the first place are slim.

But you know what, Doldrums? I just read a news headline about a girl who is dying of cancer at 29. So whilst there is breath in my thirty three year old body I will NOT give up on this dream of mine-despite what you, my critic and my monkey might do to try and change my mind. Until next time…

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