The Word is Out: Onwards and Upwards

So, it’s official: Five weeks on Saturday I’ll be moving to Brussels. Why? Because my other half’s job is taking him there, and also because I know enough about both life and love to know that when opportunities come up you have to follow them – as well as your heart. To say I’m terrified would be an understatement, but the overriding feeling is one of excitement. I’ve lived in London for the past twelve years, and whilst I love this crazy, vibrant city and will miss it – not to mention all my friends here – more than I can say, I feel ready for a change.

Whilst ‘what will I do’ and ‘where will we live’ are pretty high up on the list of burning questions, ‘will I write more when I’m away from the distractions of London’ is the one that’s really running on a loop through my mind. It’s no secret that reducing my working hours by one day a week to give me time to write has been less successful than I’d hoped. But you know what? After a lengthy hiatus I’ve started meditating again and I’ve done some thinking, and have decided that it’s time to stop beating myself up for what I haven’t achieved, and start taking steps – no matter how small – towards what I am capable of achieving. That may be a published novel, or it may not, and for the first time in a long time I can honestly say that I’m okay with either. My new plan is to ease some of the pressure I’ve been putting on myself and fall back in love with writing, hopefully at the same time as I fall in love with the new city that is to become my home for the foreseeable future – and I’m excited.

Life is for living and the world is for exploring. And whilst Belgium might not be all that exotic, or, in distance terms, all that far away, it’s certainly a start.

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Rejecting Stasis and Embracing Change

sta·sis

  1. motionless state: a state in which there is neither motion nor development, often resulting from opposing forces balancing each other
  2. state of no change: a state in which there is little or no apparent change in a species of organism over a long period of time.

“He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.” – Harold Wilson

“To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.” – Henri Bergson

As you might have guessed from the above definition and quotes, in recent days I’ve been ruminating on the nature of change. This is, I suppose, unsurprising given that my immediate friendship groups are currently undergoing a lot of it. Some people have had babies, others are moving abroad, and it’s all a bit, well, unsettling if I’m honest. Which is only natural. If we weren’t scared of change we’d be robots. Anything that alters the comfortable stasis of our lives is inevitably going to wobble our foundations a little. But surely being wobbled is a good thing?

I’ve always said my greatest fear in life (besides being attacked by a shark or waking up with a tarantula on my face – those two remain the greatest fears of all) is waking up one day and realising I’ve been doing the same thing for the past twenty years. Why? Because there is SO much to DO in this world; so many places to live, so many jobs to try, so many hobbies to take up. Why wouldn’t we take every opportunity that’s offered to us? Why not make the most of every moment? It’s so easy to get stuck in a rut, to fall into a career that doesn’t grab you and to follow that trajectory to the grave. Making fundamental changes IS terrifying, but sometimes it’s the only way to pull ourselves out of the slough of despond so many of us reside in for our entire adult lives. As Mark Twain said, “twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did.” I don’t want to look back on my life with regrets about the things I didn’t do. And whilst change does scare me, I’m determined not to let it hold me back.

I’m also determined to stop worrying about the effect of change on my relationships. Just because a person moves away doesn’t mean your friendship will die. If they’re a good enough friend in the first place, that relationship will thrive no matter where you are. Sure, you might see or talk to that person less, but that just means it’s all the more important to make the times you do see and speak to them count.

Life is too short to spend worrying about change and what other people think. Life is for living. And, one way or another, that’s exactly what I intend to do.

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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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RIP Stephen Sutton / A lesson for us all

Today is a sad day, because it is the day that Stephen Sutton – the inspirational 19 year old who raised more than £3 million for the Teenage Cancer Trust whilst battling the disease himself – finally lost his fight and passed away.

What Stephen achieved in the short time he had far exceeded what most people achieve in a lifetime. Instead of turning his back on life as his body marched inexorably towards its tragic and untimely demise, Stephen made sure he squeezed every last drop out of the time he had left. Not only that, he turned his plight on its head and used it to help others in the same position. How many 19 year olds have the maturity and drive to do something like that? In fact, how many people of any age do? He also ignored the ignorant trolls who came forward when he was released from hospital after showing signs of improvement and accused him of being a ‘fake’ and lying about the seriousness of his condition – refusing to rise to their vicious bait about giving people their money back (something I for one would certainly have handled far less graciously).

Stephen’s story has got me thinking about selflessness and self-awareness; two qualities Stephen had in abundance but which so many people lack. You only have to look around a busy London office or commuter train to see people complaining – about their lot in life, or about the behaviour of other people and how it’s negatively impacted on them. True, everyone needs to let off steam once in a while, but in such moments it would do us all good to take a leaf out of Stephen’s book, think about how our negative behaviour and attitudes impact upon others – instead of the other way around – and realise that we all have a choice: To stay bogged down in our daily problems without bothering to raise our heads above the selfish parapets we inhabit, or to stand up, be counted and make the changes we want to see in ourselves and those around us. Thanks to people like Stephen Sutton, I know which I plan to do.

RIP Stephen: Wherever you now are please know that your legacy will live on in the lives of all the many people you have helped and inspired xxxx

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If not Now, When? / Hillel the Elder

I don’t know about you, but I often feel life moves too fast, and that I don’t have time to do the things I want to do (at least not as well as I want to do them). It’s easy to let such thoughts paralyse us, to get caught in the mangle that is the daily grind and lose sight of our dreams and ambitions, but in doing that we are failing ourselves in the worst possible way. Because, contrary to what some of us seem to believe, we won’t be around forever. Far from it, we are on this earth for but a fleeting moment.

A wise Jewish man called Hillel the Elder once said: “If I am not for myself, who will be? And when I am for myself, what am ‘I’? And if not now, when? Say not ‘When I have free time I shall study’; for you may perhaps never have any free time.”

Despite being centuries old his message is crystal clear: None of us have the luxury of forever. If we want something we must make it happen, not in the future but RIGHT NOW. Only then will we be able to look back on our lives when the end comes and say, with joyful hearts and voices: “I have no regrets.”

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If Carlsberg did overtime…

This weekend we’re recording a short film with some of our young people which will be shown at the charity’s annual supporter event in November. Tonight was the first stage; getting everyone together to rehearse their stories so they feel comfortable in front of the camera when we shoot for real tomorrow.

I knew it would be a powerful experience but in reality it blew me away. Even though they’ve all faced so many challenges in their relatively short lives, every single one of them was able to open up and tell their story honestly and from the heart, which was testament to how much they trusted and felt supported by one another. The rapport between the group and the strength of positive feeling towards the charity – all the young people without exception attribute it to changing their lives for the better, some even said they didn’t know what would have become of them without the intervention – was so incredibly moving, my words can’t even do it justice.

The whole experience left me full of admiration for these astonishing young people, who are taking their negative experiences and turning them into positive ones – literally turning their lives around with our ongoing support and encouragement. I feel humbled to have been present as they shared their stories, and so excited to see them again tomorrow as they do it again ‘for real.’

And, most of all, I feel incredibly fortunate to have myself had such a comparatively trouble-free life. Hearing some of the young people’s stories really made me realise just how trivial some of the things I’ve been through really were, even though at the time they may have seemed horrendous (I always have been good at melodrama). That’s not to say at times I haven’t been through tough times, just that I’m so grateful to have always been supported through those times by people who loved me.

Wow, what a night. Sometimes working overtime isn’t a chore at all – it’s an honour and a privilege.

Bucket List

I’ve been hugely fortunate in my life to have already done some incredible things, among them: living in a mud hut by myself in Kenya; spending a week on a desert island in Borneo; going on safari in the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania; taking in the wonder of Halong Bay in Vietnam by boat; diving with green turtles in Malaysia and watching the sun rise over the Taj Mahal. So when I decided to sit down today and write my bucket list, it’s fair to say the bar was already set extremely high.

Why write a bucket list? Because in two and a half weeks’ time I will be turning thirty two – an age that two of my friends who tragically passed away this year will now never grow older than. It’s a desperately sad and sobering experience when people the same age as you die. It brings a lot of things into sharp focus and makes you realise what’s really important and what’s of little or no significance at all. It also makes you want to squeeze every last drop out of life that you can, because heaven only knows when your time will be up too.

I’ve spent a long time coming up with this list. Whilst experiences and travelling make up most of it, I felt it was important to also have some personal life aspirations and altruistic goals thrown into the mix. I’m pleased as I read it back now to see that only one thing on the list (no.14) is about ownership of something, which should hopefully help me to achieve no.37…

And so, without further ado, I give you…Belle’s Bucket List:

  1. Swim with whale sharks in the Philippines
  2. Dive with sharks
  3. Complete a marathon
  4. Go to Las Vegas and fly over the Grand Canyon in a helicopter
  5. Go husky sledding, see the northern lights and stay in an ice hotel
  6. Go on a writing retreat
  7. Have a novel published
  8. Dance in Rio for Mardi Gras
  9. Trek Machu Picchu
  10. Go up, up and away in a hot air balloon in Burma
  11. Visit Tibet and Nepal
  12. Rave at Burning Man festival in Nevada’s Black Rock desert
  13. Volunteer on Christmas Day
  14. Own a house
  15. Learn a choreographed dance
  16. Stay in a hut on stilts over a tropical sea
  17. Hula in Hawaii
  18. Stay in at least five homestays in remote villages
  19. Read 100 Booker Prize-winning books
  20. Take a trip on the Orient Express
  21. Exchange wedding vows with someone I love
  22. Have someone call me “Mummy”
  23. Get back to nature in the Galapagos Islands
  24. Go on a cruise
  25. Canoe in the Amazon rainforest
  26. Float in the Dead Sea
  27. Party in New Orleans
  28. Give blood
  29. See a polar bear in the wild
  30. Ski in the Canadian Rockies
  31. Stay on a ranch and ride horses
  32. Go on a road trip
  33. See Ayers Rock
  34. Eat in a world class restaurant
  35. Be an extra in a film or TV series
  36. See the pyramids in Egypt
  37. Stop worrying about money
  38. Overcome anxiety and self-doubt
  39. Take a giant leap of faith
  40. Make someone feel less lonely