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

100 days of writing? Hell, why not?

I spent the weekend in London with a good friend, who also happens to be a writer. To me, she is a writer in the truest sense, because she shows up, time and again, whether she feels like it or not. Such discipline is the very thing that I have struggled with for years. That’s why I admire it so much when I see it. I still don’t have it, maybe never will. But I won’t stop trying to achieve it, because I know from those around me that it can be achieved, in spite of life’s voracious attempts to get in the way. And if they can achieve it then so, in theory, can I.

Just now I saw another friend – also a writer – mention a 100 day writing challenge that she has agreed to take part in: “No word targets – just a promise to turn up every day for 100 days however I feel and whatever happens.” I am drawn to this, and so, without further thought or over-analysis, I will commit to it. I don’t know what I will write, but it will be something, and it will be every day. Some of it I will post on this blog, some of it I may not. I will surrender myself to the universe and see what happens. Because, why not?

Every story starts somewhere. So, once again, let’s begin…

79c8d69d668a243f620502f1dc4a0978

All in the mind

Yesterday I was berating myself for falling off the exercise wagon by neglecting to complete my weekly half marathon training with a planned nine mile run. My guilt was compounded by the fact Friday night had gone from ‘one quiet drink’ to a jagermeister-fuelled 4am finish, which meant the traditional post-booze self-loathing kicked in at about the same time as the lack of exercise self-loathing i.e. a double whammy of shame.

Fortunately, however, I managed to redress the balance of yin and yang by completing the missed nine mile (well, eight point nine nine miles, to be precise) run this afternoon – which is bordering on a miracle considering that I’d spent a good portion of yesterday afternoon and evening drinking punch at a tropical themed birthday party.

A few kilometres in I had serious doubts about completing the full distance, but then I remembered a conversation I was having with someone at the party yesterday. We were discussing sporting challenges and how mental strength is as important if not more so than physical strength when it comes to both training for and completing a race. If you don’t believe you can do it then in all likelihood you won’t – not because you can’t, but rather because in failing to believe you can do it you are, whether consciously or unconsciously, making the decision to fail. As I ran today and remembered the conversation I felt physically as well as mentally lighter, and the remainder of my run, despite my initial lethargy, was actually enjoyable.

Of course, the concept of believing you can do anything you set your mind to should not be limited to sporting challenges. It’s something each and every one of us should try to incorporate into our daily lives. Positive mental attitude isn’t just a state of mind, it’s a state of being, and if you can achieve it then you really can achieve anything.

This was me metres from the finish line after the Blenheim sprint distance triathlon in 2010. You could say positive mental attitude is written all over my face – or maybe just relief it’s nearly over!