New Horizons

I alluded in a previous post that it hadn’t been the easiest start to the year. For various reasons it’s felt as if things have been in a state of limbo, and the planner in me has found this hard to handle. But one thing that is very much pressing ahead – whether I like it or not – is my Masters degree in Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology, which I am undertaking alongside my full time job on a part time, distance learning basis with the University of East London.

For years since graduating from my original Psychology degree (in 2002 – scary) I have had an itch to return to psychology. I’m pretty sure my friends and family thought it was a ‘grass is greener’ situation, and at times I thought the same, but something kept making my mind return to the idea. And now, almost fifteen years later (better late than never), here I am, enrolled on an MSc and already four days in.

I won’t lie, it’s terrifying. All the old feelings of inadequacy have already begun to surface, and I find myself thinking ‘I can’t do this’ and ‘Everyone else is going to be better’ at least ten times a day. But, at a deeper level, there’s excitement; a spark has been ignited after years of being dormant and it’s filling me with hope for the future. I’m older (a lot), wiser (a bit) and ready to give this everything I’ve got.

It’s not going to be easy. The social butterfly in me is already pining for fun nights out and carefree weekends. But this is important. It’s my chance to see if I’ve been right to harbour this longing; if I’ve really got what it takes to succeed in this field. If I wasn’t scared alarm bells would be ringing. That’s how I know I’m on the right track.

My first term module is coaching, and already I’m expected to be recruiting coachees (more info on that here), which is sending my imposter syndrome into overdrive. At the same time, I’m feeling a healthy curiosity about my ability to coach, how quickly I’ll pick up the skills and how much of a rapport I will build with my coachees.

Ultimately, what excites me the most is that this could put me on a totally different career path. Hopefully soon the limbo phase will be behind me once and for all.

 

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The Resistance

Today things feel a little bleak. On a global level, in five days of office Trump the Tyrant has ridden roughshod over the environment, women’s rights, freedom of speech and now refugees, ushering in a new era of legitimised fascism along the way. On a personal level, my spirit is feeling dampened not only by the events in the US, but also by the plummeting temperatures across Europe which signal further devastation for homeless refugees, the crazy levels of air pollution in my old home town of London where many of my friends still live, and the fact I am under too much pressure at work and don’t know how I’m going to juggle it with the masters degree I’m starting next week (next week!!). In short, I feel helpless, and also a little hopeless.

But – as life sometimes has a way of doing to drag us out of our despair – a chance encounter with my local florist this afternoon when I stopped by for tulips for our cleaning lady (whose brother recently passed away) reminded me why it’s so important to have hope. We got chatting about how beautiful the flowers were, and she told me she had quit her office job some years ago for a simpler life. Despite earning less money now, she told me she is far happier. She then asked about me, and, when I told her I was soon to start an MSc in Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology and had aspirations to be a freelance wellbeing coach she said “the world needs people like that more than ever now.” I felt a surge of optimism at that, and a renewed sense of purpose. And to remind myself of that I bought this beautiful pink orchid.

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Hope springs eternal

When I got home I was delighted to see that Greenpeace had unfurled a ‘Resist’ banner right outside the White House, and to read that a group of scientists are coming together to march on Washington in protest against Trump’s gagging order against employees of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Also heartening was the Badlands National Park Twitter account which sent out three messages on Tuesday promoting climate science despite the Trump administration crackdown on agencies communicating on social media. Since then they have been forced to delete the tweets, but an alternative Twitter account has sprung up which already has 575,000 followers.

This growing groundswell of angry defiance in response to people like Trump must spur us all into immediate action, because action is all there is now if we are to stand up to what is so patently wrong – to save ourselves and our planet.

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Confessions of a Grunt Worker

It’s been a shitty week where work’s concerned.Honestly, there’s been so much fire fighting that at times I’ve thought I’d switched careers to the emergency services. Everything that could have gone wrong did (and as it’s only Thursday, that doesn’t bode well for tomorrow…).

But today really took the biscuit. After working hard for weeks on a strategic plan and investor presentation for a client meeting next week (losing another potentially lucrative and much needed new business opportunity as a result), this afternoon they unceremoniously cancelled the meeting.

Then, to rub salt into the wound, on a call with my director and two senior policy people, one of our global VPs referred to my (Senior Consultant) role as being a “grunt worker” (one online definition of which, for those not in the know, is ‘an American idiom that denotes menial, laborious and unappreciated work’. Well, he got the unappreciated part right at least).

In an attempt to cheer myself up I bought a grossly overpriced hand-dipped mini salted caramel and chocolate ice cream from the Pierre Marcolini chocolate shop – only to spill it all down myself when I was ten feet away from the shop, meaning I had to walk the twenty minutes home with sticky hands, looking (and no doubt smelling) like a rather posh vagrant.

Oh well, I guess sometimes in life you just have to roll with the punches. One sliding ice cream at a time…

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Thoughts from the here and now

I’m sitting in my living room, propped up on cushions with my laptop on my knee so I can work. It starts to rain, and the sound of the rain drops tapping against the window catches my attention. I stop working for a second and listen. It occurs to me that in my hectic city dweller life I rarely hear the pitter-patter of raindrops as they fall from the sky, nor any other natural noises, save for the occasional burst of bird song when the weather is nice enough to sit outside on the terrace (which faces away from the road, mercifully shielding us from the constant blaring of car horns). As I listen I make a conscious effort to breathe; in and out, long and slow. And I realise, too, that such moments – living in the moment – are rarer still.

Why do we race through our lives with such careless disregard for what is happening in the here and now? Are we really so desperate to get to the end of the book of our lives that we are prepared to flick through entire chapters?

Just thoughts, really. From the here and now.

Fin.

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Busy? Me? Hahahaaaaaaa. No. (YES!)

I can confidently say that until this point in my life I have never even known busy. In the past week, whilst attempting to juggle several major projects for various important clients, I have averaged twelve hour working days. There have been moments when I have entertained, in my exhausted fugue-like state, the idea of physically splitting myself in two, so that I might actually have some hope of completing all the tasks on my ‘to do’ list. Who am I kidding? I don’t even have a ‘to do’ list anymore. I realise now that is a luxury only afforded to people who are familiar with the concept of having free time in their waking day. At the moment that concept is as alien to me as, well, aliens. As for my email inbox, it doesn’t take an I.T. expert to know that when it hits 250 and at least 50 of those are still unopened, that’s not good.

But for all my whingeing and moaning, it’s also true to say I have felt more fulfilled in my job in the past week than I have for a long time. Yes, I’m busy, yes I’m tired (beyond tired, David Blaine in his sleep deprivation experiment had nothing on me), and yes it’s a shame that our June wedding will at this rate be a rather sparse affair thanks to the fact I have literally no brain space left for planning it. But there’s something to be said for a bit of hard graft, and the feeling of satisfaction you get when you’ve worked your arse off and are recognised for it. It hasn’t all been plain sailing (what is?), but I finally seem to have found a company that appreciates its employees and isn’t afraid to say so when they go the extra mile – which makes me more amenable to running that extra mile, at least from time to time (and ideally in very short bursts).

That said I’m hoping normal service will resume soon. For all the excitement that manic twelve hour working days afford, there is only so long one can neglect the important elements of a healthy life, like sleep, food that isn’t fast, physical movement that comprises more than three steps to the toilet and another three back to your desk, and actual, meaningful, non-work related social engagement. It would also be rather pleasant to focus my eyes on something more than twelve inches from my face again. But for now I’ll have to make do with another two hours of staring at a screen and some nasty supermarket filled pasta before my midnight bedtime. And then the cycle will begin again. Oh well, such is life…

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Why Fashion Just Isn’t My Forte

I’ve never been a dedicated follower of fashion. Sure, I know what colours and styles go together (just about), but I’m buggered if I have the time, energy or money to make sure my labels are in vogue and I’m adhering to the latest trends. In fact, embarrassing as it is to admit this, I’m still wearing some of the same work clothes now that I wore to work a decade ago. But if they still fit and are in good nick, why not? They’ll probably come back into fashion again soon anyway, just like my mum’s suede boots from the sixties that she wishes she’d held onto. Then who’ll be laughing?

But the thing is, as fashion-averse as I seem to be, I’m not entirely comfortable being this way. Why? Because I care too much what other people think, that’s why. Take wearing trainers to work as an example. In London it’s virtually de rigueur to throw a pair of Nikes on with your work suit as you pound the streets to the office. In Brussels, I have learned, it is far less acceptable. In fact, it seems, hardly anyone wears trainers to work here, let alone neon pink Adidas ones like me (I refer you to my previous points re: being unfashionable). Because of this, on the days when I do dare to leave the house in them, I can feel the heat of peoples’ collective disapproval burning a hole in my feet as I walk. I tell myself I don’t care what they think, and fundamentally I don’t, but what I do care about is feeling a bit of a tool, standing out and drawing attention to myself. That I don’t like one bit.

But here’s my dilemma: The morning walk to my office takes twenty minutes, and much of the route is lined with cobblestones, so even if I could be bothered to wear high heels (which I most definitely can’t) they would be a totally impractical choice. Now the weather is becoming warmer the knee high leather boots (flat, naturally) are also inappropriate. This leaves either my lone pair of flat pumps (a throwback to last summer’s meagre fashion injection – or was it the summer before..?) or my running trainers – the former being prettier, but the latter offering more support and cushioning for my feet. And much as I hate to admit it, now I’m in my thirties I’ll take comfort over fashion any day (within reason, I’m not quite ready to purchase my first pair of Clarks granny shoes yet).

Yesterday, on my walk home (wearing the fashionable pumps, I might add), I found the answer to my dilemma: two pairs of simple, unbranded (not particularly fashionable but who cares?), canvas lace-up shoes – one pair in wonderfully neutral blend-in beige, the other a slightly more upbeat pink – that might just see me through this summer of urban living without having to hang my head in shame and avoid the reproachful glares of my fellow city dwellers.

Fashion – 0

Comfort – 1

Fin.

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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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