Choices and Success

In some areas of my life, I know exactly what I want, what I truly desire and this makes things really simple. It doesn’t mean that any or all of these things are easy, but it does present a straightforward path to achieving them. However, where I struggle most is when I have a lot of ideas because choosing the right one to pursue can be somewhat overwhelming.

If I offered you a certain bar of chocolate, your choices are clear, either yes you do or no you don’t. If I took you to a wall of a hundred different bars of chocolate and said that you could choose only one, the decision making progress becomes infinitely bigger than a simple yes or no. And that how I feel about a good deal of my life, what to pursue, what not to, and this indecision can be crippling for me.

For me, it’s almost akin to hoarding. I have a plethora of options, currently with my career and discounting anyone of them can sometimes feel like a massive loss, the avenue not pursued might have been the perfect choice. But this I know is also a trade, by fully embracing any particular option, I am allowing myself the opportunity to succeed. But maybe success can be scary too.

I have been pondering how schools reward children. In my secondary school, if you were good at sports or music, you were showered with praise frequently (as is the case in most schools), but in reality, only the select few will truly shine in either of these areas, and what about everyone else, who gets to watch something that they don’t feel as if they will ever be a part of?

Now on one side of this, hard work should definitely be rewarded, if someone has achieved then this is a good thing to celebrate. But on the flip side, no matter how hard some children work, they simply won’t attain this, thus, the situation for them could be seen as demoralising. Ways to counter this perspective is perhaps based on giving children the tools to build their own self-esteem, irrespective of what they achieve.

This brings me to the idea of risk taking. If we are confident is who we are, then the idea of success or failure is almost irrelevant, it is simply another lesson to absorb and move on from. But if we are too scared of the idea of failure, then success is that much harder.

I have a lot of qualifications, and a whole host of skills, a proverbial jack of all trades. This has served those around me, my adaption to succeed in a whole host of small ways. Recently, I have begun to contemplate what it is that I actually want to fully succeed in. The path is clearing.

Map Point. Where in my life can I shine?

 

Its Books too.

When I was little I had a big room. With lots of cupboards full of stuff. I remember before each Christmas and birthday, my Mum would tell me to clear out a cupboard in anticipation of the new stuff that I would be getting. When I completed this task, I was praised for my efforts. I don’t recall having any particular issues with getting rid of stuff at this point in my life. I know that I have always had an issue with tidying up, I would look at the horrors that I had created and have to walk away. As an adult, that mentality is often still there, but this has been joined by finding it really hard to get rid of stuff too.

I guess it could be a good thing to have a lot of things perfectly well organised, that could be a deeply practical arrangement. To always have what you need and know precisely where to find it. However, my house has never really worked like that. I recently discovered (and this was genuine observation) that the DVD’s in my house are stored in six separate locations. Now, this might be good if they were themed and sorted by the locations that they were in, but they aren’t, not even close. I did attempt to streamline this process, and after a couple of weeks tentative sorting, appraisal of space, I can now rewardingly tell you that the DVD’s are now stored in six completely the same places!

The hoarding began in my life, in a meaningful way with VHS. The glory of the video tape that you could record things onto from the television. Television was big to me back then, I watched lots of soaps, particularly Australian ones. I am not sure why or how it first occurred to me, but I started to record almost everything that I watched; in case I wanted to watch it again. I remember going on a school trip and coming back to discover that my mum had missed videoing one of my hallowed episodes and telling her it didn’t matter – she was very apologetic – but feeling utterly distraught. I could never get that information back. It was gone.

As an adult, during one particularly horrific house move, I had to dump all my VHS as there simply wasn’t space for it. I had squashed in as many boxes as I could into the house and there was no more room. As a teenager I had laboriously numbered every cassette, there were around five hundred of them. Box after box, tumbling into a large container bin. I sobbed.

It wasn’t as if I had ever any genuine inclination to ever watch these tapes again, I really didn’t. But to lose them felt like losing a part of me, that I could never reclaim. When I read minimalist posts talking about only holding onto things that fill you with joy and love, I understand it, but my things have become representational of me, of times in my life, and if I throw stuff away, am I throwing away parts of me too?

I understand why I started hoarding things now, it was my means to exert a control over my life, something that was woefully lacking during my teenage years. And then something that I just accepted as part of who I was. I also became especially adept at compacting the same amount of stuff into a smaller space. This is not an efficient life skill to have!  Over the past ten years, my stuff has dramatically gone down, I keep a bag in an inside cupboard that regularly fills and I take to a charity shop. I am learning to remove this ritual from my life.

Map Point. What do I always do simply because I have always done?

Reactions that reflect

My friendship groups have always been quite varied, but I have attracted people with some pretty scary life stories. Children who have grown up in care, friends with mental illness, people with sad relationships. I think we all have this in our lives, but it’s our actions as to how we interact with this that reveal aspects of ourselves.

If we have a friend who talks about the latest argument they have had and our most instant reaction is to empathise and see things entirely from their perspective. Endorsing everything that is said and speaking as if the slight had happened to you, with appropriate outrage and indignation. I have been this person who both offered this sort endorsement and also wanted it from others. It is good to want to feel right, to feel that our actions are just and considered, that the other person was entirely at fault. Post break ups in my life have been a particularly bad time for this. This I feel is sad as it really focuses everything in on the most horrible parts of the relationship, and can be the entire lasting memory of that relationship.

But what if we aren’t right, when we aren’t right? Is indulging this sort of endorsement really a good thing? Possibly it is, in some circumstances when somebody is really low, they haven’t got the energy left to consider the rationale behind why something happened. And when they have, do we still consider this approach to them or do we try something more confrontational?

This is possible as soon as we have identified in our own lives, things that we are not justified for doing, things and behaviours that were very much not okay. At this point, we can recognise in others what we have already learnt for ourselves.

When I have wanted to be indulged (thinking of a particularly bad breakup)I have wanted to be endorsed, because I was too scared to admit that I was flawed. I was feeling fragile and wanted to be looked after. And there have been others times where I have sat with a group of friends where everyone is identifying with the person telling the sad story, and I have called them out (in a gentle way) asking them questions rather than overlaying their words with my replica. It is massively socially endorsing to repeat someone’s words back to them, in a slightly different way, but by doing so, you are keeping that person fixed in the past. Whereas starting to look beyond these situations, asking pertinent questions and moving forward; that is healing.

Map Point. How do react to the issues of others?

Authenticity for the win

Thinking about writing this blog has been an interesting process. It gives me the discipline to write every day, and I know what I want to write about, but thinking about my level of honesty has been interesting.

If I write everything from the point of view of friends that I have known, or people that I have worked with then although I may be saying exactly what I want, it is not me. I understand that these are good masks people use to tell their own stories, but they lack immediacy, they lack authenticity.

There are many things that I have experienced that I have learnt a good deal from. And although I think there is likely a benefit that other people could gain from reading this; there is also the counter weight of how much of myself I want to put into a public domain.

Social media gives us the opportunity to share our lives in terms of immediate thoughts, the music we like, the workouts we have done and the photos that we have taken. This gives us the most amazing ways to communicate with our friends, our peers. However, in terms of authenticity and the honesty of our intentions, the situation becomes somewhat darker. Does the photo of our food in a restaurant really indicate that we need some attention, do ‘likes’ equal endorsement? Do the congratulations on our five-mile run give us the validation to keep going? I don’t know if there was a definitive point whereby our actions needed social endorsement. Maybe this has always been the case, we like approval for our actions, but does this ease of validation from others become a replacement for us doing this for ourselves?

Self-validation, boosting our own self-esteem can be difficult sometimes, but it is a necessary skill to acquire. It gives us possibility. But how does this increased self-esteem link to authenticity? Essentially, the more I am me, the less I want to be anyone else! When I felt low, I mirrored others, I was avoidant, I did many things to avoid being me. But then things changed, or rather I enacted change, and now I don’t want to talk through the words of others. Authenticity is important.

This blog will be harsh and bold. I will be harsh and bold. And there are somethings which will be hard to talk about and that is okay, but I promise myself this, I have worked hard to get to where I am, and I am not going to sell myself short in my words.

Map Point. How can I increase my authenticity?

 

A new perspective (I no longer need this heavy suitcase)

When I was becoming so well practiced with my five amazing memories, other thoughts started to occur to me, firstly although I knew that I was no longer flooding my mind with unhappy (and replacing it with happy), I still wasn’t actually ‘happy’. This led me to consider what had triggered such a negative mindset to begin with. Now I guess this is different for everyone, but essentially could likely be summed up with ‘sad stories that we couldn’t get past’. So I thought about my sad stories and tried to rationalise them, see them objectively, and for all intents and purposes, this is a really hard task!

If I have been holding onto to an unhappy memory for many years, then that sad story has become a familiarity, and mostly, we don’t like losing what we consider to be ‘ours’. Even applying fresh eyes to a situation can feel somehow traitorous to our sense of self. But at the same time, I recognised that feeling this level of sadness over something that I cannot change does not lead to happy! Events, I reasoned, can’t be changed, but maybe my thoughts about them can. So I proceeded. Cautiously.

Throughout my teenage years, I experienced anxiety, manifesting into the form of panic attacks. At the time these were scary, isolating and I felt that nothing, not even my own body, could be trusted. I lived in this state for a long time, and went through the usual channels of medication and therapy, but never seemed to make any genuine progress. This I can relay as a sad story. However looking at this as an adult, I can apply a whole new set of parameters. I experienced the anxiety because of the environment I was in, and I didn’t have the confidence or vocabulary to be able to express my needs. It wasn’t anxiety I was suffering from, it was repressed anger, rage at the situations that I was unable to control. And then perhaps the hardest bit of looking back on these memories. What have I gained from these experiences?

I am compassionate with those around me, and I understand that what a person is trying to express is not always the words that they say. Language can become muddy sometimes. I have also learned that to confidently express my needs is a truly empowering thing and I am utterly allowed to do that.

Sometimes it feels that a situation will just keep reoccurring until I work out what I can gain from it. Which feels quite frustrating for the most part, but if I can learn from things that have hurt me, maybe I can let them go. And that feels enlightening.

Do I experience anxiety as an adult? On occasion, absolutely, but as a weekly or monthly feature, absolutely not. For me, recognising and understanding the causes of my anxiety was the first stage, but then learning to let go of the memories that I held so dearly was quite another, a much more difficult challenge. We choose the weight that we want to carry with us.

Map Point. What am I carrying that is no longer serving me?

No more funeral thoughts

So with the realisation that my inner monologue was something less than happy, I embarked on a program of self-conditioning. This occurred to me whilst riding the top deck of the road based public transport (I had been busy visualising my own funeral) and I decided at that point, enough was most certainly enough (It was sad, there were canapés). So rather than judging and berating myself further for my negative talk, I would force myself to relive five entirely awesome memories. Now these have changed over time, but if ever I find myself in a negative headspace, these are my current go to happy memories

1) My daughter being born, specifically after the birth, when I got my one on one, alone bonding time with her, and the first words I spoke to her ‘Gas and air, it’s really good’. She was so tiny, curled around with her head on my shoulder.

2) Kissing my daughters dad (a now long since ex) in a quirksome funky little bar where he was performing. Our friends were all there, and I had to clamber over a big leather settee to get to him before he went on stage, so I was standing maybe a foot above him (on edge of said settee) and he was standing on the floor (logistics are important) and we kissed (proper kiss) and all of our friends cheered. Much smiley moment.

3)Sitting with my Mum when I was around four years old. After lunch, which for the sake of this memory is always tomato soup and a cheddar cheese sandwich on white bread, we would always snuggle up on an armchair together. We would then watch two shows, Pebble Mill at One and The Sullivans. I felt safe and warm and entirely loved.

4) Walking on the beach, through the shallow waves, watching the sunshine cascade over the water, seeing treasures (sand rounded glass), feeling the cold of the water and the texture of the melting sand on my feet.

5) Playing guitar and singing with my friend Robert. There is such a genuine joy in singing with another human, it doesn’t matter if our notes are off or one of us misses a chord (especially if there is a bar involved), it creates the most divine bubble. A space to lose yourself in.

It isn’t enough to just say the words, or imagine the pictures to them, this has to be an involved procedure. Imagining the sounds, the way you felt, how hot or cold it was, all the details that make this a memory that will genuinely make you smile and uplift you. Now at this stage of my life, I was putting myself down a good deal, and the effort, upon realising that I was being negative about myself to think of five amazing things was immense. I occasionally wonder if I literally scared my brain into not talking down to me, because the effort of thinking of five good things all the time was exhausting.. Or I was simply reminding myself of all these amazing things in my life, that I no longer had any reason to be unkind to me. I was amazing too.

Map Point. What are my five most amazing memories?

The Five Closest People

A few years ago I came across a theory that seemed like it might be fun to try and apply to my life. The theory stated that we are the culmination of the five people that we spend the most time with. Okay, I thought, this sounds straightforward, I know who these people are! So I began

1) My daughter. I see her as a wonderful cadence of creativity, inspiration, adventure and laughter. I knew that she also had a hard time, not by not being able to state her wants, but she has a hard time is accepting things that were out of her control.

Hmm, I  thought, this could be slightly deeper than initially anticipated.. so I continued

2) My Mum. My Mum is a woman of intense fortitude, resilience and strength. She is compassionate, kind, resourceful and ever supportive. She also judges herself really harshly and doesn’t always state her wants clearly (this stating and getting was becoming something of a theme..) which can give her a tendency to criticise.

3) My friend Robert. Robert is exuberant, noisy, supportive, vain, is able to retain much knowledge but also is often entirely crippled by insecurity, anxiety and self-esteem issues. He hates asking for things but has a massive heart. He finds ‘unfunctional touch’ uncomfortable and doesn’t like my cat (likely related to the previous point).

4) My friend Maggie. Maggie owns her own house, has her own income and works in the creative sector. She mostly always seems to be somehow on edge and anticipates the very worst outcomes in many situations. She is kind, generous and talented.

5) My friend Kate. Kate is married (curiously the only one out of my ‘top five’ who is), has a dog (who I also get on well with) and is entirely beautiful. She is innovative with her children, she is courageous and her tenacity is almost unbelievable at times. I sometimes wonder where she gets all her energy from.

After some curious digesting of this information, it occurred to me that I was neither fully playing to my strengths or acknowledging my weaknesses. Everyone we encounter likely has something to offer us, even if only through their indifference. But the people who truly inspire us, or aggravate us or a host of other stronger emotions, these are the people we need to watch, these are the people through which we can learn most about ourselves.

My journey begins.