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?

 

My love

I have loved photography since I was really young. I remember being incredibly excited to receive a ‘LeClic’ camera when I was around eleven. I took rolls of film, most of which was likely shocking, but it never deterred me. In my secondary school, we had an amazingly creative teacher called Mr. Caulderbank who loved photography, and he had a dark room adjoining his classroom. This was my first step into what I considered magic. The lights, the papers, the smell of the chemicals, I found this was a place that I felt instant familiarity, I felt home. By this point, I had my first SLR camera and I would invite friends over to pose for me. I loved the creation of the shot, making sure that everything was perfect before I committed it to film. My photography was improving massively. But somehow, despite my amazing passion, I never gave it priority, never thought of it as anything more than a hobby.

In my mid-twenties, I went to university to study media. I chose this course because I thought it would offer me skills in animation, which was something that I was beginning to enjoy at the time. It turned out that I didn’t particularly enjoy animation and by the end of my first year if it was raining on animation morning, I simply went back to bed (joy of being a student in a class with no registers). However what I did love was media theory, something that I am still massively passionate about. In my second year, the university put a photographic studio in. This was proverbial honey to me. I spent a lot of time in the studio, occasionally dragging people in (not usually literally). My love for photography was completely rekindled. On the course, we thought a lot about jobs and possible career choices, but even then in such an incredible environment, it still did not occur to me that I could make a living working with what I loved.

At this time I had just begun a new relationship with a musician. He was an incredibly gifted bass player. He worked hard to achieve this, and he also worked a lot of ‘function’ gigs where he got paid. For doing what he loved to do. It took me a while before the enormity of this sunk in, that someone could pursue music, or any creative endeavour, even photography as a job.

In my head when people had spoken about creative pursuits, I had always labelled it ‘hobby’, not a vocation or calling or passion. Creative pursuits were what you did when you got home from your entirely uneventful ‘proper job’. I don’t know where this particular mindset had stemmed from, possibly that was just what people did in my sphere growing up, and thus I never entertained any other choices.

When my daughter was around five, we were out driving and she was quiet for a bit, then suddenly spoke up ‘If you go to a car park and there is only one space, then that is not a choice’. These words resonated hard with me, I had been viewing my career mindset (and other mindsets too) as if there was only one goal, only one way to achieve, and if I didn’t do this the same way as everyone else then that would be failure. I had been judging myself against standards that I was never designed to fit. It was an empowering moment. If I suddenly had choices, what could I do?

Map Point. Where in my life does a fixed belief limit my choices?

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?

How I (begrudgingly) started running

It was the Fitbit (which I have since abandoned). Miles spotted it at work. I was making myself a cup of tea at the time.  Hadn’t really spoken to him a good deal before other than mostly pleasantries. And he asked if I ran. This seemed likely, as the wrist tracking activity devices generally indicate that you are involved in activity worth tracking. I was not however, I liked the idea of starting running, but I had actually purchased this marvellous device to track just how horrendous my sleep had become. It was bought purely with masochistic intent to prove to myself how bad my insomnia had become. So I said that I was thinking of starting, to which Miles told me that he could give me the names of some local groups that went out running in the evenings. This was mostly impractical, what with being a single mother and all, but I thanked him. He then seemed to pause a bit, and said that if I wanted to, he would go out running with me. Now this was a more exciting offer. Someone was willing to invest their actual time in helping me to start running. I was nervous, apprehensive, but ultimately I had clearly set the intention by buying the flashy wrist gear that I was ready to run. So I agreed.

What I actually agreed to was a six-week program involving a twice weekly run. So I found my running clothes (proper activity wear.. it sort of makes me giggle how prepped I was to run, without ever having done so before) and met up with Miles. Miles looks like a hardcore long distance runner, the sort of man who could run for a week and still be able to hold a sensible conversation. We stretched, this seemed okay, this bit I could definitely do! I felt so accomplished. Then he said we would walk for a bit, then run for a minute. In this first minute of running, several ages passed. Polar icecaps melted and reformed, however, am something of a stubborn beast on occasion, so I powered through. My legs had no idea what they were doing, my breathing was laboured, and my posture felt peculiar. We continued in this vein, walking a bit, running a bit. And I improved. The first time I ran for five minutes straight was a massive achievement. Hills were the same. I then started running with other friends too, Kate and Robert. Running gave me activity based social time. And it felt good.

A minor knee injury took me out for a while, but am back out running again now. This morning I complete my first 5k in an age, with a knee support, in forty-five minutes (which is very slow for me) and it felt amazing, around the 3k mark, I found my zone again. This is where I lose myself and everything feels amazing.

Running for me started as something of mass trepidation, actual fear (likely a hangover from the hideous words in school ‘cross country’), but actually breaking through that, with the help of someone else, empowered me so massively, and I am grateful.

Map Point. What is fear preventing me from doing?

Why am I a vegetarian?

I was recently asked by a friend why I am a vegetarian.  And I pondered. When I first became a vegetarian it was because I disagreed with how animals are treated in the factory farming system. This seemed to be straight forward enough, and before I became a vegetarian, I had already switched to free range and organic meats. But the logical step in my mind was then to eschew meat altogether. I still ate fish for a while (pescatarian) before embracing the full vegetarian diet.

Only I didn’t. A good few years previously, I had experienced the deep joy that is gastroenteritis and food poisoning in the same week. This left me with the marvellous dietary constrict of not being able to tolerate dairy, specifically anything that originated from point of cow. So my vegetarianism was a sort of cheese of sheep and goat (but not too much.. else pain and suffering issues forth!) and also eggs. Sometimes I don’t have dairy in any form, thus defining as an egg eating vegan (veggan). I fluctuate on these variables.

Then I watched a film called ‘Earthlings’. It took me two sittings to get through, as it was a muchly wet face experience for me, but it did endorse and inform what I already knew. So in essence, there are many good reasons why I eat as I do, and I appreciate that to some, my diet is difficult. But to me the answer of why didn’t really feel, well, answered, it felt as if there was more.

So I considered the aspect of entitlement. Did I feel entitled to profit from the suffering of other living things? I live in a built up society, I have a lot of stuff, and I know that a good deal of it, not just the food that I consume does derive from the sadness of others. And this is when the decisions in my life started to change, or rather that I noticed that a whole handful of decisions that I had been making all came under the same umbrella. I have been using charity shops and second-hand shops to source new clothing, trying to remember to take my reusable bags to the supermarket, buying ear buds made with a card middle rather than plastic, taking my reusable water bottle out with me, the list went on. It came down to respect for my environment.

When I realised this, suddenly other tasks that I had been struggling with became easier. If I have this inherent respect for my outside environment, then maybe I could start applying that to my house, my inside environment. Tidying up and streamlining my home is becoming easier, my attachment to things is lessening and this has been a most productive and also a kind of scary thing. If I had put all my love in the things around me, and I was letting go of these things, where would all that love go?

The answer was remarkably simple, I love me better.

Map Point. What sadness can I remove from my life?

 

Glorious Food

Food. I utterly love it, I have friends who say that they would happily just take a pill in place of eating, and although this could be exceptionally handy for the times that I forget to eat (more often than I would like, it leads to much hangry), as a way of life, I would find this incredibly depressing.

I find food exciting. From my rambunctiously spirulina green smoothies to roast dinner to pancakes with maple syrup (needs to be available for sale in bigger containers), it is all amazing. I love the variance in colours, the textures and the complete curiosity and joy about trying something new (the only thing I have ever had to remove from my mouth with speed was crab.. this was not an agreeable taste!). Food is a most sublime experience.

When I eat my dinner or drink something fruity, I find myself always savouring the last mouthful, like other people. I started to ponder this. Am sure that there are likely many good psychological rationales for why we do this, but I was thinking of it in terms of how much I love what I am consuming, why do I love the last bit most. Having happily drunk something delicious, it’s waiting for those last bits to dribble down that taste the best. Only in reality they don’t, there is seldom enough for a satisfying amount, so why is this a thing?

Maybe we don’t appreciate something until we can see an end to it. This also feels sort of bleak. Then I was thinking about a book that I was lent many years ago called ‘The Power of Now’ or something similar. In my process of consumption, I am racing, thinking ahead in my mind, about the finish, rather than enjoying the process. If every mouthful felt like the last one, I think that would be a truly divine way to experience food.

Learning to take my time, learning patience is a skill that I often lack. Maybe I have never seen any value in it, or maybe my requirement to know outcomes leads me to not appreciate the journey. Being goal motivated is a good thing, in many different ways, but it does not directly foster appreciation. So, my new aspiration, my new goal is to learn to take my time over things, and maybe (just maybe), I might be able to leave the last mouthful on the plate.

Map Point. Where can I invest more time?

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?

 

Actual Mirrors

There have been times in my life when I have looked into the mirror and irrespective of how fat or thin I was, I saw nothing but negativity, judgement and humiliation looking back at me. This was a hard place to start my day from and didn’t exactly boost my self-esteem.

The absolute worst time in my life for doing this was when I was in my twenties. There were a round six months of my life where I found that I was actively choosing not to eat. I was a student at the time; my mum lived close by, so some evenings I would go and have a proper dinner with her, and that felt nice. But for the rest of the time, I drank black coffee and ate a couple of biscuits here and there. My weight tumbled off. A healthy weight for me is around eleven to eleven and a half stone. I was around thirteen when I began this endeavour and when I began eating normally again, I was down to ten stone. I am a tall person with a large frame, all of my bones were visible. I was incredibly unhappy with a variety of issues in my life, a relationship had ended, a new one had begun that was problematic in some ways, my uncle was slowly fading with dementia, my grandad had died. I don’t think that it was any one of these things that made me take the actions that I did, but likely a combination, I regained control of my life by limiting my food intake.

Any addiction or denial gives us back the control that we feel is missing, and for me, lack of food was empowering. I found that feeling hungry made me feel alive, made me feel good. I would stand in front of the mirror naked, pinching bits of skin, deciding that I could go another half stone. I didn’t see beauty or anything positive, just something that I could control. I was also getting many compliments about how skinny I was becoming. I guess this must have been nice, as it further endorsed the choices that I was making. It was truly one of the most unhappy periods of my life.

As I began to deal with my sad experiences, I became a healthy weight again, and I found myself naked in front of the mirror, telling myself and utterly seeing myself as beautiful. Maybe this was to self-endorse, maybe I needed the reassurance, but it occurred to me a few day ago that I don’t do that anymore. I am now around a stone above my ideal weight, so maybe my level of self-love has dropped, but although this is a possibility, I don’t think that it is true. I think that I have reached a stage in my life where it no longer matters. I eat really well, I exercise, meditate, socialise with exceptional people. Viewing myself in terms of how my body looks is no longer relevant. I still like to look nice, but I no longer tie my emotional state to my physical one. If I receive a compliment, I have immense gratitude to the person giving it, but it doesn’t further endorse me. I have self-endorsed, thus I have left the emotional weight of the shape of my body behind.

Map Point. How do I feel about my physical state?

 

 

Judgement

It is too easy to judge the lives of others. We live in a society that sometimes feels conditioned to do so. I remember hearing a close family member talking about his girlfriend, and how nervous, and then how excited she had been to get a job in a cafe. And he spoke about this with pity in his voice. If that was her highest level of aspiration, that can’t have been a good thing? It is too easy to make criticisms of someone else’s life without ever having any idea of how they have got to the place they have got to. I remember once after being treated in hospital for stomach pain with diamorphine, and feeling how terrible that felt on my mental state, my overriding thought was that if this is a high point of someone’s day, then that makes me humble.

Every time we make a judgment on someone else, we are expressing an aspect of ourselves that could be useful to examine. The more extreme things are easier, but what about the passing judgment of his clothes, her hair, his weight, her music choices, his books .. the list goes on. If I judge someone’s weight, what does that say about me – am I scared that my shape might change? Do I perceive laziness or starvation because that is what most closely resonates with me? So rather than addressing my own issues, it feels easier to criticise those that I don’t know or even those that I profess to love.

I guess this could be a perceived entirely as a negative thing that we sometimes engage in, but what if that is flipped, and we use the judgments that we make to question ourselves and why we are making them.

When I first met Robert he was incredibly judgemental of how people looked, which for me was actually a boon. I have generally found it difficult to consistently make myself presentable. It wouldn’t occur to me to recycle my clothes with holes, throw out old makeup, wear makeup differently, take more care of myself physically. It wasn’t that I didn’t do any of things ever, just likely not as often as should likely be recommended! (I now know about the little symbol that ‘suggests’ when makeup is out of date!). Through Robert, I developed a greater confidence about the sort of shops I could shop in (all of them, apparently) and the kind of clothes I thought I could wear (more than I thought) and that has been utterly tremendous. Conversely, Robert’s judgments come from a place of insecurity, but as with all things, he is turning this into a positive that can enrich him, rather than a weight that makes him smaller. Judgments can help us to grow.

Map Point. What things do we judge most harshly?