Pressure, Perfection, and Watering the Plants

Pressure, Perfection, and Watering the PlantsI’ve been having real difficulty starting this post today. The trouble isn’t deciding what to write about – if anything I have far too much that I want to share and discuss with you and part of the problem is figuring out how to get it into some sort of coherent form.

To start with I thought that now we’ve reached May it would be a good time to do a check-in for this year. Where has the time gone? It seems only yesterday we were discussing New Year’s Resolutions (or lack thereof) and setting intentions for the year ahead. That year is now one third of the way through, so it makes sense to see where we’re on track and where we’ve steered off-course.

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Life is shit, but isn’t it wonderful?

Forty-five minutes ago (at the time of starting to write this) I decided to go on a walk. I’ve been working from home the last two days and not really left the house. I’ve also been procrastinating a lot, not doing a huge amount of anything productive, and today I had too much caffeine. As a result my heart rate has been far too high and I’ve felt fairly anxious all day.

Over the last few days I’ve not been feeling wonderful. I’ve been talking to various friends and family about how if you’re feeling stagnant you’ve got to do something proactive to change that, you’ve got to seek out new challenges and adventures and search for what you’re passionate about. You’ve got to actively live, rather than just exist.

But for all my pep talks to other people, I’ve been feeling a bit down myself recently. I had a bleugh moment several days ago about my age and the fact that even though I graduated a good year and a half ago now I don’t really feel like I’ve done anything since then that I want to do, or even discover what ‘I want to do’ actually is. I became acutely aware that whilst I’m still relatively young, I’m getting older, and I’m not going to be young forever. If I want to achieve anything, I’ve got to start actually working towards whatever it is that I want to achieve. But then I thought: what’s the point?

The following night, somewhere in between sleep and awake, I had the sudden thought that I needed to tell my aunty Dodo something related to what I’d been thinking about prior to that, or that she’d like to know about it. It took a moment before I remembered that she died a few months ago. And, god, wasn’t that like a punch in the chest.

Earlier today I watched a TED talk on Youtube – Pico Iyer talking about The Art of Stillness – thinking it would be an interesting topic to talk about here. In the talk, which I will link to below so you can listen to it yourself, Iyer talks about how the way to develop more appreciative eyes is by going nowhere and just sitting still. He talks about how you need to take moments to reflect on your experiences and where you’re going, you need to sit still and switch off from everything else going on in your life sometimes in order to find out what moves you most and what makes you happy. Iyer says at one point that if you don’t sort your mind out, all you can give to other people is your exhaustion and your distractedness.

I found a lot of truth in what Iyer was saying. One of my biggest self-image problems over the last few years is the constantly recurring idea that I am a boring person with nothing about me that would interest other people. This isn’t true, but this way of thinking stems – I believe – from the constant procrastination and distraction that I’ve used to ignore that I feel dissatisfied with how my life is going right now. If you’re ignoring what you’re feeling, if all your thoughts are going on distracting yourself, no wonder you feel you have nothing of substance to offer anyone else. Life becomes passive rather than constructive or creative.

So, inspired by the talk, I decided to go on a walk this evening and get some fresh air. I chose my favourite 2.5 mile circular route and put on the Les Miserables soundtrack as it had been good while since I last listened to it. Over the course of the first mile I reflected on several different things that will probably make it to this blog at some point (or, I know will make it to this blog as they tie into a post already drafted), but eventually everything came back to feeling stagnant and impatient.

Impatient because I already know that I feel stagnant and I’m not doing anything with life at the moment that I feel passionate about. I’ve reflected on this many times, and I’ve come up with numerous ideas of how I can change this – see my Mission Statement (for Being 23) for an example. As I said in my last post, each journey starts with a single step and we should focus on that rather than being paralysed by the size of the journey, but sometimes focussing on that one step makes you feel like you’re hardly moving. That it doesn’t matter what you do because it’s not making any difference – whatever ‘it’ is.

I thought about how many people I know who feel like this at the moment, and how many tales I’ve read online of people of a similar age feeling the same thing. ‘Quarter-life crisis’ – is this a new thing? I feel like it must be. Growing up you hear about mid-life crises, about people who realise that their lives are half over and they’re not (or no longer) doing what makes them feel alive. But more and more recently you hear people in their early to mid twenties talking about a similar thing, adrift in uncertainty and dissatisfaction with life.

Part of it, I think, is to do with the way society treats growing up. From our early teens, the favourite question is ‘what are you going to do next?’ – what GCSEs are you going to take? And that’s important because that’ll affect what A-levels you take, which is extremely important because your choice of A-levels will influence what you can do at university and what you can do as a job, and do you have any idea what you want to be when you grow up?

No, I don’t. My dad is in his sixties and he has no idea what he wants to do when he ‘grows up’. And now I’m set free in the world where my path is chosen not by what comes next academically, but by what I want to do. Who knows what that is? We’re constantly told to follow our passions in order to lead a happy life, but I don’t know what those are. I’m young. I haven’t experienced enough of life yet, but I still feel like I should have some of these answers down by now. I mean, if in order to succeed you have to know what you want to do all the way back when picking your A-levels, how on earth am I going to “succeed” this late in the game?

My walk wasn’t really working. Yes I was getting fresh air and it was helping my legs recover from the exercise I did yesterday, but it wasn’t making the antsy feeling go away like I’d hoped it was. All it had succeeded in making me do was acknowledge that I wasn’t happy with where my life is at right now and feel frustrated at how slow change seems to be.

A mile in it started to rain. Big, lashing, freezing drops of rain – or maybe sleet, it did snow this morning. Rain teaming so hard I couldn’t see through my glasses anymore and I was quickly soaked to the bone.

I couldn’t help but laugh.

It’s just typical isn’t it? You’re ambling along pondering about how shit life can be, and in retaliation life rains on your parade. Isn’t it wonderful? For the following remaining mile-and-a-half I felt cold, wet, but unmistakeably alive. I could acknowledge that it is OK to feel sad, that I did feel sad, and at the same time as wanted to burst into laughter. Tomorrow’s another day. Life will go on. Things will change.

As I reached the bottom step of the staircase leading up to my house, looking forward to finally being warm and dry, the rain stopped.

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Resolutions

Several years ago I resolved on New Year’s Day that I would no longer make any New Year’s Resolutions, and for the most part I’ve kept to that. Rather, over the last few years, I’ve been starting any resolutions from that day, or the next Monday, or the next first day of the month, depending on what sort of resolution it was. The trouble with NY resolutions is that it’s all too easy to give up on them very early on.

For example, a few days ago I learnt about the challenge Veganuary, where you go vegan for the month of January (surprise, surprise). I’ve occasionally dabbled in veganism for a week every now and then (usually as a quick way of increasing my vegetable intake and a good way to learn a bunch of new recipes), so the idea appealed to me. It’d probably be a good way to start the new year post-Christmas chocolate binge. However, on the 2nd of January I will be flying out to Canada. Veganuary just isn’t going to work.

“But surely you can be vegan in Canada?” I hear you cry. Well, yes, I could be. But I’m going to stay with a friend who is decidedly not vegan, and I feel it would be rude to make the day I turn vegan coincide with the start of my visit. Aside from that, poutine is also definitely not vegan, and there’s no way I’m not going to try it. It just wouldn’t be right.

My point is that by the time I get around to being able to start Veganuary, it may very well be January the 17th (I’m away with work from the 12th-16th and have already told them I have no specific dietary needs). If this was one of my new year’s resolutions, I think I’d be pretty fed up with myself – nearly the end of January and nothing done yet! I’d feel bad, like I’d failed already so soon into the year, even though my reasons for not being able to be vegan until later in the month are sound.

So I’m not going to make it a new year’s resolution. I’m still not doing NY’s resolutions. What I am doing this year though, is setting goals with the start date being my birthday (which was back on December 11th). I decided I’m going to do the cheesily-named:

“Twenty-three, the year of me.”

Rather than setting a bunch of goals with the start date of my birthday or new year’s day, I’ve decided that there are certain areas of my life I’d like to work on over the course of this next year. There are things I want to have achieved or improved by the time I turn twenty four. Because I have an end-date rather than a start-date as my focus, I always have the ability to get back on track and still potentially make it to where I want to get. So if I decide to try veganism for a month, I still have most of eleven months in which to do it.

Now this doesn’t really work if you just procrastinate everything, which I’ve certainly done in the past. Despite saying several blog posts ago that I was going to start practicing yoga consistently, that hasn’t happened. I have started doing it again every few days in the last couple of weeks, but my plans for at least 5 or 10 minutes every day hasn’t happened. So I will be picking things that I will do “every x days from y”, with y being New Year’s Day in some cases. Whilst I have never completed a full thirty days at anything I’ve tried following a calendar for, setting myself a 10-day or 30-day challenge is a useful tool. Following Blogilates’ monthly calendars has vastly improved my strength over the last couple of months. Even if I don’t stick to it every day, I like being able to tick off the next step and see myself progress that way. If I had to come up with a new fitness routine myself every day or two I’d probably just forget about it.

So I’m not making any New Year’s Resolutions, I’m making a full year’s resolutions. I’ve been saying for years now that it doesn’t matter that I don’t know what I want to do – I’m still young. And I am still young, but it hit me the other day that I graduated from university a whole year and a half ago, and I am no further in figuring out what will make me happy than I was back then. I don’t expect to have the perfect life at the end of the year, but I’m going to keep with my resolutions so that I am much closer to knowing what would be a ‘perfect life’ for me. And that means I’ll start some resolutions on January 1st, but I’ll also start some on January 17th, some on February 1st, some on June 28th, and so on…. I will keep re-starting as many times as need-be, because at the end of the day I’m working towards making my life a little better. The only person who will suffer if I fail is me.

What are those resolutions, you may ask?

Keep reading! I’ll be posting my (until this minute going-to-be-kept-completely-private) ‘manifesto for being 23‘ tomorrow. I hope you have a fantastic New Year’s Eve, and that next year brings you all you could possible hope for. I’ll be right there with you.

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Perspective

There are, unfortunately, some moments in life that just put everything else into perspective.

On Monday there were two completely unconnected events. Throughout the day I read about the awful hostage situation in Sydney, and Monday evening once I got home, I stopped thinking about it. I did some pilates and spent ten minutes doing some yoga for the first time in weeks. I felt extremely uncomfortable and didn’t quite hate every minute of it, but it was a close thing. I’ve written about learning discomfort in the past (in a post on another blog that I may re-post here), and the point still stands: I need to stop being afraid of discomfort, and stop letting the feeling overwhelm me.

So I did ten minutes, thought very negatively about the whole experience, and went to bed.

Open up the news on Tuesday whilst at work – there’s been a massacre in a school in Pakistan. Over 120 killed, most of them children.

I just… it’s one of those moments when you realise just how privileged you are, that your main concern is that you were uncomfortable whilst doing some yoga having come back from your ‘cushy’ city job. The people who have been in the situations in the last few days, I’m sure they’d give anything for that to be all they needed to be concerned about. And tragedies aside, there are millions of people in the world who would kill to be in my situation I’m sure, and have to put up with far worse “discomforts” than I could ever dream of.

I can spend ten minutes being uncomfortable in yoga. I can be grateful that’s all I have to put up with. This is discomfort caused by something I’m choosing to do to myself, and in the long-run it’s doing me some good. I am extremely lucky, extremely privileged, and thank whatever-you-believe-in I’ve never known anything else. Most people aren’t so fortunate.

Just something I’ll be thinking of next time I’m in that situation.

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