You Must Believe In Yourself

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Conversations with my 6-year-old daughter, Titi are almost always amazing and inspiring.

Every morning, she starts her day with something like,

“Mummy, I had the strangest dream!” I encourage her to go on. “I dreamt that I built an amusement park called ‘Titi HappyLand’ and all my friends came there….”

She goes on. “They paid 10 pence to get on a ride and they were all happy!”

My 10-year-old son interjects at this point,

“Titi, 10 pence is not enough to charge people!” I smile, grateful that it isn’t me breaking the news to her. He continues to give her executive advice, “Titi HappyLand will close down very quickly at that price, Titi.”

Titi frowns, clearly confused.

“Ok…eh..”

She makes a funny face and a thinking sound as she drums her fingers on her lips. Her eyes are staring up at the ceiling.

“Ten POUNDS then, ” she announces, finger now up in the air emphasizing the eureka moment with the word “pounds”.

As I listen to this and other inspiring ideas my children often throw around, I wonder at what point their belief and confidence will become cornered by the world. When will society tell them it is too hard to build an amusement park and call it ‘Titi HappyLand’?

When is it that we start to doubt our capabilities and believe in our incompetence more than we believe in our capabilities? I wonder.

The truth is, confidence wanes when we allow people or society tell us what we can and cannot do. We have people in our lives that laugh at our dreams and undermine any changes we try to make.

We become cynical about real change and progress, betting that “it won’t last” or “it won’t work”. Many times, we are afraid that we will fail or that we will not be accepted as we are. The discouraging words we accept into our hearts stops us dead on the track leading to our dreams. Before long, we become people who say negative words to others, doubting anyone can do that amazing thing they want to try.

I fell into the same trap of doubt but in the last few months, I have revisited my dreams. I can do stuff! I just needed to stay still and listen to myself. I was afraid and uneasy with the uncertainty but now I have a glimpse of what could be. I haven’t gained any new knowledge or skill. I have simply peered into the world of my dreams and I now have the nerve to believe I can make my dreams come true. It doesn’t mean I will elude failure. I may fail at first but you can bet that I will keep trying to succeed.

What would you do if you had nothing to fear? What if you were guaranteed success? Would you follow your dreams?

Image from flickr.com user: Jennifer 
- Rainy Day Inspiration :: You Must Believe In Yourself

The Dark Side of Crazy

What do I call this? Paranoia, perfection or just plain crazy?

Whatever it is, I want to it make it the reason why I put out the best work. It should be why I’m reliable, dependable, honest. But countless times, the compulsion to do the right thing is the worst thing about me. It often backfires or it turns out it just wasn’t worth it. No good turn goes unpunished as they say. But I can’t ALWAYS do the right thing (I do want to so badly…).

An overactive conscience, a judging voice from within? Who knows.

What am I learning these days, you might ask?

Well, I’m learning to put myself on Mute.

Three weeks ago:

A young lady gave me a pound for the swimming pool lockers one day. It was an awkward exchange. I asked if she had a pound and she said, “Sure…” and handed me a £1 coin just as she walked out of the changing rooms.

I couldn’t believe it! I didn’t know her name or anything! How in the world am I going to pay her back??

Fortunately, I spotted her last week leaving the gym as I was getting there. I ran after her, on to the street and across the traffic lights. Then I lost her. I couldn’t see the street she entered. Sigh.

I have an extra £1 coin in my pocket every time I go the gym in hopes that I can return it to her. I know what you’re thinking. She probably doesn’t remember me, right? But I’m convinced she’s laying awake at night thinking, “I can’t believe that lady never returned my pound!”

I hate my mind sometimes.

Sobering up: the good, the bad and the absolute worst

As I get over the ‘high’ of corporate life, I reflect on the good, the bad and the absolute worst things about being alone – and at home – with my personal transition.

the good
a. One and a half hours longer in bed
b. Having only one mobile phone (I keep looking for the other one)
c. No demands other than making sure family is clean, fed, watered and spoken to (easy!)
d. Exercising in the mornings – fantastic start to my day
e. Nurturing my ideas…plotting, creating, building – great stuff!
f. Watching lots of TV, brain numbing stuff but I think my brain is grateful
g. Not dressing up to go out – need to be careful that I eventually do have a shower though
h. Drinking lots of tea (I no more need coffee but missing my usual “small cappuccino”)
i. Being more patient as I’m less in a hurry equals less shouting at my poor children (yay!)

the bad

a. Waking up in morning with no plan for the day, so I often just lay there
b. Missing my work phone – it made me feel important
c. Missing deadlines and solving problems – it made me feel important 
d. Worrying that my exercise routine won’t last once I find how to fill up my time
e. Having ideas then physically restraining myself from doing too much about them
f. Watching lots of TV, brain numbing stuff but and I think my brain is grateful gravy
g. Missing dressing up to go out to work – it made me feel important (yes, there’s a recurring theme!)
h. Missing the chat around the Costa coffee kiosk at the office
i. Being impatient when I have to pick up after my family – I used to have a job!!

the absolute worst

Realising that my job defined me so much. It’s why I took setbacks to heart. It’s perhaps part of why I had to stop and define myself some other way. High definition…loading…

Sobering up: the shortest list I’ve ever made

The last day finally came.

Two weeks ago, I stopped corporate work and began a journey with a couple of good ideas and my passion to guide me. It was a hard day to leave. The whole day was in slow motion. It began with me waking before 5am and not being able to go back to sleep. I forgot to put on some perfume (thankfully, I remembered deodorant) and I forgot to buy fuel on my way to work which meant I had only 4 miles worth of diesel by the time I set out on my 30-mile journey home. It was a close call that could have led to pushing my Mini all the way home. What can I say? I wasn’t myself. Change is exciting but very very scary…

I will miss my colleagues, many had become good friends.

Every career decision I’ve ever made has terrified me. I always hope a voice from the sky will very loudly announce to me (and bystanders) exactly what it is I need to do.

I hear a subtle voice together with a soulful nudge in a plausible direction. Then I start to gather evidence and see ‘signs’ that I’m on the right track. Oftentimes, I don’t find many people who have trailed that path…but I continue like a 4-year old in a garden maze laced with possibilities. Call it arrogance or naivety – this is how I’m built. 

438599_SMPNG_34863046T9949410UMy initial goals are simple. I want to get a few things straight before the madness begins in earnest. Here is a live stream of stuff I want to do:

Establish a regular exercise routine

Learn more about global and British politics

 

It’s my shortest list ever. I might be subconsciously leaving space for much more things that will undoubtedly appear over time. 

I got intrigued by politics after following stories and eventually voting in the Scottish referendum last year. I’d like to learn more about politics in general – it’s an area I know little about. But if I achieve only a regular exercise routine, I’d be happy. With the road ahead full of uncertainty and excitement, the more blood flowing to my head the better.

 

Cartoon and license to use from: Ron Leishman

My Early Midlife Crisis: Bear, Manoeuvre or Heal

Sometimes beauty is sad

I’m wondering if I’ve experienced an early midlife crisis. A mid-career or midlife crisis is characterised by feelings of dissatisfaction, disappointment and a lack of gratitude that tend to appear in the middle of one’s life. As I reflect on my thoughts over the last 5 or 6 years, I cannot help seeing some resemblance with such a crisis. I want to explore this.

A recent HBR article, ‘Why So Many of Us Experience a Midlife Crisis‘ by Dr. Hannes Schwandt poses that on average,

‘Life satisfaction is high when people are young, then starts to decline in the early 30s, bottoming out between the mid-40s and mid-50s before increasing again to levels as high as during young adulthood.

Does this explain the decline in satisfaction, my worries about change and being average? I confess that I panicked early in my 30s when I started to feel less satisfied about where I was in my career and I felt guilty that I was whiny. The research outlined by Dr Hannes Schwandt resonates with me because it explains – to some extent – a natural development process driven by biology. Simply put, this feeling of dissatisfaction can happen to anyone – not necessarily everyone but it’s pretty common. He notes that it affects childless couples, parents of four, stay-at-home parents, single people and senior-level executives alike. However, it is not clear to me how personality, spirituality and environment affect the progress of this. I might have seen the onset of this in my life, perhaps too soon for whatever reason. I’ve handled it in a number of ways.

If I bear it, will you think I’m tough?

My 20s were filled with optimism. In fact, some of that optimism may have come off as over-confidence. I was going to get to the top of my game. I would stay up as long as necessary to get the job done. I was irritated with people that complained or wouldn’t move fast enough. If I was to describe my future status, I would have expressed high expectations of myself. It is unclear at what point exactly but there was certainly a time when I felt like I wasn’t meeting my own expectations of myself. The few people I told looked at me like I had suddenly grown horns. They were incredulous and would say, ‘What is wrong with you??’

Jonathan Rauch in his cover story, ‘The Real Roots of Midlife Crisis‘ in the Atlantic magazine describes a similar experience. He notes that he was a published author, wrote for top outlets, had won prestigious prizes and so on. If it was someone else’s career, he would have been impressed. But still he woke up disappointed morning after morning.

In the beginning, I decided that the best thing to do was to shut up and work. I did what I needed to do and tried to ignore all the negative images that would often remind me that I hadn’t achieved much. I became pretty tough in that time. I even coined a concept to describe how I was getting through. I recently described it to a close friend,

‘I go underwater. I hold my breath and just get it done. The breathlessness doesn’t last forever. When it’s done, I can come up for air at the other end.’

The data from Dr Schwandt’s research suggests that one can wait out a crisis like this and that things look up later in life so my approach may have some merit. There are coping mechanisms such as mentoring and acknowledgement of what it is. I’m just not convinced that is sufficient to manage the shear exhaustion of bearing a midlife crisis, particularly an early one.

Will a good manoeuvre fix this?

I planned a manoeuvre to get out of my exhaustion. It manifested in real terms when I applied for and accepted an offer to undertake a doctorate degree then took time off corporate life. But the seeds of change loomed for longer than that. For instance, I actively paid off all my credit card debt over a period of 3 years in anticipation of following a dream that required a low-maintenance budget – at least initially. I built up a network of contacts from different backgrounds, targeted and engaged potential mentors in order to get a taste of the other side. The nurturing of the seeds also involved continuous (and sometimes chronic) personal reflection. I asked myself questions like,

‘When have I been happiest?’

‘What do I love doing?’

‘How can I make changes without leaving a vacuum?’

‘Where will I get support if I need it?’

Dr Schwandt acknowledges that a mid-career crisis could be painful but it could be an opportunity for self-reflection, a reevaluation of personal strengths and weaknesses. I don’t know yet if I’ve stalled a midlife or mid-career crisis. Is it something that is still coming to ‘get me’ later in life? My recent manoeuvre might not hamper the natural process. In fact, Dr Schwandt adds,

‘Whether you choose to wait out the discontent, or make a drastic change in the hopes of a brighter tomorrow, rest assured this too shall pass.’

It sounds comforting and could even be true.  In his cover story, Jonathan Rauch wrote about emerging from a passage of midlife crisis with a returned gratitude aged 54. Dr Schwandt and Jonathan Rauch both write about the happiness U-curve. According to the U-curve, there’s hope and even a chance to heal.

If time heals, does aging heal too?

Brookings scholars Carol Graham and Milena Nikolova show a clear relationship between age and well-being in the United States. Rating life satisfaction relative to the “best possible life” for them, with 0 being worst and 10 being best, respondents to the survey provided evidence of a U-curve depicted below:

happiness u-curve

According to Jonathan Rauch’s cover story, age brings the onset of wisdom which favours more emotional regulation, more tolerance of diversity , more insight, lower expectations and overall, less regret. From the graph, I have more crisis ahead because I’m 36 – not 39 or 47 or 54. I’d need to wait till my mid-50s to acquire the wisdom to help me heal. Well, I don’t accept this. An early midlife crisis surely deserves an early acquisition of aged wisdom, right? I feel like my life satisfaction is actually beginning to increase. Perhaps I’m more easily satisfied….perhaps I just know better. If this U curve represents me, then satisfaction may dip later and put a ‘hump’ at the bottom left of this U curve.

In any event, I feel strangely comforted by these research. Whether or not I’m in a midlife crisis, when things feel sunken, I’ll know that it’s unlikely to mean I’m crazy or ungrateful. I can choose to bear, manoeuvre or wait for the healing to begin.

Is anyone else on the U curve?

Image from flickr user: ella larose – sometimes beauty is sad

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