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

Birthday musing: 36 events that shaped my life

The last time I wrote a birthday post was 4 years ago. Today, I turn 36 and I challenged myself to think about defining moments that shaped my character and perspective on life. It was surprisingly easy! I also realised that whatever I write about is rooted in one or more of these events. So if you’re ever wondering what’s wrong – or right – with me, here are 36 events that shaped me:

  1. being born first

  2. being born female

  3. being born Black African

  4. being told early that I am smarter than most people

  5. being told later that I am not

  6. being called ‘ugly’ more than once

  7. finding out not everybody likes me

  8. finding out I don’t like everybody

  9. having a really good maths teacher throughout primary school

  10. following simple instructions without questioning

  11. questioning simple instructions

  12. living in the Middle East for most of my teens

  13. marrying in my early 20s

  14. having children

  15. being the only black person in the room

  16. being the only woman in the room

  17. meeting people who believe in me

  18. meeting people I believe in

  19. finding out that people can lie straight to my face

  20. finding out that there is a power greater than anything or anyone

  21. learning to tap into that power

  22. leaving a job where it was not okay to be ambitious

  23. leaving a job where my values and the company’s values did not align

  24. leaving a job to follow my ambition

  25. discovering the past can be left behind

  26. learning that living in the present is more important than worrying about the future

  27. appreciating my sense of humor and that I have it for a reason

  28. writing – even when I don’t feel like it

  29. loving – even when I don’t feel like it

  30. rejecting words that tear me down

  31. accepting words that build me up

  32. getting proof that time heals almost everything

  33. letting friends walk away

  34. walking away from friends

  35. loving myself just as I am

  36. allowing people love me without questioning if I’m deserving of it

I hope to continue dealing with some of these events through my writing here. Fingers crossed, it won’t be too uncomfortable…

Happy birthday to me! :-)

The luxury of being average (4 years later)

If you have been visiting this blog for a while, you may remember one of my popular blog posts back in July 2011 titled, ‘The luxury of being average. Here is an excerpt from it:

Now and then, I wrestle with my fear of being average. I worry that I’ll live an average life that won’t be worth remembering and be just as good or worse than the person that came before. I always want to be better.

Before I go on, let me put a definition of ‘average’ out here. Cambridge dictionary defines ‘average’ as

a standard or level considered to be typical or usual.

I re-read the post recently and my feelings have changed slightly but significantly. I still find easygoing folks a little annoying and I still want to be damn good at what I do. But I have found a way to live with the fact I am not good at everything and that I need to find my niche in life. How am I living with this? Here’s how: The crux of my 2011 blog post was that I felt under a lot of pressure. I know now that I was probably striving for the wrong things. It had very little (if anything at all) to do with average-ness, whether I deemed that to be a curse or a blessing. I wanted to be what other people wanted me to be and that was incredibly exhausting.

Angry or confused face?

When I handed in my resignation this past February, I discovered people find change very uncomfortable and some have certain views on what I am supposed to be and the things I am meant to achieve. To announce that I’m probably not going to achieve those things because I don’t want to is a pill some still have under their tongue and haven’t swallowed. I would say to someone, “hey, I quit my job!” and then they would proceed to tell me why they cannot quit their job. All good information but eh, I haven’t asked you to quit your job! It’s pretty funny to watch/listen to. So…do I still fear being ‘average’? No, not really. I think that regardless of whether I keep up with people’s expectations or not, I will never be average simply because I am who I am. Those decisions and the life journeys I choose to go on are unique to me. Whether or not I succeed on the path I’m on doesn’t change that. And…do I think being average is a luxury? If I define ‘average’ as

not having too much or too little and not aspiring far beyond the current reality

then yes, it could provide the luxury of a content, relatively stress-free existence. As I glance back at the definitions of ‘average’, I know it’s a luxury I cannot afford. Guess I’ll never learn.

Images from flickr user: thejuniorpartner – Angry or confused face?

I lost my mojo. Then I found it on a plane.

Be yourself, be kind to others and your soul will rejoice

– me

I am on an Aberdeen-Birmingham flight. The plane is small and full. As I sit down on my aisle seat, I do my best to tuck in my limbs so as not to irritate the window-seat passenger. My mindset on flights is that unless the passenger next to me looks particularly friendly and/or initiates a conversation, I’m willing to sit there in silence for the duration of the flight. A little brutal maybe, but it’s the safest option.

reading passenger

I am halfway into a paragraph in my book when I hear the voice of a young lady in the seat across from me. She is talking to the passenger next to her. She laughs a lot. I do not hear the other passenger (a man) speak for the first 15 minutes of the conversation. She talks and talks. I learn that she is 23 and got married about 18 months ago. I learn that her husband is a doctor and a similar age to her. I also gather some information about her 2 siblings – one a brunette and the other blonde (she is a red-head).

Believe me, I try not to listen but I think the whole plane is listening. She isn’t perturbed by the quietness of the passenger she is chatting with. He nods and smiles from time to time. About 30 minutes into the flight, his voice becomes more audible. He laughs. I hear that he has a girlfriend and has been to Aberdeen only a handful of times.

The two talk for the 1-hour flight, with the young lady leading the conversation, asking questions and probing for detailed responses.

I have to be honest. I am half irritated by her. I have a book in my hand and I can’t get through more than a couple of pages due to the distracting conversation. We passengers glare at her periodically, hoping she just ends the conversation. We already know too much.

missing plane

The other half of me greatly admires her. She is bold and confident. At 23, I think she displays tenacity that is uncommon in many young women. I think about my safe option to keep to myself on planes (and in other public places, especially places that ‘move’ e.g. trains).

Then I realise something:

The young lady…that used to be me

I have let the fear of rejection change how I behave in certain situations. Being an extrovert by nature, I have a lot to say, a lot going on in my head that I want to share. But more and more, I don’t. I think it’s not important. Or the slight frown coming across my listener’s forehead becomes my cue to be quiet and withdraw.

As we disembark from the plane, the man thanks the young lady for great company as it helped the time pass quickly. I can’t help smiling. I want to thank her too.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’m glad to witness that young lady on the plane. I am on my way to attend a workshop (I wrote about the workshop here). The workshop is an awesome experience in part because of the young lady on the plane. I walk into the venue deciding to be yourself and not to shrink when people don’t take me on as I hope. I smile and talk to complete strangers with no malice even when they appear not to welcome my intrusion. It is liberating and I have fun. My spirit is light. My soul, gratified. I am not holding back.

My extroverted nature has been partially suppressed for years. In fact, I think there are times I lose it. Somehow, I’m finding it and I want to keep it even when I’m gray. I just need to have more faith in who I am. And gentle (and not so gentle) reminders are welcome. Thank you, Red-Headed Young Lady :-).

Images from flickr users: Dreemreeper – reading passenger on plane; Eole Wind – Missing plane; Paula Bailey – Paula Bailey

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,107 other followers

%d bloggers like this: