Saturday, 18 April 2015

Stumbling on Grumpy

Daniel Gilbert is a well-known author of the book Stumbling On Happiness. I've just finished it and to be honest, I’m not sure why he’s so renowned. Gilbert spends the entire book explaining why we are wrong. We can’t predict what will make us happy, our memories are flawed and we can’t even see straight. There is no question that his writing style is entertaining and he has a great sense of humour but I’m really not sure that his chosen topic is ideal, given his outlook.

Anyone who chooses to read a book about happiness, is probably wanting to be happier. Even the process of reading the book made me unhappy as I counted the pages towards the end. I’d favour reading The How of Happiness or the The Happiness Project if you want to work on being happier.

The basic tenet of Gilbert’s book is that we are highly incapable of predicting our future emotions. But why is that so important? Certainly, if we are about to make a big life decision, we’d like to make sure it will bring us happiness. He shows in the research that it’s more accurate to ask someone else in that position how happy it makes them. But no-one can truly be completely in the position you wish to full as they are not you. 

If you know yourself well, you will know what you like, you know where you want to live or who you want to marry or what career to follow. Imagine me asking a writer if it’s fun and basing my future career on that. Wouldn't I be the fool?

I’m expending a great deal of time and effort into knowing my strengths and weaknesses, talents and desires. Once those are completely clear, I can formulate options for my new career, try them out and make a decision. I’m all for talking to people to understand the pros and cons of any role and what others find challenging and rewarding. I like to obtain views from others as my leadership style is affiliatory. But no-one comes with my experiences, background, culture, beliefs, fears, talents and dreams.

Now that I’m finished his book, it’s time to shake things up again. Happiness is not found in monotony, especially for someone right-brained. As mentioned in my previous post, I believe creativity to be one of the key paths to finding yourself and your life passion. My original search for books on how to find your passion yielded few results. But I did come across a book called ‘The Artists Way’, written by Julia Cameron who helps people connect with their innate talents and their creativity. I’m really excited about it and I’m hoping it will unlock something in me that will lead to some real personal growth. 

Friday, 17 April 2015

Follow Your Bliss

I’m crazy about Masterchef Australia for a number of reasons. I am, of course, really interested in people who have the courage to switch paths, sometimes quite late in life. It’s so interesting to see how the contestants often comment on how they have grown as a person so much more than they anticipated. They entered the competition to gain skills and a head-start in becoming a chef. Not only do they all (not only the winner) pick up new skills in their chosen profession, but they push themselves to grow. In doing so, they discover a profound flow experience in the creation of food. It is a creative exercise and requires imagination, skill and knowledge. What an amazing journey they are taken on and it’s no wonder there are tears as each contestant is eliminated from the competition.

One of the judges this week used the phrase ‘follow your bliss’ and that really sums up my intention for this blog. What is it that inspires you to be great? What would you give up your everyday life for in order to experience? What is your bliss?

For me, my bliss is writing. There are many jobs that incorporate writing and I know that my journey ahead includes a lot of it. As well as writing, I can find flow in other things, usually creative pursuits such as playing piano and drawing.

I've realised lately that I don’t have a sense of entitlement that many people have. Perhaps it’s my upbringing or something within me that pushes me to prioritise the needs of others above my own. That’s something I need to work on and I’ll need to teach myself that I’m also entitled to things. Primarily, I’m entitled to have a job that is blissful. I’m entitled to love what I do and to gain a great deal of enjoyment from my everyday work. As long as it’s not to the detriment of anyone else, that’s not asking too much. That’s just making the most of living.

But why do so many people stay in jobs that are not fulfilling? Is it because they don’t know themselves enough to know what they want or need? Is it because they don’t feel entitled? Is it because they are afraid to lose something – usually a regular income? Is it because they feel afraid of being judged by others?

Changing careers late in life does take courage. It takes confidence and self-knowledge in order to go down a new path. You’ll need to defend your decision to the nay-sayers that inevitably will try to make you feel as if you’re making a mistake. Centre yourself, take a deep breath, and follow the path. Trust yourself enough to know that it’s only you who can define your path, or at least the path you want. And who knows what magical delights await.

I've come to realise that creativity is a great tool in discovering your talents and in getting to know yourself. None of us can escape being creative, in what we wear, how we do make-up and accessorise as well as the words we choose to express ourselves. We are all creative and the more we explore our creative side, the closer we get to knowing our true selves and what our talents are. This I believe to be a powerful tool in self-discovery. So dance, sing, paint or do whatever you feel expresses yourself fully.

“Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”  ~Joseph Campbell

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Consequences of Courage

Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m pretty even in temperament. I don’t like drama and I promote harmony wherever I go. I don’t lose my temper easily, with probably the exception of the past few months where my irritability has been obvious. This is a not-too-surprising symptom of Graves’ disease and of someone under extreme stress for a long time.

In your twenties and thirties, you don’t give a lot of thought to your childhood and things that went wrong in your past, unless of course, they were catastrophic. There have been two patches in my life when I've really thought extensively about my childhood. Firstly, on having children because you naturally consider what kind of a parent you’d like to be. You think about how you would like your children to experience their childhood. Turning forty was also a time of reflection in that I consider myself to be half way through, or thereabouts, of my life and I’m considering how the next half will look. My diagnosis has also been a catalyst at this time to consider my past and to design my future.

So, in thinking about my childhood and my past, sadly not a lot of good memories come to me. I was more neglected than anything I suppose and there was just not a lot of happiness. In my learning recently about growing as a person, I've done expressive writing to release the strong emotions, I've done visualisation exercises to let it go and I've written forgiveness letters to the people who have wronged me, which don't have to be sent by the way.

I can’t help but be affected by recalling the events that have caused me sadness in my past. I've protected my family on more than one occasion from a physically abusive bully. I've protected my business from an angry hammer-wielding family member who smashed up the office. I've been a victim of a car hi-jacking and being held up in my home. I've been subject to a lot of violence and volatile behaviour of the people around me. And in all circumstances, I was the level-headed one who stepped up, even at 17 years old, when the adults failed to do so.

I've always thought of myself as courageous and that those events helped mould me into who I am today. I've been proud of myself for standing in the face of danger to protect everyone. But I didn't consider at what cost to myself. Perhaps in my compulsion to restore order, I've taken the hit personally each time. Maybe all those events have something to do with my diagnosis.  It’s possible that the feeling of disappointment of those who should have been protecting me, has caused me a lot of stress too.

It’s certain that my health started deteriorating after one of those violent events, at a time when I was really already exhausted from sleep deprivation that comes with having a small baby. And that was about three years ago. The decline has been steady as I have failed to protect myself from those who harm me repeatedly. I kept thinking that family is the most important thing in life and you can never turn your back on them. I kept hoping for the love and support that is supposed to come from a parent. It took a diagnosis of a life-long condition for me to wake up and realise that I really needed to protect myself above all because no-one else was going to do it.

I’m doing my best to not blame those who have caused me harm, but it isn't easy. The path to happiness and personal growth does not include blame. It includes forgiveness, compassion and focussing on what you can do to be a better person.

When I look at my children, particularly when they’re asleep, I’m overwhelmed by the blessing of parenthood and of their innocence. The responsibility to raise them as happy independent people with solid values and humble confidence is substantial. But what a privilege at the same time. They are truly the source of great joy - why would anyone opt out or take that for granted? I know that I’m in charge of my life and I know that I'll love, accept and support them always, without burdening them with my bad decisions.

We have all experienced sad and painful events in our past. We all have some burdens we carry with us, despite our efforts to let go. The trick is not to let them rule you. The trick is to overcome and to succeed despite your past. 

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

There’s a Reason

The night before last was a bad night. Both our children had ‘bad dreams’ and ended up in our bed. Four in the bed, plus the cat, is not a great recipe for a good night’s sleep I can tell you. The kicking, the snoring, the thrashing and at one point one of them was on top of my back. But it was a catalyst to let them know that enough is enough and we all sleep better in our own beds. So last night with no interruptions from little people, I should have had a great sleep, right? Wrong.

I went to bed a little later than I should have, and then tossed and turned for several hours. I’m usually able to sleep within seconds of my head hitting the pillow. I tried meditating, to calm the mind, hoping that I’d drift off to sleep. But that seemed to make it worse. I had thoughts swirling around my head almost aggressively resisting being tamed. I felt resentful and frustrated about wasting away months on end, simply recovering. And the more upset I got about not getting enough sleep, the more I was unable to sleep. Worries flooded my mind, wondering how long I’ll take to recover and what else I should be doing to speed things up.

When I woke up this morning, I didn't have a headache and after very little sleep, felt unusually refreshed. It was as if the storm had passed and the sunlight was breaking through the clouds. I woke up with the phrase in my head ‘There’s a reason’. How strange. Of course, my first instinct is to find a logical explanation. I wondered if perhaps the new medication I’m on is starting to work.

I’m not known for my patience and it is indeed frustrating, frittering away months in order to recover. I keep wishing I’d avoided this situation. I keep wondering what I could have done differently. But none of that is helpful. I am where I am, and as frustrating as it is, my job right now is to recover. Only once I’m well, can I begin new endeavours and flex my new-found self.

I've been doing a lot of reading about being true to yourself. I am examining what drives me and what I require in order to survive and to thrive. In solving life's problems, Deepak Chopra advises that it's not a passive process and that we must "participate in unblocking the flow of your own awareness". Easier said than done but I'm doing what I can towards a path of recovery and discovery. 

I've read that the very pursuit of large goals is indeed the source of happiness, not so much as reaching the goal itself. I have found in the past that as much as I've enjoyed the achievement of completing an ultra-marathon, there is far more enjoyment in the joint pursuit of the goal with friends.

But a goal such as Getting Well just seems so unnecessary, as if this scenario could have been entirely avoided. It could not, as things needed to run their course in order to initiate a change. My point, though, is that I’m not enjoying the journey. Yes, I love learning about methods of healing and I do enjoy discovering flow activities. I've been systematically working through some old workbooks on learning to play the piano and read music. I've been hacking away at chapter one of my book that, quite honestly, stinks.

These activities are hard, as running regularly is too, especially as it gets darker and darker in the mornings approaching race day. Am I approaching a watershed part of my healing and that’s why I’m struggling so much? I keep looking for meaning in what I’m going through and what I’m discovering. A special friend drew my attention to this poem a few months ago, which seems to capture my journey.
“I would like to beg you, dear sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903, from Letters to a Young Poet
The phrase ‘there’s a reason’ made me think about how having faith gives you hope. I have strayed from my religious upbringing as it is my belief that religion is a sub-set of spirituality, with too many exclusionary man-made rules. Knowing the self is closely linked with spirituality and finding one’s purpose. I almost felt like I've had an epiphany this morning but didn't quite understand it. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that along with the flow, comes the ebb. Recovery isn't measured on a linear scale. On the whole, however, I feel that the tide is coming in.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Passion Pushers

I read an article today about how parents are doing their children a disservice by pushing them to find their passions. Pushing your kids to succeed in a way that helps them get the most out of themselves can be really beneficial. Pushing them to a point where they are unhappy or in negative stress, is just bad parenting.

I’m a huge fan of Elizabeth Gilbert. She knew that writing is what she wanted to do from early on in life. She has also commented on how some of her friends are multi-talented and how that can make it difficult to find your passion. Each path is probably worth exploring, at least a little until you’re ready to make a choice. Ideally, that choice should not be based on how much money you can make, or pressure from anyone, but rather on how you find meaning. 

People discover their passions at varying stages of their lives. I have enjoyed many areas in my past and currently my career path is changing, half way through my career. It might not even end up being that different from my past, but I will be sure that it’s implemented on purpose.  When my parents where choosing a career the options went something like doctor, dentist, lawyer, teacher, secretary. Now, the mere options are inexhaustible and with technology shaping the world so dramatically, the future is open to so much more.

I remember being asked interview questions like “Where will you be in ten years’ time?” I always thought that it’s a ridiculous question because we simply cannot predict the opportunities that come our way. That seems like quite a reactive thought to have, but early on in my career I found it difficult to have a strong vision. Only once I really had exposure to the things I enjoyed and didn't enjoy, did I start to form an idea of where I’m going. Now I also realise that I may not have pursued the correct passion, although I've had success. The Best Possible Future Self I developed at age 25 would look really different from the one I've created recently. 

It can be a minefield to navigate, and a decision can only be made once you know yourself well. I believe it takes courage to change career paths since it challenges your identity and how people see you. But it's naive to expect to know everything at the start. 

This week I watched a documentary on the band Queen. Watching footage of how they found inspiration for some famous songs, was truly amazing. The reading I've done on finding your flow emphasises the need for concentration, and typically that needs to happen while you’re alone. How wonderful that a group of four people, each bringing their special talents to the mix, can participate in a flow experience regularly to create something so beautiful.

I suppose I have had discussions in my work environment with Software Developers where we debated and discussed the solutions, and together found a great result that we could not have accomplished alone. Being a Managing Director does not accommodate that kind of flow experience unfortunately. Perhaps the Peter Principle is not the issue but rather the principle where you are promoted out of your flow. Maybe that’s why management is so grumpy and demanding.

Finding your passion can be automatic or it can take decades. As a parent, my role is to nurture them and to facilitate their path, not to push in a direction that I see. I'd like to be an enabler to them and if they take 30 years to find their passion, it was faster than me.

Finding flow can be a challenging exercise, that can take a really long time. No-one can really push you there – you do have to find it yourself. At 40 years old I’m still exploring aspects of myself, discovering what I loved when I was younger, and formulating ideas on what my future could look like. Although I’m not known for my patience, I believe rushing things would be a big mistake. My priority now is to recover to full health and while doing so, experience more things that I enjoy. Hopefully along the way my future career passion will come to light.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Social Comparison

I've read a lot about social comparison lately – the tendency to compare ourselves with others. This morning I was listening to the song Goat Girl by Tanya Donelly. 

I find it quite cute the way she says she wanted a Lion but she ended up with a Man who wanted a Gazelle. We wish we were wealthier, more elegant and thinner and we look at other spouses, wondering if they are more like Tanya’s Lion. We all have our faults and failures and people tend to put on their best side when in public. I can guarantee you that Lion you've been ogling also farts in the bed and leaves his underpants on the floor.

How much time do you spend wishing for your life to be different? Wishing for your partner to change or for that bigger house, car, better job, fancy holiday, more sparkly jewelry. None of those things can hurt but they are not the source of happiness. What others have is great for them but having more of anything won't make you happy. Research shows that it only temporarily lifts happiness and that you will return to your happiness default. When happiness windfalls happen, we adapt to the good fortune and incorporate it as our happiness norm. This is called hedonic adaptation.  

I know someone who was brought up in a poor household, with many siblings. They are not skilled but married into a wealthy marriage, after breaking up a family. With no boundaries, they enjoyed fulfilling every whim - holidays overseas, new cars annually, fancy food, country clubs and any material asset one would desire. And yet they are the unhappiest person I have ever known. 

One of the key ingredients of a happy life is gratitude. And in being content within yourself. Stop wishing for something else and start loving what's there. If you're wishing to be different, make some goals and take steps towards the better you. Many people want others to change but that's truly unrealistic. It's better to focus on improving yourself and you may, or may not, see a change in their behaviour. 

The path to happiness most certainly does not include social comparison. Indeed it is the opposite. Rather, switch your thoughts to gratitude and savouring, two proven strategies in enhancing our happiness. As the Goat Girl says, “I do my brutish best” and my husband loves me anyway. 

Friday, 10 April 2015

Keeping the Boredom at Bay

I've been wondering lately why I seem to avoid meditation and my daily nap, despite the fact that they are on my self-care roster as daily activities. There are days when I skip one of both of them. The plain truth is that it’s boring. There’s an opportunity cost in that I’m not learning, growing, advancing towards something. I suppose one could argue that the nap and the meditation speed up my recovery but it just feels boring to think of nothing and to sleep. At the end of each day I like to feel as if I’m closer to a goal or improving myself. But I suppose the reality is that I need a lot of days with nothing but rest in order to restore myself to full health.

And as usual for me, when there’s a problem, I need to find a solution. I’m doing well on my roster in that I’m ticking off the occasional responsibility item such as children dentist trips. But it does get monotonous. And I have read that any happiness-inducing strategy needs to change occasionally if you want to retain its effectiveness. It’s easy to get bored of scheduled acts of kindness and gratitude journaling. So today’s task is to plan for the next month as well as to get started on my book.

As I've mentioned in my post about goals, it’s important to set deadlines and to create sub-goals. I've created a rough outline of chapters for my book and have given myself a month on each chapter and a month to edit. So chapter one is due in a few weeks and it will be something new for me to tackle. As mentioned, one of my focus areas is to find flow activities and writing is certainly one of them. Any flow activity, by definition, needs to include a challenge that is slightly greater than skill, in order to keep your attention and to challenge you. It will be a difficult exercise to structure my ideas into a set of chapters that work well together.

I also realised that I’d like to inject some fun or creativity into my life. I've heard of an online course where you can learn to draw. I've signed up for a women’s retreat in May that should be an opportunity to be creative, meet other people and of course, to escape my children. And I think it’s really positive to be taking a step that puts my well-being first. As I mentioned in my last post, I need to speak up about the things I want to do and not to just let everyone else decide my activities for me.

The organiser is Taryn Harris, who also suffered from a stress-related condition and changed her life as a result. She is really inspiring to me and I’m so looking forward to meeting her and understanding the insights she can share.

A batch of books arrived today which always cheers me up. For a change, they are not related to happiness or self-help but are around rediscovering your creativity. This is just the catalyst I needed to shake things up and find a little optimism in the drudgery of rest. And yes, I will most certainly do my meditation and my nap today.

Passengers on the journey

Passengers on the journey