Throw those curtains wide…

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One day like this a year will see me right…

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I loved this Elbow song when I first heard it but didn’t give it much thought, just liked the idea that someone would be happy to have one good day, which, to be honest, didn’t seem very ambitious.

Then, 3 weeks ago, I found myself having one of these days, I even started humming the song and thought – ‘I’m having a day that would see me right’ (I wasn’t sure for how long at that point.)  One whole day where I felt happy, contented and at peace.  This happened on a recent holiday to Cornwall – I chose to have a day alone with my dog, just walking along the cliffs and it was heaven. There was nothing I had to do, nowhere I had to be, no one I had to talk to – just there on the cliff tops in the beautiful Autumn sun with my dog.

The effects of that day lasted a good two weeks, feeling better, more peaceful with myself.  It sounds a bit ‘new agey’ when I read this back, but this day was it.  It felt like I had just hit my reset button and instead of going back to factory settings I upgraded to a slightly happier and contented me.

I struggle with feeling at peace and contentment, there is usually a small voice telling me I should be doing something productive, or even just something else.  Like everyone, I do of course have calming moments – usually when I’m walking the dog, or running or gardening.  But these moments don’t last long – maybe an hour or so, or sometimes a little longer, a day at most, and then real life kicks in again (or my mind starts being difficult).  Even holidays don’t quite have the same effect.

What was it that made this day so special that it enabled me to reset for a while?  I think I can tie it down to a few core features

  • 1.    I was outside – amongst stunning natural surroundings
  • 2.    I was outside for a few hours
  • 3.    I was with my dog
  • 4.    I was alone (apart from the dog)
  • 5.    I was away from home – far enough way that it felt distant
  • 6.    I knew I didn’t need to check in with anyone or anything (work/home/amazon delivery…)

So now I’m wondering realistically what are the chances of this becoming more than a one off or once a year thing.  Is one day a year enough? What about one day a month or a week (probably pushing it but just think how calm and contented I could become if I had a whole day of resetting every week – seriously worth some thought.)

It’s also got me thinking more about mindfulness and what this really means.  I don’t meditate or practice mindfulness in any way but I’m guessing that this is what I partly experienced during that day, and I definitely need more of that.

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Taking control in Limboland

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IMG00230-20120325-1122There’s been a lot of talk recently about ‘taking control’. Teresa May wants to give us ‘more control over our lives.’ Brexiters talk about wanting to ‘get back control’ of the Country.  I don’t really know what any of this actually means in practice.  At the moment I feel like many people – waiting to see how things turn out. I feel as if we’ve all moved into Limboland for a while.

Of course we can’t ever really have control over our Country or even every aspect of our lives – we always live in a certain state of limbo. Sometimes things happen that we as individuals can’t do anything about other than accept or question – be it the economy, our health, our travel plans, our jobs etc…. Sometimes we do have to wait things out and live for a while in Limbo. 

I think limbo is a really interesting concept and a very real state of being. Recently I wrote about the importance of resilience, and living in limbo certainly requires resilience.  I find that arriving in Limboland gets harder to accept with age – I don’t have time to loll around in Limboland doing nothing!  Time is passing, I need to get out of limbo and do things (which things I still haven’t quite figured out).  

But the very essence of Limboland is that it will release you when it’s good and ready, how long you spend there is not something you can always control. You just have to be vigilant about keeping an open mind for the exit door.  So my advice about coping with the limbo situation –

Figure out first if you really are in limbo and all exits are locked or if you are sticking your head in the sand and failing to see the door that’s been opened a crack.

 A) If it’s lock down – then go with it, see it as a natural break in the madness of life, explore it, regroup, let time work it’s magic and save your energies for the next opportunity to move on, up and out. Sometimes we may be here for a short stay and sometimes a long one – just keep one eye on the door.

B) Sticking you head in the sand? Why, what’s scaring you? Do you need a change? Some help or guidance? A map or plan to help you negotiate your way out of the land of limbo?

Understanding which category you fall into each time can be a lifelong challenge, the land changes all the time, but hopefully recognising Limbo as a real place can help.  It’s ok to land here, you may need help to get off, and a revisit is highly likely.

January ladder climbing

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Pier sunset jan 2016So January and the media is full of new year, new you, how to be fitter, more successful, reach your goals, be happier, drink less (or not at all) etc. etc.  It’s quite exhausting and after my strivings of 2015 I’m ignoring all of it – apart from the happy bit – that’s always good to aim for.  So how do I start climbing those ladders.  Well according to a 75 year old Harvard study it’s all about being socially connected and having good relationships.  If that is all you do, you’ll be happier and healthier than most.  Check out the TED talk by Robert Waldinger. It’s an amazing study that followed 700 men from their 20’s through to their 90’s. Of the original 700, 60 are still actively engaged in the study.

This is backed up by Dr McCulloch, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation who credits being social and interconnected as top tips for health and happiness.  Other things to strive for include being connected with nature, having things to look forward to and doing nice things for others.

I reckon all of that is very possible and more than enough. 

 Last January I tried taking a picture outside each day, looking back at these I realise how beneficial that was to my mood.  The difference this January I think is in the mindset, that sometimes just having these moments each day is enough. One of these photos came up on Facebook today – ‘Sharing a memory of one year ago’ –  It was a lovely photo of the beach at sunset with my dog Arnie who died in May 2015.  I’ve taken another one today – same beach, sunset and with my puppy Monty.  New year, new motivations, less striving, just being, happy photo.  It’s a rung up a ladder.

Scaffolding and the circle of life

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Scaffolding

I walked past this building the other day as I do most days.  It used to be a big old house before the developers knocked it down to rebuild it into something else. Somewhere along the way the renovation has stopped and it’s been left in mid build.  As I walked past I thought – that’s what I feel like, a bit empty and in need of a rebuild yet held together by support.

I read a couple of blogs recently that resonated with this.  The first was about films being a good illustration of how life often emerges from the middle. We see an opening scene that starts at some point in a character’s life, often we begin in their middle and we go from there full of anticipation about what we are going to find out. It doesn’t matter where they started because we are engaging with them wherever they are now.

The second was about pressing the reboot button like you do on a computer, just a soft reboot to make small changes where things are no longer working for you.  It doesn’t have to be major, just a few adjustments, keeping the core functionality in place.

I like both of these ideas they strike me as an easy and engaging way to think about how we can choose to do things differently or change, even in really small ways.

I think when you get to middle age things naturally start changing around you, you can’t stop it and you have to adapt.  You lose people, age gaps become a little more apparent, priorities start to shift, time starts to race. I see this building as a representation of this – a down to earth gritty reality of the circle of life without the Disney sentimentality.  The emptiness that happens due to the losses and changes and the need to rebuild, reboot and adapt to these losses and changes. Sometimes the adaptations may need to be significant and sometimes tiny, but either way you have to keep developing and adapting to remain relevant, engaged and living.  With any luck the scaffolding you surround yourself with will keep everything solid enough to get through these changes and provide the confidence to reboot or restart your film.

It can feel like a long process, every time I walk past this building now it makes me question how far I’ve come in my own adjustments since I walked past it last time.  Sometimes I feel stuck and empty, other times I feel like I’ve secured a new brick or two and sometimes I think I could even take down some of the scaffolding. If this building ever gets finished I wonder what it will look like and how far I’ve got.

ps – the blog Raptitude.com is worth a read.

The Family in mid-life

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It’s not often a sentence stops me in my tracks but this one did –

‘What usually has the strongest psychic effect on the child is the life which the parents…have not lived.’ (Carl Jung).

This may not resonate with everyone, but the impact of that sentence really got me thinking. The chapter that goes with this sentence explores the importance of enabling all members of the family to be individuals within that unit and to follow their independent paths – parents as well as children.   It’s about positive role modelling within the family and creating reasonable expectations and boundaries for all members to thrive.  I do wonder how this model was played out in the homes of our parents and grandparents. All equal?  All able to explore their individuality?  What was the impact of the more traditional society back then on family members, particularly our mothers and grandmothers, before the rise of feminism and equality? And how did this affect our generation in terms of our role models within the family?

I think about this a lot and believe that for many women now in their 50’s we are the trailblazers in re-defining the family unit. Today our choices around starting a family have become much broader both in terms of the time/age we choose to start a family and the choices we have in how we operate within it.

For our generation being in your 50’s is a unique time for family life.  It’s a time to come to terms with decisions about your own family choices (for me, I find my decision not to have children no longer defines me in the way it did in my 30’s or 40’s).  Other friends in their 50’s are coping with a whole range of family situations – bringing up younger children, getting through the difficult teenage years and dealing with the empty nest.  It’s also a time when many of us are coping with a changing relationship with our own parents, coping with elderly parents or the death of our parents and the realignment of ourselves within that unit.

I talk a lot about trying to figure out my purpose, be more productive, make the most of my future, but I don’t think I had truly grasped that one of the fundamental issues to explore and accept is the past, the impact of family and how that may shape my future. I didn’t expect this to be so impactful at this age, at 50 you kind of hope you know this, but actually at 50 these issues are probably at their most raw and connection to family, whilst shifting, is more important than ever.

Outgrowing the midlife crisis

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I was browsing around the news stuff last week and an article entitled -‘Why so many of us experience a midlife crisis’ caught my eye. It was in the Harvard Business Review, (so a proper article) and discussed research that shows a midlife crisis can happen to anyone, even those in seemingly wonderful jobs.  It’s a natural phenomenon!  The decline starts in your early 30’s, bottoms out in your 40’s and mid 50’s and then it’s all good in your mid 50’s.  The interpretation of this phenomenon seems to be about optimism vs reality.  The young being so optimistic (ahh yes) and then as we age things don’t always go to plan and life basically gets us down, so many things we should have done or achieved.  Then hurrah – our brain learns to feel less regret about missed chances and we come to terms with our lot and so our life satisfaction increases again from the mid 50’s onwards.  Now of course this should not be taken as an excuse to sit it out until the mid 50 birthday (55?), counting down the days and wait for the optimist to reappear with a vengeance, but it is comforting to know that even the best of us face the same issues at midlife.

Another article in The Telegraph (probably a proper article) states that the age people hit their midlife crisis is getting younger, average age of 44 for women and 43 for men.  To put that in context, David Cameron was 43 when he became prime minister, which would explain a lot and is further evidence that he was/is probably not good for the Country.  But I digress (I’m easily distracted, see below)  – this lowering of the age of ‘the crisis’ is apparently due to our modern society and the stresses and strains felt by people setting out on their career paths at a much younger age.

So a couple of silver linings – firstly that I’m old enough to experience this midlife crisis at 50 and not 44 and secondly I’m hoping this anticipated emergence of enthusiasm with life might put a stop to all this midlife pondering. That might be quite nice; it’s been a while since I’ve quietened the brain and just got on with things.  I look forward to it.

PS – if you’re not sure if you’re in a midlife crisis check out this amusing list which includes:

  • A sudden desire to play an instrument
  • Hangovers that get worse and last more than a day
  • Finding you are easily distracted
  • Taking out a direct debit to a charity

Oh dear…………………..

Full list here – 

Re-setting to the midlife mind-set

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White gear wheels

I was watching the Imitation game the other night and learnt how the German code would be reset after 18 hours, so that all the work that the Enigma busting team did to try and break the code had to be restarted from scratch every 18 hours, nothing from the day before counted or helped at all.  It was like re-setting your day as if nothing from the previous day mattered.  This bit of the film really struck me and I found myself thinking about reinvention and letting go of the past.

I think that’s what I’m trying to do now, reaching 50, finding a way to be and live into middle age, trying to reinvent myself to a person that I have become over the years.

Chris McDougall – the ultra-runner – is interviewed in this month’s Runners World and has just turned 50. When he was a young journalist he interviewed a guy in his 50’s who said that ‘Your fifties will be the best time of your life. You’re done with the stupid shit. So if you’re not dead, you’re riding high on all the stuff you’ve learned.’  Chris said that’s how he feels now – how wonderful, I want a bit of that too.

So it’s not a full reinvention, it’s taking the best bits of what you’ve learnt and experienced and packaging them up to be the best You in middle age.

I am struggling with my reinvention, or my progression into middle age, what it means, what I can do, what I have done, what difference I can make or have made.  For the first time I am accepting that this might take a bit of time, it’s not something I can figure out overnight. It is a shift into a new way of being.  I don’t want to be down with the kids, trying to stay young doesn’t work! But I do want to be relevant, up to date, engaged with new ideas and productive. I would also like to think that I have picked up some very useful stuff over the time I’ve been on this planet, some of which might be useful to pass on.

I may not run ultramarathons but I would like to share Mr McDougall’s view, that your fifties are the best time of your life – that sounds like a very happy reality.