NYE and Snakes and Ladders

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snakes and ladders

So 2016 awaits.  I tend to find NYE a bit scary, I worry about the year ahead.  I feel a bit differently this year as 2015 wasn’t great and I do really want to be more optimistic about this next one.  The old game of snakes and ladders came to mind today when I was driving thinking about nothing in particular.  I reckon the person who invented that was quite the philosopher because life really is like that.  Hoping for ‘the best year ever’ seems rather naïve to me now, no year can be completely free from the snakes, we just hope for a few more ladders to be thrown in at the right time.  So I hope for more ladders, or maybe to be better at spotting the ladders to climb up.

When I think back to my posts of last year, I seem to have done an awful lot of reflecting on life and whilst I’m a great believer in reflection, I think there is also a time to think less, and for me that time is now.  I will admit to being quite low for a lot of this year and whilst the reflections helped it’s time to try and move past the reflective stage and get on with things.

So I’m not intending to change the world in 2016.  I’m going to try not to be too hard on myself or spend too much time trying to figure out the meaning of life.   I haven’t figured out my potential changes for 2016 but I will do and they will be active, fun and new – new stuff is good, very good. Bring in the new.

So I drink a toast to ladders in 2016.

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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IMG00169

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.

Distractions – procrastination or normal life?

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Orty pier

I was reading an article about the danger of distractions and how, if you get distracted from a task, it can take an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task.  This was an article about working productively, so more about the everyday work distractions (email/colleagues/facebook etc).  But what if you find yourself distracted away from normal life in general, for more than a few minutes or hours or days.  Let’s say hypothetically that you were all set to head toward some goal or other and then you find that you have been distracted by some unknown force and pulled off course for around a year with no sign of said goals being started, let alone achieved.  What on earth do you do then?  And what does this mean?

This is what I’m pondering at the moment. In a month I’ll be 51 – it seems I was only worrying about 50 a few days ago. Time is ticking away and I don’t feel any closer to being more productive, making a difference to the world, finding my purpose or in fact channelling my time toward any other worthy life enhancing groundbreaking direction.

When I hit 50 I was going to be someone, but it seems I’ve been a bit slow off the mark. Is my distraction a sign that I’ve been lazy, have lost my mojo, picked the wrong goals or just been derailed by life events?  Or should I give up worrying, drop the life enhancement theme and just get on with normal life?  I really need to find out so I’ve bought some more books – ‘What Matters Most: Living a More Considered Life’ and ‘Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life’ – hopefully I’ll have read them before I’m 52.

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.

Time Marches on

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March 2015

My goodness, it’s nearly time to put the clocks forward, it’s officially Spring, how on earth did that happen so quickly? I’m sure I had lots of important goals and things to produce and do before we reached Spring.  This time of year brings the promise of new beginnings and new stuff to do and alas has also set off another midlife panic of how quickly this year is going and what have I done? Then I go into a tizzy and do nothing, and then worry that I’m doing nothing.

I read that the menopause can make some women wake up in the night with anxiety attacks about life passing by – well seriously I have that all the time, not just at night.  There is some comfort to being able to blame my hormones for my mood – which I can do apparently for the next 7 years – although I secretly think that this 7 year menopause is only the destiny of Daily Mail readers.  But to be fair to hormones, I don’t think they are really the cause of my current midlife debates with myself.

A friend recently suggested I take a few days holiday from thinking, so I have and I’ve loved it, felt calmer and enjoyed just sitting in the garden daydreaming.  Of course my week is almost up and I’m wondering if I wasted it, but that’s the little voice starting up again.  It’s made me think more about the whole mindfulness movement and how I can quiet the voices and enjoy just being.  I’m sure it’s possible – I use to feel guilty about not doing anything productive on long train journeys, but I’m over that now, so that’s a good start. Fortunately here are some experts who agree and reckon we should all stare out of windows more often. Read it here  – The importance of staring out the window.

I did some CPD a couple of weeks ago and we were asked how we would spend our time if we had a year to live.  You would have thought that question would have turned me into a complete wreck – a year to achieve goals I haven’t figured out yet?  But actually I decided I just wanted to be outside more and chill out. Anyroadup – I’ve bought another book – Stephen Levine ‘A year to live’ a snappy title about how to live this year as if it was your last and living each day mindfully. I’m not sure it’s going to be a page turner, but I’ll give it a go and see if it helps stop the midlife panic for a while.  I’ll let you know.