Thursday, 28 April 2011

Welcome to 'From Forty With Love'

After much pondering and procrastination, I've launched a website called 'From Forty With Love' where I will continue to blog and write from my heart.

I'd love you all to come and follow me over there. I tried, I think, to move my subscribers over automatically but I'm not sure that's worked. Nor am I sure whether that's very polite! You might have been happy subscribing here but might not want to subscribe over there. But I'd love it if you chose to keep following my journey and I'd love it if you wanted to share your story for 'From Forty With Love'. Read all about it and feel free to get in touch!

Thank you!

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Coming soon: From Forty With Love

Lent and my Lenten experiment - abstaining from negative thoughts about my body, appearance and achievements for 40 days - officially came to an end on Easter Sunday. Unlike giving up chocolate, bread or crisps for Lent, however, this doesn't end here. What I've learned from this blog and this experiment is that self-acceptance, self-love, self-care and gratitude do not come naturally to someone with a long history of self-criticism, self-harm, self-neglect and negative thinking. What is required is a gentle, daily effort to be kind to myself, to try to practice gratitude at all times and in all circumstances and to love and appreciate myself, just as I am. I have to say, though, that I'm proud of myself for starting this blog, for writing on it almost every day and for my diligence and commitment in putting together some pretty decent posts - if I do say so myself!

One great by-product of this blog that I hadn't really anticipated is the community I've found. I have connected with so many amazing individuals and organisations that are championing body confidence and self-love and challenging the thought processes and the industries that feed low self-esteem and self-hate. This blog has also given me confidence in my own creativity, my writing and the value of my experience - it's a tentative confidence but a confidence all the same. For all of the above, I'm deeply grateful. And I'm equally grateful to all those who've read this blog, commented on it, connected with me or supported this endeavour. I hope you learned something too or found a little more freedom from whatever you're struggling with. And let's face it, we all struggle with something!

But since the journey continues, so does my writing. 'From Forty With Love' is the next step in my blogging journey. I've used that title once before - on my 40th birthday post. Very soon, it'll be the name of a new website and I hope to be able to move my registered readers over there with the help of technology - and a technologically minded person! - or that you'll want to come and join me there anyway. 'Just As I Am' documented the first 40 days (or 46 days if you count the Sundays through Lent) of my self-acceptance journey and it was fitting that I turned 40 during that period. But I know this year is going to be one of great transition, much learning, some changing and more and more freedom around the things that have held me back in the past and I'd really like to share my progress. I'd also really like to share the thoughts and stories of other women of a similar age. So 'From Forty With Love' will be a space for sharing experiences around some of the issues that are peculiar to this time in our lives - anything from career change to fertility to exercise to spirituality to relationships. Hopefully we'll learn from each other and the site will be a space where other women can go to for hope, inspiration, knowledge or a good old giggle. So more about that very soon.

It's interesting, however, that to get this site up and running I have to challenge some of those very things I've been blogging about over the past 40 days and that I hope to write about in the future - the very things that have often held me back from taking a leap of faith. Not so much the body image stuff but the low self-esteem, the perfectionism, the fear of making a decision and making a mistake and the procrastination. To get over my fear and my procrastination, I've been checking out the words of best-selling author, entrepreneur and motivational speaker Seth Godin. Is watching videos on YouTube procrastinating?! Anyway, if you've never come across him, check out this short video in which he describes his theory about the 'lizard brain' - the source of our angst, fear, limited thinking and inability to 'ship' or complete a project.

And for a much more amusing take on Seth Godin's theories, check out this cartoon video.

Whichever video you prefer, the message is pretty much the same: get on and do it.

But before I do (I'd put a smiley face here if I didn't think it looked unprofessional), a word about maintenance. Why is maintenance so hard? Am I alone in finding maintenance hard? Is this a female thing or do men also struggle with maintenance? I'm talking about maintaining anything from our physical body to our car. So on Monday morning I washed my scooter and checked and topped up its oil. It hadn't been washed for about 2 years, maybe more, and I usually leave the oil check to the mechanic at the time of its annual service. Now, scooters don't use much oil so I'm not being overly reckless but I had been scootering around for a good six months wondering if I needed to top up the oil, living with a little bit of anxiety, living very slightly on the edge. And how good did I feel once I'd given it a good clean and checked the oil? It felt really good. I felt like a grown-up, like a responsible person who looks after her belongings. I even added a touch of oil to my bicycle chain although I ran out of time so couldn't clean the bike properly. Still, the chain no longer squeaks so that's also a result.

The episode made me ponder how difficult I find maintenance, and that includes my physical body. I've always been good at the exercises that might give me an adrenalin high or lose lots of calories, but when it comes to the slow, methodical ankle or Pilates exercises that are essential to strengthen my joints and muscles, that's where I fall down. I know I've mentioned this before but I think it's worth mentioning again.

Now, in the spirit of this blog, I can accept where I am today. I can accept that, until now, I've never been very good at maintenance or at doing anything slow and gradual that doesn't give instant results. But I can also take steps to change. I'm learning that maintenance is good - for the scooter, the body and the soul. Now I smile every time I look at my scooter instead of groaning at the grime. And I can ride it in the knowledge that the oil is topped up and I've taken care of it. Taking care of ourselves feels really good. I guess it's just about getting into the habit of doing it more often.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Day 40: We have too much to offer

We have too much too offer, the need is too great and it's far too important ... to hide our light under a lamp, to let our fears control us, to allow our low self-esteem to hold us back and to waste our precious time and energy thinking we're not good enough, thin enough, pretty enough or acceptable enough.

That's the conclusion I came to today after listening for hours to inspirational women describe how they walked through their fears, conquered their feelings of inadequacy, overcame great loss or recovered from emotional lows to set up social enterprises that are impacting human rights, poverty or climate change, saving wildlife, building peace in conflict zones or giving neglected children a lifeline and a future. I've been at an event called Women On Fire in Central London where amazing women from scientists to poets to drummers to singers to social entrepreneurs to environmentalists came together to share their wisdom and celebrate women's power and our connectedness to Earth. I laughed, I danced and was moved to tears by quite a few of the speakers.

As someone with a passion to write about women who are doing amazing things around the world, today really got me thinking, particularly about the whole body image thing. Of course, negative body image is a huge problem and, as I've mentioned a few times, the statistics show body hate and eating disorders are on the rise around the globe and are having devastating consequences on young women and men, stealing their joy and even taking their lives. But today's event showed me the bigger picture. It gave me so many powerful reasons to put my past - the body obsession, compulsive eating, low self-esteem and so on - behind me, in order to move on to much more important things.

I feel it's time that I, and that all of us if we aren't already, start using our gifts and talents in a way that will have a positive impact on other people or the planet. I know many women who are already doing this (I've included a few in this blog) and I met many more today but I know there are others of us out there who are held back by fear. In my case, I have my writing, my languages and my communication, public speaking and leadership skills that all deserve to be put to good use. It would be selfish not to share what I have for the good of others. I'm not quite sure how that'll happen in the long-term but I can begin with what I know - storytelling. I can pitch some of the stories of these amazing female social entrepreneurs and human rights activists to newspapers and magazines as well as putting them on my own website. And to do that, I'll need to put my own fears - of failure, of rejection - and my perfectionism to one side.

Of course, it's not about changing the world over night. As an extremist, that's kind of how I think. But it's been pointed out to me that my self-critical voice is still present at times so I'll note here that I accept my journey to date and that, going forward, it's about balance, doing what I can while practicing moderation, self-care and self-acceptance in all things - or as much as possible. 

I find it interesting that I began this blog after attending the Endangered Species women's summit in London, which launched an international campaign to preserve the female body against a barrage of self-hate and body obsession, fed by the media, fashion and cosmetic surgery industries. But then I ended this Lenten period at Women on Fire, which had a different focus. This was about taking action on a different set of problems facing humanity today: conflict and war, global poverty, human and civil rights abuses, child neglect and the degradation of the planet and wildlife habitats. I also have a part to play in this bigger picture and I need all the time, energy, self-belief and self confidence I can muster to play my part effectively. And that includes the time and energy I would otherwise spend worrying about how I look or how thin I am. As I said, we have too much too offer, the need is too great and it's far too important not to get involved.

Of course, I can also play a role in the body image debate, as I hope I have through this blog, and freeing women and men from addictive and compulsive behaviours is an equally worthwhile and vital cause and one I'm passionate about. But if I can free myself from my own prison of negative thinking, body obsession, perfectionism and fear of failure and put my talents to good use, I'll be a much more powerful example and a better role model to those who follow on behind me. Again, while practicing balance and self-acceptance (I have to keep reminding myself it's progress not perfection!).

So today is the last day of Lent and officially the last day of my experiment. But self-acceptance is for life, not just for Lent! I will continue to blog here although this blog will - once I confront my own fear of failure or of making mistakes - more than likely morph into something else in the coming days or weeks, something I hope that will combine the themes of self-acceptance and freedom from negative thinking with the idea of inspiring and mentoring others through the stories of remarkable women from all walks of life. Easter, after all, is a time of resurrection, of new life and new beginnings, so it's only right that I should think about starting something new.

In the meantime, I'll end on a quote I heard at today's event from a poem by thirteenth century Persian poet Jalal ad Din-Rumi: "Why do you stay in prison when the door is so wide open?" The door is wide open. I hope I can walk through it.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Day 39: It takes some shaking

It's late in the evening but it's the penultimate day of Lent so I thought I'd just write a very brief post. While I'll be carrying on with this blog next week - and until I'm ready to morph it into something else - tomorrow is officially the last day of the 40-day self-acceptance experiment. So how has it gone? Well, I'll say a little bit more about that tomorrow (assuming I have time to post!) but for today, I just wanted to say thank you to Nick of Wearehuman who commented on my last post, gently pointing out that perhaps the self-critical voice was still present at times and could be heard through my writing. And of course he's right. I know on occasion I've hit the publish button on a blog post but been left wondering just how self-accepting I had actually been in what I'd written. So my conclusion is that it's probably going to take more than 40 days to reverse decades of self-criticism and negative thinking. Habits can be difficult to break. I'm proud, however, that I've made a good start over the past 40 days and have chipped away at some of the thought patterns and behaviours that don't serve me. And it's progress not perfection that counts!

So tomorrow I'm going to the Women on Fire event in London and it sounds like it'll be very timely. The purpose of Women on Fire, according to its website, is "to encourage women to live the power of gentleness, to bring tenderness to all walks of life, personal and professional, but most especially to themselves". That sounds right up my street and very much in line with the sentiment of this blog. While it's going to be hard for me to be indoors all day tomorrow if it's glorious sunshine outside (I might have to escape to the sun now and then), I'm looking forward to listening to and connecting with some inspirational women. Maybe I'll see some of you there!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Day 38: Nothing ventured, nothing gained

I've been thinking about the topic of risk-taking as this Lent period comes to an end and I ponder where next for this blog and my writing. As I wrote in my Day 17 post 'Trusting your gut', in the past I was always very good at taking physical risks: jumping off bridges into rivers, jumping out of planes with a parachute, leaping off bridges with bungee cords or hitchhiking on my own on long, lonely Australian highways. Some of these were calculated risks, others were acts of recklessness, perhaps even acts of defiance, borne out of a sense of invincibility that bordered sometimes on stupidity. I was always looked after but I had a few scares - a couple of armed muggings in Mexico City in the late 1990s, for example, after taking unlicensed taxis off the street at night despite knowing full well that that was dangerous.

As I've grown older, calmer and more sensible, I've become much more cautious. That's not a bad thing when it comes to avoiding danger but sometimes I think I've swung to the opposite end of the scale - I am a person of extremes after all - and been over careful. But one of the conclusions I've come to thanks to this Lenten blog is that I'd like to take more risks, I'd like to operate more freely, with less fear, in my work, my relationships and my activities. So I'm hoping after Easter I'll put that into practice, with this blog and whatever I decide to turn it into (I'll keep you posted!), with my freelance journalism career and in many other areas of my life.

After all, it's only me holding me back. There's no one stood behind me tugging at my shirt, stopping me from moving forward. I'm the only one who puts limits on my potential. As an aside, a friend told me a funny joke about potential the other day, a joke told by a TV comedian whose name escapes me. I've never been any good at retelling jokes, and especially not without having heard the original delivery, but it was something about our potential being this bright, shining, mystical thing that hovers above us, something we look upon with admiration, knowing it's amazing. But don't, the comedian apparently said, go anywhere near it whatever you do, or you might discover it's not all that bright, shining, mystical or amazing after all. You might discover it's actually pretty dull. As I said, that was a joke. I actually think we all have amazing potential - some of us put it to good use, others partially put it to good use and others, unfortunately, keep their potential at a safe distance!  

When thinking of people who fulfilled their potential Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros spring to mind, the photographers who were killed on the frontline in Libya yesterday. Hetherington had been nominated for an Oscar for his documentary on Afghanistan, Restrepo, and had won the World Press Photo of the Year Award a few times. I'm generally moved when journalists are killed, being one myself. I never really fulfilled my childhood ambition of frontline war reporting (for years I wanted to be Kate Adie) although I have been to a few turbulent places and been in some scary situations. And I've worked with and come across many fabulous and courageous photographers. I'm finding Hetherington's death particularly moving. He was from my hometown of Liverpool, a year older than me it seems. And he'd also studied at Oxford. Had I ever come across him, back home, at university or in some far-flung place? I was particularly moved by the words of his girlfriend, Idil Ibrahim, who called him her 'Timinator', and the tributes that flooded in from his colleagues. There's such camaraderie in that line of work.

When it comes to taking risks, these photographers were certainly out there, fulfilling their potential and working at something they felt incredibly passionate about. I guess the only consolation is that they died doing something they really loved.

Going back to the topic of risk-taking outside the war zone, there are plenty of great quotes out there on risk. Here's one I like by T.S. Eliot: "You have to risk going too far to discover how far you can really go." But then there is also value in weighing up a risk before stepping out as French historian Andre Malraux said: "Often the difference between a successful person and a failure is not one has better abilities or ideas, but the courage one has to bet one one's ideas, to take a calculated risk - and to act."

To end on a brighter note, I was reminded by a good friend the other day how women love to talk. Her husband had been wondering what on earth she and I talked about for an hour or so on the phone, especially when we were going to be meeting up in the near future. I remember my Mum saying that to me when I was a teenager - why was I talking for hours on the phone when I'd be seeing my friend the next day? I guess when she was a teenager she didn't have the luxury of long phone calls. But yes, most of us women love to talk - and that's one of the many things I love about being a woman!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Days 36 & 37: The periphery of passion

I can't believe it's the 37th day of Lent today. Well done to all of you who've given up chocolate for Lent or some other foodstuff or behaviour you're particularly attached to. Every now and then, I have to remind myself what I've given up and what this blog is all about. I've been abstaining for Lent from negative thoughts about my body, appearance and achievements. I certainly think I've made progress on the first two. I'm learning to challenge those critical thoughts when I look in the mirror or see photos of myself I think I look fat in. I think I've still got a long way to go before I feel totally comfortable in feminine dresses or revealing my legs and arms, but at least I can go ahead and do it, even if I don't feel totally comfortable.

The achievements thing is another matter. I do tend to be very hard on myself - about what I've achieved or haven't or the decisions I've taken or 'mistakes' I've made. But what I am learning is that every 'mistake' (I'm using the inverted comma because I'm ambivalent about the word) is a learning experience. Admittedly, sometimes a painful one, or an expensive one, but a learning experience all the same. And sometimes things I think were mistakes actually turn out not to be, if I wait around a little to see how things pan out. The key is not to panic and to have a little patience (not one of my biggest virtues, as I mentioned on Days 31 & 32).

So I found myself in a bit of a panic earlier this week, wondering what to do with this blog, whether to just keep blogging here or turn it into a homemade site or pay a designer to create one for me, what to call it and how to focus it. But then I did that miraculous and totally underrated thing of asking for help. I put my frustration and my questions out there to friends, family and strangers and got some encouraging comments and tips in return - and at the same time was able to offer a bit of encouragement to someone else.

I was reminded to bring it back to basics and this kind of ties in with my last blog post about discovering our passions and following them. I know I can often get lost on the periphery of my passions. So I'll debate for hours in my head and with friends what to do with my blog or what to call a new site and will forget to ask myself what it's all about, and more to the point, what is it about it that I enjoy? What makes my heart sing? That's the key because, paraphrasing Frederick Buechner's quote from my last post, when I'm doing something that makes my heart sing I'm most likely to have a positive impact on others and the world around me.

So, for me, this blog has been a fantastic space and platform to write from my heart after years of writing from my head, to share my experience in the hope someone will be encouraged by it or learn from it and to get creative with words, links, photos and video. What I'm truly passionate about is sharing my own soul and that of others. That might sound a bit heavy but what I mean is sharing our deepest passions, fears, hopes, joys and disappointments, with a view to learning from each other so that we can all live fuller, more meaningful lives and make choices in line with our passions.

Yes, even to me this all sounds very touchy feely and I'm also wondering if it isn't a little arrogant to think my experience or writing might help others. But I guess that's what my instinct tells me, as well as some lovely comments I've received over the course of this blog. Whatever this blog becomes, I hope it'll continue to be a space where I can write from my heart and share my experiences and those of others. Maybe it'll just be a platform from where I can pitch articles to magazines with a far greater audience. If that's the case, that's fine too. And it has occurred to me that it's much easier to blog than do the scarier thing of ringing up a magazine editor and proposing a story and then writing it to fit their style and format. However, I think I owe it to myself to get moving in that area also.

I've just read something for some freelance book reviews I do. It's called 'A Game Plan For Life. The Power of Mentoring' by the late legendary college basketball coach John Wooden, who died last year aged 99. No, I'd never heard of him either before I opened the book, but then I've never been much of a basketball fan. It's funny, I do book reviews now and then and the book generally turns out to be very timely. So this book was all about absorbing knowledge from others and passing on wisdom and experience. He also had a fantastic definition of success: "Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the best effort to become the best of which you are capable". I like that. And I especially like the idea of peace of mind as I feel I haven't had that much of it over the years.

This post has been very pensive so I'll end with a few thoughts on body image. Firstly, the Barbie debate. I mentioned the debate about Barbie as a terrible role model for girls or as a harmless doll on Day Thirteen via a post by Natasha Devon of Body Gossip. Personally, it's not something I've given a huge amount of thought to but I probably should. A lot of other people have thought a lot about Barbie and her impact, however.

Galia Slayen, an American student from Oregon, built a life-sized representation of Barbie to raise awareness around eating disorders. The Barbie stands about 6 feet tall with a 39" bust, 18" waist and 33" hips. Galia, who wrestled with anorexia for a year, said she didn't blame her childhood doll for her disease but Barbie did impact the way she felt about herself. Galia dressed her life-size Barbie in a size 00 skirt left over from her own anorexic days. I'd never heard of size 00 to be honest but according to various answers on the Internet, it's equivalent to a size 2 in the UK, although a size 2 actually doesn't exist in the UK. You can read more about the Barbie debate on this women's rights website Care2.

And finally, I'm pleased to say my weekend in the countryside cycling, camping, listening to live music and standing around laughing under the stars for hours helped a lot with my baby angst and filled me with a lot of gratitude for the things I do have in my life as well as excitement about a summer of more fun. But for anyone who is struggling with the whole baby thing and not just in their heads, I wanted to introduce a lovely lady and a friend of mine. Anya Sizer is The Fertility Coach and she offers help, support and advice to women and couples who are struggling to get pregnant.

So onwards and upwards. Working, planning, laughing, exercising, enjoying nature and practicing patience and self-acceptance in all areas.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Days 34 & 35: Do more of what you love

It isn't rocket science and you've probably heard it many times before. I know I have. But I re-discovered this past weekend that the theory of doing more of what you love really is one of the keys to contentment. I also discovered that I deserve to challenge that voice in my head that frequently tries to deter me from doing the things I love - and often succeeds - by telling me that I'm too tired or that I'm too busy or that I'm not fit enough or that my back will hurt or that it'll be too cold or that I won't get any sleep and therefore won't enjoy myself and won't be in good shape to do my work the following week. You know the voice I mean?

That voice was trying hard to get my attention last week and almost succeeded. I had accepted a last-minute invite from a friend to go to the one-day Honeyfest music festival at the Barge Inn Community Project in Wiltshire on Saturday to hear Damien Rice, The Magic Numbers, Laura Marling and others play to a small audience of 1500 in the grounds of a pub by the side of a canal. What more could I wish for? On top of that, we'd camp overnight and go mountain biking on Sunday - two of my favourite activities. I said 'yes' in a flash. But then, towards the end of the week, swamped by a challenging work project, tired after being kept awake by anxiety about a variety of things, worried about the weather and about my aching lower back, I started to wonder whether I was really up to the weekend's activities. What if my back seized up? Did I have all the right equipment? Wouldn't I be better sleeping in on Saturday morning after a stressful week? When on earth was I going to pack? What if it rained all weekend? How was I going to get my bike and myself through the London traffic to Paddington station? Fortunately, though, I decided to ignore that voice and all those questions and just go with the flow. And as it turned out, I packed in no time early on Saturday morning, discovered I had all the appropriate gear - panniers, light-weight tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, cycling shorts etc - and made it to Paddington with 45 minutes to spare. OK so I did have to charm the guard to let me on the train with my bike as I hadn't reserved and the bike coach was full but he gave in to my pleas and finally let me squeeze on. After a comfortable train journey, I got off the train at Pewsey in Wiltshire and cycled off to meet my friends at the campsite. No problem at all. So what on earth was all that worrying about?

Have bicycle, will travel
And of course, once I was on the move, I couldn't imagine why I'd ever questioned the trip. I felt such a feeling of freedom, of glorious independence and self-sufficiency, as I got off the train and trundled along to the campsite with all my belongings on the back of my bike - asking directions from a few friendly locals as I went. For me, this is what being 40, single and childfree is all about. This is what I hope to be doing much more of instead of pondering the 'what ifs?' or coveting someone else's life. I guess that voice that tells me I need more rest or that I'm not up to a challenge will always be there. It's my job to ignore it or simply say 'thanks for sharing' and carry on with my plans. That said, for me it's not about saying 'yes' to everything - balance will always be key.

Damien Rice performing at Honeyfest
So back to Pewsey and the Honeyfest. The weekend proved to be a fantastic mix of new friends, great live music, exercise, the outdoors and laughter, a lot of laughter. Damien Rice was superb. Laura Marling's voice and music were powerful and moving. The Magic Numbers made us all sing and smile. Ok, so it was absolutely freezing in my tent at night, even with my miniature hot water bottle. I haven't been that cold for a long time and I didn't get very much sleep. But it really didn't matter. Bright sunlight warmed our tents in the morning and the sun shone all day on Sunday. I spent the day cycling with two friends through beautiful countryside looking out onto one of Wiltshire's white chalk horses. We stopped at a garden centre for lunch and freshly made scones and then I cycled back to the station, put my bike on the train and had a pleasant journey home. Getting off at Paddington and cycling through the London traffic, I admit, was a bit of a shock to the system but I was soon on the Regent's Canal cycle path that takes me most of the way home and imagining I was back in the countryside. 

Yes, I ended up absolutely exhausted but it was well worth it. My back ached a little after a day on a bike but less, it seems, than at the end of a week sat over my computer. I admit there was a feeling of anti-climax and loneliness as I returned to my flat after such a busy and social weekend but that's OK, especially as I have plenty more weekends like the last one to look forward to and a new determination to do much more of what I love.

As I started this post, I did a quick Google search for 'do more of what you love' and stumbled across the site Zenhabits - one of the top 25 blogs in the world with a readership of more than 200,000, apparently. Zenhabits is about "finding simplicity in the daily chaos of our lives". The latest post is entitled 'The world needs you to do what you love' written by Jonathan Meade of Illuminated Mind, a site designed to help and encourage people to be their authentic selves and follow their dreams. In his post, Jonathan says "the greatest change happens because of people that are deeply passionate, and have a great love for the work they do" and he goes on to list seven things you can do to help you find out what you're passionate about and find a way to get paid to do it. I love this post and it's really timely for me as that's where I'm at right now: discovering what I'm truly passionate about and finding a way to build a life around that. This blog and whatever I turn it into (I hope to have a clear plan by the end of this week) is very much part of that process. Of all the various things I do right now in my journalism career, this blog is what I'm most passionate about - it keeps me up at night and gets me out of bed in the morning.

The idea that we'll only truly have an impact on the world if we're doing what we're passionate about ties in with the ethos of Could You?, the New York-based non-profit I wrote about on Day 33. On Could You?'s home page you'll see a quote by American writer and theologian Frederick Buechner
that defines Could You?'s mission: "True vocation joins self and service; it comes from the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need." I totally support that idea - that if we find the intersect between our passions and a need in the world, we'll be both fulfilled and have a positive impact.

So how do we find out our true passions? I think we all kind of know what they are but they're often buried under stress, worry, fear and habit. I, for one, am financially insecure, which often stops me from taking the leap of faith required to fulfil my dreams. I'm also pretty afraid - of success and failure - and am a habitual worrier. I'm working on changing all this while at the same time realising, as I've written before, that fear rarely leaves us - what's important is to learn to walk through it.

I do believe, though, that the Could You? trip I went on last summer helped edge me towards discovering my passions and following them - through the relationships I formed and the experiences I had as well as some practical exercises we did. So at the end of the one-week Mozambique trip, we went on safari in South Africa, to a private game reserve on the edge of the Kruger National Park. There, we saw some amazing landscapes and got up close with lions, leopards, giraffes and elephants but we also did a lot of processing of what we'd seen and felt on our week-long immersion trip to one of the world's poorest countries. One of the exercises we were asked to do involved flicking through magazines and cutting out words and pictures that spoke to us and then gluing them onto a piece of paper and folding the paper into a little book. This created a kind of collage of our lives, hopes and dreams. It was great fun but also, I think, quite revealing, particularly as it was done spontaneously, without much thought or analysis. I look at my book frequently and really cherish it. I picked out far more words than pictures and created a collage of words and phrases.

The front page of my life collage
On the front page, in bright red letters, is the word 'blogging' and believe me, at the time, I had no idea that I actually wanted to blog or would end up doing so. The phrase 'Life. It's what you put in' is also on the front, as is 'women'. There's also a picture of a girl on a mountain biking safari and a dog by the beach - I'd really love to have a dog and live by the beach, and I believe I will. On the other pages, there are more dogs, some diamond rings (I was planning on buying myself one although I've decided the stone will be aquamarine - my birth stone), two friends by a beach with another dog, a mother swinging her child on a beach, a man bungy jumping, two couples and a tropical island. There's also a picture of smiling lips with the word 'heartbreak' written above, which I believe ties in with my desire to touch into the heartbreaks behind our smiles. My smile has been noted many times over the years but few people got a glimpse of the heartbreak or the pain behind it. There are many more words and phrases in my book, including 'Don't tie yourself in knots', 'Sport', 'Partner', 'Everyone's an original', 'Exceptional Journey', 'Grateful', 'Because you're worth it', 'Creativity', 'EverPure', 'Go forth', 'Bring on the baby', 'Chase What Matters', 'Workout', 'Let's do amazing' and 'Inspired by you'.

Another page of my life book
Now, you may think this is just a random collection of cool phrases but every time I look at it, I'm amazed by how close these words, phrases and pictures are to my heart, hopes and dreams. I'm also amazed at how closely they tie in with the topics of this blog and the thought processes that have fed into it. Throughout my life, I've felt very unsure of myself, of who I am and what I want, but this little exercise and the collage that resulted from it revealed to me, in a really comforting way, that I do know my own heart, my dreams and my passions and probably always have. I'm glad I'm finally letting them out into the open and having the courage to follow them.