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.


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