Tag Archives: goals

Pooh Sticks and Perfect Intentions

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Happy 2015, dear reader.  How are you?  I hope your festive season was joyful, relaxing and as sparkly as possible.

I’m sure that everyone’s Christmas experience is unique, but there are a couple of thoughts that most (if not all) of us have towards the end of the holiday season:

1) I love my family, but I could probably go a few weeks/months/decades without seeing them now.
2) I have GOT to eat a salad.

Ending the year with good intentions for the future leads me neatly onto my main topic for today, which is new year’s resolutions.  Of course, many people don’t want or need the excuse of January 1st to try new things or give stuff up.  In some ways it seems bizarre to block out twelve months of our lives and classify them as having been collectively “good” or “bad”, and to make decisions about our future based on the events that took place during that time.  Is that why the tradition of making resolutions prevails in our culture?  Because we need to believe that we can divide our lives into units of what we have done and what we are going to do?

There is nothing wrong with doing this, of course, or with most traditions in general.  Tradition – as the characters of Fiddler on the Roof know very well – is extremely important.  Traditions can be religious, cultural or local.  They can even be something that only you and one other person abide by, such as the annual game of pooh sticks that I play on Hungerford Bridge with my friend Paul.  We do it on New Year’s Day, and each stick represents a resolution for the year ahead.  The original idea was that the person whose stick came out first was most likely to keep their resolution.  This year it was so windy that our sticks kept flying back to hit us in the knees, so we had to improvise slightly.  (“Shall we just go to the other side of the bridge and chuck them downriver?”  “Er…yeah.”)

I don’t know about you, but Paul and I usually find that our resolutions stay fairly similar year on year: there’s always a resolution about learning to manage our money, and another about improving ourselves in general.  There also tends to be something project-based (Paul: “Build a PC!”) and an optimistic love life goal (Me: “Sort it out”).  In some ways it is disheartening to think that our aims are inching rather than leaping forward, but then who can be expected to completely change their lives in just one year?  Or two?  Or three?  Or…oh…I’m spotting a problem here…

People’s resolutions stay similar because we are only human.  No matter how many years we are given or how good our intentions are at the time of resolve, we will probably never achieve complete perfection.  Paul, God bless him, never criticises me for the fact that “clear my overdraft” has been on my resolutions list for the last three years in a row, and I appreciate that.  He does remind me of my successes, e.g. last year I resolved to take a show to the Edinburgh Fringe, which I did.

This time of year can be very tricky, because we are caught in a limbo world of recovering from the previous year and trying to plan the next.  If we think that we have made little progress over the past year, we can become pessimistic about what we are capable of in the next one.  The important thing is to keep going, keep trying, and to make sure that you have people around you who will remind you of how far you’ve come.

Have a glorious Friday, and a wonderful 2015.  You have achieved a lot more than you think.

Growing Pains

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Happy Friday, lovely reader!  How are you?  Shall I stick the kettle on?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that we don’t know what we’re doing.  This applies to all aspects of life, including Zumba classes (left step right step turn step jump step trip over your own shoelace step) and the bigger questions like “where is my life going?”, “how do I find happiness?” and “will I ever achieve my goals?”

I had a small meltdown this week about those questions – although it turns out that Zumba is actually a lot of fun, and it’s ok to fudge your way through the trickier moves – and turned to a friend of mine who is in a similar position, i.e. in his mid-twenties with a passionate desire to succeed but no clear idea of how to do so.  When we boiled the issue down to its essentials, we decided that no one knows what they’re doing at our age, and that we’re not really supposed to.  This made me ask another scary question: “when are we supposed to know what we’re doing?”

We have all been brought up to believe that the older, wiser and taller people around us know what is going on: teachers, parents and older siblings have all made it clear to us that they can be trusted to know what they’re doing.  This led us to believe that one day we will know what we’re doing, too.  But when is this elusive day of understanding?  At what age should we be waking up and saying to ourselves, “I’m pretty sure I’ve got the hang of this ‘life’ thing now”?

I have friends my age (or thereabouts) who are teachers, home-owners, paramedics, married, producers, in possession of a pension plan, and even parents.  They are, as far as the world is concerned, sorted.  But internally they worry just as much as people who are unattached, students, renting flats, between jobs or between life ambitions.  In many cases, their external lives have little or no relevance to their internal persona.  My own mother, who has five grown-up children and a life-long teaching career, admits that she doesn’t feel like an adult most of the time.  (I can believe that.  For starters, her ridiculous sense of humour completely belies her actual age.)

So what hope do we have, if our apparently grown-up friends and actually grown-up parents do not think of themselves as sorted, respectable adults?  Are we doomed to feel a bit lost and uncertain for the rest of our lives?

The short answer is: yes.  The long answer is: yes, but that is actually a very, very good thing.  When we have everything that we want in life, we stop looking for anything else.  We stop pursuing new ambitions, pushing ourselves to achieve and chasing after our goals.  Not knowing what we’re doing is scary, but it also motivates us to keep looking, and to keep finding things to learn about and enjoy in the world around us.  Essentially, happiness and feeling ‘sorted’ is fine, but it doesn’t open your mind or make you grow.  Uncertainty, ambition and passion make you keep going.

It almost doesn’t matter whether we find the elusive feeling of knowing what we’re doing.  As long as we keep looking for it, we will be learning new skills, travelling to new places, meeting new people and trying to be the best possible versions of ourselves.  Pursuing that feeling is what shapes your attitudes and makes you a fascinating person, and if you really think about it, being interesting is much more important than being a ‘proper grown-up’.

Right, kettle’s boiled now.  Could you grab the milk out of the fridge, please?

Never Lego

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Hello, lovely reader!  How are you doing?  Did you have a nice weekend?

I know I said I wouldn’t write too much Fringe-based bloggery while I’m away, but I’m afraid this one does start with an Edinburgh issue.  (It doesn’t stay there, I promise.  It moves swiftly onto more general silliness.)  

One of the strangest side-effects of being at the Fringe is that you find out a lot about people based on how they behave here.  This is especially true when it comes to time management.  There are people who plan their time to the very last second, with colour-coded, highlighted schedules.  There are also people who have a vague idea of what they want to see, but who are happy to go with the flow.  And then there are people like my friend Harry, who try to do way too much too soon and end up, five days in, lying on the floor in the middle of the day and singing “Smack That” to themselves.

At the Fringe and in real life, everyone has very different approaches to planning their time and achieving what they want to do.  Some people panic as birthdays approach because they see age as part of a huge, colour-coded schedule that we are supposed to blindly follow.  Surely by 25 we should know what we want to do with our lives, surely by 35 we should have met the person we’re going to marry, and surely by 45 we should have stopped enjoying Lego.  (Never stop enjoying Lego, by the way.  Lego is awesome.)

Others tend to amble happily through, cheerily meeting long-term partners and exploring career opportunities as they go.  Being slightly more laid back about when you achieve your life goals means that you’re more likely to be ok if things don’t go the way you expect them to.  Crises and bizarre eventualities are disconcerting enough as it is: if you have an imaginary schedule with post-it notes and a symbol key, it’s a nightmare. 

The other thing about being more relaxed about this stuff is that it has a knock-on effect on your own self-esteem and the people around you.  If you are frantically concerned about not being married before you’re 40 (or whatever) you will obviously discuss it with your friends.  Your friends in turn are more likely to get the idea into their own heads – the power of suggestion and all that – and then they will start to worry about themselves, too.  Before you know it everyone’s too worried about hitting an imaginary deadline to enjoy what they’re actually doing in life.

In terms of your self-esteem, you do not have to let go of your dreams or ideals if things don’t materialise the way you expect them to.  If you’re not married when you thought you would be, not living in the kind of house you dreamed of, or even rocking a hairstyle that you’re not entirely happy with, you’re still absolutely fine.  Things not happening when you think they should doesn’t mean they never will – it just means not now.    

Have a sensational Monday.  

Are You What You Want to Be?

Hello!  How are you this morning?  Yeah, me too.  Nearly the weekend, though.

Today I would like to ask you a question: are you what you want to be?  There are three possible ways to think about this question.

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Firstly, in physical terms: are you fit and healthy?  Do you like your hair colour?  Are you happy with your height and weight?  If you can honestly say that you are what you want to be in terms of your physical appearance, then good for you.  I think your pants might be on fire, though.
No one is ever totally happy with how they look, which is a massive shame (and almost entirely a result of the Western media), but I have good news regarding this.  Firstly, there are things we can change if we really want to: we can dye our hair, we can take up exercise and we can drink more water.  The second piece of good news is that how you look does not make you who you are, so let’s not worry about that.

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The next way to think about my question is in terms of achievement: are you in the right job for you?  Is your career progressing the way you hoped it would?  Do you feel that you’ve achieved significant things?
This one is tricky because it’s something that we decide by comparing ourselves to our peers, and that only ever ends in smugness or despair.  Once we leave school, the structure that kept us all on the same trajectory as our class mates is non-existent, and what happens to one of you no longer necessarily happens to everyone else.  Don’t waste time being jealous of other people’s success, or feeling superior about your own: just get on with what you want to be achieving.
This one is slightly more important than the physical one, but it’s still not the key way to answer my question.

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So, the third and most important way to answer my question: are you what you want to be in terms of personal attributes?  Are you kind, are you patient, are you polite?  Would your mother be proud of you?  What do your friends say about you?
I am not suggesting that the way other people see us is more important than how we see ourselves, but after all, the people who love us aren’t sticking around because of how we look or what our job is, are they?  (They’d better not be, anyway.)
This one is the hardest of all to change if we don’t like what we’ve got, but it can be done.  If you want to be less prone to losing your temper you have to practise staying calm under pressure; if you want to be more assertive then you have to speak up when you’re intimidated.  The best thing about this one is that it tends to be the one that your friends and loved ones are most willing to help you with, so you’re not alone with it.

Have a truly cracking Friday.  Definitely treat yourself to a muffin today.

P.S. The title of this blog is a reference to this song by Foster the People.  Good, ain’t it?

Looming/Loving Deadlines

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Good morning, dear reader!  If you are struggling with the whole “oh God where did that entire weekend just go?” feeling, remember that you are at the start of a mere four-day week.  You can absolutely handle that.  I have utter faith in you.

Like most people, I have a very love-hate relationship with deadlines.  On the one hand, it’s nice to be given a sense of structure that will lead me to plan my time effectively, and discipline myself accordingly to ensure that my work is finished in time.  On the other hand, deadlines also bring out the adolescent, “you can’t tell me what to do!  I hate you!!”, stomping-off-to-my-room-and-slamming-the-door side of me.  We may not like to admit it, but I think that that’s the case for a lot of us.

When we are teeny tiny, the deadlines are our parents’ to worry about: “shouldn’t he be walking by now?”  “Was your daughter talking at this age?”  “How long has he been stuck in that dustbin?”  And so on.  As we get older we take some responsibility for ourselves, most notably for the interminable GCSE coursework deadlines.  (I’ve just remembered: I never handed in my Physics coursework.  I just didn’t do it, on the grounds that I freaking hated Physics.  How did that work?  Why do I have a GCSE in a subject I didn’t do the coursework for?  Worrying.)

By the time we reach the grown-up world of work, university and real life, we have supposedly learned to work to any deadline that gets thrown at us.  Having said that, I would like to take this opportunity on behalf of uni students everywhere to say that module conveners really, really need to communicate better: having all of our essay deadlines within two days of each other is just not cool (although the managing directors of Red Bull and Nescafe must be very pleased with this state of affairs).

By now we have also reached the stage where we give ourselves deadlines in our personal lives: I want to be married by this age, I want to have been travelling by this time, and I want to have saved x amount of money before y happens.  This is all very well and good, since it shows that we have learned that structure can be good for us and we have taught ourselves a sense of purpose and direction, but it’s also pretty scary.

Last night my friend Harry and I were having dinner in a Wetherspoons (obviously) and I made a sweeping declaration, ala Marshall Eriksen in How I Met Your Mother.  

Me: I swear by THIS pepper pot…
Harry: Why the pepper pot?
Me: I dunno.  Anyway, I swear by this pepper pot that if x has not happened by the time y occurs, I will no longer do z!
Harry: Good.  Put the pepper pot down.

What Harry knows (and the poor pepper pot probably knows now, too) is that personal deadlines are all very well and good, but that we have to use them to grow and develop, not to limit ourselves.  If we want to go travelling, we need to set ourselves a deadline for the trip that reflects the reality of our financial situation, visas and so on, not a deadline that will make us feel like a failure in twelve months’ time.

If we don’t manage to meet our personal deadlines, it doesn’t make us failures.  It just means giving ourselves a bit more slack next time.  The countries you want to visit and the things you want to save up for will still be there when you’re ready.

Have the kind of Tuesday that is worthy of folklore.

Gloria Gaynor is Rooting For You

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Good morning!  How are you doing?  I hope you’ve got nice plans for your weekend.

For those of you who read this blog regularly (ish), you may be wondering why I haven’t yet written a post about what it was like recording Pointless.  There is a very good reason for this, and it’s a very serious, grown-up, intellectual reason: um…we haven’t been to the studio yet.  Due to numbers and other unpredictable things, we’ve had our studio dates postponed for a couple of weeks, but we are assured that this is a good sign and that the production team don’t usually bother providing people with alternative dates.  So that’s nice.

The other potential problem is that my house mate has an acting job in Salisbury that week, so she might not be able to attend one of our new studio dates.  I really hope that there’s a solution to the clash, but if not, we might not be going on Pointless after all.  Sniff.  It’s fine..all this revision for nothing…hours wasted on Sporcle…poring over QI books late into the night…but it’s fine.  I will survive, as per the wishes of Gloria Gaynor.

In general, human beings are capable of surviving all sorts of things: bereavement, break-ups, Soho on a Friday night.  Some things are more difficult to survive than others, but you are more than capable of coming out of an emotionally draining situation with your head held high.  Here are a few things that I think you should do to secure your survival in any emotional hardship:

1) Look at the long term

So difficult to do, especially if you are very angry or upset, but picturing yourself in a few years’ time can be really helpful when you’re trying to recover from a nasty situation.  For example, in a few years’ time you will be completely over your break-up.  In the future you might run into your ex from time to time.  Everybody wants to ‘win’ a break-up by being physically fitter, more successful and preferably going out with someone better-looking than the ex.  If you want to ‘win’ this break-up, it’s better to go to the gym than stay in bed eating ice-cream, even though it’s what you really want to do right now.  Put down the spoon.

2) Talk to nice people

Well, obviously.  Talking to nasty people is no fun at all.  What I mean is, it’s ok to be struggling with something and want to discuss it, whether you want practical advice or need a bit of a vent.  Choose your confidant wisely and make sure that you know what you want from the exchange.  I’ve made the mistake before of going to one of my clear-thinking, super-practical friends with a problem.  I just wanted a bit of a moan, and he sent me away with a colour-coded to do list and a Gantt chart.

3) Be kind to yourself

This covers all sorts of things: eat healthily, sleep at proper times, drink lots of water.  I know it sounds boring and mumsy-ish, but there’s a reason why people say weird things like “at least you’ve got your health”.  Having your health is important because it sets you up to cope with everything else in life.  And seriously, put down the ice-cream and go to the gym.  You’re not winning this break-up yet!

4) Use it

As those of you who read my blog post about The Hard Man the other day will know, I firmly believe the best thing to do in a bad situation is find a way to use it to your advantage.  Sometimes that’s not possible straight away, but if you’re looking for silver linings they don’t come any shinier than discovering a way to make a crisis into a success.  For example, losing my job didn’t feel like such a good thing at the time, but now I’m deliriously happy because I get to write all day every day.  Sure, a regular income would be lovely, but I’m doing what makes me happy, which is so much more important.

5) Aim for happiness

Don’t aim for survival.  Aim for the top.  Work towards your biggest goals, your most cherished ambitions and your ideal situations.  If you don’t quite make it you will at least have tried, and you’ll be somewhere between happy and surviving.  If you aim for survival and you fail, where the heck does that leave you?

The other thing about being happy is that it’s the best possible revenge against someone who treated you badly.  Most importantly, you deserve to be happy.  You’re lovely.  Gloria Gaynor and I are rooting for you.

Have a splendid Thursday!