Tag Archives: Shakespeare

Ours is Not to Question Why

Good morning and happy Monday, you marvellous creature!

We like to understand things, don’t we?  We like to have a firm grasp of the whys and the wherefores, the cause and the effect.  Religion, science and Wikipedia all exist because the human race is obsessed with finding stuff out.

This extends, somewhat inevitably, to our personal lives: why did that relationship fail?  What made that friend drop out of contact?  Why didn’t the guy/girl we met last week call us when they said that they would?

We want to know the reasons behind emotionally affecting incidents because we think that they reflect upon us.  We think that if were were taller, better looking or more amusing that our emotional lives would be incredibly easy.  For insecure and unhappy people in particular, there is a very strong temptation to latch on to these upsetting circumstances as an excuse to highlight personal inadequacies: “Obviously the reason he never called is because I’m no good at small talk.”  “She probably thought I was being arrogant.”  “He could tell that I always put empty milk bottles back in the fridge.”  Obviously, this is not the case (except the milk bottle thing, which of course we can all sense at twenty paces).

Let’s be honest: sometimes we could have said or done more to make a situation better; we could have made more of an effort to be the best versions of ourselves.  But if we weren’t being our best selves with someone, don’t you think that there might be a reason for that?  When you really want a friendship or relationship to work, you want to be the best you can be for the other person involved.  If you’re not being that version, then you ought to think about why that is.

Conversely, we shouldn’t think too much about why other people behave the way they do.  We can’t do anything about it, and we can’t change people’s minds about us.  Sometimes it is very difficult to let go of a situation that you don’t entirely understand: “I’m still not sure why she broke up with me.”  “He just stopped texting; I thought it was going so well.”  “We’d been friends for years, and then we just lost touch for no reason.”  The sad thing is that – pretentious Shakespeare reference alert – “man is a giddy thing”, and sometimes people disappear on you.  They shouldn’t, because you’re wonderful, but they do.

And this is my point: if you’re going to question why something might be, don’t waste time worrying about other people’s motives.  Question yourself instead – you’re far more likely to get answers.  Don’t obsess over what that nice guy you met (but never heard from) didn’t like about you, or why your girlfriend suddenly decided that she preferred your best friend.  They’ve made their choices, and you may never get to find out why they behaved the way they did.  What you can find out is how you feel about things, why you behave the way you do, and what kind of relationships you are looking for in life.

On a far less serious (and much more adorable) note, here is a picture of a little girl seeing a penguin for the first time:

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Have a brilliant day.  I hope that you get to wear your favourite shoes.

The Polymath Problem

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Hello and happy Tuesday, lovely reader!

This morning I met up with an old friend from university.  We don’t get to see each other often enough, so inevitably our coffee mornings consist of work updates, living situation discussions, frank bemusement at the behaviour of men and excessive giggling.

Sometimes (not always), we get around to discussing our mutual passion: the arts.  This friend of mine has a lifelong passion for the arts in all its forms: she is a wonderful baker of lovely cakes, she dances, makes amazing craft stuff and is, of course, a fellow Drama graduate.  She co-runs a charity called Ingeenium which does beautiful and inspiring work with vulnerable people, she is a nanny and she currently works for the government in a top-secret, slightly scary capacity.  Oh, and she’s also studying for her PhD.  Superwoman?  I think so, but I’ve never seen her wear a cape, so it’s hard to tell.  The posh term for this friend of mine is a polymath, which sounds like something out of Red Dwarf, but is actually a real thing.  I like that word, don’t you?

This morning she and I were discussing the problem with being a polymath, although the terms we actually couched it in were more along the lines of “What are we actually DOING with our lives?”  The answer is, currently at least, loads of stuff: we are both trying to pursue careers which support as financially as well as challenge and inspire us, we feel very strongly about a lot of things but are not sure what exactly to do about them, and on top of everything the spectre of George Osborne looms menacingly, reminding us that whatever we choose to do, we will still never be able to afford a mortgage.  Do shut up, George, there’s a dear.

My friend was saying that she wishes she could just have one job and pursue one goal, but I had two concerns about this:

1) Sure, it would be amazing to know from an early age exactly what you want to do with your life, but what happens if that dream fails?  What if your one ambition in life is to become a footballer, and you contract Motor Neurone Disease?  What happens if an aspiring doctor fails their exams?  How does a person recover from the abolition of a life-long dream?

2) Pursuing more than one ambition is not only practical in terms of personal investment; it’s a really, really good idea.  Being good at lots of things is something to be proud of, and caring about lots of things makes you a more rounded human being.  Working in several domains can actually improve your skills in certain areas: having acted (a bit), I consider myself to be a more empathetic director.  Besides, there are many awesome people who can be referred to as polymaths.

Here are a few examples:

1) Mark Watson

An excellent stand-up comedian, Mark Watson has also written some brilliant books.  His writing style is engaging, unbelievably touching in some places and (predictably) very funny.  The stories are completely unique, but the characters are very true to life (terrible phrase, that, but it’s the best I can think of).  His books are novels with little or no relation to his comedy career, so much so that it took me quite a while to twig that the author of some of my favourite books was the same person I’d seen on Mock the Week.

2) Kenneth Branagh

The man can act and direct simultaneously.  I have no idea how he does it (especially given that I can barely walk and talk at the same time), but his adaptations of Shakespearean plays into films are intelligent, moving and spectacularly performed.  Since acting and directing technically fall under the same sector I suppose he’s not technically a polymath, but I think he should get bonus points for being able to realise his artistic vision (ANOTHER terrible phrase – sorry, I’ve no idea what’s happened to my cliché filter today!) within two separate roles.

3) Laura Lexx

Another friend of mine from uni, Laura is excellent at pretty much everything she puts her mind to.  It’s mildly sickening.  A formidable academic success, Laura is also an excellent writer (of blogs, plays and more), an hysterically funny stand-up comedian, a queen bee of baking and “one of those” actors.  By “one of those”, I mean those people that you see on stage and wonder how on earth other performers can bear to compete.  She’s also a very lovely person with an excellent impersonation of a dinosaur in her repertoire.

4) Hannah Barnett

Yet another superwoman that I am lucky enough to be friends with, Hannah is *deep breath* a producer, actress, stage manager, unbelievably talented guitarist and singer with the voice of a particularly well-behaved angel.  Hannah is simultaneously the most organised and most easily distracted person I know.  That takes a lot of skill.  Why do I surround myself with these sickeningly talented people?  Oh, yeah – because they’re awesome.

5) Josh Widdicombe

Putting aside the fact that I love Josh Widdicombe quite a lot anyway, he is a brilliant example of why it’s good to have many talents.  Well-known as a stand-up comedian, he is also a talented DJ who hosts a weekly show on Xfm, which he uses as a platform to promote his friends and colleagues in the comedy world.  I am a massive fan of “paying it forward”, i.e. using your experience and opportunities to help others in similar situations.  (One of my favourite things about my university year group is that even now, we still tell each other when we see jobs or opportunities on IdeasTap that we think others in the group would be interested in.)  Josh Widdicombe is substantially more successful than any of my lot are right now, but he still uses his multiple roles to help out his mates.  I think that’s brilliant.

There are dozens if not hundreds of other examples of polymaths around, including national treasures like Stephen Fry and Michael Palin, and they are all to be congratulated on their ability to pursue many dreams.  It’s wonderful to have a passion in life, but I think that being good at and enjoying several activities is a more realistic and open-minded way to live.

By the way, actors turned models and anyone turned reality television “star” (please read enormous sarcasm into the speech marks around the word star, there), do not count.  Being pretty, greedy for money or desperate for attention cannot in any way be classed as a skill.  That’s just sad, and those people need a hug/slap/stern talking to.

Have a glorious afternoon!