Tag Archives: understanding

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?

“Assume” Makes People Donkeys (Or Something)

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Hello, and happy Friday to you!

Friendships work because two people discover that they enjoy spending time together, and the more time they spend together, the better they understand each other.  One of the best aspects of long-standing and particularly close friendships is that we take pride in our complete knowledge of the other person.

Knowing how your friends feel about certain things allows you to anticipate their responses to given situations in a way that reflects how you feel about them; remembering things about their preferences shows that you care.  Here’s a very basic example: my friends know that I can’t stand Keira Knightley, so when they look through a list of potential films for us to see at the cinema, they tend to skip anything with her name in the credits.

This understanding of another person is great for things like choosing how you spend your time together, picking out excellent birthday presents and preventing them from  ingesting things that they’re fatally allergic to.  We recommend books, films, music, websites and even other friends based on our understanding of how the people we love are likely to respond to stuff, and this can be an amazing thing.

Knowing someone really well can also be a bit of a trap, because after a certain amount of time we start to assume that we can anticipate their reactions to almost anything, but the thing is that people can always surprise you.  Think about it from your own perspective: you as a person are constantly changing and growing, forming new opinions based on your experiences of life, and developing your perspective on the world every single day.  Your friends are doing exactly the same thing, and what might have been true of them a year ago may no longer be applicable.  (“I thought you loved How I Met Your Mother?”  “I did, but Lily’s starting to grate on me a bit.  Can we watch Grand Designs instead?”)

It is a mistake to assume that you can predict with one hundred percent accuracy how your friends will feel in a given situation.  Particularly in extreme circumstances like bereavement or stress, people can react in all sorts of ways that do not reflect their day-to-day persona.  If we limit our imaginations and expect a certain type of behaviour from our friends, we are doing them a disservice.  Our friends deserve the opportunity to think and feel whatever comes naturally to them, and if it isn’t what we were expecting then we should just respond out of what we can still be sure of: our love and respect for them.

If it were you in that situation, you would want the same thing, wouldn’t you?  If you woke up tomorrow and decided that you want to completely change your career (for example), you wouldn’t want your best friend to cry “but you’ve always wanted to be a sales data analyst!”  You would want them to say “tree surgery sounds awesome”.  It does sound awesome, actually.  I may have missed my calling…

Have an utterly delightful weekend.

Smells Like Team Spirit

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Hello, lovely reader!  How’s your week progressing?  Getting through your to do list at a pleasing pace, I hope?

“Team work” is one of those phrases that fills us with dread and fear.  This is because we secretly think that “team work” means “unable to think for yourself”, “willing to let others do your work” or, horror of horrors, “always up for those God-awful trust exercises that supposedly break the ice, but actually make everyone feel cripplingly embarrassed”.

What you discover very quickly in working world (particularly when you work in the arts) is that when it actually happens, team work is flipping brilliant.  Of course we should all have independent approaches, unique ideas and confidence in what we bring to the job as individuals, but we should also enjoy the many advantages that proper team work offers.

As you might remember from previous posts, I am currently working in a front of house team on a large-scale kids’ show in London.  The job is difficult and the show is not really aimed at my demographic, but the experience is ace.  As they say in The Lego Movie song, everything is cool when you’re part of a team.  Here are a few lovely things about team work that might dispel some of those trust exercise (shudder) memories:

In jokes – weeks, months and even years after the event, in jokes can help a team to feel connected to one another.  In jokes are also a good way to just have a bit of fun at work when the chips are down.

People understand why you’re stressed – if you turn to a colleague and go “aaaargh” (or something slightly more articulate), nine times out of ten they will get what you’re on about.  Not having to explain your stress and still managing to get sympathy is pretty darn efficient.

The play’s the thing – working with a whole bunch of people who care about the same project you do is brilliant, because you are constantly reminded that you are all working towards something bigger than any of you.  This can be scary and inspirational in equal measure, but it is always a motivator.

Down time – it is so nice to unwind in the company of people whose day you’ve shared.  There’s a sense of mutual achievement and good humour when my colleagues and I get the train home from work together, even though most of us have at least an hour’s commute ahead of us.  Stopping at the amazing frozen yoghurt place on our way from work to the station helps, too.

Going crazy – work can sometimes take over our lives a bit, and when it does it’s nice to know that the people you work with are going crazy at exactly the same rate, in pretty much the same way and for precisely the same reason.  For instance, the kids’ show I’m working includes some very distinctive music.  Surprisingly, it’s actually very cheering to hear my colleagues humming it all day long, because it means that I’m not alone.  The one time that it’s good to crazy is when you’re in great company.

Have a delightful Friday.

They’ll Be There For You

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Good morning!  How is everyone today?  Bit tired?  That’s ok, it’s Saturday.  Have a bit of a lie in if you can.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: practically every situation in the life of a twenty-something can be related back to Friends.  In many cases it’s actually necessary to explain things by comparing them to an incident from the programme.  There are also loads of situations from the show that play out pretty much exactly how they would if they happened in real life.  It says a lot about the show that it resonates so strongly with so many people, but I think it also says a lot about my actual friends, who are brilliant.  (Quick side note: I was watching television the other night and the announcer genuinely said “Feel like no one’s there for you?  Why not switch over to Comedy Central Extra for your Friends fix?”  I mean, REALLY.  There are limits, people.)  Here are some examples of times when friends and Friends are at their best:

1) The One Where No One Else Would Understand A Word You’re Saying
In the episode where Rachel has a farewell party before she moves to Paris, she has a heart to heart with each individual friend in turn.  Unsurprisingly, her chat with Monica descends into tearful gobbledegook, as you can see here.  In our own lives, there are many times when we would make no sense to people who don’t know us extremely well.  A real friend will always be able to understand you, even if you talk too fast, mumble or decide to use strange noises rather than actual words.

2) The One Where They Know You Far Too Well
One of my favourite episodes of the series is the one in which the boys win the girls’ apartment via a friendship quiz.  Feel free to remind yourself of it here.  I love this episode for two reasons: firstly, it says a lot about how close the characters are and how much history they have, and secondly I think that the friendship quiz is a genius idea.   Everyone who watches this episode thinks “I must do this with my lot”, because we all have friends that we never need to explain ourselves to: they already know everything.  I would probably abstain from gambling your home on it, though…

3) The One Where They Always Back You Up
My favourite dynamic in the programme is the friendship between Joey and Phoebe.  I love the fact that they’re such different people, but they really respond to one another’s quirks, and they always defend one another.  One brilliant example (which I couldn’t find a clip of, sorry) is just after Ross and Rachel get drunk and married in Vegas.

Ross: We were drunk.  I would’ve married Joey with that amount of alcohol!
Phoebe: Hey!  You could do a lot worse than Joey Tribbiani!

In terms of real life, it’s wonderful to find friends who love you despite your differences, and who will always stick up for you.  Some of my closest friends have entirely separate interests and lifestyles to mine, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t look out for each other.

4) The One Where They Forgive You
The characters in Friends make all sorts of mistakes: Ross sleeps with  someone when he is technically still with Rachel, Chandler drunkenly kisses one of Joey’s sisters and then forgets which one, Joey loses Ross’ wedding ring, Rachel steals Jean Claude Van Damme from Monica, Phoebe ruins Monica’s hair and Monica accidentally chops off Chandler’s toe.  Not a perfect bunch by any means.  But they all forgive one another and move past the problems, which is a great example to those of us who might write someone off for doing anything on the above list.  Although how often does someone chop off your toe?  Yuck.  Let’s not dwell on that bit.  The characters who cannot forgive don’t last (I’m talking about you, Emily), but the ones who do are still friends after more than a decade.  That could be you one day, if you can just move past the toe thing (or whatever the problem actually is).

5) The One Where They’re Not Just Your Friend
The ongoing love story between Ross and Rachel is so well-known that in my generation it’s slang for “meant to be together”.  It even got referenced in Scrubs, as you can see here.  Monica and Chandler are another example of a couple whose attitudes towards one another changed drastically during the course of the show.  I’m not suggesting that you start combing your social circle for potential partners (and God knows that moving a friendship up to the next level is an absolute minefield), but I really do think that good partners should also be good friends.  Whether you start off as platonic and then change gear or fall for someone as soon as you meet them, the person you spend your life with should be as much of a friend to you as they are anything else.

Well, I’m off to help some friends of mine assemble furniture, which is probably going to go something like this classic Friends moment.  Have the kind of Saturday that you’ll tell your grandchildren about.