Challenge 4: Activities 21-27

I think I missed a few days after Day 18 (Thursday) when I did three activities (18-20) and learned about the Edamame Threat.

Day 19: I was home with a sick boy, so the thing I had booked to do that day didn’t happen. I had to reschedule.

Day 20: That was Saturday. I can’t remember what I did on Saturday.

Activity 21: Approach someone I met once a few years ago and reintroduce myself.

This was an opportunity activity, because I hadn’t planned to do it, but the chance came up so I went with it. I was at an event and saw someone who I follow on Twitter and who I’d met several years ago, but I wasn’t totally sure it was her. I kept staring at her to try and figure it out, and felt really awkward. Finally she and I were in each other’s vicinity so I took a deep breath and said hi. Turns out it was her and we have a brief chat.

Fearometer: 5/10. I was pretty nervous.
How I felt before doing it: Nervous and that only built up the more I thought about doing it.
How I felt while I was doing it: Awkward at first, but we had common interests so it was fine.
Would I do it again: I have introduced myself to random Twitter people in the street if I’ve interacted with them a bit, so probably. Depends on the person.

Activity 22: Get an outstanding medical check
Won’t go into details here, but in 2013 I was asked to get medical clearance so that I could do something I’d wanted to do. It has taken me this long to make the appointment.

Fearometer: 2/10 I was only slightly worried that maybe there would be some issue that had cropped up that I wasn’t aware of
How I felt before doing it: Just wanted it to be over. Doctor was running late. I had 30 minutes to get through. (Lesson for #fixwhatbugsyou – the doctor will always be late, even if you call to ask whether they are on time and are told they are. Take a book. Write a blog post. Don’t waste time with the trashy waiting room magazines. They will rot your brain.)
How I felt while I was doing it: Fine once it became apparent there wasn’t anything to worry about.

Would I do it again: Yes

Activity 23: Have a Tarot reading
This has been something on my wanna do list for ages, but I never knew how to go about organising this or what to expect. I know a little bit about the Tarot but felt very awkward about having a reading because I’m not an expert and had no idea what I might find out.

On Twitter earlier in the week one of my friends said she had had a reading and that the person doing the readings, Jodi, was giving away 20 free readings (she still is – click the link to get in touch!) to help her make sure what she was doing all worked before she went into business. I felt a bit awkward asking someone I’d never interacted with before if I could be one of her guinea pigs, but she was happy to sign me up and, striking while the iron was hot- before I could chicken out –  I set it up for the next day and we connected over Skype.

It was amazing, and I’ll write a fuller post on this a bit later because it’s inspired an upcoming challenge. The thing that grabbed me was the insight into my situation that Jodi and I read into the cards – she calls it a ‘collaborative reading’ –  and it left me feeling like I was completely on the right track with what I was doing. There are so many things that are coming together about this situation right now, I feel like a little step I took about a month ago has started to build momentum. Ad it also manifested in an unexpected way a couple of days ago, which assures me I am doing the right things and is pushing me to keep going.

Fearometer: 6/10
How I felt before doing it: Nervous about what might come out of the reading. Scared about connecting to someone online I’d never interacted with before.
How I felt while I was doing it: More and more relaxed as time passed. Jodi was very easy to talk to and I was really grateful to have had this opportunity.
Would I do it again: Absolutely

Activity 24: Go to the accountant and get my tax done
Oh the dreaded tax time. I’m not sure what I was worried about. I keep good records and most of the information gets downloaded into the ATO site anyway, so it’s really no big deal. I mainly needed to go to the accountant to get some advice on the disposal of some assets. That sounds serious. It’s not. It ended up being under $50 on a section of the tax form I never knew existed. It’s all done now and I’m expecting my snappy $80 refund any day now.

I’m almost embarrassed to put this in as a year of fear activity.

Activity 25: Ask someone for something they have no obligation to give me or expectation that I might ask for

Fearometer: 4/10. I always get a bit nervous asking this person for something
How I felt before doing it: Nervous

How I felt while I was doing it: A bit more anxious as at first they didn’t know exactly what I was asking so I had to explain myself again
Would I do it again: Probably if my desire for a thing outweighs my nerves

Activity 26: Ask to exchange a product I bought that’s the wrong one
This is a silly thing to be anxious about doing, but I always dread having to go back to a shop and ask to exchange something. It’s not as bad if the product if faulty but if I’ve stuffed up and bought the wrong thing because I didn’t check what I needed first, I feel like a bit of an idiot.
Fearometer: 2/10
How I felt before doing it: Nervous that they would say no, you got it wrong, suck it up buttercup
How I felt while I was doing it: Fine once they said yes
Would I do it again: I guess so.

Activity 27: Secret squirrel!
Activity completed. I am annoyed to have been put into the situation that made this activity happen, but it’s done now.

Photo of the week. Me 10 years ago. Who needs a professional when you have a self-timer and a black velvet sheet to throw over the book case right? Seriously I wish I had had some lovely pregnancy shots done, but it didn’t occur to me at the time, and less than three weeks after this picture, boom, all over.

BW1 huge_retouched

 

 

Challenge 4: Facing Fear Days 15-22

In this challenge I’ve gradually been pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone, so most of my activities have been pretty low on the fear-ometer.  A couple of times I’ve tried to do something a bit more scary and haven’t taken the opportunity presented quite as far as I would have liked to. I’m trying not to beat myself up over this. A small step is better than no step right?

So last week (week 3) I did a couple of little-bit scary things. I yelled out to someone I don’t know, other than their name because the bus driver says their name when they get on the bus, down the street that their bag had come open, risking the eyes of everyone around me staring to see why I was yelling. And wondering if this person would think I was some crazy stalker who knew her name when she didn’t know mine.

I finally made “the” phone call and spoke to the person I needed to speak to (and by the way, did you know that the little oar-shaped things on roadworks plans aren’t actually things to be constructed, they are indicators that there is a slope …).

I attended an appointment I’d been putting off for weeks.

I got the feedback I’d asked for on something I’d done at work. (It was scary to go in there, but I’m glad I did it.)

I gave a small presentation to a group of people, most of whom I know only casually.

I went into a bar by myself and had a drink. Maybe two. This was after the Book Week shopping incident. It was necessary therapy.

And this is where the story actually starts.

I was going to go to a pub, but the one I had in mind scared me a lot because (warning: judgmental) it had a lot of tradie blokes in it. So I picked a hotel bar instead.

I’m noticing that I’m feeling pretty comfortable with going into places that aren’t too far out of my norm – places where I’m confident I won’t stand out, even if it’s my first time there. I’ve been to restaurants and bars by myself when they’re places like ones that I’d normally go to with other people. It feels a bit weird at first, but I get over that pretty quickly and can settle in quite comfortably.

What I haven’t done is go to places where not-me hangs out. For example, I’m not a gamer so I’d feel very awkward going into a game shop. I’m not a tradie so I’d feel nervous going into a pub frequented mainly by tradies. I dress pretty casually, so I’d feel really uncomfortable going into an expensive jewellery store, or clothes shop or restaurant.

I’m sure I have to learn the lesson that the people in these places are people, just like me, and they aren’t going to care or judge me for going into their establishment (although Prue and Trude from Kath & Kim keep popping into my head). But let’s add pub and posh restaurant to the list of year of fear challenges to-do.

I think I have a completely unjustified fear of gamers/tradies/posh people/scientists/IT people/pagans/photographers/artists/anyone who is an expert in a field I know nothing about, because I feel like to go into their world, I need to be like them and know all about what they do, rather than being a newby. Of course this is stupid, because everyone is a newby at first, so as Kendra from Year of Fear puts it, they aren’t better than me, they are just further along than me in whatever it is they do.

As I was writing this it occurred to me that I’m a victim of the “reinforcing vs demystifying” phenomenon that Brené Brown describes in her book, I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t), which she refers to as the “Edamame Threat”. She describes how at a party she was offered a bowl of silver beans that she thought needed to be shucked for dinner, and offered to help. The hosts were highly amused by the fact that Dr Brown had never seen edamame before, and announced this hilarious (to them) fact to all the other guests at the party. Dr Brown says she was filled with shame and wanted to leave immediately. (I also have no idea what edamame are or how to eat them, in case you were wondering.)

Having developed a liking for edamame, a couple of weeks later, she says, she was in her office eating them and a student (who particularly irritated her) came to see her and asked what the beans were. Dr Brown says that to her great horror, that instead of explaining what they were to the student, she said “I can’t believe you haven’t tried them. They’re the superfood. They are fabulous!”

This is what she calls reinforcing – keeping answers a secret so that we can feel superior and secure. She suggests that we are most likely to do this when we feel shame around an issue – in this case she felt shame around “class” and elitism, noting that the people from the party were “food elitists”, which made her feel shame that she isn’t from the same background.

The opposite of reinforcing is demystifying – which is when, later still, she explained to a friend what the beans were and how to eat them.

Dr Brown says that seeking to demystify issues both for herself and helping other people to do it is a key to building critical awareness. She believes that if we know how something works, and others don’t, we’re obliged to share what we know. “Knowledge is power, and power is never diminished by sharing it,” she writes.

Putting all this together, I started thinking about how nervous I get when approaching people who know something I don’t because they’re an expert and I feel less-than when approaching them. Hence my reluctance to ask questions, go into particular shops or even make relatively simple phone calls.

Then it occurred to me that I’m guilty of perpetuating the Edamame Threat too. I’ve noticed that sometimes I get irritated when people ask me something they couldn’t possibly be expected to know, and I don’t want to tell them, or I grudgingly tell them or I don’t tell them everything. Classic reinforcing: keeping answers a secret so that I can feel superior and secure.

The Edamame Threat is a double edged sword! I expect myself to know everything and won’t ask for help if I don’t know something, but I apply the same standard of expecting other people to know everything that I apply to myself, and if they don’t I almost punish them for not knowing.

This a huge realisation, all because I was too scared to go into a pub. It’s clearly unfair and irrational and it has to stop!

So I went to a board game shop and asked for something. And you know what? The guy wasn’t in the slightest bit scary. He was a person, just like me. He didn’t have what I was looking for but gave me a couple of ideas of where to try. He didn’t laugh at me for thinking his shop would stock something that it doesn’t. And if he went over to his colleague and laughed at me after I’d gone because I thought games shops stocked [item x], well what he thinks about me is none of my business. Right? Right.

Who would have thought that facing a fear, or more accurately avoiding facing a fear, would have led to this? I think I need to take the rest of the day off.

Fix what bugs you – week 1

It’s week 1 of my “fix what bugs you” challenge. The aim of this challenge is to work within my “circle of influence” for an entire month and not to let myself get irritated or bugged about things I have no control over. If something that I can do something about is bugging me, then either fix it right away, or put a plan into place to get it fixed if it’s not something I can do immediately.

Day 1: This was a great day. Nothing really bugged me at all. I realised that my wish to be exposed to different things at work, which I’ve wanted to do for quite some time, is actually gradually being met, only not in the way I’d thought when I asked for this to happen. So I’m learning new stuff, finding out about different processes and discovering new areas of my workplace I didn’t even know existed. Yay.

Day 2: Today started out tough. Normally Tuesdays I work at home in the morning, and I have the afternoon off to do my own thing, cook a massive curry, work on my blog and catch up on niggling little jobs that would otherwise get missed, as well as prepare for my radio show. I had my (scary #yearoffear) appointment at the accountant booked, and I spent last night pulling out all my receipts and documents. I was as ready for this as I was going to be.

Then Slabs woke up feeling terribly ill and wasn’t able to go to work, so I had to take Kramstable to school. This means leaving earlier than normal, no time to set up the slow cooker, and, after picking him up from school, not enough time when we get home to cook something than is normally his and my lunch for the rest of the week. Not to mention having to reschedule my accountant appointment and not do any of the other activities I’d planned to do today.

In the morning I thought that it would have been very easy to complain, because Tuesday afternoon is *my* time, and I’m always disappointed when I lose it. But. There’s nothing I can do about it. People get sick and it’s more important that Slabs get some rest and see the doctor, so I just have to suck it up. I’d had a lovely day the day before, and nothing can take that away. And, I thought, maybe I’d get an opportunity that I wouldn’t have got if I’d been at home, so I decided to keep an open mind.

By the end of the day I felt rather differently. My shoulders were aching fiercely after 90 minutes of carrying what I didn’t think was such a heavy backpack and bag but turns out it was. One shoulder looks swollen and is really tight. I need to rethink what I carry on days like this. Fix what bugs you.

Kramstable and I caught the early bus home, which I never like, but today seemed to be worse than normal for conversations that it was impossible to tune out. I was trying not to complain about it, and telling myself I was grateful for there being a bus so I didn’t have to drive; I was grateful there were meals in the freezer so I didn’t have to stress about cooking, telling myself to breathe, focus on the breath, but still the voices got into my head, and I got home feeling thoroughly miserable, sore and headachy, and behind on everything I’d hoped to get done.

I know. First world problems. Fix what bugs you. Headphones next time.

Tomorrow will be better.

Day 3: It was. Nothing to complain about. Nothing to fix.

Day 4: Oh my god. Kramstable was sick and Slabs stayed home with him. There was a good chance he’d be sick the next day too, and it would be my turn to stay home, so everything I’d planned to do then had to be done today. Specifically go to [redacted] to get materials for Kramstable’s Book Week costume.

You know the place I mean. The place where there is no such thing as ducking* in to pick up a couple of things. Because you wait in line for hours. No matter what time of day it is. Today was no exception. As the line built up behind me, the sole person on the counter was in a huge discussion with a customer about this very expensive fabric they wanted to buy, without a pattern, and what were they going to do, and no there wouldn’t be enough to do that . . . And all the while, several other staff members kept walking past the growing line, putting stuff on shelves, and doing god knows what.

It was all too much for me. I was quietly fuming. And complaining on Twitter. And fuming some more. Was this situation within my control? No. Could I do anything to fix it? Not unless I got my supplies from somewhere else, which isn’t really doable. They had me captive.

It only occurred to me much later that Arianna Huffington had written exactly of this situation in her book Thrive, which I’ve just read. She quoted a book called Mindful London by Tessa Watt, who recommends that you use this type of situation as a chance to slow down and practice mindfulness. To pause, to take in what’s around you (in this case a line of annoyed customers), to breathe. Next time I go in there I’m taking a book to read in line. So there. While I didn’t fix it this time, I have a plan to fix it next time.

Day 5: Kramstable was still sick so I was at home with him. I didn’t do much. Nothing really jumped out at me as bugging me. Other than my overflowing freezer. I added “do a freezer clean out” to my to-do list.

Day 6: Today. I noticed myself getting irritated by a couple of things but I didn’t do anything about them. Maybe I should.

I think after (almost) a week of doing this challenge, I’m noticing the times I’m complaining more than I used to, and at least trying to think of ways to make the situation better, even if it’s just a learning for next time. That seems like a good result for now.

So cheers!

20160819 Original Soured Ale IG

* Kudos to my Mac for autocorrecting “ducking” in this post to “fucking”. It’s usually the other way around. It’s learning.

Book 23/24: Changeling

You’re probably sick of hearing me say, “I didn’t know much about [author of the book of the moment] until I read the book”, so I’ll simply say Mike Oldfield’s story was nothing like I’d expected.

I remember when I was in Grade 7 one of the older kids at school talking about the experience of listening to Tubular Bells, and I’d built it up to be this amazing piece of music that would completely alter my mind. After that build up, I don’t remember when I first heard it, or even if I actually heard it before listening to Tubular Bells II, which was released in 1992. What I do remember is that around the time I was listening to Tubular Bells II, there was one of those end of the world rapture prophecies floating round. I hadn’t quite weaned myself off my grandmother’s religious views at this time, so I wasn’t too sure whether to believe this or not, but I clearly remember thinking if the world was going to end, that was the music I wanted to be listening to when it happened.

Also around this time I went to see the musical Hair (at the Theatre Royal), which I loved, and I had the cast recording on high rotation along with Tubular Bells II at that time. When I was reading the book I thought it was kind of cool that Mike Oldfield had been in the orchestra for the original production of Hair during its West End run in the early 1970s. Strange grooves.

And for with that rather long and rambling introduction, here’s my thoughts on the book.

It’s broken up into five groups of three chapters, and begins with an intense description of a rebirthing process Mr Oldfield went through in 1978 (the Exegis seminar), where he faces his demons and survives, an experience that he describes as resulting in “the huge blood-crazed demons that had been stalking [him] for the previous 20 years suddenly disappeared”.

Book 23 - Changeling

Most of the book is about his life from when he was born in 1953 to 1981; the final chapter covers the period from 1990 to 2006, and there are four short interludes written in 2006 and 2007 that cover his thoughts on Family, Spirituality, Fame and Rebirth. I liked the structure. It was hard not to feel the pain of the little boy who never fitted in, and whose family gradually fell apart as he grew up.

He writes of Christmas 1960:

My dad had made me a beautiful model of the Ark Royal aircraft carrier [he was into planes]. It was complete with little tiny planes, each on individually painted. I remember that Christmas like it’s locked in my brain because of that model. The fact that my father made it and hand-painted it himself really impressed itself on me. When I was later to write music, maybe that was part of why I wanted to pay great attention to detail, to make sure it was something really special. To be worthwhile, I knew it had to be really big, epic and important, not something to be thrown away. Perhaps those feelings go back to that wonderful Christmas present.

As a child, Mr Oldfield came to music as a release from his problems at school and at home. He writes of how he would listen to records and spend hours trying to work out how to play a certain piece: “It was like a switch went on in my head: I’d finally found something that I really liked and I really wanted to do. . . . I must have looked completely obsessive, but for me it was a way of escape.”

At the age of 12 he started playing regular gigs at the Reading Folk Club. His older sister Sally was playing in the clubs as well, with her friend Marianne Faithfull, and he says of the time that he he wasn’t really socialising, as most of the people he was around were older. He was using his guitar as a means of communication and escape from school, his mother’s mental illness and family problems. He writes:

I understood music like other people didn’t. I felt it and saw it very deeply, with crystal clarity. When I listened to a piece of music I could see all its components, its parts and how they fitted together. I didn’t just sit back and think, ‘oh that’s nice.’ If someone said something like that to me I would be furious with them, ‘What do you mean, can’t you see what’s going on? It’s brilliant!’ Music to me was something different, a vast kaleidoscope of magic and wonder. To this day my mind boggles at how superficially some people listen to music.

In music, he had found a way of coping with life. He writes that it was a sanctuary where he felt safe, it was something that he found interesting – and it was something that made him socially acceptable.

Mr Oldfield recalls his first music class at school after his family had moved from Reading to Harold Wood, where he had to conform to the rules. While he created beautiful harmonies, it wasn’t what the teacher had wanted, and he found the whole experience boring. However, he credits this teacher for introducing him to one of his favourite pieces of music, Sibellius’ fifth symphony, and he says that the beginnings of Tubular Bells started from him wondering how he could do something like that piece.

It was at this time that he was introduced to LSD and hash, and he explains that things wouldn’t have happened the same way without drugs:

That first experience might have flipped a few switches in my brain that led to the utter paranoia I experienced later, which left me feeling incapable of doing much at all for years and years. Through all of that came my life as it is, Tubular Bells and everything else. I wouldn’t put it all down to my drugs experiences but they made me who I am and made the music the way it was.

His experiences with drugs were relatively short-lived though. Following a horror trip in 1970 when he saw reality as it really was, which was the beginning of a decade of panic attacks, he says he’s never touched LSD again.

By this time he was waiting for his 15th birthday so he could leave school. In the meantime he recorded some demo tapes with his sister Sally, under the supervision of Mick Jagger. They ended up recording an album together under the name Sallyangie, but eventually Mr Oldfield felt as though he was in his sister’s shadow and he wanted to do his own thing.

The book continues to tell the story of Mr Oldfield’s first band, Kevin Ayers and the Whole World, which he joined at the age of 16. He notes that he felt like he was the young boy in a band of much older guys, and he didn’t think they took him seriously -they tolerated him, but he wanted to be as good as them. It was with Kevin Ayers that he first started drinking, which he says helped his guitar solo in the show become one of the wild points – like Angus Young of AC/DC (who actually doesn’t drink!).

After this band disbanded, Mr Oldfield continued working with Kevin Ayers and eventually ended up at Shipton Manor, owned by Richard Branson, having been given the chance to work on the album that would become Tubular Bells.

This was recorded over two periods in 1972 and 1973, and the book describes the huge amount of work he put into this album that became a monstrous hit – and how he signed a contract with Virgin that in the end committed him to 17 years and 13 albums with the label. On becoming famous, Mr Oldfield writes:

Eventually I realised that I couldn’t have any true friends any more, because I couldn’t trust why they were being friendly. . . . It’s horrible but I couldn’t see any way of avoiding the feelings of mistrust. To succeed in the music business you have to be very savvy and worldly wise. If anyone can rip you off they will, without a second’s thought. . .  The paradox is if you become strong and tough enough to deal with it, you could lose the sensitivity needed to create whatever it is, the music, the art.

Mr Oldfield goes on to describe the difficulty he had following up such a successful album (Hergest Ridge, the difficult second album), his increasing dependence on alcohol, and the release of his more successful third album Ommadawn in 1975. As the 1970s progressed the world of music was shifting to punk and Virgin, which was essentially a one-artist label, was feeling like a laughing stock, debating whether to drop the “progressive” label and focus on punk. Mr Oldfield writes that he wasn’t marketable at that time, and was constantly attacked in the music press. Consequently he lost his spark and music became a chore to him. It was around this time he attended the Exegis seminar, after which he felt like he was floating on a cloud. He decided he needed a new way of living and working – he writes that it was like starting a completely different life.

He writes of becoming a father, losing his fear of flying then learning to fly, and even going on tour, which he had refused to do in the past.

The final two chapters of the book cover 1981 to 2006. He writes of the settlement agreement with Virgin and another breakdown he had at the end of the Discovery tour in 1984, the break up of his relationship and the albums he made in a more commercial vein with actual songs on them (this was the Moonlight Shadow period). He writes that that last album he made that was full of songs was Earth Moving in 1989. His next album Amarok, was another instrumental album. Richard Branson had wanted him to call it Tubular Bells II but he refused. He said he wanted to do Tubular Bells II, but that wasn’t it. As a result, he says, Virgin didn’t promote it, and it didn’t sell well. He says this is a shame because it’s probably one of the best things he’s ever done.

It’s a single 60-minute piece, which was probably difficult to isolate a piece for radio or release from, and has been described as Mr Oldfield’s protest album against Virgin, and apparently includes Morse Code spelling out “FUCK OFF RB” about 48 minutes in.

Mr Oldfield finally did get to make Tubular Bells II, released in 1992 on his new label Warner. He describes working on it as a joy and that it, and therapy, helped him get through the break-up of his family, his second relationship break-up involving children.

The book ends with Mr Oldfield’s musings on “now”:

I’ve had to learn what I am and it’s not a musician, it’s something else. To me, a musician gets out his instrument and just plays or entertains. That’s not me at all: What I can do is transfer the essence of a feeling or emotion, express it in music. … I’m an interpreter, a sonic mood translator if you like. I can take the beautiful feelings you get in life, and the horrible ones as well, and I can turn them into aural sounds, give form to them in music . . .

From now on my music is not going to be cool, it’s not going to be hip or sexy. It’s going be hand-played and mathematical; it’s going to be as complicated as I feel it needs to be. I’m not going to care if anyone likes it or buys, it, which is exactly the way I felt when I was 19. . .  If I can somehow persuade people how to play again properly, to stop concentrating on how good they look on TV and really start to do interesting things with music, then I’ll try to do that.

I found Mr Oldfield’s story fascinating and knowing the stories has made me want to track down more of his work. I’m currently listening to Ommadawn, which I love and have on high rotation. I think I’ll figure out the Morse Code in Amarok next!

Post script: As I was putting this post together, I learned that Mr Oldfield’s father, Raymond Oldfield, passed away last week. In the book Mr Oldfield says that he has tremendous respect for his father, and that he’s learned how important it is to accept your parents the way they are. He learned in the Exegis seminar that “we look at our parents like gods” and that “if you don’t grow up and see them in their proper place, as proper human beings, you can carry on your whole life looking at them through the wrong perspective”. I think I know what he means there, and it’s a good lesson to learn.

Challenge 4: Facing Fear – Days 8-14

I’m not going to write about everything I do this month, but I have done something outside my comfort zone every day this week. Some weren’t very far out, baby steps, so I think maybe i need to start ramping it up a bit in the second half of the challenge.

Activity 8: Introduce myself and talk to someone new at school

Following on from saying hello to new people at school last week, on Monday I had an opportunity to introduce myself to one of Kramstable’s classmate’s grandmother. We were waiting in the classroom to go with the class on a walk to an off-site program, so I went over to her and said hi, introduced myself, found out who she was and told her who I was before the teacher introduced us.

After my experiences of the last few days I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll always feel uncomfortable doing this, but that it’s a lot more uncomfortable to be in the same place as someone and not know who they are, than it is taking this step.

So far it’s been ok because it’s been one-on-one interactions. I’m not so sure about doing this in a more populated environment, such as a party, meeting, “networking” event or conference. I remember attending a work conference with a colleague some years ago and was amazed at how she simply walked over to people, held out her hand and introduced herself. I was tagging along like a terrified shadow, too scared to say anything.

I mentioned this to her at the time, and told her how impressed I was that she was doing this and how easily she was doing it. She told me that she was terrified, but had made a decision to meet people because that was the point of being at the conference in the first place, so she basically took a deep breath and just did it. I did not.

Perhaps I need a conference to go to so I can ramp this challenge up a bit.
Nooooo!

Fear-ometer rating pre-challenge: 2/10

How I felt doing it: Nervous and a bit awkward.
How I felt after doing it: Glad I’d taken the initiative before the teacher introduced us.

Would I do this again: Yes.

Activity 9: Call someone about something I would normally email them about

We got a letter from the council a few days ago about some work they are planning in our street. It’s not exactly clear (at least to me, non-town planner with plan-reading skills of approximately zero) exactly what’s proposed and why it’s changed from what we understood the original plan to be. There was a contact name in the letter if we needed further information, who we could call or email. I was going to email, since that’s normally my easy way out of dealing with an issue, but decided to actually speak to the person instead just to challenge myself a bit.

Fear-ometer rating pre-challenge: 4/10
How I felt doing it: Nervous, but I was asking for information, not asking for anything to happen or be changed, so I talked myself out of the nerves. Sort of.
How I felt after doing it: Annoyed because the contact person wasn’t the person that could answer my questions so I had to call the “expert” the next day.
Would I do this again: Well I have to don’t I?!

Activity 10: Request at work

Fear-ometer rating pre-challenge: 7/10
How I felt doing it: Nervous because I couldn’t slot the point I really wanted to make into the conversation.
How I felt after doing it: Annoyed because I didn’t say what I wanted to say. So I didn’t complete the challenge.
Would I do this again: I will try again.

Activity 11 Make an appointment I’ve wanted to make for ages

Fear-ometer rating pre-challenge: 2/10
How I felt doing it: A bit nervous about making the call, but the lady I spoke to was very nice.
How I felt after doing it: Relieved at having made the phone call but still anxious about the actual appointment.
Would I do this again: Yes.

Activity 12: Go on a school excursion with 100+ kids

I’ve been on heaps of school excursions and they’re always fun, but I always get a little bit terrified of going because I become responsible for other people’s children, who I don’t often know very well. It’s scary trying to keep a group of 25-30 kids together while you’re walking to the venue and crossing busy roads and, while the teacher is ultimately in charge, you’re there to help them and make sure nothing goes horribly wrong.

This time was particularly scary as it was a reasonably long walk to the venue and it was a huge day with hundreds of kids from schools all over the place there. It gets easier to manage days out as the kids get older, but this was the biggest thing I’d ever been involved with.
I really needn’t have worried so much. I had a group of eight kids to watch over, I had another parent with me and the teacher floating between groups. So it was pretty chill in the end. All I had to do was gently guide the kids back on track if they looked like they were drifting away and make sure they didn’t wander off. It all went smoothly and I’m not sure what I was worried about.

20160812 FOBI 22

Maybe it’s just a little stage fright that comes with being made Responsible (and charged with reporting back to the teacher if any kids misbehave). Maybe it’s the same excitement/nerves I get before I do anything a bit unusual and isn’t really fear at all.

Fear-ometer rating pre-challenge: 3/10
How I felt doing it: I had a great time. I didn’t lose any kids. I learned stuff.
How I felt after doing it: Glad I did it.
Would I do this again: Yes.

Activity 13: Write a post about a difficult subject on my blogT

his was one of my standard posts about a book I’d read as part of my 24 books in a year goal. It was Arianna Huffington’s book Thrive, and I focused on the subject of death and how she wrote about how no one speaks about it.I wondered if I should post it because it’s not a comfortable subject. But it’s my blog and it’s about what I’m learning – so if what I write doesn’t connect with anyone, that’s fine.

Fear-ometer rating pre-challenge: 4/10
How I felt doing it: Worried I might be writing about a touchy subject that might be upsetting.
How I felt after doing it: Wondering if anyone had actually read it.
Would I do this again: Yes.

 

Activity 14

Completed

Challenge 5: Fix what bugs you

This challenge has its origin in several places.

I’ve been reading Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, in which he talks of the circle of concern (which is everything we care about) and the circle of influence (which is everything we have control over or influence on). He recommends undertaking a 30-day proactivity challenge, where you work only in your circle of influence, on things you have control over, rather than getting caught up on things that concern you but which you can’t do anything about.

Along the same lines, a recent email challenge over at Hey Kendra was to go for 24 hours without complaining. Kendra says that while complaining has some rewards, (because it feels good to vent and can help us bond with other people who have the same complaints), it has downsides if you do it a lot. For example, you look like someone who isn’t in control of their life; people can get sick of you if you complain a lot and you can attract other complainers into your life. Kendra puts it like this: “we have perfected the art of fine whining”.

This is something I’d already started to focus on, because I started thinking that, unless other people have the same issue as I have, they really aren’t interested in the little things I complain about.

I committed to not complaining for 24 hours for Kendra’s challenge, and didn’t even last half a day! Some things (that are totally outside my circle of influence) really push my buttons. But on reflection, they aren’t worth the energy it takes to complain about them.

Kendra says the challenge is to focus on solutions – and if you have nothing positive to say, say nothing. And this leads us to the final piece of the puzzle that is Challenge 5 in my year of #steppingonthecracks.

This came from a recent podcast from Asian Efficiency, with Paul Akers from which I got the big takeaway “fix what bugs you”. This could possibly be the best advice I’ve heard all year.

Putting all of this together, my next 30 day challenge is: If there’s something that’s pissing me off to first ask myself if there’s anything I can do about it. If not – let it go.

If yes – fix it. It probably takes as much energy to fix a niggling little problem as it does to whinge about it, and the difference is that fixing it means it’s no longer a problem, whereas whinging about it has used the same energy and the problem still exists.

If it’s not something I can fix straight away (the two-minute rule might be useful here – if it can be done in under two minutes, do it right away, don’t leave it), at least make an action plan to get onto fixing it.

Example: Last week I was in the kitchen and the bin liner had come away from the sides of the bin and was making it difficult to put stuff in the bin. You know, when you dump something heavy in the bin first up and it pulls the whole thing down.

Other person, looking at the bin: “That bin liner isn’t very useful like that”.

Me: *Pulls out the bin and straightens up the bin liner.* *Gives self gold star for fixing instead of pointing it out and doing nothing.*

This is the kind of stuff I’m talking about.

I’ll have to be very careful on Twitter, since that’s where most of my complaints are aired. If you catch me complaining in the next 30 days without having a plan to fix the issue, feel free to call me out on it! #fixwhatbugsyou

My goal will be to find at least one thing each day that I might have complained about and fixed instead.

And in case I felt inclined to complain about the weather, a reminder that spring is coming:

20160812 Pretty at St David's Park

 

On contemplating death: Book 21/24

Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Arianna Huffington (2014)

Book 21 - ThriveBefore I read this book, I knew of Arianna Huffington in connection with the Huffington Post, but that’s about all. I found out more about her on Gretchen Rubin’s “Happier” Podcast (Episode 65)  when she was talking about her new book The Sleep Revolution, which follows up on the information about sleep she presented in Thrive.

In the podcast, and in a similar interview with Dan Harris on his 10% Happier podcast, Ms Huffington speaks of having a wake-up call when she collapsed from exhaustion after working 18-hour days as well as being a mother to her two teenage daughters, and woke up in a pool of blood after fracturing her cheekbone and cutting her eye. This lead her down a path to reduce the stress in her life, cut back on work and sleep more.

In Thrive, Ms Huffington says that “over time our society’s notion of success has been reduced to money and power”. She says this can work in the short term, but over the long term she sees money and power by themselves as being like a two-legged stool, which is eventually going to fall over. Many successful people, she says, are now falling over.

She says that the way society has defined success is not sustainable, either for individuals or societies, and that to live the lives we truly want and deserve, we need a third measure of success that goes beyond money and power. She calls this the “Third Metric”, which is made up of four pillars: Well-Being, Wisdom, Wonder and Giving.

The book is made up of four sections about those themes, and Ms Huffington explores these themes through examining research, scholarship, her own personal experiences and experiences of others. Like in Big Magic, I didn’t find a lot of stuff that I hadn’t read about before, but I found the discussion in the chapter about Wonder on death and dying to be particularly moving and thought provoking, so I’m going to write a bit about what she says on this subject.

As we know, we’re all going to die. Whatever we believe happens to us after death, our life as we know it will eventually end.

Ms Huffington writes: “The closer death comes, the deeper we bury it, desperately putting machines and tubes and alarms and railings between us and the person stepping over to the other side of the mortality line. The medical machinery has the effect of making the person seem less human and therefore his or her fate less relevant to us . . . It allows us to not think about it, to put it off endlessly like something on our to-do lists we never quite get to.  . . . Rationally we know we’ll get to it – or run smack into it – eventually. But we figure we don’t need to deal with it until we really have to.
Why should we think about our death now? she asks. What good would it do us?

“A lot actually. In fact there may be no single thing that can teach us more about life than death. If we want to redefine what it means to live a successful life, we need to integrate into our daily lives the certainty of our death. Without no ‘dead’ there is no ‘alive’. . . . As soon as we’re born we’re also dying. The fact that our time is so limited is what makes it precious.”

Everything we accumulate in our lives, power, money, success, will be no more permanent than we are, she says (you can’t take it with you) and, while you can leave an inheritance to your children, you can also pass on “the shared experience of a fully lived life, rich in wisdom and wonder,” which seem to me like much more significant things to leave behind. “To truly redefine success,” writes Ms Huffington, “We need to redefine our relationship with death.”

She goes on to say that research has found that avoiding the reality of death leads people to hold onto customs and beliefs that contribute to stability (which makes sense to me). This includes identifying with groups based on race or gender or other attributes. It’s suggested that holding onto a group in this way can lessen our fear of death, because the group has an air of permanence, even if we we the individual are impermanent.

However, Ms Huffington writes, this holding on can be one explanation for things like racism and for ways in which we “demonise outsiders to glorify our own group.” She describes how the research (by Professor Todd Kashdan) found that mindful people who were willing to explore what’s happening in the present, even it it’s uncomfortable, tend to show less defensiveness when their sense of self is threatened by their own mortality. Professor Kashdan concluded that “mindfulness alters the power that death has over us”.

I found this to be one of the most interesting and powerful sections of the book, I guess because death isn’t something I think about too much. I was particularly moved by Ms Huffington’s description of the last day of her mother’s life, which she describes as “one of the most transcendent moments of [her own] life”. She writes that she keeps coming back to the lesson “don’t miss the moment”, which was her mother’s personal philosophy. The present moment, she writes, is the only place from which we can experience wonder.

She writes of maintaining a sense of wonder and curiosity, and says there are three basic practices that help her live more in the moment – the only place from which we can experience wonder:

1. Focus on the rising and falling of your breath for ten seconds whenever you feel tense, rushed or distracted. This allows you to become fully present in your life.

2. Pick an image that ignites joy in you. It can be of your child, a pet, the ocean, a painting that you love – something that inspires a sense of wonder. And any time you feel contracted, go to it to help you expand.

3. Forgive yourself for any judgements you are holding against yourself and then forgive your judgments of others. Then look at your life and the day ahead with newness and wonder.

“The only thing people regret,” she quotes English Poet Ted Hughes as having said, “is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.” This brought to my mind several articles that have been published on the regrets of the dying, where on their death beds people don’t regret not working hard enough, but regret not having lived a life that was true to themselves and not having been braver, loved more, spoken up more and so on.

When I think about it, this is one of the reasons I’m doing the #yearoffear challenge – to start to get braver and do things I’ve been scared of doing, so that I don’t have as many regrets when my time comes.

That’s pretty heavy stuff! But I also got a lot more out of this book than just contemplating my own death; I even got a couple of new ideas for my #yearoffear challenge – so I’ve added them to the list.

Recommended.