Category Archives: guilt

A new word for a new year?

I enjoyed having a break between Christmas and New Year that was long enough to do a thorough review of 2020 and of what I achieved, what I didn’t achieve and what I want to focus on in 2021.

The sun rises on 2021

One of the things I did was to consider what my Word for 2021 might be. Finding a Word for the year is a practice that I have unsuccessfully dabbled in for a few years now, the idea being that you choose a word (with some supporting words if you want) that will help you shape your year and remind you what you want to focus most on. You can use it any way you want, so it’s a very forgiving practice. The process I started to use is outlined in Susannah Conway’s Find Your Word 2021 workbook, but before I got halfway through the work, my Word for 2021 had come to me.

Listen.

This year, I want to make space to listen. This means many things to me, but it particularly means to listen to myself, which is something I’m not good at doing. 

As I was flicking (aka mindlessly scrolling, you know, that thing I’m trying to do less of) through my social media feeds, I saw a lot of positive posts that were glad to see the back of 2020 and hoped for a better 2021. Looking at these posts, I couldn’t help feeling that this wasn’t right and that things aren’t going to be better in 2021. I knew I had to stop and listen to this feeling because it wasn’t just a passing feeling. It gnawed away at me over the week and the voice within me kept getting louder and louder.  

What it said to me was that, even though I’ve not been personally badly affected by any of the truly awful things that are going on in the world right now, I have been incredibly fortunate when so many haven’t. And, while it would be easy to stay asleep to the realities of what’s going on, I’m really just dodging bullets and I won’t be able to do that forever. It will catch up with me. My voice was telling me to wake up while I still can. 

As I scrolled, I started thinking how, in the past few years, many people have chalked up the shitstorm that was the preceding year as “a bad year” and have expressed great hope that the next year would be better. This is understandable: A new year is an obvious time for a reset. I’m doing it right now. But increasingly, the next year hasn’t been better. Every year the threats posed by environmental collapse, war, poverty, famine, bushfires, old white men in power are increasing, not to mention effects of the pandemic that keeps on giving. Who, in closing the door on 2019, would have expected that? This stuff is not going away just because the western calendar has moved on to another number. And in the same vein, hearing people say that they hope that life returns to “normal” post-covid sets alarm bells ringing within my soul. We can’t sustain what we once called “normal”. 

I find it very easy to shut down when faced with what’s going on and retreat into my “I’m okay, everything will be okay” bubble, thinking that someone will do something, surely one day the people that can make a difference will do something, they won’t let this happen to us. 

But they haven’t shown any inclination towards doing anything so far. To me, it seems like most people with any influence over what happens to this planet don’t care and won’t do anything in case it upsets big business, or whoever else they are beholden to. The western world is drowning in consumerism that encourages us to buy more stuff to keep “the economy” strong, demanding that the planet give more than it has to give, and the mainstream media does nothing to dispel the many lies out there. And so humanity hurtles towards its doom. 

Kramstable asked me why people aren’t doing anything if our current course of action means humans could be wiped out, possibly in his lifetime, as some of the worst-case scenarios suggest. Other than being horrified that a 14-year-old was wondering if he would even get a chance to get old, I didn’t have an answer for him. (On reflection, there is nothing horrifying about this. Greta Thunberg was only 15 when she started the school strike for climate movement.)

I know that the big guns aren’t going to change anything. They will let the world burn. I partially understand the reasons for this. The system we live in is broken but it’s the only system we know so we cling to it and we hope that things will go back to normal, which is basically the state that created the situation we are now in.

I told Kramstable that I didn’t truly understand why what’s happening is happening or why people seem to be prepared to take no action when they know what the outcome is going to be. Perhaps they don’t really believe it. Perhaps they figure they’ll be dead before the worst of it affects them so they don’t care. Perhaps they think some supernatural being will step in and make everything all right, at least for the worthy ones.

I felt utterly helpless thinking about telling him that I had no answer to his very reasonable question, and I knew that at that moment I had a choice.

In the face of such helplessness, it would be so easy to go back to my bubble, to keep working on the petty little issues that occupy my mind at the moment and to let whatever happens happen. (Okay, they aren’t petty to me, but on a global scale, they’re inconsequential, and the fact that I have the capacity to work through them tells me right there the level of privilege that I currently enjoy). That’s the path of least resistance, and I have to ask myself if that’s what I want, because it’s an option that is always open to me. I could basically go to sleep. Or perhaps go back to sleep. I could stay in my bubble and focus on my own issues and ignore what’s going on around me for as long as I can. 

I could also rage and despair, and feel helpless and scream out that it’s not fair, and keep asking why doesn’t Someone do Something. Another option. Not a very constructive option and the outcome would be the same as the least resistance option. I’d just feel a whole lot more stressed and fearful while achieving the same result. 

Or I could do something. 

I’m currently reading Sarah Wilson’s book This One Wild and Precious Life, which suggests there is hope. But we have to change ourselves. If I want things to change, I have to change. In the book, Sarah argues it’s our responsibility to stand up and fight for our world, to do something, to practise what we preach, to “wake up and to come back to life and to do what matters”.

I’ll come back to this book in another post because it has a lot to take in and I’ve been making lots of notes from it and tossing ideas around in my head. But I have to do more than take it all in. It is a call to action. 

I look back to that conversation with Kramstable and I wonder how in good conscience I can complain that other people aren’t doing anything to address the situation we find ourselves in if I don’t do anything myself. How can I look him in the eye and say that no one is doing anything when I’m not doing enough to fight for my own future, much less his? It would be so easy to blame the government, the Murdoch media, people who use disposable coffee cups, people who drive their cars everywhere, people who think changing a word in the national anthem will make us a united country . . . and to sit back and whinge about everything that everyone else is doing or not doing.

I’m part of this too. My choices are contributing. 

I can either put up and shut up, or I can start listening to the voice inside me that doesn’t want to give up. The voice that says I need to take personal responsibility and start taking real action. I need to listen to that voice, I need to listen to the world and I need to learn. I have a lot to learn, about what’s happening and what’s needed, but that isn’t enough. I have to do something with what I’m hearing and what I’m learning. Because if there was ever a time that action is needed, it’s now.

We often avoid taking action because we think, “I need to learn more”, but the best way to learn is often by taking action.
—James Clear.

Thinking, as I usually do, that I need to know everything before I do anything is one way to not take action. Sitting down and writing about needing to take action is another way. Neither of these things change anything. But, as I read about what’s happening in the world and what this means for our future, if I really take it in, I am really scared. I’m fucking terrified. Part of me doesn’t believe this is actually happening, despite all of the evidence around me that it is. Part of me does want to crawl back into my privilege bubble and go back to sleep. 

Trying to squash those feelings or pretending I don’t have them won’t help. Acknowledging them, accepting that I have them and embracing them, then taking action in spite of them, is the only way to deal with them. As Sarah writes, we can be more than one thing. It follows that we can feel more than one emotion. It’s okay. It’s okay to be scared and it’s okay to be in denial. It’s also okay that the super critical voice in my head that constantly tells me I’m no good is screaming that I shouldn’t be writing stuff like this because I don’t know what I’m talking about and that I’m over-reacting, that nothing bad is going to happen. That is especially okay because the louder and more insistent that voice gets, the more I know that it’s freaking out and wants me to stop, which really means that I’m on the right track and I need to keep going.

It’s okay that right now, writing this, I want to burst into tears and I don’t know what to do. But I can find out, and then I need to do it.

Sarah’s book is a start, and now I’ve read (most of) it I know I mustn’t go back to sleep. It’s discouraging to think of the many times I’ve committed to making changes, made a start and gone back to my old ways after a few days or weeks. But nothing bad has ever happened to me as a result. Super critical voice is telling me that this is just like one of those times. Nothing will happen to you if you fuck this up. But if you say you’re going to do something and then you don’t, well, aren’t you going to look like an idiot then? Best to calm down, shut up and go back to writing about how you can’t stop scrolling through Instagram. Everything will be fine. 

Yeah, thanks for that, SCV. Not helpful.

This time last year, I was in despair about the bushfires that were ravaging our country and I sat, feeling powerless and guilty as so much precious vegetation and wildlife was destroyed, some of it never to return, terrified that the fires would come my way eventually. I can remember someone saying to me that feeling guilty or living in fear wouldn’t help and that instead, I could turn these feelings into action, to do what’s good for the planet and to keep fighting for it. That sounded positive, so I signed up for a challenge that suggested one change you could make every week to make a difference. I gave up on week 2 because it was too hard to decide which not non-ethical financial institution I wanted to transfer my money into when I divested from one that supported fossil fuels.

It would be funny if it weren’t true.

Meanwhile, a year has passed, the world is still getting hotter, Australia continues to support the fossil fuel industry and avoid its international obligations, Arctic sea ice keeps melting. Oh, and we’ve been hit by a global pandemic. I had committed to changing and I had done precisely nothing, exactly as I had done in the past in the multitude of my own personal challenges.

But unlike in those challenges, the stakes here are real and I don’t know how to convey to myself that this isn’t a practice run. It’s not a new habit that I might or might not take up with no harm done if I don’t. This is the real deal and there is no Plan(et) B. 

There’s a quote often attributed to Anne Frank that goes something like how wonderful it is that no one need wait a single minute before starting to change the world. I’m not sure what part of her diary it’s from but I’ve seen it used in many places. What it’s saying to me is that I can’t sit around and wait for someone to tell me what to do. No one is going to do that. There isn’t a checklist that starts off with “stop using disposable coffee cups” and ends with “planet saved”. Permanent lifestyle changes are needed, not things that can be ticked off a list to make me feel good. But I can’t sit at my desk making lists of all the things I need to change and make a big, detailed plan of how to change my lifestyle spanning the next three years, with everything in perfect order. The world doesn’t follow a Gantt chart and climate change isn’t going to wait for me to get my shit together. I need to go and do something. Now.

(Also, you may recall, I am brilliant at making plans but terrible at carrying them out, so that wouldn’t work anyway.)

I think right now, there’s no wrong thing to do, no wrong place to start. There is just simply so much that I need to change. And there’s so much to do that nothing will be wrong. Anything will be right. It doesn’t matter that I don’t know everything I need to do right now. All I have to do is know the first step. And take that. And then the next one. What I need to do next will start to become obvious the more I do the more I listen and the more I learn. 

I’m going to start listening more, educating myself, feeling the fear that comes from what I learn, and using that to drive me to make changes, to speak up and to take action.

As I thought through all of this, I cycled back to my Word for 2021. I wondered if “listen” was the right Word for me or if it should be something like “awake”, “learn”, or even “action”, since that’s what I have to do. But my own voice, the one I’m terrible at listening to, kept insisting that “listen” was the right word. So I honour that voice and, with a view to listening more to myself and to the world, that is my Word for 2021.

To be continued . . .

2020 in review

Susannah Conway’s Unravel Your Year 2021 workbook asks you to describe the year just gone by in three words. It’s left open to you how you interpret this: you could, I imagine, choose three words that describe the year from a global perspective, from a personal perspective or anywhere in between. There’s one word I’ve heard more often than I care to remember that has been used to describe 2020 that I never want to hear again and I have no intention of using it. It starts with unp . . . .

And that is the last I will say about that word.

I’ve chosen three words to describe the year from my own isolated perspective from the bottom of an island at the bottom of the world. They are:

  • Unexpected
  • Inconsistent
  • Introspective

Unexpected because I didn’t in my wildest dreams imagine that the world would be thrust into a pandemic that shut everything down, took so many lives, and shook everything up, leaving people jobless and causing so much worldwide despair, uncertainty and confusion. On a personal note, I didn’t expect the issues I was having in my workplace with noise to be (temporarily) resolved by having to work from home. There were other unexpected things too, not all good, and not all for this blog.

Inconsistent because, while I made a lot of progress in some areas I wanted to work on and I achieved a lot, I didn’t do as much as I’d hoped in other areas. I completed my uni course, and I had some good results at work but, there were other areas I was less successful in developing (no judgement here, just stating a fact) and they continue to haunt me. A lot of that is connected to me not being able to stop procrastinating and giving into distractions. And not getting into an exercise routine that works for me.

I struggled to find a third word but I chose Introspective because I started to work on some long standing personal issues in my head that are preventing me from being the person I want to be. It was hard work but rewarding, and I think I am starting to discover small chinks in the façade I’m trying to break down.

I would also add interesting to the mix . . .

I started the year with beautiful sunny Sunday morning photo expeditions, a couple of times with a good friend and other days by myself. It seems like so long ago now . . .

Sunday morning explorations with my camera

A major focus of my year was my uni program, of which I had three units to complete. The first one was intense, involving a lot of self examination and analysis, which left me feeling drained but also with some very clear ideas of what areas of my life I specifically needed to work on. I finished the course in October and received my qualification in December and am very glad that’s over but also grateful for the opportunity to have done it and learned so much.

I managed to keep reasonably healthy in 2020, not least because I have now gone for nine months without drinking alcohol and, as a formerly very regular moderate drinker, I’m particularly proud of my efforts to do this. I read the book The Alcohol Experiment by Annie Grace, and it totally changed the way I looked at alcohol. I’m not saying I will never drink again but for now I’m very comfortable with my decision not to.

This book changed my life

I had a potential issue with my eyesight that I had to have checked out a couple of times during the year but it all seems to be okay for now and the professionals are monitoring it. I got a hearing test at the start of the year, which revealed I have a low noise tolerance, which makes sense of all the issues I’ve been having at work and in other situations. I’m not sure what we do about this but a retest later in the year showed that my sensitivity had increased and I still don’t really know how to manage it. I kept up with my dental checks and my physio visits to resolve long-standing neck, back and posture issues.

I’m grateful there was never a time during the lockdown that I wasn’t able to go out on my regular morning walks. That would have made it a lot more unbearable.

Morning beach walks, muwinina Country

I started riding my bike to work, which became a whole lot easier when everyone had to stay home because of the pandemic and, as I said at the time, while I didn’t love riding in the traffic, I didn’t necessarily want the roads to be clear because no one was allowed outside. I stopped doing it as much (at all) as the weather got colder, the buses stopped charging fares and, eventually, when I was working from home full-time. It’s something I will start to pick up again when I go back to work after the holidays.

Bike riding to work

Another habit that I actually stuck with was reading, and there were a couple of things that made this possible. First, my goal was to develop the habit, rather than to set a number of books I wanted to read, which the pressure to read a certain amount off and allowed me to just focus on doing it. Second, keeping my no alcohol month going the whole of the year led to me going to bed earlier, which meant I could read in bed before I went to sleep. As of today, I have finished 34 books, which is 13 more than in 2019 when I set myself a target of only 12 books to read and never really stuck with it after I’d finished the 12th book.

The most powerful book I read in 2020, Truganini by Cassandra Pybus

I didn’t do as much work on learning Photoshop as I had intended at the start of the year when I signed up for a bunch of courses. Even though my uni work took up a lot of time, I still had a lot of free time that I could have done this work and I’m not sure what was stopping me. It’s not like I have to do the courses all at once or that there’s a time limit. I can do them in my own time, and maybe that’s the problem. I’ve worked well to deadlines where there is a clear assignment to complete but with these courses there are no assignments, just instruction and it’s up to you to play around with what you’re shown and see what you come up with. This is one of the areas I’m disappointed that I didn’t achieve very much in, and I want to do more in 2021.

I completed the major photography project I wanted to do this year, which was to spend 50 days making a photo a day with my 50mm lens. I’m really pleased with that project and it’s made me appreciate and understand that lens a lot better. I certainly won’t be keeping that one stashed in the bag again!

50mm photo of the Aurora Australis, the day before she left Hobart for the finial time

I had a couple of exciting moments in my photography in 2020 too. In January, one of my photos was published in Australian Photography magazine.

My first photo published in a national publication

I was equally chuffed when the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court asked if the court could use one of my photos of the court in their Christmas cards this year.

Supreme Court 2019

And just before Christmas, I found out that one of the photos I had taken of the Hobart Magistrates Court at the Open House Hobart weekend had been chosen as a winner of their photo competition, which was a lovely way to end the year. I’ve really enjoyed my photography this year.

Hobart Magistrates Court 2020

I was lucky to be able to get away for a couple of short breaks during the year. We had a trip to Bridport in the July school holidays. I hadn’t been there since I was a kid and couldn’t remember it at all, so it was great to be able to explore a part of Tasmania I wasn’t familiar with.

Old pier at Bridport on pyemmairrener Country

In October we had a night at Port Arthur, a place I am always somewhat reluctant to visit because of the many sad layers of history held by the area. And then, as a reward for finishing my uni course, I took myself off to Launceston for a photography retreat and I had a wonderful time photographing some of my favourite buildings and walking all day.

Tessellated Pavement near Eaglehawk Neck on paredareme Country

Kramstable adapted really well to online school and I was impressed with his commitment to his work, his ability to self-direct and to manage his workload. The schools did a huge amount of work to ensure that kids could continue learning during the lockdown and I have nothing but admiration for them for what they achieved. Thank you seems like such a lame things to say to convey how grateful I am for what they did. It has been wonderful watching Kramstable learn and grow this year, and for it to start to become more obvious what his strengths are and where his passions lie. The high point of his film work was his nomination as a finalist in one of the categories of this year’s My State Film Festival. It’s also exciting to watch his work and interests develop outside of school. Seeing his dedication sometimes makes me wonder how my life might have been different if I’d had such a passion as a teenager and had been supported to pursue it in the same way I hope I’m supporting him.

Sadly, Bethany the Australorp chicken and Rex the rabbit died earlier in the year. Two new chickens joined the flock in November, Dorothy and Shirley, who are black copper Marans and are very cute. After a month in a cage in the chook yard, they are now finding their feet with the big girls, some of whom are none too pleased to have them there.

The new chickens

Aside from the working from home, covid didn’t have a massive impact on my life. I don’t like going out much, I detest shopping, I don’t play or attend sport and I don’t enjoy being around large gatherings of people. I spend a lot of time at home anyway, and I love it. So I pretty much did what I always did, it’s just that I didn’t have a choice any more. Regular Friday night dinners at the bowls club were replaced with trying out various takeaway and home delivery options from local restaurants and pubs. I actually reversed my no caffeine strategy and started getting takeaway coffees from my local cafe (I am sorry for the plastic, but they weren’t allowed to use keep cups). I’m not sure why. One day I felt like a coffee and it was a valid reason to get out of the house and one day tuned into a couple of times a week, turned into every day. And when they were allowed to reopen, it because my go-to place to write. And a place to work when I needed a change of scenery.

Monthly review at the coffee shop

I realise that I am incredibly lucky that this was my experience when so many others suffered greatly and many continue to do so. I am so grateful for having the job I have and that the Tasmanian Government did what it needed to do to keep our state safe. I haven’t stopped being grateful for being in the position that I’m in this year.

It was, indeed, an unexpected year.

A weed is just a plant growing in a place someone doesn’t want it to grow in

Unravel Your Year asks you to consider what the gifts of 2020 were. I know for many, this would be difficult. I offer the following.

2020 brought me the gift of afternoon walks. Instead of being at work all afternoon, packing up and catching the bus home, I packed up my home office and went for a walk every day. I watched the afternoon light dance on trees, rocks, water and the opposite shore, and I made photos of what I saw. I would never have been able to do this if I hadn’t been working at home.

2020 brought me intense self reflection and the deep inner work that I need to do to start to heal myself.

2020 brought me a confidence boost that tells me maybe I do have an artistic side.

2020 brought me a brain that is no longer befuddled by alcohol, and the clarity and health benefits that go along with this.

2020 brought me respite from a work environment that was becoming increasingly stressful and difficult for me to cope with. My stress and anxiety levels are lower than they have been for a long time as a result.

A friend recently posted that we all need a little more yellow in our lives. I agree. You can never have too much yellow!

Goodbye, 2020.

You were not the year I expected you to be. I know the challenges you have presented, both on a global level and to me personally, are not going to disappear when the clock ticks over to 2021. In reality, the date on the calendar is just an arbitrary thing anyway. The sun is going to come up tomorrow, covid is still going to be here and I’m going to have the same struggles I have today. The climate emergency hasn’t gone away and there’s a lot of work to do. However, the end of the year is a good time to have a bit of a reset, to re-examine my priorities and goals, and make sure the course I’m on is still the one I need to be on.

Thank you, 2020, for the gifts and the opportunities you have offered me. I ticked 18 things off my 20 for 2020 list. I haven’t made the most of everything, but I think I’ve made some progress and I have learned a lot. I intend to continue to learn in 2021.

One thing I know, 2020, is that I won’t forget you in a hurry.

The not such a good day

This morning, after I had watched the sun slip over the horizon, I wrote:

20180111 Sunrise edit

I was feeling great about everything I was doing until yesterday when a few curve balls stopped me in my tracks and I no longer felt like I was in a good place.

So today I need to be kind to myself and do good things for myself and not give in to the temptation to go off the rails and start drinking and staying up late and eating crap food. Because I’ve only just started to reel that in from New Year.

And I have to remind myself that it will get better.

I need to remind myself that the first thing that’s upset me will happen no matter how I feel about it and there is nothing I can do or could have done to change that. I need to accept that and acknowledge my feelings, but not dwell on them. If I let myself get too upset by this, I’m going to end up miserable about something I can’t do anything about and I don’t think that’s a good use of my energy.

The second thing is in the past and I can’t change that either. I need to remind myself that I did the best I could with what I had at the time, that I’m older and wiser now and past me would not want now me to hold myself back because of things that happened years ago.

The third thing hasn’t even happened, and might not, and worrying about it now will not make a bit of difference to whether it happens or not. Arming myself, talking, and learning to recognise signs that it might be happening are practical things I can do, but worrying serves no one. Least of all me.

The fourth thing might be nothing so, again, worrying doesn’t help. It will most likely be sorted out today and that should be the end of it. It was just unexpected and it threw me right out when I was already feeling miserable, so of course, I latched onto the worst case scenario instead of looking at it realistically.

Now all I have to do is to convince myself this is all true and that the best thing I can do is . . . well, I’m not sure what to do. I’m still learning to deal with days like today. I can’t out-logic my feelings, so maybe I just sit with them a bit, have a cup of tea and read a good book. And stay away from any news sources.

So what did I do?

I already had the day off work, and I had been looking forward to doing some activities with Kramstable, but one of the things that happened put a stop to that and I had to change my plans.

This meant I hung around at home all morning, sorting some papers and tidying my desk. The floor looked appealing and I was tired and I lay down and went to sleep. I’m sure my osteopath wouldn’t have approved and I’m not sure that the money I’m spending to get my back fixed is being well-served by me doing this. However, what’s done is done and I needed the sleep.

I could have done lots of things today. I could have had that cup of tea and read a book. (I don’t actually drink tea. But liquorice spice, that’s my thing.) I didn’t. I could have got out the drawing exercises I want to go over again and practised. I didn’t. I could have started work on one of my photo projects I have a hankering to do. I didn’t.

I didn’t do anything that would’ve had any impact on anything I really want to do. I basically wasted the day. It was hot and, by the time Kramstable and I got back from the appointment about the thing (which is all fine, by the way, nothing to worry about), I was exhausted. I watched him do some acting. I went through some emails that have been sitting around for weeks. I fell asleep on the couch. I really felt like all I wanted to do today was sleep.

Part of me is saying, “Good. You obviously needed rest. You had a day off and you had some rest. Good for you.” And part of me is saying, “You’ve wasted an entire precious day off. What were you thinking? Think of all the things you could have done today. You can never get that time back again.”

So now I feel half-good and half-bad and I don’t know if I feel any better than I did this morning, just that I’m another day closer to having to go back to work.

Only sitting here now on the deck, as the air cools down and the sky starts to darken, listening to the wind in the trees and the occasional cluck from a chicken (or whatever the hell sound it is the Dorkings make), I can’t help thinking I’m being a real sook. I have so many good things in my life. I mean, I have a deck with water views that I can sit on in almost silence and think and write. How great is that!

Last year was, for the most part, brilliant and I think I started things that I will have opportunities to explore more, things I will learn more from and things that will create more adventure in my life. This year is going to be exciting.

Some things will always upset me. Some things I will always worry about. Some things I won’t know how to handle. Life’s like that. It has its good days and its bad days. Today was a bad day, or perhaps just not such a good day, and that’s okay. I’ll have those days. And you know what, I’ll get through them. There might be tears and there might be napping, but I will get through those days.

I hope that, next time I feel like I do now, I’ll remember sitting out here looking at the clouds and the water, hearing the birds and thinking how lucky I am, how grateful I am, to be exactly where I am. And I hope that if I do remember, it will help me to get through that time, just like it’s helping me right now.

I’d been hoping for a glorious sunset photo to round off this post, like the one I missed last night, but it wasn’t to be. So, this instead.

IMG_6698

Here’s to a better tomorrow.

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.

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.

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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

Book 2/24 – I Thought It Was Just Me

A catch-up post for the four books I have read so far in 2016.

The full title of this book, I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough” gives an indication about what it’s about, but its primary focus is on Brené Brown‘s seven years of research into shame, in particular the effects of shame on women.

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Shame isn’t something I ever thought people conducted research into. It didn’t strike me as something that anyone would give much thought to. I got interested when I was reading another of Brené’s books, The Gifts of Imperfection, last year, and she talks about her shame research in that book. I was intrigued and wanted to know more, so I read this book, which was published in 2007.

In the introduction, Brené says that shame is an emotion that everyone experiences but no one wants to talk about. The book begins with a discussion of what shame is, and makes a distinction between feelings of shame – feeling flawed and unworthy (I am bad) – and guilt, the feeling you get when you’ve done something you feel bad about (I did something bad).

One of the key points raised in the book is that people are biologically wired for connection, and so “when we are experiencing shame, we are steeped in the fear of being ridiculed, diminished or seen as flawed”, and are therefore not worthy of acceptance. Brené says that “as long as connection is critical, the threat of disconnection that leads to shame will also be part of our lives”.

The book goes on to discuss shame resilience, an ability to recognise when we are feeling shame and to move through shame in a constructive way.

Chapters 3, 4, 5 and 6 describe the four elements of shame resilience, beginning with recognising shame and understanding our triggers, practising critical awareness, reaching out, and finally speaking out about shame. There are some written exercises that readers can complete to help them understand how to apply these elements to their own circumstances.

The next three chapters cover the practices of  courage, compassion and connection, and look at issues such as how society’s expectations, perfectionism, stereotyping and addiction contribute to shame. In these chapters Brené discusses how to use the strategies from chapters 3-6 in these practices.

The book uses examples from people Brené spoke to during the course of her reasearch, including four women whose stories unfold over the course of the book. Brené also uses examples from her own life to help explain the concepts.

I was drawn into this book from the first page. I wouldn’t have described the way I felt about myself as “shame”, but reading this book I realised the feelings I have of inadequacy, unworthiness, inauthenticity and imperfection are exactly the things Brené is talking about in this book. It’s kind of a relief to know that what I feel is real, and if what she’s saying is correct, it’s normal, but because people don’t speak about it, people feel like they’re the only one that feels like this.

The book is specifically about women and shame, but Brené touches on the issue of male shame. She notes that, while there are differences between why men and women experience shame, we’re all the same in needing to feel accepted and to believe that we belong and are accepted. For men it’s about the masculine “norms” of not being “weak, soft, fearful, inadequate, powerless and incapable”, whether this is stated explicitly to someone’s face or implied more subtly on a societal level.

I think it will take more than one reading of this book, and a lot of thought, for me to take it all in, but this is one of those books I am extremely grateful to have stumbled on. There’s a lot I can get out of it, and need to explore further.

Recommended.

P365 – Day 296 – find your passion

Go directly to the garden. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.

I’m one of those people who never knew what they wanted to do after they finished school. I was the career guidance teacher’s number one nightmare, and my parents despaired that I was never going make up my mind.

As a result, I changed my mind about what university course I was going to do basically on the strength of a throwaway line from a friend, dropped out of the course after one year and four weeks, and did a degree I would never in a million years have seen myself doing two years previously.

Then, having absolutely no idea what I was going to do next, I somehow landed a job in the public service in Canberra. While the prospect of moving to Canberra was less than appealing, the prospect of earning more money than I’d ever had in my life was somewhat attractive.

So I took the plunge, packed up and moved, with the intention of staying for a couple of years and then coming home and doing what I really wanted to do, whatever that was.

History will show that the ‘couple of years’ lasted a bit longer than that. It will also show that I have no more idea about what I want to do now than I did then. But all the time, I was convinced that all I had to do was find what I was passionate about, and then I’d find a way to make that a part of my working life, then I’d be doing work that I loved so much that it didn’t even seem like work*.

Only what was my passion?

I dabbled in many things. I wanted to like things. I bought stuff. I started reading books. I did career inventories. I shelved stuff. I bought more stuff. I stuffed books onto bookshelves. I assessed my Myers Briggs Type for clues. I tried to remember what I loved doing as a child. I tried to imagine my perfect job. I made plans. I ditched plans.

None of it worked. There was too much out there. How could I possibly find the one thing or the couple of things that I was truly passionate about when there was so much stuff to do? Was my gut instinct telling me what I really wanted to do, or what I thought I wanted to do, or even what I thought I wanted to want to do?

How was I ever going to know what I REALLY wanted to do?

What am I passionate about? Am I passionate about anything?

I remember reading some time about in one of the zillions of “Find out what you really want to do and go out and do it” books that I started reading (and mostly never finished) that a good clue is to find the activity that puts you into what I think they called “the zone” – that is the place where you so immerse yourself in what you’re doing that you lose track of time, forget to eat, forget to go to bed . . . and no, I don’t think they were thinking of chatting online all night.

It occurred to me today – as it has at other times – that the only time I really get that completely lost is when I’m in the garden. When these authors described this zone, they were describing what happens to me when I’m gardening.

When I’m gardening I’m in my own world. I tell myself stories, I dream, I replay incidents that didn’t work out so that I get the result I want, I have conversations with people in my head. The real world ceases to exist.

Back in the days BJ (Before Juniordwarf), I’d think nothing of spending the whole weekend in the garden. If I didn’t have to eat I wouldn’t have.

But even so, it’s not something that I jump out of the door to do first thing on a Saturday morning. It is a huge effort for me to get to the point where I’m actually working in the garden and, from there, to that state where I get lost in it. It’s very easy to find something else to do, see something that has to be done, get distracted by something, and then it’s too close to lunch time or we have to go up the street, or we have to go out, or Juniordwarf wants me to do something with him, and then it’s too hot, or it’s raining or I don’t have the seeds I need or . . . .

So despite the fact that I love it, I find it incredibly hard to get motivated to do it.

It seems like a complete paradox. If I love it so much and it gets me into this other world, why then am I reluctant to get out there and do it?

The other factor that comes into the equation now, that I didn’t have before, is Juniordwarf! I want him to get more involved with the garden, but I don’t want to force him, so I just let him do pretty much what he wants outside, show him things that might interest him, let him plant seeds, do some digging and whatever else he is interested in, but most of the time he’s more interested in hanging out with Sleepydog. And the good thing about that it is it keeps her out of my way – she’s a very ‘in your face’ dog.

But getting into the “zone” is harder when I have to spend time with Juniordwarf. Not that I don’t enjoy doing stuff with him in the garden – I do, I love it – but it’s not the same.

And then if he wants to go back inside and do something else, my well-honed sense of Mother Guilt kicks in, and I feel guilty that I’m outside doing my own thing and leaving him to his own devices – despite the fact that he’s probably having a great time inside with his Dad! 

This is a combination of (a) guilt that I’m relying on Slabs to spend more than his fair share of time with Juniordwarf, (b) guilt that if Slabs is also doing his own thing, Juniordwarf has to entertain himself and leaving him to his own devices for too long isn’t fair, (c) guilt that I don’t have as much time as I used to with him and that I should be spending more of the weekend with him and that spending time in the garden isn’t as important as spending time with him . . .

However . . .

If I hung out with Juniordwarf all day and did no gardening, then the jungle would continue to multiply at a crazy rate, we’d have no home-grown vegetables and every time I looked out the back window I’d feel guilty about not being out there and getting stuck into it.

Really?

For goodness sake!

I wonder if other parents struggle with this sense of guilt no matter what they do? Is this one of those things that no-one ever talks about before you have kids, and even if they did, you as a child-free adult would scoff and tell them to get over it?

Now that I’ve actually written it down, I can see how ridiculous it all seems. 

Where the hell does all this guilt come from? And that’s only scratching the surface. What purpose does any of it serve, except to make me anxious and feel bad – and for no good reason? Surely there must be better things I can put my mind to than making myself feel rotten.

It’s that nasty inner critic at it again, this time attacking me with its little arsenal of “shoulds”.
And I “should” ignore it.

Well, for a post that was just going to talk about how much I got done in the garden today, this has turned into something completely unexpected.

What can I take from this?
  • I need a big push to get me started on anything, even if it’s something I love doing. This can only come from me. There are no excuses. I can either take the easy way and procrastinate, do nothing and continue to feel bad about that, or I can push through the pain of the resistance barrier, do something and end up feeling good about what I’ve achieved.

  • I want to be able to get out in the garden for periods of time that will let me get a reasonable amount of work done without feeling like I’m abandoning my family. I need to talk to my family about how we can make this work – what’s reasonable, what I need and what they need. How they can help.

  • I still don’t know “what I want to do”, but that’s OK for now, because at least I know what I am passionate about.

And today I had a great morning ripping out weeds, cutting branches off a tree and giving myself some hope that I might still get the vege patches under control in time to grow a few veges this year. I even found some veges growing in amongst the weeds. Yay!


* Before you tell me that this is complete piffle, and that very few people are ever able to find that work-passion balance, and that actually working with your passion can end up killing your passion, remember that I was in my early 20s when all this happened, and I really didn’t have much of a clue about anything! (Some would say I still don’t, but I choose to ignore them.)