What’s your definition of risk?

If someone asked me if I was a risk-taker by nature, I would say absolutely not. Hell no. I don’t take risks! I’m sensible, logical, practical, and I want an easy life.

Except, if I look at the choices I’ve made, I don’t think it would be right to say, categorically, that I’m not a risk-taker. And the thing I’m about to do next? Well, that is one big-ass risk.

But what is a risk, anyway? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as:

A situation involving exposure to danger’

and

The possibility that something unpleasant or unwelcome will happen‘.

If I think about how I would define a risk, it would simply be:

Stepping out my comfort zone.

You know, that zone where you feel safe and secure. Where everything is familiar. Where, if you step out of that bubble, you’re faced with the unknown. A place where you can’t feel safe because you don’t have your bearings. A place where you can’t feel secure because you’ve been uprooted. A place that isn’t familiar because you’ve never been there before.

But let me ask you this. How did you find your comfort zone in the first place?

You weren’t born into it. You found your way there through a series of decisions. Many of those decisions will have been decisions you’d never made before. Does that make them risks? Some would argue yes (ahem, me). Doesn’t every decision affecting your life have an element of risk attached? Of taking you from where you are to where you’re going?

You can never be sure of the consequences.

I struggle with the concept of the comfort zone. I know I have one, and I know I like it (clue is in the name) but I also know I want to push myself out of it and into a new one. A better one. And that alone suggests that a comfort zone can only be comfortable for so long. Like a bed.

I remember buying the bed for my flat almost half a decade ago – good lord – and I’d narrowed it down to two. The lady said to me, “pick the one you would most like to crawl into when you get home from work and you’re really tired“. I kept running from one to the other, trying to decide. Eventually, I settled on one. Squishy, luxurious, ever-so-dream-inducing. We’re still together. It’s served me well, but it’s developed a few little lumps (I couldn’t afford memory foam, ok), and you can tell that even the bed is getting tired. In another few years I’ll probably be able to feel the springs.

Something that was once so wonderfully comfortable, after a little while and a little wear and tear, loses its comfort. Comfort becomes adequacy. Adequacy becomes discomfort. 

When you really think about it, how comfortable is your comfort zone? What’s keeping you in it?

And if you pushed yourself into something new, something which initially makes you feel small, scared, intimidated, vulnerable or <insert negative here>, could you completely rejuvenate the comfort you experience?

I guess that all depends on your definition of comfort.

This ‘thing’ I’m doing next. It terrifies me. It’s the opposite of comfortable. My comfort zone is on another flipping planet. But it’s the comfort I believe I can find as a result of taking a risk that spurs me on.

And if I let the fear of change stop me, I’d regret it more than I regret just eating half a tub of Haagen-Dazs. Which is a lot.

So tell me, what’s your definition of risk?

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Dealing with doubts

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Doubts. The little buggers. Creeping up on us, wriggling around in our brains, leaking into all our positivity by screaming ‘BUT WHAT IF?‘. I have a lot of them.

In some ways, they’re healthy. They can prevent rash decisions, mistakes, and foolish behaviour. But, do they go too far? And by going too far I mean, do they limit me? Do they hold me back from doing the things I should do?

This had me thinking, are doubts actually akin to a conscience? That little voice of reason? Are doubts actually just balancing out the right and wrong choices to make and actions to take? I don’t know.

What I do know is that doubts have to be challenged. Doubts exist to stop us from doing, rather than compelling us to do. I want to be a doer. So, naturally, that means I have to challenge any doubts I have about ‘doing’.

I’ve had to face a lot of doubts recently. I’m still facing them. Part of me thinks I should let them win. They’re right! I can’t do it. It’s a silly idea. But the braver side of me deduces that doubts are not real. Their lack of tangibility equals a lack of reality. In other words, doubts might not come true.

For example, one of the doubts I’m facing at the moment is, ‘It will probably fail, so what’s the point?‘. Well, the point is, it might not fail, actually. If I was to listen to that doubt, I would be repressing the strongest form of myself. I would be wrapping an invisible chain around my own potential.

I would be contributing to my own failure. By not trying.

Not trying means not achieving.

And I will never know what I can achieve unless I try. I think that’s the answer to life, don’t you?

But in order for us to take that small step, or make that giant leap, we have to deal with the doubts. This is the best way I can sum it up:

Those seeds of doubt that have planted themselves in your head? You must starve them of water. You must starve them of water until they dry and wilt and eventually turn to dust. 

Be rational, of course. Doubts only grow themselves in order to protect us. But it is for us to realise when our doubts are growing more than we are. And, in those circumstances, it’s our responsibility to stunt them. To find the strength to quash what is hindering us. Because, if you let your doubts grow, they will transform from seeds into weeds.

And weeds are no good to anyone.

Weeds are spoilers. They thread themselves through all that is good and try to take over. Let them spread too far and the damage will be irremediable. The scales will tip in favour of your doubts and there will be no turning back.

Don’t let yourself reach that point.

You control your doubts, and the effect they have on your life. Not the other way round.

For the love of dad

For the love of dad

My parents have found my blog.

They knew I wrote one, but it only came up in conversation recently when my mum said she had seen one of my Instagram photos. She is definitely not on Instagram, so I racked my brains to figure out how. Ding. Blog.

In said blog, I refer to my mum a couple of times, mainly to say that she’s always right. Because she pretty much is. Luckily I inherited that gene, right Olly?

But dad felt left out. He’s 100% not always right, bless him, so I couldn’t put otherwise. Instead, here are just a few reasons why my dad is, and has always been, a top bloke.

1. When I had detention in school, he would sign my forms for me and agree not to tell mum (sorry mum).

2. He watched almost every game of netball I played when I was younger – that’s a LOT of games – and cheered for me like a champion.

3. When I had a paper round aged 14, he would get up at the crack of dawn and drive me round all of the houses so I didn’t have to cycle. Mum did this for me sometimes, too. Are they legends or what?

4. He could never stay angry at me for long, even when I was really naughty. Like the time I poured yoghurt over my sister’s head, or carved a star into my bedroom wall with a compass (those really are tips of the iceberg).

5. When I decided it was a swell idea to run away from home, he came to find me in the dark. (Young = stupid.)

6. On holiday, he would sing a duet of Wet Wet Wet’s ‘Love is all Around’ with me at karaoke.

7. Once, after he had dropped me off at uni and was heading home, I called him to say there was a spider in my room and pleaded with him to come back and extract it. He did.

8. He calls me kiddo*.

9. He has a 12-string guitar in the loft that he can still play on demand and it’s awesome.

10. On the day I qualified as a Solicitor he told me he was the proudest dad in the world. I know I don’t practice law any more, but I hope he’s still proud.

*although he also once called me a turd.

What snowboarding taught me about falling, and getting back up again

Snowboarding like a badass in Italy

The name Suzanne means ‘graceful white lily’. Well, let me tell you, there was nothing graceful about my last week’s escapades. Last week was the week my arse met the mountains. Over and over again.

Despite my penchant for sporting activities, my parents never thought to shove me down a big white hill on skis when I was younger. Probably sensible. But after spending so long saying ‘I’ve never done that’, I decided 26 should be the age I spend an eye-watering amount of money on a holiday where I don’t even get a tan.

So chaps, that is what I did.

My sister and I were both snow sport virgins, but our other halves were not. They did their own thing in the mornings while little sibling and I spent some quality time with an Italian named Lucio whose favourite phrases were ‘pay attention’, ‘don’t worry’, and ‘how long time ago’. At least he learnt our names though – there was a kid in the class he referred to as ‘boy’.

Anyhow, Lucio was a good snowboarding teacher and, most importantly, PATIENT with us. He must have looked at us falling about like the most efficient dominos and thought ‘what is wrong with these English people’. At one point I toppled backwards and hit my head so hard I cried like a baby. But he just said ‘don’t cry, don’t worry’, and helped me get back up. We held hands. It was borderline romantic (sorry Olly).

In the afternoons after lessons we would meet up with the other halves and they would witness all the progress we had made in the morning turn to s***. I’ve never cried so much on a holiday. I mean, seriously, holidays are supposed to be where happy gets made. At one point I fell so hard on my face my goggles branded me and I may have chipped a tooth. Another time I fell over so badly an actual tantrum happened. I took off my board and stormed down the mountain on foot.

It felt like I kept taking one step forward, and two back. It was immensely frustrating.

And every time I fell, I was more tentative of going again. Because I was scared of falling again.

But this meant I restricted myself – trying to snowboard with tension in your body is literally setting yourself up for a fall. You have to relax for it to work.

Sometimes, it’s hard to see achievements in perspective. At the start of the holiday I could only just stand up on the board, let alone ride down a mountain on it. After four days I was riding down a mountain on it, and occasionally falling over. But instead of focusing on how far I’d come, I was consumed by how far I still had to go to be ‘good’. Good by my standard. Which pretty much means the new Jenny Jones.

This is a flaw of mine. Looking at the negatives over the positives.

But, I started to see, falling over wasn’t a bad thing. Falling over meant I was trying, pushing, myself, and not just staying where I was comfortable. Even though I didn’t want to fall over (it hurt, a lot, and after a few days my body was really suffering), I knew that if I didn’t then I wasn’t getting any better.

If I didn’t fall, I wasn’t learning.

The important thing was my actions after a fall. I could roll around in the snow whimpering like a small mountain goat and thinking ‘I’m rubbish, I can’t do it, if I was good then I wouldn’t be falling’, or I could get straight back up and try again, being aware of what made me fall in the first place, and trying to avoid repeating it.

Apply this to life. Every day, every week, every year, we fall. In one way or another. We bruise, we feel pain, we wonder what the hell we’re doing for life to suck so much.

But the real value we get from those falls is the way we recover. Brush ourselves off, stand back up, tall, and deal with them. Make life better than it was before those falls.

We can learn so much if we let ourselves. If we recognise that falling is all part of growing, and that if we aren’t falling we aren’t trying hard enough.

Remember, if we don’t experience any pain, we can never know how sweet the pleasure of success is.

We can never find our limits unless we push ourselves beyond them.

And despite the five bruises I have on my backside right now, despite the aches threaded through my entire body, despite the mark on my face that is only just starting to fade, I already want to get back up on a mountain and snowboard the best bejeezus I can out of it.

My reversed lent

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I’m not religious. That’s not to say I haven’t given things up for lent before, I have (tried). Just not for religious reasons. Yes, I understand lent is about penance and self-denial, but deprivation isn’t what I’m looking for right now. I’m looking for enrichment. That’s why I’m using lent as a reason to add something to my days, rather than take something away.

This year, there will be no commitment to giving up chocolate. There will instead be a commitment to write. Outside of work. Every. Single. Day. It will be tough. Especially as I’ll be on holiday for a week of it.

Lent is about challenging yourself to do without, but I’m challenging myself to do with. To do with a pen and paper or a keyboard and screen. To do with thoughts and words and ideas. To do with taking a blank page and embellishing it in whatever way I feel like. I’m not giving myself minimum word counts to achieve – I’m someone who believes firmly in quality over quantity – but I am pledging to create something, every 24 hours.

Doing this will hopefully bring me closer to the elusive sense of purpose I seek. Seeing things come to life, literally through my fingers, in a few short weeks. Seeing how far I can go. How much I can grow. No more ‘I don’t have time’, ‘I’m too tired’, or ‘Shall we stick Netflix on?’.

Having ambition is one thing, but achieving ambition is another.

I’ve seen what’s at the end of a rainbow

Rainbows and tears

Nature is full of surprises. It was a dark day in so many ways. Sombre, melancholy, achingly sad. But at the moment of the final goodbye, the most incredible and beautiful thing came to life. A rainbow, vibrant and proud, right in front of my eyes. This wasn’t a rainbow you could see in the distance, visible but untouchable. This was a rainbow that started, and ended, in the very next field. No more than 50 metres from me. Wonderful and bright. Just like them.

Perhaps this isn’t so incredible. Perhaps many of you have seen the end of a rainbow too. But I hadn’t. And in that moment it was so fitting, so perfect, that it became unforgettable.

It was them, I was so sure it was them.

But, like everything, rainbows come and go. That doesn’t change the fact that I’ve seen what’s at the end of one.

There was no pot of gold. But there was hope.

There is always hope.