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.

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.

Acknowledging our achievements

Success

I’ve been neglectful of this little blog over the last couple of weeks. There’s no real reason for it, I guess I just ‘haven’t found the time’ to blog, but that’s a poor excuse. There is always time, I just need to utilise it more efficiently.

One thing I did find time for was writing an article to submit to the Huffington Post. The last 12 months have been significant for me for a number of reasons, one being my career change. Ok, my two career changes. Writing about this was, in some way, soothing. Taking thoughts from my head and leaking them through my computer keyboard on to a screen is incredibly therapeutic, and the Huffington Post article was no exception. Those changes were a big deal for me, and my life has totally changed as a result. So to know that I was being judged on that was a little scary. What if the editors didn’t like it? What if it wasn’t interesting enough? What if the writing was too weak?

When I found out it had been accepted for publication I was really, really happy. My thoughts, my words, were going to be available to the millions of readers of the site. That is an achievement. A success. And I’m going to be able to contribute on a regular basis. That is even more of an achievement. I think it’s something worthy of some pride.

Shortly after my article was published, I had a comment from a reader. It wasn’t negative, but it challenged some of my advice (not that I would like to class it as advice, per se). For example, the commenter said that if a person had children, they couldn’t just ‘decide’ to change their career path if it resulted in a drop in earnings. Obviously, individual circumstances determine the decisions we make, but I honestly believe there is always a way to make your life better. It might mean making a sacrifice, but that sacrifice isn’t necessarily a pay-cut. Plus, I don’t have children, so I didn’t have to worry about that when making my decision.

I guess what the comments taught me is that my writing – naturally – relates to my own personal experiences, so I cannot resonate with everyone who might read it. That would be impossible. And to try and write something to please everyone would probably result in a poor piece of writing. I need to feel confident in my abilities to reach out to a particular group of people. A group of people who might be at a similar stage of life, who might have had similar experiences, who might need that something to help them on their way, or who might simply like my writing!

If I am to put myself out there then I need to accept there are potential consequences. Negative reactions and comments that challenge or criticise. But that shouldn’t take away from the fact that my writing is out there in the first place, having been deemed good enough to publish. And it shouldn’t stop me from going to find new success.

My own personal achievements still exist, and I should acknowledge them. Just as you should acknowledge yours.

New discoveries

New discoveries I do not profess to have a terribly interesting life. I like what I like. I dislike what I dislike. I like cosy evenings in pyjamas reading a book. I dislike spending late nights in seedy clubs surrounded by people who are convinced that to have a good time you should ‘get smashed’. And I’m realising that, as long as I’m happy doing whatever I’m doing, nothing else really matters. If I’m judged for my preferences, I really don’t care. What is the point in spending time doing things I DON’T want to do, when there are so many other things I know I would rather do?

Having said that, I am always open to new discoveries. Food is a great example of this. I used to be an incredibly fussy eater, and I still am to a point, but I am so much more open minded and willing to explore the unknown these days. So even though I know what I like, I am still happy to try something new. If I don’t like it, I don’t have to ever have it again. It isn’t just food though. I like to think I embrace this philosophy much more generally, as and when necessary. For the rest of the time, I’m happy just doing what I do. Being me. Life doesn’t have to be interesting or exciting. Not all the time. It just has to make me content.

I have a rather addictive personality. And by that, I don’t mean it’s impossible to dislike me. It’s probably quite possible. I simply mean that I become quite easily obsessed with things. For instance, if I hear a new song I love, I will listen to it on repeat. I once went a month having cheese and ham toasted sandwiches pretty much every single day. You get the picture. This week I made two new discoveries. Discoveries which fascinated and compelled me. The first was this. This might seem interesting but insignificant. But to me, it was interesting and incredibly significant. Why? When I was a law student at Cardiff University, I was assigned to this very case as part of the Innocence Project. I read Dwaine George’s case files. I went through interview transcripts, legal papers, trial documents. Evidence. I worked in a small team to try and find the inconsistencies and explain them. I’m disappointed to say, we didn’t get far. But then, some seven or eight years later, I discover that this very same man has been set free as a result of the Cardiff University Innocence Project. His conviction has been ruled ‘no longer safe’. He has been a victim of a miscarriage of justice.

I can’t really explain how it made me feel to read about it. I can’t even imagine a situation like that. For an innocent person to be found guilty of a crime they didn’t commit. It’s terrifying. If I knew back then, for sure, that Dwaine was innocent, I would like to think my commitment to the case would have been more substantial. But you can never be sure. Especially as a young naïve student.

This leads me to my second discovery. This is where my addictive personality comes into play. In a strange coincidence, completely unrelated to the above, it concerns an investigation into a man convicted of a murder in 1999. His name is Adnan Syed. He has always maintained that he is innocent of the crime of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. If you recognise these names, you probably know about Serial. Serial is a podcast series narrated by Sarah Koenig, an investigative journalist, who delves headfirst into trying to figure out this case. I had never listened to a podcast series, but from the first episode, I was hooked. I finished listening to all 12 in a matter of days. I love this kind of stuff. It’s a story, but it’s real. I think that’s why it’s been so popular. And you can really feel how much Sarah wants to get to the bottom of what I consider to be a mess of a case. The kind of case where I, perhaps coming from a legal background, thinks how on earth could someone have been convicted of first degree murder based on that evidence. Or, more appropriately, lack of it. I won’t spoil it for you if it’s something you want to check out for yourself (which I would completely recommend by the way), but what I will say is that it is an utterly gripping look into the (American – Baltimore) legal system, people, and memories. So many questions that really suck you in. It’s exceptionally thought-provoking and truly does make me wonder how many miscarriages of justice really do occur. It’s impossible for the legal system to be perfect, to get it right every time, but there are some glaring flaws that I find astonishing. And I’ve sat on a jury myself, so I know the experience from both sides.

I didn’t think I would enjoy a podcast series. I didn’t think it would hold my attention. But my goodness was I wrong. And now that there is a big Serial shaped hole in my life, I will have to discover something else. All ideas welcome.

The enemy of apathy

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They say to keep your friends close but your enemies closer. That’s why apathy and I are almost inseparable. All that lies between us are empty yoghurt pots, dirty socks, and a layer of dust.

You don’t fight with apathy. It always seems to win. So why bother? It enjoys sitting with you on the sofa, doing nothing, avoiding everything. It’s favourite word is procrastinate.

Apathy doesn’t judge you. But it makes you judge yourself. To the point where you wonder, why do I let myself live like this? DO SOMETHING. But it doesn’t let you. It holds you down, holds you back.

You want to scream and shout at apathy for turning you into the person you have become. The person you don’t want to be. But it muzzles you and reminds you of your feeble purpose.

So, in the end, you comply. You grow used to its company and its consequence. Toleration becomes normality. But apathy never changes. It’s always there. Right by your side.

The worst of friends but the best of enemies.

What December means to me

Hello December

It’s that time again. The chill I feel in my bones, the mist I make when I breathe, and the frost which sleeps on my car, all tells me that we have turned the twelfth corner of 2014. We have entered the final chapter of the year, and who knows what will be written on its pages. November arrived in a flurry of fallen leaves and promptly left again. Which leaves us only with December, and all its glory. I’m not one of those people who has my Christmas tree up by now, listens only to Christmas albums on repeat, and has the presents already wrapped and under said tree. Far from it. Having said that, I am incredibly partial to some festive cheer and I feel content knowing that Christmas is on its way. Why? For me, it’s all about family.

When I properly moved to Cardiff 4 years ago I knew I wouldn’t be able to see my family very often. It’s a sacrifice I made to pursue a career good enough to be able to live very comfortably. However, that career was short-lived. I was miserable. What is the point in living very comfortably when, most of the time, you just don’t feel happy? I digress. Having lived away from my family for so long, it’s times like December when I feel a bubbling excitement. Not just because I will soon be eating Christmas ham while sipping bucks fizz, devouring a big fat turkey, and stuffing myself with as many pigs in blankets as I can possibly stomach, but because I will be going home. They say it’s where the heart is.

This year, I will be spending Christmas Day and Boxing Day at Olly’s parents’ and I’m not quite sure how I’m going to feel when the time comes. It will be the first time I wake up on Christmas morning without my mum, dad and sister. I might even cry a little. The voice inside is saying ‘You’re 26 woman! Grow up!’ That may be true. But for me, the charm of Christmas is about being a child again. I want to hold on to everything I loved about that time of year when I was young. Sleeping in the same room as my sister on Christmas Eve and opening our stockings together in the early hours. A Christmas morning walk. Trying to de-stress my mum. Sorting the presents under the tree into piles for the family. Dressing the dogs in their bows and bells and laughing as they help us unwrap. Listening to the same tape (yes, tape) of Christmas tunes over and over while we eat lunch as a big family. Playing board games long into the evening. Curling into the sofa to read. Laughing. Laughing lots.

I don’t want things to change. I know they have to, but I don’t want them to. I don’t have either grandpas around any more, my uncle, aunt and cousins are gone, and one of our beloved border collies passed away earlier this year. I’m in a relationship and it’s only fair that we split Christmases between our equivalent families. My sister is also now in a relationship which means she will be doing the same. What I have to come to terms with, is that it isn’t Christmas itself which makes anything special. It is simply being surrounded by the people I love. It doesn’t matter what day of the year it is. Things will inevitably be different. The important thing is that I try and embrace those differences.

This year, December will be about remembering the ones I have lost, smiling at the memories, loving the ones I still have, making new memories, chatting to my parents late into the night, reading, writing, walking, eating, laughing. And wondering what 2015 might have in store.

What does December mean to you?