My reversed lent

Typewriter

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.

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Stress really stresses me out

Outsourcing stress

The word ‘busy’ suitably defines my time at work this week. We’ve been working on a tender the size of my backside (which is pretty big). I don’t know what it is about deadlines, but it always seems to go to the wire. Goodbye zen, hello heart palpitations. One part of this tender involved my first major contribution. Lots and lots of writing, and the responsibility for making it sparkle all on my shoulders. That’s pressure. That’s getting so absorbed in something it takes your heart and soul for a little while. That’s stress having its way with your body through pounding headaches.

Believe me, when the pressure is off I know exactly how to relax. I’m pretty good at closing the ‘work’ door of my brain. But when there is work to be done, and a limited time to do it in, I go batshit crazy. Stress seems to control me. And it’s really rather annoying. Annoying to the point that I actually get stressed out at how stressed I am. Yesterday I left work when I simply couldn’t do any more. My brain had frazzled itself and shut down of its own accord – just like my computer does sometimes. I got home, popped some pills (disclaimer: they were over the counter ones) and put myself to bed to try and beat the pain with rest.

But could I rest? No. I was too tense. Too uptight. And then my brain woke up. I can’t complain too much because I ended up being very productive lying there in a dark room; I managed to nail a headline that I’d been struggling with. But that’s not the point. The point is that when stress does rear its silly ugly head, I let it take over. I let it rule everything. And it’s bad for my health, and my sanity.

At university I got so stressed that my hair started to fall out. I took some stress relief technique classes and, although I’m not sure they helped directly, I did get a better grip on coping with stress. At least, I thought I did. It hasn’t felt that way this week. Maybe I’ve just become better at relaxing when I don’t have things to worry about, and then gone into total breakdown when I do. Whatever it is, stress is not conducive to productivity. A little can be helpful, but a lot can send you over the edge.

I need to learn to take a breath and remind myself that stress is not my friend. So I shouldn’t give it the time of day. When it walks down the path towards my front door, I must try not to let it in. But that is so much easier said than done.

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.

Why I love lists

Why I love lists full

I may have mentioned before that my mother has forever described me as someone who starts things but never finishes them. It pains me to admit this is often true, except when it comes to my dinner. I pretty much always finish that. Sometimes my lack of staying power is down to boredom, or losing patience. Sometimes I just can’t be arsed. Instead of ploughing through, I procrastinate BIG-TIME, and things just don’t get done. For example, I have a pile of things to put on ebay which have been sitting in my utility room for a number of months. All I need to do is take some photographs and upload them and hey presto. But that just sounds like too much effort. So in the utility room they will stay. Probably until I reach the bottom of my list. Which is actually one of many lists.

The main reason I love making lists is because they make me feel so flipping organised. The joy comes not only from writing a list, with equal line spacing and in exactly the same colour pen, but from ticking things off. Oh the rush. The only problem is, I never tick everything off. Unless it’s about six months later. But even then it’s unlikely. Occasionally I will keep adding to the same list so it looks as if I’ve been super-productive. And there have definitely been times when I have already completed a task, but add it to my list anyway just so I can tick it off.

My brain – the simple matter that it is – likes things in easy-to-absorb chunks. They are better to read and better to digest. If I have more than one important point to make in an email then I whip out the bullet points. I have a constantly-growing to do list at work. At the weekends I often list all the chores which need doing at home. Pinned to the notice board is a 2014 bucket list which is 100% not going to be complete by the end of December. I have already written this year’s Christmas list. Lists are quite simply excellent companions to everyday life.

Clearly there is something to this list-making business which makes me feel good. It’s a therapeutic activity which my mild OCD takes a fancy to (hence the line spacing and same coloured pen). Only I am allowed to add to the list. If anyone else scribbles on it I may as well start it again. And if the pen runs out part way through, we’ve got serious issues. A perfectly formed and perfectly neat list makes me feel fuzzy inside. Spoil it at your peril. I tried Wunderlist on the internet but, for me, it doesn’t produce the same satisfaction as a writing utensil and a piece of lined paper.

The conclusion of this thought-provoking piece? Nike have a cracking logo.