On Monday, I turned 38. Thirty-eight. As I replied to the text from my older brother telling him (yet again) how old I was, I stared at the numbers in disbelief. 38. When did I become closer to 40 than 30? And how come I still hadn’t figured everything out?
When I hit 30, I had a mini-breakdown; there was still so much I wanted to do and time was running out: I actually thought my life was over. But then, I somehow started to embrace the new decade I’d just entered; I began to accept where I was in life and became comfortable with the fact I was now in my thirties. I started my own photography business and began the uphill struggle of being self-employed, but at least I was my own boss doing what I wanted – or so I thought.
The truth is, as I sit here writing, I realise I’ve never really settled into anything; I’ve never been able to fully appreciate the present moment and I’ve always been looking out for the next shiny thing. When I was in my twenties, someone said to me ‘You’re never satisfied; you always want more’ – like it was a bad thing. And I suppose it’s true; I’ve never wanted to settle and I have always wanted more. The only trouble with that is, there’s always another shiny object to get distracted by and not enough time to do everything.
While Ian seems to take each birthday in his stride, I always find myself looking back over the previous year evaluating how things have gone; am I heading in the right direction, and if not, what should I do to get back on course? After pondering over these questions for the past month or so, here are the things I’ve finally come to realise:
I Take On Too Much
“For you to do something new, you must complete or stop doing something old” – Brian Tracy, Eat That Frog.
I already run two businesses, and this year I also decided it was time to follow my heart and sign up to a writing course to help me on my journey of becoming a freelance writer. What’s that? This is the year we should finally sell the house? Okay. And do I fancy training for a half marathon? Yeah sure, why not?! Calligraphy; hand-lettering; Creative Live courses; reading; meditating; journaling; decorating. And now the half marathon is over, we need to start training for the Chester Metric Marathon. Unfortunately, Brian Tracy is correct; I need to give up something old, in order to make room for something new. This is definitely an area of my life that needs attention and over the coming weeks I’ll be doing a lot of soul-searching; figuring out what no longer serves me and what I need to focus my attention on as I move forward. It’s time to become more focused and less scattered.
I Underestimate How Long Things Take to Do
Like many small business owners, I have lists, upon lists, upon lists; scribbled down on scrap paper, written nicely with bullet points in fancy notebooks, scrawled on a day planner that sits on my desk and also typed into my phone – just for good measure.
There’s nothing wrong with making lists; lists are good. They keep me (semi) organised and on-track throughout the day. But up until recently, I was being completely unrealistic about what I thought I could achieve in a day.
By accepting that I’m not actually Wonder Woman (wait, I have to give the outfit back?), I’ve finally become more realistic about what to include on my daily to-do list. Also, at the end of each day, I take the time to acknowledge the tasks I completed rather the ones I didn’t.
I Need To Focus On One Thing At A Time
Rather than splitting my day up into an hour of writing, followed by a couple of hours of printing, followed by a few hours of editing photographs, I’ve started to dedicate full days – sometimes even two – to one area. My productivity has increased; I feel less rushed about the task in hand and by dedicating larger chunks of time to concentrate on one thing, I find myself completing more tasks.
Sometimes, I can Be A Bit Selfish
Read any self-help book or Law of Attraction article and they’ll both tell you to rid yourself of any negative people in your life; mix with people who uplift you and support you and drop anything from your life that doesn’t serve you anymore. Unfortunately, sometimes, that’s easier said than done. In real life, relationships are based on give and take which means (occasionally), we all have to do things we don’t want to do. But over the past year, I think I’ve become a little selfish. If I don’t want to do something – I won’t do it. I weigh up the pros and cons and if I don’t like the outcome, or I just don’t feel like doing it, then I don’t. Ian likes going to the cinema, but I hate it. I have a child-sized bladder, the attention span of a goldfish and it’s full of rude people either talking through the film or surfing Facebook on their phone. In fact, the last time we went to the cinema, I lost my rag with the two women sitting next to me who insisted on giving a running commentary of everything that was happening in the film. Needless to say, I ended up whisper-shouting at them for wittering on and told them to ‘shut the eff up’ because they were ruining the film for everyone. They did, but we haven’t been since. Unfortunately, this is just one example. This year, I think I need to work on giving a bit more, rather than just taking.
I Get Paralysed By Fear Too Often
Working in a creative industry and being self-employed leaves us wide open to both criticism and rejection. Putting ourselves out there day-after-day to a bunch of strangers is one of the most difficult things to do. Add being an introvert into the mix and it doesn’t even bear thinking about <shudders>. Over the last 12 months I’ve given into fear too many times; what will they think? I’m not good enough; I can’t do this. It took me 4 years to grow a pair and finally sign up for a writing course, but even now, I find myself dragging my feet because it’s time to find clients! I know these are just stories I tell myself; no-one has ever said to me: ‘Hey, guess what? You’re shit!’, they’re just fears I’ve managed to accumulate over the years. Fears of stepping into the unknown, putting my work in front of people and worrying it might not work out. I know I’m not alone in this and it’s something I’m currently working on; I just need to stop thinking so much and start doing.
I Focus Too Much On The Future
This is a big one for me. Instead of looking at where I am and how far I’ve come, I get too hung up on where I want to be. I’ve already explained how I’m always looking for the next shiny thing, but there’s getting distracted and then there’s completely missing the here and now because you’re so fixated on the future. Yes, goals and dreams are important; if you don’t have any how do you know what you’re working towards? But sometimes, I find myself so consumed by the what ifs, that I become anxious and overwhelmed. What if things don’t work out? What if we’re stuck here forever? What if my dream of travel doesn’t come true? What if this is it? And even though I’m doing all I can to try and build the life I want, I worry it isn’t enough. I don’t always acknowledge the steps I’m taking or how far I’ve already come, and I don’t always trust the decisions I’m making. This is another area I really need to work on.
When I was about to turn 30, I used to say I was ‘teetering on the edge of the hell mouth’; I was waiting to fall head first into my thirties and it freaked me out. But then I found calm and made peace with it. Partly because I thought my thirties would be where I finally figured things out; I would stop getting distracted by shiny objects, whip myself into shape and everything would be amazing. Yet, here I am; I’ve just turned 38 and I still don’t have the answers. But from looking back over the past year, I think it’s okay. I don’t need to have all the answers; I just need to keep moving forward and do whatever I can to steer myself in the right direction. And as James Dean once said:
‘I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination’
What lessons have you learned over the past 12 months? Do you feel like there’s room for improvement anywhere in your life?