The structure of the year and the passing of the decades have always had a strong effect on me, especially the idea of an end of a decade, and the opportunities that a new unfolding decade might bring. The symbolic power of the year drawing to an end and the promise of new beginnings with the New Year and the onset of spring has a powerful hold on me. Indeed, some of my most radical decisions have happened during these times, leading to a profound change in my life.
However it is all too easy to opt for a quick fix to perceived problems rather than focus carefully on unlocking the streams of opportunity or potential that all of us have access to, if only we could just ‘see’ or conceive of them. And the market doesn’t help as with the New Year comes yet another diet fad or quick fix to weight or alcohol reduction, or the 5-Top-Surefire-Tips to wealth and the perfect partner.
Even I sometimes get caught out by the alluring promise of a quick-fix, and bought a vibrating power plate some time ago to tighten up my ageing muscles – forgetting that even a touch of osteoarthritis would make this a daft idea. It certainly worked and I ended up with a butt so tight and high that I could hardly walk without having to do lots of stretches everywhere I went.
I’d forgotten one of the most powerful lessons of my long life, ie to aim high but get there slowly and surely. This means replacing quick-fixes, fads, fashionable must-haves, and on-trend desires with what I call “the Golden Mean” – an approach that avoids the highs and lows of crashing out of diets, the quickly neglected gym membership, the fading resolutions of New Year, and the inevitable return to old frustrations and hopes denied.
Getting control over what in Hamlet’s soliloquy in Shakespeare’s Hamlet is expressed as “… The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” requires much more than a fast emotional response to life’s challenges. It needs a more disciplined, slower intellectual assessment of your options and a commitment to think things through in order to gain control; aiming for a positive trend or a steady turn of the dial in the things you wish to change or achieve – over time.
And ultimately, the most important step when moving from buying the quick-fix to achieving a lasting and positive change, is to understand the implications of what is so aptly expressed in the Invictus poem, written by William Ernest Henley:
“I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”
This takes courage and time Dear Reader: time to think and reflect on what is for some people an uncomfortable truth, ie that each of us co-creates with others, our very existence and the outcomes we experience as our lives unfold.
This truth dawned on me earlier on in my life and when it did, the implications were profound: So what if I’d spent 15yrs in care homes as a child, so what if I’d had a poor education, so what if I’d been written off as a ‘no-hoper’, so what if I faced the in-your-face racism of the 50’s, 60’s, ‘70’s and 80’s, so what that I was a cleaning lady at the age of 29? The idea dawned on me that this was my life and the question I then had to ask was “what was I going to do about it?”
All the negatives in my life were facts however I concluded that they need not define me, that I had choice or ‘agency’ if I but sought out new paths into the future. Since then and through dint of an incredible journey, combined with not a little ‘faith’ and a strong connection to a bigger ‘energy or force’ outside of myself, I’ve gotten to where I could never have imagined as a child in care.
Very often I feel that the quick-fix, the fad, the fashionable trend, lays us open to the promise of success but still places too much responsibility on a 3rd party solution, ie the purchasing of a product, or an app. This is great if we can be sure that we are able to uphold the new discipline without that particular quick-fix product or app and that our new behaviours are embedded and truly learned. This takes time into the long-term – often long-after the initial emotional hit has passed from any quick fix solution – to what might have been Dear Reader, a cherished problem or challenge.
At the moment, in the dark of the winter and New Year, some of these challenges might look like (apart from the usual):
A sense of stuckness, of inertia, of being trapped
Overwhelming stress and confusion
An inability to come to a conclusion or a decision that feels ‘right’
Poor influencing power, not sure of our impact
Being overlooked, under-recognised and not listened to
Difficult relationships with a colleague, peer or key stakeholder
Crazy life-balance, terribly difficult and often, competing priorities
Being fixated on something that happened in our past, an inability to move on
Feeling at a crossroads, not sure what the various options or routes might entail
Unsure of our purpose, wanting more out of our working life, looking for meaning
A few ideas that could help us get there, and that worked well for me:
- Being honest about where we are right now.
- Improving our self-awareness – what motivates us, what is our basic personality type and work preferences, what makes us tick, what brings down the proverbial ‘red mist’?
- Reflecting on how we are co-creating the life we are experiencing, and how we might take responsibility, and what we might seek to improve.
- Seeing ourselves on a broader journey, that we are navigating our own ship and not just a hapless passenger blaming or depending upon others to deliver our aspirations.
- Learning that an emotional response is not ‘all that I am’, that we have an intellectual and a spiritual life to integrate into the ‘wholeness of me’.
- Being willing to put a flexible strategy in place, and surrounding ourselves with supporters rather than naysayers.
So as we start to navigate what might be a very challenging year politically and economically, we could reflect on what it might mean to step up to be the ‘Captain’ of the ship of our lives, or in the wonderful words of the Sarah Connor character in the film, Terminator, “There’s no fate but what we make…”
And remember Dear Reader, my background predicted I would end up on drugs and in the criminal justice system: This extract of one of my favourite poems, Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken, just about sums it up:
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
Call me if anything in this New Year’s article has triggered something in you Dear Reader.
It’s easy: text me on 07760 270 392 or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.