The end days of the year, the cusp of the past with the future, when most people are out of their normal routine and daily structure. Add school holidays, more family socialising, a change in diet and it’s no wonder everyone is slightly out of kilter.
In recent years I’ve used this time for a personal debrief, or introspection if you will. A rationalising of the year gone by. What made me feel happy, excited, sad, isolated or lonely. Acknowledging things I’d been afraid of, how I faced those fears (or not) and what I would have done differently with the benefit of hindsight.
It’s always a salutary experience, not one I enjoy, but useful none the less.
I choose the beginning of a new year precisely because life is not in a normal routine. It allows a clarity of thought not available in the normal rush of daily life, when it’s all too easy to brush the internal whisper of sadness or discontent under the carpet. Then we shrug off the hesitant questioning of our inner voice with the forced cheeriness of, ‘I really must pull myself together and get out of this funk!’ And the inner voice is stilled.
Yet it is this voice which understands our true selves, which listens to the rhythm of our emotions, senses the fear and longing our conscious self is oblivious to, or refuses to acknowledge. It is our strongest tool but one we often leave discarded, unused, at the bottom of the toolbox. So much easier to smile, get on with it, busy ourselves with anything, everything to drown the sound of that voice trying to connect with us.
This year the annual debrief has been delayed a week or so by circumstance, causing an unexpected anxiety and agitation. Obviously the voice inside is missing its once-a-year chance to be really heard.
As life has returned to a normal routine I’ve discovered I’m looking forward to this personal scrutiny outside the slightly anti-climatic days of Christmas and the forced jollity of New Year. A scrutiny under the light of regular life, surrounded by the familiar, rather than the distraction of fairy lights, mince pies and additional amounts of alcohol, ‘because its Christmas’.
The past year has had unexpected challenges, sadnesses, a hefty dollop of self-doubt and an underlying awareness that life is not where we want it to be. No surprises there, on a par with most people the world over.
What I have learned, rather than merely paid court to, is that in any given situation we can only do our best with the information and tools we have available at the time. Beating ourselves up with the value of hindsight is not helpful or healthy. Accepting we might do things differently should we deal with the same situation in the future does not mean we failed first time round.
That sense of failure – personally, professionally, socially – can be debilitating, draining, and is often unjustified. Seeking balance in life, juggling spinning plates on poles needing continual attention, leaves us exhausted. It’s difficult to feel a moment of joy when the fear of a crashing plate keeps us focused in a different direction.
Fear. The four-letter word that keeps us paralysed, stops us living a joyful life.
What’s the worst that can happen if a plate does topple from its perch? Most likely as a plate wobbles we react before it falls – instinctively and without conscious thought.
Worse case, it takes down all the other poles and plates as it falls. Catastrophic, but then you don’t have to worry about keeping those plates spinning anymore.
And here’s the problem – if you have experienced catastrophe you understand it is random, unexpected and there are very few precautions you can take to protect yourself or your loved ones.
Death, divorce, illness, loss of job, home, identity – all can hit an individual or family without warning. Worse still, because it’s happened once does not mean you are immune to it happening a second or third time. It is easy to set your default position to ‘disaster’ mode, expecting the worst in any situation, ever more vigilant with those plates, oblivious to the world around you. The world of fun and laughter, sharing and caring. It is not so easy to take a step back and re-evaluate rationally if you are in this situation.
Luckily, most of us are not, and for that I am grateful. It’s hard enough keeping on track when life is normal. So how to recognise when your life has drifted slightly off road?
Listen to that inner voice, feel how your body moves, how your thoughts zap around your head. Intuition.
It takes practice to keep an emotional diary, to recognise feelings of disconnection as more than nerves or anxiety. In my case, a particular sense of dread before a meeting/ event is an intuitive understanding I will come away from it feeling empty, sad and out of sync with others there.
This could be because it’s something I no longer feel is fulfilling or interesting, it could be because the other attendees are not on the same wavelength as me, or my viewpoint has shifted from theirs. A normal evolution through life.
For years I would stumble on involved in activities, friendships, family and social situations, which, afterwards, left me feeling isolated and lonely. The solution? Surround yourself with people who are more in tune to your way of thinking.
Easy isn’t it?
Yep, okay, so we all know it’s not. But unless we make changes, however small, we continue to feel lonely, inept and wrapped in failure. In can take years before we connect our inner voice with our conscious one, the one that says, ‘this is not good for you’, ‘you need to say no’, ‘it’s okay to be you’.
To effect change you must accept change – tough, even if it’s something you want. Making changes, rather than having it forced on you, is empowering and freeing. Walking away from one thing to experience something else is what makes us feel alive and curious.
Yesterday I listened to a news report concerning the death, at 110, of Reg Dean (no relation), Britain’s oldest man, who was lively and curious to the end, despite physical fragility. He believed in listening to others, having a ready smile and generally being lazy. As he formed the Dalesmen Male Voice Choir and took up painting in his 80s I don’t believe he was.
Perhaps because he took the time to listen to others and engage in his passions he learnt a universal truth – being ourselves isn’t selfish, it allows us to engage with the world around us and help others where we can.
We can only face life’s adversities when we are strong and resilient and we can only do that by accepting we are not perfect, living life to the full and listening to our inner voice.
The world didn’t end in 2012, and it’s unlikely it will in 2013, time to get out there and make the most of it.
Here’s to a happy, healthy and fearless 2013 for all of us!