My morning jog along the canal always yields some lovely cameos and today was no exception: a huge Rottweiler sauntering along with her owner, when along bounces a small white Highland Terrier.
The Scottie did what every self-respecting male dog would do on a peaceful sunny morning: went straight for the Rottie’s hindquarters, wholly undetterred by the difference in size, and, more critically, height.
I’d passed them too quickly to see what happened next, but I couldn’t help thinking what a great lesson that short scene was in being yourself. There was only one thing on the little dog’s mind and it had nothing to do with him being too short or too long-haired or the wrong breed or colour.
If a tiny little dog is able to set its sights so high, happy inside its own skin, why can’t we?Posted by Jane Matthews on 08/01 at 03:28 PM
There’s a fashion at the moment for people to write letters to their 18 year old selves, sharing the wisdom of how things turned out to reassure their young selves that they would get through.
But I wonder if a more interesting letter might be from our 8 or 10 year old selves to who we are now?
I say that having just watched Disney’s The Kid, in which 8 and 40-year-old versions of Bruce Willis get to meet and learn about each other. Both are dismayed.
To the 40 year old ‘image consultant’ (‘so your job is to make people be someone they’re not?) the 8-year- old is an embarrassing failure: overweight, under-achieving, friendless and clueless.
Through the 8-year-old’s eyes the sins of the 40-year-old are far greater. “So we never flew planes?” “We’re not married; we live alone?” “We never even got a DOG?!!” In the child’s eyes you can see fury and disbelief. What were all those years of struggling for, miserable, being bullied, losing his mum to cancer before he was 9, if he was STILL going to end up friendless and clueless.
The adult’s designer suits, immaculate apartment, successful career: none of them impress the boy. Shaking his head he delivers his verdict. “I’m going to grow up to be a loser.”
A moment with my 8-year-old
I wonder, what would an 8-year -old version of me think?
Of course some of the things we dream for ourselves change. I think the 8-year-old Jane would be fine about me not becoming a showjumping champion. Her heroes and heroines - David Brooome, Harvey Smith and co, were from a world so different from her own she never identified with them enough to believe in that dream. Instead, she’d be thrilled to know she was going to write books, if a little puzzled by their serious subjects. Her taste was for Enid Blyton and Just William and anything that promised adventure.
As for being told alongside the books there were almost two decades ‘in communications’: she’d simply look blank. I’m not sure that job existed five decades ago, and even if it did she’d have thought it boring. Which is sort of the conclusion I’ve come to too.
She’d also be puzzled, and maybe sad, to discover there was no great love story ahead, no happy ever after as she understood it. But then at 8 she didn’t know what lay ahead in her parents’ lives, and how profoundly its fallout would determine her own ideas on relationships.
Putting my older and wiser hat aside for a moment I return her sadness. As Bruce Willis decides, maybe the child is right on that one. Maybe that’s an area where it wouldn’t hurt to hear the 8-year-old out sometimes, and let go a little more.
On the whole I think she’d be excited to know what adventures lay ahead: the travel and moving around the UK; the journeys and the jobs and the people and the huge richness of it all. AND we’re still only 55.
But there’s one area where I know she’d be disappointed. One of the reasons she’d be happy to let the showjumping go is because however much she loved visiting the riding stables she never felt she was good enough or that she fitted in, however hard she tried.
It was the same at school, where she was nervous and uncertain, attaching herself to those who seemed to know what they were about, wanting to be liked, but so fearful of so many things.
Like every child, she thought that it would all be different once she’d grown up. How devastating to discover life would only bring more and more growing. Never a point at which she’d be able to dust off her hands, look around at her life, and say ‘job done; I’ve finished growing up and I’m not scared anymore’.
I need to talk to her about this and tell her that while she’s right - I should be less fearful - the thing I’m working on now is NOT trying to fit in. Being who I really am, and letting go of the internal ‘image consultant’.
From the mouths of babes
I love the way this film turns growing up on its head. At 8, 10, even 18, we can be forgiven all our fears and failures. We don’t know any better. We’re the products of our upbringing and our society and we’re simply doing our very, very best. We deserve understanding and compassion. And we deserve the grown-ups around us to believe in us - precisely what Bruce Willis fails to do for his young self.
At 40 we still deserve compassion and understanding. But if we’re looking for people to believe in us we need to start by believing in ourselves.
And maybe a good place to start is by asking ourselves what the child we once were would make of what we’ve made of our lives. And perhaps even give them a say in what happens next…Posted by Jane Matthews on 07/30 at 10:24 AM
It’s many years since I’ve had to conjure up car games to keep the little ones amused on a trek up north to see my sister. Since most of the miles were on motorway my options were distinctly limited. No pub cricket (you score the number of legs appearing in the pub sign) and very little scope even for i-spy.
Most of the time we were reduced to endless games of I went shopping and I bought…. moving through the alphabet from A (always apples) to Z (always a struggle!)
I only remembered how boring that was when I spotted on a friend’s timeline her A-Z of depressing words - despond, morose, unremitting…you get the idea, and I can’t resist a special mention for ‘nylon’ which sneaks into her list on the grounds that it really is too depressing to leave out.
If only I’d read this 15 years ago how much more fun would those car journeys have been. The A-Z of people/things you’d like to be stuck in a lift with perhaps. Or, in tribute to that ‘nylon’, how about the A-Z of clothes you wouldn’t be seen dead in? An a-z bucket list maybe, or, if you’re feeling ambitious, an a-z of things that have changed your life.
For now, as I sit idling at my laptop, staring out of the window in search of excuses to be distracted, I’ll settle for an A-Z of words that make me feel good.
And hopefully, will make you feel good too:
A is for allow
B is for breathe
C is for compassion (and also chocolate)
D is delight
E is for enthusiasm
F is for faith
G is for glee
H is for heartfelt (or) anything with heart in it
I is for intimate
J is for joy
K is for Kilimanjaro (it’s personal; you’ll have to trust me on this one)
L is for lusciousness
M is for miracle
N is for nibble
O is for original
P is for peace
Q is for quiet (how lovely that they follow each other)
R is for rich
S is for soft
T is for trust
U is for unconditional
V is for violet
W is for wisdom
X is for xxxx (lots of them)
Y is for you
Z is for zzz (which always makes things seem a little brighter)
Sometimes I fear I use the word ‘authenticity’ too much. It feels as if a lot of what I am doing in the workshops, the coaching, and the writing, is encouraging people to peel back all the layers, one at a time, and see what lies at the heart of us. Minus all the beliefs, the habits, the stuff about how we should live and think and behave, that we’ve absorbed from the world around us, what does an authentic version of you or me look like?
Speaking for myself, I’m not sure I know yet; indeed I have a suspicion this peeling back the layers milarkey is the work of a lifetime. But I have had glimpses, and seen it in others as they sit in a workshop and, for a moment, trust themselves and those of us around them, to tell the truth. About who they are, and what they feel, and how much it sometimes hurts. And then they talk about what they really, really want and they light up with the recognition that that is also true.
Which brings me to the point of this blog, which is to direct you to a film of the academic and author Brene Brown talking about her research into living your best life. (She doesn’t call it that but I think that’s what it amounts to - looking at why some people appear to have a strong sense of worthiness and love and belonging, while others spend all their lives believing they are Not Good Enough.)
Please watch it for yourself, not only because I think what Brene Brown has to say is really useful, but because she’s one of us: flawed, cagey, doubtful, resistent, and very, very funny.
And when you’ve done so you’ll want to think on what her findings mean for you. For it turns out what makes the difference in how we experience our lives is how vulnerable we allow ourselves to be. Instead of hiding who we are, burrowing in under all those layers in the belief that if they ever saw the real us the world would end, we need to do more of what those courageous people I meet through my workshops are doing, and trust ourselves with others.
I hadn’t realised the word courage comes from the French ‘coeur’ - heart - but I love the idea that living with courage is really living wholeheartedly. Pain, pleasure, love, loss, fear, hurt, joy, peace, happiness, connection, and the rest. Allowing that life is all these things and that the opposite of courage or wholeheartedness is to be numb to all of it.
Which is where Brene ends her talk, with the warning that we can’t selectively choose to be alive to the positive parts of live but numb to the negative. “You can’t say here’s the bad stuff: here’s vulnerability, here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, here’s disappointment. I don’t want to feel these things.
“You can’t numb those without numbing the other emotions. When we numb these we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness…”
Something to consider about on your journey to a more authentic life then: to what extent are you willing to start letting yourself be really seen? To tell the story of who you are with your whole heart?
Posted by Jane Matthews on 06/28 at 07:52 AM
Ah, the power of a stand-out title for your book. How could anyone resist picking up a book called ‘The Top Five Regrets of the Dying?’. How could I?
Contrary to what you might expect, it’s a genuinely cheerful - and cheering - book and I’m already half in love with its author, Bronnie Ware, whose own life perfectly illustrates what she learned in her role caring for people at the end of their lives. It’s a life that she’s constantly re-assessed and adjusted, like ship’s captains used to do in the days before satnav, setting and resetting the compass in response to changing conditions and their own experience. Only in Bronnie’s case, it’s also been other people’s experiences that have helped her to change course.
And that’s one of the reasons this book is such a positive one. Because unlike the characters we meet in the book, as readers we still have the chance to adjust the compass as many times as it takes until we can truly say we are finally living a life without regrets.
I’m not talking about past regrets here. There’s a great many things I’ve said, done and not done that I am sorry about, but I can’t change those now. Only learn from them.
Nor am I talking about the obvious stuff any of us would mind if our lives were to unexpectedly end: not being there for our children and their children, unresolved business with loved-ones, not being around to experience the utter joy of one more heady spring morning, one more hour spent alone on the beach listening to the waves, the view from one more mountain top. (Never mind the hour wasted on a pointless episode of Come Dine With Me, or going to bed before I was really tired because it was late and I thought I should.)
The real gift of Bronnie’s book is its reminder to review, review and review again, every day if necessary, the things we do, the decisions we make, the way we choose to live, against the question: if my life were to end tomorrow what would I be kicking myself for?
I’ll leave it to you to read The Top Five Regrets of the Dying for yourself to discover how simple and obvious most of the answers are. Obvious, not hard to implement and yet overlooked by most of us for most of our lives. Another of the reasons I love this book is because it reminds us that it’s we who have made things so complicated. Actually, it’s quite simple when we switch focus to living a life without regrets.
For me, that Big Question produced a set of answers that I can use to refocus – and, in the interests of simplicity I decided to do as Bronnie did and limit myself to five:
1. I would be kicking myself for the unwritten books. Writing is what I do. It’s what I love, and when I feel the most ‘me’. Right now there are at least half a dozen within me, waiting to see the light of day. What am I waiting for? That hour in the company of another set of dubious dinner party hosts is an hour I could have spent on my own creation.
2. I would regret the hours I haven’t spend sitting still in the garden; sitting still in lots of places actually. Most of my adult life I have railed against my busy-ness while continuing to encourage more demands, more speed, more multi-tasking into each day. Some of the busy-ness is important; a great deal of it isn’t. But the only times I can really see which is which are when I stop in order to sit in silence and stillness, breathing, feeling, being.
3. In the same vein, I am guilty of scheduling friends, family and fun around work rather than the other way around. Perhaps I had a little more excuse when I worked for someone else -though not too much I think. No-one but me said I had to be up and answering emails at 6.30am or reading reports at 7pm. No-one but me was responsible for not picking up the phone to friends more often and inviting them over, even though it was A Week Day.
4. I’ve never been a fan of those 100 places to see before you die titles. The world is an immense place and the truth is I’m just as capable of finding awe in the way the sun shining through leaves creates a symphony of dappled light on skin. Still, I have been saying for almost three decades that one day I want to walk from John O’Groats to Land’s End, not so much to see more of the UK but because I want to know if I can, and what three months of my own continuous company would feel like.
5. And finally, if it were to all end tomorrow, I would regret having taken it all so seriously – myself most of all. I love that quote about angels being able to fly because they take themselves lightly. Yes, I’m seriously guilty of mashing metaphors, having started out with a ship’s compass, but it’s amazing how much more clearly you see things when you choose to lift your sights above the clouds.
It will be in that same spirit that I continue to ask myself the regrets question from time to time. You may like to do the same. Not in a heavy, negative way or as an excuse to beat yourself up for getting things wrong, but lightly.
As a reaffirmation of life.Posted by Jane Matthews on 06/08 at 11:40 AM
I’m just back from Serenity Retreat in Greece, where my workshop on Living your best life took on a life of its own as we found ourselves exploring what brings us alive, what deadens us (and what a powerful concept THAT is), and all the oh-so-familiar ways in which we may keep ourselves stuck in a sort of semi-alive state: fear, having to Be Good, believing we’re not good enough, busyness, and on and on.
One of the joys of this kind of holiday is that it breaks the habit. Away from the ways of thinking and being that most of us adopt to help us function in and cope with day-to-day life, the possibility that things might be different seemed as limitless as the horizon, gazing out to where sea and hills and clouds merged.
The trick is bringing that sense of freedom and potential back into the life of the other 358 days of the year, finding an answer to poet Mary Oliver’s huge question: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
One way is perhaps by making a new habit of asking ourselves a few simple questions from time to time:
Who are the people who bring me alive?
What are the places that bring me alive?
What are the occupations or pastimes that bring me alive?
And finally, what do I love?
...And then, of course, making sure they are at least a part of your Every Day.
Posted by Jane Matthews on 05/31 at 08:50 AM
You’ll find more musings on Serenity Retreat, life, the sea, and everything, in this moving post - and poem - by @exmoorjane
Below you will find previous blog posts that have been archived and categorised to help you.