Uncertainty

Recently, I find myself
paralyzed by uncertainty,
weighed down by the weight 
of my own
expectations.

These really are strange times. Even though here in the UK the lockdown is gradually lifting, there is so much uncertainty about what will happen next. With the virus, with the global economy, with life as we know it.

I am actually finding this stage harder to deal with than the full lockdown! So many ‘what ifs’. So many parts of life that might not get back to normal for a long, long time.

The strangeness of having family or friends to visit, so wonderful to see them, but they have to sit in the garden (in the rain on one occasion!) and I have to think twice about offering them a cup of tea.

The sense of almost-back-to-normal when I meet with friends for walks, and the difficulty of remembering to walk 2 metres apart when we have 3 months worth of catching up to do!

Skyping family and friends on the other side of the world and wondering when I’ll actually be able to see them again – could it be months? Years?

Hearing that I won’t be able to go back to the office 6-12 months. I really like working from home, and I normally work from home 3 days a week anyway, but I’m starting to feel a bit isolated without my weekly trips to the office to chat (I mean work).

Uncertainty and worry over work, the pandemic, the economy, the future…it is paralysing! It stops me from doing what I need to do and what I want to do.

It stops me from writing.

It stops me from painting.

It makes me agonise over decisions – or not make decisions at all.

It makes me want to lie on the sofa and scroll through the news AGAIN, as if the answer is there somewhere if only I scroll further.

The uncertainty is not going to go away anytime soon.

I’m the one who is going to have to change, to learn to live with it.

Adjust my expectations about what I can achieve during this time. Find a way to move forward, to make choices, even when I don’t know what is ahead. Enjoy what I can do instead of focusing on the things I can’t do. Simply enjoy the summer.


What about you? How are you coping?

The Road Not Taken

Recently I was writing a research paper for my coaching course. I’d picked the topic ‘Decision Making, Intuition and Body Awareness’, something that interests me a lot. I was mulling over how I make decisions, and how I know when a decision is the right decision, when the poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost came to mind, the poem that ends

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.

In the poem, making that choice, the decision to take the grassy, less travelled path, made ALL the difference. There is a note of regret at the end, the sigh, as if perhaps the decision didn’t quite work out as planned. Or maybe it did, I don’t know.

Imagine facing a decision in life with that mindset. That the choice is so important, so life changing, that once it is made it cannot be undone. There can be no backtracking, no wandering along one path for a while to see where it goes, no returning to the wood on another day to try out the other road. It’s an all or nothing decision, and it makes ALL the difference.

Perhaps you don’t need to imagine it. Perhaps this is how you think of decisions. It’s often how I think of them.

A decision weighs heavily on me and it feels like there is only one right and wrong outcome…but how to choose?

It’s easy at this point to become overwhelmed by the decision, the pros and cons, the associated emotions.   It all churns around in my conscious mind and I get stuck and don’t take action. 

Sound familiar?

What would happen if we looked at an important decision with lightness, with an open mind, with an attitude of exploration and curiosity? In the real world, we have a choice. We could take a map, and figure out where the paths go to before we choose which one to walk. We could visit the wood multiple times and try out all the paths. We could knock on the door of the cottage at the entrance to the wood and ask advice about which is the nicest path. We could walk one route for years and then cut across country to get back to the other path. Or we could blaze our own trail through the wood instead of following someone else’s route.

How would your life change if you took a lighter approach to decision making?


A funny thing…I have just realised, while googling the poet Robert Frost (about whom I know very little other than this one poem) that I have walked past his statue many times at Amherst College, where I go for summer tai chi workshops. The statue is in a very beautiful spot on campus, and there is often a small bird sitting on the poet’s head.


The Road Not Taken

By Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

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.

Filling the well

Inspiration

seeps through

the cracks

like rain

on drought parched

soil.


Today, I sat down to do some work and I ended up taking a tour of some of my favourite blogs. I visited a Dutch garden filled with flowers and kindness, and followed the first post-lockdown journey of a canoe down Dutch canals. I read about walks in Lancashire, not far from where I live, photos of wide-open spaces, flowers and birds. I read about a coyote, emaciated and struggling in the desert in the USA, and the writer’s response to that struggle. I was taken step by step through the artistic process of collagraph printing meadow flowers and grasses (by an artist in Yorkshire whose courses I’d like to take when face to face courses eventually re-open).

I have been so busy recently that I have not had much time to visit these blogs, or to do lots of other unproductive (but enjoyable and inspiring) things. Actually, I don’t like the term ‘unproductive’. So many so-called unproductive things are actually the starting point for creative work.

I like the idea of ‘filling the well’ which comes from Julia Cameron’s excellent book ‘The Artist’s Way’.

In order to create, we draw from our inner well. This inner well, an artistic reservoir, is ideally like a well-stocked trout pond. We have to maintain this artistic ecosystem. If we don’t…our well is apt to become depleted, stagnant or blocked. We must become alert enough to consciously replenish our creative resources as we draw on them – to restock the trout pond, so to speak. I call this process filling the well. Filling the well involves the active pursuit of images to refresh our artistic reservoirs. In filling the well, think magic. Think delight. Think fun. Do not think duty. Do not do what you should do. Do what intrigues you, explore what interests you: think mystery, not mastery.

Julia Cameron

For me reading, walking, canoeing, being in nature, being with friends, gardening, cooking, listening to music, visiting a museum or art gallery, travel, walking on a beach, these are all ways to fill the well and get my creative juices flowing again.

How do you fill the well?


And now to do some actual work and tick something off my to-do list 😉

Career, work life balance and creativity coaching – my coaching page is now live!

I’ve put it here on my blog for now, it may stay here or it might move to a separate website, I don’t know yet. As long as it doesn’t interfere with my ability to post poems and other posts whenever the inspiration takes hold, then it will stay here and this will morph into my coaching / writing / art website. Let’s see what happens.

The focus of the next few months for me is all about growing my coaching business, now that I have a little bit more time to take on more clients. I’m not sure if it’s the best time to be doing this, in the midst of a pandemic, but I’ll find out!

A favour

I would like to start to spread the word about my coaching services beyond my immediate networks.

If you know anyone who might be looking for a career change, wanting to improve their work life balance, to have more time for creative projects or generally looking for a new direction in life, then please could you share the link to the coaching page (https://lifeinthefreshair.com/career-work-life-balance-and-creativity-coaching/) with them.

And of course, if you are interested in coaching, I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks very much!

From drifting to steering

I’ve been thinking about that moment when we take control of something in our lives.  Perhaps something we’ve dreamed about for years.  The shift in perspective that occurs when we go from thinking, for example, ‘one day I’d like to write a novel’ to actually sitting down to write the first page.  And the one after that, and the one after that.

The moment when we realise….

‘If I want to make that thing happen then I have to DO something!’

I’m sure this is easy for many people, but for me, I like to dream and think about what I might like to do but I get stuck in the realities of life (earning a living etc) and often I don’t get round to doing what I want to do!

Also I have to write about creating a shift in perspective for one of my coaching assignments, so this is also me mulling over some ideas.   I’d love to know your thoughts.


To drift: to move slowly, especially as a result of outside forces, with no control over direction.

Sometimes we drift through our lives, at the mercy of the currents and winds.  Sharp rocks and shipwrecks may await, or, less dramatically but potentially as serious, a lifetime of drifting into unsatisfactory jobs, or not quite ever getting around to doing what we really want to do.  We follow the currents of other people’s beliefs and values, other people’s ‘shoulds’, never quite getting where we really want to go.  Perhaps not even aware of where we really want to go.

And often we drift with a head full of dreams.  Our body is sitting in an open plan office in front of a computer, our head is filled with possibilities.  ‘Perhaps I’ll become an artist’.  ‘Maybe I could go self-employed’.  ‘Maybe I’ll pack it all in and go and live on a desert island’.  But we never do.

So much of our energy is focused on dreaming, on thinking, on imagining, on future possibilities, but these thoughts don’t turn into action. Looking inward, looking to something that only exists in our minds, talking about it maybe (perhaps talking about it endlessly!) but never doing.  Never changing, never growing, just…stuck in our heads.  And drifting.

And sometimes we drift with no dreams at all.  We plod along a course that we haven’t chosen, frustrated.  Drifting on the currents of life, we see no way out.

And then something happens.  Maybe we get too close to those dangerous rocks.  Perhaps a storm brings a clarifying splash of icy cold water.

Maybe we just can’t face another day at that job.   A significant birthday.  A death.  A birth. A deadline.

A shift in perspective.

This is the moment when we realise….

‘If I want to make change happen then I have to DO something.  Now!’

This is when we take control.

Now we are not drifting, we are steering.

We take the helm.  We take responsibility.

We take our boredom with our current lives seriously.

We take our dreams seriously.

We commit to change.

We take action.

To steer a course or path: to take a series of actions, usually of a particular type, carefully and intentionally.

At first, steering may look just like drifting to the outside observer.  Outwardly, nothing may change.  We may still be at the boring job, but unseen by the world we are now making plans, researching, taking action.

We question.  Is this really want I want to do?  What is it that I believe?  Where do I really want to be in 5 years’ time?  What does success look like to me…not to my mother or my work colleagues or society….to me?

We may appear to drift around for a while, trying out new ideas, but the difference is that our movement is purposeful to us.  We are deliberately choosing our direction.

We make goals and we take the steps that we need to make those goals happen.

We go from saying ‘maybe I could do xyz’, or ‘I’d love to do xyz but it’s not possible because….’ To ‘it is possible and I will take the steps I need to take to make it happen.

It might not be easy.  It will probably take courage and determination to make changes.  We might want to give up.  We might need support.

But now we know.  If we want change, we need to take action.

How does this shift in perspective happen?

So often the thing that shifts us from drifting to steering comes from outside of us.  For example, a deadline, a divorce, redundancy.  How do we move ourselves from drifting to steering without one of these external influences?

I think there are several ways, including becoming aware that we are drifting through life, that we are doing something we don’t really want to be doing and not taking our dreams seriously.   We could explore our own beliefs and values, to see if they match the life we are living.  A powerful excercise can be to explore our dreams and create a vision of the future that motivates us to make it happen.  We can structure our lives so we can more easily do the thing we want to do (eg set aside time each day to write, if writing a novel is the dream).


What about you?

I’m really interested to know what has moved you from drifting to steering.

Have you had the experience of having some dream that you wanted to do ‘one day’, but that you didn’t ever get round to doing, perhaps because you were too busy, or you didn’t think it was possible?  And then you did start to do it?  What was the thing that made you take action?

Or are you stuck right now, wondering how to steer a course towards your dreams?

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Relax

The most important thing

is to relax.

Everything else is a distraction.

I write these words as a reminder to myself.

I had forgotten recently. Caught up in a whirl of ‘what ifs’. What if my contract at work is extended? Should I stay? Should I leave? How / when do I build up a coaching practice if I’m still working? But what if my contract is not extended? I’ll be out of work…blah…blah…blah. Well, I won’t bore you with all the details but I’m sure you know the kind of thing I mean! Repetitive circular thinking, as if running through the various options again and again is going to make a decision easier.

I’ve not written much here recently as I’ve been busy with work (we’ve just published formal proposals for a section of the England Coast Path and are publishing another section in March), and also coach training. My coaching course assessment is getting closer (also March).

This week, in an observed coaching class, I was nervous. I didn’t perform well. I am usually fairly relaxed when I’m working with clients one on one, but when I’m being observed it makes me self conscious and tense. I started to wonder if I’m actually ready for the final assessment.

Nerves and coaching don’t go together. Coaching reminds me so much of my tai chi partnerwork practice. To do both well you must be completely relaxed, completely connected to your partner / the client. Which is impossible to do if you are tense or nervous.

After a few days of thinking about it, I decided that my focus for the observed coaching sessions should be to relax and connect. To let the coaching competencies that I am supposed to be demonstrating sit lightly in the back of my mind. To give up the trying. To give up the idea that I should be doing it perfectly. To give up the habits of a lifetime. Well….I didn’t say it would be easy!

And then, as I did my evening tai chi practice the words came to me.

‘The most important thing is to relax. Everything else is a distraction.’

Thi is true for everything. The work stuff, the coaching, the future, everything.

Everything is easier if I relax. Life flows, unfolds. I follow. I know this. And I so easily forget.

Wishing you all the best for the new decade!

Fear of failure

Uneasy half dreams in

the dead of night,

fear, like a ghost, whispering

‘you are not good enough’.

Daylight brings clarity,

but fear grabs my arm,

pulls me back

says with authority

‘you are not ready’.

Fear climbs inside me

tenses my muscles

speaks with my voice

‘you must not get it wrong’.

Fear walks before me,

removing the risks,

smoothing the way

to conformity.


Ah, fear. I’m feeling pleased with myself today because I faced a fear, the fear of failure, of getting things wrong, of looking foolish in front of a group of people.

Since I signed up for a coach training course, I have been feeling very nervous about being observed while I coach. As part of the learning process, we attend classes where a student coaches another student and then gets feedback from the class and the teacher. It really is the perfect way to learn a new skill; listening to other people coach, being a client and also coaching and getting feedback.

I have to do three hours of coaching in these observed coaching classes as part of the course, all the while practising and improving the skills that I’m learning about in the other lessons. Then , when I’m ready, I have to do 10 hours of observed coaching in front of an assessor, as part of the assessment for the course.

So today, I dialled in to the beginner level observed coaching class, fully intending to be an observer, but when the teacher asked for someone to coach, it all went quiet. I waited a while, still no-one volunteered. Eventually, heart racing, I said I’d coach. Gulp!

It went OK, although nerve wracking. I didn’t do everything perfectly of course, there is loads for me to learn and practise. The feedback was really useful and I now know which aspects I need to work on next.

And it feels so good to finally have done it!

But it got me thinking about fear, particularly fear of failure.

For some reason I felt that I wasn’t good enough to coach in the class, even though the whole point of the classes is to learn, to make mistakes in a safe environment.

The teachers constantly remind us that we are learning and it’s normal to get things wrong, because we are learning something new.

But there is a perfectionist part of me that feels that I should already be good at it, which is ridiculous, why am I paying for a training course if I should already know how to do it! This part of me stops me from trying new things, stops me from stepping out of my comfort zone.

Fear of failure. Fear of doing something wrong in front of other people. Fear of looking stupid.

Of course, no-one else cared if I got things wrong, or thought I looked stupid, or thought I was a failure. The rest of the class and the teachers were there to support me. They were glad I’d stepped up to coach, because it meant they didn’t have to!

Fear is so good at holding us back, stopping us from doing what we really want to do. And the best way to deal with it? Well, I wish I knew! But one way to deal with it is to become aware of it and to do the thing you are scared of regardless.

This is what I keep telling myself. Allow yourself to fail. Allow yourself to learn. You don’t have to be perfect.


How do you deal with the fear of failure?

Morning routines

 I sip my first cup of tea
surrounded by birdsong
as bees breakfast on the columbines.

Now that warmer weather has arrived, I have started having breakfast outside in the garden instead of mindlessly slumping on the sofa in front of breakfast TV news.

We’ve had a run of lovely mornings; blue sky, sunshine, fresh cool morning air.

I find this so calming. The immersion in nature relaxing my body and mind. The felt sense of my belonging, my need for this outdoor world.

I resolve, even when the weather is bad and I have breakfast indoors, to stay away from the morning TV news with all its negativity and trivia, telling me things I don’t need to know, ignoring the things I consider to be important. It gives me the impression that the world is a dangerous place, when just outside my window the world itself is telling me a different story. It sends me into my day with a sense of unease.

There is news in the garden too, much of it in a language I barely understand, passed on in song or bee-dance. Some of it is every bit as sensational as the TV news, tales of life and death. Did the baby blackbirds in the nest in the hedge make it through the night? (its awfully quiet in there). Did the deer eat my broad bean plants? There are stories of growth, news of the flowers most ripe with nectar and pollen, of turf wars between the robins.

Out here there is no clock in the corner of the screen hurrying along the minutes, so I linger, then sit down to work a little later than I planned. I take indoors with me a sense of calm that permeates my day.


What are your morning routines? Do they make you happy?

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Jealousy

Jealousy strikes,
irritates,
illuminates,
reveals the path
I wish to travel.

Jealousy. It gets a bad press, but it can be really useful. It can point the way to something we really want.

I don’t often feel jealous, but when I do, it’s usually because someone else is doing something that I want to do. Something I have told myself is impossible, or too hard, or not for the likes of me, for someone older, or younger, more talented, better educated….the list goes on.

This morning, while I was reading an article about a writer and explorer, jealousy bit hard. I read about one of the ideas in his new book, something I remember thinking about years ago. ‘It’s not fair’, I thought. ‘I could have written that’. But I didn’t.

Jealousy showed me that writing about these ideas, and writing a book, is important to me.

Then came the excuses. ‘Oh but he’s probably a much better writer than me. He probably studied literature and writing. He’s probably rich and can afford to be a writer and not need a real job.’

This may, or may not, be true. The point is, he did it. I didn’t. The point is, more clarity on what is important to me, what it is that I want.

Jealousy is not a pleasant feeling, but it gave me a little nudge into action. I could choose to take what I want seriously. I could take some writing courses. I could start redrafting the novel that I wrote a few years ago.


What do you think? Has jealousy ever made you stop and think? Pointed the way to a new direction, adventure or creative project?

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