The purpose of work

20160425_164754.jpg

As a midlife woman who grew up in the 60s and 70s, a career was still perceived as an option. Even today, I still make a distinction between a job and a career.

A job is what you do until something better turns up but a career is in the top three things that define you. You will make sacrifices to keep and nurture it.

I met up with a dear friend last week. She has recently retired, and at eight years younger, I have that prospect ahead. We are both passionate about our work. Our careers are hugely important to us. They motivate, drive and inspire. They are hard won, require sacrifice and have helped us through the bad times. They are somewhere to channel energy and to escape and drown sorrows when everything else fell apart around us.

We are not alone. Many people reading this will recognise this split career personality. The positive life force v. the something to hide behind.

My friend has two daughters, one is career driven. She loves her work. Long hours are part of the course. The other loves her work between the hours of 9-5 and then goes home to love the rest of her life. Both have interesting stimulating professional jobs.  How can two sisters who have the same female role model be so different? It must be nature not nurture surely?

Or maybe its something else. Our purpose in life has nothing to do with how we make a living.

Of couse you may happen to find some of that purpose in your career but you should not see your career as THE driving force. Do not ask the impossible of it. Do not rely on it to  fill other gaps in your life but be clear where it fits in your life.

So which of my friend’s daughters has got it right? Potentially both or neither. It is the motivation that matters, the why, not how many hours you spend at the office.

I feel my generation of women still feel that we have to prove our worth in the workplace. At some level proving we are worthy gets muddled with passion and commitment. As careers plateau in the final decade of work there is a danger of looking back and thinking the effort, the long hours and the passion were misplaced.  Far healthier to appraise it objectively looking back with compassion for yourself and the decisions you made. Your passion still needs a channel when work life dims but part of the joy of being a midlifer is recognising that is okay and being excited to say ‘what next?’.

Advertisements

Aligning all the “me’s”

image

I started this blog by setting out a challenge to myself to introduce new and good things into my life throughout the year. In New Dawns I promised to add something new every two months. H alf way through April. How am I doing? The good news is I’ve kept my intention to write a blog post every two weeks. I’ve not yet found the focus for my blog but it is coming and the more I write the more the act of regular writing becomes less of the issue freeing up headspace to reflect on developing and designing my blog.

I’ve signed up to do a charity run and have started a twice a week running practice using an app. It is more difficult than I anticipated.

I attended a whole wellness spirtual day in London by Hay House. I booked up with trepidation and had one of the best days ever. I came away with piles of books to help me balance mind, body, spirit. The good vibes and good practice lasted a whole week and I came away determined to incorporate meditation every day into my life. That is my new task for April. What was so good about the Hay House day was not the obvious things like the speakers, meeting my favourite wellness blogger Kris Carr, the good feel factor I got from the day or meeting new people who shared my enthusiasm for life balance, great as all those experiences were. No it was the realisation as I put the key in the door to my house at the end of a long day that my passion for the spiritual and wellness is slightly separate from the rest of my life. It made me stop to reflect why. Am I mixing with people unlike me? No. Is my day job out of alignment with what lights me up? Yes. Is it because I’ve yet to make sense of my mind spirit body balance and look at it shyly rather than embrace it? Possibly. Lots to reflect on. Maybe the daily meditation practice will illuminate. So what new thing have you done recently that made you pause for thought and ask ‘so is this me’? How did you find the answer?

Side-track advice

2016-03-25 17.04.52

A spoiler. This post is not about my cats despite the image.  But it is my cats that prompted me to write this blog or, more accurately, opinions that people gave me about them. Last year my cat passed away and lonely without a furry companion around the house I went to Cat Protection. I’ve always had neutered toms though one small female did adopt me when I lived in Warwickshire many years ago. I meant to choose an older male but came home with two 6 month old girls. Everyone told me female cats were different. How? More independent, less needy and keener hunters because their instinct is to forage for their kittens. I was advised the relationship I had with them would not be as close; it would be lesser and the implication was that I had not made the right choice for me. Not surprisingly both my cats are different to my previous one. They are individuals and each of them is very different to the other. What struck me was not how different it was to have female cats but how different it was to have two cats. They have each other and a relationship which predates the relationship they have with me. They wash each other, play together and eat out of each other’s feeding bowls and water stations. Are they a replacement for my previous cat? No but then I wasn’t expecting a replica. I just wanted some cats about the house, some furry friends to take care of and make home feel like home.

I hadn’t asked for a view or advice. I was quite comfortable making a decision without referring to anyone else. But why is it that when someone passes an opinion, which usually leads to advice on some level, we always feel we should give some time to consider their uncalled for point of view?  I realised I am a sucker for this.  It’s as if I have a ‘polite’ mind that requires me to consider everything ever said to me.  I realised that I am not very good at accepting that there are three types of advice – good, bad and non-advice.  The latter is all those things people advise you that are just irrelevant.

The truth is that it is often hard to separate out good from bad advice and to drill down into how objective and impartial advice is.  However non-advice is easy to spot because it just doesn’t relate to where you are coming from and misses the point.

So today I’ve given myself permission to start ignoring none-advice.  Say thank you and then never think about it again.

Meditation Moments

20160314_010957I’ve been feeling stressed about two events in my life right now. Both are transient and not normally things that would bother me. I started to add to my worry by wondering whether age and menopause were at the root of my unexpected loss of confidence. So I tried to apply techniques I’ve learned through practising yoga for 18 years and then adapted in ways that work for me. They helped. So I thought I’d share.

5-10 minute consious breathing – of course we all breathe unconsiously all of the time but consious breathing for a short period can be really helpful in calming the body. You can do it almost anywhere. And practice means that, overtime, you will be able to switch on mindful breathing like a light switch. There are various apps available to help you. I like GPS for the Soul, available for android and i-phone.  You can set a speed and time for your breath practice and it simply gives a little vibration when it is time to breathe in or out. You can get lost in the practice without worrying how long you have been doing it. The app will tell you quietly when your set time is finished. And because the app works with vibration not verbal instructions you can use it in a public place (a long train journey is my favourite). The trick is to breathe in slowly from deep inside your stomach and up through your rib cage and into your throat and as you do so expand your stomach and rib cage. When you breathe out you gradually exhale the air in reverse starting with your throat and finishing deep in your stomach. Choose a pace and length of time that feels right for you. You shouldn’t feel light headed, dizzy or breathless. The point is to restore calm. So start with a couple of minutes and extend the length over a few weeks. Whatever is right for you.

Memory meditations – this is something I’ve been doing for years and discover others do too. It’s easy. Try it if you don’t do it already. Close your eyes and let your mind focus on a memorable occasion, something that made you feel happy and positive but an event that is external to you. Something you experienced as an observer. You don’t want the experience to stir up any negative connections or deep personal emotions that will take your mind in different directions. For me it tends to be about a beautiful view or place I’ve visited on holiday. It’s important to choose something that makes you feel warm and at peace with life, so it might be a very detailed experience, like watching a bee collecting nectar from a flower. Just cut out everything around you and just allow the thought to occupy all your mind. Think about what it looked like, how it smelled, the sound of itand how it made you feel. Watch how your body relaxes and your breath slows!

Stare at the moon (or the sky) – literally stare into space. Just look at the sky. Observe the moon, the movement of the clouds, the patterns of the stars or a bird flying across your view. Being lost in space; a space that reminds you that you are a speck on the planet and that the world is existing irrespective of what you do, say or think, is very calming. It gives you a sense of proportion. Your stress or concern will pass and the sky will not change. It’s humbling and comforting at the same time.

Take a walk – just get out and walk – round the block, round the garden or down the road. It doesn’t have to be a hike. Just a 10 minute stroll or a brisk walk changes your perspective. Don’t actively try to think about whatever is bugging you. Let your thoughts flow. Maybe walking through your concern will sort it, calm you or help you forget it for a short period of time.

Now tell me what do you do to ease stress in a health-full way.

Expanding Lifespans

20160222_211258

Last Saturday I woke up to the radio newsreader saying that people aged 65 now would, on average, live until the age of 84. In fact for women, the lifespan is 86.  My happy mind thought “Great, if that statistic applies to a midlife woman like me in her 50s too then I have another  30 years before I leave this mortal coil. That is three decades. Wow! When I took out a 25 year mortgage in my 20s it seemed a lifetime commitment and when I look back at what I have achieved in the last 30 years, the list is very long indeed.

I tried to remember what it felt like to be 26; what I was doing, where I was living and what my priorities were. So, 30 years ago, I was probably between boyfriends; buying my first flat in London (tiny but mine), and I was in a really exciting and incredibly busy job. I actually had a very senior and responsible job for my age in a dynamic small organisation. I didn’t understand that at the time because I had nothing to compare it with. I didn’t know either that it would be one of very few jobs in which I’d be an employee and that for most of my working life I’d be self-employed or running small businesses with a handful of like-minded people in an industry my 26 year self knew nothing about. I didn’t know that I had yet to meet someone I’d live with for 17 years or that the relationship would end and I’d move on. I didn’t know I’d visit some amazing countries in my 30s but that I wouldn’t ever have children.

So switching the telescope from looking at the past to the future, I have 30 years to achieve some great new things.  The experience of being a midlife woman tells me things will happen which will take me down new paths and in directions that right now I can’t imagine. I know there will be things I want which I won’t get, and things that I get which I didn’t ask for but which are great nonetheless, and that some bad stuff will happen too but it will turn out okay. Remember its time and experience that gives you perspective.

So if you are feeling worn down by everyone telling you the bad stuff about being a midlife woman (and that ‘everyone’ may include you) remember life is an adventure.  Think positive.  It’s time to get excited about the future.  Make some plans, think longer term and remember there is lots still to happen.

Are you happy?

Are you happy right now?  Happy about your life, about the way you feel about yourself, your job, your relationship, your family, your friendships? If the answer is no to one or more of these and you are a midlife woman then, according to a recent survey, you are not alone.  The Office of National Statistics (ONS) survey on wellbeing, found that people aged 40-59 are the least happy, have the lowest levels of life satisfaction and the highest levels of anxiety of any age group.  A coalescence of factors are cited as possible causes including financial pressures, having children later which means your parents are aging at the same time as you are caring for young children, and an uncertain job market coinciding with the time you reach the peak in your career.  Interestingly life satisfaction is higher for people aged 65+.  Will I become happier as I reach a magic age or rather are the current cohort of 65+ happy because they are retired on a good pension?

I suspect this is more a question of our generation.  Women like me – aged 50+, living in an affluent democracy in the Western world – are the first generation to have very real choices and high expectations of life.  My education, my career and my financial independence have enabled me to do a lot supported by a gradual change in society towards equality between men and women. My generation of women believed and spoke up for our rights and we continue to do that.  It is all good.  Yet recently I sometimes feel ‘So is that it?’  Doors are closing but it is hard to find new ones to open.  I was brought up to believe I could open all the doors, if I wanted.   I do understand why so many people in their 50s don’t feel happy with their lot.

But happiness is a state of mind.  We all know people who in the face of huge adversity remain optimistic about the future, philosophical and pragmatic about where they are in life right now and find happiness in the everyday.  However to achieve happiness you do need to make sense of your life and make a deal with yourself that you will commit to being happy.  I’d argue you owe yourself that.  The one person you have to live with forever and for whom you are 100% responsible is YOU, no one else.

There are numerous tools out there to advise on how you find happiness – from wellness gurus, books on mindfulness, yoga and meditation classes to a list of anything between 3 and 15 things you need to do to be happy.  Type ‘how to be happy’ into google and see what comes up.  Clearly the findings of the ONS survey suggests we are either not taking the advice or not doing it right. But maybe there is a first step that doesn’t appear on the average self help list.

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is the title of a book by the wonderful Jeanette Winterson and published in 2011.  It is the story of a life’s work to find happiness. It is a very personal story in which Winterson revisits her own childhood and her relationship with her mother to make sense of her life and find peace with herself.  Looking up Winterson’s age, I discover we are both 56, she is just 10 days older than me as it happens. While her life story is very different to mine, the book contains some universal touch points that give you pause for thought.  The book reminds me just how much places and people’s attitudes have changed.  It can be salutary to remember that you view your past in the knowledge of today and you are in danger of judging it by a set of values that didn’t apply at the time.   The title of the book is a quote from her mother. It captures something many women of my generation will find familiar; a mother who cannot understand striving for happiness.  Money, security, respectability and vocation might all be legitimate goals but not happiness.

What Winterson’s book taught me is that if you want to be happy you first need to slay your own dragons or at least put out their fiery breath. Then it will become a lot easier to follow the 3 or the 15 points to happiness.  In fact you might choose to write a new set that you discover works for you.

I think most of my dragons are slain, though occasionally I find one sleeping and I disturb its slumbers accidentally.  Largely I am happy.  In fact happier now than I’ve been for a long while.  I don’t have a magic formula or even a list of how to be happy but I do recommend everyone goes in search of their dragons.  You might find one or two lurking in a wardrobe somewhere.  And on the days when I think ‘Is this it?’, I either remind myself just how good ‘it’ actually is or say ‘No it isn’t because I still have to ……(fill the gap) to do. And I need to get started today’.

 

 

New Dawns

This is my first blog on this site. I am still playing with the layout and trying to find my way around WordPress.  I haven’t begun to promote the site to the world. If you are reading this in January, I will be fascinated to know how you found me.

Yes January, and my inbox is flooded with advice on how to make my life better, to set resolutions and to avoid breaking the resolutions once I’ve set them.

January is dark, often cold (well certainly it is here in England) and life can feel flat after Christmas, so I am not sure why making resolutions on January 1 has become such a tradition.  Why not the first day of Spring, when the world feels full of opportunity and you are more likely to keep your promises?  Because of course that is what resolutions really are, promises to ones self.  I’ve never been particularly keen on New Year’s resolutions but I feel 2016 is going to be a year of change, the beginning of a new phase in my life as I move from career pushing woman to a more internally focused individual looking for new challenges and fulfilment.  I want to set resolutions that help me embrace change and find a new me.

I read everywhere that it takes you 21 days (some say 30 days) to establish a new habit.  So I decided that in 2016, I would form six new habits – one every couple of months or so.  That way, by the end of this year, my life will have changed in six ways.  Right now, I can’t be sure what all of those six things will be but I’ve got plenty of time to decide and implement them, with the added bonus of doing new positive things in my life throughout the year instead of just in January.

This blog is habit #1 and will be a big commitment.  It may help me decide what the other five few habits are going to be.  Here are some possible options.  I hope they offer you some ideas too on how to make your life simpler, more rewarding and more focused.

  1. Set a new morning routine to shape my day.  See My Morning Routine for inspiration
  2. Get fitter.  First step commit to something I can’t easily get out of,  like a fun run for charity, then tell everyone I’m doing it and get them to sponsor me.
  3. Make reading for pleasure a priority, instead of fitting reading around everything else I do. Start by setting a challenge on Goodreads.
  4. De-clutter my work and home environment. There has been a build-up of clothes, books and work papers recently and a cluttered home doesn’t support a peaceful mind that is open to new ideas and change.  The Japanese de-clutter guru Marie Kondo may offer some ideas on how to calm my world.
  5. Spruce up my nest.  My home is my refuge and where I work for a lot of the time and it needs a makeover.  I need to make a list, set priorities, research costs and then decide whether I can do the work or need to call in an expert.
  6. Be more productive.  This is a huge one for me.  If you are not careful, the less you do, the more time it takes.  If I am cleaning up my lifestyle and starting afresh, the extra time that creates must be used productively.  The standard time management books seem to be all about the work environment and assume everyone has too much to do.  How do you build up new productive activity when you have freed up time in your life?
  7. Keep a journal.  I have tried and failed to do this in the past with one exception, when journaling during a particular period of my life became a life saver.  This was a long time before journaling became voguish.  Yet thousands of people swear by the therapeutic benefits of daily journaling, the clarity it brings and how journaling de-stresses your life and improves your writing skills and creativity. This piece and this one encourage me to have another go.