I’m not ‘lucky’, I did this on purpose. You can too!

A funny thing happens when you start to make choices that are a little left of centre: people either hate you or envy you. I find both reactions quite fascinating but today in particular I want to focus on envy.

“Love looks through a telescope; envy, through a microscope.” Josh Billings

It has become clear to me in recent years that I have become a person people envy. This is quite amusing to me because at high school I was the typical goody-goody, band-geek, A student and definitely not the enviable ‘cool girl’. But people do seem to tell me I am ‘lucky’ quite a lot these days. Especially this is true of people who haven’t known me for more than a few years and are not in my inner circle so are therefore not privy to the whole story. One area this happens a lot, especially because of my job as a music teacher, is my ability to play the piano quite well. People say things like ‘Oh you’re so lucky, I did piano for a few years at school but I never got that good!’ or ‘Oh you’re so lucky you learnt early, can you teach me to play like that?’ Well, if people never had the opportunity to play any instruments in the past then yes, I got a headstart. But there’s no time like the present, it’s never too late to learn! Secondly, I can teach you to play like this, if you can commit to an hour a day practice for maybe the next 5 years. I have been playing since I was 5 years old but as you are a grown up I think we can accelerate the learning because you have already developed all your fine-motor skills so if you really commit, it won’t take you as long as it took me. I was indeed fortunate to have parents who valued music who started me on my journey (and who didn’t let me quit like I asked to…every single week after my lesson for practically all of primary school!). But it was me who did the practice. It was me who got up an hour before the rest of my family to do my scales every morning for most of my high-school life.

And then it was me who pretty much stopped practicing properly as soon as I left school. There are musicians who I admire these days who are much better than me. I’d love to be able to play as well as them, but I have enough knowledge of how much time, effort and sheer persistence goes into that skill level to feel not one iota of envy. I know I have made other choices with my life and that it isn’t ‘luck’ that I can’t play as well as the pianists I look up to. I also know how much hard work went into getting me to my current skill level so I know that it isn’t ‘luck’ that makes me a better piano player than the person I just met telling me how lucky I am because I actually practiced at high school and they didn’t.

“Diligence is the mother of good luck.” Benjamin Franklin

There are other areas of my life people envy too, like my having Tuesday mornings and Fridays off, and they think ‘Ellen is so lucky!’ Probably every week somebody tells me I am lucky, and I know what they mean. What they mean is that they want the perks of my life without having to do any of the work to get there. All they see is the perk of having some extra time off. What they do not see is the decade of illness, the almost-burnt-out-and-ready-to-quit agony and the hard decisions that led to this current, more enjoyable situation. They also conveniently forget in their fantasies about having my life that I also willingly took a pay cut in order to secure more time off. Funny that!

Yes, I am incredibly grateful for the extra time off. It is worth more to me than the money I could have earned working that extra time because for the most part it means I am able to look after myself far better and therefore be well, be happy and be a better employee and colleague for the hours I am at work. But it wasn’t an accident. I had to make some really hard decisions and also some sacrifices to get here. And I don’t resent that at all. I am just sad that people think they have to get ‘lucky’, or at the very least to get cancer to have a ‘good enough excuse’ (yes, it has been said to me) to take extra time off a job they don’t enjoy to have more life and happiness. When the truth is, all they need is a strong enough desire and the guts to make a tough decision.

“Whatever luck I had, I made.” Chuck Norris

Another area people envy me is in my relationship. I am extremely grateful for the happy, healthy relationship we have created and I’m really looking forward to spending the rest of our lives together. But it didn’t happen overnight or through some stroke of ‘luck’. I can understand single people who are perhaps a little lonely feeling a bit jealous. I remember feeling like that at times too and I think that yearning and striving for love is normal and natural. But it’s the coupled-up acquaintances who openly display their envy that I find curious. Now that we are engaged, people often like to give us advice and warnings (yes, warnings!) about what married life will be like. Mostly the advice is positive and constructive. But every now and then someone will tell one or both of us that the spark will wear off, the passion dies and it all goes downhill, so enjoy it while it lasts.

Sure, we are both realistic. We know love changes over time and already we have experienced the change from the infatuated early days to the steadier pace of long term love. But these people mean something different. They are essentially telling us that the love will die and we will end up unhappy, like them, so we should enjoy the ‘luck’ while it lasts. But I’ve seen the way this man treats (or rather, ignores) his wife, I’ve seen the way that woman speaks to and about her husband. I’ve noticed the way he never takes responsibility for any part of his life and the way she blames everyone but herself for her problems. Maybe it’s not luck afterall…

“Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

We both kissed a few frogs (toads, even) before we got together, and we had to learn a lot of hard lessons from those experiences first too. We knew each other for about 4 years before we became more-than-friends and I believe we would not have worked out had we attempted a relationship any sooner. Both of us have worked on ourselves and continue to work on ourselves and our relationship to cultivate the healthy love we have. We strive to treat each other with respect and kindness even when we don’t feel very ‘loving’, and we value straightforward communication instead of game-playing and victim-hood. None of that is easy, but it’s worth it. And as it has nothing to do with ‘luck’, you can create that for your relationship too.

The truth is, you can create anything you want in life, just as I have created my life to be as it is today. There are still things I’m working on changing but I know it’s up to me to change those too. My life is infinitely better today than it was in my early adult hood. I spent a lot of time back then playing the victim and wishing somebody would save me or wave a magic wand and fix my life. Logically I knew that was impossible but I stayed stuck in the wishing and took very little action. Nothing was in my control because I believed that it wasn’t.

“If you think you can or you think you can’t, either way you are right.” Henry Ford

Slowly I realised that I was in control of my thoughts and I began to turn my moods and overall happiness around. Next I began to realise that I was in control of who I allowed into my life and what treatment I would and wouldn’t put up with. In doing so I was able to create better, healthier, happier relationships. After years of putting my health 100% in the hands of various doctors who I spoke to for 10 minutes once a month, things really started to accelerate when I finally took control of my own health. This is still a journey for me but it gets easier and better every day (and it takes a lot more than 10 minutes a month!). And most recently I have begun taking control of my time and how I spend it in a professional as well as personal sense, which has led me to some decisions like reducing my hours at work, upskilling for a new career and launching a side business.

All of these choices are available to you, too. They aren’t luck. If you don’t like something, change it! It only involves believing that you are the master of your own destiny and you have the power to create the life you want. 

And you can! 

 

 

Troubling Triggers

I’m a recovering over-achiever and perfectionist. Actually I believe my over-achieve-at-all-costs nature is what led me to chronic disease and a difficulty with self-care to begin with. My self-worth and identity were so consumed with doing more, and where at all possible with being the best that I largely ignored my other needs for the greater part of a decade. While I was in high-school I was fortunate enough to have loving parents to force me to eat and sleep and other pesky things I perceived as time-wasting. But once I hit university the wheels began to fall off. My parents were still around but I wasn’t home enough for them to really look after me and besides, I was too old to need my parents tell me what to do anyway. Or so I thought. So the wheels got even wonkier and I thought if I just pushed the vehicle harder and faster and ignored its squeaking and wobbling, eventually it would fix itself. I was in for a rude awakening.

 

Fortunately these days I’m in recovery. I don’t go to meetings or have a 12 step program but I have to be aware of my triggers on almost a daily basis. I fall off the wagon occasionally and end up unwell, exhausted and resentful with too much on my plate. I still have shiny-thing syndrome and start more projects than I finish. I hear about some high-performer somewhere in any field and suddenly think ‘I could do that! If only I could do that then I’d be enough.’

 

But that kind of thinking is what got me into trouble in the first place. I was never enough. Being ‘enough’ was always just around the corner. When I just got another A or High Distinction, or when I earned X amount more at my part-time job, or when I excelled in yet another extra-curricular activity. I was queen of the humble brag, the ‘I’m SO tired because I’m SO busy because look how many amazing things I DO…..’ whinge. I always thought that if I could just get through this particularly busy period then I could slow down because once I’d participated in this concert or that musical or done this exam or that extra qualification then I’d be able to say that I’d done it and everyone would think I was great because of it. I feel tired even writing that sentence, but that’s how I thought. And of course once I’d done all those things, another list would pop up and the cycle continued.

 

It took me a long time, even after failing health and getting well again, to realise the root of the problem actually wasn’t my body at all. It wasn’t my earthly vessel letting me down and not being able to keep up. It was my thinking. Thinking I wasn’t enough and that the only was to be enough was to do, do, do and achieve, achieve, achieve. Always pushing my body further on an endless cycle of more, more, more.

 

My current profession as a high-school teacher is a bit of a constant battle with triggers in this regard. There is a lot to do just to do the bare minimum. But to do well, to be a great teacher? Well, the politicians will tell the world (and teachers listening will believe) that the answer is teachers have to do more. Not that they have to be more kind, more understanding, more patient. But that they have to do more paperwork, more data-collecting and more program-re-writing. There are also a vast number of committees and staff groups that need members and people to help organise and fundraise. The students will also ask for more extra-curricular activities to be offered, more lunch-time practice sessions and more extra help. Parents too will ask for more. And as most teachers get into the job to help the children, in our hearts we desperately want to be able to do all of the above on top of our daily planning and reflecting, marking and reporting. It is incredibly easy to work 60+ hours a week as teacher and still feel like you haven’t done enough. The rate of teacher burn-out and attrition is very high for this reason. The majority of teachers these days won’t make it past 5 years in the profession before they choose or are forced to do something else. I’d have been one of them at the end of my 2nd year had I not chosen to (and been given the support of my school to be able to) work part time. But of course that has come with its own set of triggers because once you are part time everyone assumes you have even more time. Plus, I want to be involved, I like being part of groups and I know I’m good at organising so I put my hand up for things a lot. It’s only recently that I’ve started to really work out my priorities and pull back from some unnecessary things so that I can give as much time as I have at school to the students and then go home and actually look after myself. But even now that I feel like I’ve really worked it out, I still find my over-achieving urge triggered frequently. Probably at least once a work-day actually. So I remain vigilant.

 

Or so I thought. Then I started this life-coaching journey and that in itself, if I’m honest, was my inner over-achiever rearing her head. There are many coaching schools out there, but I of course chose one of the most rigorous and thorough. Now I’m not disappointed about that as I absolutely love the content and as an educator myself I’m glad I’m doing a course with such high standards of training and assessment. However, the personal development movement is fraught with triggers for a recovering perfectionist like me.

 

While there is a pocket that preaches ‘me time’ and self-care, there is a larger, louder pocket that preaches success and high performance. I realise that much of this is directed towards people who procrastinate and have such low self-belief that they never do anything. And I’m sure some people really respond to the tough-love, boot-camp-of-life style. But for me it brings up a whole lot of feelings about not doing enough and therefore not being enough. My inner over-achiever tells me that the only way to remedy that is to do more. She easily finds evidence to back her up because almost everywhere I turn in the self development world there is this constant push for harder, better, faster, stronger and a frustrating rhetoric against being mediocre, as if that is the worst thing that can happen to a person. I can understand how that could be motivating for some, but for me it is dangerous and I do well to be on my guard against it.

 

I wonder if this is something others are struggling with? Are you an over-achiever and if so, can you identify your triggers? Let me know and together we can form a recovery support group. Who knows, there might even be a 12-step program in it!

How self-care and focus will help you reach your goals

Well, it’s February already. By now many people’s New Years Resolutions are faltering, if not completely forgotten. But not me! Not that I made specific ‘resolutions’ this year but I did spend a fair chunk of my time in January contemplating and planning the year ahead. I created a 2015 calendar overview, chose a ‘word of the year’ and decided on my core desired feelings for the year. And so far, 6 weeks into the year I’m happy to report that I’m doing better than I’ve ever been. So how have I managed this? I’m so glad you asked!

Firstly, I made it a priority. As many of you will know, the last 6 months have included a huge amount of change in my life. I have been through a huge amount of personal growth. I took up part time study on top of my day job, I began business building, I lost and then grieved for my beautiful cousin, I got engaged, my new fiancé and I bought and then moved into our own home, we had an engagement party, Christmas and New Year in the same fortnight, I completed the assessment for the first part of my course and we also planned the wedding. The majority of this all happened in the last 2 months of 2014. It made for a very stressful, expensive and busy time. I wasn’t on the blog much, because I just didn’t have time, and then in January when things settled down and I did have time I made a conscious decision to take some time out for me.

And I’m so glad I did. I was able to settle into our new home, spend some quality time with my fiancé and nurture my very tired body with quality food, movement and rest. I also found that giving myself some mental space suddenly made a lot of room for new and exciting ideas! It’s going to be a great 2015.

Strategies for success

So let’s talk strategies. In the past using a calendar and diary has always been part of my life. However, last year in particular I let it slip. I attempted to make the transition from paper to digital scheduling and it worked, initially. But I found it needed a great deal of daily maintenance to keep up to date, not to mention being constantly plugged in and connected, which is something that is fraught with distractions for me. Plus, I could never seem to get the ‘global’ view that I wanted and needed because there would always be a need to scroll or change pages or maximise/minimise the image in order to read it. So eventually I let it slip and my productivity and sense of ‘having-it-together’ slipped along with that. Reflecting on this I decided to make the change back to a hard copy diary and paper calendar this year as an experiment. Well, already I can tell you that it is a resounding success! Old-fashioned pencil-and-paper scheduling FTW! I’m sure I’ve talked before about how writing is a psycho-neuro-muscular activity so even the act of writing something down imprints it into my brain more than keying it into my phone. But I also get the global view of the day, week, month and year that I need to get perspective on how I will be spending my time. It is SO much better. I highly recommend it!

The next strategy is a ‘word of the year’. I’m pretty sure I got this from Liz Gilbert in her book ‘Eat, Pray Love’ but I also have recently heard Natalie Sisson of The Suitcase Entrepreneur using this strategy as well. So I chose my word: ‘quality’ (as opposed to quantity, which is something I’d been thinking about A LOT over the moving house process!). The quality over quantity sums up pretty much everything I want this year in a lot of areas: relationship, possessions, food, exercise, work, entertainment, reading…the list could go on forever! So my word for the year is quality. 

Then during a number of coaching sessions over the month of January the word ‘peace’ came up for me a lot. And I realised that peace is my core desired feeling for 2015. This concept comes from the book The Desire Map by Danielle La Porte. I haven’t finished reading it yet but what I have read so far I really resonate with. It’s something I’ve heard and read about quite a lot over the holiday period as I deepened and explored my coaching journey. So my core desired feeling this year is peace.

What you focus on is what you get.

The last strategy is really what has made all the others a success though, and what is giving me confidence that I really can and will achieve my goals in 2015. And that is simply frequent, consistent focus. One of my favourite success principles is ‘what you focus on is what you get’. And I really have been living that this year. Every day I have made a conscious effort to focus on what I want instead of what I don’t want, what I’m grateful for instead of what I feel I’m missing and what the next actions are in order to create the life I want. I haven’t put a lot of pressure on myself to do this. I haven’t beaten myself up if I miss a day. And I haven’t tried to completely overhaul my life in large, dramatic ways at once. Instead, I’ve focused on small actions that take me step by step towards what I want to do, have and be. And I’ve focused on them frequently and consistently. And now, 6 weeks in, I’m seeing and even more importantly I’m feeling the benefits.

Some of my daily actions are to have a green juice, do a 2 minute meditation, perform at least 1 act of personal self-care, a 10 minute tidy-up or de-clutter and 5 minutes of some kind of movement every day. I have also made sure I check my diary and review my lists of to-dos for the day, week and month if not every day then at least every other day. Some other daily strategies I’m now adding seeing as those seem to be under way fairly well include a 1 sentence journal, a conscious wind-down before bed and 5 minutes of stretching every day. I have signed up for yoga and am feeling immense benefits of even just 1 class a week (although if I can get to more then I do) and have been going for at least 1 big walk a week too. Exercise and I have had a checkered history so I’m taking baby steps here with my commitments. I’m also making sure I commit to weekly coaching sessions to keep me on track and to help me stay motivated. It’s also nice to be able to share the ‘wins’ with someone who is 100% in my corner and has no agenda other than to help me succeed.

Right now, I’m really feeling the snowball beginning to build as these good habits start to become more automatic and the benefits start to feel very real. This only makes me feel even more motivated to keep going. Don’t get me wrong, there have been times when I have gotten lazy or distracted and either intentionally or unintentionally not done some of these habits. And I feel worse because of it. So that is also helping me stay on track. It’s a great feeling and it all comes down to focusing on what I want and taking the time to implement the small self-care strategies to help me get there!

So how are you going with your resolutions? Did you make any? What do you want 2015 to be for you? Let me know in the comments or on Facebook, I’d love to hear from you.