...and the birthday space time continuum!
This post has taken 2 weeks to write! 1 week to work out what was going on and 1 week to write it down…and it’s turned into a long one! I’ve given myself until today to finish it because otherwise I might never publish it. It’s turned into a mammoth one about finding purpose, moving on after another ‘failure’ (although I’m still having insomniac moments as I wait for the loose ends to be tied up) and working out what meaning truly is for me.
It was my birthday 2 Wednesdays ago (20th March) and I didn’t massively enjoy it.
That’s not completely true; I woke early and opened my present from Reuben (a thoughtfully chosen book by Mike!), I went to Bootcamp (which I really enjoyed), had a chilled afternoon (I watched lots of The Office (US one. I. LOVE. IT.) with Nancy feeding and sleeping on me) and we had a delicious family meal at a local pub. I got some lovely presents, thoughtful cards and many, many FB birthday wishes…but all day I had this underlying feeling of ick.
It’s taken a week to work out wtf is with this.
I’m grateful for my family and friends for their love and gifts – I had a great day and felt special.
I thought it might be because I’m now closer to 40 than 30 but I’m not bothered about my age. 36 isn’t old. I’ve got friends in their 40s and 50s (and older – my Grandparents are rocking their 80s) who not only look great but are content, so I’m hoping to improve with age.
I was wondering if I was gloomy about the fact I met Mike 10 years ago, just after I turned 26 – remembering the excitement and promise of a life together. But no, I’m happy to have that as a memory rather than wanting to go back in time and relive it (particularly the giving birth bits!).
Overall, I feel like I’m in a great place;
- We have a beautiful home, that’s all but finished, and everything we need.
- My body isn’t a dream one but it’s a very good one that’s served me well, and I’m enjoying the process of getting in shape.
- Mike and I are in love (we’ve certainly had our troubles but we have kept working at it. We’re communicating better now than we ever have).
- We have a complete family, with 3 beautiful, healthy children and our family time is brilliant and frequent.
So, if it’s not age or feeling unloved or my relationship or my family, what is up with birthdays?!
What is up with Birthdays?
Each year for as long as I can remember caring, I’ve felt weird on my birthday. I try to do things in solitude (one year I saw Music and Lyrics literally on my own; I had the cinema to myself) and I’ve realised it’s because I find birthdays like a portal in time going from birth up to death – each day linked to the other for all eternity! And, it’s too big to comprehend (hence zoning out under my baby and watching The Office).
At New Years it feels like a fresh start and we can tinker at the edges of ours lives. This year I WILL floss every day. Plus everyone is in the same boat.
But on my birthday, I’m alone.
It’s just me and my whole life, past and future, is staring me in the face.
On this day, I feel a direct hotline to my calling. It shouts at me, almost angrily, that I should be doing something. But it’s also tiny. Like the children in Honey I Shrunk The Kids. So I can’t quite make out what it’s trying to tell me. The secret to my existence remains a mystery beyond the fact that I know it’s there and I know I’m not doing it.
The feeling is along the lines of… Is this all you have to offer? What will you have achieved by next year? Next decade? By the time you die? What will you do? What do you love? And why aren’t you doing it? Will you ever do it?
I’ve distilled it down to finding purpose. I’m a perpetual searcher for my thing. I’ve done more jobs than you can shake a stick at from helping the milkman (age 13 to 18) to University researcher (after finishing my masters in Civil Engineering) to public speaker to working for myself (blogging and trying to write a novel) and running a business (two in fact).
So far nothing has stuck. Most recently, I started a business with a friend 3 weeks before giving birth to Nancy and in the midst of major building work… My friend had a great idea, the drive was intense so we just went for it – and it was a great business idea, Emily and I loved what we were doing and we had customers, lots of them not even friends and family! But I couldn’t sustain the workload, scrabbling for time around the 24/7 demands of a newborn baby (and on a bad day, 15 builders all making as much noise as possible and wanting decisions and teas made).
A week and a half after having Nancy I wrote the first draft content for the January box during an epic 2 hour night feed, and we spent a week printing and packing boxes in-between feeding and taking it in turns to hold the baby. The next month I got up between 4 and 5am (basically after the second night feed) every day for almost 2 weeks, just to get the February box out. I loved what we were producing but I was exhausted so I had to tell Emily the sad news that I couldn’t keep it up. Just over 3 weeks ago, 5 months after starting, we closed the business.
Failure, Daemons and finding Purpose
All this experimenting can make one feel like a failure. And a nutter. Why keep trying and failing when I don’t need to? I have a baby to look after, 2 older children, a house, 4 pets, a humongous garden that the triffids have started to take over and I don’t need to work, so what is this urge?
In Steven Pressfield’s book, The Artist’s Journey, he calls it our Daemon – a thing that we cannot control that makes us do often crazy things. It presses us to keep striving despite our ‘better’ judgement. It doesn’t care what our circumstances are, it just keeps that fire burning, encouraging us to move towards our higher purpose.
That’s a little woohoo for me, but equally, I like to think it explains a lot.
Over the past 6 weeks, I’ve been doing a Bootcamp in town. Not only do I love the workouts and extra endorphins but I’m absolutely loving my commute. 35 mins there and back to listen and learn and think.
I’ve listened to tons of the James Altucher show, a couple of them twice, which has led to listen to Failing Forward by John Maxwell and, as I mentioned, The Artist’s Journey by Steven Pressfield. Both of which are nice and short at around 2 hours each and have been hugely helpful for reframing my thinking. Particularly around ‘failure’ and also how to move forward.
The big take aways are…
- Fear has been paralysing me – I’ve completely stopped writing and making things again because I’m scared of everything from Trolls and what people will think of me if I truly open up; to indifference and what if no one gives a shit; to hard work and do I actually have what it takes to keep going when the going gets tough?
- Create art to find out who you are – purpose and your subject is something you find. It doesn’t find you – beyond that initial tap on the shoulder and a pull in the right direction. By creating art (aka something that didn’t exist before) we are reaching beyond annoying things that stand in our way, like ego, arrogance, fear of failure, and fear of success, even, and we start to understand who we truly are beyond the bullshit.
- Quantity over quality. Creating art is hard work because obstacles pop up all the time. And, obsessing over perfection while trying to create ‘quality art’ does not result in good work. Good work comes from trying, and ‘failing’, again and again. Create loads of stuff (stories, art, videos, blog posts, podcasts, music… whatever you want) and see what works and which themes emerge.
Each time I’ve started something since quitting professional blogging 3 years ago, it’s brought me back here. To Mums’ Days. The place I document all the highs and lows in life. The place that keeps track of what I’ve done in the past and what I hope to achieve in the future. The problem, I think, is that I keep thinking perhaps blogging IS my thing, when in fact it is purely the tool for keeping track and discovering my thing.
When I make blogging my thing, it distracts from discovering my subject by making me obsess over the things that make me feel down and don’t actually matter – planning, social media, numbers, making money, etc. – instead of making art and connecting with people on a deeper level.
I believe my purpose lies here and this blog is the tool for helping me document the finding of it. Making something every day is far more meaningful to me than planning a bunch of blog posts that I hope may go viral!
Another podcast I listened over and over again was a Tim Ferris one, where he called his listeners and answered one of their questions. I listened to his answer to one chap’s question (starts just after 20mins of the podcast linked above) about 5 times in a row to get my head around it.
Tim was asked how he found meaning in life, now he has achieved so much.
His main driver for everything is ‘scratching his own itch’
- Everything he does comes from a problem he has and he says, whatever your problem is (even if you’re a housewife searching for the meaning of life) there will be thousands, if not millions of people out there with the same problem who will benefit from you documenting and sharing your experiments.
- Life is about your perception of what matters. The people around you may have strong opinions about what you should be doing with your time, but doing things to please others and not being true to what matters most to you will not lead to meaning and fulfilment.
He recommended reading The 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch (it’s a bit heavy, I’m working through it at the moment on audible and I’m struggling, so I think I’ll switch to reading it -the rap at the beginning is toe curlingly bad!) to help identify what is most important to you. Other books mentioned are Awareness by Anthony de Mello and Man’s search for meaning, The Classic Tribute to Hope from the Holocaust by Viktor Frankle.
A couple of itches I want to scratch are…
- Weight loss after baby number 2
- Writing a novel (that one is refusing to quit)
- Finding meaning, obvs.
I’d like to address the above through a number of medium from writing to podcasting and even a bit of video making!
Right, that was a long one! Did you make it to the end? If so….
- can you relate?
- what itches do you want to scratch?