…is 42. So says Deep Thought in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
I think Douglas Adams had a point though, because what I observed in my year as a 42 year old will stay with me for the rest of my life.
The back end of 2019 had plenty of WTF moments, but the first half of 2020 has blown most of it out of the water. 2020 has been a law unto itself – Australian bushfires beyond the scope and ferocity of any in living memory, the locust plague in East Africa, COVID-19, George Floyd… and in the background there’s also been Brexit and apparently an official acknowledgement of UFOs…
5 Life Lessons of 42:
5. Do more of what makes you happy
This may seem bloody obvious, but in a world constructed around the do more, achieve more, acquire more capitalist ideal sometimes the “of what makes you happy” can get lost. Find the things that make you happy – people, hobbies, places, activities – and make them a priority. Self care isn’t just having bubble baths and posh candles, it’s about self stewardship in the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual arenas. Rather like good parenting, it touches on every area of life and every decision you make.
The COVID Lockdown and its impact on our freedom to go where we want and see who we want made this one blindingly obvious to me. People would post “where’s the first place you’ll go when they lift lockdown?” on social media and whilst other people seemed desperate to go on holiday or to Starbucks or the pub, my answer was always the same – I want to hug my parents. They live five minutes drive away and I couldn’t hug them for months because they needed to shield. When we feel safe to hug freely again, I will hug them until they beg to be let go of, because if another wave comes, I don’t want to regret not hugging them more when I had the chance.
I also missed my routine, my comfortable groove of knowing where I was supposed to be, who I was supposed to be talking to, what I was supposed to be doing. I missed having time to myself. I missed being able to work in peace. I missed being able to go to bed having ticked things off my to do list. I missed my personal training sessions with Jo where we vented and laughed and sweated and took the piss out of each other. I missed the easy camaraderie at the Hub, and with my TAWNies. I missed Taekwondo and the sense of inner peace that it gives me. Zoom is great, but it’s not the same is it?
Home school was not as fun as I’d hoped it would be, but I love having more time with my kid. She’s great company, even if I sometimes think I may spontaneously combust if she tells me about another YouTube video she’s watched about another set of Sylvanian Families she would love to add to her collection.
My family, my people, my space, my training. Lockdown reinforced my priorities.
What did you appreciate having and what did you miss? And why? Did lockdown bring things into focus for you too?
4. We are all connected, and nothing happens in isolation
The world is both big and tiny, all at the same time. Our six degrees of separation haven’t landed me in the same room as Henry Cavill yet, but… anyone? Oh nevermind…
Through black lives matter related posts, I stumbled across a business owner with a familiar name and sure enough she was the younger sister of someone I went to school with. Through commenting on a post about stereotypes relating to where we come from, I connected with somebody who lives on Kangaroo Island (population <5,000), where I swam with wild penguins as a child. Through different jobs I’ve had in the UK, I’m friends with 2 New Zealanders who went to primary school together… we are all connected. On some level we know this, we can feel it.
Watching what happened in the first month after the murder of George Floyd was astonishing. It was inspiring to see black lives matter protests in various Western and European countries, but the grafitti portrait on a wall standing amongst rubble in Idlib in Syria with “No to Racism” and “I Can’t Breathe” accompanying the portrait was stunning. How had a message about racism in America reached war torn Syria so quickly? And why did the artist feel so deeply moved by it to create that artwork?
Some may say it was because it tarnished the “Land of the Free” image that Americans cling to as part of their national identity, but I think it was more simple than that. Racism is everywhere. If your race is not the dominant race, the race holding all of the cards and running the institutions, you will most likely experience racism. George Floyd’s death was painfully symbolic to a much wider group, a much wider number of groups, than anybody could have predicted.
I started my anti-racism journey over a year ago, but until George Floyd I had barely discussed it outside of my book group. I have talked about it on a pretty much daily basis for the past two months. It feels like the consciousness of the world may have shifted a bit in the past 9 weeks. I hope so.
3. “Survival of the Fittest” may now actually mean “Survival of the most Mentally Agile”
Exercise your right to choose.
Back in September we tackled the legendary 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In the first habit, Stephen Covey introduced us to Victor Frankl – a Jewish psychiatrist who was imprisoned in Nazi death camps. Frankl endured torture and innumerable indignities and his parents, wife and brother all died in the camps. He never knew whether his day would end in the gas chambers, or removing the bodies from them. Against this backdrop, he realised that as a self aware being, “he could decide within himself how all of this was going to affect him”. He discovered a fundamental principle that “between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose”.
We get to choose every single day how we are going to respond to what is going on around us. We get to choose whether to wallow or shine. We get to choose how we respond to changing circumstances. We get to choose whether to fully participate or not. We get to choose whether to make how a neighbour behaves the cause of stress, or not. We get to choose whether to create drama or not. We have no control over how others will respond to our choices, but those choices are ours.
I believe the ability to adapt quickly to changing circumstances is built upon this principle. If you have developed the self awareness level that allows you to identify that gap between stimulus and response, you can nurture your ability to make those choices within yourself.
The people who truly live by this principle are far more resilient to change than those who cling to what they believe their lives “should” look like. They have the ability to be happy, no matter what is going on around them. They are proactive and value driven.
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” was one way Eleanor Roosevelt put it.
What does that bring up for you?
2. Life happens, whether you are paying attention or not
If you google “where you put your attention” a series of different quotes will come up.
Where you put your attention
…is where you put your energy
…is where your life is
…is where you get results
…expands / grows
I agree that where your attention goes, your energy flows. It’s just that it doesn’t happen to the exclusion of everything else.
Who’s heard of the Covid 10? or the Covid 15?
It’s the tag name given to the average weight gain of the average person during lockdown. I have indeed put on about 10 pounds in the past four months. I’m mostly gratefully astonished it isn’t a higher number because of the amount of baking and ice creams.
Did I intentionally gain weight? No. I was putting my attention on our mental health, our physical fitness (lung strength being especially important where Covid is concerned) and my business. I wasn’t concentrating on my weight or what we were eating, because it didn’t feel as important as the other three. And three was enough.
I asked in one of the female entrepreneur groups I am part of whether anybody else had encountered this term and whether they had experienced body changes. I was pleasantly surprised by how many had actually used the lockdown to uplevel their health through nutrition and fitness. Some had got their entire families on board, others had done it alone. The ability to plan meals and not have to worry about grabbing food on the run between meetings or kids activities featured quite highly. Of the people who answered my hasty survey questions, more had lost weight than gained.
I didn’t have enough respondents to be able to say confidently that those who managed this did not also have other worries or grief to deal with, but that is a suspicion I have. Those who replied to the initial question confirming that they had put on weight seemed often to also be the ones grieving family members alone, wrestling with huge financial stresses and so on. Their attention was rightly on the priorities in front of them, not their weight.
I think the Covid 10 or Covid 15 is all part of the utter BS of us all being in the same boat. We’re not even in the same storm.
If anybody else would be up for answering, it’s anonymous unless you add your details in the final question. Just click on this and it’ll take you to the survey.
and 1. Impact over Intention. Every. Damn. Time.
For far too long, we have reassured each other that if our intention was good, it’s okay. That if our intention was positive, then an outcome that’s less than ideal isn’t our fault.
The clear message from the black lives matter information campaign has been that we’ve been kidding ourselves. Actually, the impact our words and deeds have upon others is absolutely everything.
Maya Angelou probably said it best: ‘At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.’ …they certainly won’t remember your intention.
None of us is perfect, and even with the best of intentions to only have positive impact, we’re going to screw up from time to time. The difference that this consciousness of impact will make is that we’re less likely to screw up, and more likely to notice and wholeheartedly apologize when we do.
This is how we do better.
We educate ourselves about the experiences of others and learn to empathise with them. We must start to notice where groups are under represented, or not represented at all. For example I am far more aware now of the representation of black and brown characters in the Disney shows my daughter watches, and in the movies we watch together.
I was delighted to see gay characters in the Voltron series, where the fact that certain characters were gay (and they were important, strong and powerful characters, not side kicks) was introduced without any fanfare. They were gay and that was simply part of their character, not something in any way designed to be shocking. Apparently there’s even gender fluidity and possibly a trans character in She-Ra so kids are getting a more rounded view of the world from the safety of their sofas.
If we can avoid teaching younger generations to discriminate in the first place, there is far less for them to un-learn. For the rest of us, we must look at the jokes we heard and re-told, the stories that have been passed down as funny and question if they are actually funny or if they are reinforcing stereotypes to make a certain type of person the endless butt of the joke. I know I was guilty of re-telling “jokes” as a kid that I remember now with horror. I don’t know where I got them from, but I know they used to get laughs.
Intentionality is the key. Thinking about the consequences of what we are about to say or do and where we are about to spend our money before we do it is how we influence the impact we make on a day to day basis.
Every day I seek to do better and be better than I was the day before. This is the cornerstone of the new membership I am building, a collective of people who want to keep learning, developing and growing. If you are interested in being a founder member, please get in touch.
I wonder what lessons 43 will bring?