Not so great expectations

I was looking through some old school reports the other day. Back at school the teachers knew and supported everyone, and had high hopes for many of those they taught, but from university onwards each student becomes more and more anonymous.

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Well it would certainly be a conversation starter…

My tutor at university was great, I remember him telling me that I could do anything I wanted when I left. Nothing at all to do with my intelligence – one of his suggestions was joining the circus and another was becoming a weather girl! I think he was really just trying to say ‘the world is your oyster’.

Then you start applying for jobs and you realise just how big a pond you’re in, and just how small a fish you really are. And even once you’ve got that first job, there’s always that niggling feeling – is this really it? Can’t I do something better than this? Aren’t I destined to do something more meaningful?

And it begins to feel like you’re not living up to your potential. All of that talk of becoming an artist, a doctor, a teacher – whatever good solid, or even dream, job you thought you might end up with when you’d finished your education – has gone out the window, and worst of all, no-one really seems to care what you do or become anymore. You’re told you’re lucky to have any job in this economic climate, that it’ll ‘work out eventually’, that no-one really knows what they want to do.

Those dreams of doing amazing things, of travelling, of excitement, of adventure… “Oh yeah, you want to do that? Sure, you do that one day,” they say. Well I want to remind everyone, and myself, that we’re not here to live up to other people’s expectations of us; we’re here to live up to our own expectations for ourselves, so we better make them high.

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Being a small fish in a big pond doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

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There are no wrong decisions

I was aware of the book I’ve just finished for a long time before I decided to read it. I guess I thought the title said it all, but it’s actually been a really positive and encouraging read, and it’s got me thinking more about whether I push myself outside of my comfort zone enough.

8. Just say yes – you can’t losefeelthefear

(Feel the fear and do it anyway, by Susan Cain)

Often I feel the fear, do it anyway (once) and then be done with it, feel good, but generally I don’t keep pushing the same boundary. It’s like I can superficially do the fear thing, but only for a limited amount of time (maybe that’s got something to do with my introverted energy levels).

A couple of things stood out to me while reading – the key one relating to my usual dilemma: decision-making. We often see choices as black and white, right and wrong, but each option will just lead to different opportunities, no better and no worse in the long run. I find this hard to accept. Being the maximising perfectionist that I am I feel that one path must have even a slightly better outcome than another. But I can’t think like that – the paths are different, there is no good or bad, just one set of future opportunities versus another, neither of which can be known at the time of making the decision.

The other key point that stood out to me was, and at first this does sound a bit mystic, ‘saying yes to your universe’. All this really means is being open to life and all it has to offer. It doesn’t mean literally saying yes to everything, just accepting what comes your way knowing that you can handle it and therefore you really have nothing to fear.

The book’s about being positive and not relying on external things to make you happy. Yes a lot of it could be described as common sense, but I know I need reminding. This is a great motivational read and it makes me want to go out there and take some risks. Because we’re capable of handling so much more than we think we are, and because If you always do what you always did, you always get what you always got, and I want something new and different.

Well, it pays the bills, doesn’t it

I hate that phrase. I hate what it stands for: giving up, letting go of dreams, accepting the general opinion in society that a job’s a job and who is anyone to look for something more meaningful.

Of course temporarily it can be true and necessary, but if you’ve been using that phrase for more than 6 months I’d say you need to seriously consider how you’re spending your time. Life IS short – it’s a total cliché but completely true. I understand that not everyone has the luxury of spending time and thought finding work that they enjoy, but I feel that those of us who do owe it everyone else to take advantage of this luxury.

I don’t hate my job. It does pay the bills but that’s not why I’m doing it (I realise I’m extremely lucky that I don’t have to worry too much about money at this point in my life, but I’m not a big spender and really do believe we could all live happily on a lot less money than we think we need). I’m doing it because it relates to my interests and because it’s really good experience. My colleagues are also far from hating their jobs and it’s really not a bad place to work. It’s nowhere near perfect but it does a heck of a lot more than just pay the bills.

Part of my work involves hearing from others who are passionate about what they do, and it’s really inspiring. It makes me want to work hard to find something that I really love. It shows that there are lots of people out there who genuinely have found work that they love to do – and these people aren’t doing extraordinary jobs. While one person’s perfect career may be as a doctor, someone else could be just as happy as a researcher in a lab, a teacher, engineer or hairdresser. One person’s dream job is another person’s nightmare, and it’s worth remembering that.

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Because I love quotes, and because these are some great and important ones from a man who was both highly successful and also very happy in his career and life, I want to leave you with these from Steve Jobs:

Find what you love; don’t settle

Remember you are going to die

Follow your heart and intuition – they somehow know what you want to become

Stay hungry, stay foolish

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I don’t want to do something that simply pays the bills, that’s ‘good enough’, that’s expected or respectable. I want to do something because I love it, and because I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

That’s got to be worth searching for, however long it takes.

A thank you to fellow bloggers

blogonI’ve been blogging now for 4 months – it’s nice to get thoughts down somewhere and lovely to have people reading and commenting. I’m following some great blogs and I regularly enjoy reading thought-provoking and inspiring posts.

Rebecca Fraser of Career Avoidance 101 kindly nominated me for a Very Inspiring Blogger Award, which I very much appreciate, especially as I’m such a big fan of her own blog. And I’ve just found out that Ryan Balboa of Erasing the Stripes has nominated me for a Liebster Award, and again I’m very flattered. I only recently discovered Ryan’s blog and I’m looking forward to reading more from him.  It’s nice to know that at least two fellow bloggers are enjoying reading my posts! Thanks Rebecca and Ryan :)

I’m not going to strictly follow the award instructions here, but, in no particular order, here are a few blogs I like (in addition, of course, to the above two which you should definitely check out!). Nowhere near a comprehensive list, but some interesting and well-written blogs to take a look at…

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Farah Colette – I think this was one of the first blogs I started following; great writing style, amusing and honest.

Carolina Georgatou – some great photos and inspiring posts, I especially enjoy following her current portrait project.

Gen Y Girl – inspirational posts from someone who’s passionate about helping young professionals.

It’s a Man’s World – very readable, funny and honest.

Life on a Branch and stuffgradslike – tips from those who’ve survived the post-uni panic.

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With all of these awards floating around I’m discovering even more great blogs by looking up other nominees and nominators, and I’m definitely looking forward to continuing to find new inspiring blogs in the future.

Thanks to everyone who reads and follows my blog – and thanks for all of the great posts you write too!

Should to could to want to would

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A post by Beautiful Nothingness got me thinking, this quote in particular stood out:

“The more time you spend thinking about where you should be, what you should be doing and who you should be doing it with, the more disappointed you will be with your life. When you finally start concentrating on what you WANT out of life, and the things that need to change for you to get what you want, the closer you get to true happiness and overcoming your quarterlife crisis.”

I’d like to add a couple more verbs to the equation.

The way I see it, should implies external expectations. Should is negative and disempowering. Should is about what other people expect of you and not what you want for yourself.

The first step forward is to change should to could. Could suggests possibilities, options and freedom. You could follow expectations but you could pick your own alternatives.

Would means starting to think realistically and solidly. But would comes up with excuses (would if…) and would can be vague and lack conviction (would like).

Then comes want – it can be selfish and demanding but it’s authentic and purposeful. Want signifies control. Want is as decisive as could is indecisive.

So when you next find yourself thinking I should make this particular choice, I should already have done this, I should be like this, first say I could make this choice, I could have done this, I could become like this (or I could choose otherwise). Let go of expectations and give yourself options. Then explore your reasoning and sound out your excuses, I would choose this if…, I would already have done this if…, I would become like this if…. But focus on solutions instead of problems. Then, most importantly, ask what do I want? And then you choose. I want to make this choice, I want to do this next time, I want to be like this in future.

Life’s not about shoulds or woulds; it’s about wants and coulds.

Emotions are scarily powerful

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They say we have nothing to fear but fear itself. This post is me admitting that up until now I’ve been making a huge mistake in the way I’ve been living my life: I’ve been letting negative emotions and fear dictate my choices.

I first started this blog in an effort to share my reading and learning on the process of decision-making, and a lot of what I’ve written about  is the question of whether to follow logic or intuition when making choices. I wanted the answer to be that it’s right to follow your intuition, to confirm that some of my past decisions were based on good solid intuition and not just fear and confusion – but it’s not, and they weren’t.

I’m not saying that these past choices were necessarily wrong, but I definitely let emotion get in the way of the decision-making process. I guess I dislike logic because sometimes it can go completely against feelings, and ultimately I want to feel happy. It’s scary how easy it is not to do something just because it feels uncomfortable in the moment – it’s surprisingly difficult to see past current emotions to a happier future.

There is something to be said for gut reactions (see my post ‘Logic versus intuition‘), but I’m starting to realise that my own gut feelings aren’t actually worth paying too much attention to! It’s all too easy to confuse discomfort and fear with a bad gut feeling.

I become irrational when I’m scared – I become defensive and make excuses, then later struggle to explain my actions. If you follow good old fashioned human logic then once negative emotions fade you’ve got something really solid to fall back on. Emotions aren’t permanent or fixed and, despite how strong they can be, they always fade.

A while ago I reviewed the book ‘The Chimp Paradox‘, and the more I think about it the more the model it teaches is perfect for learning how to get past fear and negative emotions. We need to remember that we can make a choice to act despite our emotions – fear truly is the only thing worth fearing because it stops us from making the most out of life.

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Rebecca Fraser of Career Avoidance 101 (a great blog – do check it out) recently wrote this post on fear, and I think there are more to come – I also love this quote on fear and courage.

5 ways to stop worrying about regrets

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After my last post on the theory of accepting regret and moving on, I thought I’d share some of my own techniques for dealing with regrets and worries:

1. The worry scroll

I can’t remember where I read about this idea but it’s a great one. When you’ve got something on your mind that you keep going over again and again, picture yourself removing the ribbon from an invisible scroll, opening it up and writing your worry down, then rolling it back up, retying the ribbon and throwing it into a corner.

This represents noting the problem down as something to worry about later. You’ll know it’s there and you haven’t forgotten about it, and you can plan a time to get the scroll out and do some serious concentrated worrying! Whenever you find yourself thinking about it just stop and remind yourself that you’re going to go back to it and worry about it later. (I don’t usually get to the going back to worry about it, having it written down ‘for later’ seems to be good enough for me!)

2. Someone is always regretting something worse than you

You only have to listen to the news to realise that your mistake is probably insignificant compared the worries of others. And I’m not just talking poverty, famine and war, there are people in this world living with the regret of awful and/or tragic actions. People locked up in prison for taking the life of someone else, whether intentionally or unintentionally, must be suffering immeasurably, and arguably a lot more than you or I are for choosing one job over another, ending a relationship, messing something up at work or the like. Never forget this.

3. For how long will this matter?

One of my personal favourites. Whenever I’m feeling like an idiot I ask myself: Will this matter tomorrow? (The answer is probably yes, it will still matter to me tomorrow.) Will this matter next week? (Depending on the issue, possibly still yes.) Will this matter in a month? (Quite possibly not.) Will this matter in a year? (With the majority of worries, probably not.) I also try to think back to previous worries and remember how quickly they stopped mattering to me. Mistakes fade as time passes and new events replace the memory of them.

4. What have you learnt?

No matter how stupid you feel or how big an error you think you’ve made, you can always find something to learn from it. Focus on this positive, however small, whether it’s the fact you’ll now better understand others who make similar mistakes or that you’ll never make this same error again yourself. You don’t want this feeling again any time soon, so don’t forget what you can learn to prevent yourself from repeating the same mistake again.

5. You worry and regret because you care

I mentioned this in my previous post on regret, and I’m repeating it again here because it stood out to me. We regret things because we care about our lives and our goals and our dreams. We want to get things right because we care about ourselves, our values, our integrity. If you ever stopped caring about these things, then you’d really have something to worry about!