Archive for the ‘Taking Charge of Your Life’ Category

I am a bad blogger. Or maybe a bad promise keeper. I plan to do things, then fail to live up to what I’ve said I’ll do. I was supposed to be blogging about this Taking Charge of Your Life course every week – this week I haven’t even managed to blog about anything! Maybe I’ll post later about why I haven’t blogged (nothing specific, I’ve just been feeling uninspired/stressed/busy/etc.) or maybe I’ll just jump back in with both feet and write loads of relevant, witty posts that are just what my readers want to read… no promises though!

So, back to TCOYL… this week’s homework is about values. I have a list of 52 values and I have to pick my top ten (I’m allowed to add more if one of my top values isn’t on there). Here’s the full list; if you click for a big version you should be able to read it ok, if you so desire.

I’ve started by crossing out the values that definitely don’t make my top ten:

Service, Duty, Surrender – nope. Ultimately I’m here to please myself, not do what I ‘ought’ to do or what someone else wants me to do.

Marriage – I happen to be married, but I don’t think that piece of paper is very important to our relationship.

Spirituality – I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in karma. I don’t think people have a soul (although I think the human brain is an amazing and vastly complex thing). I believe in science, cause and effect and things that we can know to be true.

Risk, Individuality – I do take some risks and I am an individual, but I don’t value these things per se. I do what’s best for me and what makes me true to myself; it might happen to be risky and it probably makes me different from other people, but that isn’t why I do it.

Humour – meh. I’m not very good at it. I like it, but it’s not gonna make my top 10.

Money – I’d love to have lots of money. Life is undoubtedly easier when you have access to money. But do I value money above other things? No.

Ethics – I’m not sure about this one… Of course I think it’s important that people and organisations behave ‘ethically’, but philosophically I’m not sure what that means. I don’t think there’s an objective standard of ethical right and wrong – I think there are norms, accepted behaviours, consequences – but is there an absolute ethic that everyone should certainly live by? No.

Self-discipline – I don’t have much of this! I’d kind of like to value this more, but I’ve said that sort of thing a million times and still I don’t get it together, so my behaviour seems to indicate that I don’t value self-discipline.

Now coming at it the other way, here are some of the values from the list that definitely do make my top ten:

Freedom, Respect, Dignity – to me, these are closely intertwined. I believe in freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of movement – you get the picture! I think that everyone should have the right to be themselves and that right is based on respect and equality. Allowing someone their dignity is a mark of respect and to me, a mark of personhood.

Truth, Reason – what is a philosopher? I’d like to call myself a philosopher and as such, reason and truth are absolutely crucial to me. I love logical argument, intelligent debate and the search for the truth. Really, this is what I’m all about.

Beauty – my first instinct was to cross this off and put it straight in the ‘no’ pile, thinking ‘appearances don’t matter, I don’t judge on looks’. But I think beauty is so important in the world. Looking at an amazing painting or photograph, seeing the leaves fall in autumn and the blossom bloom in spring, hearing my children laugh, reading a perfect poem – there is beauty in all these things and in so much more. As well as a philosopher, I am a writer and a photographer – I am being, doing, living and seeing beauty. I want to truly BE in the world and experiencing and capturing beauty has to be a big part of this.

Authenticity – I’ve added this one to the list myself. I’m on a quest for authenticity: this being in the world, writing and creating and doing, it’s all about seeing things that are real and true. That probably doesn’t make any sense. Come back in ten years and maybe I’ll have studied, learned and articulated what it means to be truly authentic.

So, not a top ten, but I can hear the baby stirring and I want to get this post posted while I can. And it’s a complicated process – I haven’t figured out a top ten yet. Maybe I’ll return to this topic, maybe I won’t – I’m not promising anything!


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Our homework for last week’s Taking Charge of Your Life class was to think about some possible goals that we might want to achieve by the end of the course. I had intended to blog about this last night, but I got caught up doing some real work (ok, it’s unpaid work at the moment, but hopefully it will develop into new things…) and the need for sleep won over the need to blog. I’m glad I didn’t get round to blogging it, as in class today we talked through how to set goals effectively and I now have a definite goal I want to achieve.

These boots are my goal.
Aren’t they gorgeous? They’re on trend but, being DMs, also a bit classic. They’re built to last and they’ll keep my feet warm and dry as I tromp along bridle paths with the off-road double buggy. I want want want them. I need them.
But given that I recently imposed a new, fairer personal budgeting system on myself and my husband, my monthly ‘personal allowance doesn’t even cover half the cost of those boots. And given that I spend most of that allowance on socialising (i.e. toddler groups, parking costs and an occasional lunch or tea and cake with friends), if I tried to save up £130 from what I have left at the end of the month, I’d probably have the boots by Christmas 2012.
So, using our handout on Key Criteria for Setting Goals, goals must be:
Written down
My goal is to have enough money to buy these boots.
Have target dates by which you will achieve them
26th November – the last day of the course.
Be expressed in the present tense, as if they were already real.
I have made enough money to buy these boots.
Be reviewed daily.
I’ll review progress on an evening. I’ll keep a list of tasks so I know where I’m up to, and keep a running total of the cash. I will tweet updates every evening.
Have a clearly defined destination.
£130 in the bank.
Have means of measuring progress towards your achievement.
What’s next on my list? How much money is in the bank?
Have a tangible reward for achievement.

So, let’s go for it. Of course, there are other goals I have in mind too. I need to get some new clients for freelance work. There are various vague wants and ideas that I need to pin down into measurable, realistic goals: dreams of a tidier house and a more organised life. But let’s take it one step at a time.

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I haven’t been as diligent as I’d have liked this week: I whizzed straight out of Friday’s course down the A66 and off on holiday, and haven’t had time to write up the class until now. So I’m writing up the homework and possibly a little bit of journal all at once.

This week’s homework is about self image. What do I think that other people think of me? What do I think of myself? How have I come to that point? And if I had a dream, money and commitments no object, what’s the one thing I’d like to do before I die?

My main worry about how other people think of me is that sometimes I can be shy and reserved, and that this may come across as stand-offishness or ‘thinking that I’m better than everyone else’. I’ve been academically successful in the past, and I think that once people hear which university I went to, it gives them expectations about me and about how posh or condescending I might be that they might then fit my behaviour into. (I don’t think it’s just me that suffers from this: I was once bridesmaid at a wedding where the best man had also been to my university, about 20 years before me, and he admitted that he too was embarrassed to mention it in conversation.)

I am also very forgetful sometimes lately, which I think may be interpreted as being self-absorbed and disinterested. I can be shy in ‘making a move’ with friends, reasoning to myself that they probably don’t like me much and don’t want to hear from me, which may turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

However, I can also rationalise that sometimes people must think that I’m ok, or good, or nice. At the end of our first term at uni, we had to choose who to live with in year 2. A group of girls that I’d met asked me if I’d like to live with them and I was delighted as I thought they were really cool. Months later, probably after a few drinks, they confessed that they’d all been nervous about asking me to live with them and almost didn’t ask because they thought I was ‘out of their league’ and too cool for them. I was blown away by that and it still makes me happy now.

I find it difficult talking about my self image because although I’ve been quite negative above, I do generally think I’m doing well and that I’m at peace with myself. This is harder than writing a CV and covering letter: here are all my good points, with examples to show how I meet each point in the ‘ideal human being’ specification. I’m a clever person. I’m not as thin as I would like to be, but I’m not obese and I think a lot of the time I look quite good. I try to be honest and thoughtful. I’m often an excellent mother (although sometimes I am crap).

I’ve had periods of deep insecurity, especially in my teens (don’t we all!). I think I’m lucky now at 27 to be confident in my choices, able to look at the big picture and see the good points in myself.

So, if I had a dream… I’d travel. Sail round the world on a luxury cruise ship, visiting lots of exotic and interesting countries (staying for a long time in each, so not your typical cruise) and using the time on the ocean to read some philosophy, while getting a suntan.

One more thing to report: I think I am a little nearer to taking charge of my life. While I was away on holiday, I found that my mother was spending all her time with my son – not just when we were all together, but taking him off for walks and playtime by herself for hours. I was disappointed that I wasn’t seeing my own son on holiday, so I went out and booked an activity for the two of us to do together the next day. I said to my mother clearly but politely in a non-confrontational way “I feel like I’ve seen hardly anything of D today, so I’ve booked an activity for us to do tomorrow morning”. And she said, great, fine, sounds lovely. Success!

Ok, so it wasn’t a total success in that the activity we chose didn’t quite hold the toddler’s attention for long enough to avoid a stressful and somewhat hurried finish, but we did manage to produce this together, as a memento of our holiday and of me solving problems and being in control.

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The homework task for this week on the Taking Charge of Your Life course was to create a timeline of my life. Positive events are marked above the line and negative events below the line. The events should be what I consider important to myself, not what I think others might find important.

I’m not going to post my timeline on here because, well, it’s private! But in general, I realised that there’s been very little negative stuff in my life. Nobody really close to me has died (well, my Granny died, but she was very old and frail and she felt that she was going to a better place, so I wasn’t too sad about it). I’ve never been divorced. I’ve never had a serious illness. In fact, there are only two negative events on my timeline, and one of them is getting my slightly disappointing (to me) GCSE results. It’s hardly deep trauma and grief.

The first high point (apart from being born) is going off to university. I found it tough, going from being a big fish in a small pond to a tiny speck in a vast ocean of intellectual giants. But it was also the most exciting time of my life. I met so many new people, tried loads of new things and felt that I was on the cusp of something great. My world was full of potential. I’d never have imagined then that I’d be where I am now, but I don’t think the route I’ve taken was the wrong one.

The biggest highs on the line are the birth of my two children. They’re easily the best thing that’s happened to me, and my life with them just gets better and better.

This has been a scary exercise in a way, as it brings home the fact that there will be real hardships to come in my life. My parents haven’t died yet, but one day they will. Who knows what tragedies might lie ahead? How will I cope with life as a grown-up? I’ve been very lucky to have the life I’ve had so far. Hopefully I’m up to the challenges of the rest of the story.

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Taking Charge of Your Life. What does it mean? How does one do it? Or, more pertinent, how do I do it?

Today was the first session of the Taking Charge of Your Life course that I’ll be attending for the next ten weeks. It’s run by a life coach and provided by my local SureStart centre. Today we discussed the topics we’re going to cover; the ones that appeal to me most include

  • Who are you? Looking at values and beliefts. How we and others see things.
  • Building confidence and self-esteem.
  • Setting personal goals and getting more out of life.
  • Taking responsibility for your own feelings and actions.

A lot of these concepts seem quite abstract, and I’ll be very interested to learn about the practical tools we might use to achieve these things. We’ve already had some interesting discussions. The class agreed that there was a distinction between ‘the right to be happy’ and ‘the right to pursue happiness’. The former can lead to the expectation that the world owes you a living, whereas the latter implies that if you want something, you have to go out and make it happen yourself. I suspect this is going to be one of the key themes of the course.

The instructor suggested that we keep a journal to record our feelings and how they might be changing, so that’s what I’ll be doing here each Friday, as well as discussing any particular ideas that have inspired or provoked me in the class. We’ll be getting ‘homework’ each week, so I’ll be writing that up here each Thursday. The rest of the week will hopefully be lighthearted, as although I’m quite caught up in the idea of finding myself and defining this concept of ‘being in the world’ at the moment, I don’t want the entire blog to be a rambling, introspective analysis of the self!

That said, here’s my journal for week 1.

What have you learned about yourself? Have you increased your awareness of your personal values?

One of the questions we were asked today is what it means to be happy. As the discussion developed I tried to explain that I find it difficult to pin down goals that I’d be happy to achieve, because there are so many things out there that people do, and do well, that I’m not sure how I can compete. A girl from my school (from the year below me!) was recently elected as an MP. The kids on the X-Factor can sing and dance, and lots of them are only teenagers. There are thousands upon thousands of people out there writing books, publishing poetry, jumping high, running fast or finding the cure for cancer. I often feel that I’m not as good as this person, or that person, and that I’ve already missed my chance to be really successful.

Of course, rationally I know that I can’t do all of these things, but I’m not quite sure how I figure out which bits I really want to do. I know that I’m competitive and that I often look for approval. I need to align the emotional with the rational and stop comparing myself with the best bits of everyone else. But how? And where do I focus?

What would you like to achieve in the short term?

I’d like to have a tidier house. Not sure how I might achieve this, as I feel like I work pretty bloody hard already. Maybe there are more improvements I could make to my systems, but I’d also like more help from my husband. But that doesn’t fit with this idea of taking control and making yourself happy – I’d be relying on him to achieve that goal. So maybe I need to make some money somehow and get a cleaner in myself??

I’d also like us all to eat a healthier diet. That’s a bit vague – maybe I should aim for five a day for all of us (not just the toddler, who probably eats about 5 portions of fruit plus two or three veg most days). And less Diet Coke!

What would you like to achieve in the long term?

Medium term I’d like to be working a bit, both because I want to contribute more to the household and because I want some time to myself to feel like a successful adult again. Long term, once the kids are both at school, I’d like husband and I to both have balanced, flexible careers that mean we can be there for the kids. But I also want plenty of money, enough that we can buy nice things when we want to and get the house all fixed up nicely. Eventually I’d like a bigger house. And I might want to do a PhD or something of that sort. Definitely some kind of study. And I could quite fancy being thin and fit.

Are you increasing in self-confidence?

I think there’s been a big change in my self-confidence in the past couple of years. I left university with my confidence shattered, feeling like a stupid little girl in a world full of grown-ups and academics. I’m not sure what’s changed this year, but I was at a new toddler group on Thursday and I found myself chatting away to people, being animated and chatty in a way that I might not have been in the past. I’ve made new friends via Mumsnet and I’ve jumped into the world of blogging and Twitter. I made a decision recently to start saying yes more, care less about what people think and just go for it. I don’t want to miss opportunities for fear of looking a bit silly. So actually, I feel that I am increasing in self-confidence, coincidentally around the time I happen to be starting this course.

Are you taking on new challenges?

Yup! I’ve started taking an interest in photography (inspired by some of the wonderful blogs I’ve come across, and by taking part in Tara Cain’s Gallery). Just today I applied for a part time job. And this week at SureStart I agreed to organise and run a Sling Meet event there, and to represent parents at their big committee on Tuesday. Next, I start reading Heidegger!

Do you like yourself?

That’s a complicated one. I had a theory once that the key to really becoming a mature adult is escaping the self-loathing that accompanies a normal adolescence and persists in greater or lesser degrees from then on. Sometimes I think I’ve cracked it, but I have those occasional moments of thinking I’m pathetic and disgusting. But don’t we all?

Are you nearer to taking charge of your life?

Not yet. Bring on week 2!

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