2017 – one blink and it was gone. Or so it seemed.
In reflection, it was a manic year of epic highs (awesome month-long trip home to New Zealand, gaining my British citizenship and starting a new journey of self-discovery through my mind). But it was also a year of epic lows (not one but two volcano failures, putting my volcano plans on hold while sorting out my British citizenship, and adjusting to a new reality of frequent hospital visits to see the boyfriend’s father who had a life-altering stroke).
At the start of 2017, I set myself a huge list of goals (not resolutions). The fact I can’t even remember half of what those were a year on probably says it all. I didn’t get to a climbing wall once a fortnight, didn’t learn to kayak, and didn’t do or even attempt my first wild camp. My plan to walk Hadrian’s Wall evaporated following the uncertainty around the boyfriend’s father’s stroke, while my attempt at reading more, blogging regularly and stopping with the overtime was ad hoc to say the least.
But there have also been some positives. I quit EastEnders – that was hard but I haven’t looked back (even the lure of the Christmas special didn’t suck me back in). I got a little bit of navigation practice in when taking on Scafell Pike and the Cheviot Hills, while my cardiovascular fitness has improved by a noticeably miniscule amount (namely, I appear to be enjoying spin class slightly more), and I did do a piece-to-cam from the summit of Rangitoto (result!) but it was epically terrible.
Perhaps most importantly, I’ve really taken on the battle to fight my self-doubt and imposter syndrome. It’s hard going, and some days are better than others. I wouldn’t say I’ve progressed per se but I’m understanding more about how my mind, and about how life in general, works.
These are the main learnings from this year…
I’m not useless – I just think I am
Self-doubt stems from our negative thoughts. We often project those thoughts on objects, people or situations as justifying why we think a certain way. For example, that magazine rejected my story idea, so I must be a terrible journalist, or no one liked my Twitter/Facebook/Instagram post, so I must not be good enough, or I can’t handle climbing a mountain in the winter so that means I’m not a proper adventurer, or I failed to climb a volcano so I’m a failure and it’s a sign I can’t complete my challenge.
It’s all baloney.
Firstly, there are countless examples where all of us have succeeded or progressed with something, however small, so we cannot categorically be useless or not good enough.
Secondly, why do we assume our thoughts are accurate? One day I may think I am useless the next day I wake up thinking I am awesome – which is correct? I may think I am useless but then my boyfriend tells me he thinks I am amazing – can it be that one of us is right and the other is wrong?
The fact is there is no right or wrong. Our thoughts are our thoughts and they will change from day to day and even during the day. They are vague and come and go. One day we will be annoyed by the loud talkers on the commuter train, the next day we won’t. Our thoughts are no more correct in thinking we are useless than when we think we are awesome, or beautiful or talented or funny. My feelings of self-doubt are just that – feelings and thoughts that aren’t grounded on fact.
There is no point stressing about the future
When the boyfriend’s father had a stroke back in August, I spent a week as a stress muppet. How was he going to come home unable to walk? Who was going to care for him? What equipment might he need? How was it all going to be paid for?
Then I realised I couldn’t predict the future (because no one can predict the future), and if I couldn’t predict the future then it was a complete waste of time worrying about a future circumstance that might not even happen. I mean sure it’s good to be prepared, cover all bases and be informed but the time and energy stressing could be better spent elsewhere.
Success and failure are both likely outcomes
It’s easy to get sucked into the negative narrative and focus on pessimistic ‘what ifs’. What if I go on this volcano adventure but fail to climb the volcano? Firstly, see point two above – this is worrying about a future I can’t predict, which I now realise is a stupid thing to do. Secondly, surely if there is a chance of failure there is also a chance of success? Ok I can’t predict it, but the fact remains that success – or variations of success – is a feasible outcome. We tend to forget that. And that is why the thought of failure is an unjustified reason for holding us back.
Expectations are often not grounded in facts
I’m a great one for trying to live up to expectations – my own self-imposed ones and those I believe (often incorrectly) that others have placed on me. I believe I should be X, Y and Z, and preferably with added bells and whistles, and that I should do A, B and C in order to achieve Q, R and S and generally within a certain timeframe. Anyone say stressful?
I went to a presentation earlier this year and the speaker told a story of an aspiring author who was trying to write his first novel. In his head he expected he would be able to write a book within three years. When the three years rolled around and he still hadn’t been able to construct a sufficient starting sentence he believed he was a failure because he hadn’t met his expectation.
As the speaker noted, where did the expectation that it would take three years come from? What was that grounded in? The reality was there was no truth to the idea it should take three years to write a book. There was no authority (imaginary or otherwise) that said it shalt take three years to write a book. It could, in fact, take one year, it could take five years – there was no right or wrong. Once the aspiring author realised the shackles of expectation were off, his writer’s block disappeared. Four years later, seven years after he started his attempt to write a book, his first book was published and it was a number one bestseller.
There is a lot of learning in that story, and I realise the expectations I live my life by are largely self-limiting and even unhealthy. I was expecting to climb eight to 10 volcanoes a year to reach my #40by40 goal but that hasn’t happened and I’ve courted failure as a result. But I can still climb 40 volcanoes by the age of 40 – my maths skills might be limited but I could climb 20 volcanoes this year (Ok that is a long shot) and still reach my goal or I could climb just two and 40 could still be possible (albeit a little bit harder). The expectation I had to climb eight to 10 a year wasn’t grounded in anything.
This also reminds me of a saying my mother has told me often: there is more than one way to skin a cat.
Life is a rollercoaster and that is its beauty
Life, by its very nature, is a fluid journey of ups and downs, good days and bad days. Sometimes there are long stretches of very bad days when the world feels like it’s going to end and then suddenly, poof, everything works out. We expect the only way to be happy is to be in the good-day zone when we’re riding high but that isn’t life. And in many ways, that would be boring, and we wouldn’t learn some of the magic of life’s lessons without the bad bits. That is why the rollercoaster journey of life is beautiful. Accepting that life has its peaks and troughs, and being in the moment during all its wonderful and, also, shittiness glory, is what takes us closer to happiness.
I hope in 2018 I stumble across more of these golden nuggets of insight, which have the potential to transform my life.