No learning is wasted

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Just over a week ago, I was fortunate to be able to attend a talk given by Emma Kennedy. An all-round high-achiever, Kennedy is arguably best known for her work as a writer, actor and author, but she is also the winner of both Celebrity Masterchef and Mastermind. She is also a self-confessed conkers expert!

Inspiring women

The talk was part of an ‘Inspiring Women’ series, arranged by the Careers & Skills team at the university where I work. Although aimed at female students, Kennedy’s message applies to anyone who has tried, failed and tried again: follow your instinct; explore the things about which you are curious; be prepared to try (and fail); and never give up.

Starting out…

In a number of ways, Kennedy’s journey resonated with me a great deal. Like me, Kennedy left school at 16. Her first job was a washer-upper in a local hotel (later, she was promoted to vegetable peeler). Mine was for a well-known high street Bank where I ultimately worked for 4 years.

…At the bottom

My very first task in the Bank involved sorting what my supervisor called ‘rems’ and ‘giros’ into specific pigeonholes. I didn’t have a clue what a ‘rem’ was. It turns out, a ‘rem’ was a ‘remittance’ – a cheque/check to you and me. A ‘giro’ was a paying in slip. So, I was effectively handling ‘money out’ and ‘money in’ for customers, albeit in proxy (paper) form. These slips of paper, once sorted, would be collected for onward distribution to their respective banks. Exciting, huh?

London life

By the age of 20, I had moved to London where I worked for 8 months prior to embarking on my next life adventure. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and honestly remember London as a city of blue skies and sunshine. My experience was a bit like being at university, but with the bonus of a monthly salary.

In those 8 months, I did a lot of growing up. I learned about cultural differences and customer service, improved my mental arithmetic, got a bit drunk at the Long Island Ice Tea Bar in Covent Garden, and developed an idea that meant I might actually resume my academic studies and eventually go to a real Higher Education Institution (as opposed to the university of life).

Moving forward

After a gap year in Switzerland, I returned home where I became the oldest 6th former in town. My pals at college had come straight from GCSEs. I arrived with 5 years’ experience, 7 O Levels (ranging from the very good to the mediocre) and an exceedingly good Swiss-French accent. Most importantly, I was ready to learn.

Loving learning

Like me, Emma Kennedy took a little longer to achieve her ultimate goal of going to university. She had been unwell during her A Level studies and it was through the encouragement and tutoring of her former English teacher that she managed to secure a place at Oxford. In my case, it was through the inspirational teaching of my own wonderful English tutors, which meant that I was finally able to get myself a place at university.

Like Kennedy, along with own sister, I was ‘first in family’ to go to university. Although my parents (and grandparents) had been teachers, their route into this profession had not been via Higher Education. My own parents had gone to teacher training college before embarking upon their careers.

What next?

On completing my degree, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do next. So, I decided to follow in family members’ footsteps and train to be a teacher. For me, teaching wasn’t an unmitigated disaster, but it wasn’t going be my life’s work either. Like Kennedy who decided to leave her post-university profession as a lawyer, I worked out quite soon that there were other things I wanted to do.

Listen to your gut

This time, I started to truly follow my instinct and that’s when my career trajectory changed. I was suddenly able to flourish, to develop and to try new things. I wasn’t on an obvious career path, but I started to enjoy myself.

Each job I’ve had post-teaching has enabled me to develop and grow. Like Kennedy, I may not have ‘failed’ at what I tried, but I developed a self-awareness that meant I knew when I was a square peg in a round hole.

Along the way, I have learned an incredible amount from my experience and from the terrific people I have met along the way (many of whom are still good friends). I always say this – especially to those I mentor professionally – no learning is ever wasted.

Living minimally

Now, minimalism is an integral part of my life and I wouldn’t go back to living in a way that was unintentional. That said, my career trajectory could not really be described as ‘intentional’. It was more a series of experiments. Try something? Not sure it works for you? Then, try something else. In some ways, it takes courage and resilience to make these changes, but nothing worth doing was ever easy.

With minimalism and simple living, there are many different ways you can adopt a more intentional approach to life. Take a look at my previous post on the types of minimalism you might consider. The point is that you can take some time to experiment; to learn; to follow your instinct; to explore the things about which you are curious; be prepared to try (and fail); and never give up.


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Authenticity over perfectionism

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As regular readers will know, I am keen to frequent my local library. So, when I found a brand new copy of Dominque Loreau’s L’art de la Simplicité there, it was a chance to discover a new take on minimalism.

French by birth, Loreau has imbibed oriental philosophies, having lived in Japan for many years. I was very interested to see what she had to say about a topic that’s been close to my heart for a long time, but I have mixed feelings about this book.

What I liked about it

As you would expect, Loreau promotes the idea that less is more. Outer order, she argues, equals inner calm. In the early part of the book, she rehearses the key tenets of minimalism: your stuff owns you; say no to clutter and embrace simplicity with style.

Loreau does a really comprehensive job, as she covers not only the outwardly visible elements of one’s life, but also the inner, personal aspects of mind, body and spirit (including one’s diet). I admire this approach, as it provides a holistic, well-rounded manifesto for someone looking to make changes.

Where she lost me

Where Loreau lost me was in her highly prescriptive approach to what we should – or shouldn’t – own.

For me, the joy of minimalism is that it’s entirely up to you as to how you approach it: what works for you may not work for me, but we can still share a minimalist mindset.

A set of rules

In particular, I was bemused when I realised how rule-driven Loreau’s philosophy was. For example, one’s bag had to have certain characteristics and should contain – amongst other things – a personalised monogrammed handkerchief! With a 16-bullet-point ‘handbag checklist’, I was left feeling a little overwhelmed and glad that my second-hand tiny cross-body bag and backpack serve me just nicely, thank you very much.

Echoes of another best-seller

The author’s didactic tone had echoes of Mireille Guiliano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat, so if you read that and liked it, you may enjoy this little book.

Even better, if you are able to enjoy this work in its original form, I suspect it may be a better read. The translation into English created a great many short sentences, which read like a series of disconnected soundbites.

Authenticity over perfectionism

What I felt most strongly was that Loreau was promoting an almost unreachable ideal. Instead of encouraging the reader to enjoy minimalism in its many different forms, she promotes her own perfectionist ideals.

This reminded me of Brené Brown’s: The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Personally, I’d much rather strive towards letting go of others’ ideals than to go after the perfectionism that Brown calls an “emotional shield.”

Minimalism is what ever you want it to be

During her visit to the UK, I was delighted to spend some time with the lovely Cait Flanders. Cait and I were discussing different approaches to minimalism and simple living. We resolved that, since everyone’s circumstances are unique, there simply cannot be a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

For example, scanning and letting go of physical photographs (aka The Minimalists) may be right up your street. But if you’re like me and you have around a dozen carefully-made albums (with sticky pages onto which your precious only copies sit), you’re unlikely to want to risk peeling them off the page.

My take on simple living

As you may have read in my previous post, I’ve discovered a number of ways to simplify my life. But what I found helpful may not be right for you. I would argue that, whilst we can take inspiration from those who espouse a particular philosophy, it’s always good to take a step back before we rush wholeheartedly into a new way of living.

Trying to emulate how someone else lives their minimalist lifestyle could end up becoming some form of reverse ‘keeping up with the Joneses’. Someone else’s  bid for perfection may end up being a straight-jacket for you.

Write your own prescription

Going back to Loreau’s prescription for the ideal bag, I was listening to the Happier podcast yesterday. Presenter, Liz Craft, had been on a quest to find her own ‘perfect black purse’ as part of her “18 for 2018” personal ‘to-do list.’ Listeners had helpfully sent in lots of lovely suggestions, but none of them felt right. It was only when she realised that what she had been looking at wasn’t really “her” that she fell upon exactly the right bag.

So, write your own simplicity prescription and maybe you’ll be an inspiration to others without imposing unattainable ideals. After all, being authentic is so much better than aiming for perfection.


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Thoughts on friendship

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When I began this blog almost two years ago, I didn’t know that blogging would enable me to make friends in real life, as well as bring me closer to a worldwide community of like-minded people.

Since you’re reading this, let me tell you this: I appreciate you!

The nature of friendship

I have been reflecting on the nature of friendship over the last few weeks. That may be because our teenager is about to do her GSCEs and move on to a new school for Sixth Form in September.

I know she has been thinking about the friends she’ll leave behind at her old school, as well as the ones who’ll move on with her. Of course, there’ll be new pals for her to make and we all know that strangers are friends you just haven’t met yet.

But how has the nature of friendship changed since we were at school?

When you are young

As a child you imagine that you’ll have the same friends your whole life. Some people do still keep in touch with friends they had at primary school, but I expect that’s fairly rare in today’s upwardly mobile world. Sometimes, childhood friends are re-united when they find one another on social media, or they manage to keep in touch through their parents who continue to live in the home where they grew up.

Make new friends and keep the old: one is silver, the other gold

My oldest and dearest friend is godmother to our daughter. We have been friends for almost 30 years. We met when we both lived in a hall of residence owned by the the high street bank for which we worked in London. This was a subsidised ‘staff perk’ to attract young workers to spend time in the capital. In 1990, this was like being at university but with pay!

I was interested in joining the drama group to which my would-be friend belonged, so I looked her up. We became instant pals and have remained close ever since, even though we haven’t lived in the same place for much of that time.

Circumstantial friends?

I am very lucky to still have contact with friends I made during my undergraduate and postgraduate years at university. I also still have good friends I made in the early years of living in Warwickshire and later as a mum.

Happily, some of these friendships have persisted beyond those specific circumstances. Although I originally met my friend, Lynne, at a local parent/toddler group, we have since enjoyed many years singing together. These days, we meet monthly at a bread-making group, which I wrote about here.

Some connections that you make through work or hobbies also continue via social media (especially via Facebook which is the only reason I don’t delete my account). It’s lovely to keep in touch with people who mean a lot to you and there’s the added bonus that we do meet up (either regularly or from time-to-time).

Minimalism and friendship

I have been really fortunate to make new friends through the contacts I’ve made with those connected to the world of minimalism and simple living.

My lovely friend, Rae, hosted the London leg of Courtney Carver’s Tiny Wardrobe Tour two years ago. I realised, after the event, that were both Warwickshire-based and it’s been an absolute delight to get to know her.

Lindsey and I met, as part of my quarterly meet-ups. She’s been a great friend with whom it’s fabulous to compare simple living notes, as we compare and discuss our minimalism journey.

I’ve also begun to make friends around the globe (some in person and others virtually). What’s heart-warming and encouraging is how virtual friends can become real friends when you reach out to one another.

New ways to make friends

Connection is so important. It’s one of the four ingredients of Robert Lustig’s book that I wrote about here.

Listening to Liz Craft and Sarah Fain on Happier in Hollywood this weekend, I was reminded of the challenge of making new friends in a new location. In this ‘Listener Questions’ episode, one of the questions discussed was how to make friends when you move to a new area.

You may not want to be alone or even in that particular situation but this may still be a time when you can make connections. In his book, Resurrection Year, Sheridan Voysey calls this “ministering to others.” You may not relish being alone in a new place, but if you’re willing to put yourself out to serve others, you’ll no doubt reap the personal benefits of so doing.

That said, as the hosts of Happier in Hollywood suggested, “Put yourself out there but choose people who want to be with you.” As the pair remind us, you want, “volunteers not recruits” when it comes to friendship.

Special interest groups

If you do put yourself out there, it’s worth noting that natural friendships can take time to emerge. It may take a while to become established in a new group, especially if you join a longstanding community of people who’ve know each other a long time.

One possible way in is to join a sub-group. Last year, I wrote about my decision to join the WI. My ‘way in’, in terms of getting to know people, has been to join the WI Reading Group. We meet monthly at someone’s house over wine and nibbles, often followed by cake (of course!) and tea or coffee. Whilst we do spend a good amount of time discussing the book for that month, we also connect in ways that aren’t possible when you’re in a monthly WI meeting of 50+ members.

So, find your ‘tribe’ and you may make some unexpected friends.

And remember, it’s said that a dog is ‘(wo)man’s best friend’. You always have a friend when you have a dog.


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Making room for giving back

Ollie

One of the key tenets of minimalism is the elimination of things that no longer add value, in order to make way for the things that do. When you’re not chasing ‘the next thing’ all the time, you have the chance to reflect on how to live your life.

Last year, one question I asked myself was whether or not I could make some space to give back to the community. Could I add value in someone else’s life?

Pets as Therapy

For some time, I had been aware of the charity Pets as Therapy. Established 35 years ago, Pets as Therapy exists to provide joy, comfort and companionship to people who appreciate being able to engage with a friendly and sociable pet. Usually, the visits are to establishments where a pet isn’t normally present, such as a residential home, nursing home, hospice, school or even a prison.

‘PAT’ Dogs

Around once a term, the ‘PAT Dogs’ (as they are known) visit the library of the university where I work. The students love meeting the dogs (who come in all shapes and sizes) and their visit has become a much-anticipated feature in the academic year calendar.

(I must say that when I was at university, we had a library cat. He was named, appropriately, LC.)

Last summer, I popped over to check out the PAT dogs for myself and talked to their owners. I was curious as to whether or not our loving but impish little Cockapoo might have a suitable temperament to be accepted as a ‘PAT dog’ himself. In fact, the only way to find out was to request an assessment, so we arranged this with the local area
co-ordinator, Kate.

Our assessment

Pets as Therapy protocols require the assessment to be completed away from the family home. This is understandable; if you’re going to be visiting an establishment with your pet, you need to be able to demonstrate that your pooch can behave himself in public.

We agreed to meet at Pets at Home. In case you’re unfamiliar with it, Pets at Home is the superstore for all things related to pets. From cat food to guinea pigs, Pets at Home has it all.

Kate took us through a series of assessments, ticking off the criteria on the charity’s application form as we went along. Would Ollie walk nicely to heel? How would he respond to a stranger stroking him (including his tail). Would he react badly to Kate dropping a walking stick behind him?

We spent around 40 minutes in the store. Ollie was good as gold, although the sound of the squeaky toys was almost too much to bear. Seated at my feet, he would lean over slightly, ears alert, straining to hear what was going on. It was as though he was saying, “I would like a squeaky toy!!”

The outcome

One application, two references and some time later, we were accepted to be PAT volunteers. As soon as I heard the news, I was back onto area co-ordinator, Kate, to see if there was an establishment we could visit. There were three, one of which was just a 15 minute walk from our house.

Our nursing home establishment

The establishment Kate suggested was a small nursing home whose PAT dog had sadly died. As a result, the home was awaiting a new volunteer.

I went along (without dog) to find out more and met the nursing home’s activities co-ordinator, Joy. Over a cup of coffee and biscuit (thanks, Chef!), we agreed that Ollie and I would visit for an hour, once a fortnight. Joy explained that I should expect to be known as “Ollie’s mom” and that Ollie might – from time-to-time – be invited as VIP to special events.

Our first visit

For our first visit, there was snow on the ground, as we in the midst of the awful weather wrought by ‘the beast from the East’. Joy had wondered if we might cancel, but we were determined to make it, albeit we had to remove wellies and other winter clothing on arrival, leaving a heap of belongings in the hall.

We had top billing as visitors that morning; Joy had even printed a flyer (with a picture of a little black cockapoo that looked very much like Ollie) to remind people that we were coming.

Top of the bill

Our first gathering in the lounge was really lovely. I have to confess to feeling a bit nervous but our visit brought people together, as residents came down from their rooms to see what all the fuss was about.

Some were too frail to come down that morning, notably Hilda (104 years old!). So, instead, for part of our time, we went and had a chat with people wherever they happened to be. It was so lovely to see the delight on people’s faces when they realised that I had brought Ollie to see them. To my great relief, Ollie wasn’t overwhelmed; he rather enjoying all the attention (especially as this included dog treats that I had brought with us).

Getting into a routine

Now that we are ‘regulars’, we continue to have our morning coffee gathering, but we also make time to pop and visit those who aren’t able to come down to the lounge. To my surprise, we occasionally bump into people we know whose parents are staying at the home for a short period of respite.

As promised, we (Ollie) were special VIP guests at the Easter fair when “Ollie” helped with the raffle and “Ollie’s mom” enjoyed meeting family members who had come to visit residents.

Mission accomplished

Now that I have time to step back and muse on the subject, I ask myself if we are making a difference and achieving our intended aim. I suppose only the residents at the nursing home can answer that. But there’s something else: I always come away feeling that we did the right thing. Being kind to others is one of the best things we can do. It’s said that when you do good, you’ll feel good. I really agree with that.


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How to avoid decluttering going too far

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In my most recent Community newsletter, I described an interesting article in the New Zealand Herald which had recently caught my eye.

In anticipation of The Minimalists‘ ‘Less is Now’ tour dates, journalist Chris Schulz had decided to explore if espousing a minimalist lifestyle might make a difference in his life. Did he need stuff that had been lying around in cupboards untouched for years? Of course not. But Schulz’ article does sound a cautionary tale: it is possible to go too far.

Schulz realises that you might get so carried away with decluttering that you potentially let go of items that might be of value in future years. So, here are a few ideas on how to avoid taking your enthusiasm for decluttering going a step too far.

Take it slowly

You’re less likely to relinquish a valued treasure if you take things slowly. Always start with the non-contentious, non-emotive stuff: the easy to declutter. As you peel away the layers, you’ll become increasingly intentional and deliberate about what you keep and what you get rid of. Take your time to decide on the things that may have sentimental value.

Don’t unclutter other people’s stuff

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Don’t unclutter other people’s stuff. You can model decluttering behaviours and will – undoubtedly – inspire those around you. But don’t make decisions about belongings that aren’t yours. For shared items, you can certainly moot the idea of letting go, but this has to be a joint decision.

Create a treasures box

For years, I dragged around a plastic trunk with my so-called treasures inside. Shaped like a treasure chest and in bright primary colours, this storage container was so heavy that we had to heave it into our loft when we move into our current home. I seldom looked inside it.

As part of my final decluttering, I got to grips with exactly what was in that container. What remains is a very small (shoe-box sized) collection of some lovely sentimental items that I will never part with. Our daughter keeps a similar box; again, this is very small.

Become your own curator

Adopt the mindset of a curator. Your home isn’t a museum, but imagine you have the role of the creative lead on a fabulous project. What selected items would mean the most to you? Which items would form a part of an artistic or historical collection were you to create a display about your own life? What has meaning and adds value in your home? What is frankly just a collection of miscellaneous tat? Keep and enjoy the former; declutter the latter.

Consider your loved ones

We all know that grown-up children don’t want their baby boomer parents’ stuff. But is there a particular item you’d like to keep to pass onto your daughter or granddaughter in future years? On my mother’s side of the family, we love a pretty ring. Keeping a ring (or another small piece of jewellery) may be a lovely thing to do; it might give someone pleasure in the future.

Store and save virtually

An image of something will spark a conversation or trigger a memory that you may enjoy in the future. As I’ve said previously, your treasured possessions aren’t memories. But images of items you once owned may suffice if you want to recall a piece of art you created as a teenager or remember something crafted by a loved one.

Bring some of your personality into the workplace

I’ve recently joined a new department to take up a new post within the organisation where I work. I am privileged to have my own office, so this provides an opportunity to display one or two decorative items that wouldn’t otherwise have a place at home.

My maternal grandmother was a prolific craftswoman. Among her creations are a number of small pictures, intricate and beautifully crafted with embroidery. I have had 3 of these little pictures hung on my office wall; they are a talking point for people who come to see me and they provide a little visual reminder of family, as I work at my desk.

Another friend uses her grandmother’s favourite china cup and saucer as a scented candle, which she keeps on her kitchen table.

Stop when you’re not sure what to unclutter next

Unless you are staging your home for sale (when home life takes on an artificial impression of familial perfection), it’s fine to take some time out or to stop altogether. You might take a pause or cease decluttering completely. Good for you. After all, it’s worth harking back to the reasons we started this in the first place – our ‘why’ or purpose. Living with less allows us to be so much more. So, get out there and enjoy! That’s why we do it in the first place.


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Going car free

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Reading about others’ experiences of going car-free is always inspiring.

Advocates of two wheels

In her book, You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap): How One Woman Radically Simplified Her Life and How You Can Too, Tammy Strobel writes about the positive benefits of cycling around her local community. 

More recently, in her article for The New York Times, Elaisha Stokes describes touchingly how her cycling adventures in NYC helped her through a sad and extremely challenging period in her life.

Getting around under one’s own steam

We recently took the decision to go down to one car,  with the idea that I’d be able to use my bicycle a little more regularly. Indeed, there have already been days during the winter months when I’ve cycled to work. It’s not far: 4.88 miles there and a long, uphill 4.88 miles home.

My alternative mode of transport would be the bus for days when neither the weather nor my legs would countenance transport on two wheels. There’s a regular service to and from work, so the bus and cycling seem to be a good combination.

When the ‘beast’ roared

For me, 1 March was the first day in a new job. It was also one of my first car-free days. However, on this particular Thursday, the UK was in the midst of the ‘beast from the east’, a dramatic and unusually severe weather event that plunged the nation into sub-zero temperatures. On top of this, ‘Storm Emma’ clashed with the polar vortex to create widespread disruption across much of the country.

The Met Office recorded plummeting temperatures as low as -15C whilst the snow continued to fall, resulting in significant delays on the roads, with some devastating fatalities and severe disruption for many.

My homeward journey

On this particular day (the joint second coldest March day on record), our cockapoo, Ollie, was in doggie day-care. My plan was to return home from work by bus, alighting earlier than usual to collect him from our dog walker’s home (she lives on the east side of town; we’re on the south side). Ollie and I would then walk the rest of the way home together.

The reality was a little different.

Trudging through the storm

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After alighting the bus, as planned, I descended a steep hill before walking up the other side of the valley to fetch Ollie.  This 10-minute walk was along snow-covered pavements, with the biting wind beginning to pick up, making progress was more challenging than normal.

Following a few brief words of grateful thanks, I grabbed Ollie to catch another bus that was due imminently. This one would take a route across town, dropping us nearer to home. This worked well; the bus arrived within minutes and both pooch and I were somewhat protected from the elements. By this time, the snow was really coming down blizzard-style and the traffic had built up.

Eventually, after proceeding through Kenilworth in very slow-moving traffic, we got off at our usual stop on the south side of town.

We then took our 10-minute walk to our house in what I can only describe as Siberian conditions. The whole trek took just under 2 hours… for a 5-mile journey.

What have I done?!!

This experience forced me to remind myself why we’d made the decision to relinquish our second vehicle:

  • No car payment, road tax, fuel costs, insurance or servicing fees
  • Better for the environment
  • An efficient and cost-effective bus service runs between home and work
  • Cycling to work is fun!
  • We really don’t need two cars, having previously resolved that our teen would take the bus to school for the remainder of her secondary schooling

Day 2

The next day (Friday) proved to be a little more straightforward. There was no doggie daycare to factor in, which made my journey simpler. In spite of the overnight covering of new snow, I jumped on the morning bus at 07:55, arriving in my office at 08:18. That’s more like it!

So, I’m going to carry on. We’re doing this for the right reasons. But it didn’t feel so at the time.

Have you taken the decision to ‘trade down’ in transportation? Perhaps you cycle, use an electric vehicle or have a public transport alternative to a car that works for you? I’d love to know how you get around if you, like me, are now car free!


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The myth of work life balance

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In June, I was invited to lead a session on ‘work life balance’ for the department in which I work. This was prompted by the results of an organisation-wide staff survey, which showed that this theme was something that staff felt was an area for improvement.

It was great to be able to draw on some of the learning I’d done in my own time – as part of my own journey towards greater simplicity – to help others.

This week, I delivered a further session for colleagues in another part of the organisation.

As the lead up to Christmas is a particularly busy time of year, I thought I’d share my insights here. You may not have time to read the whole post now, but why not pick it up over the holidays, as you reflect on the year that’s just gone by?

Work life balance: Myth or Reality?

In this week’s presentation, I began by asserting that the idea of balance is actually somewhat unhelpful. Achieving perfect equilibrium suggests (in fact) stagnation or stasis. It could be argued that if you’re existing in a state of perfect balance, how will you ever move forward?

In our discussion, I drew on the Marcus Buckingham’s 2009 research in which thousands of women* were polled with the following 5 questions:

1.  How often do you get to do things you really like to do?

2.  How often do you find yourself actively looking forward to the day ahead

3.  How often do you get so involved in what you’re doing you lose track of time

4.  How often do you feel invigorated at the end of a long, busy day

5.  How often do you feel an emotional high in your life?

In depth interviews then followed with those who could respond “every day” to four of the five.

The answers

Instead of some magic formulae, the women in Buckingham’s study who were happiest didn’t aim to achieve balance at all. Rather, they intentionally focussed on the areas of their life that mattered most at any particular time.

These women deliberately threw things out of balance, giving whatever needed their attention their full focus. This reminded me of one of Greg McKeown’s key messages in his book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less:

“What’s important now?”

What this means in reality

So, what does this mean in reality?

Think back to a time when you were planning some really important event, such as a wedding, a work event or some other significant occasion. The chances are, you’ll have naturally ’tilted’ towards that particular activity, allowing other things to take a back seat (even if only in your head). This is a perfect example of tilting or ‘leaning in’ to whatever is important in the present moment.

Tilting can work, even on a day-to-day basis. Imagine you’re leaving work to go to two events (one after the other), as I did on Monday evening. This means cutting yourself some slack when it comes to what you’re going to eat when you get home. Here’s where my 5 Ingredients recipes come in.

Perhaps there are times when you’re needed more by family members such as children or elderly parents (or both)? Again, when this happens, you’ll tilt towards family life more during that period, perhaps putting career development aspirations or even work itself on hold. At the very least, you might make ‘work’ less prominent in your life.

Strategies and Mindsets

As the intentional removal of anything that doesn’t add value to your life, minimalism can help this mental shift.

Back in summer 2016, I was working full-time; still running my teenager to school every morning in the car; had significant non-work commitments and was feeling a strong sense of obligation, as I was pulled in all directions.

18 months on, I have significantly simplified my life, which included systematizing how things run at home; decluttering and paring back my personal space; and reconsidering with my family how we wanted to spend our time.

I now enjoy monthly commitments, rather than myriad ones each week. And our teen now gets the bus to and from school (I can’t tell you what a different that has made to my morning commute).

The biggest single benefit?

In my presentation this week, one of the participants asked me what I felt was the biggest single benefit of doing all of this.

My answer was this: adopting a minimalist mindset has enabled me to have a greater amount of flexibility.

In the last month, my family hosted two Chinese homestay students (visiting PhD students from Capital Normal University in Beijing). This enriching experience was really enjoyable and I would never have been able to do this had my weekly routine not changed.

You’d think this would be difficult in the run up to Christmas, but we involved our guests in the small things we enjoyed during the last few weeks and we were all the better for it.

How do you respond to expectations?

One area I brought up in my presentation was a word about how we respond to expectations, both inner and outer.

This key question, as you will be aware, is the focus of Gretchen Rubin’s latest book, The Four Tendencies.

I think this is a very good question to ask when you’re considering the thorny question of work life balance.

To draw on Rubin’s work, I spoke about the four main personality types, which are as follows:

Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations.

They find it easy to meet deadlines and, for example, keep New Years resolutions. Task oriented, they like to meet expectations (either their own or those of others). This is great if you need someone who’ll follow the rules. Whilst at times they might be too driven by the ‘gold star’, they find it easy to create and maintain good habits.

Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense. I have two questioners in my team. They make fantastic colleagues, because their natural curiosity means that you need a clear and strong rationale when explaining something or when asking them to deliver on a particular task.

Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike. Rebels, Rubin says, are motivated by present desire. But they are likely to resist outer expectations. Rebels thrive when they can be disruptive.

Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves.

As the biggest group in Rubin’s study, Obligers are the people who volunteer, who help, and who deliver for others. People pleasers, they inevitably make time for others but not always for themselves. The secret is external accountability; if someone else expects it, they show up. The risk? They feel overwhelmed and may experience ‘Obliger rebellion’.

So, it helps to understand yourself when it comes to your own tendency. Are you more likely to say yes to an external expecatation? If so, how will this impact on your sense of equilibrium?

Take Rubin’s quiz here.

Technology has to come into it

When was the last time you assessed your technology habits, unplugged or a while or allowed your creativity to be ‘jump started’?

In the first podcast of the new season of their By the Book Podcast, Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer discussed an interesting book, whose key thesis is that our relationship with distraction is stopping us from living our fullest life.

Bored

In Bored and Brilliant: How time Spent Doing Nothing Changes Everything, Manoush Zomorodi reminds us to “Take a Fake-ation” to give ourselves time away from digital devices.

Here’s where we create space in our lives to enable us to feel less busy, less stressed, less overwhelmed.

A digital detox can be a useful way to help us find a sense of perspective, if not absolute balance. Your best ideas can come to you when you allow your brain a chance to do its own thing.

That said, certain tools can help avoid a sense of overwhelm and I use them frequently. Evernote is my ‘go to’ external brain whilst Producteev helps me remember what I don’t want to forget….

Twitter friends weigh in!

Earlier this week, Twitter friends joined the conversation when I asked, “What’s your trick to ensure work life balance or do you prefer ‘tilting’ and deliberately throwing things off balance?”

Rachel from The Daisy Pages said, “For me it’s spending less money, then I don’t have to work so hard and can spend more time doing things that I really enjoy 😊.”

Shaun replied, “Rationing device use in this 24/7 officeless age!” Good point, Shaun!

Nick suggested that, “… balancing is what you try to do when your work is not compatible with your life.” Uh oh. Recognise that one, anyone?

And Rae (raeritchie.com) provided her perspective that chimed very well with my own thinking. She said, “I think balance is okay if we think about it over a period of time. It’s unlikely to be continually in equilibrium – more shifting between different points.”

What about you?

So, what about you? Do you agree that the idea of work life balance is unhelpful? Or do you try to achieve a sense of equilibrium by closely guarding your time? By saying no? Or by deploying other techniques?

Do let me know by replying to this post, below!

(*On the Buckingham study, I am unclear as to why this study focussed on women only, but I would wager that the very same questions could also be posed to men.)


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