If you are too busy to read this, you definitely need to read this

It’s hard to believe that three years ago I was complaining that I was bored. My life felt empty and lacked purpose. I was lonely and felt trapped in a life that I had outgrown (but felt too scared to re-imagine). I struggled to get to sleep at night, and didn’t understand why.
But now, having moved countries, found a new social circle, discovered my life purpose, started my spiritual business and a new relationship, I am so bereft of ‘spare time’ that I am considering sending out a search party for it.
Given where I once was, this is a pretty great problem to have.

That’s something I’ve been trying to remind myself when I feel panicky about the dust piling up on my furniture (really must make cleaning a priority!) or my poor track record when it comes to catching up with friends (thank goodness for instant messaging!). There is vastly more right with this picture than there is wrong. And actually, what appears wrong is simply the result of my change-resistant, controlly brain trying to, well, resist change and be in control.
The wonderful Kris Carr recently posted a quote online that hit the mark for me: “Don’t forget how badly you once wanted what you have now.”

I had forgotten. I had forgotten what it was like to not be the me that I am now. Instead of focusing on my gratitude for how far I had come, I was focusing on the areas where I was (or at least, I perceived I was) falling short. I was looking at the hole, instead of the doughnut.
When I focus my attention on all the blessings in my life, and how far I’ve come, my discomfort at what isn’t perfect shrinks. Would a sparkling-clean kitchen make my heart sing? Unlikely. And it wouldn’t lessen my sense of overwhelm either – because I would still have plenty on my plate. The only solution, then, is acceptance. My life is busy, sure, and often tiring, but it is also rich and love-filled and glorious.
If your life feels shambolic, and there’s not much you can do to change that, you can still change the way you look at it. 
Bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert rails against use of the word ‘balance’. She is constantly asked in magazine interviews and reader meet-and-greets how she achieves balance. Unfortunately, this is a question that, as a journalist, I’m required by editors to ask every woman I interview (NEVER men – which tells you exactly how fucked up the concept of ‘balance’ is). Gilbert objects to the question on the grounds that the word balance has, she writes, “tilted dangerously close to the word perfect”.
She explains: “To say that someone has found the secret to a balanced life is to suggest that they have solved life, and that they now float through their days in a constant state of grace and ease, never suffering stress, ambivalence, confusion, exhaustion, anger, fear or regret. Which is a wonderful description of nobody, ever,” she wrote in a Facebook post.
Gilbert argues there is no such thing as balance, so seeking it is an exercise in futility. Her solution, instead, is to embrace the madness. Life is as messy as a dropped pie, she says, and instead of wasting energy trying to put it back together, the only solution is to grab a fork and eat a mouthful as you continue on your way.
Here is my solution: I am not trying to fix my out-of-kilter schedule. I am, however, getting better at saying ‘no’ to people so that I am not running myself completely ragged, and I am making regular downtime a priority amid the chaos. I am doing my best to keep in contact with friends electronically, and I am trying to make the time I spend with people quality time (instead of snatched bursts of hurried conversations with one eye on my phone). This is the best I can do right now. And that is enough.
It’s time to stop worrying about not having enough time, and instead, to change the way we think about time. To recognise and celebrate all that makes our lives so wonderful and fulfilling, and to acknowledge that we are doing the very best we can.
It’s also since Ive put the idea in your head time to eat a doughnut. Or a pie.

Why criticism stings so badly, and why we can't afford to hide from it

*Trigger warning: contains bullying themes*
What is the worst thing someone has ever said to you, or about you? The thing that stung so badly you can feel yourself plunging into a barbed-wire pit at the memory?
Maybe you had to think about it. Maybe a dossier of vitriolic words sprung into your mind immediately. Maybe you simply don’t care what people think of you (if you fall into this category, I’m assuming you’re either a cat or Lena Dunham).
I’ve written a lot about my difficulty in accepting compliments and praise, but it wasn’t until last week at a talk by prominent vulnerability researcher and TED Talk star Brené Brown that I started thinking about the ways criticism, and the fear of it, have shaped my choices and behaviours.

Brené, who was in Sydney to open The School Of Life, described the eye-wateringly savage comments made about her 2010 TED Talk (which, incidentally, remains one of the top five talks of all time). These included nasty remarks about her appearance and her weight, and expressions of “pity” for her husband and children. Because if you really want to wound a woman, and you are protected by the anonymity of the world wide web, you go straight for the jugular – her looks (which is how society measures her value) and her worthiness to be loved by others (which is how she measures her value).
Brene Brown speaking at School Of Life SydneyFor me, the most devastating criticisms were made in my adolescence. Unlike the other kids at my small religious school, I was not from a rich family. I did not wear surf labels, I wore clothes handed down from my older cousins. My dad was in the building trade, not a lawyer or accountant. I had zero interest in watching, or participating in, sport (this was a cardinal sin in provincial New Zealand). I was a sharp, eager learner, and I knew big words that other kids did not. In essence, this is the (unrequested) feedback I got: you’re different, you don’t belong, no one wants to be your friend, and, most stingingly, no one will ever marry you. These junior emotional assassins managed to cut through to the core desires of me and every human being: to be loved and to belong.
While I was reflecting upon this ugly chapter of my life, I came undone under the weight of one very heavy memory. I remember going to a school disco and being so ridiculed for what I was wearing that I ran into the cloakroom, climbed to the top of the locker cube and spent the entire night lying against the wall so no one could see me, counting down the hours until Dad arrived in his ute to pick me up. This happened more than 25 years ago, but in many ways I am still that little girl in the pink corduroy skirt making herself as small as possible. I am still searching for acceptance. I am forever mourning for the cool, popular, enviable person I will never be. 
That’s the thing about the most hurtful criticisms, the ones we never forget – they maim us because they appear to confirm a belief we secretly held about ourselves: that we are not good enough. Yes, bullying is an extreme example, but the intensity of the criticism is not the point. When you are criticised, either for what you’ve done or for who you are, it will make you want to retreat and protect yourself. It will make you sorry you tried to do that brave thing, and highly unlikely to do so ever again. It will make you want to hurt other people. It will make you paint yourself as flawed, inadequate and unworthy; you will be wrong on all three counts.
Woman's chest holding heart
Bestselling author Liz Gilbert does not read reviews, an experience she describes as biting into a sandwich of broken glass. Brené carries around a one inch by one inch piece of paper on which she’s listed the names of the few people whose opinions she cares about. If your name is not on the list, she will disregard your feedback. Because if you are sitting in the cheap seats passing judgement on others instead of standing up, baring your soul, living a life you are proud of and risking getting your arse kicked, Brené has no time for your opinion. 
Brené absolutely 100 per cent cannot let fear of criticism stop her from making herself vulnerable in her work, her relationships and her life choices. Because she knows from her research that being vulnerable is how we grow and connect. Vulnerability, she says, is showing up and being seen when you don’t know what the outcome will be. Courage is risking people judging you. It is unwise to stop caring what people think of you, she notes – because then you stop connecting. Human beings are wired for connection – and (in my opinion) those connections are what gives life meaning. For many years I held back from connecting with people because I was not willing to risk being truly seen. I was safe, but one-dimensional. One of the ways I have made myself vulnerable is by being open about my ability to communicate with angels, and risking being labelled a weirdo.
If we want to live full, satisfying, meaningful lives and experience deep relationships, we must risk criticism, judgement and negative feedback. We must dare to stand out even though we may be mowed down by the people who are playing safe. If we do not, we will never know all that we can be and all that we are capable of.

As one of my favourite quotes (the one on my Facebook page cover picture) declares: “Our tragedy isn’t in the failing, it’s in the not trying. We are here to risk our hearts.”

I am scared of setting goals - because it means I have to try (and possibly fail)

Alpine village with lights
Delta Goodrem sang that she was born to try, but sometimes I think I was born NOT to try.
For most of my life I have had a fear of failure bubbling under the surface that has kept me from committing to things. Which boils down to this limiting, and ultimately flawed, logic: if you don’t try, you can’t fail.
This unconscious belief came to the fore recently when Liz Gilbert espoused the value of creating a five-year plan. “If you don’t know where you wanna be in five years... you’re already there,” she wrote. I was at the hair salon so, with nothing better to do, I pulled out my ever-present notebook and started imagining how I wanted my life to look in five years. And after jotting down “have at least two dogs” and “have stayed in an ice hotel” I couldn’t think of anything.

Actually, that’s not true.
I thought of lots of other things I wanted, but I couldn’t write them down. Because writing them down would force me to commit to them. And that would mean I have to try to achieve them, running a high risk of failing.
Writing down your goals causes a disturbance in your own soul – wakes you up, and makes you take notice of your own desires,” Liz wrote.
Well, yes, Liz. But I didn’t want to notice my own desires. Because then I would have to do something about them.
I didn’t want to write down the number of clients I’d like to have or the amount of days I’d like to work or the blog reach I’d like to be hitting. I particularly didn’t want to inscribe in words the healthy relationship I would love to be in but secretly fear I am not good enough for.
Man in silhouette shooting for basketball goalWhen I look back now, I can see this has been a pattern throughout my life. I have often resisted pitching big, challenging feature ideas to editors because I have been scared they’ll reject them, or, worse, commission them but I’ll do an abysmal job in bringing them to life. I have never bothered to try and save money for anything specific in case I can’t hit my target, proving myself to be completely inept.
This mindset may be something I picked up from my play-it-safe parents (this is not a criticism, BTW, merely an observation of their generation), who are, I think, proud but slightly baffled at my bravery/stupidity (my words, not theirs) in opening a reiki and angel-card-reading business, but mostly its due to my own subconscious desire to protect myself. I have realised that it’s not the humiliation of failure that I’m afraid of, it’s the suspicion that that failure would prove that I was not good enough to have the thing I wanted.
Some spiritual teachers are opposed to using the word “try” in goal-setting because they say it gives you licence to fail. Saying “I’m going to try and run a marathon” is less potent than “I’m going to run a marathon” because the first option makes it more acceptable to quit – after all, you only committed to trying. I can see this point, but for me there’s strength in the trying. For me, *that’s* the point of power. Because when I take action, I’ve committed.
What this five-year-plan exercise did show me was that, yes, I have a fear of failure that takes the form of not trying – but it’s not completely paralysing me. There is a major area of my life where I am doing OK on this front. My business is not going as well as I’d hoped, but I am still showing up. Because my will to make a success of this is stronger than my fear of it failing. Maybe focusing on that is the key to defeating my allergy to trying.
Now, to try that five-year-plan exercise again…

 To read Liz Gilbert's post about five-year plans, click here.

Choose your own creative adventure

Woman walking with head exploding in colourful thoughtsLast weekend I went to a session with that quick-witted word-sorceress Liz Gilbert (#fangirlmoment) at the Sydney Opera House, as part of a series of talks to celebrate International Women’s Day. If you follow Liz on Facebook or have seen her inspiring TED talk about creativity you’ll know this bestselling author has made it her mission to inspire everyone to “get out of your own way” when it comes to unleashing the creative being that lies within all of us.*

It’s a worthy mission. In our haste to increase our incomes, enhance our love lives, climb the career ladder and just cope with the busyness of life, the desire to indulge our creativity tends to fall by the wayside. But it’s not an indulgence at all.

Even if you don’t want to win the Archibald Prize for portraiture or write the next Fifty Shades of Grey (please don’t; the literary world deserves better), spending more time being creative can have some pretty awesome flow-on effects – greater happiness and a sense of purpose being chief among them. It also keeps you focused – especially if you have a ‘1’ in your numerology, like I do. Liz says that if she doesn’t have a creative project on the go, she starts destroying relationships with those around her. Ouch! “A creative mind is like a border collie. If you don’t give it a job to do, it will find a job – and you won’t like the job it finds for itself,” she explains.

The benefits of creativity are not in creating a one-of-a-kind, precious product, they're in the process of creating. And it’s not just about art, drama or writing. Raising children is a creative endeavour and so too are exercise, cooking and reading.

There are myriad reasons most people put off that creative project they’ve long been dreaming of. Here is a small selection Liz mentioned in her talk:
    • Someone else is already doing this (or: EVERYONE else is already doing this)
    •   I haven’t got the time/money/energy
    •  I’m no good at this
    •   There’s no point
    •   I’m not ready
    • I’m too fat (WTF? Apparently this is an actual reason people give)

All of these are just excuses we create because we’re deeply afraid we’re not good enough, which is a common fear. But it's something we have to learn to get past. Creativity requires us to reach beyond our safety zone, which is something the subconscious regards as very, very dangerous. “Fear will always be provoked by creativity, because creativity asks us to enter into realms of uncertain outcomes,” Liz says. And that, of course, is when growth, both creative and emotional, happens.

Liz’s approach is not to try and eliminate Fear** completely – because it never goes away, ever – but to accommodate it, then ignore it and go ahead and follow the creative path anyway. Without that strategy she might never have had such a remarkable career. She tells Fear: “You get a vote, but you do not get a voice.”

I went home after this talk and dug out the short stories I had abandoned late last year because I thought they were shit. They may well be shit but as Liz has reminded me, there’s every reason to keep going with them, if for no other benefit than the joy of the process.

Time to put my border collie on a shorter leash.

Border collie puppy chewing on shoe

*I’ve written about this before; read my previous post here.

**Eagle-eyed readers will notice I always capitalise Fear. There’s a reason for that. my experience of Fear is that it is powerful it has often stood over me like a bully, so that’s why I personify it.

I'm not scared! (Actually I am. And that's OK.)

Today I read a Facebook post that was so on point that I felt inspired to write a post of my own on that very topic. Then I thought, why redo something that someone else has already done so well? (Advice that Madonna would have been wise to take when considering doing a cover of American Pie; amirite?) 

The post in question is about fear, and how trying to overcome it completely is a waste of time and energy. Fear is, and should be, a constant companion in your life, Liz Gilbert writes in this excellent column, and trying to rid yourself of it is futile. The object is to acknowledge it but to not let it stop you from doing what you want. 

Here's Liz's brilliant piece on this topic, which I encourage you all to read. She says it much better than I could.