You’re still on your own

Earlier this year I wrote a piece called You’re On Your Own and It’s Necessary. I did it over on my personal blog, Self Distract, but it so belonged here that I nicked it for the book Filling the Blank Screen.

The point of it was that we naturally turn to others when we are hoping to do something new but those others naturally hold us back. It’s a sticky subject and a rocky road but we do make ourselves into the people we are and our friends tend to be ten minutes behind us while our families can be years and years behind us.

What I recommended in the piece was that you seek out people who are doing what you want to do and you ask them about it. They are naturally going to be biased: if it’s worked for them, they will be enthusiastic and if it hasn’t, they’ll be over-enthusiastic to cover that they were wrong. But still right or wrong, genuine or false, real or not, they are speaking from experience.

I keep thinking and thinking about a writer I hired once. This was a very long time ago and what specific details I can remember, I can’t tell you. But let’s say he had a very specific niche he wrote in. That’s what I hired him for and he was fine, I was happy with the piece. We chatted away during the process, though, and he told me that he’d discussed this niche with his wife and they are concluded that he needed to invest in rather a lot of specialised equipment so that he was able to write from authority. I can picture that conversation, I’ve had that conversation, and it scares me.

Here were two smart people discussing something crucial to their futures. And I don’t know, but I had the impression his wife wasn’t a writer and wasn’t in this specialised niche. So her best source of information about it was her husband.

And I thought he was wrong.

This specialised equipment was expensive and it changes a lot, he would be spending a lot of money now and then regularly spending a lot more. I wasn’t sure there was enough interest in this specialism to earn him much money writing about it. He got that article out of me but I never returned to the topic while I was on that magazine.

I just think a lot about this pair discussing and deciding their futures based on a possibly false premise. I think about it a lot. I think about it especially when having potentially similar conversations with my wife, Angela. We discuss everything and I need her, I don’t feel I know something until I’ve got her take on it.

But very many times she will be working from only what I’ve told her. What if I’m wrong?

And I am wrong, of course, I am wrong often. Such as when I started writing this to you and I had an idea that I wanted to explore certain things. It was going to be all about that previous article – it was recently picked up by another site and I’ve had head-jerkingly gorgeous comments on it – and it was going to be about more. I was thinking about how when we write for places we can be deeply embedded there yet we can also be outsiders.

I was going to explore that as a way of baring my soul a bit to you. Making myself uncomfortable about it because I’m working with about ten groups and organisations and eight of them are making me feel terribly important, terribly good. But that leaves two where I am and I feel that I am an outsider.

I was going to examine why this was affecting me when I’m a writer and I am self-employed: I really belong only and solely to my own group, my own company. I was thinking about how you go native and it can colour how you see things.

But instead I went off into this business of whether I am wrong, whether we are wrong, ultimately whether we can ever be right. That cuts closer to me than even this inclusion/exclusion topic that is so on my mind this weekend. And I know that you’re finding it a bit miserable. I can see it in you.

You’re wrong.

Yes, we can end up making our decisions based on faulty or incomplete premises. We can certainly put too much on the shoulders of our partners even as we deny them impartial or better sources of information. But isn’t that life?

And isn’t that actually rather good? Scary, sure, but also alive.

I was with someone today who was going to a music festival specifically to find out what it was like, in fact going in order to have gone. She was planning it like mad, she spoke of finding out the rules when she gets there. I’ve never been to a music festival but it seems to me that the point of it, beyond hopefully enjoying the music, is to dive in without a plan, without all that much thought, and just swim.

It reminded me of a line in Doctor Who where Christopher Eccleston, performing a Russell T Davies script, says to a new companion that:

“The thing is, Adam, time travel is like visiting Paris. You can’t just read the guidebook, you’ve got to throw yourself in. Eat the food, use the wrong verbs, get charged double and end up kissing complete strangers – or is that just me?”

It gets harder. It really gets harder. But without deliberately making bad choices, without deliberately deluding yourself, take the impossibility of predicting the future as an excuse, as a reason, to go make as many futures as you can.

Make a quiet spot in your day

I love newsrooms, I love production offices, I utterly adore popping in to schools where 100 bored kids and 3 stressed-out teachers expect me to perform in some useful way. I love being busy, busy, busy. But I do get more done when I am alone.

Actually, this is becoming a theme day. I write the most and I think I write my best when I get up at 5am in the morning – and today is the 250th day I’ve done that.  Plus I’ve mentioned before that there is a single quiet moment for me on Christmas Eve that I look forward to. And now I read this in Psychology Today:

Creating pockets of solitude is a powerful way to refuel and energize your life. Make it a priority. Build it in. You’ll feel better and more equipped to manage the challenges of your day.

5 Ways to Find Quiet in a Chaotic Day – Polly Campbell, Psychology Today (10 December 2013)

That’s an article in the site’s Imperfect Spirituality section and, just as an aside, isn’t the internet great? I’m not a spiritual person, I have no faith, I wouldn’t have looked in this section at all. Wouldn’t have occurred to me that I’d find anything there of interest. But a noodling Google search as I felt for this issue that’s been on my mind today, led to this. I like it.

…My ability to be well in this world is dependent on a certain amount of solitude. It’s where I find my balance.

It’s good for all of us: Solitude is the root of innovation and creativity. It is restorative. Quiet time eases stress and promotes relaxation and concentration. Often it fosters greater appreciation for others and enhances social relationships. It also delivers a dose of perspective and helps us become better problem solvers.

Campbell talks a little about the benefits but then acknowledges how hard it is to get this type of quiet time and gives plenty of advice about it. Examples:

There are only two (and-a-half) rules: Be alone. Be quiet. And here’s the half – be still at least part of the time. A quiet walk, gardening alone in the silence, cooking alone without music or the television are all powerful ways to access your alone time. But it’s also important to just stop doing, to be still and to notice what comes up.

Here are five other tips that can help you carve out a few moments of quiet in your day:

1. Plan for it. Ask for it. My husband is always willing to help me find time because he knows now that most times, an hour or two to myself each week (more if you can get it) keeps me from becoming a raging, crazy woman.

2. Make it a priority. Like brushing your teeth or taking a shower, 10 minutes of quiet time a day packs health benefits that will contribute to your peace and well-being. This is not a luxury. It is part of taking care of your body and cultivating your spirit and it’s just as important as eating vegetables and working out.

Read the full piece for much more.

You’re on your own – and it’s necessary, it’s good, it’s great

Thinking about this morning’s story that Experts are wrong – says expert, I’m minded of a Self Distract post I wrote last year.

I wrote about how we naturally turn to our friends when we have something big to tell them like you’re starting a company and they cheer you on, yet:

Only, there is also this unconscious part of them that says you’re not the one… who starts a new business, you’re not the sort to do anything they haven’t already seen you do.

Consequently, unless they are very unusual people – and you hang on to them if they are – you will forever find them holding you back. Their concerns for your wellbeing coupled to this locked perception of what you are and what you do means your friends will invariably hold you back.

You’re on Your Own and it’s Necessary – William Gallagher, Self Distract (December 2013)

If you can’t rely on your friends, who can you rely on? Sorry, did you really just say ‘family’? You might’ve said experts until you read this morning’s story. But there are other reasons to distrust experts. So, no friends, no family, no experts. You would think this piece would be a depressing read but I took some heart from writing it and I’ve had a lot of people tell me they found it encouraging.

Probably because it also includes the answer. You’ve got to look now, haven’t you? I hope you like it: that Self Distract piece meant much more to me than I realised before I wrote it. The act of writing it to you formed it better in my head, made me think more coherently. So ta for that.