Sunday, 24 November 2013

Contemplation: Timely Advice

[Disclaimer: This post goes a bit off-piste part way through. But it’s very impassioned so please bear with.]

Do you take advice?

As in, do you actively ask your friends and family for advice or guidance on making crucial decisions in your life?

I don’t often. Not life advice, anyway.

I ask for advice on Facebook when my phone has died, or my computer’s doing something untoward (such as, the screen’s rotated 90 degrees!), or if I want to know where to buy something specific, for instance.

But usually I’m not one for asking, “What should I do?” when I’m faced with a situation in which I genuinely need life advice.

I’ll put a situation out there, and see what people say about it. Friends and family will give me advice voluntarily, and sometimes I’ll follow it but I’m a stubborn old mule, and in most circumstances I need to come by a decision in my own time.

So I apologise to anyone who has tried to offer me advice in the past. I’m very grateful to you. I just need to come around in my own time.

Granted, I certainly don’t always make the ‘right’ decision. I’ve done a few ridiculous things in my time by following my heart rather than the path of common sense.

But regardless of whether or not I regret those decisions now, they were mine to make and I had the choice to make them. Hurrah for free will.

Some months ago I started following Thought Catalog after the sublime Susannah Conway posted a great link to an article written on the site about why it’s great to be single. (Annoyingly the article has since disappeared!)

It resounded with me at the time (and actually still does); it was an easygoing article with so many points that were validating and reassuring to me, that I thought, OK, this is interesting, I’ll read some more of the pieces they put on there.

Some are equally interesting. And some are not.

{via weheartit}

The articles on Thought Catalog are written by a small assortment of authors, some much stronger than others, and I don’t always agree with them or want to bookmark or share the articles. Some are just silly, for-fun articles, some are spiteful, some are condescending.

For instance the one I’ve just skimmed lists 17 self-centred things we do without realising. No, alas I realise what I’m doing; I’m self-aware enough to know that I can be pretty self-centred at times and I do need to rectify that behaviour but I can’t be bullied into it by a list like that.

Anyway. This is the article I shared on Facebook the other day: 18 Things Everyone Should Start Making Time For Again {written by Brianna Wiest}.

Now, I liked it, generally. I liked the idea of having the space to assess how I spend my time and see whether it’s really how I want to live.

{via weheartit}

However, some of the advice in the list I wasn’t about to take readily. Take for instance, number 15, Travelling by train, or ... exploring places that you pass every day.

I take the train to work five days a week. I find commuting stressful. On the whole I find London stressful, pretentious and overpriced. I'm sure there are hidden gems but the city stresses me out too much for me to want to find them!


The points I agreed most with were 2, 6, 8 and 16. And 18. Which are all to do with 'disconnecting' and finding pleasure in friends' company (phones off), books, music, or even silence, stillness and nothingness.

And here’s where I go slightly off-topic.

We Westerners seem to live in a culture where it’s almost frowned upon to do nothing, and we feel obliged not to waste any time, to fill our days, our weeks, with activities, to martyr ourselves to time. (And then to document every last moment on social media in order to justify ourselves. As if to say, Look! I’m living a wild, fulfilled life! I know. I’m as guilty of this as the next person.)

We’re constantly attempting to outdo each other with tales of how long we’ve worked, how much we have to do during the day, during the night, how much (or rather how little) we’ve slept, how early we’ve got up, how far we’ve had to travel.

{via weheartit}

At the risk of sounding a little worthy, given the shortness of the time we have on this planet, might it not be a good idea to step back occasionally and think, actually, is this really how I want to spend my days? (Ultimately we might decide that yes it is. And proceed.)

Recently I’ve found that when I recount my week’s activities, friends will look at me and say, “Whoa, you do a lot.” And maybe I do. I like my routines, though I could do with accommodating more writing in them. Ergo the blog.

Ordinarily, my working week looks like this:

  • Monday, work, swim
  • Tuesday, work, rock choir practice
  • Wednesday, work, swim
  • Thursday, work, church choir practice
  • Friday, half-day work, shopping, swim.

To me that’s manageable. The swimming (alas neglected over the last two weeks) is my head-clearing time. It also wears me out enough to sleep well.

I happily squandered my Friday routine this week for a far more exciting and engaging prospect – catching up with friends. 

In the process of our conversation on our recent activities and the feeling that sometimes we give our time over to fruitless tasks to the point where our own needs are forgotten, the words Do what makes you happy came up frequently.

Now, that’s advice I’m happy to take. 

I appreciate that there is an element of compromise in the way we need to structure our time. But ultimately, if you’re filling your every hour with activities because you feel you ought to rather than you want to then for your own sanity maybe it is time to reassess that balance, revisit your core values (whether or not they’re aligned with those in a Thought Catalog article!) and jump in that pool/open that book/rock out to the Fox song. Whatever makes you happy.

Time spent happy is never time wasted, I say.

I leave you with a quality song: Shoulda Woulda Coulda by Beverley Knight.

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