How 2012 Tried to Kill Me (And What I Did About It..)

So today I got a reminder that I have been keeping this blog for one whole year. And what a terrible year it has been. Some of the personal stuff from my life has spilled onto these pages, mainly through feelings or sentiments, but most of it has been kept firmly bottled up inside of me. What I find most interesting about this blog is that a year ago I started this project feeling as though I needed to connect with myself more, and I embarked upon a journey of self discovery. Then “life” happened, and I started having to face emotions and fears that I never thought I would be facing in 2012, and for most of the year felt as though my own understanding of myself was diminishing rather than developing.

Let’s speak plainly: nothing really terrible happened inasmuch as nobody that I loved died, my marriage weathered through another year of global disappointment, and we still have our home. But I had challenges to my health (which are still largely unresolved even after 12 months), questions to my sanity at the hands of so called friends, and the threat of financial difficulty. I was made to feel like a true failure in 2012, to the point that I almost gave up faith in myself.

As a result of this terrible year, most of the time I attempted to keep this blog I felt as though I was projecting untruths, because even if my answers were truthful I felt myself becoming more and more a stranger. Most of the questions, I have also learned, are engineered to encourage self-criticism, even melancholy, and those that focus on the positive require a saccharine and sentimental reflection on the past that has been entirely too difficult for me to face. I avoided at all costs questions about home, because home really is unattainable for me right now, and dwelling on it does more harm than good.

So now I am writing this blog post without knowing whether I will try and finish “the questions”. Why? Why would I consider stopping when I have just said this year left me a stranger from myself? Surely I have an ever-more pressing need to continue? Well, not really.

You see, even though 2012 tried to kill me, I persevered. I didn’t do it very gracefully, and there were very few defiant, movie-worthy speeches (except one that I delivered in the pharmacy the other day, but let’s leave that one for the moment), but I really, honestly did find out that I could be true to myself when the moment mattered. I faced a decision that I had to make for my own good, and put all my eggs in that basket when everyone else doubted me, and I prevailed.

Today I sat down with one of my very best friends and told him the story of my year. Firstly he was shocked that he knew so little of it (I’m a marvelous actress, it comes with the territory of being an immigrant); secondly, he was proud that I was able to make the decisions that I had made and be true to myself, despite obvious pressures from people that value money and image above all things. He is facing a crisis of his own, and I told him my story to show him that, even when you are doubting yourself, you still know yourself better than anyone else. And that no-one can act in your best interests better than yourself.

So, I am going to start 2013 with a little more faith in myself. In 2012 I really did discover who I was all over again, but it wasn’t through these questions, it was through having to fight for myself. I hope I will never have to tell anyone about the agony of the last 12 months, and I am sincerely hoping to but it behind me tomorrow at mid-night, but if I do ever tell it I will use it as a demonstration that I refuse to lose who I am.

I might be a little chubby, or curse too much, or snap at people that don’t deserve it, but I am also not morally bankrupt, and I believe in the American Dream still, and I think that everyone should be treated equally and fairly and with respect. I will not let the world change me, and I will not start believing that the world is a place where only changed people can prevail.

I’m sorry if this post is a little preachy, or pointless, but I am ready to actually say to the world that I LIKE ME. I know that a lot of people probably don’t like me, but I do, and I believe in myself, and in 2013 I am going to keep moving forwards.

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What have you done in the last year that makes you proud? / What did you learn recently that changed the way you live?

It is important for me to reflect back on the last twelve months of my life. It has been almost a whole year since I sat in this same chair, wrapped in this same blanket, and created this blog. I was so full of intention.

Tonight I am actually writing this from my desktop computer, something that I rarely do, because my laptop is broken again (pretty sure Apple sold me a dud MacBook, but I’m like David over here trying to slay the giant). It’s actually very uncomfortable in our home office – my husband selected the decor, and it’s more for looking at than sitting on. However, it was this same computer that I created this blog ten months ago today, and so it takes me back to a certain time.

Last night I spent some time with a very dear friend of mine. She was a my college roommate, the very first person I met in the United States, and has been close to my heart since I stepped off of that plane over seven years ago. Last week she got engaged to a man that has been such a rock to her, and yesterday she asked me to be a part of their wedding party. Of course, I said yes.

Over the course of our evening together we talked at length about our friendship: the high points, the low points, and the things about each other that we weren’t aware we didn’t know. A few years ago my dear friend went through the biggest challenge of her life, and spent a year battling her way out of it. At the end of this year she met the love of her life, and the rest, as they say, is history. We talked about her tough times, and I shared with her my recent struggles, of which she was not yet aware.

The reason I am sharing this tonight is because I learned a lot about myself last night, and a lot about my friend, and a lot about the way that “most people” live their lives. We shelter the world from our emotions, often choosing to take a personal hit over risking exposing how flawed the world is, and how poorly it has treated us. My friend told me about her own dark path, and the steps she had to take to free herself from it: most of it I knew, but some of it I didn’t. At the end of our conversation I was sad that she had been in that position, angry at the world that had put her there, but mostly proud that she had come through.

When I look back on the last year of my life I am coming to a realization: I am going to be proud of the way I handled myself. I have made the active decision to disassociate myself from some people that have been harmful, and it has been a point of contention, and I really have had to question whether I have made the “right” decision. However, through my conversation with my friend last night I realized that there are people in this world that will take you at your lowest point and twist your soul, and once they have a grip on it they are impossible to shake off. I think that I shook myself free from those people in the last four weeks.

Before I sat down to write this blog post this evening I went into the bathroom to get a glass of water and stared myself straight in the eye. I found myself trying to picture my face a year ago, two years ago, ten years ago, but all I could see is the face looking back at me. Probably, I have not changed that much on the outside, but I feel that also the only person that matters in my life right now is who I am at this moment in time. And I might look tired (I really do look tired), and I might be starting to get some frown lines around my eyes (I’ve been frowning a lot recently), and I might be fifteen pounds heavier than I’d like to be, but I feel like a victor tonight.

Yesterday taught me that I have lived my life right recently. Prior to today I have doubted myself, and wondered if I would live to regret the choices I have made, but tonight I know that absolutely not. I have lived my life right recently, and I am proud of myself, and I really believe that only good things will follow.

Would you rather have less work or more work you actually enjoy doing?

This question seems rather apt right now, as I sit on a flight home after 10 days vacation. Ten glorious days with my sister, who lives on the other side of the world, seeing four national parks, four states, and many different cities. Tomorrow I return to work and, like a subconscious stretch before a run, last night I dreamt non-stop about “the office”. I dream about Work all the time – I find it impossible to disconnect myself from my job. Ultimately, this is the American “live to work” culture, and I don’t mind it – I’ve always been a hard worker, and apply myself to every aspect of my life – but this time I made an effort to totally shut myself off from my working life.

I expected it to be harder and scarier than it was, and, although I know that tomorrow I will arrive at my desk to a veritable avalanche of emails, I have no intention of checking in tonight, either.

This time away, as well as the “quarter life crisis” I’m likely in the middle of, has caused me to re-evaluate my life. I like my job, I’m very happy with the company that I work for, and am by all means satisfied with my position. However, I would love the opportunity to work for a non-for-profit. Working in healthcare has opened my eyes to all the huge problems facing America, and how important it is to show support and give funding to the multiple not for profit organizations that dedicate their lives to better understanding, educating, or improving lives surrounding these causes.

I feel live a reverse of myself – or perhaps just a mirror of my quasi-liberal upbringing – I came out of college wanting to join a huge corporation and take over the world, and now I find myself wanting to “save the world”. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?

I keep thinking to myself, what would I give from my life to be able to achieve this dream? I have looked into various different volunteer positions, but the truth is that I would need to dedicate evening and weekend hours that, right now, my current job demands. Additionally, having two stinky, scruffy puppies that need their tummies filled, and a husband that doesn’t get home until 9pm, doesn’t really liberate time in my evenings. It’s the most I can do to fit in a 45 minute workout a couple of times a week. But I know that it’s something that I have to find the time to do – or rather, than I need to find time to do to scratch the itch inside my heart that tells me my life so far has been too easy.

Ultimately, the answer to this question is obvious to anyone, and I don’t know a single person that would say they would rather work 30 hours a week gutting fish (unless that’s your calling, in which case more power to you) than doing what they love. Because really, those of us that aren’t lucky enough to work what our heart wants us to work spend so many hours a week dreaming of our “ideal” job, the hours would negate themselves.

I also think it’s important to look at this question as brutally unfair in most aspects – how many people ever have this choice to make? I hope one day that I will be fortunate enough to be able to do what I love, but until then I am not going to be remorseful for the job I do have – there is no value in these “what ifs”, they breed discontent more often than they inspire.

How corporate America stole my abililty to speak freely

Aside

It’s been two whole months since my last post. I got sloppy. 2012 has not been my best year to date. I reached the point where answering questions about where my life was going, or what my legacy should be became painful to even think about. I didn’t want to articulate what was actually going round in my head, and trying to force out what I thought I should want to say because exhausting; I got the point where I could barely remember who I was, as though I was writing the account of someone I met once on a train and thought we might be friends if we lived closer. I still feel like that: like who I am is in another room and I am opening doors trying to find her.

When I first started this blog my aim was to rediscover how I express myself; to encourage deep thoughts; to realise interesting things about myself and feel reunited with my i. Perhaps I aimed too high. Perhaps I’m way too out of practice at these things. I work in the corporate world, people. Worse, I work in Healthcare. Even worse, I work in Healthcare in a foreign country. I am used to expressing myself according to very limited terms and conditions. I measure my opinions. I live in the midwest, the key is to blend in. And truthfully, I don’t disagree with blending in, it’s something that, as adults, most of us have to do to some degree. It’s compromising, or justifying, or being collaborative, or some other business lingo. It’s a mindset that you train yourself for, or that you get unwittingly trained in through the “needs must” school of life. It’s hard to admit that it’s nearly impossible to break out of this identity, it’s like a bad habit, I self-edit constantly.

As a marketing and operations professional, I focus on impressions and working as an art form. I advise people, reprimand people, mentor people on the right or wrong thing to say. Most of what I preach I don’t practice, and even less do I actually believe is true in the real world. But the business world isn’t the real world, and that’s the fundamental lesson behind my life. How many people would write emails to their friends like they write to their colleagues? Or how many people would dress to go to a ballgame with their friends as they dress on “casual” day at work?

I’ve learned a lot from my job, especially my current position, and wouldn’t want to change any of it. I’ve build a knowledge base on everything from database systems to healthcare operations; public speaking to individual mentoring; from how to dress at a conference to what is the “right” answer if someone offers you wine at a business event. But I haven’t learned anything about myself. I’m English, so people label me constantly. Mostly people run the fine line between considering me an awful prude or an outrageously liberal alcoholic (I’m neither, by the way). I’m a monarchist or a communist, a label-loving Londonite or a Welly-Wearing hoorah henry with a country pile. Different people take away a different version of me, and I am constantly shifting between each identity.

My failing was that I thought this would be easy. Things have always been easy for me, I’m one of those people that worked hard but not too hard in school. I got excellent grades because I understood how to check all the boxes, not because I actually wrote the most insightful answers. This is why I’m excellent at my job, because it’s all about educating people on what they should be saying or doing, and I’ve always been good at playing the game. Life is about displaying that you know what you’re talking about, rather than knowing what you’re talking about. The truth is, I’ve realised, that I know how to act like I know who I am, but really I have no clue.

So I’m starting from scratch here, and it’s probably going to get a little ugly.

If you had the opportunity to get a message across to a large group of people, what would your message be?

I’ve had a lengthy pause from my last post. 2012 has been quite a year so far. Some of you may recall my stating that I was going to train for a half marathon earlier in the year. It’s true. The “big day” was this last saturday, the 14th April. Well, I did it. Truthfully, the experience was a little disappointing for me, and I didn’t manage the time I’d hoped to finish in, but at least I crossed the line. I was expecting to be more emotional, but I was in so much pain when I crossed the line that I was just overwhelmed by relief that it was over!

The question today is about messaging. I’m in the world of marketing, and spend a lot of my time thinking about and focussing on what the correct message is for the right situation and audience. I’m also surrounded by people who are always presenting the best image that they can of themselves, and of our company. This is a trait that I am in awe of – I am brutally honest to a fault, and can’t contain how I’m truly feeling most of the time. When piecing together localized marketing campaigns, it’s easier to decide what the message should be. I work in the southern states, and it’s a safer bet that two people in the same geographic area will respond to the same anecdote than two people from opposites sides of the country. When putting together a national piece the challenge is harder, and a lot more difficult to predict. My experience has shown me that, the larger the audience the more general the message. Therefore, I have to consider than any personal message I would want to convey would need to be general enough to have a beneficial appeal to a wide audience.

This rules out things like “visit the North West Norfolk Coast” (A place a would strongly recommend anyone to visit, but is located in rural England). I’m not very political, and even the few political items that I have decided opinions on would not be things I would want to influence people’s decisions on. I’m not eligible to vote in the United States, and mostly I am glad of it; with the election this year most people I know have gone politics mad. My husband, formerly the most liberal person I know, has joined discussion groups and is considering becoming a representative for a republican candidate, and everything from his iPhone to his facebook is a walking banner for his own political opinions. I think that over time this is something he might regret.

I think that my message would have to be hinged on something I think it plausible and relevant for any person, regardless of country, gender, education, or age. It would need to be universally important to every person.

My first thought, thanks to Richard Curtis, is the message of love. Yes, I believe it is one of the most important things we can learn to do, and also learn to accept from others.  But I think that we hear this message a lot, thanks to Church billboards and hallmark cards, it’s hard to decipher true messages from propaganda.

But, I would still like my message to incorporate elements of love, and peace, and strength. And so my message for the world would be: Know your Inspiration. Sounds strange, maybe, but I think it’s universal. My thought is that if you know why you are doing something, and what you want to achieve, then you are far more likely to a) succeed, and, b) do something worthwhile. Do YOU know why you are doing what you are doing? Or are you simply following someone else’s motions hoping it will ring true for you?

When I entered the 8th mile of my race over the weekend I lost sight of my inspiration. It was what crippled me. By the time I crossed the 11 mile mark I was walking 90 percent of the time and thinking “why on earth am I doing this, it doesn’t matter”. I ended up feeling worse about myself at the end than at the beginning, and it’s because I lost focus on my inspiration. Even now, knowing this, I still find it hard to remember what my training was in aid of, but I know that if I had kept my inspiration close to me I would have had a much better and more positive run.

My message for humanity is a dream for an inspired world, where people work with dedication and passion, with a deep rooted belief in their actions. Perhaps it’s not original and, I’m sure, people will argue that it’s not even possible, but I genuinely wish our societies allowed us more room to act on our inspirations, and to see how that new energy fuels the world that we live in.

How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?

Interesting question. I am going to interpret the question to mean something along the lines of: how old a life are you living?

As a society we are constantly looking at aging celebrities, college friends, family members and thinking “that person needs to grow up”. When I was a teenager I was often told I was “responsible”; I always knew exactly when and what time I would be meeting people, or which bus I would be on coming home. These were the pre-mobile-phone days, where definite plans needed to be made and adhered to. In college I kept a list of emergency numbers with me at all times, always completed my coursework at least 24 hours before the deadline, and, although I liked to go out and have a good time, rarely stayed out all night. I wasnot the type of person that needed to grow up, if anything, I needed to “grow down”.

When I got engaged at the tender age of 21 my mother said she wasn’t surprised that I’d gotten engaged so young. This fascinated me – the hubs and I had barely been dating six months, and I had always expressed the intention to not get married before thirty. But, looking back, I was always racing towards the idea of domestic bliss. I think I’ve always wanted to know exactly what the future looks like – I’m not spontaneous, and I’ve even been known to read the end of books first so as to know what I’m working towards. I feel comforted by knowing what the outcome is going to be. This is how I have been my entire life. I used to tell my friends that my ideal was “the four M’s – middle aged, married, post-menopausal, with a mortgage”. I remember how they would shriek in horror, professing that I must be crazy, and couldn’t imagine a life like that. Back then, I found that hard to believe – how did anyone not find that appealing on some level? the normality of it? the comfort.

However, now I am married and with a mortgage, approaching early middle age (twenty seven is my dreaded number, the age I’ve always feared, and it’s only a few weeks away), and with my biological clock firmly ticking (my doctor told me that “you just need to accept your body is slowing down” the other day). I think, on paper, most people would think the husband and I were in our late thirties. Walking round our home we have new furniture, carefully selected decor palettes, and all matching plates, mugs, and dishes. Last night we chose to stay home and eat soup rather than go out on the town!

How do I feel about it? Well, I alternate between loving it and thinking I’d trade it all in for the chance to backpack around the world. I think that everyone fears growing older once they’re actually doing it – especially as I’m doing it so much faster than my friends – because it doesn’t come with instructions. I don’t know how a person my age is “supposed” to act, or whether I’m doing a good job at it, but the only thing I can do is keep doing it and stay true to myself.

So today I am going to tackle the following questions in one response: Are you holding onto something you need to let go of? When you are 80 years old, what will matter most to you? And, when is it time to stop calculating risk and rewards and just do what you know is right?

Well. I have been in the unique position of having to address all of these questions at one time on two separate occasions in my life. The first was making the decision to follow my heart and allow myself to be with the man that is now my husband, and the second occasion is my present day life.

The first time I had to weigh up these turmoils in my mind I had to wrestle the idea of having trans-atlantic relationship with a man I, realistically, didn’t know that well; leaving my family and my homeland; making myself employable and desirable in a foreign country; the impossible large idea (especially for a 20 year old) that this might be my biggest regret if I didn’t go for it, and maybe this person was the person for me. I was much more romantic back them, with my notions of soul mates and such. Don’t get me wrong, it was a good decision and I love the hubs, but nothing is ever as clear cut as a twenty-year-old literature lover can dream it to be.

And so now I’m on the flip side, faced with a familiar dilemma. I love Kansas City, I have friends here. I don’t love the crime, and I don’t love the distances between places, and I don’t love the work ethic. I don’t love the idea of raising children miles away from their only potential cousins, or in an environment where I’d have to hand them over to daycare at eight weeks. I’m not fortunate enough to afford the luxury of staying at home when the time comes. And, seven years later, I’ve never adjusted to being so far away from my home. So you see, dear internet, I’m in a predicament.

What do I do?

What I would like to do is pack up my husband and my hound and board a plane. Our friends have passports, they can travel. I don’t want to cause pain and upset to my inlaws my stealing their only son and, after all, these people have been my family for the last five years, I’d miss them too. But without them we have nothing here, and that’s the realization it has taken me years to reach.

I miss the sea. I don’t want to wake up at seventy years old and realise I’ve only seen the ocean a handful of times since I was in my twenties. I’m used to seeing it every day. I think it’s soulful – it’s a part of me.

I know all the arguments for staying, and all the arguments for going back to front and inside out. I know what my heart wants to do. Strangely, and probably something most people would doubt about me, I actuallywanted to come here and find it enough, and to be able to allow my husband to be the only thing that mattered to me. But I’m not a Victorian, my post-feminism, liberated backside has dreams and preferences and loves of it’s own, and signing them away with my marriage license didn’t happen.

And the hubs really isn’t set against moving; at least not most of the time. Really, he’s been very flexible in his opinions on subject, other than the occasional “Dammit, woman, I’m American and I need steak and beer every day” moment. His main fears are for his family.

This post isn’t really to seek answers to declare a resolution – I know that these questions are going to be conversations that we have for a LONG time – I just know it’s the only honest answer to these three questions, even if the answers aren’t really answers, but more questions.