what I am not going to do this month

How do you go about making big decisions? I’m a thinker. I think and I think and… yep, you guessed it: I think some more. But from the start there is usually a feeling. I know what the way forward is. I know what I want to do.

What delays me in making the decision?

We all know the score! Fear, self-doubt, anxiety. These feelings can then overwhelm and mask my intuition. In a similar way that Oust provides a chemically floral fragrance that attempts to mask the smell of dog turd that has been walked though the house. There is a hint of the crap. But it’s blended in with a nauseating and dense aroma that makes you feel as though you need a gas mask to protect the soft pink tissue of your lungs from damage. Sometimes you wonder why you bother. It’s just a different kind of unpleasant smell.

The fear I feel about the consequences of my decision can be the Oust on what I want or know I should do.

What exactly are we afraid of when faced with a decision? I assume most people would answer failure. Or death, if they were deciding whether to do a sky dive/hold a snake/walk a tightrope. That is a very useful fear in those instances. But let me ask you this: what constitutes as failure? When something turns out to be difficult? Challenging? Not what we expected?

Well, here’s some news that may shock you. You need challenges to be happy.

Mark Ranson writes in his blog post on the subject:

“Anyone who has ever taken an economics class has heard the phrase, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” It means that everything has a cost, even if that cost is not always immediately apparent. To achieve anything, you must give up something else. In today’s happiness-obsessed culture, most pursue just the opposite: happiness with no costs, all benefits. We want the rewards without the risks, the gain without the pain. But ironically, it’s this unwillingness to sacrifice anything, to give up anything, that makes us more miserable.”

To enjoy a deep and satisfying sense of achievement there has to have been some struggle. To experience and enjoy love fully, you have to open yourself up to loss and disappointment. Make-up sex is extra special for a reason folks.

My decisions over recent months have included:

  1. Should I do an online Freelance Journalism course?
  2. Should I do a full-time Creative and Critical Writing MA in September?
  3. Should we get a dog?

The decision-making process itself involved struggle in our marriage. Doing a course isn’t just my decision because there would be an impact on our family. Our connection and intimacy is worth fighting for and we had to struggle through intense and lengthy conversations. Deeper issues and assumptions came to the surface that needed working through in order to deal with the decision at hand. But out of the struggle came a joint decision. Both of us reached a place of feeling confident the path laid out was good and right. Struggle in our marriage results in a good and satisfying intimacy.

Another layer of intensity added to this decision-making process was my Dad’s absence. I would have gone to him for advice and input. No doubt about it. He had a gift of listening and asking questions. He was able to discern what was important to me and simply illuminate that. To reconnect me with the instinctive feeling masked by fear.

I felt the pain of that absence alongside a very real problem: how can I actually make these decisions without him? Two days before the start of this online course and I was feeling so wound up and unable to think clearly. Am I hesitant because of fear that I just need to press through? Or am I hesitant because this isn’t right?

I started trying to think of someone I could contact. Who can help me get some clarity? But then I realised this was a good experience for me. Not that it was bad or unhelpful to go to my Dad for advice. Of course not. But at the heart of the matter was my hesitancy due to fear. I was not going to talk to anyone but make the decision myself.

Yes, I would do it. I could do it. It may be a challenge but that’s okay. Learning is progress and progress is the best we can hope for in this life. Change is good.

I received an email from the university I want to attend to do my masters reminding me that I have registered but not yet applied. Why haven’t I, I thought. It hit me straight away – you’re afraid Jeni. This time I was much less patient with myself.

Get on with it. Yes it will be hard work. Yes you’re inviting criticism. Yes you will probably feel stuck and struggle at times. But THIS IS ALL GOOD.

A friend who has recently got a puppy emailed me the other day. I had told her that we had put a deposit down on our very own pup. She said, “well good luck with that. Our puppy stinks and possibly has to have his anal glands squeezed. Thankfully it’s a vet-job not a mum-job.”

Anyone observing me reading her words would have seen me do that thing where people do a big laugh then suddenly stop and immediately frown. What if our dog has health problems? We are going to visit my grandparents soon and my nan has been talking about putting her puppy into dog training because she’s “so naughty”. The poor pup is being shipped off to kennels while we visit because it’s unpredictable how she’ll be with the kids! What if our dog is impossible to train and a complete nightmare?

Some people have been surprised at our decision to add more work to our already busy life. I was pondering that yesterday and realised something. Yes, having a dog means opening ourselves up to further challenges. But… yep, you guessed it:

THAT’S OKAY!

Happiness comes with struggle: training, being woken up in the night at first, picking up dog turds, walking it every day.

To gain: more exercise, developmental benefits for the kids, family memories to make and treasure, company when I’m writing at home all day, an excuse to get out instead of put the telly on, something that makes us laugh and smile, something to love that loves us back.

Mark Manson’s final point in his article is that we need to find a deeper motivation for our actions. There will always be struggle but knowing the original purpose keeps us going and keeps us happy and content in the struggle.

“How does one find their deeper purpose? Well, it’s not easy. But then again, robust and resilient lifelong happiness isn’t easy either (What, you mean nobody ever told you that?)… But here’s a hint: it has something to do with growth and contribution. Growth means finding a way to make yourself a better person. Contribution means finding a way to make other people better.”

To grow, I look up. My deeper purpose: love God and love my neighbour. Grow and contribute.

Growth involves learning. So often we can berate ourselves when we have a revelation about how something needs to change. As if we should have been doing it already. No.

Revelation about change could be exciting if we got excited about progress instead of frustrated by imperfection and struggle. Don’t get me wrong, it can be a painful process. Sometimes the change you make in your life will invite negativity from others that you have to push through. But it hurts. Growth often comes not just from challenge but literal failure. It hurts.

What’s your struggle today? Look for the deeper purpose. If there is none perhaps it’s not a worthwhile struggle.

“In any venture, failure is required to make progress. And progress, by definition, is what drives happiness — the progress of ourselves, the progress of others, the progress of our values and what we care about. Without failure there is no progress and without progress there is no happiness. Relish the pain. Bathe in the scorn. The most important skill in life is not how to avoid getting knocked down, but rather learning how to stand back up. Haters gonna hate.” Mark Manson

What am I not going to do this month?

Wuss out.

Me and Gus
Let the carnage begin…

And forget to buy Oust.

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