On being a beginner

I had my third driving lesson this morning. Well, when I say third, I mean from this time around. This is my third attempt at learning to drive. The first time I was 19 or 20, eager to pass my test as quickly as possible, managing to fail my test equally fast. A lack of funds ended that particular attempt.

Living in London — and living with a partner who could drive — meant I didn’t get around to trying again until 2004. I was zipping around north London and practicing my three-point turns, and everything seemed to be going great. And then the lack of funds thing happened again… and other bad stuff happened too. You know that story already.

So here I am, hoping it’ll be third time lucky. Because this time I have a more concrete reason for wanting a driver’s license. I want to move out of Bath and into the Cotswolds. I want to be nearer my nephew, and I want more space. And a cat. Maybe even a dog.

I want to start the next chapter of my life, and to do that I need to be mobile. I need to be able to drive.

Being a beginner is hard. Allowing yourself to be a beginner is even harder. I feel so accomplished in so many areas of my life, it’s frustrating not being able to just get in a car and go like everyone else. The first two lessons were hard on the nerves but today my confidence grew as we went out on country roads and I got my speed up to 60mph. Fourth gear, people! My positioning is still all over the place, but today I had moments of ‘I’m driving! and a few secret smiles as I remembered to take my foot off the gas when changing gear ;) A learner has so much to think about, but in today’s lesson I was more aware of what was happening outside the car too. This is major progress. I guess some of it must be coming back to me.

Today I’m really honouring this feeling of being a beginner. It carries so many lessons with it. Like patience. Humility. Vulnerability. Irony. There are lots of beginnings I want to draw to me this year, so it feels good to remember that with them comes the clunky lack-of-grace of being a beginner. We all have to start somewhere.

Navigating the fraught waters of self care

Something amazing happened yesterday. Since getting back from Morocco I’ve been experiencing the kind of bone-aching exhaustion that tells me I need to slow down to get my health in order (a cold + losing my voice + international travel is not a great mix). This is not something I really understand how to do but lately I’ve been forced to take notice when it’s needed. I’m trying to learn how to look after my self — body, mind, emotions — better to help me work better.

My brand new course, Blogging from the Heart, is due to start on Monday but it was becoming very clear that i was in no shape to do it. So last night I woman-ed up and did something I’ve never done before — I emailed my lovely patient participants explaining that I was exhausted and needed to take a few extra days to rest up, and so was pushing our start date back by a week. And as I explained in my email, I want this course to be awesome, and to do that I need to be on top form. (I also gave them a link to an audio I’d recorded so they had something to work with while they waited.)

I was so scared to send the email because one of my greatest fears is letting people down. If i’ve said i’m going to do something you can bet I will do it. Never has this been more important than in my wee business. With hindsight it was silly of me to schedule the start of a new course a week after teaching at a retreat, but I am always learning as I go. I’ve been doing this work for three years now, but still there is always so much more to figure out.

The amazing thing that happened was this: within minutes of sending out the email I started getting replies from my peeps, and within an hour over a third of my 160 participants had pinged me back an email saying that they understood and didn’t mind the delay. Many of them thanked me and said they admired my decision to take some time for self care. One sweet soul said it was lovely to be reminded to take care of our bodies and souls.

And when I’d replied to everyone and wiped away a few tears, it struck me how important this self care thing is. I seem to read about it all the time — on personal development blogs, sites, books, magazine articles — but I don’t think I’ve ever really taken on board how essential it is. It’s not just about spending an hour on the sofa once in a while. It’s also knowing when to stop… to slow down… to put yourself first, even if it means delaying your work. Because a week’s delay to ensure you do your best work is better than forcing yourself to begin and then crashing half way.

This episode is teaching me that not only do i attract the most wonderfully thoughtful and understanding people to my courses (seriously — wow) but that it is also safe for me to ask for what I need. And i don’t mean grabby-me-me-me sort of asking; I mean letting myself get very real and be honest about how I feel.

Do you know what I mean? How do you navigate self care alongside your obligations? I’d love to hear x

Out with the old

There’s been another shift. Ever since I declared 2012 the year of dating and book tours I’ve had this urge to rip down the walls of my life, both literal and metaphorical, and create a new base to work from. It’s started in my bedroom. I moved into this flat over three years ago, and it’s the one room that hasn’t really changed in all that time. I’ve bought new sheets and new clothes but the furniture — most of it hand-me-downs– has remained the same. Everything is still where we put it when I moved in. The energy in the room feels stagnant and it’s only just hit me what a bells-and-whistles metaphor this is for my non-existent love life.

So I’ve been purging. Clearing out drawers and wardrobes. Giving away chairs and cabinets. Taking tens of bags of books to the charity shops. Donating clothes that don’t fit and shoes I can’t walk in. The best birthday present my family gave me on Sunday was to take half of the furniture in my bedroom with them when they left. Slowly slowly I am starting to breathe again. I crave space around me when I sleep. I want to invest in pieces of furniture that will come with me when I next move, items bought because i love them not because an old flatmate left them and somehow they ended up living with me seven years later — talk about carrying old memories with you, sheesh. I am no longer that girl who lived in London. I don’t want to carry the dust of the past into my future.

Coincidentally (but not really) I spent 24 hours in London at the end of last week, and after a fun afternoon with Elizabeth and Christine, I headed over to Sas’s place for homemade soup and a glass of red. Over brunch the next day my very clever pal helped me plan my book tour on paper before we ran around Portobello market taking photos and eating red velvet cupcakes for lunch. On the way to Paddington we parked for a moment outside the place I used to live. As I pointed out my old bedroom window to Sas, and the restaurant where we’d had our last dinner together, I realised that I felt no strong emotions as I sat there giving my friend a tour through my old life. I was more excited about the plans we’d been discussing the night before, and about the life I’ve proudly built all on my own.

Everything that has gone before is important, but it’s what we do with what we’ve learned that matters the most.

There has been a new batch of emotions to process lately — connected to past decisions and actions, to ways of being that I would not choose to inhabit again. Emotions with labels like shame and guilt, stuff I hadn’t realised was sitting in my chest until I made the space and poof there it is, waiting for me to take a peek. Turns out the unravelling never really ends — there’s always more to discover and let go of.

Just like the books and chairs I’ve given away.

So I’ll continue to make space for new clothes, new emotions, new lessons, a new man. Out with the old, in with the sparkly, heart-racing excitement of the NEW.

* * * * *

Speaking of new, we’ve updated the site design a wee bit — what do you think? The Unravelling page is looking particularly swanky. There are still pages to do, but all in good time… just like the rest of my flat/life :)

Remembering what supports us

I felt really bruised this morning. A combination of bad dreams, snippets of memories that caught me off guard, the pressure of all I have to get done and just the general heaviness of grey January weather. It tooks me ages to get myself together. I had a to do list that wasn’t going to do itself but my mind was all over the place. Working at home is really great until you hit a day like this — unfocussed, over-emotional, racing heart, can’t settle, and no one is there to tell you to pull yourself together and just get on with it. No colleagues to moan to, no clients to put on a facade for. Just boring old me.

So I pulled on some going-outside clothes (as opposed to my usual working-from-home clothes which look remarkably like about-to-go-to-bed clothes), grabbed my notebooks and pens and forcibly shoved myself out into the world. It’s a ten-minute walk to my favourite cafe and I walked fast, the cold air trying to get inside my coat. There weren’t many people about and even the cafe was quiet. And that was perfect for me. I took over a table, spread out my tools and ordered a decaf mocha.

Somewhere between my first sip and leaving the cafe an hour later, I found my calm. With no internet (or laptop, for that matter) I was forced to do my brainstorming on paper. And as it always does, my energy shifted and brought some new clarity with it. You would have thought, after all these years of self-employment in one form or another, I would remember the tricks that get me back in the game. Going for a walk outside is the most obvious and basic, yet it’s the one I find so hard to do. “I don’t have time” falls from my lips as i stare into my monitor, hoping the words will arrange themselves. I don’t have kids to collect from school, or even a dog to walk, so I have no pressing reason to get up from my desk. Yet this one small activity — and a mocha in a cafe is hardly torture, is it? Sometimes i want to slap myself — made everything better. I let go of the bad dreams. The memories receded back into their hidely hole and grey sky didn’t look so bad once I was standing under it.

And the best thing? I managed to work through a block I’d had in the structure of my new course, and realised that it needs to be SIX weeks and not five. :)

Restart. Reset. Reboot. Works like a charm.