Calm Down, It’s Only Survival Instinct

When we aren’t where we think we want to be (or worse, the dreaded “should be”), it becomes so tempting, so easy, to romanticise the past.  We look back at jobs we had (and left), or relationships that we had (and left), and strangely only ever remember the good things, and before we know it, we are craving to go back to an old life, with our known comforts (an discomforts).

But not only is going backward not an option, it is also not recommended.

I do remind myself, however, that when things are seemingly going well for me and I am confidently striding along my desired path, that I also have a tendency to belittle my past experiences.  “I am so much happier now”, “This is so much better than where I was/who I was with before”.

The truth- I know- is that neither of these scenarios is actually correct.  They are both false representations of my current situation (and my past).  It is my mind playing [a rather nasty] trick on me.  Maybe it is somehow linked to our survival instincts, i.e. when things are good and we are safe we should roam far and wide and gather food, etc. vs when there is danger, we retreat to a place that we know to be safe.

The problem is, our mind only perceives things, it rarely ever really knows things.  So, for example we only perceive that last job to be “not so bad after all” relative to the stressful situation you might find yourself in this moment. But in a moment of clarity, you might realise that there are so many different reasons why the current position is better and might help you move you closer to your goals.

So, I am trying to not let my mind play tricks on me, and I am going to try to plunge through that veil of false perception in those moments where I begin to demonise my current trajectory.


The Work is Never Done


I get that breakups are never easy, even when you are the one doing the breaking, but man, I wish that experience with breakups could at least count for something.

Wine doesn’t help.  In fact, it really does make things a whole lot worse, and I will be the first to confess to a couple of “raging bitch” moments this weekend.  Perhaps that is one thing I can keep in mind for next time (of which I hope there won’t be one but, you know, statistically speaking that is wishful thinking).

I also hate being “that woman” who does the breaking up but then proceeds to bawl through the entire process.  I feel those tears start to burn and I want to punch myself in the face.

And why are we even breaking up? I have absolutely no idea.

Maybe its the way he blows his nose in the shower, or chews with his mouth open, or his endless observations about the likelihood of the economy crashing so badly that we will all one day have to go back to subsistence farming.


However, in the scheme of things that constitute bad boyfriend behaviour, or “deal breakers”, these things don’t even make it into the ball park.

We get told all of the time that in order to be capable maintaining healthy relationships, we must be comfortable with being alone with ourselves.  I sometimes wonder if I have taken that concept far too literally and now find myself unable to sustain the company of another.  Or maybe it is something to do with that whole “loving yourself” caper.  I really did think I was all over that, but I have begun to develop and inkling of late that my initial conclusion on that point was flawed.

Someone told me recently also, that their therapist had brutally (albeit accurately) said to them “No one is coming to save you”.  I agree wholeheartedly with this statement, academically, I understand that we can only save ourselves, but despite that (and despite having literally spent days listening to Eckhardt Tolle and Alan Watts recordings) – I shamefully confess that deep down I think I secretly still thought my knight would come, and that I would be fixed and I would finally find happiness and then live forever after in soul-warming bliss.

I am disappointed to discover that my heart still is not on board with my head, and that there is still much work to be done.

I know of course, that the work will never be done.

Now I have unwittingly allowed another to get caught up in this mess, and suddenly I feel like I am back at square one.


New Beginnings.


It is somewhat ironic that I have revisited my old blog now, given the contents of my last post, and what has recently happened in my life.  That canister of pick-up sticks that I was so worried would be up-ended? Well it happened, but not in the way you might think.

First, my employer relocated me, my dog and my life to the other side of the country.  Then, I was retrenched.

For someone, who was very comfortable with her life as it existed, this turn of events could easily have been interpreted as “bad”, but somehow, it wasn’t.  Somehow, I coped without any major breakdown breakdown.  Somehow, I found myself re-employed sooner than even I wanted to be! Somehow, I realised that money isn’t everything. Somehow, I realised I was quite unhappy but like a frog in boiling water, I hadn’t realised until I was cast free.

So what did I learn about myself during this process?

  1. My friends and family are amazing – at no point did I find that any friends “disappeared” and in fact, they all rallied to help me stay connected in networks that might lead to a job.  They booked holidays and shipped me off to a mountainside to drink red wine and eat copious quantities of cheese and chocolate.  They assured me that I was worthy of employment and that being retrenched is in no way a measure of my abilities.  They shared their own stories of retrenchment and/or feelings of fear and insecurity.
  2. I am stronger than I thought – I am not going to pretend that there weren’t tears, or moments of silent, gut clenching panic, but for the most part I felt I coped with the news pretty well.  Here I was, recently deposited into a new city, with barely any networks and even fewer friends.  Regardless, after receiving the news on Friday, by Monday I was on the phone contacting as many people as I could to set up meetings and flush out any potential opportunities for any kind of work.  I cannot deny that this helped.
  3. I can drink A LOT of coffee – a natural side effect of “networking” is that most of these meetings happen ‘over coffee’.  Also, the more coffee I drink, the more I like it so yes people – it IS addictive!
  4. I want an exciting life with lots of changes – OK this might have been a different story if I was still looking for work and running out of money.  However, as it turns out, on one level I secretly enjoyed the little rush I had from not knowing what was coming next.  I experienced a little thrill from the prospect of starting something new and knowing that I could completely change my path right then and there if I wanted to.  And I am even more pleased to discover that I am now feeling much more open to new changes and perhaps some calculated risks in future. Watch this space!
  5. I am a positive person – I used to think of myself as having a slightly negative outlook.  Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I still do grumble, but I surprised myself with my relatively upbeat attitude through the whole process. Not only that, but having made that realisation, I now find myself noticing more and more when I am being negative, and I try to flip those thoughts.  Sometimes I still need help from external parties, but even then, I am more likely to accept the “positive” counter argument instead of sticking to my guns about how crappy XYZ situation is

I also discovered that when the thing you dread the most happens, the worst moment is actually the anticipation of the thing.  In the moment it happens it kinda sucks, sure, but immediately after that, comes a wave of relief.  Because now the thing has happened, and you are still alive and the only thing to do is to accept it and move on and move forward.

If you had asked me this time last year where I would be, not in a million years would I think to respond “living on the other side of the country, in a new job, and starting up my own consulting gig on the side”.

So now that I know I cannot really control my future with a vice-like grip, perhaps it is time to relax a little, breathe and just start focussing more on today.




36078607_sIn the past few weeks I have witnessed the two extremes of the end of marriage.  The tragic promise of “’til death do us part” coming to fruition, and the heartbreaking reality of separation following the annihilation of trust. I have also listened to a first-hand account of something that falls fairly squarely in-between….that of the amicable separation (if I dare to believe that such a thing truly exists at all).

I have also been extremely conscious of my reaction to all of these scenarios, and I have to admit that I am rather disappointed in myself.  For, though there was of course empathy, I cannot deny that one of the overriding emotions I experienced in each of these scenarios was: Relief. Relief that it wasn’t me. Relief that my cosy little life is still intact.  Relief that I know exactly where I am, what I am doing, and what my plan is to face tomorrow.

If that wasn’t selfish enough, the another major emotion I felt was: Fear. Fear, upon the realisation that despite the fact that I am single, it is inevitable that somehow – perhaps soon – my life too, will be upended like a canister of pick-up sticks, and scattered in indiscriminate chaos.

I truly hope when that day comes, I am capable of of handling it nearly as well as these dear people, whose grace has been humbling, their strength inspiring, and honesty so refreshing.

In the meantime, how does one, standing on the outside, provide any kind of assistance or comfort? It all seems so futile, so trifling, so…unsatisfactory.

37. I’ve Got It All Figured Out

Copyright: <a href=''>bumann / 123RF Stock Photo</a>Thirty seven.


Oh, how I have been ruing this day. I have tried denial – attempting to convince myself that it wasn’t happening.  I have wailed into my pillow, sifted through the regrets of failed relationships, berated myself for unsuccessful ventures, admonished the many missed workouts and few too many spoonfuls of Maggie Beer’s burnt fig ice cream.

I have gazed in defeat upon the soft lines around my eyes in the mirror, and the streak of grey hairs that has quite suddenly morphed into a blanket of silver, which in some lights, does not blend with the blonde nearly as well as I thought it did.

Last year I tried to pretend my birthday didn’t exist, though I did invite a few girlfriends to brunch and then promptly burst into tears the moment one of them sat down at the table.

But this year – despite my anticipation of it feeling so much worse – somehow….I don’t.

I feel …OK!

I feel indifferent to the number and its significance to the “downhill run to 40”.

Though the title of this blog is somewhat misleading – by “all figured out” what I really mean is that I have figured out that I don’t have it figured out, but that’s alright, because I’ve also figured out that no one else has it all figured out, either.

My life is definitely not perfect, I still work too much, I still haven’t pitched an article to a publication (despite having dozens of ideas of things to write about), I still haven’t lost that extra 8kg, I still haven’t renovated my backyard, I still don’t walk my dog EVERY day, and I still cant do more than 3 unassisted chin-ups (well actually, I cant do any at the moment due to a rather painful neck & shoulder problem).

However, it’s never going to be perfect so, I might as well strive to be better, and otherwise enjoy the bits that are good now.

Because tomorrow it might be different again.


Minimalist Me

Copyright: markusgann / 123RF Stock Photo

About 51 weeks ago, I wrote a post about quitting complaining.  I challenged myself to quit complaining for a month.
I think it worked well, I discovered that by thinking with intent, I was able to flip my negative thoughts around – for the most part.

However, after a while I stopped “thinking” about it, and almost exactly 1 year on, I have realised that I am back to my old tricks, whinging at every opportunity to anyone who will listen.

It’s just pure coincidence of course, that I happened to have noticed this almost exactly one year on from my original post about the subject, but as I was randomly flicking through my blog the other day, I took it as a sign that I should revisit this little challenge.

But I’m not stopping there.  No, no. In typical Serene style I am going to make the challenge even more…er…challenging!

I recently viewed a TED talk on Minimalism, and found it rather interesting. I clearly have been living under a rock because when I plugged “minimalism” into Google I was overwhelmed with the reams of blogs, websites and YouTube videos of people sharing their experiences, providing advice and giving tours of their homes and closets (burglars – don’t even bother!).

What I found most interesting was how people reported that adopting a physically minimalist lifestyle, translated to their mental and emotional state.

Living with less meant they experienced more.

I myself am becoming increasingly frustrated with how cluttered and disorganised my life feels. Hell, my entire blog seems to be centred around my discontentment (and my neverending search for satisfaction). At first I thought it was the crazy work hours, then I thought maybe I was trying to do too much with my time, but I continued to forge ahead, feeling proud of myself for my strength and resilience to handle anything and everything.

Then, about 4 weeks ago I woke up in agony – my neck was completely locked up, I had pain radiating down my arm and pins & needles in my fingers.  I couldn’t work out, I could barely move – and sitting at a desk 17 hours a day was painful and mentally draining.  Suddenly, dealing with all of my stuff seemed like a huge effort- all I seemed to do was move stuff in my house – it was everywhere! Socially, I just couldn’t face the thought of going out, I was too uncomfortable.  I was sleep deprived.  I began to cry at the drop of a hat. I became anxious when faced with simple tasks.  And I began to fear this is all my life would ever be.

I am too young to feel this old!

Having seen 3 chiropractors in the past month I think I have found one who may actually be able to help my neck & back (without the traditional “cracky” techniques, thank you!! Ugh!).
So, at least that is a positive move.

It is not enough to fix the physical pain though, I need to fix the inner turmoil, I am tired of feeling at war with myself.

My first step to overcoming this, is to simplify my life and de-clutter.
I am a single person living alone in a 2 bedroom home, and every room, every drawer, every shelf of every cupboard is packed with stuff.  I don’t even know what most of it is, half the time I don’t even open said drawers and cupboards!

My wardrobe is bursting with clothes, I have actually run out of hanging space and drawers and have resorted to shoving pieces in corners…(and if you knew how big my wardrobe was, you would be horrified to hear this).

Quite simply, my house is a mess, and so is my life.

Little wonder why I cannot focus on work tasks, much less the personal activities (writing, blogging, studying…) I have no room to breathe, no space to think.

So this weekend, I start on my closet.  I have no doubt it will take me the entire 2 days – perhaps even longer – but  am looking forward to offloading!

After that, the study.

After that the kitchen & linen press.

How much stuff does one really need to survive, anyway?

Now, I am not going extreme minimalist here – I know some people challenge themselves to live on only what is absolutely essential – to the point of getting rid of all furniture, etc.  At this stage, I am more focussed on reducing my stuff and learning what I need and don’t need to be comfortable without turning my home into an empty shell.  There are things that I don’t intend to ditch- my shoes being the first on the list.  I have a lot of shoes (ok maybe I can afford to relive myself of a couple of pairs), but I also know I cycle through all most of them fairly regularly depending on the season.  I think I can probably survive very happily on about 10-20% of my clothes (excluding sportswear), but I love to change up my shoes and though I don’t need them all, I do like to wear them.

This is the great thing about a challenge such as this – it is tailor made to you as an individual.  It is about what makes you feel good.  Not only that, it is an evolving thing.

I am told that the first step is to understand why I want to do this.  This will apparently help when I am struggling with decisions of what to toss:

1.  I feel claustrophobic in my own home
2.  I can never find things
3.  I want to stop buying things in an attempt to fill an emotional void
4.  I want to clear my head
5.  I want to save money (more on this later)
6.  I want to learn to be content with what I have and be present
7.  I want to feel valued for me, not how I look (this is more about me understanding the value of me)
8.  I want more time (i.e. I want to spend less time worrying about what to wear/looking for things/frivolous shopping)

In conjunction with this, I am putting myself on a shopping ban. I am allowing myself a couple of well considered purchases – which I will consider further over the weekend.  But apart from a couple of things I can think of right now, I really do not need any more things.  Really, I earn enough, yet somehow I always seem to be making credit card payments, and never have enough money to just take a holiday if I want to, and though I have a modest emergency fund, if I were to lose my job it would be panic stations to pay my mortgage past the first month.

I realise that this might be the situation for many, but really, I have no excuse. I am not rolling in it, but I earn enough to be in a better position than this.

It is high time that Adult Serene woke up and took control of her circumstances, rather than being controlled by her circumstances.


Breaking Barriers

The irony is not lost on me…that I did a writing course last year and my last blog post was just over 6 months ago…

But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing, I just haven’t been writing publicly. I have started carrying a little notebook with me everywhere I go (I just cannot get inspired to type out notes on my smartphone).  It’s supposed to be my little book of inspiration, whenever I read something that sparks a thought, or overhear a conversation in a café, or restaurant (I have become a shameless eavesdropper!), out comes the little book.

I’m hoping that this might eventually inspire me to actually talk to strangers, but I haven’t mustered up the nerve yet.  However, it would be great to just strike up a conversation with a random stranger and get an entirely new perspective on something, or learn something you never knew, or simply just enjoy a great story about someone else’s incredible life.

The hard part, undoubtedly, is then translating this onto paper (or computer screen).  I ran into the woman who taught the writing class recently, and she asked me if I had pitched anything.  I was embarrassed to admit, no. However, unlike most other people in my class, my fear is not of having my pitch rejected…rather, having it accepted and then having to stump up with the goods! What if I write a piece of absolute rubbish? What if they give me a ridiculous deadline? What if I cant find a suitable expert to interview? What if I ask the wrong questions? What if? What if…?

These thoughts were still whizzing through my head this morning as I was driving home from the gym, when on the radio they announced that it was Alan Alda’s birthday.  They then played snippets of an interview he did Andrew Denton in 2009. Alan was discussing his relationship with his mother, and how despite her schizophrenia and the paranoia and fear that went along with that, she still managed to instill in him a deep sense of self-confidence. “I still”, he said “at this age, start to do things that I can barely do, but I believe that somehow I will be able to pull it together and manage to do it, fairly well.”    This, he says, keeps him “fresh”.

I work in the field of Innovation, and I talk to a lot of people who work in start-ups, and they often say similar things. They have an adventurous spirit, they enjoy the thrill.

I used to think I wasn’t like that, but now I think: we all are. Of course, no one likes the feeling of anxiety before giving a big presentation at work, or before they run a race that they have trained weeks- maybe months -on end for. The reality is that the little bit of fear motivates us to work harder, and if we fail, there is still satisfaction in knowing we attempted it and perhaps a feeling of accomplishment anyway for the fact that we survived.  If we succeed, well…that is a real buzz and suddenly we are hooked on wanting to do it all again.

I know that when I eventually deliver my first successful pitch and publish my first article, I will be hooked.  I just need to force myself to push through that first barrier.