This New Year has been tricky for me.
I love the opportunity to draw a line, start afresh – and I have a history of relative success in keeping up my resolutions: seeing them as a periodic opportunity for inspiration along a continuous path of self improvement.
But, yes, this year has definitely proved difficult.
The picture-perfect myth
This year I have been hesitant to push ahead with drawing a line under the last few months; slow to let go and face forwards. But why? I’ve realised that I keep dwelling on a selfie from New Year’s Eve, a year ago: me, smiling, heavily pregnant, sat next to my beaming husband and our one year old (who was delighted we let her join an – apparently – impromptu party when she woke up just moments before midnight).
That image punches me in the gut.
We were so happy. Tired – yes, but proud of recent achievements. New job for my husband, baby successfully settled in nursery, I’d survived the return to work and – best of all, we’d found out that I was pregnant again on little Bumple’s first birthday. Not only that, but I’d successfully taken all the necessary drugs to get us through the first twelve weeks of pregnancy successfully.
We had worked hard and were enjoying the fruits of our labours. Life in the coming year looked picture perfect. All of my family-life dreams were about to come true. We were invincible. Or so I thought.
In July 2018 we reached a peak of marital bliss whilst on holiday with the two girls. My husband took me to see a beautiful town hall near my parent’s home in France. He told me he had researched it – we could hire it and announced that he would like for us to renew our wedding vows there on our fifth anniversary, just over a year away. Such a beautiful idea, so romantic and a fitting tribute to celebrate with our girls!
Harsh life lessons
I could never have predicted it but everything was about to change.
Just a few weeks later, I discovered a ticking time bomb was hiding amongst the foundations of our marriage. It detonated without warning. Our relationship and our families were devastated. I threw myself into protecting our girls from the fallout: the eldest was two, the youngest just five months old.
I don’t yet know what to say about that time. Except that it was obvious that I needed to file for divorce. I filled out the application on our fourth wedding anniversary.
As often happens with life’s greatest challenges, you learn far more from difficult times than when things are plain sailing. Life truly is unpredictable. There are no guarantees. At any moment – factors outside of your control can tear through your life, leaving you to pick up the pieces and fashion a new normal.
Irrespective of the satisfaction level you feel with your life, the idea of starting again or changing direction can be extremely scary. And if the worst does happen, paralysis can set in as we struggle to make decisions about what to do next.
How I approach life within the “new normal”
There are things in life that we know to be true in theory, but can easily ignore. Here are five of the fundamental truths which are pillars of my post-crisis “new normal.” They guide my thinking now.
- You must not take anything – or anyone – in life for granted. In the bubble of our daily routine we have a false sense that we can predict the future – and that we have some control over it. However, everything can change in an instant. The reality is you don’t have control over others’ actions. And other people’s choices will impact on you.
- You are responsible for your own happiness. You have a responsibility to yourself to establish what really makes you happy and pursue it. (But – if you need to drastically change direction in order to live authentically – please remember that your choices impact others. Be kind, be thoughtful and choose a path that will take you where you need to go, but minimises the collateral damage for others.)
- If the worst happens and your life falls down around your ears, you will, indeed, survive.
- No change is all bad or all good. But, even if change is traumatic or unwanted: look for the opportunities, the benefits and things to be grateful for. And always look for the funny side; take every opportunity to laugh!
- Don’t let what others’ actions define you. Rather, let it be how you respond to what happens to you in life that defines you. You always have a choice, even if it is a difficult one. Don’t be a victim.
- Focus on deciding what you really want from this life and go for it. Everyone is afraid of change, and this fear can be paralysing – but change will happen anyway. You can’t always control what happens to you but you can shape what happens next. Knowing what you want from life will give you purpose and guide you. Life is too short not too.
The one question you need to keep asking yourself
“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”
I cannot tell you how many times I have asked myself this question in recent months. My husband’s behaviour left me in a state of anxiety and vulnerability as I could no longer imagine my future; my long held dreams were ruptured and I had yet to create an alternative.
I was initially paralysed with fear – but then circumstances overtook me and I knew I needed to step up, be the adult for the sake of my children and face up to some life changing questions.
Whenever paralysed by the thought “I don’t know what to do next” – I asked myself what would I do if I wasn’t afraid. This has helped me see more clearly what I actually wanted to happen. It is so easy to lose sight of this when change impacts your children and wider family; you can become drawn into what everyone else wants and this can cloud your thinking.
In times of difficulty, unable to predict the future, it is often impossible to know what is for the best and this can again cause paralysis. But I have realised is most important is to keep moving forwards by making decisions and taking action.
I also stopped myself from getting stuck in the emotion of each difficult moment by taking a longer term view. I constantly reminded myself that whatever I felt at this very moment would soon pass, and I would feel very differently in a week, a month, a year… This new habit has reduced my fear of each difficult emotion, allowed me to feel it and accept it – because I knew it was temporary discomfort – and move on.
I can’t guarantee that I have made all of the right choices – but I am safe in the knowledge that I have, at least, had the courage to make decisions and act upon them. And those decisions have put me on the path to getting what I want. I have to be positive and view this huge change as an opportunity to reset the direction of my life.
Be the change you wish to see
I am now considering making life changes that would have been too radical to contemplate in my “old normal”. I realise that I had closed my mind to scarily big dreams – but now – I am feeling the fear and finding the path for better things ahead.
Only now have I identified what I really want from life. I am working towards being more intentional than just surviving the working week, paying the bills and living for the weekend. To be clear – I was genuinely happy in my old life. But now, I want more. I want to dream bigger – both for myself and as an example to my girls.
As Gandhi said: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. …We need not wait to see what others do.”
So, this year – make bold, ambitious resolutions for your life. There is no better time to dream big – and, no matter what, act as though you are fearless.
To read about my New Year’s Resolutions for a Fearless 2019 click here!
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