What are you doing with your life?
That was the question which stopped me in my tracks following my cousin’s cancer diagnosis.
That was the question which made me leave my corporate career…twice.
It is the question I now know has been simmering around in the back of my mind, and was behind the way I was feeling about my 49th birthday in December. I didn’t realise it at the time, I just knew I was dreading the implication of entering my 50th year of life. All I could think was
‘I have fewer years ahead of me than I do behind me’
and it sucked.
Now it’s the end of January and I have no idea where the month has gone. What have I been doing with first 31 days of 2020? The feeling that time’s passing too quickly is back.
I could write you a list of stuff I’ve done and tell you how busy I’ve been. I know I’ve done lots of stuff and been really busy, but that’s just quantity. What about quality? What about how I’ve experienced January? If I’m totally honest I haven’t experienced January at all. It has come and gone, and tomorrow it’s February.
They say ‘Time goes quickly when you’re having fun’ and I believe that’s true. I also believe that time goes quickly when you’re busy. The two are not equal.
When you are doing something you enjoy and are completely absorbed in, you enter a ‘flow state’ which psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi describes as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake.” Being busy on the other hand, is doing something because of what it gets you – reward, status, acceptance, success, something crossed off the to-do list, you get the gist.
Anyway, I’ll dive into flow states and our obsession with busy-ness another time.
What I’ve realised is the question is coming up because I’ve been being busy more than I’ve been in flow, and it’s time for me to re-evaluate what I’m doing with my time.
Probably unsurprisingly the start of my 50th year got me thinking about my life so far.
Looking back I realised the past few decades have been pretty eventful.
Shortly before my 30th birthday my first marriage ended. At 29 I was a married Mum of one, with a career. When I turned 30 I was a single-parent, with the same career. When I turned 31 I was an unemployed single-mum, as I’d taken voluntary redundancy after my employer was bought out.
Shortly before the start of my 40th year, I married again, and I took voluntary redundancy again after my next employer was bought out. This time I left my career and at 40yrs. of age was teaching Pilates classes, whilst trying to navigate the delicate balance of bringing two families together.
I’m now entering a new decade, still happily married, but living in a new county and the kids have left home. I’m making my way as a Transformational Coach, as well as supporting people bereaved by suicide.
Looking back has helped me look forward with hope.
Yes I’ve had more endings, and tears than I’d imagined a grown-up would have. But I’ve also had new beginnings, and changes of direction. Each decade has bought its’ own challenges, but each has helped me grow and experience things I’ve never experienced before.
I understand now that the question is not only asking the big picture question about what I am doing with my (whole) life, it is also a reminder for me to pay attention to what I’m doing each and every day. After all, how we experience our days is how we experience our lives.
I mentioned in my last post that winter is the time for going inwards, for reflection, and for course corrections. I now know I need to adjust my sails, I need to find a different way to be, a different way to experience my time. I am grateful for the reminder.
With this in mind, this morning I wrapped myself up in a blanket and sat under our veranda with a hot mug of tea, felt the breeze on my face, and listened to the birdsong. Later as I walked the dog, I was aware of every footstep I took, just as I was aware of the sunlight appearing and disappearing through the trees as the clouds passed overhead. I felt a deep sense of peaceful calm running through my entire being.
‘What are you doing with your life?’ doesn’t have to have a profound or life changing answer, it can simply be asking you whether you’re aware of what you’re doing right now. The important thing is to like the answer to that question.
Although he didn’t put it exactly in these words, Ed Sheeran’s song “Supermarket Flowers” always reminds me that the little things matter just as much as the big things when it comes living.
a life that’s been loved is a life that’s been lived
a life that’s been lived is a life that’s been loved
We need to pay attention to the things that we love, and I believe that includes the life that we have, all of it.
At the end of the day, I don’t think any of us want an epitaph which reads….
Much missed, she got a lot done