What I learned from the year I decided to establish more balance in my life.
Every December I like to look back over my progress and set some fresher intentions for the following year. In 2018 three significant things happened to me that made it rich in learning:
My close friend Jayne died
I turned 50
I visited Mozambique to support an education programme
Alongside these events, this was the year I decided to live by the mantra of “contribute, play and relax”, as opposed to pouring my energy into “work, work, work”. This decision, combined with these three experiences, has defined my year and transformed my perspective on how I can lead a fulfilling life. Below, I’ve distilled what I’ve learnt and shared some questions, which helped me reflect on personal learnings and intentions for 2019.
What and who are you grateful for?
It is easy to come across all Pollyanna when you ask this but my gratitude ran deeper than ever before in 2018. My close friend Jayne ended her life as a result of severe clinical depression. In the months leading up to her death she taught me not to take my mental health for granted, something I’d never fully considered before. I also learnt to appreciate the importance of enjoying and being there for loved ones. I spent precious time with her before her death; which I’ve written about in this post.
My trip to Mozambique also brought out strong feelings of gratitude, reminding me of the pleasure and privilege I experience in everyday life from things like hot showers and a nutritious diet - luxuries that are denied to many.
Where can you contribute?
Contribution has been an ongoing theme for me in 2018, as this was the year I decided to replace the concept of work with the idea of contributing. This has been about finding more meaning in my life by being more deliberate about what I do and spending time on things I feel really make a difference. I still ‘work’ but have more of a sense of the reason why I do what I do. Each time I take this approach, I find I get back more than I give. For example, I went to Africa to support education, but I came back educated myself, having learnt valuable lessons about gratitude, personal resilience and generally gaining a much broader perspective.
Where is your focus?
Another way that Jayne’s death affected me was by reminding me to focus on what really matters because life is short and it is easy to get caught up in things you’re not truly passionate about, leaving you feeling overstretched and drained. Focus is key to deciding how you want to spend your time and making you more resilient. If you understand the ‘why’ behind what you do, you can endure the ‘what’. Here are some points to remember if you’re not sure how to stay focussed:
Ask yourself who in your life you would regret not spending time with if you could not see them anymore.
Reevaluate your approach to work: do you know why you are doing what you do? Is it in line with the things you value most in life and your sense of personal purpose? If not, it might be time to re-prioritise.
Remember it’s usually about trade-offs. What’s the most important thing? This means you will have to say no to some things to prioritise others.
Set your intentions at the start of the week to stay focused and ensure you don’t get sidetracked.
How can you “lighten up”?
As someone who has dedicated the last few decades to “serious” work I’ve decided I want to blend play, contribution and relaxation in my next decade. Play is more than taking my nephew to the park or my nieces for supper (although they are some of my favorite things in the world). It’s about not taking life so seriously, laughing, smiling and lightening up in the face of the intensity life can bring.
Part of the being 50 has been acknowledging my ageing process with lightness too. I’m coming to see that although it brings significant changes such as the (often unspoken) menopause, I am also a lot more experienced and wiser than I was in my twenties and thirties. I could not enjoy the opportunities I have today without my years of experience, which includes successes and mistakes. So in aging you both lose and gain things, which feels like a fair exchange.
When do you relax?
I’ve just been running a programme on leading sustainable growth, where we talk a lot about resilience, trade offs and prioritisation. The answer to personal sustainability is probably not an annual fortnight on the beach. It is finding time every week where you can restore energy and rest up. For instance, an early night mid week could help prevent exhaustion by the end of the week and enable you to enjoy the weekend without spending the whole of it recuperating.
Where and how do you want to be in three to five years’ time?
Of course, some ambitions cannot be achieved in a twelve month timeframe. Setting yourself some exciting or inspiring intentions for the next few chapters enables you to dream bigger and establish a sustainable path towards them. This might not be a solitary exercise. Who else do you need to involve? Paul (my husband) and I are working towards collective goals as well as our individual ones and are supporting each other in achieving them.
So, to sum up, 2018 has only been the start on my journey towards establishing a blend of contributing, playing and relaxing. As I look to next year I am set to use my time differently, integrating and combining them in everything I do, rather than seeing them as separate entities.. I am also going to add physical fitness. So I’ll focus on four areas: contribution and play, relaxation and movement.
I know life will bring surprises that can change these priorities but by looking at everything in relation to the contribution I want to make and upholding my personal purpose and values, I know I’ll have a much better chance of finding fulfillment in my journey and maintaining my passion, energy and resilience.
Thanks for reading and here’s to a healthy and happy 2019. Let me know your intentions.