Autumn is a good time to stop and reflect on your year so far. For me, the timing is particularly poignant as my closest friend Jayne, took her own life this summer. The lessons I’ve learnt over the last nine months during the depth of her despair will stay with me forever.
Whereas in previous years (and even entire decades), work had been a number one priority for me, at the start of 2018 I set the intention to find more balance in my life.
I wanted to make sure I worked, played and relaxed in equal measures. This meant reviewing and exploring all areas (including family, health, friends,clients) and making sure that none of them felt neglected. Now, after the summer and three quarters of the way through the year, it feels timely to check in with this intention.
This year it is particularly poignant for me to reflect as my closest and dear friend Jayne, took her own life this summer as a result of a prolonged episode of severe clinical depression that became impossible for her to endure.
Jayne and I met 28 years ago and we spent much of our 20s, 30s and 40s together. We’ve had the most amazing friendship and have seen much joy, laughter and fun over this time. We’ve also had our share of troubles and pain that we supported each other through. With my fiftieth birthday fast approaching, it feels strange to be starting this new chapter without her but I know that the lessons I’ve learnt over the last nine months during the depth of her despair will stay with me forever. So, here, I’ve shared some of them.
Know who is important to you and be deliberate about staying in touch and spending time together
My intention to find a greater sense of balance in my life included spending more time with loved ones. I’ve been asking myself “who haven’t I seen and who do I want to spend time with?” It shakes you out of complacency to look at who you would regret not being available for if they were to vanish from your life.
I am so happy I set this intention, as it meant I had some precious moments with Jayne. My plan is to continue spending as much time as possible with those who are important to me, giving this real priority.
Replace “work” with “contribute”
My friend’s death has stirred my thoughts around another important commitment to myself this year: a commitment to giving back and doing things that are really meaningful to me. I’ve found that by replacing the word “work” with the word “contribute” I’ve adjusted how I prioritise my life.
For me, this doesn’t mean quitting work. It is a shift in attitude and mindset. Now, whatever I’m working on needs to feel like a contribution that matches my own purpose; to support people in living life fully. If anything comes along which doesn’t match this purpose, I am better able to focus my efforts elsewhere, on something more meaningful than previously, when finance and security were more of a priority for me.
Expand your contribution beyond the world of work
My desire to contribute, rather than to work, doesn’t stop with paid assignments. It is also about broader causes that resonate with me. As a result of Jayne’s death, one of these is raising awareness around mental health, carrying on the important work she started. Mental health problems often mean people close down and don’t talk to others, so Jayne was very passionate about making it ok for people to share openly. I’m no expert on mental health so I’m not sure how I’ll play a role in progressing this cause, but I’m going to learn and do what I can to support.
Appreciate all you have
A further lesson that was reinforced for me by Jayne’s passing was the importance of not taking anything in your life for granted. I’ve written about gratitude before in my blogs, but seeing how difficult things became for my friend, really reinforced the relevance of it. Appreciation is such a significant part of living a happy life.
In particular, Jayne taught me to never underestimate the value of my mental health. I shared this when I spoke at her funeral:
“So, my friend, you told me not to take my mental health for granted and to appreciate what I have – and in your honour I will live well and talk openly about you and what you have suffered in the hope I can support others – just as you wanted.”
Don’t delay your happiness
I also interpreted this year’s events as a reminder not to put things off. Delayed happiness is one of the biggest causes of unhappiness. If there is something you want to do, go for it. If the change you are looking to create feels too much, ask yourself what small thing will send you in the right direction.
A great example of this came last week when I was coaching someone who said they love animals and if they had more money would work for the RSPCA. I asked if there was a way for them to incorporate more time with animals in their current lifestyle. This might seem an obvious question but it opened them up to multiple possibilities that felt achievable today, instead of in the future, bringing more happiness into their life now. Equally, when I wanted to set up my own coaching business, I started using my annual leave to do small bits of team coaching, taking me in the direction I wanted to go, bit by bit, one step at a time.
Whatever your passion, don’t wait to be happy.
I hope this post has prompted you to stop and reflect on your year so far. There are still four months to go so if there are any areas that you’d like to spend more or less time on, or any people in your life who deserve a little extra attention, there’s still time to take action.