Don’t forget how to live post-COVID

I was asked to fill in a survey this week by a local one-woman firm whose clothing I just love. And the final question was ‘What do you love to do in your spare time?’.

And this question threw me and has given me food for thought about how my life has changed.

I have always identified as an extroverted, people-person who loves to socialise and hang out with family and friends. This would always have been my stock-standard response to said question.

But we are now in January 2022. In the past 2 years, I can count the number of social activities I have been to on two hands. We watch a number of streaming channels in the evening, and on weekends I walk along the beach where I live and read … a lot. I scroll social media and watch make-up tutorials on YouTube.

I now follow 200 accounts on Instagram! I do daily yoga and Pilates. And I am very fortunate to have a great relationship with my husband and we love each other’s company. In fact, one daughter stated recently that we were each other’s ‘ride or die’ – and I took that as a great tribute.

Do I have no friends? Absolutely the opposite. I still have many friends that I went to both primary and secondary school with and others that I have worked with in the past. But I hardly ever see them.

So what has changed? I had to ask myself if I was just overly anxious about COVID, and the answer is no. I just want to be sensible. I don’t want to be sick, and I don’t want to possibly infect others either. I think it’s time now time to re-evaluate my priorities.

My health is great. My family’s health is great. I’m fitter than I’ve been in years. I’ve got 2 years of internet shopping that needs a fun occasion to go to. And I feel it’s time to find some middle-ground between the person who loves to catch up with friends, and the person who finds it easier to stay home all weekend because it’s safe.

The authorities are saying we’re at the peak. Whilst that may be true, I think many of us have nervous systems that are at the bottom of the trough, and it’s time to change that.

It’s not going to be easy – but nothing worthwhile ever is. I’m going to reach out to friends and make some dates to catch up. Nothing too much at first. It’s time we started to plan what our new normal is and to strike a happy medium between hermit and social butterfly.

We don’t want children and grandchildren growing up fearful and missing out on some of the fabulous experiences that growing up allows. We can achieve this if we try.

Is there anyone that you need to contact and catch up with?

Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

Why New Year Resolutions Do Not Work

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

It’s that time of the year again. Time to reflect back on the year past and decide what we want to achieve in the full new twelve months that are ahead.

How many times have you done it? You’ve set some goals for the New Year, only to give up half way through January?

You might have even got really creative in that space between Christmas and New Year and written them down, turned them into affirmations, created a Vision Board or plastered them on post-it notes and put them on the bathroom mirror and the fridge.

People set goals or make resolutions for all sorts of reasons – saving money, getting a new car, losing weight, being less negative, finding a new job, starting an exercise routine. But what goes wrong?

Is the goal too big?
Is the desire not strong enough?
Tried it before and historically you know that you’re going to give up?

It’s actually all of these things, and none of these things.

Anyone can make a statement about a change that they’re looking for. But if the daily behaviour doesn’t change, then nothing changes.

Goals aren’t magic, vision boards aren’t ‘woo woo’ and affirmations aren’t spells. They all work, but only when coupled with some sort of behavioural change that is a step in the direction of the goal.

If your goal in 2022 is to purchase property or a new car, then you need a savings plan coupled with a meeting with your bank.

The latter will help with a budget, then you can begin to work out timelines for the purchase, based on your income and outgoings (some of which you may be able to reduce).

During this time you can look around for property, decide where you want to be and can afford, and then start to visualise your dream.

If it’s a car, you might talk to someone who knows about the best brand and model for your budget. Then you can start to look at dealers or second-hand sites. Don’t lose sight of the dream, just keep doing all the right things to make it happen.

Because of what we have all been experiencing for the past 22 months, and COVID-19 is nowhere near finished with us as we head into 2022, one of the best goals that you could set for yourself (which is what I am doing) is to look after your health.

This includes physical movement, mental awareness and eating well. Let go of negative thought patterns, and stay away from negative people if that is at all possible.

Don’t hang onto every sound-bite of news. Choose carefully who and what you follow on social media. Get more fresh air and move your body every day. Read good books, learn something new, do your own research.

Optimal health doesn’t just come down to luck and good genes. It takes small changes in behaviour coupled with a desire for the right outcome. Just put into place the daily practices that will get you to where you want to be both mentally and physically.

It doesn’t have to be 7 days a week. Start with every second day and I can guarantee that the changes you experience will drive you to do a bit more.

But without the right behaviours, the goal is just empty words. What are you prepared to change?

Stay safe in 2022 and as they’re saying all over social media “I hope you experience COVID at a time that fits into your calendar”.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

A New Start

Where I work the whole staff get together every quarter for a two hour working lunch.  It’s my meeting – I write the agenda and I try to incorporate presentations, exercises, videos or stories into it to inspire and motivate.

In April 2019 I was standing in front of the staff and getting them to do an exercise that Shawn Achor (author of The Happiness Advantage) often runs with large groups of people.  In groups of 2 facing each other, Person No. 1 is instructed to remain neutral in their face and show zero emotion.  Person No. 2 is to look directly in their eyes, and for 7 seconds smile genuinely and warmly at their partner.

The outcome obviously is that No. 1 finds it impossible to have their face remain emotionless.  This is because we are wired for human emotion and warmth.  We swapped the roles and the room turned into raucous laughter, as this time they knew what to expect. It was a fun experiment, but the next thing that happened surprised me.  I found myself telling them that I would be running a course starting the following month for anyone who wanted more happiness in their lives.  I can be prone to spontaneity, but this was way off my radar.

Fast forward one month and I’d found the time to research and put together the first lesson.  My husband and I tried out all sorts of names for size – he created me a website – and Achieving Happiness was born.  It was built on the mantra of:

Happiness is a choice – I want you to make that choice and influence others

Happiness is contagious – I want you to spread it

April 2020 was the last time I blogged.  Easter weekend.  In the space of weeks our lives all turned upside down by COVID-19.  I’ve had more time to write, but I lost the drive.  How could I expect anyone to believe that achieving happiness is possible, when so much can be taken away so rapidly?  I think I felt I was trite and delusional, rather than passionately optimistic.

So much has changed in me over the past 20 months.  I now realise that we can achieve happiness, and then be sad, and grieve, and worry.  And then we can get back on the horse and make the choice for happiness and spread this uplifting contagion instead.  Be careful.  Be kind.  Some are not ready.  Some are in dark places.  Maybe all you can do is sit with them.  Be with them.

And always remember “If you see a person without a smile, please give them one of yours”.

A New Start

A New Start

Where I work the whole staff get together every quarter for a two hour working lunch. It’s my meeting – I write the agenda and I try to incorporate presentations, exercises, videos or stories into it to inspire and motivate.

How much time have I got?

Time. It’s one of the greatest equalisers. We all get the same 24 hours per day, and what we choose to do with it is largely up to us.
There has been a shift over the last few years in how people relate to their use of time and how they communicate about it.
This blog discusses that.

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It was the worst of times, it was the best of times

Please forgive me. I’ve taken a little literary licence with this blog title; a play on the opening line to Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

For those who haven’t read it, it’s a novel about Dickens’ belief in the possibility of resurrection and transformation, both on a personal and on a societal level.  Timely, as Easter is known as a time of resurrection and renewal in the Christian church.

And that’s where my thoughts are right now. Easter weekend 2020. Everyone’s lives turned upside down by COVID-19.

No travel, no socialising, no camping, no family get-togethers. None of us could have imagined at Christmas this situation we now find ourselves in. Lives, jobs, businesses, families, dreams … all changed. And neither the virus nor the imposed restrictions discriminate. We are all in the same boat.

So how do we find the positives in our everyday lives? What good is going to come out of this? We are all going to be changed – forever. The world cannot go back to its former ‘normal’.

I can obviously only speak for me, and what I see in my life. What I’m noticing though is that the electronic devices and social media platforms, that for so long now have been a barrier to old-fashioned social interaction, are being used to bring people together once more.

My workplace has the majority of staff working from home. Productivity has improved and people are having to communicate better. We use Zoom to get together for Friday drinks which lowers the feeling of isolation for those who live alone.

I haven’t been able to see my 86 year-old mother in over a month. However, we talk every day, and on the weekends we FaceTime. The ability to see each other as we talk means that we really feel as if we’ve spent quality time together, and we can read the body language to pick up on how we’re both doing emotionally.

My girlfriends and I have 4 o’clock Happy Hour on a Saturday using Zoom. We take the time to put on makeup, earrings and a nice top, and have a great laugh over a couple of glasses of wine.

There are a number of us who went to school together following a friend’s virtual trip of the UK. As they couldn’t actually travel she is posting daily on Facebook where they would have been and what they would have done, complete with photos of the location. It’s a fun journey, especially as I know some of the locations so well.

I’d really love to hug my daughters right now and tell them that my generation will leave the world a better place for them. They are both productively working from home and we communicate regularly.

It does seem like the worst of times.

My heart goes out to so many right now. Those who have lost loved ones. Those who are restricted to home, when home is not a safe place for them. Politicians worldwide who look tired and drawn. Those whose businesses will never bounce back. Bushfire victims who lost everything just 3 short months ago. They all need our support and love now more than ever.

I give gratitude for our amazing medical staff, and their support services, who are treating the sick and putting their own lives on the line every day. We don’t know when we are going to come out of this, we’re all unsure, and we will be paying for the economic stimulus for many years to come.

But it could also be the best of times.

Really tuning in to what others need. Neighbours supporting each other. True connection between people. The incredible, and very rapid, improvement to worldwide air quality due to a reduction in cars on the road and planes in the air.

The crystal clear canals in Venice after only one week of shut-down. Rapidly pivoting business models. Science moving quickly to find a vaccine. Time to read a book when ‘being busy’ used to be worn like a badge of honour. Societal, economic and mathematical modelling on which to predict, plan for and eliminate another threat like this, or worse, in the future.

Let’s work together to turn this into the best of times for the future. We can do it. This is our world, we are intelligent thinking and feeling beings. We can choose to be positive, optimistic and yes, even happy, and spread that energy outwards to those who need us to uplift them.

As the Buddha said, ‘Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.’

Photo by Edwin Hooper on Unsplash 

How much time have I got?

Time.  It’s one of the greatest equalisers.  We all get the same 24 hours per day, and what we choose to do with it is largely up to us.  It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, how rich or poor you are, an hour is 60 minutes and it never changes.

There has been a shift over the last few years in how people relate to their use of time and how they communicate about it. 

For instance, there was a time when people wore their busy-ness like a badge of honour.  Too busy to socialise or get home to spend time with the family.  Too busy to take a holiday.  Too important to not be checking emails and taking phone calls when sitting in a café.  Checking the phone last thing at night, and first thing in the morning.

But the mindfulness, health and wellness movement has made us start to rethink this attitude.  And it is just that – an attitude. 

Most communications will wait.  If someone needs you urgently, they will find a way to get your attention. 

Arianna Huffington has made it her mission to get people to stop sleeping with electronic devices in the bedroom.  And she knows first-hand the consequences of trying to beat time.  Working 18 hour days to start the Huffington Post website, she passed out from exhaustion, breaking her cheekbone and cutting above her eye on her desk on the way to the floor, waking up alone in a pool of blood.

This was a wake-up call for Arianna, and she has used her influence and experience to share with the world the importance of balance, wellness and taking time for yourself.

In December Kirk Douglas (of ‘I am Sparticus!’ fame) turned 103 years old.  This is a remarkable life-span, and it got me thinking over my Christmas break.  If I live to be his age (and why shouldn’t I?) then I still have 41 years left.  That’s the same length of time since my 21st birthday, and I was really only growing up and coming of age until that time.  It seems like so long ago.

So I began to reflect on some of the things I have achieved and learned in the past 41 years.  Some stand-outs to date:

  • Traveling half way around the world to begin life in another country
  • Meeting the man I have spent the last 40 years with
  • Saving enough money to buy our first house
  • Returning to Australia with a very English husband and two babies
  • Bringing up our two girls to be strong and successful women
  • Having a number of different and interesting jobs
  • Learning to use computers, the internet, social media
  • Studying for a degree for 6 years while working full-time and bringing up children
  • Being there for my mum since my father died
  • Making and losing friends and still knowing people that I met when I was five
  • Buying and selling properties, moving many times, upsizing and now downsizing
  • Traveling to and holidaying in many interesting locations (but I’m nowhere near done yet).

So whilst I know that many people my age think that they are in their twilight years, the reflection process above has me knowing that I potentially have so much time still stretching ahead of me.  I want to use this time to continue to learn, make friends, have fun, travel, work, contribute and share my happiness.

And if I don’t have that much time, and none of us know how much we have, then I will already be living each day to the fullest.  No complaints about being too busy.  No neglecting happiness to focus on achieving.  No ignoring quiet time or important interactions to check emails.  No putting rest or relaxation on hold to do what seems urgent but not important.

I urge you to do a stocktake of some of your great achievements to date and things you still want to achieve.  Make the most of every day.  Find happiness in the little things.  Relish the time stretching ahead, but never take it for granted. 

And remember, no one ever said on their death-bed ‘I wish I had spent more time at the office’.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Goodbye 2019

It’s 31 December 2019. Last day of the year. Some are saying (most actually) that it’s the last day of the decade.

Tomorrow, 2020 rolls in. So many strategic plans are based on this milestone year that’s coming.

Often the analogy of 20/20 vision is played up. I’m going with the crowd, railing against my sensibilities, and looking at tomorrow as being the beginning of a new decade. I imagine that we’ll call it “the 20’s”.

I was working in the government technology space when we all held our breath and welcomed in the year 2000. So much money was spent expecting the worst. Nothing happened. No planes dropped out of the sky. Computers still booted up at 12.01am on 1 January 2000. The electronic world kept turning.

2010 was ushered in without any panic or fanfare. New decade? So what. It’s been an interesting 10 years and we all now have access to so much information; more social media, a variety of communication channels, immediate access to entertainment, vicariously living through other people’s insta stories.

But 2020 seems to hold so much more promise. There is a growing movement of people who are, I believe, more socially aware. There may be more media at our fingertips and the anonymity of the internet. Many of us are becoming more cognisant of the need to limit our time on it, and to hold back on the nastiness, remembering that we need to walk in another’s shoes before criticising them.

In the media there is more awareness of diversity and difference and the need to hold to strong values human decency.

We can buy more stuff, more easily. We don’t even need to leave the safety of our own home to purchase. But there is a growing movement of minimalists that are influencing many of us to think twice before buying more things. And to sort through what we already have, dividing it into what we need, what brings us joy, and what we can discard. Recycle. Upcycle. Donate. Opshop.

Houses are growing larger and many first time buyers are critiscised for wanting bigger and better. But at the same time this is balanced out by the tiny house movement. Those who have chosen to down-size their lives and their environmental footprint, and loving the freedom that it brings.

And me? I’m going into 2020 with a huge sense of gratitude for the life that I have been blessed with. The past decade has brought many ups and downs for me and my family, as it will have done for everyone.

I lost a job that I loved and thought I would have until retirement. I’ve moved house (and subsequently downsized) 3 times. I lost my dad and had to help my mum move and get used to life on her own, finding her own unique form of independence. I’ve lost friends and supported people through their own heartaches.

But on the upside, I’ve some great people in my life. I’ve had amazing trips both overseas and within Australia, and the life-changing experiences that travel brings.

I’ve watched my daughters blossom into strong, independent and talented women.

I’ve forged a new career in the private sector and had some big wins.

I’ve met new and interesting people who have taught me great lessons.

I started this blog and my website Achieving Happiness last year because I realised that we try to teach life lessons like leadership and mindfulness, but sometimes people just want some pointers on how to be happier, everyday. I’ve found new authors, bloggers and influencers who inspire me.

And I am basically happier and healthier than I have ever been in my life.

I see 2020 as the doorway into a new decade full of promise. There is so much to be thankful for, and whilst I am aware of some of the weighty issues that we currently face worldwide, I believe that if there is a tsunami of positive energy, we can turn the tide.

Happiness is more than just slapping a smile on your face and pretending that everything is okay.

It is a core belief that the optimistic and positive thoughts of the many can overcome the negativity of those who will just ride the wave of the attitudes of the pessimists.

Be thoughtful and be kind. It will come back to you.

I hope you have had a good year and a good decade and that you are also going into 2020 feeling positive about your future. Happy New Year!

Credit: Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Happiness Advent Calendar

I want to put this disclaimer up front because I know that Christmas is a Christian holiday, and not everyone celebrates it.  But this is not about Christmas per se, it’s about daily things that you can do from the first to the twenty-fifth of December.

It’s the end of the year and all around me people are just hanging out for the Christmas break, or end of year holidays, to rest and recharge before starting 2020.  But there is still more than three weeks to go as businesses knuckle down to get work done before the break, and people start the preparations for that one day that some of us celebrate as Christmas.

So I thought it might help to keep your happiness levels up if for the month of December I give you a list of things to do for yourself on a daily basis, sort of like the chocolates that children are opening out of Advent Calendars. 

Start on the first of December and my sincere hope is that this will take you through to Christmas Day, uplifted and optimistic for the year ahead.

1. You have to be number ONE in your world and look after yourself so that you have the strength and resilience to care for others.  Take time today to do something just for you.  Write it down in the morning and check it off tonight.

2. Reach out to two people in your world today with a phone call, email or hand-written letter.  Make it about them, not about you.

3. Write down three things that you are grateful for today.

4. Do four minutes of stretching exercises – calves, stretch and reach for the ceiling, bend forward aiming for the floor (or your knees, or your toes). 

5. Take five minutes today in the silence to close your eyes and focus on your breath.  Don’t force the thoughts out of your head.  You are human so they will keep coming.  Just gently guide your thoughts back to focusing on your breath – in and out.

6. Read six pages of a book – either fiction or non-fiction.  Try to make sure it is uplifting, or that it will capture your imagination to think outside of your normal life.

7. Take time at the end of today to focus on one really good thing that has happened today.  Journal about it. 

8. Aim to get eight hours of sleep tonight.

9. If you have a sedentary job, or life, make sure you get up and walk around at least once an hour today.

10. Drink at least two litres of water today.

11. Now that you have taken time to do the last 10 days, take the time today to write down what difference this discipline has made in your day.

12. Eat whatever foods you want today, but only eat until you are 75% full.

13. Go through the entire day today without complaining about anything.  Look to see the good in every situation.

14. Carve out just thirty minutes today to go for a walk.  Look around you.  Take in the scenery as if you are seeing it for the first time.

15. Practice the Ritz-Carlton 10/5 Rule today.  If you are within 10 feet of someone, make eye contact and smile at them.  If you are within 5 feet, smile and say hello.

16. Declutter something in your life – your office, your bedroom, a cupboard, your magazine rack.  Get rid of what you don’t want or need.  It is holding you back.

17. Donate some money to a charity of your choice today.  December is a really tough month for this industry.  You can do it online.

18. Perform a random act of kindness today.  You do not need to know the receiver.  Just do something nice for someone.  It doesn’t have to cost money.

19, Actively stay off, or minimise your use of, social media and electronic devices today. Don’t touch devices for two hours before you go to bed, and do not sleep with them in your room.

20. Start to think about your Ikigai (see Lesson 3) by asking yourself today, and writing it down, these four things – What do I love?  What am I good at?  What can I be paid for?  What does the world need?

21. Do not watch, listen to or read any news today.  It has been proven that people consuming just three minutes of news in the morning are 27% more likely to report a bad day at work, 6 to 8 hours later in the evening. 

22. Take the time to reflect on your past week, and set some goals around how you want to see this week unfold.  Write these thoughts down.

23. Go to one of those shops with gift trees for children who will get nothing on Christmas day.  Buy a gift to leave under the tree.

24. Work on your personal discipline by doing something different today.  If you don’t normally make your bed – make it.  If you eat the same every day – choose something healthy or vegan or drink tea instead of coffee.  Discipline is like a muscle that will strengthen by putting it under stress.

25. Celebrate today by you having had the discipline to follow through on this list for the past 24 days.  You have done well. 

I hope that you have found some things that you will continue to do into the New Year. 

It is my wish that you have a wonderful day, no matter what you are doing, and that you are kind to yourself.  You deserve it.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

To Read or Not to Read…that is the question

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

I am a consummate reader.

I come from a family of readers. My husband comes from a family of readers. Our children had their own library cards long before they were even enrolled in school. It must run in the family.

My brother and I went to the local library (in our pyjamas I’m ashamed to admit) with Dad every Monday night when he came home from work, while Mum was making the dinner. Once we had chosen our books we went and played on the swings until Dad had enough to get him and Mum through the week.

Now I have another confession. I currently have five books on the go. Four are hard copies and one is electronic. And not one of them is a murder mystery, a Russian classic, a biography or one of Oprah’s bookclub short-list, which are genres that I love. I generally keep these for holidays or over my Christmas break.

Some of the authors in the first two favourite genres are David Baldacci, Lynda La Plante, Clive Cussler, Tolstoy, Doestoevsky (don’t you love how the classical writers only need a surname). But frankly, I’ll read anything.

As a child, when the cereal were on the breakfast table, I would have read every word on the back of the box. Before smart phones, if I was stuck in the car waiting for something, I’d pull the car manual out of the glove box and read that.

I love the quote credited to Mark Twain in “Thoughts on the Business of Life” section of Forbes magazine in 1948,

“The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them”.

But is my retention top notch? I have to say no. We’ve just been watching the Netflix docuseries “Inside Bill’s Brain: Bill Gates Decoded” and Bill has a satchel with 24 books in it at all times, which he carts around with him. He reads 50 books a year, and he puts me to shame with a whopping 90% retention rate.

Now I fail to understand why Bill (excuse my familiarity but I feel like I know him so much better now) carts the actual books around with him when he could have one device with thousands of books at his fingertips. These days I have books on my iPhone and my iPad, just in case I’m waiting for someone or something and I want to read.

I also have a Kindle Paperwhite, which I love. If I can’t sleep I can read without having to turn a light on, and without the further disruption to sleep that comes from regular electronic devices. I don’t know what it is that Kindle did, but there is no further sleep deprivation when using a Paperwhite.

The downside for a booklover? It takes approximately five seconds to search on a new book title, and less than one second to hit the purchase button. Then voila! New book to read in less time than it takes to say the word ‘download’.

What I am currently reading? Here’s the current five and there is a reason for all of them, which is more what I wanted to share.

The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle. [paperback]
Gifted to me at Christmas and recommended to me by a couple of people, the contents are important to what I am trying to achieve in my job.
[on Kindle]

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. [paperback]
We just did the 24 lessons of Masterclass with Malcolm. He was in our lounge for many evenings and he now feels like a friend. He is one of the most fascinating and intelligent people I’ve come across, and I just love the way he thinks and expresses himself. I’m listening to his podcast, Revisionist History, in the car. I’ve listened to him interviewed by Oprah and Russel Brand. Obsessed? Perhaps a little.
[on Kindle]

Before Happiness by Shawn Achor. [paperback]
It was Shawn who got me started on my Achieving Happiness journey, and his books are always going to have a place on my bed-side table.
[on Kindle]

Dare to Lead by Brené Brown. [paperback]
This is the one I’m reading on my Kindle and I love Brené’s work. I have read many of her books, (five #1 New York Times bestsellers) but this one distils much of her research into actionable steps, ones that I want to get good at. It is about how you cultivate braver, more daring leaders and how to embed the value of courage in an organisation’s culture.
[on Kindle]

The 4 Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling. [paperback]
This book only arrived last week and I am like a junkie trying to resist the strongest urge. I have read the back cover, the testimonials and the Foreword. I absolutely know that this book is just what I have been looking for to solve a complex problem that I have. I know that 4DX is going to be part of my vocabulary. It promises to teach me how to achieve superb results. How could I resist!

Do you have the same issues as me?

What are you currently reading?

I must sign off now, as I can hear too many authors calling my name.

When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.

Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus.

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

Appreciate Your Good Health

I’ve spent some time this week reflecting on whether you can be happy when your body is not in the best of health. Logically it seemed to me that you can’t be.

Most of us are miserable when we have a cold or flu, and I’ve always claimed that if I’d had morning sickness with my first child then the second would never have been conceived.

However, the evidence does not support my initial thoughts.

There is a lot of evidence to show that terminally ill people can be happy and contented. Think of photos of children who have lost their hair to the brutal treatment for cancer, who are smiling in photos and show kindness to each other, their families and the staff who care for them.

There are adults who battle through enormous illness, focussing instead on the good days, the people in their lives and the gifts that they have been blessed with.

I shared a house for two years with an amazing woman with cystic fibrosis.

She spent a lot of time in the first year in and out of hospital and in the second year was waiting for a lung transplant. During that year she was away for many months when a set of donor lungs that were a match for her finally became available.

Never once did she complain, bitch or whinge. I never saw her sad or annoyed – even after one false alarm where she was fully prepped for surgery and they decided she was not a match. Not when she was unable to work for months, play sport (competition softball) or go for a walk. She never complained. She was always happy.

I only found out 18 months later that they had given her only weeks to live when the transplant finally took place.

This week she was part of the softball team that won the Queensland Cup. She played 8 games over 3 days. She said that the game is not the best part for her, it’s the memories of friendship and fun that she loves the most. She is one special person.

I give thanks constantly for my better than optimal health. I see a GP less than my regular check-ups at the dentist, ophthalmologist and for skin cancer. I do not take this for granted. I take no medication and I embrace gentle exercise and healthy eating.

The regular check-ups are invaluable in making sure everything is in tip top working order, and it amazes me that for 61 years my heart has kept up a regular beat and my lungs keep pulling in the oxygen I need.

This week I had my ego and confidence tested when I had 2 skin cancers removed – one from the top of my chest and one from my temple. Both pretty visible, and both (right now at least) pretty ugly. I was also proudly sporting a new, spring hairdo when I went and I wasn’t even phased when the surgeon took his clippers my hairline.

Not at all phased. Not disappointed. Not sad. Not negative. Not hiding away. (Personally I feel sorry for the people who have to look at me currently, but no one has complained!)

I am totally grateful for our fantastic health system that allows me to deal with issues when they arise. I am grateful for the fantastic surgeon who should get awards for the incredible stitch-work he does when he operates, knowing that in a year there will be no sign of the scarring.

I give thanks for everything that has been made available to me up to now, so that I feel good about the process and the healing.

But I do want leave you with this. Go and get regular health checks. Be proactive with your health. And most importantly, have your skin checked and never ignore even the smallest signs that something is out of whack with your body. Arresting something early can be a life-saver.

Letter To My 21 Year-Old Self

photo by Erwan Hesry

Forty years ago this month I was preparing to go off on what I thought at the time was the biggest adventure of my life. 

As milestones often do, this has prompted me to reflect on what I would tell my younger self if I could write myself a letter and mail it back in time, given the benefit of hindsight.

Born in England to parents who migrated to Australia when I was five, I grew up in this beautiful country without grandparents to visit on the weekend, or cousins, aunts or uncles to share Christmas with. 

Plenty of my school friends had these relatives, so I knew what I was missing.  The result was that even before I hit my teenage years I had a longing to connect with my country of birth and the many relatives that I knew about from my parent’s stories, letters exchanged and ‘important day’ phone calls shared.

This absence of relatives and longing for England does not mean that I had an unhappy childhood.  Far from it.  But I think what it did was it gave me a goal.  A life goal.  I knew that when I was old enough to travel I would go, and I had a sense of independence that I would go on my terms, not as part of a family holiday.

Fast forward to my 21st year, when I had not only the ticket to go but also a best friend to travel with.  However, the circumstances at that time were not perfect. 

Firstly there were some serious problems in my family that threatened to block my plans to leave home.  Then, with six months to go and savings to bolster, the company I worked for closed down. I had no foreseeable prospects for work and a gaping hole in my planned budget.

Looking back, I don’t ever remember wallowing in self-pity. I was positive that this trip was going to transpire.  I do remember my determination to get another job and to honour both the ticket that I had and the goal that was burning inside of me. 

The prospect of the dream I had carried in my heart for so many years was too strong for any negativity to steal it away.  I did get another job for the six months.  I did save money.  My family did support my strong desire to leave. 

Even a serious car accident coming home from my last day at work, only days before departure, did nothing to get in the way of my goal. 

So what would I write to my 21 year old self today about what she thought was the most exciting adventure of her life? Here is a list of just some of my thoughts.

1. Life itself is a great adventure.  Enjoy each day as if it is the greatest gift you have ever been given.

2. Do not let anyone or any set back destroy your dreams, goals or visions for your life.

3. Just because you have achieved this goal, do not rest on your laurels thinking everything you set out to do will work out how you expect.  Sometimes the universe has a different plan for you.

4. Experiences are worth so much more than possessions, gold, money and ‘stuff’.

5. People and relationships are precious – treat them as such.  But if they are not supporting you, your happiness or your well-being, you may have to love them and let them go.

6. The journey of 12,000 miles will take you to meet the love of your life and the best friend ever that you could share that life with.  Keep your eyes peeled for that person.

7. Life is not always going to be smooth sailing.  You will not move forward if there is no wind in your sails.  You have to be prepared to dance when times are great, and hunker down and look for the lessons when they are not.

8. Learn from your mistakes.  They are part of the school of life.   Do not punish yourself.

9. If you don’t learn some lessons the first time around, they will keep coming and knocking at your door.

10. Focus on the positive more than the negative.

11. Be grateful for the blessings in your life.  If you’re not sure what they are, start to write them down.

12 . If you live in the moment and you are optimistic about your plans for the future, then you will live a long and happy life.

As I flew off in 1979 for a 12 month working holiday, who would have ever guessed it would take me 8 years to return with a husband and two beautiful daughters, and that I would have the platform through which to tell that story today?

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