May 27, 2014

What Would You Tell Your 16 Year Old Self?

teenager 5   Photo Credit: Nicki Varkevisser via Flickr CC

If you could have your time again, would you live your life differently? Do you have any regrets or would you simply apply the insight you have acquired to get more out of your younger years?

Attending Yve Lavine’s Sweet 16 photographic exhibition a few weeks ago, I have been thinking a lot about the question which framed her exhibition;

What advice would you give your 16 year old self?

While intriguing and thought provoking, it isn’t an easy question. When answering this question it is tempting to try to ‘save’ our younger selves from the challenges we have faced, but there is a problem with this approach.The problem is this:

It is often through the failures and bad times that we discover greater depth and passion for life.

While logically I would like to spare my 16 year old self from some of the challenges I have faced, including heart break and health issues, I realise and appreciate that without these experiences I would not know what I do today. The insight I have gained from the tougher times in life have led me down paths which have increased my happiness and my purpose in life.

My message to my 16 year old self would be this:

In life there will be set backs. Nothing is ever perfect, and nor does it need to be.

As a younger person I was definitely a perfectionist.

The problem with perfectionism is that it doesn’t represent the real world and how life works, and often ends leads to burn out. Perfectionism is time consuming and illogical, as most activities don’t require perfection. It also inhibits adventure, as the ‘fear of failure’ is ever present. Perfectionism truly is a ‘high maintenance’ lifestyle.  

If I had a chance to speak with my 16 year old self, I would tell her that her worth isn’t tied up in ‘being perfect,’ but in living a life of meaning and purpose, and in a way that is not harmful to herself or others.

I would like to tell her that it is okay to stuff up and make mistakes, in fact I would encourage it. I would like to tell her to enjoy the journey as much as the destination and to loosen up, to laugh daily!

Would my 16 year self listen to this advice? The chances are slim to none. She would have ‘known better’ or believed “Those things won’t happen to me!”

This reflective question is not about regrets, but about realising, appreciating and celebrating the wonderful wisdom we have gained along our own life journeys. With this wisdom we can shape our futures, and what inspired and bright futures they can be.

So, what would you tell your 16 year old self? Feel free to share in the comment section below, I would love to hear your answers.

Did you enjoy this post? Sign up to be part of the hope inspired community today.

Jess xxx

May 21, 2014

Redefining Success

image Photo Credit: Sean McGrath via Flickr CC

What does the word ‘success’ mean to you? Do you think you are living a successful life, or missing the mark in some way? 

Last Thursday night I attended a wonderful photographic exhibition in Surry Hills by photographer, Yve Lavine. The exhibition was part of the Head On Festival and was called Sweet 16. Sweet 16 is a powerful project created around the responses women over 60 gave to the question “What advice would you give your 16 year old self?”

A fascinating question, and one that was discussed in a panel conversation and further explored during a question time. During the discussions an important issue was raised; what does being ‘successful’ mean? This got me thinking, “What does success mean to me and is ‘success’ different from living a ‘successful life’?”

When I started out in my writing career my definition of success was forever shifting. It started with “I will be successful when I get published.” Then it became, “I will be successful when I get regular feature articles published.” Then it became ‘I will be successful when I get published in this particular magazine.” Now it has become, “I will be successful when I have a book published.”

As you can see, defining success by specific goals or events is problematic. When we define success by achievements only, our notion of success always changes and our ‘success high’ is short lived. It also means the deep belief that we are living a meaningful life can seem elusive as the bar is forever shifting.  

There is nothing wrong with working hard to achieve goals, but there is another more lasting and meaningful way, to determine success in our lives that provides a solid point of reference.

Living a Successful Life

Some of the people in the audience put forward the idea that no matter what you do with your life, your life is a success when you can say the following things:

“I live in such a way that I make the world a better place”

“I am a good person”

“I live the best life I can, with what I have”

What a powerful idea that a successful life is a life lived with meaning, purpose and compassion for others. What an empowering idea that success is not what we achieve by others’ standards, but how well we have used the resources available to us.

I have written a lot about this topic, and strongly believe that a happy, successful and meaningful life begins by making the most of what we have, not allowing our limitations to be a barrier to happiness or success. 

Added to this discussion was a great comment made by Alissa Thibault, one of the women on the panel. Alissa believed that we needed to reframe the word ‘success’ with ‘fulfilment.’ She explained that living a successful life should be about living a fulfilling life, whatever shape or form that takes.

Defining success in terms of fulfilment means we can be successful at every stage in our lives, not just when we reach major milestones. Seeing success and fulfilment as intrinsically linked frees us to consider our past, our present and our future from a new perspective. We can look at our life from a perspective that is based on passion, purpose and meaning before we look at other common ‘success’ indicators like job titles, big figure incomes or homes in certain postcodes. 

Defining success in term of fulfilment, passion and compassion, means we can move through life knowing that we can always be living our best life. We can move through life never feeling like a failure or questioning the value of the life we are leading. It also frees us to follow a life that brings joy not only to ourselves but to others also.   

What are your thoughts about success? What does living a successful life mean to you?

Did you find this post helpful? Leave a comment below, send this link to a friend, or sign up to be part of the hope inspired community.

Jess xxx

May 14, 2014

Happiness: 5 Life Lessons

1697182584_32ee1e3ca9_z Photo Credit: Losmininos via Flickr cc

Do you ever stop to take stock of your life and reflect on what your life experiences have taught you? Do you ever take a moment to ask yourself “What have I learnt about myself and about life from this situation?”

When we take the time to step back and observe our lives we realise three things. Firstly that we are always learning, secondly that adversity is our greatest teacher, and thirdly that we are wiser than we give ourselves credit for.   

Today is the last in the Happiness Today series. All that I have shared in this series I have shared from my lived experience. I have shared with you what I believe are the four steps to happiness, and along the way we have looked at how we must strive to do the hard work of being honest with ourselves regarding what has happened in our lives and what is unfolding currently. We have also looked at how sometimes that means grieving the losses in our lives and the realisation that our life may not have turned out as we expected.

Possibly a surprisingly ‘heavy’ series on what is usually a bright and bubbly topic…happiness! But the way I see it, denying the complexity and challenges of experiencing happiness only further exacerbates our negative feelings towards ourselves and our life. If we feel that happiness ‘should’ be easy then we start to wonder what is wrong with us and why we can’t ‘get it right.’ We end up baffled as to why happiness seems so elusive. 

To close this series, this week I wanted to share with you what I have learnt as I have moved through the four steps to happiness, lessons that I have taken through into all areas of my life.  

Life Lesson 1

Trust yourself and listen to your own inner wisdom about what you need to live a fulfilling life. You know more about your deep desires and passions than anyone else. There are a lot of people who will say or act as if they know more about you than you do, but trust that you already hold the wisdom you need to take your life to the places you truly desire.

Life Lesson 2

Listen to your body and actively support, nurture and care for it. As much as it feels that we control or dictate what our body does, it really is the opposite. Treat your body with respect and compassion, gratefully aware of all that it does for you day in and day out. Give your body and mind a break and laugh often.

Life Lesson 3

There is great healing power in accepting what has happened or is happening in your life. Acceptance is not about being happy about what has happened, but about releasing the desire to control and change the unchangeable. The opposite, resistance, keeps you stuck and in denial, unable to see what new opportunities await you. Acceptance keeps the flow of energy, ideas and inspiration moving through your mind and body.

Life Lesson 4

We all have limitations. The challenge with limitations is not to ‘fuse’ so much with them that you let them define or confine you. Where there is a will there is always a way. Take what you have and build, expand and grow from there. Great things happen when you use what is available to you.

Life Lesson 5

Your story is not over. While you still have breath, your story is unfolding and the possibilities are vast. No matter how you are feeling about your life, there is still time for change, renewal, healing, hope and new opportunities. Don’t lose heart.

What are your top 5 life lessons?

I hope the Happiness Today series has helped you think through some bigger questions underlying happiness. I hope it has allowed you to approach happiness in a way that is more grounded and real, and not just about ‘thinking more positively.’ I would love to hear what you have found useful and the successes you have had along the way.

Did you find this post helpful? Leave a comment below, send this link to a friend, or sign up to be part of the hope inspired community.

Jess xxx

May 7, 2014

Putting Your Best Foot Forward

footprints in sandPhoto Source: Pattys-Photos via Flickr CC 

I couldn’t wait to get to this week’s topic in the Happiness Today series, because this is when the real fun begins. If we want to start enjoying more peace and happiness, we must be willing to stretch our brains, engage our imaginations and be willing to think outside the box. Step four in my four steps to happiness is about starting a journey of discovery and rebuilding.

Up unto this point in the Happiness Today series, I have said we need to hold off from putting a positive spin on the circumstances of our lives, because we need to give ourselves a chance to be real, to grieve and to feel all the ‘less ideal’ emotions and feelings of life.

Once we have done this (no easy feat), we can begin to rise from the ashes to set our lives alight again, re-capturing our passion and zest for life. This week we start to look for the positives in our lives and build our new foundations based on our capacity and ability. There is only one question we need to ask ourselves in this phase;

“What can I do with what I have?”

I read a book about five years ago which completely changed how I viewed my own limitations in the wake of being diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. If you haven’t read The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby, do yourself a favour and grab a copy.

Jean-Dominique ‘wrote’ this book with the one ability he had left to him…the ability to blink his eyes. After suffering a stroke at the age of 43, Jean-Dominique was left completely paralysed in a condition called ‘locked in syndrome,’ a syndrome where the brain is active and functional but the body isn’t.

I couldn’t imagine a worse situation. Even in this horrendous state, Jean-Dominique was able to focus on his one remaining ability and make the most of it. He went on to ‘write’ his book, using a devised communication system where he would blink when an assistant read the letter in the alphabet he wanted to use in his sentence formation.

Jean-Dominique’s story is a very sobering one indeed…

If we focus on what we can’t change or on what we wish were different, not only do we deplete ourselves of our precious energy, but we also fail to see the possibilities and opportunities around us.

If we focus on our abilities, we remain open to wonderful opportunities for development and change, and more importantly, the chance to leave our unique mark on the world.

Tim Ferguson is another person doing just that. I just finished reading Tim’s book ‘Carry A Big Stick: A funny, fearless life of friendship, laughter and MS.’ Tim has a successful comedic career and only a few years ago shared with the public that he has Multiple Sclerosis (MS). There was one particular line from his book that sums up step four in our happiness journey well; “MS does not define me. I wish to define MS.”

There is great power in not allowing our limitations to confine or define us. There is great happiness and joy to be found in celebrating our capacity and what we can make from it.

When we realise that happiness does not lie in the things we don’t have but in the way we utilise and enjoy the things we do have, life becomes lighter, more joyous and more fulfilling.

How can you start to discover a more vibrant life based on what you have?

Start Today

1. What is one limitation you get hung up on?

2. Does this limitation define or confine you in any way? How?

3. How would your life be different if you didn’t have this limitation?

4. What is your greatest strength and passion in life?

5. How could you use your strengths and passion in life to create the type of life you identified in question 3?

Did you find this post helpful? Leave a comment below, send this link to a friend, or sign up to be part of the hope inspired community.

Jess xxx