Tag Archives: Growing

Should I stay or should I go? (Knowing what you want is sometimes harder than you think)

P1040433 low resEarlier this week, I resigned from my job of five years.

Or at least, this is what would have happened if things had gone according to plan. Instead, what happened is this:

Over the last few months, have been getting an ever bigger urge to shake things up. For no particular reason – the job itself is ok. But in work like in relationships, sometimes the love goes, and you know it’s time to move on.

So I told my boss how I felt – that this relationship had run its course, and that I thought we both deserved better.

I carefully rehearsed the argument in my head.

I gathered the courage to speak to her.

She was super nice.

She said that she really would like me to stay, and she is open to restructuring my job according to my suggestions so that I am happy there.

Hell – I wasn’t entirely prepared for that. I thought I was ready to stick to my decision. I’d been thinking about it for a while already. But when it came to actually making it real, I got cold feet and didn’t know what to say, apart from “Yeah, I’ll think about it”.

As I have mentioned before, I’m not terribly good at decision making. There are so many factors to consider, not all of them very rational. And of course it is infinitely easier to complain about what’s wrong, than it is to try and make it right.

What I truly, desperately want now, is a couple of months off, to sleep away the stress of a rather intense 9 to 5, and not to hear the word “job” for a while. But that’s not all.

Right now in my head, pulling me in the opposite direction, there is also:

what I feel I should want (a steady income)
what I think would be acceptable (wait until I get another job)
what I can’t possibly know or control (how long will I be out of work? what job will I find next?)
And crucially, what I am afraid of (the list long – will I ever find another job? will I look stupid? etc)

My situation is not particularly bad. Some of it is good, some of it is bad. And I don’t know about you, but the listing of both in two opposite columns never really did it for me. Somehow, all this is clouding my feelings, and standing in the way of me knowing what I want. I am at a standstill.

I am stuck on the fence because I know that, just as when you don’t know what you want, you never get anything, the minute you decide what you want, it tends to materialise. Be careful what you wish for.

I have come across useful advice from several coaches like Martha Beck here or Marie Forleo there, and a number of wise friends, who say you should just try and feel your answer.

Forget the constant dialogue in your head. Close your eyes, relax, and think of option A. How does it make you feel? Do you feel a wonderful feeling of peace, warmth or expansion in your every cell? Do you feel cold, nervous, choked, like you are shrinking?

This is almost failproof, as it quickly becomes obvious which scenarios tickle our happy cells, and which make us want to cry and puke at the same time (sorry).

The next step of course, is finding the courage – the faith – to act on a feeling.

I don’t feel quite there yet. Don’t mind me, I will probably remain on that fence for a while. Then, if I’m still not sure, I will pick either option and stick to it, because I know at this point I have no other choice but shake the status quo.

After all, once you’ve had a taste of the future, you cannot go back.


READ ON Other similar posts you might like:
How well do you know yourself?
The importance of Being You
Analysis Paralysis 

The importance of Being You

P1030681 low resI don’t know if any of you have read it, but this week I’m still reading Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project, which chronicles the author’s year-long project of researching the topic of happiness, and applying her theoretical findings to her everyday life.

It’s an entertaining read – if anything because the author sounds (to me) like a typical slightly-neurotic New Yorker, but also as a formal legal clerk she is down to earth, logical and systematic in a pursuit that most people might approach in a more lighthearted, spontaneous way. But it is precisely by being authentic and genuine in sharing her own experience (my favourite bit of genuineness – on page 23, she admits to not liking showers) that she becomes extremely likeable .

Before starting the year of experimenting, Gretchen writes down two interesting sets of rules she will have to live by. One is her Secrets of Adulthood, the truths she has learnt to trust such as “It’s ok to ask for help” or “Soap and water remove most stains”.  The second list is her own Twelve Commandments for life and includes wisdom such as “Let it go”, “Do it now” or “Be polite and be fair”.

The one item I have found inspiring above all is her Commandment One: “Be Gretchen”. Silly as it may sound, it is powerful reminder that true happiness is only found when we can be ourselves, in the mundane and the everyday as much as in our larger goals and plans.

For those of us who spend a lot of time doing what we should do instead of what we want to do, it feels positively revolutionary. So, I’ve made “Be Cecile” my rule no 1 too. I might not have written the other rules yet (sad as it makes me, I might have to admit that “being Cecile” does often equal not being very organised), but I HAVE decided that this one is not an option, it’s a must. Be Cecile. Be yourself, no matter what. And let’s see what comes out of it. 


You don’t know what you have till it’s gone

P1040368 low resI was recently reminded of this simple but universal truth: we often fail to appreciate the good things in our lives, until it’s too late.

My family is about to sell the beach house our grandparents built in the 1960s as a holiday home. Back then it was on the outskirts of a provincial seaside town but, fifty years of gentrification later, it finds itself at the centre of a fashionable holiday resort. The place has changed beyond recognition – the forest is replaced by housing developments, the beaches that were once the preserve of local families are a playground for the Parisian well-to-do and celebrities. The restaurant next door now offers a chauffeured car service to drive patrons to their cars further down the road.

So, we have been priced out, and we have to sell. But my point is not to lament gentrification or the woes of the middle classes. My point is this: I knew the house would go at some point, but I never expected it to be so soon. I knew all of us were going less and less as us ‘children’ grew into adults who live far away. I knew holidays increasingly mean exotic places and the idea of a prolonged stay with four generations under one roof no longer appeals. I knew the house was sitting empty a lot of the time, and even my grandmother no longer enjoyed going there much. Still, I didn’t expect her to suddenly decide to put it on the market just before the summer.

I never imagined it would be gone before we all could go one last time. Before we could have one last family barbebue. One more breakfast looking at the sea. One more siesta under the pine trees. One more run down the sand dune and a last swim before lunch.  Those little things that were happy landmarks of my childhood and early adulthood and will now be gone forever.

If I could have gone one last time, I would have savoured every single second of every day. The simplest moments would have seemed so perfect. I wouldn’t have had as many petty complaints. I would have photographed the house under every angle. I would have really taken in the smell of the sea, listened out for its distant sound. I would have delighted in the company of every single family member.

One day, my grandmother will no longer be there. Neither will my parents nor others I know and love. One day, I will no longer be there. Do I really appreciate everything I have?

I came across something along those lines today, in Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project“I didn’t want to keep taking these days for granted. The words of the writer Colette had haunted me for years: ‘What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realised it sooner.’ I didn’t want to look back, at the end of my life or some great catastrophe, and think, ‘How happy I used to be then, if only I’d realised it’ “.

Are there things in your life that are so close to you that you fail to see their true value? Loved ones you wish you’d show more patience and kindness towards? Is there anything you could think of, that would show them how much you care?

If so, makes sure you do it now. And again tomorrow. Remind yourself how lucky you are to have such riches in your life, and celebrate them fully so that if one day if you came to lose them, you would find comfort in the fact that you have loved them to your heart’s content.


Books that will change your life: “Finding your own North Star”

P1050278 low res

Marta Beck is known as America’s no 1 life coach, yet she calls life coaching “a profession so cheesy it fairly screems to be covered in nuts (and some would argue it is)”. She’s one clever woman, who trained as a Chinese scholar and taught Sociology at Harvard before dedicating herself to coaching and writing bestselling books. I am reviewing this one first as it is the first one she wrote, but all of them are certainly worth a read.

The book

Finding your own North Star: How to reclaim the life you were meant to live first came out in 2001 and was reprinted over ten times since. It is a good start to get into Martha’s coaching techniques, as it is a straightforward, pleasant read with a number of easy to follow exercices. While her later books draw more on intuition, meditation and (what seems like) magic, North Star is essentially down to earth and easy to get into.

The big idea

All of us have an Essential Self, which we are born with and knows what we like and dislike (what we might consider our “true self”), and a Social Self, the part of us who helps us function in society by taking into account practicalities, rules, other people’s feelings. A healthy balance between both is necessary to a happy life.

The idea is that some people get so good at developing their Social Self while trying to please other people or to avoid conflict, that they have lost sight of the Essential Self completely. The book helps readers find out about both selves, how they affect their lives, and how to get back in touch with their Essential Selves to rebalance their lives and be happier.

What’s great about it

In my view what sets this book apart of many other self-help books with a similar message is that it’s actually a very pleasant read – as well as being a good writer Martha is quite funny. It’s also well documented, and written by someone who has obviously done therapy work with hundreds of clients before writing. So you not only benefit from all the real-life examples in the book, but get a sense that hers is advice that works. The exercises are easy to follow and very effective. The fact that Martha has been through similar problems herself makes it all the more credible.

Why it will change your life

You will find this book particularly helpful if you are in a situation where something is off – in your work or relationship or life in general – but you can’t quite pinpoint why. You might feel miserable everyday without a clear reason, or feel drained or trapped in a situation when you should be happy. The book will help you see that a/ you are not alone and b/ there is definitely a way out of it. The approach is that there is not anything “wrong” with you that needs to be fixed. The emphasis in on focusing on who you already are and allowing you to grow in a way that is true to you.

Martha’s compassionate advice, which she clearly gained from going through difficult times (anorexia and chronic illnesses, breaking free of a strict Mormon community, divorce, raising a child with Down’s syndrome) is very powerful, and her voice will stay with you long after you turn the last pages.

Finding your flow

P1050058 low resWhen you are unhappy in your job but unsure what else would make you happier, the one piece of advice you are likely to hear often is to try and find what puts you in flow, and concentrate on these activities in your job and daily life. Like most brilliant ideas, it is both very simple and surprisingly hard to follow. How do you know what puts you in flow? Chances are that you – like me – might be in the place you’re in precisely because you’ve lost track of what it is that makes you come alive, so powerful as this advice may be, it may take you a while to see how it applies to you.

Flow (a term coined by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi) is used to describe the feeling of enjoying an activity so much that time disappears while you do it, so that if you start at say noon, you look up 5 minutes later and it’s dark outside. It implies that you can concentrate on it effortlessly and feel energised, rather than drained, by the task. When I started looking for what puts me in flow at work, I couldn’t find anything. My first thought is I must be stupid (obviously), but I now realise there is nothing that puts me in flow at work, so I wasn’t about to find out. In fact, for a while the only true flow activity I could ever remember being involved in was playing the piano – which I haven’t done in 15 years.

It wasn’t until I came across Julia Cameron’s excellent The Artist’s Way (soon to be added to the Bookshelf) that I began to reconnect with what truly comes easy to me. I dabbled a bit in painting and photography – just for the fun of it, because I thought I might enjoy it – and after that I tried my hand at poetry and writing. And that’s when my mind blew right open. Writing seemed to not only come easy, but to happen almost “without me being there”, as if I could just sit back and take dictation coming from someone else, and feel as refreshed after an hour of writing as after a good nap. This was exactly the same feeling I’d experienced playing the piano, a deep relaxation coupled with a strong and vital connection with the world.

What puts you in flow? My boyfriend forgets all about the world when he is cooking a complicated meal, or when he dances to very loud disco music, and my housemate can spend entire days without  a break gardening in her allotment. What does it feel like for you?

If you’re having difficulty thinking of something, I found the trick is to, little by little, start noticing what makes you feel good, and not be afraid to try out new things. If you think you might like to do painting, or fashion design, or horseriding, go and do it for a day. Trust your intuition.  Give yourself permission to be a beginner, even if – especially if – your inner critic might say you are too old/ not talented or any other excuse it comes up with. If you keep following your intuition, you will eventually end up finding your flow.

Everyone is unique, but for many of us flow might feel like deep contentment, a relaxing connection to the people and things around us. You may experience the feeling that there is no time – the present merges with the past and the future – no separation between you and the universe. In fact, flow is a similar to the physical sensation people feel when they are deep in meditation or prayer. For this reason I think there is something deeply sacred in flow – and that is why it is worth searching for.

So in my humble opinion, you shouldn’t be too worried if you can’t find any flow activities at the office, because you are so much bigger than your job. But when you do find what truly makes you come alive, you owe it to yourself to spend as much time as you can doing it. When your start doing this, your life will be transformed and start to feel a little bit more magic every day.

Going round in circles

P1050155 low resDo you ever feel as though you keep being confronted with the exact same issues, faced with the same problems every once in a while? I don’t mean every 3 minutes/ hours/ days (though that can happen too if you get into overthinking mode, or what I call “washing machine” mode), but rather every few months, or years. The same issues which you thought you had resolved creep up again to your surprise and annoyance, and just when you thought you’d moved on you find yourself back to square one.

I,  for one, have a few recurrent themes. Having lived as an expat for years, I go through terrible bouts of homesickness. Although I generally like my life abroad, if some important event hapens in my family I start questionning my entire life choices in a very painful way. Usually the discomfort vanishes after a few weeks and I let go. Life goes back to normal… until the next time. Or I have periods of feeling extremely unhappy with otherwise okay my job; or periods when I feel temporarily disconnected with myself. Naturally we all have our own personal themes, and I’ve heard this cycle of coming back to the same problems over and over described in two different ways that are equally helpful: going along a spiral, or walking a labyrinth.

Going along a spiral refers to the fact that although you may feel as though you are going round in a circle, you are actually circling up, moving in increments to a higher lever each time. Each time you come to the same problem from a higher position, because you have all the knowledge you accummulated since previous time you were there. The only reason you may not notice the climb is that it happens slowly but constantly.

Walking a labyrinth is a meditation technique that consists of pacing very slowly within a circular structure marked on the floor until you reach its centre. Unlike a maze, you can go out at any time. In one of her recent newsletters, life coach Martha Beck shared how, while walking a labyrinth she got really annoyed – what was the point of walking, to seemingly get nowhere? She then realised that in the labyrinth, as in life, walking straight to the centre was perhaps not the point. Sometimes, the detours that we take are what takes us to the core. As we keep walking we slowly reach our destination, but the meanderings are what get us there.

Just because we feel we are going round in circles with those issues that keep coming up, doesn’t mean we are not making progress. These very circles are necessary to our growth. You just have to trust that as you are going through them, you are moving to higher grounds, getting closer to your core.