Tag Archives: Knowing yourself

In transition

P1060009 low resHi friends, I’ve been absent for a while and I’ve missed you. I’ve had a bit of a rough patch in the last few weeks – few months in fact – and so lately I just haven’t blogged as much as I wanted to.

Do you ever have times in your life when things feel a bit empty, when you go through your usual routines – at work, at home, with your friends – but nothing seems to make sense anymore? Things don’t feel as fun as they used to be, like you’re floating around, not really there? Well, that’s what I felt like. Exhausted physically as well as mentally. Vacant. Burnt out.

Thanks to speaking to wise friends (if you’re reading: you know who you are) and with the help of a brilliant book (“Transitions” by William Bridges), I’ve managed to make sense of the situation, a little bit. I’ve made some adjustments – went down to part time at work, set aside more time to look after myself. I let myself off the hook with my usual to-do list and indulged in more restful activities.

As I spent more time in this void – this neutral zone between the old me who was fine and happy, and the future me, who’s not found a new way to be quite fine yet, I’ve learnt to let go. I’ve tried to enjoy the experience and not worry too much about what things might bring.

As for blogging, I realised I’d become so worried about doing stuff bloggers are “supposed” to do – gain readers, share posts on facebook, build an email list – that I was spending more time on that than on the writing itself. Don’t get me wrong, I like to share. But I like to write more.

I feel like a different person now, but I’m in a way more me. I’ve rediscovered old joys I hadn’t experienced in years. I want to do stuff I like and find out what I’m truly good at. It feels like going back in time, but also like moving on.

I’m finally growing into myself, and I wonder what took me so bloody long.

I still want to write. I don’t know if I still feel like bloggin regularly though. I’ll have to take it a day at a time and see.

Meanwhile if any of you out there are feeling out of sorts and a little bit lost – I’m right with you. And we’ll be fine.

 

“You’re okay, really”: what it feels like to love yourself

P1050662 low resI’ve always wondered what self-acceptance feels like. That great big love for yourself you always hear about in women’s magazines, and in the interviews of successful people who seem to have everything you wish for… and will never attain.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve yet to wake up in the morning feeling overwhelmed by self-love. I might wake up feeling love for my partner, my cat, or the world at large. But for myself…

“Love your neighbour as yourself”, Jesus said in what seemed simple enough instructions. Yet, many people, myself included, go through life treating themselves like their least favourite friend, not showing much patience or kindness and occasionally calling themselves names.

So a few days ago, as I was washing my face and pondering a difficult decision (to quit or not to quit my job), I was surprised to hear a gentle interior voice say to me: “you’re okay, really“.

This may seem like nothing to you, but it reminded me of something. I once had a boyfriend who was the coolest thing in the universe, with a cheeky smile and a punkrocker’s attitude to everything. Whenever he’d come across something great, not wanting to lose his cool by showing enthusiasm, he’d say “that’s okay, really”.

Just like him now, I’m not going for full-blown enthusiasm. My inner critic may not be going all BFF on me just yet, but at least we’re finally rooting for the same team. Of course it lasted only a few minutes. But it felt wonderful.

Now let me tell you something. If this happened to me, for no reason while I wasn’t even trying, it can happen to anybody. You better be prepared.

Some day, out of the blue…

You might look back upon your life so far and think you haven’t done too badly, overall.

You might be happy knowing you have done your best.

You might look into the mirror and no longer see the extra pounds or wrinkles (yes, the ones other people swear never existed but you just know are there).

You might see someone beautiful in their own, unique way.

You might look at the work you do and think, perhaps you’re doing enough.

You might no longer feel like a fraud, and let go of the fear of being found out.

IT WILL BLOW YOUR MIND

You will shed the illusion of your own criticism like you take off a heavy winter coat.

You will feel lighter.

There will be a new breeze on your skin, which you never knew was there because of the big coat

You will feel so alive that you will wonder how to contain so much joy.

You will no longer feel the need to be or act different.

You will be at home in your own skin.

Even if the doubts return after a moment, you and I both will know that it IS possible be our own best friends.

And once we’ve done it once, there must be a way we can do it again.

 

READ ON Other similar posts you might like:
Should I stay or should I go? 
Living life at your own pace
Everyday meditations: A cup of green tea

 

Books that will change you life: “Eat, Pray, Love”

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I wasn’t sure about writing on Eat, Pray, Love, seeing that the entire world has already read it – or so it seems – or so they should, because it’s so awsomely good that they made a film adaptation with Julia Roberts. But I recently met a few friends who hadn’t read it yet, so here goes and I hope to convince you to pick up a copy.

 

The book

This is the memoir of American 30-something author Liz Gilbert, as she takes a year off to travel to Italy, India and Bali to reconnect with herself following a nasty divorce and disastrous rebound relationship. Hence the title – hers is a story of eating delicious foods of Italy, praying and meditating in an Ashram in India, and finally enjoying a balanced life and finding love in Bali. All the while discovering new cultures, making awsome friends and going on mini-adventures.

The big idea

The reason I love this book is that it is a honest, hide-nothing account of a woman falling apart, experiencing depression, loneliness and despair, and finally coming through to the other side through spiritual seeking and a good dose of courage.

As well as being authentic, it is also tremedously funny and very clever. It is not only about introspection, but also about beautiful people and gorgeous places – it takes you from the best pizza restaurant in the back streets of Naples to stunning Indonesian beaches – all embraced with great enthusiasm and curiosity. The friends she makes along the way are wonderful and it altogether makes for a really fun, refreshing read.

Why it will change your life

Wherever you’re at in your life (and well, most especially if you are female), you will be touched by at least some of this story. Those 12 months in the company of Liz will make you want to follow in her footsteps and live life to the full. You will find (or reawaken) an urge to travel, to find God, to cherish your friends old and new, to explore and to grow.

You will be reminded of how the simplest things can make you tremendously happy, if you know to appreciate them. 

I can pretty much guarantee you will love yourself and the world more. And you will feel as though you have made a new best friend, in the person the amazing Liz.

I, for one, have read it twice. Are you convinced yet? Let me know what you think.

 

READ ON View my booshelf

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 

Moving on: New life in an old country

P1100155 low resA good friend of mine is moving back to the continent after almost 10 years in London, and I find myself strangely affected.

Not only because I will miss her – she’s one of those rare friends who never seems to find my crazy plans crazy – but also because of the possibilities the thought of going home opens up in my own life.

In the last 12 years I have lived away from France in various countries, I have found that being an expat is a bit like having two lives – there’s the cosmopolitan, stressed-out urban me, who works for a celebrity and does stuff like blogging and yoga. And the small town French me, a daughter/ grand-daughter of several generation of small-towners, who still enjoys spending days in the countryside in the middle of nowhere and the slow pace of everything.

I suspect we all feel a similar divide between where we came from and where we are now, whether we live far away from our families, or whether they are on the other side of town. But living in another country, albeit a neighbouring one, only makes it more obvious.

Just as we compare ourselves to others (even though we know we shouldn’t), it is also tempting to compare ourselves to our “other me”.

What if I had studied nearer my parents and settled to live locally? Would I still have been the same person? Would I have settled sooner, have had children earlier? Would I have somewhat become a copy of my parents?

What if I went back now ? Would I be going forwards, or going back in time?

This is what my friend and I pondered during our last dinner together. We both came to London years ago and embraced the city life as if our lives depended on it. Would we be somehow “giving up” the dream by going back home? Would we be judged as failures, or more importantly, would we see ourselves to have failed? Would we be settling down happily, or just settling?

As I think about it now, it strikes me that this is all part of growing up- letting go of the many roads we might have taken, and learning to embrace the one we are on. Realising that the different “me” are all me. There is no “other me”. Or rather, “other me” is still me.

It strikes me that learning to embrace the paradox is the way to live fully. It’s okay to love the excitement city life, and still dream of the calm countryside. To have a modern life and yet honour tradition. We can break the mould and still love the families we grew up in.

We all, as they say, have both roots and wings. 

And as I watch my friend go, it occurs to me that happiness is knowing just that. Whichever country we might go to, we will still be ourselves. Fully, and beautifully.

 

READ ON Other similar posts you might like:
Time travelling at no cost
Going round in circles
“Finding our own North Star” by Martha Beck

Living life at your own pace

P1030629 low resSince I had a road accident two years ago (Iin which I was fine, but the car was written off), I have been scared of driving. It’s rarely a problem, because I live in London and travel by public transport most of the time. I only drive once in a while when I visit family in the French countryside. I tend to worry about it days ahead.

Last week I had to drive my mum’s car to the supermarket. It’s a small car, I know the way along the quiet lanes, so it should be no big deal.

I was scared, so I drove really, really slowly. I stopped a long time at crossings, stayed well away from other cars, and let people overtake me on the main road. Basically, I drove like a granny. After a few minutes, something happened – I realised I was almost enjoying myself.

Which lead me to think, the problem isn’t so much that I am scared to drive, but that I have been pushing myself to drive faster than I was comfortable with.

I have been neglecting what my senses were telling me, to follow what I thought was “the norm”.

By driving what I felt was “embarrassingly slowly”, I was doing just fine. And importantly, I dared to pick up the car rather than shy away and stay home.

This reminds me of something else: for years I had tried repeatedly to get into running to lose weight… and failed miserably each time after a few painful runs. Until I recently read this advice from famous gym instructor James Duigan (of Bodyism fame – a fitness genius): When you start running, you should go at a pace where you can easily maintain a conversation. 

What?! I You mean you are not really supposed to be sick after a run? That was a turning point for me.

I now jog so slow you’d think I’m going backwards, but guess what – I absolutely love it.

I’m not saying everyone should take more time to do things slowly by the way. I know people who enjoy doing many things in a day, and tirelessly do things at a brisk pace in order to move on to the next thing – my parents are still like that in their 60s (which might explain a few things!), and that’s fine too.

Did you ever notice how uncomfortable it is to try and walk at someone else’s pace for a long time? If they are too fast you’ll be out of breath, but if they are too slow you will be infuriated.

Bottom line is, it’s important to keep to find the pace that suits YOU. This way instead of giving up because you feel uncomfortable, you will keep going effortlessy.

 

READ ON Other similar posts you might like:
The Importance of Being You
Trusting the Process
Analysis Paralysis

Releasing your inner rockstar: how to make the most of personality tests

P1050520_low resAlong with reading self-help books, one of my favourite guilty pleasures is taking personality tests.

Why guilty, you might think? Because, on some level, I can’t help but feel a little embarrassed for liking them so much – I mean, what sort of a loser needs a questionnaire to tell them who they are? (ahem, my sort it would seem.)

On the other hand, I find they are a good tool for self development, and so far each of them has brought its small dose of enlightement – and as we know, every little helps.

When I say personality test, I don’t mean the type of tests you find in girly magazines, the ones that tell you whether your husband is cheating on you, or if you need a haircut (ok, these can be fun too). I mean the more serious profiling tools used by people like psychologists or human resources, and others like me (perhaps you) who would be keen to make the most of their talents, if only they knew which they are. 

So having already done a few well-known test like Myers-Briggs, Strengths Finder, Eneagram or Wealth Dynamics, I was more than a little excited to hear marketing guru Marie Forleo recommend a new one called the “Fascination Advantage Assessment”. What was exciting about it (apart from the glamorous title) was that, unlike other tests, if focused not on how you see the world, but on how the world see you, on how you “fascinate” others.

I thought it would be useful personal branding, for both self awareness and career prospects, so I gladly paid the not-so-cheap fee of $37 to see what my profile was. I found a quiet 15 minutes to complete it, eagerly awaited the verdict among completion… and ended up sorely disappointed by the results.

You see, I usually think of myself as a quiet, calm, borderline boring character. I typically enjoy writing, reading, and drinking herbal tea; I dislike like loud music and loud people even more. So I did feel a little cheated when the profile that came up was “the rockstar”, with primary trigger: rebellion.

My first response was “I need to get a refund”. My second response was to tell my boyfriend about it, who found it so funny he is probably still laughing as your read.

Then I remembered what coach Marianne Cantwell (of Free Range Humans fame) wisely says to her clients: our main challenge is often to accept the results of our personality tests, and act upon them, even if – especially if – we think they are wrong.

It is very easy not to take those tests seriously. No matter how good they are, it is virtually impossible for them to describe us accurately. Most of us will usually think that we fit SOME of our profile results, not all; or that different profiles would describe us at different times. Or we just don’t like the type of person it says we are. So we dismiss the results with a shrug (or if you are French like me, a shrug and a “pfff”), and move on to something else. After all, why did we expect a stupid questionnaire to know who we were in the first place.

And that’s where we are wrong. Of course, no questionnaire will ever being to capture accurately the entirety of our character, our uniqueness, our quirks. But that’s missing the point, because what those tests DO aim to tell us is roughly what sort of person we are, particularly in relation to other people, and where we fit in the incredibly wide spectrum of human personality. What we are mostly like, a lot of the time.

Our challenge is to reflect on these key points, and see how we can use them to our advantage.

So mercifully, my scoring as “rockstar” doesn’t mean I should trade my office job for an electric guitar. But perhaps it means I should be proud to think a little differently from others, rather than try to hide it?

When I think about it, I do enjoy being bold and saying things as they are – especially if it includes swearwords. I also love people who are daring and eccentric, and tend to find traditional characters a bit bland. I always assumed it was a bit of a problem because it means I don’t “fit in” so well in some situations, especially at work. But thinking about it now, perhaps it’s all ok?

That’s one more thing personality tests do: they give you permission to be who you are.

If the only way to be truly great is to play to your strengths, you don’t have to waste your time trying to be someone else. And that in itself can be a huge relief.

Do you know what your super-strengths are? Perhaps they are not what you think? Whatever you are great at, make it a real asset. Take it as a challenge to focus on it instead of hiding it and you will truly fascinate the world.

Do what you want, not what you feel like

P1050115 low resFollowing the instant enlightenment provided by last week’s “fuck it therapy”, my days were brightened even more this week by another poignant truth, courtesy of glaswegian coach Ali Campbellsuccessful people do what they WANT, not what they FEEL LIKE.

The reason this resonated so much with me is that I‘m one of those (you might say annoying) people who are very much into feelings – not only my own, but everyone else’s too. On the upside, this means I am usually atune to other people’s needs, which makes me considerate and empathetic. On the downside of course, I tend to do things according to whether I feel like doing them or not, so more often that I care to admit I find myself checking my private email at work, watching TV instead of doing chores, or eating biscuits instead of dieting. 

Which would be fine if I made a point of enjoying those more restful activities – and I often do – but too often they leave me with an unpleasant mix of guilt for being lazy and shame at my lack of willpower. My Mum summed it up best when I was little: “shake off your laziness and go do something.”

That’s when this new mantra comes in handy. By reminding myself to do what I want, not what I feel like, I get a double-kick up the proverbial backside:

1. It reminds me that the end goal (being great at my job, having a lovely house, being able to button my trousers) is actually something I aspire to, not something anyone else is forcing upon me. It makes me feel grow-up and capable – plus by the same token it gives me permission to discards other things I don’t want.

2.  It also reminds me that by taking the lazy option, the only person I’m letting down is myself… which is not a very nice prospect.

Empowering, uh?

This is not to say that you should never rest, or watch telly, or take a break from work. But it’s basically a gentle reminder that you’re in charge of your own life, and whatever choice you make throughout the day will affect the end result. So instead of bemoaning having to do chores like I often do, I should rejoice that they are a way to my end goal, and enjoy the process that leads me to it.

Incidentally, this has also helped me understand why wise people say you should know what your values are. Perhaps you crave truth, or authenticity, or beauty or calm? I used to think it was just an abstract thing, but I’m begining to see that if you truly WANT any of these things, the choice is yours at any minute between them and the lazy option.

I know what you’re thinking… simple, but by no means easy.

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. 

 

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

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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.