Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Selfish - A Question

It's a while since anyone used the contact form on this blog, and the question below was contained in an email that had disappeared into my junk mail. Glad I found it though - thanks for the message. I hope the enquirer doesn't mind it being shared.

It's a good question, which I guess I'm now throwing open to the floor.

'I always wonder why being selfish is socially rejected. Though I see nothing wrong with it, social fabrics compel us sometimes. What are your views?'

It asks something I've not completely resolved in my own head yet. I know I need to learn to be more selfish, and I'm getting there but it doesn't sit very comfortably with me.

I'm a perpetual big sister, often worrying about what other folk want, at my own expense. Although far less now.

The problem is with not being selfish is that no one ever gets the best of you, and you don't get the best of you. The analogy which helps me explain what I mean is that of the oxygen mask. The stewards on a plane always warn you that, should an emergency happen, that you must put your own mask on first before attempting to help others.

If you don't put your own oxygen mask on first, you won't survive. Nor will those that need your help with their own masks.

So, being selfish can be a giving thing to do. Partners, family, friends and colleagues get the best of you and not the watered down, exhausted or over emotional version. Being selfish means putting your own needs and feelings out there even if they contradict those of others. It's the only way you'll ever get close to understanding and being understood. Honest, if scary, communication.

However, there's a line for me. I can't be selfish if I know it's going to damage someone else – and, I think that's where the 'social fabric' element comes into to play.

I'm not there yet, but I am learning to be selfish after all, and not feeling guilty about it!

What do you reckon?

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Money: On a mission

If there's one thing we Brits hate talking about, it's money. We're secretive about it, embarrassed about it, it seems like 'bad form' to discuss it. How many of us know what our friends earn, for example?

Like most folk, it's not something I talk about a lot, apart from the typical 'that's cheap' or 'I can't afford it right now' or the like.

This has been a huge year of change for me, and one of the things that's included is money. And, specifically, debt.

Last year, for the first time ever, I took a career job (as opposed to skint student bar job etc) because it pays me well and not because I was driven to do it.

For a long time money has been a huge source of stress and embarrassment for me. I hid from the reality of it – ironic in recent years when I was involved in setting up the programme for a national debt and financial literacy charity.

It all started in my student days when the collapse in the construction industry all but killed my father's business and the family's money dried up, the home I grew up in was sold and downsized, and so on. I ended up with too many student loans trying to help pay my way through seven years of uni. I haven't been debt free since I was 19. And, I'm not now.

Recently I have been talking about money though. It perhaps seems crass or inappropriate. I am by no means driven by acquiring lots of it, but the weight of monthly commitments has held me back from doing what I want to do. I am doing what I can to change that. Unfortunately it also means that the topic creeps into conversation more than I would like. Sometimes, I need to process out loud. We should be able to talk about money, and seek advice from friends as we would on relationship or work dilemmas but it doesn't fit with the British cultural psyche. Maybe I seem impolite or too open or overly concerned with the material. I'm not, but I do want to get to a place where life is simpler.

My debt has been accrued not because of a lavish lifestyle but because of extended student years, two redundancies and some unwise decisions. It felt like some awful secret.

However, way back in February/March time, I decided enough was enough. I am a woman on a mission. There are spreadsheets, budgets and a plan. All of which I lapsed from using whilst I watched my father die and then helped my mother get back in her feet, tackling her finances worm by worm. Over the past few weeks I've revived the spreadsheets, the spending diary, pinned down every balance and interest rate, reviewed my mortgage, given myself an allowance so I can overpay debts, and worked out how on earth I'm going to cover a big dry rot bill. I can see the end of the road and have learned a huge amount along the way.

It feels fantastic.

I don't want to be slowed down by money any more. I want to be in charge of it, sort it and take responsibility so that I can finally see the fruits of what I work so hard for and be free. And, one day, be able to shift a gear again, earn less and enjoy more.

In the meantime, while I'm in the process of getting back on track, I'll just need to apologise to my friends for occasionally discussing something we normally run a million miles from!

Thursday, 1 September 2011


I'm still utterly baffled by this last week's encounter. But, what has done is remind me of what I need. Talking with a near stranger holds a mirror up to your beliefs and wants.

I've been very slowly learning that my life is mine. Dad dying has given me some space to start to rebuild and figure out what it is that I, and no one else, want for me.

The tides have been turning for a while now. Like most big things in my life, I'll happen upon a decision almost by accident after digesting for a while or even the smallest of doors opening. Catharsis will come.

A couple of months ago an email from a recruitment consultant in Sydney strengthened an idea in my head – I could leave. I could do, or be, something different.

I have no idea what the future looks like but I do know change is afoot. It's in my gut.

These past years, the only big part of my life I could really (or felt able to) influence was work, and I made it happen. I'm at a point in my career when I've done enough. If I don't climb any further up the ladder, then that's just fine. I've got a good balance of success, satisfaction and experience without pushing it further for now. Often, I just want to stop and do something practical instead.

I can feel my real life shifting, and it's not about loss. I have the opportunity to dare to dream about my future again, rather than fighting very hard to make the present as good as it can be and watching the past dim through sickness. Although letting myself imagine is a little scary – like I'm tempting fate - but it's time I do.

I don't know what's going to give, but I know something will.

I no longer feel duty bound and tied.

I deserve to be happy and to embrace the world in my way. Who knows if I'll stay put in this city and have a change of house or routine or whatever, or whether I'll jump on a plane and have an adventure. For the first time since leaving university I feel like my life is mine and that there's a world of possibility to grab hold of.

I know who I am, what I don't want and, somewhere, somehow, the rest will emerge. I must not, will not, let myself get stuck. I want beauty and risk and happiness and pain and challenge and love and freedom of my own making.