Stand up to Yourself

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To yourself, I hear you ask. She calls herself a writer but talks about standing up to rather than for yourself? You read right.

I’ll come back to this in a minute – rest assured it’s a deliberate statement – but first a bit of context.

Golden Time

At my son’s school they have something called Golden Time. It’s a period where the children can choose to undertake any activity they wish, a chance to feel free and to engage in what they enjoy. Needless to say, he loves it and really looks forward to it.

I don’t press him too much on what he actually does in this time. The parent in me prefers to think he’s finding new and innovative ways to solve maths problems using an interactive abacus. The reality is that he’s probably in the mud kitchen finding more treasures to stuff in his impossibly small yet strangely very accommodating coat pockets  (how do kids do that?). Last week he brought back a bone. Like from an actual animal – I kid you not. We’re a vegetarian family; I know said animal had already been consumed by something but it was a new level of grossness in his treasure collection I wasn’t quite prepared for.

Anyway… so Golden Time means freedom, no regimented tasks; just time to indulge in what ignites the excitement within.

Sacred Fridays

The reason I’m telling you this is because Fridays are my Golden Time.

I work four days a week doing a job I love and managing a super bunch of people. Everyday I’m making decisions that can be life changing and restores justice – it’s a pretty great feeling. But that fifth day of the week, that’s my day. My day to indulge, to enjoy, ergo to reflect and write.

It might be short story ideas or blog posts but if I’m sitting at my desk with a steaming cup of tea and my lime green Icelandic wool blanket (slightly itchy but lovely draped over my lap) under the warm glow of my Himalayan salt lamp, I’m in creative heaven.

So if my Fridays are interrupted or taken away from me by life events, it’s not just a mere botheration – it upsets me on a far deeper level and creates a lava-esque bubbling within. We all have something we do that we love and which recharges our emotional batteries and keeps us going? Well, for me it’s Writing Fridays.

And then last week something happened.

Violation

My father’s house was burgled and it took me straight back to the day when I was around 14 years old and had returned home with my favourite cousin and a takeaway. The evening had been planned; we’d be eating a delicious meal together and then have a girly night talking about film stars and trying out different make up. But when we reached the front door we could see burglars through my living room window – it sent a shock through me which is as live today as it was then. I felt a sense of violation of our space, fear of their return and outrage at their temerity to forcibly enter our family quarters and help themselves to what they wanted. Our arrival rattled them and they ran away. But I couldn’t eat that night nor sleep; I was so afraid and no-one around me could understand why. Plus being from a fairly typical Indian household where feelings aren’t generally discussed, it was never spoken of again.

So when this happened at my dad’s house and he was abroad, I went to help restore his house to order. The memories came flooding back like crashing waves on weathered rocks evoking in me that same feeling of vulnerability and invasion that I’d experienced so many years ago.

And then Monday came and I had to put on my manager hat and carry on as normal. I was battling against a wall of work which had mounted from my absence (I’d been off for two months following a knee operation, see Accepting Life’s Lemons) and to top it all off, on Wednesday my son was sent home from nursery with a raging temperature.

Friday came around eventually but my son was still ill and I knew the writing simply wasn’t happening. It was both an emotionally and physically exhausting week – exacerbated by the lava-esque frustration and wistfulness in my drooping shoulders that my Golden Time wasn’t going to be had today.

Uh oh!

And then I remembered at 9pm that I’d seen an advert for a TV presenter role and the audition video was due that day. When it hit me, my heart sank. Ever since I was a teenager, I’d regularly ponder on a career in TV broadcasting and here was an opportunity quite literally under my nose where all I had to do was record a 60 second video about myself and deliver some scripted lines. I could think of every reason not to apply which included (this list isn’t exhaustive):

  • I hadn’t brushed/washed/done anything to my hair
  • I had no make-up on
  • I hadn’t slept properly (courtesy of the visiting Temperature) resulting in bags under my eyes that could accommodate a weekly family shop
  • My wrinkles seemed more pronounced than usual
  • I wasn’t feeling my usual upbeat self so how could I possibly come across as being engaged and excited by this opportunity?
  • What vaguely relatable experience of journalism did I have anyway?

And then I looked at the other side.

Here was an opportunity which had practically been gifted to me. It was a chance – and I could look away and use my near empty tank of energy as an excuse or I could face up to it, pull myself together and throw my hat into the ring.

Ultimately if I didn’t enter the arena how would I ever know if this was the beginning of something new and purposeful? I’d pledged that this year would be about writing, speaking and putting myself ‘out there’ – there was no way I could justify to myself passing up the very first opportunity that came my way to showcase a different facet of my personality. Ok, it might not lead anywhere – and I might not even like it – but equally what if it was the beginning of a new creative outlet for me?

So, armed with my dry shampoo, some flattering lighting and a (slightly forced) beaming smile, I recorded my piece and sent it in.

I was going to show up. I wanted to be in the arena.

Don’t look at the doughnut

The awe-inspiring Steven Pressfield, author of the War of Art personifies resistance and says “its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work”. What’s resistance? You know that voice, the one that tells you to eat a doughnut when you’re on a diet or not to share your innovative idea in a meeting in case it generates looks of derision from your colleagues. That voice that derails you when you’re about to try something new, different or exciting.

Excuses, excuses

I could’ve rattled off a hundred reasons why I shouldn’t submit an audition video and reconciled myself with it – but I didn’t. I recognised that the more excuses I made, the more I actually wanted it. I wanted to have that experience. (In case you’re wondering, the TV company actually liked my video and invited me to a second audition –  I’ll let you know how this part of the story ends in the fullness of time).

Someone once asked me if I was resisting taking actions to fulfil my dreams because I was more afraid of my own success or because of a fear of failure. What’s failure anyway other than an opportunity for us to learn more about ourselves and grow? No, it’s the success that’s more scary – what does that Reena look like?

I might have had a week that’d rather be forgotten. And I might have lost my Golden Time too. But despite all that, I didn’t lose to resistance. This experience reminded me that mindset really is everything. Even the complex yet delicate lotus flower has to push  through murky waters for its beauty to be realised. It’s inherent in its nature – and in ours too.

 

Photo by Clarence E. Hsu on Unsplash

 

Accepting Life’s Lemons

So, like most working mums, I pretty much work at full throttle 100 percent of the time. A typical day looks a bit like this:

The regime

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5:30am – rise and get ready (interspersed with getting kids ready because of course they’re also morning kids – sigh). If it helps, picture me precariously holding an eyeliner brush between my teeth whilst helping #2 take his pyjama top off because apparently only mummy is allowed to do this

6:45am – leave for work and a 1 hour 20 commute where I listen to something inspirational on YouTube (like a talk by Marisa Peer or Brenee Brown for the 20 minutes I’m overground)

8am to 3pm – work with a verve that would give Tim Cook something to think about, eating lunch al desko (anything that can be eaten with one hand) whilst challenging my bladder with the ultimate endurance tests (I just need to respond to this last email before I absolutely have to pee)

3:30pm (because who actually leaves on time) – return commute home and of course normal people don’t travel at this time so there are no ‘fast’ trains or ‘short’ platform exits, no no, it’s the full travel experience the scenic way

4:30pm – home, put the kettle on, quick hugs and hello’s whilst hearing both parties’ representations about how the other has aggrieved them (not easy when they’re doing this simultaneously), express my sympathy and feign understanding at their pain, remind them that they are brothers that actually love each other and there’s no need to quibble over that one toy because there are 999,999 in that pile over there they could choose from

4:45pm – kettle boiled, put (some variety of) pasta on – change into home clothes (the dry cleaning bill would outstrip the cost of my work dresses within a week otherwise)

5:15pm – serve up the kids’ dinner with a dose of ‘why is he eating faster than me, that’s not fair!’ on loop

5:45pm – clear up then upstairs for bath and pyjamas (this bit can take as long as you like because it’s dictated by numerous factors including how long they’re on the loo, if they discover a toy in their room they have to play with straight away, if it’s a hair washing day (God forbid), if the older one decides to practice his gymnastics routine – in his pants or naked; somewhat different to the TV gymnastics most people are familiar with – and of course, mood

7:00pm – upstairs for reading time (again this can vary from one book to five however slow and monotone I make my voice)

8:00pm – If I haven’t accidentally nodded off with one of them (happens a lot) then it’s downstairs to root around in the fridge for the world’s speediest dinner or ingredients to achieve the same end (omelettes and stir-frys are a firm favourite) and I’m usually ably assisted by my darling husband who’s also returned home from saving the world (he’s a hospital based optometrist so only comes home after he’s seen the last patient – not a job you could boil an egg by…)

9:00pm – dinner done, we settle down for some TV time but I’m usually robbed of this and fall asleep a mere 15 minutes into watching a re-run of Gogglebox (why is it so compelling watching others watch TV?!)

The bump in the road

Any of it sound familiar? Well, you can imagine my horror when I recently had to undergo emergency knee surgery (I’m fine, don’t panic) and was told that I wouldn’t be walking properly for up to three months. I was in complete denial with a leg locked at 40 degrees yet still messaging my team from A&E to say I’ll be a “bit late” – that was five weeks ago and I still haven’t made it in.

I was obsessed with getting back to work and managing my household because my body knew no speed other than road runner mode. The thought of being ‘idle’ sent shivers through me; what was I going to do? I’m the matriarch, the one people come to for help when they need looking after; the one who can whip up tasty meals for unexpected guests and can host an impromptu kids party with innumerable activities that could give a vaguely decent entertainer a run for their money.

I was so focused on how I’d return to my crazy normality that I ignored my needs in the here and now.

Well, they say everything happens for a reason (I’m not sure who ‘they‘ are but ‘they’ feature in my life a lot and seem reliably knowledgeable). In my case, my injury provided me with the gift of time and a forced halt to the 1200W blender that is my life.  Instead of focusing on surviving through my convalescence, I used the time to take stock and make some really powerful life changes (more of that to follow in later blogs).

So, I thought I’d share some tips for any similarly highly charged people to avoid derailment if you’re stopped in your tracks for some reason.

My survival 101

1. Accept help.

I know on a normal day you can juggle plates on a scale worthy of the Moscow State Circus but acknowledge that things aren’t ‘normal’ temporarily and so it’s ok to allow your loved ones to cook/clean/tidy/nurse you to recovery – they’re only doing it to reciprocate the love you’ve showered upon them so really, fair’s fair.

2. Make lists.

Writing down the things that you want to get done rather than bottling it up in your head, will make you feel like you’re doing something and then you can either delegate the tasks or if you’re up to it, do them yourself. I took the time to put a bit more effort and research into gifts for the three upcoming kids parties my son would be attending as well as booking a long overdue fridge and oven clean. Amazing what you can do with wi-fi, a credit card and an armchair.

3. Sleep.

Seriously, when did you last have the house to yourself and the freedom to do this guilt-free? My last proper night’s sleep was definitely before my kids were born so nestled with my favourite fluffy pillow and a snuggly blanket, I’ve made my own daytime den in the living room where I can keep Come Dine with Me on low volume whilst I snooze (I can’t reconcile sleeping in my bed during the daytime because it just feels wrong). For the days I need a cat nap but just can’t get to sleep, listening to Dr Wayne Dyer’s Everyday Wisdom on low volume sends me gently to la la land.

4. Read.

Anything – be it trashy magazines, that book you’ve always wanted to read, recipes to finally use up that packet of buckwheat you bought knowing it’s a super grain but having no idea what to actually do with it; just read. When was the last time you read for pleasure or read something which was entirely unconnected to one of the hats you wear (mother, wife, employee), just reading for you. Indulge yourself, you deserve to and you’ll feel great for it.

5. Reflect.

‘Normal’ life is manic, you’re spread so thin across all your roles and responsibilities that you’re practically transparent.

You’re so busy doing all day long that you don’t get the chance to think about simply being.

Here’s your chance. Close your eyes and think about you; what did you aspire to be when you were a child? Did you achieve that? If not, what happened? What excites you? Do you have excitement or passion in your life? What does it look like? If you don’t, can you make some space for it?

Reflection and coaching during my convalescence has helped me to realise that I love to write and whilst my life and career are happily geared towards the service of others, actually writing is also a medium I can use to achieve this. And this is how my blog was born and I’m sitting here writing to you all, sharing my experience from my warm sofa den whilst my leg is bandaged up.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. I’d love to hear your thoughts and feel free to share your own survival tips with me!

Until next time.

Photo by Alex Loup on Unsplash

 

New Year, New Start

2019 resolutions

Reena Anand

So it’s the start of a new year (well a Hindu one anyway) and like everyone who sees the new year as a time to make resolutions and set some personal goals, this blog is the first step towards achieving one of mine – more about that in a bit.

About me

So who am I and why am I here? The non-existential answer to this (apologies if you were expecting something more abstract) is I’m Reena, a lady within touching distance of her 40th birthday, wife and mother of two amazing boys who loves to dance, wear outrageous lipstick and… write.

Background

I grew up in a traditional Indian household, did well at school and went to a world class university where I studied Law and subsequently became a property lawyer. I got married and moved to suburbia where I spend my time constantly playing catch up as to whether its Christmas Donation Day or some other ‘Day’, ferociously shopping on Amazon Prime for last minute costumes for the kids’ various school ‘things’ (whilst berating myself and affirming with iron resolve that I’ve got a year to prepare for next year’s event), mastering the under 30 minute meal prep time (hint: usually pasta) oh, and actually working for a fantastic not-for-profit organisation helping to restore justice when things have gone a bit awry. Chuck in a bit of socialising with old uni friends and fellow harangued mums and the odd bit of random Bollywood dancing in the kitchen reminding me of my youth, and that’s pretty much me.

A perfect world?

Sounds idyllic doesn’t it? Happy family, good health, means to pay my bills and a job that makes me feel like I’m righting the wrongs of the world. But (there has to be a ‘but’ otherwise this would be as boring as sin) something didn’t feel right. I kept wondering in those rare moments of peace (you can literally count them on your hands post-children) if this was it. Was this my story to be played out until I retired? And how come the more I devoted myself to my children, the more I seemed to detach from me? What’s that all about because I sure didn’t read any sections on this when I was swotting up on night time routines and baby led weaning?

Zoom forward and I met a super amazing coach (happy to share details). In my first call, I said “I’m not feeling right, I think I need to change my job” and rather than shake her head in the “that’s what you think” manner, she helped me explore my childhood ambitions and my life’s journey. Turns out, I’ve always loved reading and writing which is why I’ve gravitated towards careers where I could do this (how did I not know this?!) and I remembered with crystal clear clarity that I’d always wanted to be a journalist. I’d written articles and published my school’s first ever year book but when faced with university choices and eager to please my parents, I took the safer and more perceptively respected route – and I don’t regret that.

But here I am faced with a choice of carrying on my perfectly pleasant – albeit somewhat disorganised – life or dipping my toe into the unknown.

And this is how this blog was born (I had to Google search what the word blog actually meant – it’s a document logged on the web for those dinosaurs like me who still miss ring binders of paper and colourful tags).

so what’s next?

Now enlightened by the knowledge I’ve buried for over 20 years that I love to write, I’ve decided to put fingers to keyboard and see what comes out. Handing in my resignation and declaring that I’m now a self-professed writer would be neither practical financially or emotionally healthy because all I’d do is stress about writing, not write, stress and so on. So I’m going to do this slowly and see what happens, and I’m inviting you to join me on my journey because it’s always better to have someone with you when you’re walking alone in the dark (that must be an ancient proverb or at least a message from the Metropolitan Police). If you can relate to how I’m feeling or have that inkling of “what would happen if I tried…?” then hopefully you’ll take some inspiration from this and please feel free to share your stories with me.

So this is my maiden blog. It’s quite cathartic (and a bit scary) putting myself out there but I also know that whatever happens, I never want to look back on my life and think “what if…?”. Are you with me?

Until next time, bon voyage (and that is literally the extent of my knowledge of French),

Reena