January 10, 2017
We’re all under pressure to perform well and hide weaknesses. What happened to listening to ourselves and taking some time to figure out what we really want?
I’ll make this brief. I’m in the process of trying to get my act (and finances!) together, and I thought it was in aid of buying a one-bed flat. I am extremely lucky to have parents who can help me buy - and unlucky enough to have a younger sister who knows pretty much everything.
I was struggling to find the time to go on viewings. Honestly, that’s not an excuse - I know it sounds daft; I work hard, I go to the gym after work, I try to write in the evenings when I’m not cooking, doing my washing, tidying the house or seeing my friends. At weekends, I’m up early, and I head off to meet friends or family, or travel to see them in their cities. I feel that I account for every minute. I’ve started to feel guilty if I catch myself lounging on my bed, reading a book. Productivity is important to me.
I confessed my time-management troubles to my family via Whatsapp this morning, and my accountable, glossy, 27-year-old sister took umbrage. “So, you haven’t met any agents?” she asked crisply. “In that case, it’s not that you’re busy - it’s that you can’t be bothered. Which is fine, I get it, looking at houses is tedious. But if you’re asking someone to hand over money for a deposit, nice to put in a bit of effort, no?”
I’m afraid I lost my temper. I thought about managing my Chimp, I thought about Jamie Varon and her fantastic piece in the Huffington Post about the importance and comfort of doing things in your own time. I counted to ten. I thought about Jamie again. I’d expected solid advice from someone I trusted, not judgement.
I wrote a long, furious reply about how I resented being patronised, and how I’d been open and honest about my issue. About how I genuinely needed help with time management, how it was very easy to be driven when you were rocking a Mercedes to get you from A to B, and your boyfriend was a super-wealthy banker (unfair and uncalled for, I know). I raged about how wonderful it was to see London as some perennial cocktail party wonderland from the back of your horse in Surrey. And how grateful I was to have the help - how embarrassed I was about my inability to sort this out - and how angry I was that she couldn’t see I was trying.
She left the Whatsapp group in a rage. I won. I felt justified, and glad I’d ranted. But she’s still the one who owns two properties and makes twice what I do so, you know, battles and wars. My anger wasn’t related to her success - I’m pleased and proud of her continued hard work to get to the top of her game. I secretly love riding in that gorgeously flashy car of hers; when it suits me, obviously. My problem is with her being unable to empathise with someone who’s very different to her - and who has a wildly contrasting lifestyle, social circle, and values. I drink cans of gin and tonic around the back of Liverpool St Station; she sips elderflower spritzers with people who firmly believe that Made in Chelsea is entertaining. How can we possibly be related?
Jamie Varon’s piece is important because it highlights an issue facing so many younger people who are watching their friends and family ascend, and who are dealing with their own issues. We live in an era of checklists, motivational quotes, and showcasing wins. My sister’s Facebook feed is a veritable treasure trove of successes she’s worked hard for; handsome boyfriend, wonderful dinner parties, globetrotting and contouring. She doesn’t drink to excess, or take buses. She’s never been to a protest, made a mixtape, or bought clothes from a charity shop. She believes in a slow, steady upwardly-mobile life. She will never admit to failure, or lacking inspiration, making a wally out of herself at a party, or not getting ‘that job’.
She won’t ever be like Jamie, and suggest that maybe, just maybe, this aggressive upward trajectory we’re all focused on doesn’t work sometimes. You can’t force becoming the person you think you should be.
What I love about the Huffington Post article is the author’s willingness to take an AA approach - to ‘let go and let God’, as it were. Just let your arms flop down to your sides, and take stock. Maybe you’re not living like everyone else as it’s just not your time. There’s no trigger - yet.
Your work ethic’s great, and you’re functioning healthily and well - but there’s nothing pushing you to take that extra step at the moment. And that’s out of your control, so let go of the wheel; it’s pure luck. No amount of productivity books or yoga will help you discover what works for you, and kick off your determination to get to where you think you need to be. It may take a chance meeting or a life event to kickstart better time management, or writing that novel. You can bet that if my landlady had told me she was selling off the house I live in, I’d be at viewings morning, noon and night. Obviously I’m not.
My priorities and my time lie elsewhere right now; so why do I feel guilty and under attack for admitting that? I could have gone on viewings, sure - but that would have meant missing out seeing people who are only briefly in the country, a birthday lunch, and a family meal. I made a judgement call which I don’t regret, but clearly I needed some help with the balancing act. Why is owning a house, in my sister’s eyes, more valuable than me spending time making my life better by seeing the people I love? It’s a clash of priorities, of values, of things we see as important. And she can’t begin to understand why a 32-year-old woman hasn’t yet had the urge to fulfil the criteria she considers imperative to living an adult’s life. So, what needs to happen for me to join her in this mindset?
Let’s look at this ‘trigger’ factor again. Laurence Dodds of The Telegraph has recently lost five stone. He was overweight, and he knew he was overweight. Then he started using an app which measured his daily calorie intake - and he slimmed down. What pushed him to change? Was it a barbed comment, or an embarrassing debacle with a plane seat? A health scare?
“I wanted to lose weight for a decade before I did,” he says. “I still don’t know quite what switch flipped in my brain to make me look at the problem seriously.” That’s it. That’s all he says on the matter.
You can bet that something happened to Laurence; but he’s not aware of it, or he’s choosing not to tell. As far as he, you and I are concerned, it was just luck. The time was right, he made a choice to do something, and he did it.
There are two (well, maybe three) ways that I can approach my current predicament. The first is that I’m being a flaky, spoiled little madam, which some people are entitled to call me (believe me, I know how this looks and sounds to people who can’t ask for financial help). The second is that I’m lacking a trigger (such as potential homelessness) to spur me on. I need my ‘Laurence Moment’.
The third, more worryingly, is that maybe - right now, at this stage in my life - I simply don’t want this enough - yet. I’ve had to examine my reasons. I thought I did, but actually it turns out I was in love with the thought - not the end product. Having being encouraged to actually start doing the legwork and find a house, I’ve had to examine my reasons for wanting this, and I’ve come to the realisation that this may not be right for me at this moment in time. Why am I doing this? Is it because I think it’s what my family want, and that it’ll make them prouder of me? Do I want to finally sign up to the ‘Home Owners’ Club’, and hope that they’ll finally see me as An Adult? I fear the answer is yes, and that makes me ashamed, as owning a house should be on the top of every thirtysomething’s to-do list. Shouldn’t it?
Rightly or wrongly, I’m starting to feel that I have to conform to others’ expectations in order to be accepted. Is it right I feel like I have to purchase a property in order for my own family to see me as an adult? Maybe I’m just being paranoid.
Before you switch off, hear me out - my intentions were good. It was addictive to be on the family Whatsapp group and be able to talk about viewings, and Help to Buy ISAs, and Stamp Duty. It was great to have them all on my side, cheering me on. I felt like ‘one of the team’. And maybe that’s the issue - I didn’t actually want a flat. I just wanted to have an excuse to see my family for dinner and talk about Important Stuff which I could see mattered to them. Now the time has come for me to take action - to practice what they’ve been preaching - and I’m paying the price for stupidly seeking acceptance via other people’s ideals. They think I’ve wasted their time. Maybe I have. But my reasons were honourable, if not hugely flawed.
The lesson has been learned, though - even if it took an online disagreement to make me see it. For me, as naive as it sounds, living a richer, happier life doesn’t involve buying a property. I can admit that now. What makes me tick isn’t a financial goal. My self-worth is not directly related to my net worth, and neither is yours.
“You change when you want to change,” Jamie says. “You need less shame around the idea that you’re not doing your best. You need to stop listening to people who are in vastly different life circumstances and life stages than you tell you that you’re just not doing or being enough.”
Maybe, like me, you have an idea of who you should be, and what you should be doing. You’re frustrated that you can’t get there - and you feel like an idiot for not having priorities like everyone else. You’ve got debt, and you’re living paycheque to paycheque. You want to own your own place, and you will at some point - but you have no idea how you’ll get there. You know something’s ‘off’, but you just don’t have the oomph - the trigger - to get moving yet.
My advice to you? Take it easy. You don’t have to sort out your issues today, immediately, at once. Take a walk, or sit down with a pencil and paper, and list what is important to you. Not your family, not your friends - just you. And be honest.
Try writing down ten things. If your novel, or owning a house, or losing weight, isn’t in the top five - you have your answer. It’s just not on your priorities list yet - but you recognise it will be one day, and that’s a start. It’s fine to take your time. You can and should feel relaxed about getting to where you want to be. Just to start you off, here are mine:
- Being OK generally, and healthy
- Family and boyfriend being OK
- Having lots of lovely friends to chat to and go out with
- Being happy at work and with what I’m doing
- Having a warm room to come back to at the end of the night
- Having enough money to have fun
- Eating properly
- Saving up to go on holiday once a year
- Writing more and getting my blog published (finally)
- Finalising visitation rights to see my cats in Norfolk
Maybe your list doesn’t look like mine - and that’s all well and good. There are no rights or wrongs; this is your definition alone.
What makes your life happy and richer is deeply personal. If works for you, that’s all that matters. It’s your life, your novel, your money, your house. As Jamie says, you can’t force motivation - it will come. And it will, when it needs to. Until then - crack on. You’re doing just fine, believe me.