2021 Inspiration List: books, podcasts and more

As this is the last Sunday of 2021 I thought I’d focus this blog on the things which inspired and kept me going during this year. As I said in 2020, I read a lot – and with the never-ending loop of lockdowns we probably all read a lot more – and whilst I carried on with real commitment to my regular schedule of 1930s murder mysteries and books about politics, I got through a lot of new things as well.

And it’s almost done. Photo by Nadin Mario on Unsplash

This was also the year I pretty much quit watching things. There are a couple of notable exceptions (and the family 30 minutes down time after dinner would not be the same without The Simpsons) but it just stopped being something I do on my own. I listened to a *lot* more music, and unlike 2020 spent more time hanging out with people: dating, going to a twice-weekly exercise class, watching the Euros and the World Cup Qualifiers in the pub with friends, at workshops, and back out on a travel schedule.

So it feels like its been a nice mix, and I hope some of these ideas spark some new thoughts with you too. Do let me know what has been inspiring you this year, I’d love to know!

Books

Mostly I read on my Kindle or get things out from the English section of the fabulous library here in Copenhagen, but I do love a Proper Book. Even though this was also the year that I aged disgracefully enough to need reading glasses, I still read every night before I go to sleep. Just these days I have to stay awake long enough to take my glasses off and not crush them.

All the links below are to independent bookshops, but these are available in most formats and places.

Atomic Habits: James Clear

This came out two years ago and I listened to a lot of podcasts and discussions about its content, but reading it genuinely changed my life. There is something simple but compelling about his messages: sort out the things that matter to you, whatever they are; be aware of the time-sinks, infinity pools and dross that this corporate world is sending you and block them out where you can; and find the minimum viable action then just do it. It’s a great antidote to overwhelm.

Four Thousand Weeks: Oliver Burkeman

I wrote about this recently but this was also a game changer for me. Burkeman posits that since the average life expectancy is four thousand weeks, we should find ways to focus on what we really care about. He presents a history of time management and also why it doesn’t really work. Linking this to our collective FOMO, Burkeman talks through why reclaiming your time can’t be done by reorganising your diary but needs to be done by rethinking priorities.

Untamed: Glennon Doyle

Ah the great feminist call to action. I loved this book so much that I read it three times this year. Doyle focuses on naming the ties that bind us as women moving in this world, and talks through how, in her own life, she has untethered herself. It is very clear as to why this makes the world a freer, fairer and better place for all of us – so if you are even vaguely interested in the concept of allyship, read this one.

Podcasts

I remained very much a creature of habit this year and will include those here for anyone new to this journey, but there were one or two notable exceptions:

Rice At Home: This is one of the new additions to my listening and I cannot recommend it highly enough – especially if ‘there’s rice at home’ is something you heard regularly as a child! The team had a few months off in early 2021 and came back strong, looking at black-owned business, entrepreneurship and financial independence from the perspective of peer learning and support.

Afford Anything: the inimitable Paula Pant continued to bring weekly wisdom this year, talking through the choices that we have to make with our money, focus and energy in order to make a life which suits us and where we really move.

Journey to Launch: I listened to this more in 2021 as she is some steps ahead of me. Getting into thinking about side hustles, passive income streams and the ‘what next’ of a financial independence journey is where I’m at, and her passion, personal story and diverse range of speakers is really inspiring.

Choose FI: this was another staple during 2021, though a lot of it starts to feel like conversations we’ve had before. It remains a really good basic resource (though I didn’t think much of their book…) and a great community for when you need dusting off and putting back on the path.

Blogs

I read many fewer blogs this year. I don’t know if people stopped writing after being so productive in 2020 or if I just ran out of bandwith. Lots of old blog friends also moved well past where I’m at and whilst I am super proud of them, I don’t find reading about post-FI useful. The one I did keep going back to was Our Next Life. I love their thoughtful reflections on life then and now, and also on the FIRE community and where we might collectively be going.

Music

Not strictly relevant, but this is where I got a lot of joy and energy from in 2022. So sharing just one, in case it’s something you need to hear.

Gangsta: Kojey Radical : perhaps not what you expect from the title but it’s a track about being raised by a single mum and growing into an amazing adult. Love everything about this especially the lyric: I wonder what the answer is / my mama said forgiveness is/ go handle your businesses. Big up all the single mums out there. We got this.

For some beautiful photos of Kojey and his mum you can read this full article.

Hope the last mile of 2021 is treating you well – I can’t tell you what a pleasure it has been sharing this year with you. See you on the flip side!

Courage!

Blimey, what a week. Not much to say other than O. M. G. It just keeps coming – too much work, issues going on with my parents’ health, ALL the world disasters. Things feel slippery and twisting and I can’t quite get a grip on any of them.

I’ve written before about overwhelm and whilst I still go there, mostly at the moment I’m just knackered. Trying to keep all the plates spinning seems increasingly unlikely. I am definitely making some crappy choices – staying up a bit too late, eating a bit too little, drinking a bit too much. None of this to the extent where it’s really damaging, but cumulatively it’s not really helping.

Slippery when wet/tired/gumpy. Photo by Itay Peer on Unsplash

In her amazing book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, Bonnie Ware, a palliative care nurse, reflects on the most common things that people realise toward the end of their lives. The one which struck me wasn’t ‘I wish I hadn’t worked so hard’ but ‘I wish I had let myself be happier‘. Ware says:

“This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”

Bonnie Ware on what holds us back from happiness

This week I also read Alexandra Fuller’s ‘Leaving Before the Rains Come‘ about the lengthy unravelling of her twenty year marriage which had some similar reflections. The comfort in habits and ruts, however destructive they are, can feel like the only thing holding us together. There are lots of other truths here – what it means to collapse a life that you have actively participated in creating and the impact that has on others – and realising that change means loss.

Without meaning to sound like a crappy instagram meme: change is terrifying. But refusing to grow, and regretting what you might have missed out on, is much, much scarier.

That light wants to shine on ME? Hell no! Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

Sometimes I recognise that I am afraid to want things – afraid that wanting ‘too much’ or getting out of my lane will just end in ignominy and heartbreak. I get in the way of my own happiness. Which is ridiculous (and frustrating) but also feels like just an ass-hat way of being ungrateful. As well as all the slippery uncertainties in my life at the moment there are some amazing things: things I have prayed for and worked for and believed in. It’s taking daily work just to try and live in those moments, to not hold on too tightly and not so loosely that I drop them. Phew. No wonder I’m knackered.

So, on we go. Back out into the world and the new week with courage and gratitude. It will all work out.

Indeed. Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

The tail end

I’ve glibly borrowed the title for this post from the brilliant Wait But Why since I’ve been thinking a lot about how time passes. I spend a lot of energy thinking about what to fill that time with – how to make each moment a meaningful contribution of myself to the world.

In reality, I spend a lot more time making a meaningful contribution to emptying a packet of biscuits, or being Just A Little Bit Annoyed.

But this week a few things have aligned to make me remember that our time really is short. Not just short, but not guaranteed. I’ve lost a number of friends in my life and I am reminded that their time was cut short whilst I am frittering mine away.

Time to do…. what?. Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

Paula Pant had a great episode recently with Oliver Burkeman who has written a book called Four Thousand Weeks. Burkeman, who is ostensibly writing abour time management, has recognised that a lot of works about optimising our time – whether that means living mindfully, or getting through your to-do list – don’t recognise the basic fact that time is limited.

My mum always says – you can have everything, but not at the same time. It’s similar to Paula Pant’s ‘you can have anything, but not everything’ mantra. Some things are a finite resource, and time is one of those. Energy is another one: so it’s the number of shits I have to give (as it were).

Burkeman’s point is exactly that. Our average life span is 4,000 weeks which suddenly seems like it just won’t be enough. And he has some great advice about how to live with that in mind, knowing that we will have to miss out on some things, and how not to get crushed by FOMO.

Even if you are immortalised on a building wall, your time is finite. Photo by Mark Neal on Unsplash

There is something about having children which also makes you notice the passing of time, sometimes wishing for certain phases to be over, sometimes desperately clutching on to others which seem to have passed all too soon. It reminds me of Jonathan Fanning‘s poem about parenting: about all the last times we have of doing things, and how oftern we don’t even know it’s signalling the end of something:

The thing is, you won’t even know it’s the last time
Until there are no more times. And even then, it will take you a while to realize.

So while you are living in these times, remember there are only so many of them and when they are gone, you will yearn for just one more day of them.
For one last time.

So – this week I have been trying to live from that place. I stopped work at lunch time and made a bowl of steaming, spicy noodles, sparkling with chillis. I texted a boy I like who made me laugh. I quit the French classes I have taken for five years with the aim of getting a quaification I don’t need for a job I don’t want. I swam in the sea and felt the air turning to autumn. I lay in bed with my kids and listened to the rain. I lived. And I loved it.

You really are. Live from there. Photo by Bethany Stephens on Unsplash