Protecting your joy

I’ve been thinking a lot about comparison recently, and it really is the thief of joy.

This weekend it was Shavuot, the Jewish festival which celebrates the giving of the ten commandments. The tenth commandment is about not coveting what others have, be it their ass, or their wife’s ass (see what I did there??) Whilst this makes sense from the perspective of discouraging jealousy and conflict in a community, it also strikes me that there is something in there about not comparing yourself to others and finding yourself wanting.

Celebrating! Image credit.

Comparison is the thief of joy because it diminishes your own space, achievements and uniqueness. It also sets up a narrative in which whatever you have is not enough, and that leads to a lack of gratitude for the space you are living in.

I absolutely loved Paula Pant’s recent podcast episode with Molly West Duffy talking about how to keep your feelings, and particularly your envy and covetousness, in check. Whilst it might seem obvious that these emotions are not a good place to live from, the podcast talked specifically about ways of ensuring that – even if you are feeling those things, as we all do at times – they are not driving your decision making.

Their cup might be bigger, but maybe yours is just perfect for you? Photo by Vanesa Giaconi on Unsplash

To me, part of what mindful living means is remembering that it’s ok to have moments where you feel covetous, or envious, and forgiving yourself for it. But it also means moving on from it quickly, and not letting it cloud my judgement. I sometimes compare my life now to what it could have been if I had done things earlier, and that’s not a very helpful line of thinking. Being grateful and present for how things are, and planning for the future, feels like a much better way to approach things and reminds me to stay focused rather than comparing myself with others.

Baggage ≠ Peace

So I have been out for a while, trying to deal with being very close to burnout. Feeling better now, but taking that space was critical. I tend to keep pushing myself well beyond what is a good idea, then getting surprised when things start to fall apart. The last few weeks I have been thinking about this and about the sense of going through life with baggage – as a single parent but also in general, as we all do – with the results and scars of our past mistakes and misfortunes, fears and triggers.

This is showing up in my life in a few ways at the moment. From the FIRE perspective, for many people the concept of baggage means coming into this journey deep in debt. And not just in debt, but with the habits, choice and often value systems which led to that debt in the first place. For me as with others, it’s more coming in and realising what I have wasted in getting here and what kind of different position I could be in. But the worst waste of time would be to get stuck in those feelings instead of getting up and at it. Your time is always now.

I was talking to a friend last night who has recently become an expat, a move which has given him a bird’s eye view of his home town. Realising that the years of making just enough money to go out and kick it with friends meant living life, which was all about ‘having fun’ actually kept him in stasis for decades. Now this could be a cause for regret. But equally, our journeys are what made us: looking backward and sneering at our younger selves is not going to change the past, though it might diminish the value that we did find. Being able to make peace with whatever our baggage is – the poor decisions, the risks that we miscalculated, that person we continued to trust in spite of there being more red flags than the bunting at the Communist Party conference – is to make it manageable and be able to take that past along on a brand new journey.

I wrote a while ago about loving what is‘ – that sense of accepting and loving the present just as it is, something which is a critical step on the pathway to peace. The ability to reflect on my own triggers and limiting beliefs means that I can at least recognise them when they come up. Something like shaking hands across the divide. This is what making baggage manageable means to me: it’s not denying it but recognising my part in it, and the positives that either came through the results or through the journey. Kind of like taking a luggage trolley full of giant suitcases, feeding them into a magic vortex machine, and coming out with a little badge that you wear to remember without being tripped over by it. Or, as per my experience last week, you can just give your bags to Kenya Airways and never see them again. Either way, it works.

Making peace can be hard. It can also feel counter-intuitive in a world where – especially with FIRE, and at my stage of life – it’s all about striving. How is it possible to come from a place of tranquility and still have enough drive to get out there? The quote above from Eckhart Tolle speaks to this I think. So much of what we do is about rearranging circumstances, or the small things (or indeed the deckchairs on the Titanic) instead of rearranging how we look on the inside.

Don’t get me wrong, this internal rearranging can be just as tough as making peace. Encouraging the tectonic plates to shift inside you requires tenacity and strength. Especially when it raises questions about whether you will continue to accept the systems you have been brought up with, to live inside the structures you have internalised and all the comfortable spots you’re used to seeking solace in, however damaging.

As I start the long process of moving back to Nairobi, being able to focus on the inner work instead of the busy-work of administration, is critical. The organising bit is easy (actually it’s a massive pain in the ass, but meh) but the work on finding my peace is much harder. Who am I now, as opposed to when I last lived there? Who are my people, how do I feel about how I have moved compared to them and the spaces we find ourselves in? What are the values I have instilled in my myself and my own children and how will these blend or clash? How can I stay open to the great things coming whilst not being so attached to certain things working out that for them to go wrong would destroy me?

All those questions are critical but they aren’t things I need answers to right now. Coming to them with an internal stillness and certainty gives a certain protection both from the intensity of negative results and from freaking the F out. That has to be worth it.

Don’t curse the darkness: light a candle

Whilst I will come back to the ‘Creating the future’ thinking, this week it’s Hannukah, so I wanted to stop for a minute and think about miracles, and gratitude. It’s a recurring theme in this blog, but it’s something which is central to how I think about mindful living – and let’s face it, more gratitude in this sometimes cold and scary world can only be a good thing.

Hannukah celebrates the story of power over adversity, and of accepting grace. It’a basd on a historical story from Jerusalem in 168 BC when the Greeek king Antiochus IV Epiphanes banned Jewish practice and defiled the Jewish Temple in the city by installing an alter to Zeus and sacrificing pigs. The Maccabees, a small army of Jews (and not a football team) rebelled, regaining control of the temple where they removed the false alter and worked to reconsecrate the temple. But there was only enough oil to burn for one day which wasn’t enough for the necessary rituals. And then the miracle occurred, and the oil burned for eight days.

Yes it did! http://www.hannahkallio.org

There’s a lot of discussion about how Hannukah was a minor Jewish festival which has become increasingly visible because it’s fun (candles, doughnuts and games – what’s not to like?!), and it’s usually around Christmas. But I love it because it’s a time of year to celebrate the miracles which surround us, and sit and stare in wonder.

But why does that matter? To me it matters because within the noise of the daily struggle, the challenges of striving and growing, the sheer astonishing, fierce, splendid grind of being human, we need to make time to be quiet. Not just to go inside yourself and see what’s there, but to get to the horizon where your power ends and feel your way into what higer power is with you.

Be a candle, lighting up a dark world. Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

At Hannukah you usually say ‘a miracle happened here’ if you’re in Israel, but I like to say it because miracles are happening to and within us all, all the time. Rabbi Heschel, philosopher and civil rights activist who marched with Dr King, talks a lot about why taking time to recognise this matters, saying:

People of our time are losing the power of celebration. Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation. To be entertained is a passive state: it is to receive pleasure afforded by an amusing act or a spectacle…. Celebration is a confrontation, giving attention to the transcendent meaning of one’s actions.

Source: The Wisdom of Heschel” ― Abraham Joshua Heschel

There’s a lot of evidence that gratitude makes you happier – that people who make time to be thankful have better health, stronger relationships, and are more robust. And it makes sense if you are focused on working toward your goals that not stopping to celebrate how far you’ve come will rob you of opportunities to be proud and joyful. And they are all feelings you need, to spur you on as you climb your next mountain.

From Epicurus, who was around at the same time as the sacking of the Temple

So this week,I suggest taking some time to pull over for a minute from the highway swerving of your day-to-day and taking a moment to celebrate what has happened in your life. A miracle happened here.

Happy New Year #1. Intentions

Woohoo, it’s here! After 2020 lasting for what felt like 91 years, 2021 has rolled in.

Truthfully though, in reviewing my 2020 I feel extremely blessed by how much I managed to drive forward on most of my goals. I fully recognise and appreciate how much of this was down to luck – to being in a stable job, to having found FIRE and got myself set up with an emergency fund which took the edge of the panic, and to being in a country where the approach to managing COVID was fast and easily understood.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

But I’m still excited about 2021 even though I absolutely hope that it is better for most people – and for humanity and for the planet. This is part one of two New Year blogs: this one covering intention setting, and the next one outlining specific FIRE goals for next year.

So where to start. A recent New York Times article suggested that people should aim small for 2021. Lots of commentators agrees that small is beautiful – in an interview with Glennon Doyle she talks about how small goals are easier to work toward, and easier to build into your life with grace ad confidence rather than creating new ways to beat yourself up about. Around 80% of people don’t stick to their New Year’s resolutions, so it’s clear that another approach is needed.

Focus on intentions before goals

So before getting to goals I want to focus on intentions. Goals are future focused, and brilliant for laying out a vision and planning how to get there. That’s a really important task, and with the small-and-kindly mantra above, it really works for me. But setting intentions are about mindfully living in the now. It’s the idea of setting out how you want to behave, to feel and to approach situations which you can come back to easily and often if you feel you’re veering away from your true north.

Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash

Intentions are simpler to come up with than goals since they are a heartfelt statement about who is your authentic self. Who is the real and brightest version of you? How would you need to show up each and every time to be that wonderful true self? Intentions are ways of nudging yourself gently back into that space. The fact that this is the space from which you are more likely to be able to achieve your goals is also great news!

And as I’ve written about before, so much of the FIRE movement is about mindfulness and living with intention. By taking time to think about who you are and what you want, the decisions you make are part of actively engaging with every aspect of your life.

Intentions 2021

So, what are my intentions for this year? I have focused on areas where I feel that I don’t ‘live my truth’ – where I get narky, stubborn, or downright unhelpful. These are all things which make me feel worse too, and where I spend valuable time and energy stressing about how I should have done things better. I’ve written these all in the present tense so they are immediately real and actionable at any moment.

  1. I treat myself with compassion and forgiveness, gently recognising and letting go of any shame.
  2. I nourish myself and others, my community, and the planet, by proactively being an active participant.
  3. I value and am grateful for the past that got me here, but I know I don’t live there any more: I am free to move beyond my past, with love.
  4. I easily and graciously give and receive love.
  5. I take each situation and each day with openness, courage and kindness, and amplify others doing the same.
  6. I take time to be and express gratitude and to celebrate myself and others, remembering that ALL of this is a miracle.

So – what do you think, is it worth setting intentions? And if so, what are yours?

Getting intentional: maximise time, and other limited resources

So I feel like I haven’t posted much recently about actual finances, and I promise to come back to it – I’m finishing off a review of my September and Qtr 3 total spending, and will share more detail and reflections on that in coming posts.

I also firmly believe that the FIRE discussion is about so much more than finance: it’s about working out what matters in life, and how to live consciously. Paula Pant is a total star in helping think this through and her Afford Anything podcast is regular inspiration to me. As she says, “You can afford anything but not everything”. Anything which is a limited resource – so yes money for sure, but also time, focus, commitment – needs to be managed conciously in the way which gives you the best version of yourself.

Paula asks two questions and uses these as a way to dive deeply into a range of subjects. Recently I found myself going back to these:

  1. How can we make smarter decisions about our money, time and life?
  2. How can we align our daily behaviors and habits with the lifestyle we
    value most?

Whilst question 1 is something I spend a lot of time on, question 2 has been more lacking. There are moments, as in my exploration of my Beauty Habit where it has come more to the forefront. In addition to asking the question “Do I need to spend money on this? What does it add to my life?” I also asked “How does buying this align to my beliefs, about the planet, and about how I value myself?”. But building this question into a more regular habit is trickier.

I’ve talked about two books recently but they have really shifted things for me in the past few months: Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky is first. There’s a lot of information in this excellent book (and blog) and to be honest I have acted on maybe 10% of it. Key things have been under their pillar of ‘laser’ intensity – getting rid of white noise. So I have trimmed through email subscriptions, apps, meetings (blimey I wish I could do this with more meetings, but working out what would be career limiting, and seeing how to model and incentivise keeping meetings to an essential minimum with my team). Basically decluttering the things which take up my time when I don’t see the value. Make Time also talks a lot about highlights which speaks directly to where I struggle in reaching my goals: finding the activities which fall between long term goals and short term tasks. Spending a few minutes in the morning planning a highlight around these activities, even if it’s focused time with my kids, means that I start the day with something in mind that really matters.

The other book is Personality Isn’t Permanent by Benjamin Hardy. The style doesn’t always gel with me, but the overarching message does – that we are not locked into being “who we are” and that the actions we take today, however small, really do build the futures we want. If we are unintentional, then we can also create futures that we DON’T want.

Today really does create tomorrow – Image from Benjamin Hardy’s Blog.

As with many others, Hardy talks about journaling and setting goals daily. I’ve always totally believed in this idea but never found the time or motivation to do it myself. I read lots of brilliant things about Morning Pages, but the caveat that these should be THREE pages of longhand thoughts ensure that I never felt I could fit it in. Taking the ideas from these two books I started a practice last month:

  1. Get up 15 minutes earlier. For me this is 05:30, which is early but the fact that I only had to add 15 minutes makes it less painful.
  2. Take a shower, and get dressed.
  3. Go downstairs and before doing anything else (even turning on the coffee pot) sit down at the table.
  4. Meditate for 5 minutes. It’s not a lot, just a little deep breathing, a little silent prayer.
  5. Write however much I want in my journal. It’s been about 1 page per day so far. Start with gratitude – what am I thankful for?
  6. Then write a highlight and some goals for the day.
  7. And when it’s done, turn the coffee on and go about my day.

It’s a small practice but I feel the benefits. Best of all I don’t even think about doing it now – days I have slept a little late (or had one glass of wine too many the night before) or woken up with a ton of urgent work to get on with, I still do it. And I definitely feel the benefits.

What are your small tweaks which are making you edge closer to your goals?