Monday, January 3, 2011

New year; and a new resolve

A very rare picture of me, just for the New Year
Yesterday, my friend Debs called by, just as I'd sat down to write my New Year goals. Unusually for me, the process wasn't going well; sure, I had a list of tasks to complete, targets to meet and places to visit - but somehow it wasn't hitting the spot. Much of last year seemed to drift by and I've been wanting to shake up my routine and give it more clarity and purpose - but for all it specificity, the list wasn't capturing the way I felt.

It's hard to describe Deb too precisely; I could tell you she's one of the world's finest and most experienced female kayakers, making her living from guiding clients on the most extreme rivers. She's also a photographer, which supplements her income, along with a small jewellery business, and occasionally, when needs must, decorating my house. For the last two years, she's been studying for a degree at Falmouth University. Oh, and I almost forgot, she's been world champion twice and written a couple of books along the way.

Not bad for someone who left school with only a couple of GCSEs, but then she always had talents of a different sort - and first amongst those is making the most of the opportunities that come her way.

I met Debs when she was teenager; at a kayaking weekend to the Upper Dart in preparation for a trip to the Alps. She was a precocious talent on the water, though off it she lacked confidence, especially with those who were more articulate and academically successful. That's all history now, the important thing is that we became friends and twenty years later I regard her as one of my very best. I value too, her quiet and practical judgement that pays no regard to the inflated egos that abound in the world of outdoor pursuits.

So when I read out my list it didn't surprise me that she got straight to the point. Not wasting your time; that's what you're saying, I think. She was right, I said, it's the underscore of how I've felt recently, perhaps because I'm fifty this year. Age doesn't matter, she laughed, before going on to nail it: The list's okaybut if better options come along you should do them instead. The important thing is not to waste your energy on things like crap TV or negative people or conversations that you've heard a hundred times before.

That isn't a unique insight, but it has more power coming from someone who has so demonstrably succeeded. Most of us find it easier to slip into a sort of sub-life in which so much of your time is spent on the 'stuff' someone else wants you to do, that you haven't the energy for anything else. I try hard not too, and my family are hugely supportive of that, but the older I get the more I resent the wasted time. It isn't work that I dislike or the even the drudge of household chores - I recognise that 'stuff' needs to be done; it's the weekends wasted because of some badly timed appointment, the socialising with people I'd rather not, the inane TV, the unspeakable dross in most magazines, the same in most books, yet another conversation about football...

The one thing I disagree with Debs about, is age. She is right, it should not matter to our valuing time, but I suspect that most young people feel they have enough and some to spare. My sense is that as we  get older we feel the lack of it more keenly - not only in terms of our own mortality, but also in our day to day lives. I'm sure, this is partly the result of carrying more responsibilities, of of time consumed by young families, developing careers and elderly relatives.

For myself, as I enter 2011, I am happier and more secure than at any time in my life; by the standards of the vast majority of the world's people I have opportunities in abundance. I give thanks thanks too, that I'm not looking back with regret, for aside from a few sadder moments, there is little I would change. Rather, as I approach my fiftieth birthday, I am looking forward, with renewed determination, to make the most of the options I have; not to waste the privilege of being alive today.

It isn't possible to map the route I will take - and if it were, a bit like my list, it would be limiting. The really important thing, is to avoid entering the Doldrums, where momentum is lost and I drift aimlessly, hoping and waiting for the metaphorical wind to pick up.

Or as Debs more plainly put it, not to waste my energy on crap TV, negative people or conversations I've heard a hundred times before.


  1. "not to waste my energy on crap TV, negative people or conversations I've heard a hundred times before" hit the nail on the head there! I want to read your post at the end of 2011 and see how that all goes..or went. Will you be successful?

    But being in the doldrums is not all bad...and if you have truly experienced nature's I would have seen patterned swaths of beautiful seaweed you wouldn't have noticed if it were not for the calm...floating turtles asleep on the surface of the sea...sun with immense heat..a time to reflect when you can't do a darn thing to change the course of the day. So, doldrums are not so bad, I don't think.

  2. "The important thing is not to waste your energy on things like crap TV or negative people or conversations that you've heard a hundred times before." Yep. Says it all. I may have to make that my mantra.

  3. I reached 60 last December, which was one heck of an achievement for me, for all sorts of personal reasons, and I decided there and then not to waste my time, my tears, my energy on people who didn't deserve it, on watching 'crap TV' simply because I couldn't be arsed to get up and do something else. Since I am rather asocial, or antisocial (never sure which is correct) having to listen to boring or negative people doesn't enter my life anyway!
    I never ever make resolutions, never have a list of places I want to go, things I want to try for the first time, because I simply cannot guarantee being able to do any of them, again for personal reasons. But I do have intentions... somehow they are less stringent that resolutions, you don't have to beat yourself up if you don't tick them off the list. I intend joining English Heritage, learning to let go of old resentments and hurt, trying not to be such a control freak, and try new veggies in the garden!
    Happy New Year...

  4. Happy New Year!

    I gave up on NYRs when I started my blog and just have 4 'New Life's Resolutions' as my guiding principles instead. Perhaps I need to add Deb's advice as number 5. It's sound :)

    Another blogging pal has resolved to do something she's not done before every single week this year. I rather like that one and it doesn't have to be complicated stuff either. Just simply going somewhere else, even a different cafe to the one that's become the norm has the potential for new seeing and opportunities to explore...

    Perhaps we should reject meeting up at Allington Farm Shop and select somewhere in Chippenham neither of us have been to before?

  5. Happy new Year Mark! we ditched the box when we came here and 4 months later, we couldn't be happier.

  6. Debs sounds like she puts her money where her mouth is so I think you'd be safe to follow her advice.
    Happy New Year to you Mark.

  7. This is a great post. I wish I had included not being around negative people in my New Year post; I forgot and it is so important. They are so draining (and positive people are the opposite). The older we get the more we treasure time I think and fill it with what we truly desire.

  8. I don't make New Year Resolutions, but what Deb came up with made sense to me.

    Since Mr. Fly has been really very ill, as opposed to just ill, we have cut down our life to essentials...and now there is a slight improvement in his life we are sticking to those same crap from the exterior.

    I had wanted to comment on your last post but it brought up so many angles that the comment..even if formulated..would have been longer than the post. So I failed.

  9. I'm going to have to re-write my resolutions ... again!! What an excellent post, and what an excellent friend Deb is. Ditching TV and negativity would make life so much more exciting. (Except for the groans from the children if they weren't able to watch the box: really, they are the only reason we keep it!)

  10. Well Mark, as you know, psychologists say it's not generally the things we actually do that we regret the most, it's the things we don't do that haunt us.

  11. After a lifelong friend who was just one month younger than me died unexpectedly last year it finally dawned on me that there is no guarantee of anything in life - so stop worrying and enjoy it.

    My job changed, my wage halved, I don't own a car anymore, I also don't worry about anything and I truly care for very few things that I always thought were important.

    And life is great.

  12. Very deep, very good. Me, I'm just happy to be alive. (Though I have made a couple of resolutions.

  13. thank you for the reminder - I've been away since New Year and was about to just carry on as usual but I need to think ahead some more and focus on the important things, and stop the crap from taking over...this has come in the nick of time!

  14. Thanks much for posting this! It will help with my own list, and I agree with your wonderful friend Debs.

  15. Ditto Deb’s, I too avoid crap tv and whinging, mocking cynics like the plague. I will continue to be enlightened and better informed by listening to my magnificent twenty something year old kids. And to continue striving to emulate the manner, substance, reasoning and countless selfless examples my late Father left for me to follow in his eternal wake.