Posts

Every trial we face is an opportunity

Do you ever have those days – or even weeks or months – when you feel like nothing is going your way, it’s all just a bit too hard and your dreams and aspirations for the future just seem to remain distant glimmers on the horizon?

Just over a year ago, I lost my job. I was actually made redundant in the previous October, but management made the decision to keep me on part-time on a casual basis until they no longer needed me… and at the end of January last year, I wasn’t called back.

It wasn’t my dream job by any means, and I was feeling pretty optimistic about getting a new job that I’d enjoy far more. I’d been in Australia just over a year at that point and felt a lot more informed about what was out there, what I wanted to do, and what I needed to do to get that job that I wanted.

Fast-forward six months, and I was still unemployed.

My initial optimism was long gone, and my confidence in myself and my abilities was lowering day by day. I felt like I’d explored countless avenues and each one had led to nothing. I’d dread the Skype chats where my parents would inevitably ask if I had a job yet. I was sick of being asked at events and parties what it was that I did. I’d look at my feet and mumble, or look to someone else to fill in the awkward silence.

At the time, I was beginning to feel like it was all a bit hopeless. And right then, when I just didn’t know where to turn next, I found a job. It wasn’t my absolute dream job, but it fitted with what I believed in and what I wanted to do, working with the community on a sustainability-related project. It was an possible opening to something better. I took it. And you know what? It was far more enjoyable than I expected. The team I got to work with were fantastic, the work was rewarding – and then an opportunity came up at the same place for work that was even more rewarding and even more along the lines of where I wanted to be. Right now, I’m loving what I do.

Reflecting on last year with the feeling of positivity that comes from doing a job I believe in, it’s much easier to look back in a positive light. Back then I felt like I’d wasted six months of my life. Now I can see that I learned some valuable lessons during that time. It may not have felt like much fun then, but now I realise that I learned a lot about myself during those six months, and I feel grateful that I had those experiences.

I wanted to share some of these lessons with you. You may not have the same experiences as me but I think the lessons are the same. Whatever crises we face in our lives, they are always opportunities to learn and grow stronger.

Lessons I’ve Learned

1. Don’t waste time on things you don’t believe in.

I wanted to work in the area of sustainability. I was interested in behaviour change, waste and education, working at a community level. Thing was, there weren’t a lot of those types of jobs around. So I decided to apply to all the low level admin jobs that I saw too, figuring that as I had experience in office management it would do for now.

So I applied for admin job after admin job, and did not get a single interview. Job applications in Australia can be incredibly laborious (no simple CV-sending with a hastily drafted cover letter here) so these took up a lot of my time, and it was very annoying to hear nothing back. I’m sure there were tears and tantrums. And then I caught myself saying “I’m pissed off that I didn’t get a job I didn’t even want.” I don’t need to tell you what is wrong with that sentence! Why was I applying for jobs I didn’t want, only to get upset when I didn’t get them? What a total waste of energy, emotions and effort. So I stopped that right away. It is so much better to focus on the things you do want to do. If your heart’s not in it, people see through you right away.

2. Make the most of the time you’ve been given.

Let’s face it, most of us spend our work days dreaming of holidays, what we’ll be doing at the weekend and the evenings when we’re not working and generally we feel like we don’t have enough time in our busy lives to do all the things we want.

So why is it, when we don’t have a job, we spend all our time trying to find a job and not taking advantage of the benefits that come with not being chained to a desk all day?

I know it’s not easy. Not having work makes us feel anxious, and the uncertainty of where the money is going to come from means we’re not always inclined to enjoy the free time we suddenly have. But I’m not talking about spending the time lunching or shopping. There’s so much we can do that will ultimately help us find work, through developing skills and gaining experience, volunteering or taking time to train in new areas, and this also gives us focus, a reason to leave the house and meet other people and generally stay sane. I had the chance to volunteer for some great organisations, to meet people doing fantastic things in the fields I am interested in and explore what I really wanted to do. Plus… I started this blog. I figured that if I wanted to educate people about sustainability and I couldn’t do that as a paid job, then I’d do it as a hobby and as a creative outlet.

3. We get new skills from everything we do.

Everything we do, every experience, is a lesson that we learn. Even when things seem pointless and frustrating, we will have gotten something from them. Even if the lesson was that this is something that we will never ever want to experience ever again! Everything we read, everything we hear, everyone we meet, helps to shape us into who will be in the future.

Each job application I sent off meant that the next one was that little bit better. Each rejection was a lesson in perseverance. Each new introduction to an organisation was an insight into the possibilities out there. This blog taught me the wonders of the internet, and connected me with like-minded people both in Perth and across the oceans. It gave me a creative outlet and a routine, and kept me focused.

4. If you need to push too hard, maybe it’s better to let it go.

There was an organisation that I really really wanted to volunteer for. I’d discussed it with them a few times; it was definitely on the agenda but a date was never set. They wouldn’t call, so I’d follow up… only for the same thing to happen again. That last time I called, I remember wondering if I should bother. But I did, and I did end up doing some work for them.

I quickly realised that the disorganisation of arranging the placement reflected a disorganisation that ran through the whole place. The work I did took a lot of my time, but I wondered whether it was actually going to be of any use to the organisation. There was too much chaos and disorder; too many ideas but no real structure. I finished what I’d been working on and chose not to continue with them.

They were grateful of the work I’d done…but I still wonder whether it was just shelved never to be seen again.

I did learn some valuable lessons, though. Including – if you have to push too hard at something, maybe it isn’t the right thing or the right time for you. Things should come naturally. Some things just aren’t meant to be.

5. Rejection means that the right thing hasn’t found you yet.

I find rejection hard. When I apply for a job I invest so much time and emotion into the application, and I really set my heart on it. I imagine what it will be like to have the job. So when I get the rejection letter (or deafening silence that follows the application), I feel disappointed. Initially it was difficult not to take it personally. That was something I had to learn to deal with. Now I’ve found the best way to look at it is to accept that it wasn’t the right thing for me, and a much better thing is right around the corner.

My six months of unemployment took this to extremes. I seemed to be waiting for that corner for an awfully long time. It was hard to keep thinking that something better was going to come along. But you know what? It did.

We can’t dwell on things that don’t happen for us. When I imagine how great it will be when I get all those jobs, those thoughts that I create aren’t real. I have no way of knowing what it would actually be like. Whilst it may seem devastating at the time to be rejected, when we look back with the benefit of time it’s much easier to see that the job wouldn’t have been perfect, that there were things that we didn’t really like about it – and that we wouldn’t be where we are today if it hadn’t been for the benefit of not getting that very job we were dreaming about.

The benefit of hindsight

With the benefit of having a job that I’m loving, I can look back at my experiences of the last year and actually feel grateful for everything that happened. That initial redundancy was the trigger for my involvement with the Less is More Festival, which I have now organised for two successive years. I’ve met so many amazing people through the Festival, I love being able to give something back to my community, and the Festival even won an award as the result of my efforts. I got involved with Living Smart, I started writing this blog and found a whole online community out there that I never knew existed before. I’ve learned things about myself that I never knew, developed countless new skills and feel like I’ve really grown as a person.

My contract for my current position finishes in April, so then I’ll be back to job-hunting. I spent last week updating my CV and I realised that despite that period of unemployment my CV looks stronger than ever, thanks to all the opportunities I was able to take up. If I’d stayed in that old job, it’s unlikely most of this would have happened.

Every trial we face is an opportunity to learn and to grow, and every cloud has a silver lining.

We’re all on different journeys

Last week I wrote a blog post about toilet paper. Eco-friendly, ethical toilet paper. Toilet paper that’s even more eco-friendly and ethical than the previous eco-friendly and ethical toilet paper I used to buy. It feels kind of absurd, really – writing blog posts about toilet paper. I pondered what friends I’ve not been in contact with recently might think if they stumbled across the post. I wonder what Lindsay’s up to these days? I’ll check her blog. Oh. She’s writing about toilet paper. Is that really how she spends her time these days? Does she have nothing bigger to worry about? Read more

One last look at 2013…

We’re now into the third week of 2014, and so far on the blog all I’ve talked about is 2013. I need to get with the times, so this will be the final post I write that dwells on what is now behind us. Enough of living in the past, I say!

Holidays and the start of a New Year are great times to start making plans for how we want the next part of our lives to be. All the things we want to do, to see, to learn, to experience, to feel. I love to plan, and in previous years I would go charging ahead into dreaming and scheming. This year though (or last year, technically), I slowed down. I decided to spend some time reflecting on the year that just passed before I started thinking about what’s next. Specifically, I thought about all the things that I did that I was proud of in 2013. My achievements. Read more

Rested, refreshed and ready for 2014!

Ah. Four weeks away from it all. It was fantastic. I finally managed to slow down, take the time to relax properly and have a well-needed rest. I’m feeling so much better as a result.

That’s not to say I took time out from trying to live as sustainably as possible, keeping things simple and continuing to embrace minimalism. After all, why should holidaying change anything?

Having spent four weeks with a small backpack weighing less than 6kgs, and not feeling once like I was without something I needed, I am sold on the idea of taking as little as possible when travelling. It was such a great feeling not to be burdened by a huge heavy backpack, and it certainly made traveling around much more enjoyable. Read more

Gift-giving, sustainability and minimalism at Christmas

In less than two months, Christmas will be upon us. There are aspects to Christmas that I like. I like being able to spend time with family, to eat great food, and to relax. The bit I’m less keen on is the huge consumer-fest that goes with it. The huge amounts of stuff that get bought, the money that gets wasted, the stuff that gets wasted, the frenzy that comes with having to buy this for that person or that for the other person.

I’m not against presents. I love the idea of finding something perfect for someone, putting some thought in to find something that they didn’t know existed, something that they’ll love and use and enjoy. The thing is, at Christmas that generally isn’t what happens. People write lists, or ask for specific things which other people buy for them. Or maybe the gift-giver is worried about choosing the wrong thing, and so gives money instead. For birthdays this is slightly different but at Christmas the reciprocity of it all makes it a farce. You want a jumper, so someone buys you the one you choose. They want a torch, so you buy them the one they want. You both wrap them up and hand them over. You open the present you chose yourself. Assuming the presents cost the same amount, they effectively cancel each other out. You may as well have bought the jumper you wanted in the first place. Only, would you have actually bought it if it hadn’t been necessary to request a gift, or would you have spent the money on something else?

The older you get, the more quickly Christmas seems to come around, and the harder it is to buy things for people as each year they’ve accumulated more and need less. They don’t need anything, so we tend to buy things to replace things they already have – that probably don’t need replacing and haven’t worn out. Or worse – the dreaded novelty gift!

The thing is, my boyfriend and I may feel this way, but not everybody does. For me, quality time with the people I love is far more important than receiving gifts. That’s why I treasure experiences, and why I enjoy the family part of Christmas. But for other people, gifts are important. For children particularly, receiving gifts makes them feel special and loved. For some people that feeling must never go away.

Last Christmas, I made all of the presents that we gave to our family, except one (a vintage trinket pot that I’d bought before I decided to do a homemade Christmas). Basically I baked. For days. I love cooking and I enjoy it, and I figure that everyone loves eating! So I made biscotti, and cakes, and cookies, and biscuits, and spiced nuts, and flavoured sugar… I can’t remember everything, but there was a lot. I also cooked Christmas lunch. For my family in the UK, for whom homemade gifts weren’t possible, I simply didn’t send presents.

But after Christmas, I had doubts. I wondered whether I had assumed that because we like homemade presents so would everybody else. Because we wouldn’t expect presents or mind not getting any, no-one else would either. It didn’t solve the consumerism problem. None of the gifts we’d received were homemade. We also received gifts from my family in the UK – they hadn’t thought of our no-present idea as reciprocal. Everything we received was store-bought, and yes, we received some gifts that we didn’t really need or want. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. I’d just rather people saved their money rather than feeling obliged to give us things.

I wondered if our Perth family had judged us for making gifts rather than buying them. I wondered if they thought we’d been cheap. (Not that making homemade gifts is actually cheap – ingredients can cost a fair amount – but they can be perceived as being cheap.) I wondered if the UK family thought we were being stingy, or lazy. I wondered if we were trying to push our values onto our family, and in turn they were trying to push their values back onto us.

We did a great deal of thinking. My boyfriend and I have concluded that we don’t need presents and we are happy for people not to buy us things. If someone thinks of a great appropriate gift then that is one thing, but we don’t need certain amounts spent or certain numbers of gifts on certain days of the year just because that’s what everyone else does. However, other people in our family don’t feel this way. They like to receive presents. And presumably because they like to receive presents, they like to give them too – even when asked not to. We’ve slowly come to understand that if we want them to understand and respect our wishes, we need to understand and respect theirs too. If they want and expect presents, then we need to acknowledge and respect that (whilst keeping to our sustainability/eco/waste-free values) and we can’t try to force our own ideas on them. What works for us might not work for them.

How this works in practice we don’t know yet. I guess we need to find the balance that works for our family, that takes everyone’s desires and wishes into account. Maybe one year we will do a proper family Christmas, and the next year we will take Christmas off. One year we indulge in the gift-giving, and the next year we don’t. Having not tried it yet, I can’t comment about how or whether it will work.

In the spirit of that, my boyfriend and I have decided to take this year off from Christmas. We’ve leaving the country on 7th December and not coming back until 3rd January, which means we will be missing everything. We will not be buying Christmas presents for anybody, including each other, and we are asking our family not to buy gifts for us either. Not before we go away, not for when we get back. No money either. Nothing.

This is the first time we’ve ever requested for our family not to buy us gifts, or give us money. It might be a big deal for them; after all, it’s going against the grain. It is a big deal to us, because it will mean that they respect what we want, and how we choose to live our lives. We hope that they will understand that we’re not buying gifts for them either. By saying that we don’t want gifts but we will be buying them for everyone else just complicates the issue – we don’t want anyone to feel the need to reciprocate. We’ve taken part in consumerist Christmas many many times, so maybe they can try things our way too. Just once. Hopefully in the future we can come up with something that works for everybody.

Having a simple, eco-friendly birthday

Last Thursday was my birthday. I’m not into having a big fuss made, and I struggle with the idea of presents, which potentially means getting a heap more stuff that I don’t really need. The more I travel down this road of minimalism/low waste/sustainability, the more I struggle with it, which combines with the fact that as every year passes by, I have less and less need for new things.

That being said, I am not at the point yet where I want to eschew all presents. I don’t really feel like I need presents to celebrate my birthday, yet there is something nice about acknowledging it – and I think people often feel that one needs the other. I pondered on requesting that nobody buys me anything – but it was only a couple of weeks before and would have been a little half-hearted. Read more

Moving into fifth gear…

For a few months now, my life’s been ticking along nicely. Projects and other things that keep me busy have come, and gone, and the various plans and schemes that I’ve dreamed up have been swirling around in my mind, and on paper, but haven’t grown more than that.

Then in the last couple of weeks, everything seems to have picked up speed. Potential plans have firmed up, new opportunities have presented themselves, and projects that only seemed like distant dreams have come together all at once.

Suddenly everything seems to be going very fast. Read more

Goal setting – three months on

I decided a while back to make goal setting one of my routines. I figured it would help guide my thoughts and be a stepping-stone to making all the dreams I have become realities. The technique I decided to try is called 3 1 5, with goals set for 3 months time, 1 years time and 5 years time, under four categories: emotional/spiritual, financial/vocational, heath/education/recreation, and friends & family.

Goal-setting isn’t something that comes naturally to me. It did take a while to gain the momentum and shift from thinking about it, and wanting to do it, to actually begin the goal setting. I wrote about my struggle with goal-setting on a previous post, three months ago, when I finally filled in all the boxes in the matrix.

Three months ago. Which means my goals are up for review.

I was a little nervous about this. Whilst I knew most of the goals I’d written, I hadn’t actually consulted my matrix during the three months. I decided to take myself out of the house and to one of my favourite cafes so I was in a neutral, but pleasant, environment.

I unfolded the matrix.

My first thoughts, when I looked at all the ‘3 month’ boxes, were “Oh no! I haven’t achieved any of it!” But when I looked more closely, I realised that I was actively working towards a lot of the goals, I just hadn’t achieved them yet. Others I had changed direction slightly, so the timescale was no longer valid. Rather than 3-month goals, these had become more like 6-month or 1-year goals.

The 1-year and 5-year goals were much easier to review because they are still goals for the future and I wasn’t expecting to have achieved them. It was super reassuring to see that they all still fitted with my general plans, though, and I did feel that I was working towards most of them.

Next came writing the new matrix. This was so much easier than the first time as I now had a framework to follow. It allowed me to address the way I’d phrased things the first time round to make them more appropriate. For some of the goals, rather than saying “I have…” I wrote “I’m working towards…”. It was satisfying to move one of my 1-year goals into the 3-month box, and one of my 5-year goals into the 1-year box because that now seemed like a reasonable timescale.

It was also obvious when I reviewed the matrix that I’d left some gaping holes with major aspects of my life not even considered, so now I need to think about how to address these.

One of my goals is to do this exercise four times over the space of a year. Whether it’ll be something I stick with long-term I’m still not sure about, but at the moment I’m finding it quite motivating. My favourite bit about it is that it’s so empowering – recognizing what I want and committing to working towards it. Taking control of my destiny, if you like!

If you’re not someone who regularly sets goals, why not give this a go? It’s a great way of thinking about what you want to get out of your life, and being pro-active, rather than lamenting the things you don’t have and can’t do. In three months time it will be New Year’s Eve, so rather than trying to make New Year’s resolutions whilst laying on your sofa nursing a hangover and eating comfort food, start thinking about what you want now. That way when it comes to New Year’s Day you can look over the last three months and congratulate yourself on what you have achieved…whilst nursing a hangover and eating comfort food. A much better start to the New Year!

New Year’s Day is not the time to start planning the rest of your life. That time is right now!

The possibility of today

Yesterday I was trawling the internet and just as I clicked away from the page I was on, four words caught my eye. I only caught a glimpse before the next page loaded and they were gone.

“The possibility of today.” Read more

My struggle with goal-setting

I like the idea of achieving goals. I like the idea that if I want something to happen, then it will happen. So if I decide that I’ll be more organised/learn a new skill/make some other life changes, then, miraculously, it will happen. Except, quite often, it doesn’t. It turns out that deciding that I want something to change, but doing nothing else to achieve the change, isn’t really a recipe for success. Deciding that I want something to happen might be the first step, but there’s a lot of other steps out there on the path to achieving that goal. Read more