My ridiculously high expectations

I missed all 3 of my posts last week (2xblog and 1xpoem), as I had a bit of a blip – you can read about it on this Twitter thread if you’re interested. Good ol’ mental health. It feels more relevant than ever to share such experiences – especially as it’s #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek2018.

Anyhow, onto today’s post…

I have ridiculously high expectations of myself. I didn’t actually realise that I did, as my thought patterns have become so ingrained over time that they don’t seem like mere thoughts anymore. It feels like I’ve absorbed them. That they are me.

 

pressure.jpg
credit: geralt

 

I don’t know exactly where this comes from. As a kid, I used to apply myself diligently to my school work, pushing myself to get the high grades and – better yet – the best in the class. I even remember this being the case at primary school, when even in Years 1 and 2 I remember aiming to “beat” the other cleverest kid in the other form (his names was Jason, and we actually have kept in contact; he did ‘Kumon maths’ from a young age, so that was always a particularly tricky subject in which to beat him!). I remember getting home from school, having some milk and biscuits (strong bones and teeth, mum would ensure we had it twice a day – with our cereal and then a glass after school), watching one of the kids’ programmes on BBC1 or ITV (we didn’t have so much choice then!) and then getting started on my homework around 5pm, or 5.30pm at the latest. Favourite before- and after-school programmes included Tom & Jerry Kids, The Smurfs, The Snorks, The Lampies and Jackie Chan Adventures. Oh, and Aquila, that was amazing. Anyway, it was then homework till 7pm or so, when it was time for dinner-time and Coronation Street. And then I’d chill for the rest of the evenings usually – or, sometimes, especially when secondary (high) school started, finishing off homework after dinner too.

Gosh I remember the homework. All the subjects. Taking so much pride in writing as neatly as I could in my fountain pen… sh*t got real annoying when I made a mistake at the second attempt with my fountain-pen eraser (remember those?!). I was a bit of a neat-freak when it came to homework.

It was all about those good grades. And the competition with classmates. And the kudos – both spoken and unspoken – from my parents and teachers. Mum was (is!) very on top of things after each day asking how our day had gone and if we’d got our homework or test scores back and how we had done and so forth (I should explain at this point that “we” refers to my brother and I).

With my upbringing (good schools) and capabilities, I was always expected to do well at school. And then go on to do something “impressive” at university, and as a career following that. Those were the expectations I felt and put on my own shoulders. In fairness to my parents, unlike other Asian parents, never was I told to do this or that. They just wanted me to be happy, and work hard and honestly (in my Sikh faith, making an honest living is an important theme).

I narrowed down the “impressive options” to medicine – after all, I found science interesting (I’m a curious guy, I find most things interesting!) and I wanted to help people. A match made in heaven. Plus I was an Indian, so wasn’t being a doctor like in the blood or something? Just kidding – but not really.

It seemed to make sense. Though I didn’t fully want to acknowledge it at the time, I had no frickin’ idea what I wanted to do. I mean how could I?! The big wide world out there was very different to the microcosm that was school. How can we expect to decide to do with the rest of our lives if we haven’t even experienced the day-to-day realities of said job? Ridiculous. A rant for another time…

I choose the subjects which were essential and/or “good” for applying to medicine, and I actually ended up bored and hating them. I was much happier with the GCSE’s, perhaps as they were easier, there were more subjects and so more variety for my curious mind, and I guess with less sh*t-my-life-is-starting-to-get-serious-now-and-I-need-to-make-a-decision pressure. I did minimal work over the course of the year and ended up with ABB as my final grades, after a less-than-impressive (by my standards) year 1 (AS-Level) results.

Looking back, Biology had actually been the only one of the three subjects that I took that I had actually enjoyed at GCSE – wow, this is actually a light-bulb moment for me. Writing this down, I realise I wasn’t really interested in those other subjects I took. Weird.

I ended up going to university twice to study other “impressive” subjects at “impressive” places… and dropped out of each after just a year.

You see, I was sent to good schools by parents. I was given an education that they didn’t have. They worked incredibly hard to make a better life for themselves and to give myself and my brother the best possible start in life. We both still live at home, and so really they continue to do that whilst we’re under their roof. I felt duty-bound to do something impressive with this education and life I had been dealt. One that would elevate my success even above that of my parents (after all, I was starting from a high point), and also make them happy and proud.

I’d feel like a failure if I’ve not ‘bettered’ what my parent shave achieved – financially – given the backgrounds that they came from. Even ‘matching’ it wouldn’t feel quite enough, given the circumstances. This is a mindset which is only just beginning to shift.

Ugh, it’s tough. And then I have this £100k salary mark in my mind. Like, where did this come from?! I somehow plucked this out of somewhere and it’s been a goal of mine ever since. Even when I sat down yesterday and realistically decided how much I want to earn in total in the next year, I had that £100k figure creeping there in the back of my mind. And yet, I’d rather even not be working for someone. At least not in the traditional go-into-the-office-and-work-9-to-5 sense.

So this is what I do. I chop and change all the time. I worry, and then I worry, and then I worry some more. All the time these expectations in the back of my mind.

I left a job where I was on the way towards earning that arbitrary amount (seriously, where did it appear from?). I tried doing ‘my own thing’ for a little while I was going to change education and be a rich entrepreneur. Then, I tried coaching. I thought I was going to be this famous coach working with top athletes to help them become superstars. Again, kudos and money springs to mind.

Now (time of writing), I’m looking at writing, with the hopes of becoming an author who makes a lot of money. F*ck, it’s exhausting. Not least because I’m constantly worrying and questioning myself and my abilities, whether I’m doing the right thing, whether I’m spending too much on blogging/marketing, whether I should publish traditionally or self-publish. Aaargh!

Like, WHAT THE F*CK AM I SUPPOSED TO DO WITH MY LIFE?! Again, more on my career struggles here.

What’s the journey here?? Where’s the roadmap??

Recent inner dialogue: do I write a short story first? Then edit it? Then what? Do I waste time + money getting a professional editor at this early stage (when the story is completed)? Do I just put it out there for free? Do I make it available on just Kindle/iBooks, or on other platforms too? Do I start charging eventually? When? Will anyone actually find + read the damn thing in the first place?

Why am I even writing this story? Is it for my own personal joy + creative self-expression, or for the money + fame + kudos from becoming an author? Again, it comes back down to those ridiculously high expectations which I put on my shoulders from the outset, when all this is just an idea in my head and I haven’t even put pen-to-paper yet!

This is what happens to me. And then when I’m connecting with others online, reading their bloggers, looking at their follower counts, seeing the stories they’ve already written… this is when I feel worse, inadequate even, and doubt I am capable and whether I’ll ever get there/ And perhaps at that point I’ll stop before I even get started, not wanting to try and fail. Not wanting the humiliation.

All of this I’m thinking when, at the time of writing, I am barely a week into writing my first story in 15 years (i.e. since creative writing at school in English).

Ridiculous. pressure. and. expectations. doh.

Another example: when I go to the gym, I sometimes pressure myself to have a ‘decent enough’ workout and push myself and be there for a length of time I deem acceptable – pressuring myself to have a ‘good’ workout, rather than praising myself for being at the gym in the first place and doing what I feel.

I worry that I’ll keep failing, and be a bum trying to make ends meet, and with barely enough money – and capability – to function as a self-sustaining adult, let alone with a family to look after further down the line. After all these hopes + the decent start I’d been given in life.. amounting to nothing in the end.

I feel overwhelmed by pressure, and doubt, and fear, and this scenario where I can no longer depend on others (parents, family) to look after me and help me out, that I’m sh*t at DIY, my culinary skills are basic, that when it comes to living on my own or even with a partner, I just won’t be able to cope. Terrifying.

The pressure I put on myself can be overwhelming sometimes. And it’s only when I face it head on and write it down like this, that I realise just how much of it exists, and how it permeates my life + psyche from all angles.

by Jas

✏ Written: Saturday, 10th March 2018 @ 3.24pm

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What about you? 🤷🏽‍♂️
Do you find yourself putting a lot of pressure on yourself, or not? Is this conscious or subconscious (without you realising it)? Are you doing anything to change this? I’d love to hear about your experiences 💙

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Are weekend lie-ins a good thing?

I woke up this morning around 10.30am. Or rather, I spelt in until then, having woken up a couple of times before that, and then drifted in and out of sleep.

Whilst I’m without the structure of a regular job, I’m trying to be sensible during the week. The beginning of the week can be tricky, with my own version of the ‘Monday blues’ even though I’m not currently working; this comes from my desire to be getting out and going to work, like most folks are doing.

When I was working in recruitment, weekend lie-ins were to make up for the sleep debt that I’d accumulated during the working week; I’d be working 8.30am-6.00pm as a minimum, with 75-90mins of travel each way on top of that. When I got home, I inevitably wanted to stay up and unwind a little before going to bed. Thinking back, I was constantly exhausted and never really had quality time to myself, unless I mustered up the energy to go to the gym.

Right now, I don’t have much of an excuse to have a ‘sleep debt’. I’m someone who needs my sleep to function well, ideally a solid 8-9 hours. (they say that more than 9 hours can be – believe it or not – detrimental to our health; this may explain why lie-ins can leave you feeling tired/groggy after you wake up and/or during the day).

weekend lieins
credit: w4media

Whilst I seem to be more of a natural ‘night owl’, finding my flow and becoming more productive as the day progresses; if I wake up a little late and have a slow morning, I have to be careful as there’s a risk the day will turn into one of low productivity. Especially whilst it’s totally up to you to make each day count – i.e. with a boss/employer there putting pressure on you.

I used to think I was a late night worker/writer, as I enjoy the quiet that comes as night, and am able to work without noise or distractions. I was once fortunate enough to Skype with one of my favourite introvert bloggers and experts, Michaela Chung of Introvert Spring. She had a beautiful phrase to describe when she felt she was most focused with respect to getting her writing done – “on the edges of the day”. Or, in other words, early in the morning or at night.

For myself, and backed up by the sleep research out there, I’ve realised that the more I can stick to a firm schedule – weekday or weekend – the healthier this seems to be. Fluctuating sleep and wake times keep my body guessing and I already know that I don’t function well when I’ve had insufficient sleep. Yes, you can sleep in at the weekend, and hey – sometimes that’s OK to be a little loose and enjoy some precious more minutes in bed, however that can then throw your schedule when Monday morning comes around again. At least, it does for me.

In an ideal world, this is what my sleep schedule would look like:

– Go to bed between 10 and 11pm (i.e. head hitting pillow, any reading/writing in bed done beforehand)

– Getting into bed at 10pm or soon after, so I can read or write to unwind

– Waking up 7-7.30am; allowing me to be up and ready to go for 9am, whether at home or at work

– No phone or laptop after 8pm; I really notice that screen-time affects the quality of my sleep/grogginess; TV is also not ideal, but sometimes I like to watch something before I get into bed; If I need to stream something, I can use Chromecast to play it on my TV (rather than on the mobile screen)

– No phone/laptop in first 1-2 hours after waking up; after turning phone on, not looking at it (unless I get a call; notifications are muted) – so that I start the day consciously, in a proactive/creative mode, rather than a reactive mode, which is what happens when checking/responding to emails, social media or WordPress.

Note 1: I also have a Lumie Bodyclock, which helps me both sleep and wake up naturally, using it’s light (I feel myself nodding off as I read and the light gradually gets less and less bright, words on the page become increasingly illegible).

Note 2: I’ve also noticed that if I sleep at 11pm vs, say 1am, even if I get 9 hours of sleep in both instances, I feel better and more refreshed in the former scenario. i.e. I feel more tired the later I sleep, no matter how long I have slept.

In short, for me, a big weekend lie-in is not ideal. Perhaps I can afford an extra hour max (i.e. 9am latest) as a treat. Or in the rare instance that I have a late one (it happens!), of course it’s acceptable – I’m only human.

However, my aspiration is to stick to a routine, with the flexibility in timings that I’ve described, so that my mind and body are looked after, I am more productive and focused, and – most important of all – I feel better.

✏ Written: Friday, 2nd March 2018 @ 9.48pm

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What about you? 🤷🏽‍♂️
Do you have a sleep schedule for the week? Is it different during the week vs the weekend? It’d be cool to hear what you’re routine is (or isn’t) like! 💙

The importance of routine for a messy guy

I would describe myself as a bit of a messy person. Let me explain. I don’t naturally ‘do’ orderly. Organisation and admin are definitely not amongst my strengths.

My bedroom shelves are full of books and paper, including my Law books from the Law degree I dropped out of at university ten years ago. That’s right. TEN years ago. My bedside cabinet has a couple of piles of books I’ve started / dipped into at night. I can be a bit of a hoarder, though I’m trying to get better at this.

mess image
credit: stevepb

Another way of looking at it is that I like to do what I want to do, when I want to do it. And often, organisation/putting things away isn’t so much something I fancy doing. And then I end up doing it once in a blue moon. I just don’t have the motivation to do it.

I don’t have to do anything. And especially whilst I haven’t been working, I especially don’t have to do anything. If I’m not careful, a slow day of relaxing/procrastinating/thinking can wind up with me being indoors, not doing much, and gradually getting more low and moody as the day progresses (especially as mornings can often feel cumbersome for me).

On the other hand, I can find structure incredibly stifling. One of the challenges I had in my last employer’s open-plan office was having a manager I was accountable to, and certain targets I needed to meet. Being the funky maverick I was, most of the time I’d manager to hit the one big target which mattered (i.e. revenue generated), even if I didn’t hit all of those individual targets beneath (e.g. that teeeedious logging on the computer system).

I like to do things my way, in my own time. I really value this individuality and freedom. For me, this is the challenge that comes with working for anyone, or in a team; working in a sales environment was particularly tedious and, at times, nigh on overwhelming. Plus, office politics and all that bullsh*t really isn’t for me.

Besides, there are times when I don’t have a particular plan (e.g. my old job), but still manage to perform and get things done, even if not in the most productive or efficient manner. Trouble is, you are just relying on whatever mood you happen to be in, feel bad after a day/week when you haven’t ‘done enough’, and never know when to stop when you’re in the zone and making stuff happen.

One of the ways in which setting quantifiable tasks (e.g. a to-do list) can help, is that, at the end of the day, there is a tangible sense of accomplishment – and, once you’re done, you’re done. (An added challenge for me, here, is that I always get too carried away and expect too much of myself – or if I’m not feeling in the mood I get nothing done – so I can feel sh*tty either way).

For me, the best way seems to be a balance between having a couple of things to do, but without so many that I feel overwhelmed, and also with some flexibility. For example, starting on something though not necessarily having to complete it.

I came across Leo Babauta’s ‘3 Most Important Things’ and quite liked it. Basically it forces you to choose just 3 things and therefore prioritise, thus giving you a structure. Currently, most days I try to have a task list which allows for flexibility. There are some key things on there which I endeavour to do daily – e.g. writing, exercise and some form of meditation/being still. Aside from that, my main priorities are around my job search (which will introduce further routine plus learning and money), and my creative writing.

Often, I can get overwhelmed and doubt myself and my ability, plus worrying about not having all of the answers about what I ‘should’ be doing with my life, and whether ‘it’ will pan out successfully for me in the future. Setting those small tasks helps me avoid freezing up and just spending a whole day thinking/worrying/doubting myself. The key is just getting cracking on one of the daily tasks, and as early in the day as possible.

I’m a messy guy. I like to be messy and creative. I like to feel free. But having a flexible structure enables me to keep on track, and actually take consistent action that gives me the knowledge that I’m moving forwards. Oh, and it also ensures that I’m actually using my creativity and creating; for me, this means putting pen to paper and getting words down – whether it’s my journalling, poetry or story-writing.

PS. Btw, I’m typing this up from a hotel by the Albert Dock in lovely Liverpool. My mum booked a family mini-break away to see the Terracotta Warriors exhibition at the World Museum – we went earlier and it was *so* interesting!  The Terracotta Army collection dates from around the 3rd century BC!

✏ Written: Thursday, 1st March 2018 @ 2.18pm

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What about you? 🤷🏽‍♂️
Are you a goal-/task-setter, or a little more ‘messy’ like I *naturally* am? How do you best function? I’d love to get your perspective on this 💙