What would you do if you believed your life really mattered?
I asked myself this the other day while sat on a striped deckchair outside Foyles bookshop on London’s vibrant South Bank. It was early evening and I’d nipped into the store to buy a couple of novels – I was feeling a little blue (more about the reasons for that in a future post when I’m more ready to write about it) and was trying to practice as much self-care and self-love as possible. I thought a couple of works of fiction – bought after browsing the shelves of an actual book shop rather than clicking on an Internet link and waiting for a brown cardboard package to land on the doormat – would do me the world of good.
I’ve started with The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, which I’ve wanted to read for ages, and I’m already loving it. In fact, I’ve already got that feeling that I don’t want it to end and I’m not even a quarter of the way through.
Before opening Harold, however, I sat on my striped deckchair reading The Little Book of Confidence by Susan Jeffers. It’s one of those handbag-sized books they place at the till, knowing that in the few minutes it takes to complete a transaction, you’ve probably flicked through a couple of pages and decided it’s worth an extra three pounds. In this case, I bought it for a friend who I was about to meet for dinner (doing something for others is a great tonic when you’re feeling blue and a little self-obsessed, I always find, it gets you out of your own head). But they didn’t have any gift paper to hand, which meant I could have a glance at its contents before giving it away.
I was struck by a lot of what Jeffers wrote – I read her Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway a number of years ago – and although The Little Book of Confidence is a little simplistic in places, I found it powerful and very relevant.
Here are a few of the passages that caught my eye:
“Life is always bringing us new adventures. New challenges arise involving career moves; relationships end and so on. But if you have given 100 percent, when the time comes to move on, you have nothing to regret.”
Giving 100 percent, I guess, is the opposite of ambivalence, which is something I struggle with and a topic I blogged about in a previous post. It’s particularly relevant to my book – The Baby Gap. Sometimes, I feel it’d be so easy not to write it, to give up, to move on to something else. But I’m pretty sure this would leave me with deep regret and I’m just as confident that if I give it 100 percent and it doesn’t work out – it doesn’t get published or it doesn’t sell many copies – I’ll feel a lot happier in myself and will be able to congratulate myself for giving it my all. The same goes for relationships, but more about that another day.
Jeffers says “knowing that you count and 100 percent commitment are the magic duo“. She suggests we ask ourselves what we would be doing in each area of our lives – say personal growth, relationship, career, family, spiritual growth, contribution to the community, alone time and play time – if we believed we really counted. It’s a great question. And a challenging one. And the answers will be different for all of us.
As I sat on the deckchair outside Foyles, I tried to come up with some of my own answers. What would I do if I believed I really counted? Well, I would love and be loved, write, use my gifts and talents to bring joy to myself and to be of service to others, grow, experience and appreciate the beauty of the world and its people, do my best to touch people’s lives and to be open to be touched by the lives of others. I would walk through my fears, take leaps of faith, worry less, try to have fewer regrets and seize life’s opportunities with an open heart and as much enthusiasm as I could muster. Jeffers suggests we “interpret inappropriate fears as a green light to move ahead, an opportunity to grow and live life more fully – instead of as a signal to retreat“.
I would also love, cherish, nurture and care for myself more. I would commit to nurturing, stretching and strengthening exercise and activities that make my heart sing and bring me peace, from swimming in the sea to meditating in the sunshine. I would speak up more – in a measured, thoughtful way – I would be more honest (with myself and others), less afraid of confrontation and other people’s anger. I would give more (Jeffers writes that “when giving is about getting, fear is created. Give with an open heart with nothing expected and peace reigns“. And I would accept myself more, since this is the way to learn to accept others.
Which takes me to a meditation I heard this morning. I’ve been doing the 21-day meditation challenge led by Deepak Chopra and while I haven’t loved all of it and haven’t been hugely diligent with my meditation, I particularly liked this morning’s message: The world is my mirror.
We are all mirrors of each other and we see ourselves in others in relationships, particularly the most intimate of relationships. If you’re like me and you struggle with self-acceptance and are prone to self-criticism, it’ll be the things you most dislike about yourself that you see so clearly and most want to change in others. It can be a painful realisation but, as Deepak says, one that becomes a tool for the evolution of our consciousness. In other words, it helps us grow. I’ll end with a quotation Deepak read this morning that particularly moved me:
The good you find in others, is in you too.
The faults you find in others, are your faults as well.
After all, to recognize something you must know it.
The possibilities you see in others, are possible for you as well.
The beauty you see around you, is your beauty.
The world around you is a reflection, a mirror
showing you the person you are.
To change your world, you must change yourself.
To blame and complain will only make matters worse.
Whatever you care about, is your responsibility.
What you see in others, shows you yourself.
See the best in others, and you will be your best.
Give to others, and you give to yourself.
Appreciate beauty, and you will be beautiful.
Admire creativity, and you will be creative.
Love, and you will be loved.
Seek to understand, and you will be understood.
Listen, and your voice will be heard.
Show your best face to the mirror, and you’ll be happy
With the face looking back at you.