“Christmas tree!” My daughter yells as we step onto the escalator at David Jones. It's October and it's a timely reminder that the end of the year is about to hit me with light speed.
The Christmas tree sighting releases a small surge of panic, but I’m thankful to DJ’s for triggering my annual burst of planning for the next year. It doesn’t matter when you initiate this. Another great time is as soon as the 2019 diaries start to appear. Go for the diaries which start in December because in my realm, a year is thirteen months.
It can be stressful to hit the road in January. I know. I should have posted this in November.
With a bit of forethought you can ease into the weight of expectation, excitement, inspiration, order, chaos or introspection that can overwhelm us in January with the start of another new year.
Here are some thoughts to get you started...
Holidays. A good place to start is to block out your leave/holiday dates on a single page calendar or your new diary where the whole year is on a page or a double page. Using different colours and annotating what you intend to do helps to lift the spirits as you anticipate the journeys or events you’ll make in the coming twelve months. It’s motivating as it’s always good to have something to look forward to.
Do you keep a diary? My friend keeps a diary which he writes only throughout the month of January. I see him having lunch on the benches of the high-rise building where we work. He writes long-hand in an A4 notebook and the look on his face as he writes is one of calm and accomplishment. Then January is over and the the exercise book is put away for another year.
Academic Paul Dolan is a Professor of Behavioural Science in the UK and has advised the UK government on wellbeing. In his ground-breaking 2014 book Happiness by Design, Paul describes how being happier means allocating attention more efficiently; towards things that bring us pleasure and purpose.
After interviewing Paul in 2015, I decided to do my own annual happiness stock-take, which I’ve done for the last three years. I keep the lists in a locked file on my phone.
Doing an annual stock-take gets me thinking about what’s important to me.
The more I look at the list, the more resolved I feel.
One thing I noticed was that I did quite a few projects for people, simply because they asked me to. Sometimes I took things on, because there was a decent payment attached to it. Often, it wasn’t really work I wanted to do. So I decided to draw up some rules about the types of projects I wanted to take on. I also learned that if I didn’t want to do something, I should let people know immediately. These two strategies allowed me to say ‘no’ to work that didn’t align with my intentions.
The start of the year tends to move slowly for some of us. At around this time some years back, I asked someone I respected if I could meet them for a coffee to discuss a few career-related issues. Now I schedule coffee-chats or quick lunches throughout the year. You could even suggest a walk-talk. In many cases, if you explain that you a) admire someone’s work b) want to learn c) you are patient with their shortage of time d) can be focused about what you want to gain from talking with them, it’s unlikely they will turn you down.
Related to the coffee-chats is a habit I was taught when I did a life-coaching course a decade ago. Our tutor asked us about self-care. She told us to make a list of people we enjoyed seeing and other ways that we could look after ourselves. We were urged to put regular dates in the calendar: exercise sessions, massage or hair appointments, lunch-dates during the working week with interesting/inspiring friends. When I told my friend about the strategy, over one of our lunches at a Japanese restaurant (where we sit at the same table each time ;)) she gave me some extra tips which I am passing on: “Life is about choices," and "every little bit counts.”
Whether you are saving for a something, trying to lose weight, or attempting to start a big project, making small inroads is better than fretting about the mountain which lies ahead.
In my neighbourhood, someone started a public wishing hedge. It's a lovely idea but to make your wishes come true, you have to make a plan.
I am always feel a little low at New Year. The introvert in me makes an appearance. So I won't wish you a happy 2019, but a thoughtful one where planning can make a difference. Do the stock-take and let me know what you think.
I recently asked a guest whether she'd had a 'normal childhood.'
I was quoting something she'd said herself in a documentary.
People will often tell me they've had a 'normal' childhood.
Or they dispute that their childhood was normal.
But what is normal?
Is it nothing out of the ordinary?
What exactly is ordinary?
Apparently, normal is something between 'typical' and 'ideal'.
I would have said my childhood, growing up in colonial Hong Kong was normal. Nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing to see here.
Yet when I was a child, there were violent protests by Mao's sympathiser's blocking the city centre. Several bombs were set off to cause damage to the colonial government and its officials. Later I remember an apartment building collapsed after days of heavy rain, killing dozens of people and injuring others whom my family knew. The morning newspaper was filled with headlines of people fleeing China across a waterway and getting bitten by sharks in the process.
Or there was the day when I was convinced people on television could look through the TV set and actually see me, so I applied to be part of a children's TV show so that I could be sure of this incredibly phenomenon.
Maybe my childhood wasn't so normal?
I made a note not to ask that question again. But then again, very little seems normal at the moment. Perhaps that in itself is a good conversation starter.
For six months a year, the beach is mine. This is how it looks when it belongs to me; just like this.
The hoards are gone. They mistakenly populate the beach at the least nice time of the year and vacate at the very best time of the year. But perhaps I won’t mention it to the hoards who don't know this.
I was about to enter a stupidly expensive ‘Delicatessen’ when a woman in a tracksuit, sitting on a bench outside, spoke to.
“Can I have some money to buy a coffee at Gusto’s?” she asked.
My brain was misfiring with the following dot-points:
The woman in the tracksuit knows the coffee shop well enough to name it
She did not look like a drug abuser, although that is impossible to tell these days
I do not like giving people on the street money except The Big Issue sellers, the Friday charity days or a few private causes, because I worry the money will be spent on drugs.
The lady in the tracksuit was very polite and I liked her
I said, “No, sorry.” That’s what I usually say.
But I really did want her to have a coffee at Gusto’s so I found $5 in coins and went outside again.
“This is for coffee,” I said smiling sternly, “not for anything else.”
“Oh don’t you worry, that’s what I’m going to get. Thank-you so much darling.”
I went into the stupidly expensive Delicatessen and bought one tin of beetroot, two raw carrots and three bread rolls.
When I came out, the woman in the tracksuit was still there. I looked surprised.
“Don’t worry Miss, I’m going to get a coffee over at Gusto’s, but if I get another $6 I can get a bagel as well!”
I smiled. She’s just wants everyone else to pay for her breakfast.
“I don’t drink and I don’t smoke. I gave up smoking a month and a half ago,” she said.
I wanted to say, “What about drugs?” but I didn’t. She didn’t seem like a drug abuser, although as I’ve said it’s impossible to tell these days. People might think that about me.
I headed home past my beach, thinking about Lily Brett. I met her this week. I got to interview her and spoke with her afterwards about writing.
She thinks journalists can be very hard on themselves when it comes to writing. She was never trained as a journalist. She just started to write.
So I am going home to write and think about Lily Brett.
They both have a tendancy to keep things. Alot of things.
So as I sort through my own belongings after moving house, the biggest question is what to throw and what to keep?
My Dad values books. My Mum values curios; rare, intriguing or unusual objects.
But I think what we are all hoarding are memories, and as I've realised, not just our own.
Some years ago I received a collection of old dolls in national costumes that you bought as travel souvenirs. As I took them from the shoe-box, they were crushed and some of the costumes had faded. Some are better made than others (and I love the blinking eyes). But they belong on a shelf and I have precious little shelf-space.
I have an attachment to old books. So many of these titles have been digitised now, perhaps that's the way to go? But I can't help holding on to the eras they represent.
I have always developed literary 'crushes'. When I lived in London, my Dad introduced me to the writing of Gertrude Bell. (Nicole Kidman has made Queen of the Desert about the life of this amazing woman).
In London, I did a food-writing course and discovered the life Elizabeth David. My collection of her books and books about her are something I cannot let go of.
Then there's the China and Middle-East period and the carpets and furniture I have lovingly bought in markets and souks and lugged with me all over the world. Sigh.
I've concluded that one should keep very few things and to let our treasures go quickly, preferably to good homes and people.
It's supposed to feel good to give to the Salvos or Vinnies, but leaving bags of memories alongside the other over-stuffed donations at the op-shops doesn't feel right.
Recently, I was asked for some advice by a young man who’s about to finish a politics degree and is keen to be a journalist.
He wanted to know about insights, regrets and aspirations I had as a young journalist and the expectations I had at the outset of my career.
He asked whether a master’s degree in journalism from a good institution was more important than building a profile and a portfolio.
He also asked whether being gay and not ‘blokey’ was something he’d have to grapple with. After pondering the questions, I decided to write a kind of 'this is what I know now.'
If you want a career badly enough, persistence is the only option. Persistence, practice, feedback (criticism) and life experience leads to mastery of the craft.
There has never been enough feedback in my career. Some organisations are surprisingly poor at this and I used to be too frightened to ask. My bad.
Always ask for a position, a role, a project that you want. Don’t wait for the invitation. If you ask and you don’t get it, ask why not and take note.
Challenge yourself, even when others don’t.
Don’t fear being outside the pack but more relevant perhaps, why define yourself by what others think?
The thing that stops people the most is self-sabotage. “I can’t do that or be that,” says the internal voice rather than “What do they want and how do I give it to them?"
Networking, building a profile and a portfolio or studying for an MA: further study is great once you’ve had a bit of experience. Mid-career, an MA - or fellowship - is a great opportunity to down tools, take stock, absorb and grow new branches.