The edge of competitiveness

“Go fast enough to get there, but slow enough to see” (Jimmy Buffet)

What’s the first thing you say to people when they ask how you went in a race? For me that question has but one meaning, what was your time? I never really think to answer, it went fine, because I’m pretty sure what the follow up question would be.

I’m not sure what makes us so competitive, some of it is probably the way we’ve been brought up by our families and pushed to do better and better and some of it is probably our friend groups and the environment and interactions they promote.

Competitiveness it seems to me is both a blessing and a curse. It infiltrates many areas of my life, some are quite evident, some not so.  To a degree I think most of us feel it, whether it is keeping up with the Jones sort of stuff or a desire to achieve bigger and better things than our contemporaries. The popularity of a range of different social media platforms provides us with multiple opportunities to take part in these ‘compare and contrast’ exercises. I don’t as I’m sure some people would have you believe, view these platforms as bad because the crux is, they provide us with ‘opportunities’ rather than make us feel one way or another. We all have free will to choose what we think and do.

The last few weeks leading into the marathon gave me a lot of time to reflect as I was completing the training runs. A friend suggested to me some months ago that I use Strava to record my runs and that way we could both view each other’s training and provide encouragement. It sounded like a fantastic idea at the time and I quickly signed up. Strava basically downloads the stats from my running watch and duplicates them into an interface through which people can view them. After a while, I decided to add a few other people and people started sending me requests and before you know it, I have 10 contacts. I then noticed that the app tracks your time over various segments of a run and compares this to everyone who has ever run that stretch. The app also has various challenges which you can compete in.

That’s maybe when the fun started. I call it ‘fun’ in a very tongue in cheek way. Part of me likes that drive, that competition and comparison to push things further but increasingly I tend to not enjoy that side of running. I’ve run some decent times in my day and to a degree can still manage a fair clip but lately I’ve begun to wonder whether it’s taking the fun out of running. 

My choice to run the marathon with a friend of mine didn’t come about because of the purist motives of friendship. I was training well for the marathon but half way through I had to go on teaching placement for 4 weeks. Those 4 weeks were intense, and I had to drop my running program from three runs a week to one run and I quickly concluded that I wasn’t going to challenge my previous marathon time. At that point I considered dropping to the half marathon, but my friend convinced me to do the full marathon. My compromise was that I’d run the marathon at his pace instead of mine.

And so, to the race. For the first time for a long time, I thoroughly enjoyed a race. My pace meant I was able to do lots of things I could not do at my first marathon. I chatted to spectators, I danced past the bands, I high-fived lots of kids and adults along the route, stopped at water stations and generally felt more of the overall experience of a run than I ever have. On a few occasions as my feet naturally pushed me forward, my friend asked me to run ahead and leave him if I wanted but I refused every time, probably much to his dismay! However, I had a ball. I had a beaming smile on my face from about two kilometres out and I had that hair standing up on my neck feeling as I ran the last kilometre into the MCG. It was amazing. Plus, I could still easily walk afterwards with only a couple of slight pains and absolutely no cramp.

All of this has really led me to think about both my own competitive nature and the effect that social media platforms have on it. With that in mind, I’ve decided that after a parkrun this Saturday, I will delete Strava and try to run once again because I love running rather than running for times. I feel by removing it, I will not be able to compare my times with anyone else and no-one will be able to compare them with me. I don’t plan to stop running with a running watch on, but going forward those stats will be for my viewing and any competitiveness will be with myself, which I guess at the end of the day is the only person we really ever compete with.

I’ll let you know how it goes 😊

IJS

15/10/2018

3000 Public Transport Stories (How I learnt to stop worrying and love the tram)

I sat on the tram yesterday, the first time I had for a very long time. I tend to train it or walk nowadays but I thought for a change I’d catch the 57 up through North Melbourne and to home, even though it is a much longer journey than the train. I sat opposite a woman who got on at the start of the line like me and was still there when I got off. Her actions, demonstrated to me how much my attitudes have changed over the last couple of years.

Within a few minutes of getting on, she had the song ‘My Prerogative’ playing on YouTube without any headphones so the whole tram could hear. Previously this might of annoyed me and in some circumstances I may have spoken up and questioned what she was doing. But, in some ways this brought some vibrancy to my journey home. However, she played it three more times, stopping the YouTube clip after it had finished and replaying it. Then she phoned someone after the third play and I couldn’t tell whether she was arranging a date or setting up musicians to meet. The pretext definitely sounded like the second but I think she was trying to arrange the first. After the call had finished, she put the phone down, ate some carrot and dip and then played the song again until I got off.

It made me think that at some level, the song meant something to her. And particularly the words ‘everybody’s talking all this stuff about me, why don’t they just let me live’ and I wondered whether her playing of the song was either meant to prompt interaction with the people around her or maybe the song on some level was a comfort to her. I think at times in our lives we have all associated with the lyrics of a particular song, a song that has spoken about our own situation and perhaps we haven’t played it obsessively to an audience on public transport, but maybe in the privacy of our own homes, we have. This women managed to nudge me about three or four times but apologised every time so I didn’t once question her niceness or that she was deliberately trying to antagonise people.

About a week ago I attended a school play for the school I’d taught at for my first placement. As I walked into the venue and up towards a seat at the front, I heard a chorus from one side of the auditorium shout ‘Ian’ and then a group of students ran towards me and hugged me. If I ever wondered what appreciation for the job I’ve done was, it was there in those few moments. To see that I’d made an impression on a few young minds and that I’d done something that they would remember and hence they remembered me. As my class walked off stage after their part was over, one of the boys in grade 1 must have known I was seated where I was and looked over and waved at me with a big smile of his face. A smile of how proud he was of the job he’d done and how glad he was I was there to see it. That is powerful stuff and a few seconds demonstrated an appreciation I haven’t felt in years in other jobs. And that’s a shame. I’ve too easily settled for comfortable positions where I could easily do the roles without much of a challenge, but with that comfort came a feeling of emptiness and I never really appreciated a job well done or felt I was adding value in the way I wanted to.

Today I reached 3000 different beers in the last 6 years. An achievement eh? A numerical one maybe, but not really an achievement in any other sense. At 2000 beers I made a claim that, that was it and I would just enjoy my beers instead of this constant search for new ones. Perhaps though the times just weren’t right for that and I wasn’t ready. It’s a very human characteristic to be constantly searching for something new, to seek happiness from external sources instead of internal ones. But perhaps I’m in a better space on many levels; I feel I’ve returned to me. The true me. The one that does things because I enjoy them rather than because they may impress others. I’m sure that feeling for many of us comes out of a lack of security, and however many people seem full of confidence; my experience is the most seemingly confident tend to be the most insecure.

To err, after all is to be human. I’m very much in transition internally, I’m returning to the things I love because I love them and they bring me genuine joy, not because of what they look like from outside. A great example is my love of horse racing, which I’m indulging more, and more at the moment. I understand that people may object to horse racing and indeed gambling for many reasons, but they are their objections and not mine. I don’t force my advocacy of my pastimes on my friends and I appreciate that they don’t enforce their objections on me. I shouldn’t feel that I need to defend my enjoyment of it and why. We shouldn’t be shamed into not liking the things we like because of other peoples opinions. I feel that my individual opinion is as valid as anyone else’s and differences should be respected. A long time ago, I was vegetarian for 5 years and I remember that everyone had an opinion and in the end I became such a moralistic vegetarian just to defend why I was vegetarian in the first place. The truth was at the time I just didn’t like the texture of meat but this reason didn’t seem to be enough for people.

Life changes at such a pace and our attitudes to it. Friends come and go through our lives, some remain constant, and some leave and some just drift away. At times we choose to listen to our friend’s counsel and at times we ignore it. That maybe justified, that may not be. All these relationships on some level are transactional, we give and we take. Although that balance can be temporarily skewed, in the long run these relationships provide us with something valuable and them with something valuable too.

We should be grateful for those that share our journey, that light the dark corners and remember that they like us because of what we are and not what we think they want us to be.

IJS 20/06/2018

Back to the classroom

From spilling coffee down myself on day one, to falling asleep on a train on day eighteen. From losing control of a class, to having a student tell me that ‘I sounded more like a teacher’ as I was telling off one of the boys in the class. I’ve had hours of conversations with my mentor teacher and taken away a lot of lessons. An early observation was however hard my mentor teacher seemingly was with her class they all appeared to love her at the end of the day. We had a discussion about this a few days ago and she said as long as the students think you are being just and fair they won’t hold it against you, which I thought was a nice piece of advice.

The students have frustrated me, tried my patience, amazed me and made me proud. For every lesson I thought didn’t go well, another did. On the penultimate day I asked my class what they thought of the personal timeline project I’d set them. They started with ‘100% fun’ and then ‘120% fun’. This might suggest I failed in my maths teaching!

I’ve dealt with children with a variety of learning difficulties and done all this whilst embracing a teaching method that could be seen as a little unusual. Self-directed learning and three-hour lessons may sound the stuff of nightmares for some teachers and would probably keep others awake at night, but the more I got used to it the more I saw its benefits, especially with children on the margins.

Saying all this I had a wise experienced mentor who told it straight all the time and I took on board everything I was told, despite that response you sometimes get when you are given ‘feedback’. What I’m talking about is that natural urge to ignore it or hide away from it and not face it. The teaching assistant was also invaluable; from rescuing me on day one when a teacher I can only assume misheard that this was my first day put me 1:1 with the most disruptive student in the class, to providing the materials for my increasingly practical and material heavy lessons.

I was worried before I began. I thought, I’m nearly half way through, what if I don’t like it? What if I decide it isn’t for me? There is always that possibility, at least in my mind. But instead I thrived. I experimented with what worked and what didn’t. I changed my opinion on discipline and I taught some lessons that captured the attention of my class.

I’ve done lots of non-teaching duties as well; gate duty, attended staff and department meetings, watched my class prepare for the school play and learnt how to deal with situations that frankly would have freaked me out six weeks ago. I’ve laughed and almost cried at the things that have gone on and the way the children have reacted.

There was one thing that took me time to get used to. Before I started my mentor teacher warned me that the children like to touch you. Despite being told, I wasn’t ready for such an invasion of my personal space. But after a while the hugs, the way the children push themselves into you, became a nice part of the job. As did the cards they made for me. I guessed something was happening when a few of them came up to me after they’d finished making mother’s day cards and asking how to spell my name.

It’s been a pleasure to work with such young and open minds. To put some of the theory that I’ve studied into practice and to understand that theory is one thing but getting out there and standing in front of a class calls for a lot more than thinking about your teaching ‘pedagogy’ and theorising about how children learn. Decisions are made on the hop, lessons can turn in seconds and unusual random events happen all the time. Perhaps the ability to be dynamic and move outside of a structured way of thinking is the greatest lesson the class has taught me. And I’ve embraced that, just as they have embraced learning from me.

Those who know me well will know that I find it hard to stop and appreciate an achievement before moving on to the next challenge. It’s been ingrained in me to always think I could have done a better job, to look for what I’ve done wrong, instead of what I’ve done right. But this time, as I sat on the train home on one of my final days, the emotion washed over me, and a voice said that I should be proud of the job I’ve done. I should be giving myself a pat on the back. I should let that feeling linger a while and enjoy it. I sat there on the penultimate day as my mentor teacher filled in my end of placement report and spent thirty minutes complimenting me on the job I’d done, the feedback she’d given me that I’d enacted, my willingness to step in and the way I cared for the children in her class. It’s always nice to be told that you’ve done a good job, but in my experience it’s rare for people to actually tell you.

There have been other signs too. Claire has commented on how I come home of an evening and enjoy talking about work. I can’t remember the last time I’ve done that. I had a policy for many years that I wouldn’t talk about work at home.  I felt as though it had invaded the majority of my day and I wouldn’t let it invade any more. Maybe that’s the difference between a job and a career. A career is something you live, a job is something you do.

So I get to sit at home and study for a couple of months, but the break from the classroom is short which is actually nice. Part of me doesn’t want to have an alarm go off at 6.15 am in the morning and have to drag myself out of bed, but part of me does as well. Part of me likes getting my coffee from Coles (they’re only $2 for a large), likes doing my admin on the train and enjoys walking into the classroom waiting for the children to come in for the day. I head back to the classroom in August, this time to teach grades 5&6 in a different school, but I have a feeling I will return to this first one. Many of the children have asked if I’ll come back and see them and I will. My first placement and teaching experience is special, it’ll be forever etched on my memory.

Teaching hey? I’m not saying this is for everyone, but it seems like it might be for me.

IJS 25/05/2018

Holiday dilemmas

Holidays really are a microcosm of life in general. Everything that would normally happen is so sped up because of all the decisions we make, which would normally take weeks. Hence a week is a long time in holidays! Whilst away we faced a number of dilemmas which I suppose in many ways are just the run of the mill kind but something you never quite sit down and think about.

Dilemma No. 1 : Why doesn’t it look anything like the pictures?

I’m sure I’m not alone in this one. I sit at home on booking.com or a hotel’s website and I wonder at the pictures of the room I’m about to book and the lifestyle I’m going to lead because of this amazing room.  Years of staying in hotels after booking them has brought me to the conclusion that whenever you go, the hotel never ever lives up to your expectation. I’m not entirely sure what the reason is for this, I guess the very wide angled lens they use to take pictures of the rooms to make them look massive, all the amenities they have (which they don’t when you arrive) or maybe it’s just that feeling of stepping off a flight which has taken hours, arriving at the hotel and feeling thoroughly miserable as you open the door and wonder why you booked this.

Interestingly, for the first time for a long time, I was actually not disappointed at this place. A few things came to light after a few days (some electrical tape round one of the lamp leads and the towel holder precariously attached to the wall) however the first impression was amazing. An apartment the size of our house, a second bedroom we didn’t expect (or use), a balcony overlooking a serenity pool with tables, chairs, outside fridge and BBQ.

Amazing!

Dilemma No. 2: We have to fit sooo much in!

Well you know what, you don’t really? Often the reason people state for going on holiday is to relax, only to get there and fill every moment of every day with things to do and see. Maybe this comes from the finiteness of our lives and the popular FOMO (fear of missing out ). Sometimes though isn’t it nice just to do absolutely nothing? Probably one of my greatest pleasures from the holiday we just went on was I had a 30-minute run in the humid tropical heat followed by a swim in one of the hotel’s pool (they had three) all before breakfast. It’s nothing amazing, or nothing I couldn’t recreate in Melbourne (bar the tropical heat and serenity pool)

I knew it was special, when I was walking back from the pool I felt that glow and calmness come over me and the very unusual human feeling of just being in the moment and enjoying it for what it is. I can’t claim I feel that a lot of the time, but when I do it’s always nice to pause, reflect and acknowledge it.

Dilemma No 3: Ethics and Values

Ethics and values are an interesting topic but particularly in relation to holidays, I’d like to pose a question, do we apply the same ethics and values when we’re on holiday as we do in our everyday lives? In reference to dilemma 2, I think the need to fit in so many things in might just lead us to doing things we wouldn’t normally do.

For us, our particular dilemma was about going to a popular crocodile farm. We were in FNQ and let’s face it crocodiles are a big attraction and everyone wants to see one. The day before we’d taken a trip down the river from Port Douglas and saw one on our whole cruise. That funnily enough was in the marina as we returned. I mean we didn’t really need to leave the marina. The next day we decided to go to a crocodile farm to see a few more. It’s not a widely advertised point but this crocodile farm kills most of its crocodiles and sells them on through another company to make high end handbags and shoes. Would I buy one of these handbags or shoes, nope. So why would I visit the crocodile farm. Well to see crocodiles. To be fair the place does do a lot of good work, rescuing crocodiles that are problems in the areas and housing them (and it’s not these crocs they kill) and there is something amazing about seeing a 4 metre crocodile jump out of the water to catch a piece of dangling meat but do I wish I hadn’t gone? I’m not quite sure would be my honest answer. Would I go to a crocodile farm in Victoria, probably not. I think it speaks a lot to how fluid our morals actually are depending on the situation.

Dilemma No 4: Not looking forward to things but actually enjoying them

This really isn’t just a holiday dilemma if you ask me. And maybe it’s really just a me dilemma. But there are some things which I arrange to do and coming up to the actual event, I have a feeling that I really am not going to enjoy them and I don’t want to go. I rarely act on this and I must admit, Claire is incredibly supportive in listening to my concerns and then just dragging me along anyway which I’m always quite grateful for because it’s very rare I don’t enjoy them.

In this instance it was a trip to the Great Barrier Reef. I’ve done a couple of days of snorkeling on reefs, once on the Great Barrier Reef and another in Fiji. I enjoyed the Great Barrier Reef one but the Fiji one, the operators just decided to drop people near the reef shelf by the deep ocean and drive the boat off and come back later. This can kind of freak you out although I’m a relatively strong swimmer. I guess I was carrying that memory in the run up to this trip.

However, I loved it. We had marine biologists on board and a really nice crew who remembered everyone’s names and I even got to tell my story about what had happened in Fiji. It was a relatively small group (about 25) and the reef was gentle and flat. I found the snorkeling pretty easy and really enjoyed it.

Dilemma No 5: To complain or not complain?

I must say I don’t often get bad restaurant service in Melbourne, in fact I can’t think of the last time I have really. There are maybe a few examples when things have taken longer than I wish they had but all in all I’ve been happy.

Fast forward to our latest holiday. One of the nights we decided we’d head out for a quick meal at a restaurant a few minutes’ walk away from us. I wasn’t requiring anything fancy, just a pizza and some Saganaki. What more does anyone need? As we walked in we noticed the restaurant was relatively busy however a seat was found for us after separating a couple of tables. We thought considering the busyness of the restaurant and our want to eat quick that we’d order everything at once, ignoring the popular convention of ordering drinks, waiting for the drinks then ordering food.

Order was taken by a waitress who appeared to be new. But she took our order, read it back and it was correct. After about 15 minutes the drinks hadn’t arrived so Claire inquired at the bar to be told they hadn’t been ordered. Cue our drinks being poured quickly and the waitress being berated in the background. Next our Saganaki arrived in good time and we both jumped on that, maybe me more than Claire. The final piece of the meal was a large pizza and a salad. The pizza came out, we started eating thinking the salad would come anytime. It hadn’t appeared after 10 minutes, we caught the waitresses eye and she came over. After asking about the salad we were told, she hadn’t ordered it and it was her fault. Not really what we were expecting, in most cases, the wait staff would have rushed to the kitchen and got the chef to rustle up a few leaves on a plate.

Pizzas finished we got up to leave and our waitress rushed over to the till before anyone else could get there, apologized again, produced the bill and nearly gave me the machine for a tip but thought better of it. We paid and left. We thought afterwards should we go back and complain, but never did. My Englishness means it has to be pretty appalling for me to complain and I much prefer to facelessly complain on social media nowadays but this service was close to the limit and part of why I generally feel a lot less anxiety going to a pub and ordering my drinks and meal at the bar, because it takes, in my opinion, an unnecessary transaction out of the experience.

All of this may in some ways suggest I had a bad holiday but in fact these are everyday events I face day in day out and I genuinely enjoyed my week away in the hot tropical sunshine.

IJS 06/03/2017

You don’t always get want you want

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Yesterday I received the worst mark I have had so far in my current studies. I wasn’t happy. I felt a mix of a lot of things, deflation, worthlessness and wondering if this was the right career step for me. In saying all of this the mark wasn’t that bad. I’ve grown used to getting fairly good marks in recent months so to all of a sudden get a lower mark definitely took the wind out of my sails.

With three more essays to do in just under two weeks, my optimism about getting them done and the quality of them has begun to drop. Claire tries her hardest to pump me back up as she always does reminding me that the type of assessment I’d done was something I’d never seen before and perhaps I need to go a little easier on myself.

But that is easier said that done. A lifetime of being hard on myself in light of my perceived failures is nothing you turn around in a day. But then this morning something happened that gave me a bit of perspective. I casually logged onto Facebook as I do ‘whilst I’m studying’ and noticed a post from one of my fellow students at university.

It read, “Feeling deflated! Actually more embarrassed, I didn’t pass the numeracy or literary test and now I’m rethinking my continuing degree”. It’s funny how we think about things a different way when something isn’t happening to us but rather to someone else. Within a couple of minutes, I replied with the following:

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Perspective is tough when its ourselves eh? And sometimes we need to something to jog us out of our way of thinking and today it seemed like this was sent along for a reason.

Although I’m still annoyed about the result, originally maybe due to that I thought it was unfair and my thinking that I deserved a better result, I now think what I produced just wasn’t good enough for a better grade. But I’m learning, as we do every day. The real problems are when we don’t learn from our mistakes, we don’t use our experiences to be better next time.

I cheer myself up in a very usual way. I go for a run and that process makes me realise something thats very important, I don’t give up. I finished a marathon, and if you ever want a situation where your mind gives you multiple reasons to give up, that is the best personal example I have.

And so I continue working with a bit of renewed vigour, ever hopeful that the good grades will keep coming and if not at least the experiences will build a resilience within myself that will enable me to deal with these situations better.

IJS 30/01/2018

What happens when everyone leaves?

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I thought maybe this year I’d try to write a few smaller pieces in the moment instead of longer pieces and try to make them a bit more regular. Although time will tell whether that eventuates.

I’m old enough to know that we all feel the same things, I’m not as unique as I thought was when I was a child or even into my early 20s. We’re just finishing a few weeks over Christmas where we’ve had family staying with us and through all the trials and tribulations of what that brings we’re at the point where everyone is leaving and suddenly in many ways its like it never happened at all. The memories are like the photos that were taken, they are stuck in time. Fleeting portraits of events that occurred and things that were done.

I guess it’s true of every part of life that we appreciate people the most when they aren’t there anymore. It’s a day to go, the first set of guests left today and tomorrow the final two guests leave and already I can feel that stirring of emotion inside me. That intense feeling of loneliness coming over like a wave and try as I might to hold it back, I can do little more than King Canute on the beach asking the tide to turn.

I suppose understanding the feeling is pretty advantageous, I don’t believe there is much really to be done about it. But it won’t hit as hard as it would do. If my life has taught me something over the last few years it is to have strategies in place. Being in my position of working from home every day, it can be a particularly isolating spot but once I anticipate the feeling at least I’m able to do something about it. Its much like that feeling when you first come back off holiday, you’ve had a fantastic time away and come back and just think, “is this it?”, but as experiences tell us, that feeling fades.

I’m incredibly lucky to have the friend set that I do and I’m able to arrange things within a few hours and all of sudden from having a lonesome old end to the week, its filled with people. However, part of me questions if this is really dealing with the emotion or rather avoiding it. And perhaps on that question, there isn’t really an answer. Part of me thinks I should be able to deal and cope with this, without seeking support and filling my time, but the other part of me thinks, well these options are available to me so why not use them. We can’t always be this stoic version of ourselves we build up in our minds, we aren’t impenetrable however much we like to think of ourselves that way.

I realise within a few days, it will be like Christmas and New Year never happened. It will just be back to what was. It seems as humans we struggle with change but too much of the same just gets us caught in a pattern of humdrumness, and whilst this offers us a modicum of control and comfort it seems to me that, that space is not where we truly live.

Time is ever moving forward and we move forward with it.

IJS 9/1/2017

2017: A year of seismic proportion

 

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I got to thinking as I was planning this blog. My thoughts were around how you could tell if it’s been a good year. It got me to thinking that it really depends on what you thought your year ahead would look like and what you thought you would achieve. If I think back to the beginning of this year and what I hoped it would pan out like, my thoughts would run a bit like this…. I’d like a year of consolidation in my life in terms of relationship and work. In terms of relationships I’d say I’ve grown and nurtured what I already have which at the start of the year I would have considered a success.

But looking back now and thinking of the word consolidation and looking at what this year delivered, its been anything but. This year has probably had the biggest structural change of my life. The decision to quit a career I had grown into over the last 15 years and to challenge my uneasiness at being alone is a seismic shift in my life.

It certainly wasn’t a rash or rushed decision, being 20 years in the making. However, that isn’t to say it was an easy transition from full time work to full time study at home. It’s something that I’ve gradually grown into. I’m not sure even now if I’d really admit that its something that I enjoy. On the face of it, I see it very much as a means to an end. I suppose I didn’t do the whole gap year thing between university and working and have never even considering taking a year off to travel or anything like that. So maybe what I’m doing right now is my long overdue gap year! Although I’m not sure I’d want to spend a gap year sitting at home studying for a Master’s Degree.

I heard recently that a former colleague of mine had taken his own life, it came as quite a shock in the lead up to Christmas and I’m sure it’s a similar story to experiences others have had. If I could have predicted who might have taken their own life, he would be on the bottom of that list. It put me in quite a thoughtful mood for the past couple of weeks and I have a multitude of questions for which I will never have any answers. Not knowing is not something I enjoy.

I might sound like a broken record but it has made me appreciate the therapy I undertake every few weeks, having someone there who I can reveal my darkest deepest secrets too, the thoughts I don’t want to tell anyone else about and to have someone make no judgement on these. It’s a valuable resource in a world where we’re told we have to think a certain way or hold a certain opinion to fit in and belong.

I still think there is a definite stigma among males about being anything apart from the strong, decisive, dependable image that we attach and expect of males. It still seems to be considered a weakness that we might admit that even we need some help sometime, that we can’t deal with everything that is thrown at us and we might not even know the answer. It’s a shame this view seems to still be held by huge swaths of the population. I can only speak from my own personal viewpoint and experience and say what a difference its made to my life. From understanding myself more, to strengthening my relationships to unburdening myself of baggage that I’ve carried around for many years. I won’t pretend its initially an easy process to open up to a seemingly stranger but as time goes on the process gets easier. In fact, from almost dreading going to see my therapist and wondering what I was going to talk about, I now look forward to it.

A few of my interests have admittedly taken a back seat this year. I haven’t done a lot of competitive running at all which is something I look back on and wish I’d indulged a bit more. That’s in no way to say that I’d ceased running at any time during the year, I just couldn’t really find the motivation to drag myself out of bed on a Saturday morning to do a half marathon. Although I’ve appreciated the extra sleep I’ve also missed the sense of achievement and all the related benefits its brings.

Beer has remained in its place in my life. Through various beer festivals this year, I’ve enjoyed the camaraderie of the industry, the friends and different people I’ve met and all the amazing beers I’ve tried over the year. I’m not sure if its very PC these days to have one of your main interests to be the consumption of alcohol but it’s a lot more than that to me. One of my previous NYE resolutions has certainly kicked in and that was to drink less ordinary beer and replace it with good local craft beer. My home brewing also has taken off, with a batch being made on average every 4 weeks. In fact, for certain periods during the year my beer needs were being completely fulfilled with what I was making at home. I found a consistency of quality finally and I genuinely now enjoying drinking my own beers after many years of not.

One surprise has been the effect of having less money in my pocket after leaving a very well-paid job. Life now means I watch my spending and have reduced it to under half of what I’d previously spend. You’d think I’d be crying out for my old level of spending but in fact I appreciate so much more what I spend my cash on because I’ve justified it to myself over and over again. I’ve found interesting ways of making money go further like taking lunches with people instead of evenings out, following happy hours around town and learning to say no to things. In my past life there were times when I would think nothing of spending $50 on something I wasn’t sure whether I really wanted or not, just because I could. Now that is a major spending decision to me and is incredibly carefully thought about.

This year has involved many highlights from the usual rounds of beer festivals, to going back to the Royal Melbourne show for the first time in 10 years, to Adelaide, Perth, New Zealand and Canada. I’ve continued my tradition of following the Ashes around, we’ve commenced fostering kittens for the Lost Dogs Home and our household has grown by one.

And so as one year ends and another begins, what do I hope for, for next year? I’d like to pick the running back up and complete a half marathon or two, I’d like my two placements next year to go amazingly and reinforce my decision to pursue a teaching career and I’d like to consolidate and develop what I already have. There is that word again, consolidation!

I’m not sure any of us really know what our future holds so maybe its best just taking it day by day, enjoying what we can, avoid doing things that make us sad and look after ourselves and the ones we love.

Happy New Year.

 

IJS 31/12/2017

Anxiety: The constant companion

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Before I made my decision to give up work and take up the teaching course, which will lead to my career of choice, I experienced varying levels of anxiety. In response to what I’m sure was ‘the uncertain’. One of my main anxious thoughts was around the loneliness of online study, having no classmates and no one but the cat around me for the whole day.

To provide a bit of background about where this thought came from. I’ve struggled with loneliness in the past and was frightened that it might rear its ugly head again and blight what should be a joyous return to study after 20 years away from it. A few years ago, prompted by feelings of loneliness, I went through a two-month period of insomnia. I’d go to bed around 11pm and then wake up at 1am feeling sure it was the morning and time to get up. Once I’d checked the time, my heart would begin to race, my breathing would get rapid and my mind would turn to thoughts of not being able to sleep the whole night.

This was probably one of the most terrifying periods of my life. I once had to beg the chemist to give me some sleeping tablets because I’d forgotten my ID, had about 5 sleep remedies (none of which worked) and once took a sleeping tablet at 4am in the morning and wandered around like a zombie at work the next day. During this period, I was forcing down six or seven meals a day and still losing weight. On a work trip to Sydney I nearly passed out in my hotel. This is what anxiety can do.

Anxiety is our constant companion, it walks with us everywhere. It doesn’t always speak, sometimes it just sits quietly in the corner but at times it shouts so loud we can hear nothing else. Part of my life I guess, has been and is, learning how to soothe it. Mine responds to exercise, so I head down to the gym or run four days a week now. Mine also likes sitting in the backyard in the sun reading a book. Mine likes structure. It likes to feel in control. It definitely likes a plan. If I don’t wake up and know what I’m doing that day it starts to talk and gradually gets louder. Mine likes to be talked about; hence just writing this is good. I guess things only have power when they remain unsaid.

I have two great outlets for this, firstly Claire, who listens in the most non-judgemental way I have ever experienced. However irrational the thing I’m saying, she doesn’t instantly jump on it, saying it’s silly. She’ll ask questions and explore it. I suppose considering her job this is understandable, but to me it’s quite amazing. The second is of course my psychologist, someone far detached from my life, whom I’m able to say anything to. I still feel, even when I’m typing this, that there is a stigma in saying I see a psychologist but there shouldn’t be, we’re all too quick to look after our physical health but pay little attention to our mental health.

The question might arise, why did I choose to do an online course, which puts me in this position, when I had an offer from another university to study on campus. Well that’s a good question. Perhaps as well as challenging myself with my studies, I also wanted to grow as a person, to build resilience and finally put my fear of loneliness to bed.

In exploring the loneliness I’ve suffered in the past I’ve come to realise that when I’ve felt it and especially when the terrifying period of insomnia was taking place, that loneliness was enforced and involuntary. I had just split up with a partner and was experiencing living on my own for the first time in around 20 years. In the moment though, I didn’t take time to think, analyse, and wonder why? I was too busy trying to distract myself, to just get myself through. And through it I did get and came out the other side. I don’t view sleep in the same way that I did. I still occasionally wake up in the early hours of the morning and look at the clock. However I no longer get distressed if it is very early, I just think I’ve got plenty more time to sleep and if I don’t sleep I can just lie there and think of things instead of trying to distract myself. There is a great quote by, I think, the School of Life’s Alain de Botton which says that not being able to sleep is the brain’s way of telling us we need to think more about something. That’s a mantra I keep in mind when I wake up now.

All of this isn’t to say I don’t suffer anxious thoughts. I believe everyone probably does. Others saw me, for years, as calm. But that’s about what we show the world, not what we show ourselves. These first few weeks have been surprisingly easy. Perhaps it’s because they were a choice I made instead of something being forced on me. Sure I’ve developed routines. I now have five weeks without study and when I started, this was the time I was most dreading. Three days in, I’m starting to welcome it and embrace the silence and solitude it offers me, being alone with my thoughts with no distractions.

My studies continue to excite me, to make me think about the future ahead. It seems a long way away but I think I will enjoy the journey of getting there.

IJS 5/10/2017

Glory Days (I hope when I get old I don’t sit around thinking about it)

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Pieces like this aren’t easy to write in spite of what many people may think. I’ve been in the life insurance industry for over 15 years, that’s like a lifetime. I’ve worked for 6 different companies in a variety of roles. Today, all of that ends. Life insurance is an industry that I know, it’s been my security blanket and it’s hard to take the step into the unknown and outside of my comfort zone.

In those 15 years I’ve met so many people that I now call friends. I’ve attended masses of parties, been to dozens of events, been to lots of town hall meetings and I once even dressed up as wizard and stood in the middle of Melbourne for a day.

I’ve worked in a variety of roles over the years. Claims, Projects, Training, Account Management and Transformation areas. I was sent on a study tour around Australia and New Zealand, where I met a few of my closest friends. I can’t deny this industry hasn’t treated me well.

The decision to leave has literally taken as long as I’ve been in the industry to make. Teaching was always something that appealed to me and I came to the conclusion, on one of my daily walks to work, that if I didn’t do something about it soon, then I never would. I’ve always enjoyed the training aspects of my roles and I’d like to give something back and to do something with a real social heartbeat.

As an industry in recent years we’ve seen a massive spike in mental health issues. I believe this isn’t just representative of people who own insurance policies, but of society itself. I think males especially have a negative attitude about speaking out about issues and I believe it’s very important to be able to talk to someone. I myself have used the employee assistance programme to engage a psychologist about my marriage break up and in fact I found so much benefit from it that I still see her to this day in a maintenance capacity. I’d really encourage anyone who is struggling to do something similar.

There seems to be a certain attitude in Australian society, especially among the male gender, that it is a ‘weak’ thing to do. However I can tell you, from personal experience, that it’s one of the most brave and beneficial things I’ve ever done. If anybody would like to talk to me about my experiences and maybe dispel some of the myths surrounding it, I’m incredibly happy to do so.

From the moment I walked into my most recent role, I felt like I knew a lot of people, that was maybe because I’d worked with about 20 of them previously. The insurance industry is small in Melbourne and there seems to be an ever-revolving door between companies. I’ve enjoyed the two teams I’ve managed, I only hope I’ve taught those teams as much as they’ve taught me over the years.

I wish everyone in the insurance industry, as I leave, the best for the future. I’ve had a lot of fun times and I can’t deny, even though at times I might not have enjoyed the work, that I did enjoy the people.

And so to the future. I’m already 6 weeks into my Master’s course, having already submitted two assignments. My office is now my home. I work alone most of the day, barring maybe a trip to the gym and the supermarket. I didn’t think I’d transition that well but I’ve surprised myself. I’ve quickly developed routines, which are very important to me and make me feel ‘safe’. The future is still a bit scary, studying at home requires a fair degree of self-motivation and so far I’ve managed that. It’s whether I can keep it up I suppose. I guess we always doubt ourselves. Then I have the thought of what my first practical experience in the classroom will be like. Maybe I should just try and live in the moment a while hey?

Stepping out of your comfortable zone isn’t an easy thing to do but if you have dreams why not go for it? In the words of Bruce Springsteen “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse?”

 

IJS 17/08/2017

Disagreements, the oil that greases the chain

 

Last days eh? Always such a mix of emotion. I think we’d both gotten to a stage where we were ready to go home. I can only speak for myself but I miss the routine of it all. Which is a funny comment because in a couple of weeks I’ll have to develop a whole new one when I give up work completely to study full time. I know we both miss Archie, some might argue that he is just a cat but pets mean so much eh? He’s grown as we’ve grown. I miss Melbourne too, I miss the familiarity of it, I miss my friends who’ve been absolute rocks in my life these last few years. I hope in the future I can say that I’ve been there for them as they’ve been there for me.

We rose late, we’d negotiated a noon check out with our delightful Air B&B host, Liz. I can now reveal a little about the place we stayed. The day before we checked in we got a message to say that Air B&B were banned in her building and when we arrived we had to either tailgate someone into the building or get the concierge’s attention and let them know that we were her ‘friends’ rather than paying guests. I wasn’t too impressed. Claire who is much less uptight about sticking to the rules was much calmer. I muttered to myself for a whole day but I suppose that’s a little bit of anxiety about what if we get there and we can’t get in. I calmed myself with the thought that this apartment was nearly a grand cheaper than any hotel. We arrived, tailgated someone and went straight up to the apartment without a bother. It was perfectly positioned, had everything we needed and the bed was comfy, who could ask for more.

We do find the whole Air B&B thing good but we’ve noticed a lot of hosts will contact you on the day of check out and basically beg you for a 5 star rating and then ask that you put any possible improvement in the private message box just to them. I’m not sure I truly agree with this because as a customer of Air B&B, Claire and I both check the ratings and would prefer if they were honest. We don’t judge on a couple of bad ratings and unreasonable demands but I guess the feeling is by the Air B&B hosts that people do. Saying all of this our host was great, she would contact us nearly everyday to check if there were any problems and if so fix them, she also suggested a restaurant for us and gave general tourist advice.

We finally left the apartment right on noon, and we were sad to leave it. It had been our home for the last seven nights and we’d got used to the traffic noise, the steam whistle blowing (which we figured out yesterday was people on the brewery tour blowing it, like we had) and watching the crowds flock to Blue Jays games. The location had been ridiculously central and we loved it.

We’d amended our plans slightly and taken out the Royal Ontario Museum. We’d both have loved to have got there but there wasn’t enough time and we’re both to remember not to rush (remember coming back from Berlin and moving and doing job interviews the same day). Instead our plan was to head to St Lawrence Market to pick up a tortilla warmer we’d seen and wanted to go back and grab. We’d been served tortillas in one of these in El Sabor in North Melbourne a few months ago and had been looking out for one for a while, so even though it was bulky and we might have found one in Melbourne we weren’t going to turn down a lifetime of warm tortillas. We grabbed a coffee there as well and a cake, in my case a peanut butter slice. Peanut butter I used to hate but this is now very much one of my weaknesses.

We dropped into the Hockey Hall of Fame to pick up some sports merch I’d wanted and not been able to get when I went previously and then onto our final stop Wayne Gretzsky’s sports bar which sounded interesting in the Lonely Planet. Of course for those that don’t know, Mr Gretzsky was an extremely famous Canadian hockey player.  The bar was large with multiple tv screens, most of them showing Premier League Darts. At this point Claire amazed me again, like with our Toronto FC experience, by seemingly being quite interested in the darts. The food was typical bar food and I do feel a little guilty that we have been in a lot and it’s not really Claire’s cup of tea but in fairness to her, she has rarely complained. My final meal was a turkey burger and some sweet potato fries and I drunk my 2400th unique beer.

We had to pop into the Intercontinental hotel because we’d left our bags there. We’d found out they accepted anyone’s bags for a charge of $3. However when we got there the Bell hop charged us $5 a piece, telling us the price had gone up today. In my English way I just agreed, whereas Claire decided very loudly to tell him she had been told $3 and then deliberately gave him every coin she had. We hopped on the train to the airport.

Upon arrival we checked in and found my bag was 8 pounds over, whilst Claire’s was a bit under. They were about to charge us more when Claire decided we would repack the bags and produce a third bag. It’s a silly rule eh? You can take two 50 pound bags each but have no more than 50 pounds in each bag. So even if you have only one bag and it weighs 58 pound they don’t just let you have the 100 pound limit. Hence the repack.

We then passed through security and for a quick drink before waiting for our flight out which finally got out about 30 mins late. A short 1 hour in Vancouver and then back on to Sydney.

Of course I’ll miss being on holiday. There is no nicer person to spend time with than your significant other eh? That’s not to say that spending every day for three weeks with somebody doesn’t pose its challenges. They get to see the sides you usually hide in your quieter moments. The frustrations about everyday things that boil over for a few moments. Relationships come with their fair degree of disagreements and arguments, in a way they are the oil that greases the chain. All too often I think people believe these are the precursor of a failing relationship with their idealised views but I believe they are the opposite, they teach you how to negotiate with your partner and your partner gets to see you when you least want it. These things help you hopefully build a relationship built on rock instead of sand and are nothing to be scared of. I wrote a year ago about how showing vulnerability is so important to a relationship and I truly stand by that.

Half way through the major leg of our flight, I get a strange hankering for Japanese food. A gyoza would go down nicely now. But with my no eating policy in place I’ll just dream I can get that for breakfast in Sydney. And, I’ve never loved the sight of pie face so much! A giant sausage roll and a coffee, all for the bargain price of $11! Ouch. Welcome back to Australia (the Japanese hankering had gone)

On the way to Pie Face and through immigration and customs, I got stopped by every level of security, including the canine kind. Claire’s bags rolled nicely off the travelator and mine were nowhere to be seen. Claire spotted a bag out the corner of her eye at the side of the travelator; we went up and said to the customs guy standing nearby that it was my bag. He asked what was in it. After 24 hours travelling, I was a bit grumpy and said back to him ‘what do you mean?’. He said the dog was trained to stiff out tobacco and did I have any in it. I confirmed I didn’t even smoke and he asked if there were any wood products in there, still my answer was no. In the end he just said ‘fine’ and let me go. Maybe the dog just got it wrong or it smelt that cannabis on the beer festival glasses we brought home. Next the bomb detection lady got hold of me going through the security gate; I obviously met her gaze at the wrong time. She was the nice and kind though. In airports I always figure there are two kinds, those who will generally chat and have a laugh with you and those who in no way wish to communicate with you like a human being. I was lucky that I encountered the first type today.

The flight back to Melbourne was late, but at least we made it, with just an hour and a half turn around, having to get our bags and re check them in. We got a rude awakening in Melbourne when we walked out, especially me in my shorts and t-shirt. Having gone from 38c in Toronto we were now faced with winter conditions.

We picked up our very expensively boarded cat and home we came to a freezing house, but there isn’t anything quite like home eh. Another fantastic trip finished.

IJS 03/08/2017