2nd November 2016

So, I just had a maddening conversation at dinner.

It’s a turbulent period for our family at the moment (the times they are a changing). Emotions are high, stress levels are higher, and the pub we went to for dinner is severely understaffed.

Conflict ensues.

Not about the current family situation, interestingly. About me. About my jobs, and life choices. A regular favourite of others to pass judgement on, and a favourite of mine to avoid as a consequence. I’ve learned to keep plans and aspirations close to my chest for precisely this reason, because nothing kicks you in the gut like those closest to you producing ifs, buts and maybes out of thin air like a rabbit from a hat. But I’m nearing the end of my contract at my current job, and I made it clear at dinner time that, after December 31st, I would be leaving.

A bit of background – I started this job in July 2015, on a two-month contract. It was extended to December, and then again. And again. The job sustained me, and I got comfortable. But the role has recently changed, the job is no longer challenging me, and I’ve accepted at last that no, this is not really what I want to be doing for the next year and a half.

I said as much, and that I would be letting my manager know by the end of the week, so that they had sufficient time to find a replacement. What followed was an extended and passive-aggressive deluge – how naive it was to hand in my notice so early before my contract ends, that it was, at the end of the day, a business, and that with this knowledge they could relieve me at the drop of a hat. How short-sighted it would be to leave a job with no guarantee of a next one, especially in the current climate. How, with the changes in the family, I would have to be ready to facilitate the family or the oncoming changes in our house.

My response to all was the same – I know, I know, I know. Yes, they are a business, but they are also my team, and collectively 5 months to hire a replacement for the last person who left, so I would like to give them all as much noticed as possible. No, I do not plan on leaving a job without going straight into another. I enjoy working and earning a living – my only issue is, as it has always been, working at a job that I do not enjoy, or does not in some way bring me closer to my desired career. And of course I am aware of the need to take responsibility, now more than ever, for our family’s wellbeing –  I always am. I would never be so thoughtless as to even consider an alternative, and the assumption that I would, having never done anything remotely like it in the past, was just plain insulting.

But once I’ve decided on what I do or do not want in my life anymore, I find it hard to pretend otherwise, and get fidgety, particularly as I know that I’m prone to excuses, and will put off big decisions or actions if given half the chance. That’s just me.

But still, one member in particular kept on like a dog with a bone. He kept on about how sometimes, everyone had to change their passions to accommodate their lifestyle, and that it was naive of me to expect otherwise.

I wondered if it had ever occurred to him, or the other oh-so wise, experienced people nodding around the table, that perhaps people should consider changing their lifestyles to suit their passions. That maybe, people shouldn’t be so quick to dispose of the career they want in favour of one that pays more handsomely, or will get them a nicer car. That maybe, people are too quick to choose an easier, more well paid option over working towards, or for, their real passion.

Disclaimer – I know I sound self-righteous, and at the time, I suppose I was, and fought my corner relentlessly. But I tried very hard to not end the conversation believing that I was right, and they were wrong, because I am a firm believer in one of William Shakespeare’s pearls of wisdom;

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”.

I always try to keep this in mind. I often believe this is the clincher of many arguments. People get too hung up on believing they are right, and seek justification, even vindication from others, to support that belief. People cling onto right and wrong, good or bad, like a kind of obnoxious life jacket. So long as they pump it full of vindication and reasons they’ll stay afloat. Conceding defeat would mean deflating the little raft, and sinking, angrily, bitterly, beneath the waves of the argument.

But sometimes, and I know this can be easier in some arguments more than others, it’s important to take a moment to breathe. Just long enough to let some hot air escape from the life vest, and into your lungs. Only then will you realise that the murky sea you’re surrounded by is actually only a pool, and it grows shallower and shallower the more you deflate your self-righteousness, and re-inflate reasoning.

This was the strategy I tried to implement at dinner, and many times before, particularly recently. Just breathe. Try not to take things to heart. Sometimes other people’s advice sound a lot like instructions, and friends and family transform into preachers. But remember that what others say does not have to be right, or wrong. It is simply an opinion.

Tonight’s conversation became more heated than it should have done. But the subject matter touched a nerve. I don’t appreciate being told what to do, having spent quite a lot of my teenage years doing just that, in a subconscious effort to please. Growing up illustrates one of the most important life lessons that you were never taught in school; no one ever really knows exactly what they’re doing. How could they? They don’t have a crystal ball to see into the future, only a memory to recall their mistakes, and a brain to call them into conscious thought whenever they recognise a pattern. Then, people will dispense advice based on experience and call it fact. But they have never been inside your head, or lived your life. What worked for them may not for you, and vice versa.

Listen to advice, but I think it’s important not to live by it. A pinch of salt is always recommended. Don’t forget; the advice they are dispensing so freely to you has most likely come from an experience of theirs. Advice comes from experience, and experience is personal, emotional. But be wary of know it alls; they have no grounds on which to claim such an expansive knowledge of everything. It isn’t possible for any one person to know it all, but there are plenty of people out there who believe that they do. You’ll find them easily enough throughout life; they’re the ones with their mouths always open.

But always keep in mind, and I say this to myself as much as I do to the blog – their experience was not, is not, and does not have to be your experience. If everyone were to live their life based on the advice of those around them, then no one in the world would ever try anything new, or experience anything of their own at all.

That’s the danger with our digital age. With technology, and social media. We see exotic places every day on news feeds, without ever going their ourselves. We watch videos of emotional journeys, without living them ourselves. We create expectations of a place or a life, and often find ourselves disappointed when the real thing has no filter.

Always remind yourself of the single most obvious and important thing. Your life is your own, and you only get one of them. You can share it with others, you can even let them into it, but don’t ever forget who it belongs to.

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