When the calendar ticked over from ‘Such-a-jerk-2016’ to ‘Fresh-start-and-new-adventures-2017’, on the very short list of things I hoped to accomplish this year was a fair bit of walking. It has always done wonders for my sense of perspective, and seemed like a good way to make the most of my less than voluntary relocation to Victoria, which I am increasingly finding to be a very beautiful state. But on my most recent stroll in the outdoors, I realised several times that I wasn’t walking, I was trudging. Glum, downcast, mindless trudging. I suspect that it is an easy habit to fall into for all of us who have been made to move with purpose at 116bpm; the line between a march and a trudge is, after all, a very fine one. Nevertheless, realising how hard it was to slow down, step lightly, and keep my chin up got me to thinking about where the trudge comes from, and when he crept into my life. I used to be sparkier than I am now. What happened to my sparkiness?

I think perhaps it is the case that as we get a little older and life gets more serious, maintaining hopefulness gets harder. There is a quiet but very real (and maybe even compounding) grief that goes with letting go of dreams and expectations that have become plans. For all the wisdom of ‘staying in the moment’ and ‘taking one day at a time’, we are all actually travelling one-way through life, by the sheer fact of the unfolding time and space around us, and at least part of our happiness seems to depend on being intentional about who we become and what we accomplish along the way. There must then necessarily be plans, some of which come together, and some don’t. The smaller and less significant ones can go by the wayside, or be postponed for a better time, without too much pain. But the big ones, the ones that are fundamentally defining of who we are, who we love, what we bring into the world, and what we leave behind… They are bloody heart-wrenching turmoil for anyone, but especially for the more tenderhearted among us. How do you manage when life keeps bloody well moving on, but doesn’t look or feel the way it should?

Just lately, I am wondering if the answer is in the healthy negotiation of vulnerability. This is a new and uncomfortable territory for me, but a painfully necessary one. I am eminently at ease with the heartache and struggles of others, but altogether intolerant of my own. I have lived a very fortunate life in lots of ways, but there have also been enough hurts along the way that I do not find it so easy to trust. But I do not want to become a distant, or unhappy or bitter person either, so I have had to learn some hard lessons about how to remain open-hearted when the potential for further hurt is high. A couple of years ago, the wise words of Brene Brown (which I have written about before) taught me some good stuff about the happiness-depends-on-connection-depends-on-vulnerabilty business. It helped me summon up the courage to leave my blanket fort and put myself back out there, rebuild something resembling a career, invest in a few new relationships, imagine a different, but not inferior, future.

I keep coming back to that truth, but lately I have learnt it has some caveats. Vulnerability is only safe when it is mutual. If it becomes too one-sided, it stops being courageous and loving, and begins to be damaging and lacking in self-respect, which does not make for a healthy future. Risk, likewise, must be approached at a gentle and sustainable rate. My dearest friends have each in their own way lately taught me that one must bravely pursue their dreams, but without putting life on hold in the meantime. One’s future happiness cannot depend on the complete success of Plan A in the timeline that has been chosen for it. Plan B is ok. (Say it again, Jess, Plan B is ok. Plan B is ok. Plan B…) Plans C and D, and even elements all appearing in Plan E might equally turn out to be wonderful. Even in the grief of letting go of Plan A, one must invest in Plan B, learn to love it, and hold it gently and without rushing it, like a good cup of tea.

So, back to the question of surviving the waiting game, when plans have been launched but have not yet come to fruition… It’s hard, and has to be deliberate. Without sounding too ‘Eat Love Pray’, the couple of things I have worked out later than I should are as follows:

  • However modest it may be, your home is one of your most safe and stable places. Make it as lovely as you can within your means. In detail. The art you like, the music you like, the wine you like. I’ve said it before, but for real, buy fresh flowers. KEEP IT CLEAN. A messy house is not conducive to good mental health or productivity. Carve out time for your tea/coffee ritual. At the same time, do not be bound by notions of respectability, which should be disregarded in favour of wandering about your home naked, should you wish. As advised by a good mate, this will make it truly yours. Truth. (Friends who for whatever conditions of employment do not choose the house in which they live – do not under any circumstances camp in your own life and neglect the above. DO NOT.)
  • Stop investing in people who only seek you out on their bad days, and only want you on your good ones. This is not friendship. It is certainly not family. Cut it away.
  • Be as deliberate about your leisure time as you are about your work. Invest in hobbies that have no purpose but your own happiness. This should sometimes mean going for a run WITHOUT tracking it (it still happened, truly), or picking up a forgotten instrument that used to help you find your chill. Dust it off. Also go bushwalking. Bushwalkers tend to be nice people.
  • Replace your FOMO with JOMO. The joy of missing out only really happens when you get to shake off a commitment that was based in obligation or anxiety. The people who are actually your people will love you as you are, and won’t mind if you occasionally need to skip a catch up because life/health/weariness has got in the way. Apropos that, learn to love your own company. To sit with nobody but yourself, and like it. Makes it easier to tackle the tough days that must sometimes be handled alone.

If you need a little nurturing, I have been generously pointed in the direction of the following lately, and they are loveliness:

  • Tea: Harney & Sons, Rose Scented. (On that – I was recently discussing with a dear friend her care package requirements as she heads off to do the very important work of defending the nation. I tentatively suggested that teabags might be easier in her austere surrounds than loose leaf, to which she responded ‘Unless the whole world is burning, there’s no need for that kind of savagery’. Hear, hear. If she has time for proper tea making, so do we all!)
  • Book: Four Seasons with a Grumpy Goat, by Carol Altmann. Hilarious!
  • Music: Ben Abraham’s album Sirens has been a favourite since I first heard it. I stumbled back on this song this week, and I do like the honest but happy hopefulness in it. And the Mahogany Sessions are nice and earthy. Sending much love to the treasured friends who deserve the loveliness I hope and believe is ahead of them. x