Sea turtle swimming under water.

Just Keep Swimming

Personal Diary

I remember seeing a newspaper headline once, asking something to the effect of “Why are optimistic people so insufferable?” Then, as now, it struck me as a truly bizarre thing to say. Why should we find happy people difficult to tolerate? I certainly don’t. For me, they’re a breath of fresh air and an example of how to embrace the chaos and unpredictability of life with a smile.

In my life there is no better representation of this than my grandfather. He is the ultimate vision of a grateful, meaningful existence. I don’t think I have ever seen him unhappy. Not in a plastic, “fake it ’til you make it” kind of way, but a sincere, beaming display of exuberance. He’s a human embodiment of the warm rays of the sun.

Unfortunately, I am not one of those people. I want to be, but more often than not I find reasons to feel gloomy and pessimistic; forever seeing risk instead of opportunity. I’ve written about Being Eeyore before, and unfortunately that’s a frame of mind that’s lingered over me like a little raincloud for the entire pandemic. All the same, it’s crucial to keep pushing forward.

“Trudging the road of happy destiny” is one thing. At least you’re progressing in a useful direction; doing your best to work through adversity towards brighter days and greener pastures. “Working and waiting to die” on the other hand, as a friend of mine once said, encapsulates the pain of profound despair and is an entirely different matter. Passive resignation of a hopeless and bleak future is no way to live.

So where does that leave us during hard times? “Just keep swimming.”

This is not to say my spirit animal is an animated fish with short term memory loss, but the mantra works. There are many additional quotes from popular culture we could also look to, from Monty Python’s “Always look on the bright side of life,” to Gandalf’s advice in The Hobbit:

“Always remember, Bilbo, when your heart wants lifting, think of pleasant things.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

The point is, finding hope sometimes means looking for it – through action. “Seek and ye shall find,” as they say.

This is where optimistic people are so crucial in the world, at least to me. They provide us pessimistic folks with an example of what a positive outlook looks like, when it can feel so foreign and fake.

Optimistic people aren’t insufferable, they’re irreplaceable.

Buddhist monk sitting

Gaining Clarity

Personal Diary

As bizarre as it sounds, “What do you want?” is one of the most difficult questions anyone can ever ask me. Not “what do you want?” as a roundabout way of implying “I don’t appreciate your presence here and wish you would go someplace else,” but as a meaningful inquiry into my hopes and dreams in life.

I used to pride myself on responding “I’d rather want what I have than know what I want,” but I’ve come to realise, while it is an honest answer, it’s also more of a shield to avoid answering the question.

I admire people who can easily rattle off a list of life goals without exhibiting any strain. Some of them even seem to relish the experience! I’m just not that way. I find it a truly stressful process. I need to sit alone, simmer, mutter, and grumble my way through a list, which gets edited, crumpled up, thrown away, and revisited numerous times before I’m eventually satisfied with it.

It’s meant to be an inspiring process that reveals the endless possibilities of life, but that’s rarely the way it feels to me. All the same, I think it’s a really important topic to meditate on, and revisit – especially when life beings to feel stale.

When I was in uni (aka college), I had a geography lecturer whose mantra was “Once you know what to think, you’ll know how to act.” He must have emphasised that phrase a hundred times by the end of term, and I’ve never forgotten it as a result. I learned a lot of valuable lessons in that class – some geographical, some not – and for that I’ll be forever grateful to him.

If you never spend any time contemplating what you think, want, or believe, how are you going to know what to do with yourself, what decisions to make, or where you’d like to end up in the world? In the worst case, you’d risk spending your life merely existing; whiling away the years until you realise it’s over and you never bothered to think about what’s important to you. That would be a real shame.

For me, clarity brings purpose, and aligning with purpose brings happiness. That’s why pursuing the question “What do you want?” is so important. It’s a process through which we find ourselves; achieving the goals themselves is merely gravy.

Silhouette of a woman jumping a chasm

Blog Fearlessly

Personal Diary

For as long as I’ve been a blogger, there has always been one rule that I doggedly stuck to: Never focus on personal experience. Avoid disclosing what I’m feeling, thinking, doing, or what my childhood was like, because nobody is interested in reading about that.

Honestly, in the past I would avoid referring to myself at all. It was broader trends and concepts that were important, not me. I was simply the messenger.

For some reason, I always saw personal journals as a cardinal sin I needed to avoid. They were absolutely fine for other people, but not for me. Every post, every article, needed a purpose. Every line was to be crafted with the reader in mind. To focus on myself was egotistical and unnecessary.

And really, in the context of political discourse, or analyses of topical matters relating to my profession, I do think that’s appropriate. If the purpose of a blog post is to convince someone of something, clearly articulating objective facts and logical analyses are the best means of achieving this. Relying on personal opinions isn’t going to help.

However, this blog has an entirely different purpose. It’s a space for me to work things through. If anyone derives benefit from that, I’m overjoyed, but that’s not why I post. This fundamental difference is hitting home for me this morning, which is leading me to completely rethink what I share, and how.

It stands to reason then, if I write for my own benefit, then I need to be fearless and thorough about it. Half measures will avail me nothing.

In some ways I appreciate the fact no one reads this blog. If they did, I’d probably start self-censoring out of fear of losing face, or offending people.

I don’t plan on ever sharing information about other people though; not family nor close friends. That feels inappropriate, and not my right to do. I will, however, aim to be as open and honest with myself through this space as I possibly can. I want to learn and grow as a person, and lying to myself will hardly achieve that.

selective focus photography of woman surrounded by people in the street

Finding Passion

Personal Diary

Many blogs ago I wrote about politics, and slowly, perhaps inevitably, I grew so angry and despondent I spent all day every day angry and spoiling for a fight. It was no way to live, and I eventually packed up shop and never shared my opinion on current affairs again.

Today, aside from my wife, there are few people on this Earth who actually know what I believe, which is just the way I like it. I’m far more interested in finding common ground, or better still, providing support to others in need, than stepping onto the battlefield of internet discourse. God knows there are more than enough people sharing their opinions online. There’s no need for yet another angry wail in the darkness.

After the political phase I took an interest in technology – particularly online technology – and became a tech blogger. I enjoyed that far more, and for much longer, but eventually my employer began to take an interest in the same topics, and my hobby passion soon became work, which gradually took the sheen off. In time, I stopped writing about that too.

And yet, my wife has often said I’m happiest when I’m writing, which makes it a true travesty that I do it so little these days. In the past I wrote because I wanted to be heard; then I wrote to analyse and explore emerging trends in my sector. With those two phases behind me, I wonder what’s left.

Like many others, I’ve spent the last 2 years in a limbo of anxiety and fear, constantly hoping the pandemic will run its course and leave us all alone, yet increasingly falling prey to pandemic fatigue and hopelessness. With politicians now talking about the “new normal,” I’m not left with much optimism, and the idea of holding on just a bit longer no longer seems like a productive solution.

So today, I return to a tool that’s always helped me process complexity, and work through blockages – writing. Not to stand atop a soapbox, or advocate for the new shiny online tool, but to find my way forward during a difficult time; find passion, not just begrudged endurance.

My plan is to post my thoughts every morning for the next two weeks, to hopefully develop a rhythm and flush out my mental pipes. I have no idea what will come of this, but clearly a different strategy is warranted. So I hope this works.