This New Year feels different, somehow. I started it by reflecting on 2017, and on all the years that came before.
And this week I turned 44, a birthday that also feels different, somehow. These past few years have been about acceptance and surrender, but this year I feel called to expand. I know as I sit here and write this I’m grateful for the gift of another birthday – in other words, for the gift of being alive – as I’m grateful for everything in my life, both the good and the bad. It all teaches me something; nothing is wasted.
When I went to write this post, I thought about all the things that have gone right and all the things that have gone wrong and all the lessons I’ve learned throughout my life to date, and I thought I could write about all that stuff, but of course, there’s far too much.
So, I did a review, of sorts, of each area of my life, although it’s less about what I’ve done and more about what I value. I want to acknowledge the abundance and goodness that exists, and I want this to serve as a reminder to keep paying attention to these things. I also want to use it as an incentive to expand, because I believe I could be doing far more with this precious life I’ve been given. To be honest, I wrote this post for me, but I hope you find something of value here too.
“Everything happens for you, not to you. Everything happens at exactly the right moment, neither too soon nor too late. You don’t have to like it, it’s just easier if you do” – Byron Katie.
It’s The Moments That Matter
I’m going to start here, in case you don’t get to the end; this post is long and I’m also aware I’ve segmented my life into tidy compartments. But when is life ever tidy?
For a long time I took society’s definition of success and made it my own – without question. I was constantly comparing myself and my life to those around me and feeling like I was falling short, I was exhausted from striving for things I finally figured out I didn’t even want.
I have ambition and dreams, but I am so much more than my age, dress size, the value of my home, my career or how much I get paid and I no longer ‘measure’ my success in these terms. Instead, I’ve made it my mission to live beautifully, boldly and in a way that feels fulfilling to me. Now my success is measured in moments: laughing with David, cuddles and colouring-in with my nieces, time spent with my family and my friends. It’s hugging my friend after her cancer diagnosis and filling her freezer with food. It’s clean sheets and feeling rested. It’s running through puddles under a brilliant blue sky and candlelight dinners on an ordinary night at home – just because we can. It’s art and books and photography and music. It’s creating to serve, rather than to solely make sales. It’s skinny-dipping and camping under the stars. It’s painting and words and sitting on the sidewalk talking to the homeless and every moment I can show a fellow human being some kindness. It’s so many moments like these.
When we reach the end and take one final look back on our lives, I think it will mostly be like this: we’ll remember the people we loved, those small but special things we did and the times when something unexpected made a day stand out.
On Loving And Being Loved
Is there a greater gift than this? I treasure the relationship I have with my husband, David. It’s so easy to take the person who agreed to share their life with you for granted; to forget the ache of deep loneliness or to ignore all the ways your heart tries to protect itself if it’s being badly hurt.
I’m proud of myself for having the courage to be open to love again. When my first marriage ended in divorce, it tore my heart and life apart. I had to start over with very little – except a tenuous belief at the time that our greatest resource is always our selves and we all have value – even when we’ve been stripped of everything we believe defines us.
However, after 13 years with David, I now understand that a relationship is constantly evolving and requires daily tending in a conscious and meaningful way. Despite an inauspicious start to our relationship, I’ve always known in my bones that choosing to be together was the right choice to make. David can turn even a mundane trip to the supermarket into an adventure, he makes me laugh, holds me when I cry and believes in me, even when I don’t always believe in myself.
“The most important person in your life is the person who agreed to share their life with you. Treat them as such” – Author Unknown.
The Incredible Gift That Is My Family
I’ve lived in the UK for almost 17 years now and I miss my family more, not less, with each passing year. My life is built on the values I was raised with. I know I take their love – and the fact that they exist in my life and how I’m a part of something so extraordinary – for granted. I’m working on that. We’re close, but we’re not perfect; we’ve got our quirks and I do regret the time I’ve lost with them by living so far apart. But this is what rarely gets mentioned in all those, ‘Follow your heart’ memes and quotes; sometimes following your heart means making difficult choices and my choice, right now, is to be here. I still long for my country and yes, I miss my family and my friends, but I also don’t regret leaving, because if I hadn’t have left, I wouldn’t be the person I am today either.
I longed to travel; I drove across Australia to start a new life in Perth just days after getting my driver’s license, and I’d been to Asia, but I wanted to travel extensively, to see the world. Living in London makes travel so much more accessible and so, I moved here alone when I was 27. I risked and subsequently lost so much as a result of that decision, but I’ve had the adventures, experiences and global travel I was longing for, even though I suspect my thirst will never be quenched. Travelling solo is also an incredible way to deepen your self-confidence. My mind has expanded as a result of the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had. Mostly though, my leap into the unknown taught me what happens when you focus on what could go right, rather than on what could go wrong, and commit to bringing a dream to life.
Living in London means I’ve been able to experience life in Australia in a special way too. Over the years I’ve returned for four to six weeks at a time, don’t feel too sorry for me! In 2013 I went back to attend the birth of my youngest sister’s second baby; each night whilst we waited for her arrival, Mum and I would put our hands on my sister’s belly and we’d talk to Heather whilst she was still in the womb. Being present to witness the miracle that is birth and being able to hold Heather just moments after she was born will always be one of the most incredible experiences of my life. That particular trip also made me aware of the value of extended periods of time with each family member. So, when I went back for for a month last year I spent two weeks with my parent’s on our family farm, the longest I’d spent there since I moved out of home. Sleeping in my old room, long walks with Mum along the beach, witnessing the sun rise and set each day and watching TV whilst eating chocolate with Dad each night…it was perfect.
“She sits at the edge of the ocean just to think as she watches the waves break. She’s done that more so as she’s gotten older and the way life has thrown so much at her. Because that’s the place where the shallow ends and the deep begins” – JmStorm.
Friendships & The Glue That Holds Us Together
I’ve previously carried a lot of guilt around with regards to friendships, but this year I granted myself some grace. It’s always going to be a challenge to stay in regular touch with everyone I’d love to stay in touch with; I come from a large family, as does David, and keeping up with parents, siblings and nieces and nephews too, is always going to be a priority.
Also, I needed to put some distance between myself and other people in order to figure out who I am and what I want, without distractions or noise. That distance gave me perspective. I could see how I’ve frequently clung to people in the past, even if I didn’t feel a deep sense of connection to them; resulting in conversations I didn’t really want to have and agreeing to spend my time in ways that didn’t really light me up. When I finally realised what I was doing, I put it down to being bullied as a teenager and a kind, if somewhat misplaced, heart.
I’ve changed and grown and friends have changed and grown too. As result, some friendships have naturally moved on and others I’ve let go of. But there are still the ones I hold close to my heart, friends who’ve being there through thick and thin. I’ve been slowly working out ways to be a better friend, a difficult task when I also find multiple communication channels overwhelming rather than useful; but I’m working on this.
Another thing I’ve come to value is shared experiences and traditions: meeting three friends in Paris every New Year’s Eve; going to a music festival with some other friends and their kids each summer – those yearly campsite breakfast chats, hilarious moments that occur throughout the day and late night dancing are a particularly sticky part of the glue that holds us all together. It’s precious.
Friendships are often held together precariously with likes, comments, snatched moments over drinks in bars and meals in restaurants and not much else these days, so to share something deeper, like holding onto one another as you all sing along (badly) with the band under the stars at an annual music festival – that adds up to so much more. I’ll always prefer face-to-face time with friends, and whilst that’s not always possible, I do know I want to share more experiences and create more traditions with as many friends as I can.
Learning To Love And Live In My Body
I could tell you about 30 years of yo-yo dieting and how I finally quit dieting and how it feels to live with a crippling body image and disordered eating and to finally recover, but I wrote an entire series on those very subjects here.
Yet to truly love and live in my body today is not only one of my greatest achievements, it holds incredible valuable to me because in learning how to do so, I set myself free. I stopped thinking everyone else knows what’s best for me and I began to trust my own intuition. And the longer I dare to live this way; being present for everything I feel in my body and tending to it from a place of love, the stronger my self-trust and intuition grows.
“And I said to my body. Softly. ‘I want to be your friend’. It took a long breath. And replied ‘I have been waiting my whole life for this” – Nayyirah Waheed.
Nothing bad happened. I didn’t wake up with an extreme hangover or have a rock bottom moment on my bathroom floor; I simply felt compelled to stop drinking for a while, I wanted something better for my life. Well, ‘a while’ became six weeks, which became six months, which became 401 days and nearly every one of those 401 days felt like a peeling back of the layers to reveal the woman I was always meant to be.
And then late last year I started drinking again – because other people wanted me to.
I could feel my entire being resisting and whilst I didn’t drink a lot, it didn’t take much to make me feel like I was losing my sense of self. Until I woke up on New Year’s Eve morning and said, “Enough”. We’re sold the idea that to abstain is to deprive ourselves, but my 401 teetotal days taught me it’s more like living life in high definition.
I learned an incredibly valuable lesson from this: just because something is true for you, doesn’t make it true for me (and vice versa).
Home: Be Here Now
I’ve lived in the same house for almost 11 years now, the only home I’ve lived in for longer was my family home. It was April 12, 2007 when David and I moved in here and I remember longing for some stability at the time; this home represented that.
When we made the purchase we planned to return to Australia within a couple of years, agreeing we’d rent the place out when we left, but we ended up making a life here instead. But the way I feel about this house is complicated; I’m so grateful to have a home, but I’m a restless person and I resent spending time on DIY and maintenance, that’s just not my jam at this stage of my life.
Then something I thought was going to happen – something I’d been holding onto for a year – didn’t happen. I thought I’d be disappointed, but instead I felt this deep knowing that whilst I may have wanted to be on the move, it was more important to remain still. I needed to learn how to ‘be here now’.
So, last summer I spent the season and beyond fixing and improving and purging; I rid our home of things we didn’t love – and even some we did – but didn’t need. Each time I improved something, even if it were just with a coat of paint, or fixed something, I felt better. Each time I donated, gifted or sold an item I felt the weight lift from my shoulders. Our environment and the items we choose to surround ourselves carry energy and I’m committed to living with far less. Now I live in a space where I can breathe, be inspired and feel fully present.
Our home will never reach its full potential under our ownership, but I’ve learned to stop living here like I’m just passing through, and to treasure the memories we’re creating between these four walls.
“You are beautiful because you let yourself feel, and that is a brave thing indeed” – Shinji Moon.
A Life Of Abundance
Last year I picked ‘abundance’ as my word of the year. To be honest, I thought doing so would help me attract more abundance into my life, in other words, more money. Instead I became aware of just how much abundance already exists, and by that, I’m not only referring to money.
I began to fully appreciate my life as it is; my relationships, health, home, financial security, everything, both tangible and intangible. My life is rich. I can clearly see how I’ve always been provided for and feel a deep sense of certainty that I’ll always be held. I also began to truly own my life and became a living, breathing body of gratitude for all of it.
None of this is a coincidence; I’ve struggled with my money mindset in the past, without even understanding what that meant for most of my life, and I’ve been doing to the work required to change that. The work hasn’t always been easy, but what I didn’t expect was the positive effect it would have on my whole life. This isn’t just about being debt-free or having savings or accumulating the usual ‘stuff ‘ that people typically spend their money on when they have a disposable income; it goes far deeper than any of that. I’m proud of how far I’ve come.
Never Stop Learning
I recall my first day of school: I sat at my desk in our farmhouse kitchen. My Mum was my home-school teacher until I had my first day of ‘proper’ school, aged 14. I went about it in a roundabout way, but I’m the first person in my immediate family to go to university. That makes me proud of my Mum, more than I’m proud of myself. I love learning and I’ve often described myself as a ‘course junkie’. I used to think this was a positive attribute, but now I’m not so sure. There’s always something to learn, but doing courses continuously can also be another form of procrastination. I recently wrote a list of every course I’ve ever completed and I’m sure I should really be some kind of entrepreneurial-personal-development-expert-guru-type-person by now. Except, I’m not. I rarely stop long enough before the next course starts to put what I’ve learned into practice. Sometimes that’s okay and sometimes you need to pause and ask yourself if by doing courses continuously, you’re actually avoiding doing the work? I love what I’ve learned to date and I hope my thirst for knowledge never dries up, but from now on I’m going to be more intentional about the courses and subjects I study, and have a strategy for applying new-found knowledge.
Also, courses aren’t the only way to learn; listening, reading, watching and asking questions are equally important. I plan to do far more of those things, in a mindful way, rather than signing up for yet another certificate, diploma or degree.
A Body of Work
In the past I’ve chosen career paths because they made sense from a practical point of view, rather than asking myself, “What do I want my life’s work to look like?” and planning the steps I need to take to fulfill that vision.
However, I don’t regret the choices I’ve made to date: a 20-year communications career – which took me all over the world – having the courage to quit corporate life to launch my own my own personal styling consultancy, and then being brave enough to quit that to focus on coaching. In the years since leaving corporate life I’ve allowed myself to experiment and explore; I’ve written guest articles and posts, given interviews and talks, designed and hosted workshops for and with other people and I even created and co-hosted a series of vintage style and shop walking tours around East London. In other words, I played! I’ve worked with clients all over the globe. I’ve also stopped thinking in terms of ‘a business’ and ‘a career’ and being ‘an entrepreneur’ and started to think about my past, present and the future projects I truly want to pursue as being a body of work I produce over my lifetime.
I’m currently making decisions about the projects I want to focus on going forward, plus spending time getting really clear on how I want to work, and defining what work-related success means to me, but I feel like I’m laying a solid foundation for the future.
A big part of this future is fully embracing my writing. It took me a long time to believe I’m creative or that I may actually have an iota of talent with words, but I believe it now. When I was visiting my parents last year I found a compilation of poetry I’d written almost 25 years ago. Until then I’d been telling myself a story about how I’m not creative; but in that moment I understood I’ve always been creative. We all are.
“You are under no obligation to be the same person you were a year, month, or even 15 minutes ago. You have the right to grow. No apologies” – Author Unknown.
Just Getting Started
Reviewing your life is an exercise worth doing; the more I write down, the more I recall. I am, and always will be, a work in progress, but there’s nothing more precious than this gift we call life. I’m committed to living mine so well, that I inspire others to do the same.
© 2017 Esther Zimmer