I had an interesting reminder about the virtue of patience the other day! If I were to ask you whether you had anything to show from something you did 10 years ago, what would your answer be? How about 20 years ago, or 30 years ago? An initial think might bring up very few answers. Well…a few photos (probably buried in an album under the bed…we’re talking pre-digital era here..!), the work of art you painted at 7 that your mum still displays proudly on her wall, that brightly painted olive dish you brought back from France….
We think a little longer…then with a start, we realise to add to the list children, spouses, houses. A job. A career. A business. Some scars, maybe some debt. Hopefully lots of happy memories and funny stories; adventures to reminisce about and tell the grandchildren. Can you think of more?
The inspiration for this blog came from a visit I paid to an old friend a few days ago. A friend of the non-human variety! I had the joy of visiting a beautiful oak tree (“Oaky”) that I planted from an acorn back in 1990 – 27 years ago. As a young child I enjoyed watching him grow on my windowsill and then, when he got too big for his pot, in the garden. When he was about 10 years old he was starting to get a bit big for the garden and his future looked uncertain… Luckily around that time I was helping to plant a community woodland in a nearby town as part of my Duke of Edinburgh scheme. I donated Oaky to the woodland, pleased that he’d be able to grow big and strong. I visited a couple of times in the following years, then moved away and I hadn’t seen him since. The other day, on a whim, I decided to pop by the woodland and see if I could find this dear tree from my childhood.
I was blown away! The trees, many of which I had planted myself when they were barely taller than me, have grown into a beautiful woodland, tall and established. The trees are elegant and strong, and looked like they had always been there. What was once a plain, open field was now an incredible new habitat, thriving and alive. I found Oaky easily, he has a distinctive forked trunk which makes him easy to spot. This tree, that I had grown from a tiny acorn, was now over 15 metres tall, standing proud at the edge of the wood! It must be 15 years since I last visited the wood, and I found it both inspiring and humbling to see how much it had changed and grown. It struck me deeply, sparking thoughts about how a seed we plant – often almost without thinking – in one year can turn into something so magnificent with time.
At this time of year we spend a lot of time thinking about what lies ahead. What we’ll do more of, what we’ll do less of, where we want to end up. Which is great – without a vision for the future, what seeds can we sow? But we are often encouraged to always look forwards, not backwards, in our lives – after all, the past is in the past but the future is ours to make – and to some degree I agree with this. There is limited value in looking behind and lamenting the things you did or didn’t do. What might have happened or how things might have turned out. It’s true, we can’t change those things. But we can learn from them. Rather than dwelling on “what ifs” and “if onlys”, we could instead look at “whys” and “hows”. There will always be some whys that seem impossible to reconcile – the death of a loved one, the loss of something dear, somebody else’s behaviour, for example – but often, once the heat of a moment is over, tempered by the passage of time, reflection can highlight triggers, learnings and understandings that we can take on board and add to our toolkit for dealing with life. Without reflection, we often fail to learn, and when we fail to learn life sends us the same challenge over and over until we finally get the message and do something about it.
It’s important though that these reflections are not just about the challenges we faced. They should be just as much, if not more so, about all the amazing things that have happened, and to see how far we have come. It is easy to get lost in the day to day busy-ness of life and to not notice the passage of time. That can be very scary, when we are not doing anything with that time, but it is incredibly exciting, when we are using our time fruitfully. For example, when I asked at the beginning what you had to show for something you did 10, 20, 30 years ago, did your career, or particular skills you have, feature on your list? Learning a skill or a qualification takes time. Sometimes that time seems interminable, like it will never pass, like you’ll never reach the end. But you do! You keep going, and suddenly, at the other end, looking back, that time doesn’t seem so long. But look what you have to show for it! A bright spark once said (and apologies, I forget who it was but alas it wasn’t me!): “yes, it might take 5 years to learn that skill…but those 5 years are going to pass anyway, so why not do something with them?”
In a world where we can have nearly everything on demand, it seems to me that we are losing our ability to wait, to work patiently, to focus on longer term goals and sacrifice now in order to achieve something in the future. We want movies on demand, we want a book we order online to arrive tomorrow, we want diets with immediate results, quick fixes for instant happiness, intensive fast-track courses, instant messaging – even email is too slow these days! I’m not saying any of these are bad things (I have to admit, as a person who tends to leave everything until the last minute, Amazon Prime is a godsend!), but when we can have anything immediately we tend to gravitate away from more meaningful, longer lasting effort. We put off something that might be rewarding in the long run – such as learning a new skill – because it will take too long, require too much effort and not give us anything now. I’ve had to face this personally recently. Leaving my very respectable job in financial services was a big leap of faith. Some people thought it was foolish, and I understand why. But I left because I knew that for me, there was more to life than what I was doing. I had more to give, a calling to do something more in this world. And if I didn’t make that leap, I’d never change, I’d never move, I’d never know… But, to make that transition successful, I needed new skills. Now, I’m not naturally the most patient of people. When I get an idea, I want to implement it immediately, while my enthusiasm is fresh! But in order to achieve what I want to achieve, I need a game plan. I have big plans, but I had to start somewhere, start small, and build up my skills. Settling on one thing to start with was difficult, especially as I knew I’d have to focus on that one thing for a while, before I could add something else to my toolkit. But guess what? That time is going to pass anyway!
The starting point I settled on was to embark on a life coaching certification, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and which I am now thoroughly enjoying. I can’t wait to share my learnings with clients when I’m certified (hopefully by the middle of next year) but for now, I’m focusing on learning the skills and tools I’ll need to develop to be able to help my future clients achieve brilliant results in their lives. Patience, patience, patience! And work, work, work!
So what’s the trick? My advice…choose something you enjoy and then just go for it! You could spend a whole year trying to decide where to start…in which time you could have achieved something and be starting on the next thing…so don’t think too long! And hey, if it doesn’t work out, what have you lost, really? Some time, which would have passed anyway, maybe some money, which you probably would have spent anyway…at least you won’t have the dreaded “I wonder what might have been if….”…
With very best wishes for a happy, healthy and successful 2018,