All about me….
Bear with me for a moment. I am fifty after all and promised myself a few moments. I was digging out a baby photo as requested for a bit of an ice-breaker exercise and came across this. It doesn’t work for the exercise, too recognisably me – but it was that aspect that stopped me in my tracks. That picture is absolutely me. Even 40-something years later and with all sorts of murky water under the bridge. It’s how I think of myself at least (humour me), when I am relaxed and in the zone.
The re-discovery of this picture coincided with two separate but completely resonant events I went to last week. One was the first “Think-Create-Do” day held at the Broadway Cinema and hosted by Creative Quarter Nottingham and Sarah King, from We Are Unstuck. The second was joining some fellow participants of the on-line “School for Radicals” course, at the Medical School, QMC.
This has combined with several other on-going ingredients to make me reflect on how much that relaxed and playful self gets obscured by a million and one other things. Some are genuine responsibilities, but many others are fears, worries, anxieties and internalised cultural norms. With the sort of educational and professional background I’ve had (plus being an eldest child I suspect), it’s all too easy to learn to worry about getting things wrong, about not fitting in, about being judged, about giving a good impression, about being successful (however that’s defined), about it ALL Going Wrong, about being found wanting, about making a fool of yourself, about wasting your time, about Barking Up the Wrong Tree, about letting the side down. I had that all in spades in my teens and twenties, but since then it has gradually loosened its grip – partly owing to age, and partly a lot of learning. As a parent, I’ve found myself (along with everyone else in this particular boat) experiencing the dubious pleasure of the company of some of those old demons as they flirt with our kids too.
Your obscuring elements might be different things – but it’s rare in my experience to meet people who truly can’t think of any.
A private struggle?
I hear variations on these themes from many clients and friends. I would not describe many of these people as lonely (whilst fully recognising that loneliness is a big issue for many and none of us are immune). In fact, in my case, I very rarely feel lonely at this time of life and am more likely to be craving time to myself with no interruptions (empty nest is beginning though, with my eldest daughter now away for four months – so far, so good I’m pleased to report, mother and child doing well). However, I do sometimes feel a sense of isolation, and I detect that in many of the stories I hear too.
Isolation is a complicated feeling I think. Many people are in roles that are surrounded by people yet the private experience of those jobs is very often an isolated one. Imposter syndrome is very common – the sense that it’s only a matter of time before someone exposes you for not being as good as people think you are. The real and perceived level of responsibility on people in senior jobs especially can be significant and isolating – knowing that you personally will probably be the one to blame if this or that happens, even when usually these situations are far more complex than could possibly allow for one individual to be wholly responsible. This sense of responsibility can cascade down to the most junior levels too – the isolation coming from that perception can happen to anyone.
Family life is also carried out largely as a private experience in the modern world too. Sadly it seems that the educational and work related perfectionism is only too readily transferred to parenting, and that too can create a sense of being alone in the face of new and uncertain situations at home as well as at work.
It all risks our inner enthusiastic selves becoming fearful, obscured, tired.
And this is where the Friendly Society comes in…
I think possibly the biggest thing that psychology can teach us is that social support and connection is the number one need for human beings (possibly other animals too). I have realised that whilst I have many many friends and a great family, I want to build more of a community around me to let the more energetic and fun inner self out from time to time. I want to feel more relaxed, less driven, see what happens.
For me, it is not about looking for more friends but is about being in a friendly community. It is also that I have recognised that I am in an enormously privileged position of knowing, to a greater or lesser extent, so many interesting people in so many different walks of life. Most weeks I have fantastic conversations with a number of them, depending on who I bump into. I’d love to bring them together.
As a child, I spent loads of time making up stories and also creating clubs and events (the now-defunct Lookouter club was populated mainly by people I was related to, but it meant well, and I am still somewhat amazed that I got the “Schoolditz” party (where I invited the whole of my class home to ruin what was left of a 1976 summer lawn, on leaving primary school) past my parents) with just a sense of enjoyment and fun rather than expecting anything out of it. The time feels right to recapture some of that. The Creating Focus Friendly Society is on Facebook as a group which you are welcome to join – but I don’t want it to be limited by Facebook.
Randomised coffee trial
I’m blatantly pinching an idea from the School for Radicals here (which got it from Nesta I believe) and am going to suggest holding a Creating Focus Friendly Society Randomised Coffee Trial! Anything with coffee and friendly in the same title gets my attention anyway. You can read more about how it works here but for our purposes, we’ll do it once (to begin with anyway) and if you’d like to take part, email me on email@example.com with COFFEE TRIAL in the title, by 1 March. I’ll then randomly match you with someone else and it’s then over to you to find a time to “meet” via Skype or the phone (or face to face if geography allows) for half an hour with a coffee, during March if possible. No agenda.
(And no pressure to do this, but I’d love to know how it goes if you want to let me know.)