As we approach the end of another year it’s natural to question what you’ve achieved and to think about what might be to come, and what you may want to achieve in the forthcoming year.
I started the year feeling quite low, for many reasons. But at the same time I knew that my introverted time was over: I needed work which got me out and about and meeting people, and I needed to feel part of my local community again.
Changes never happen fast and they often happen in ways you hadn’t anticipated. As I started looking for an extra source of income rather than only working from home, and thought possibly about waitressing, a friend came to dinner. A few weeks later she sent me a message with details of a local café wanting a chef. I wasn’t sure she’d got the right person but “you forget – I’ve been to dinner” she said. She also suggested I start a local supper club as she felt that people would happily pay to come to dinner at my house – however even so I felt awkward asking my friends to pay to come to dinner. The idea of Brampton Supper Club was born, with proceeds going to charity, and in its own small way it’s proved quite successful and – again in its own small way – is growing. I’m now also obtaining private chef work once in a while.
Feeling that I needed an extra qualification to work as a chef, although I’d say enthusiasm and experience count for more, I enrolled on a course at Carlisle College. With some trepidation, I must admit – I’m 20 years older than the next youngest person, and 40 years older than the youngest student in my year. But I’m enjoying it and definitely learning new things, in part due to an inspiring tutor who challenges us but also makes me feel that I do indeed have other experience to offer. And in a strange way it makes me feel young rather than old!
I was also asked if I’d like to write for some local newsletters. I have always loved meeting people and asking them about their lives and then writing it up, so I jumped at the chance – and it’s inspired me to start pitching stories to magazines again. There are some fascinating people about!
Related to all of this, I’ve realised many things over the past few months and years, but the subject of ‘appreciation’ has been exercising my mind a fair bit recently. A couple of years ago a friend said that she thought I relied too much on other people’s feedback and good opinion to feel good about myself; another friend sent me the saying at the top of this post. Both contain truth but like so many ‘headlines’, don’t tell the entire story. Clearly totally relying on other people’s opinions about you does not develop a deep-rooted inner sense of self-esteem and self-worth: that has to come from inside. But appreciation can definitely help that self-esteem grow, and destructive criticism can do exactly the opposite. We human beings are social animals and we function by living alongside each other. We have the power to destroy self-confidence by a few carefully chosen nasty words; we can be manipulative and bullying; even murderous. Or, as Jane Fonda once wrote, “we can take anything in nature and focus on the negative: but the positive beauty of it can change our life”.
This was reflected, as so often happens, when I picked up a copy of The Chimp Paradox (Professor Steve Peters) a few days ago. Was it serendipity that I happened to open it at the section which talks about the goblin on the fridge: about praising your children first and foremost for who they are, and secondly for their achievements. Many of us are driven to achieve, or behave in certain ways, because deep down inside we are still seeking approval (and trying to boost our self-esteem?) – not necessarily any longer that of our parents but of ‘society’. It’s a difficult balance, isn’t it: the world is an amazing place and there’s a huge amount to explore and to learn; and to keep pushing your boundaries, the limits of your comfort zone, is surely what being human is about. It’s natural then to want to ‘achieve’ – to do well – in new subjects. Where does the line come between seeking approval that what you have done is good and worthwhile and seeking approval because you need it for your own self-esteem? But when, also, is it time to be brave and start new things which some people may think you are crazy, if not irresponsible, to do?
I’ve seen destructive behaviours so much over the years: from parents, from bosses, from partners, from people who, for whatever reason, want to pull you down, and when you’re learning a subject or skill or new to a ‘relationship’ (friendship, work place or familial) then it’s natural to want to be accepted – ‘approved’ of. I’m not proud to admit that I’ve been destructively critical of people myself, particularly when I’ve felt attacked or insecure: I’m all too aware of how easily I could destroy my own children’s confidence, but if I’m in a bad temper or feeling stressed it’s all too easy to be snappy and short rather than provide constructive criticism. As a woman, I have always felt strongly that I wanted my daughter to grow up to be a strong, confident woman: but as a parent everybody will understand how difficult it is at times when your children don’t do what you want. There’s free rein and there’s free rein…
The good thing is that is the year when I’ve been able to say ‘I can do without this’ when people have been destructively critical. It’s not that I can’t take constructive criticism – after all, life is about constantly learning and I’m the first one to beat myself up when I don’t feel I’m learning fast enough or don’t feel that what I’m doing is good enough. It’s made me realise that self-esteem isn’t about not wanting – or indeed needing – the good opinion of other people: it’s about being able to walk away when things are getting too destructive. When it’s someone you love it is incredibly hard and can feel as if you’re tearing yourself in half; even with friends it can be difficult and feel disloyal. When it’s a job and you need the money you can feel guilty and worried: but you can bet your bottom dollar that if you take the risk then something better will come along. When it’s a case of doing something you know to be the right thing but getting told you ‘shouldn’t’ then it’s a case of being brave; hearing the reasons and checking whether they have any validity but going with your heart.
2017 was a year of new beginnings, with the seeds which were planted in 2015 beginning to show some growth. I have met or re-met new peoples; I have been lucky to have a ‘team’ of friends and acquaintances who support me, appreciate me, and help me feel good about what I do and am trying to do. A word many people have used about me over the past two to three years is ‘lovely’, which is such a huge compliment as it implies not only worthy of being loved but also someone who gives love. People who are lovely do not dish out destructive criticism; they literally radiate happiness, openness, friendliness and helpfulness and make other people feel appreciated and worthwhile (the ticket collector on the train on Christmas Eve was like that). About to start 2018, I have only vague goals, but I know what I don’t want. And if I can achieve ‘loveliness’ even in small measure I will have been a success. People being appreciative, supportive and kind is what helps the world go round smoothly; this is what can make it a happier place.
So here’s to 2018: may it be a year of honest appreciation and mutual understanding. May it be a year of loveliness.