Ambition

It’s interesting – the word ‘ambition’.  The definition in most dictionaries for this word is, ‘a strong desire to do or achieve something’.  The word conjures up an energetic go-getter.  Hardworking.  Determined.  Lets nothing get in their way.  Ruthless at times.  Focussed.  People to be admired!

Ambitious people don’t understand people who don’t put their careers first.  Ambitious people don’t understand when people have other priorities in their lives and therefore are not motivated by money or promotion.  Ambitious people find those people very difficult to understand – because they do not know what motivates them.

Family, you tell them.  Yes, but everyone has a family, I have a family – what makes yours so important?

And therein lies the difference in perspective.  A career driven person is deemed to be ambitious because they are chasing a desire to be financially successful and achieve status and respect because of their talent – what they do.

A family driven person is also ambitious.  They have an overwhelming desire to have a family life where they can look after their partner, be there for their children, be present and mindful and make their house a happy home.

Sadly – this is looked down upon as a lack of ambition.  But if we go back to the definition of what ambition actually is – then what is the difference?  Following one path will make you financially rich and secure – but it may come at a cost.  What cost?  Not being able to be there for the ones that you love because of the demands of your job.  Not noticing that anything may be wrong with the ones you love because of the demands of your job.  Having to neglect the ones that you love – because of the demands of your job.

Following the other path may mean that you are seen as lacking commitment by your employers because you put your family first.  You may miss out on opportunities for promotion or not even be considered for certain roles because you don’t give your ‘all’ to work.  This may mean that financially you are not as well off as you might have been, if only your thought processes or approach was different.

In each case – neither person is wrong.  It is not wrong to want to be successful in your job, to be talented in an area and want to strive to reach new heights and be good at what you do.  However, it is also not wrong to want to look after your family.  To have the time to tuck your children in bed so that they sleep peacefully.  It is not wrong to refuse to take on additional responsibilities at work, because you know that takes time away from how much you will be able to be there for the ones that you love.  The latter choice is not a lack of ambition – it is a different ambition though  – to have a successful family life.

If we could – we would marry the two up.  Be extremely successful in our careers and have plenty of time to spend with loved ones.  Some people to manage it – at least from afar, it appears that they do…

But the point of my blog today is, let’s not dismiss the homemakers – the people who make a choice to stay at home and look after their families; or the ones that decide that they only want to go ‘so far’ in their careers.  Let’s not think that they are lacking in ambition, are lazy, or just don’t have what it takes!   Let’s dig a bit deeper and realise that their ambition – to create happiness and stability in their family homes is one to be admired as well.  These people that are there to comfort their loved ones, who have the time to ensure that their family is healthy (mentally, as well as physically), and happy  – these people are just as important and necessary and are just as deserving of respect as those who are financially successful and receive promotion upon promotion.

It is important to remember – and this is where I will end really…a job is just a job.  If you love it – that’s brilliant.  I have a job that I am fortunate enough to love.  But it’s the people in my life that drive me.  Not money.  Not finance.  Nothing else.  It is the people around me who look after me when I am feeling sick, or tired, or need cheering up.  It is the people in my life who I share my happiness and successes with, who make me laugh and bring me joy.  Jobs will come.  Jobs will go.  Family and loved ones – we should do our best to keep them forever, and make as much time as we can to be with them.  Money, you can earn again.  Promotions, you can achieve those later.  But once a person that you love has gone, or once your child’s childhood has changed into adulthood – no matter how much you try to turn back the tides of time – you can never get those people, those moments or those missed opportunities back ever again.

 

 

 

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Ocean of knowledge

I think it is fair to say that when I was a little girl, times were tough.  My parents had to scrimp and save for everything.  Times were genuinely hard.  My mother was the finance minister of the house, and every penny was accounted for.  If a purchase had to be made, it was thought about many times before a deal was finalised.  Necessities – we had them all.  Luxuries – few and far between.  As well as being the finance minister, she was also the education secretary and what she instilled in us was a hunger, a drive, an ambition.  Work hard.  Be educated.  No one can steal your knowledge from you.  If you don’t like the way that we live now – that’s fine.  The only person that can change that, is you.  And she was right.  I am grateful for the childhood that I had, I am grateful for the hard knocks, I am grateful that I had a mother who was no nonsense – because all those aspects combined, made me who I am today.  I know what it was like to struggle financially – I never want to experience that again.  I am full of gratitude for the education that I received – I am a living example of someone who had nothing – studied – and am living the life that I dreamed of when I was a little girl.

As well as being in charge of finance and education, Mum was also responsible for our spiritual and moral development.  We weren’t brought up with a sense of entitlement – in fact it was a sense of gratitude.  Be grateful that you have a free education – millions of children around the world would love to be in your position, going to school everyday, instead they have to work.  Be grateful for the food on your table – millions of people don’t have anything to eat – don’t waste your food.  And she would both terrify and inspire us with stories about people in India, more specifically Bengal – people who changed their own lives, and the lives of others for the better.

I distinctly remember the day that my father realised that although my sister and I were brilliant and fluent English speakers, we no longer spoke in Bengali at home and even though we could understand it, we would always converse and reply to our parents in English.  I’m really not sure what the final straw was, but one day my father declared that we were only allowed to speak in Bengali at home and if we wanted something, we had to speak in Bengali – or not at all.  There was a pin drop silence in the house.  Nobody spoke.  I remember my sister and I – probably aged 6 and 9 at the time, exchanging horrified glances!  I found myself panicking and wildly looking at random objects wondering – ‘What’s the Bengali for cup, or wall, or stairs?’  I couldn’t even remember.  My father wasn’t someone to be trifled with, so we took the matter quite seriously.  Initially, we communicated in very hesitant and broken Bengali.  However, in a matter of days we surprised ourselves with how easy and natural it seemed.  There was a method behind what appeared to be complete madness to us.

My mother then decided that I would learn how to read and write in Bengali…

And this was when I was introduced to a character who inspired me, and changed my life for ever.  She had ordered some Bengali books from India and they were all created by the same person – his name was Ishwar Chandra Vidysagar.  (Vidyasagar, in Sanskrit means ‘Ocean of knowledge’).   From a small age, Vidyasagar had a desire to learn and be educated, his father encouraged it too.  He was a poor Brahmin boy and would have to work during the day to earn money for his family.  Where they lived, there was no electricity in the house, so Vidyasagar’s father would make him study beneath the light of the lampposts on the street.  Sometimes, his father would find the little boy cross legged, slumped over, fast asleep with his book in his lap – so his father would tie Vidysagar’s small pony tail to the lamppost, in case his eyes did close and he drifted off to sleep, the pull on his hair would jerk his head back again, and the little boy would continue with his studies.  Vidyasagar grew up, went to university, became a successful scholar, championed the upliftment of the status of women in India, and fought for the rights of widows to be remarried.  He helped to reform the education system on India and set up a high school for children.

Throughout his lifetime, he wrote many books, but in 1850 he wrote some books for children learning Bengali, called Borno Porichoy.  More than a 100 years later, through this book, I was introduced to him.

My parents were old school in their approach to bringing up children.  I shower affection upon my own daughters, constantly tell them how proud I am of them, tell them that I love them all the time – it wasn’t how I was brought up.  It was a silent acceptance from both sides – we knew our parents loved us, we loved our parents – it was never verbalised – it was never discussed.  We were never publicly praised.  If we got an ‘A’ grade – there were no congratulations, or bright smiles, or pats on back.  The response was a simple ‘Good, do better next time!’ At the time the best grade was an ‘A’ – so there was that!  To be honest, I knew what that meant.  You can’t be complacent.  Good – you have achieved an ‘A’.  So have thousands of others.  Keep going.  Keep working hard.  This ‘A’ is not the ultimate goal – you have many more ‘A’s to achieve.  We knew that.  And we never stopped.  We never gave up.  We continued to keep going and secretly hoping that one day our mother would say ‘Well done!’.  I write that with a broad smile on my face as I type – because she always reads my blogs – and I know that the stubborn woman that she is – that’s never going to happen!  I accept it though.

But I have digressed – Borno Porichoy was full of short stories with a moral.  I had always found reading English extremely easy.  I remember when I was in Reception, my mum practised some key words with me, the next thing I knew, I could read every book on this blessed Earth.  Bengali – was a challenge.  I had to sound out every letter and blend them to read the word – which was a frustrating but helpful experience for me.  It helped me to empathise with those who didn’t find reading that easy.  I became more fluent, the more I practised – but even now, if I’m given a Bengali newspaper to read, I take a huge deep breath and know that it will take some time to decipher each word.

What I’m about to share with you is a story from this book, that made me view my parents in a different way.  I remember hesitantly sounding it out and reading it to my parents.  The story was about a boy called Gopal.  Gopal was a good boy.  He listened to his parents and always did as he was told.  Sadly, his parents died, and he was put in the care of his aunt.  He liked his aunt – and she liked him but Gopal soon discovered that he could behave in her care, in a way that would have been completely unacceptable for his parents.  One day, he stole from a shop – the shopkeeper complained to his aunt, and although his aunt knew of his guilt, instead of chastising him, shouted at the shopkeeper and said that Gopal would never do such a thing.  That became the undoing of Gopal.  It didn’t matter what Gopal did, his aunt defended him and never told him off.  Time went on, Gopal grew older and instead of being a successful man as his parents had dreamed – he became a criminal.  Stealing and lying had become second nature to him.  Eventually, in the middle of a theft, he ended up killing a person.  The sentence for which was death.  As a last request, Gopal asked to see his aunt before he died.  His aunt was touched by her nephew’s love for her and hurried to the jail to bid him a fond farewell.  Gopal saw his aunt from behind the bars and asked her to approach him so that he could whisper something in her ear.  Curiously, she sidled up to the bars and put her ear towards him.  Gently, he leant towards her ear and all of a sudden, with a huge strength of force, bit her ear off!

As a 9 year old girl, I had not seen this event coming and I was horrified with what I had just read, but I continued reading.

Gopal’s aunt screamed with terror and pain and shouted at her nephew – ‘I did nothing but love and protect you all your life, why did you do such a thing to me?’  But Gopal’s answer was painfully honest – and as a 9 year old, I remember thinking how his answer made so much sense to me.  He replied, ‘Oh Auntie, you didn’t love me.  If only you had told me off and corrected my behaviour when I was little, then I wouldn’t be in this jail now, about to be hanged.’

I have never forgotten this story.  I remember looking at my parents differently from that point onwards.  When they would tell me off, or expect more from me, or not let me do things that other children seemed to get away with – I suddenly realised why.

It is easy to be a friend to your child.  It is easy to be the good cop – always making excuses for their behaviour, allowing them to get away with things because they were tired, or not well, or had had a bad day.  It is much more difficult to be the ‘bad cop’ – enforce good behaviour, make sure there are consequences for poor behaviour.  It means being consistent – which is tiring.  It means facing the wrath and displeasure of your child – which is heart breaking.

Although my approach to parenting is different to that of my own parents, I will always be grateful for the richness, the diversity, the literature, the life stories that I was exposed to as a little girl.  I will always be grateful for the hunger to succeed that was instilled in me.  I will always be grateful that my behaviour was corrected when it needed to be.  I will always be grateful that my parents never needed to tell me how much they loved, because they always showed it in their own ways.

Lessons we can learn from bears!

 

This morning, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and saw the most heart warming and inspirational video that I have ever seen.  When I was a little girl, I remember my father telling me the story of Robert the Bruce.  Robert was a Scotsman who had been fighting the English.  He had fought many, many battles and kept losing.  The story says that Robert was on the brink of giving up, and sat down in deep contemplation, thinking about what he would do next.  Whilst he was sat down, his eyes rested upon a spider who was trying to spin a web.  The spider kept trying, kept falling, but each time undeterred, the spider got back up and carried on with its endeavour. Legend says that on its 7th attempt, the spider was finally successful.  This tiny spider inspired Robert to continue in his battle of independence and was subsequently successful.  The video below, illustrates another beautiful example of another animal refusing to give up.

What is interesting for me in this video, is the adult bear.  I showed my daughters this video, and my eldest exclaimed with horror, ‘Why isn’t the big bear helping the little bear?’  Good question, I thought. Why not?  Is it because the big bear was frightened for its own safety and was thinking about self preservation?  Is it because the big bear wanted the little bear to make the climb on its own and that was the lesson it wanted to teach?  Or was it because the big bear had complete faith that the little bear would find its own way – regardless?  I don’t know…

It made me think though.  Animals know that the world is brutal and in a lot of instances, they teach their child the skills of how to survive – and then, when it’s time they let them go.  My youngest’s favourite story of all time is ‘The Three Little Pigs’.  What does it teach you?  You have to be strong to survive.  If you’re mollycoddled you won’t last a minute.  Either you won’t be able to find food and shelter, or you will be hunted down and ripped apart by a predator.  Animal parents know this.  And I think that is what the big bear is thinking, whilst she watches her cub making that climb.  Climb or die baby, climb or die trying.  Whilst watching that, I was questioning my own parenting skills – I wouldn’t have been able to help myself – I would have intervened.  Thinking as a human, I would have slid down that mountain and pulled the cub up – but it made me question – what would I have taught my cub?  Would that have been the right approach?  My instinct is, I don’t want my child to get hurt. Fine.  However, should I be thinking – it’s ok if you hurt yourself – what lessons will you learn from that?

The thing is, as a parent, you can’t always be there to protect your children and fend off predators.  The lessons that a lot of children learn in life, are when their parents are not there to intervene.  I’ve spoken and written about this before, but one of the things that we teach our children, is to be polite.  Use good manners.  Say please and thank you.  Talk to people, don’t ignore them.  Be polite.  I was brought up in this way, and so have my own children.  I worry though.  I worry because I know what they will have to encounter when they get older.  How do I know?  Because I faced some troubling situations myself.

I was polite.  Even when I was with people – ok men – that I didn’t particularly like, I was polite.  Treat people how you want to be treated yourself – that’s what we teach children isn’t it?  So, that’s how I would behave with others.  Talk, be polite, be interested in what people say – don’t be rude.  What’s wrong with that, you may wonder?  Well, nothing.  Until – men – some men – mistook that politeness – pure politeness – for interest.  Suddenly, you find yourself in quicksand.  You try – politely – to let the other person know that you are not interested – they don’t take the hint.  Suddenly, it’s a game.  Of course you were interested, you were so polite, you both got so well – now, your polite refusals are just an indication that you’re playing ‘hard to get’.  Just a bit more persistence and pressure and you’ll change your mind and ‘give in’.

That is what worries me as my children grow older.  Balancing politeness with being absolutely assertive and clear cut when they need to be.  Be polite.  Be kind.  It is good to be those things, I firmly believe in that.  But, always be totally clear and fearless when speaking to people.  If someone does or says something that you don’t like – you don’t need to be polite in that instance.  You need to be clear and know that when you are assertive, you aren’t being a bad person.  Self preservation is self preservation – whether that be in the animal kingdom, or in the concrete jungle.

I won’t be able to be there all the time for my daughters.  My parents were not able to be there all the time for me.  But I trust, that like the big bear in the footage above, I have given my children the life skills that they need to survive.  And know that even when things feel at their lowest – they should never give up.

Is it love?

Love is such a funny, overused word isn’t it? The problem with the word is that it fits everything, it means everything. However, said at the wrong time – it could spell trouble. If it’s not said when it is expected – it can cause anguish.

I love watching Game of Thrones. I love the seaside. I love being by the sea. I love hugs and cuddles at bedtime with my girls. I love being in my pjs, after a day at work, snuggling on my sofa and relaxing. All wonderful, acceptable uses of the word ‘love’.

If I came up to you, after only knowing you for a short time and told you that ‘I love you’ – how would that make you feel? Uncomfortable, I imagine? Uneasy? Creeped out? I know I would feel that way.

So – it’s a throw away, overused word, that can be used in any context. However, it can also be extremely powerful – and evoke quite positive or negative thoughts and responses too.

Lots of acts are committed in the name of love. Lots of unholy, unhinged acts – all in the name of love.

On the spectrum of love, you have the positive sides – someone surprises you with a gift that you have wanted for a long time, or someone takes you out to dinner, or jets you away on holiday, or is an ear that listens when you are in distress. These are what we expect and enjoy about being in love. Moderate love. Extreme acts of love could be self-sacrificing – we haven’t got enough food to eat, so you give away your portion, your loved one needs a kidney – you give them yours – this is not ordinary – this is extraordinary love.

Of course, then you have the other polar end of the spectrum. Love supposedly brings out the best in you, but it could equally bring out the worst in you. So you start off mildly negative – checking your partner’s phone messages and emails. You monitor who they are calling, who are they interacting with apart from you, who are they interacting with on social media? You start discovering things that you don’t like. You start building stories in your head. And then comes the next step – control. You set conditions and ultimatums – you can’t see that person anymore. I don’t want you to communicate with that person anymore. If you don’t listen, then there will be consequences.

Perhaps you ‘love’ someone from afar? Perhaps you haven’t got the nerve to talk or interact with them in real life? Perhaps the love is unrequited? So, you start taking an unhealthy interest in everything they do. Their likes become your likes. Your thoughts, every aspect of your life, revolves around everything they do. Then comes the next step – control. For whatever reason, you cannot be a part of that person’s life – either it won’t happen organically, or they don’t want you around. So – you start to try and shoehorn yourself in. You go where they go. You do what they do. Whether they like it or not – you are there. Control.

Those examples of negativity seem quite mild, don’t they? After all, it’s not physical violence, it’s not sexual assault. So, it’s ok. It’s not that bad.

Is it?

Survivors of physical violence and sexual abuse know something. The violence and abuse did not start straight away. The perpetrators are smarter than that. If someone you have just met, is violent or abusive, would you meet with them again? No – of course not. No. These people mask their behaviour. They present themselves in the best light possible. They take time to get to know you, make you laugh. Know what makes you tick. And then, when they have gained your trust – that’s when it starts. Of course, there are the apologies later. They never meant it. You drove them to it. It will never happen again. They have a back story that makes you ‘understand’ their behaviour…but it happens again and again. And each time, a chunk of you is torn away – which was their intention all along. Control.

Love is not about control. You do not control the people that you love. You show respect. Everyone deserves respect. You expect your partner to love and respect you. For example – when entering into a relationship with someone, you create some rules that the both of you decide to live by. Perhaps you decide – we’re going to be mutually exclusive, we won’t be with anyone else. You decide how often you will see each other. What you will do on special occasions. And there are unspoken rules – I won’t cheat on you; I won’t discuss our private moments between us with other people; I won’t text or flirt with other people in a way that is disrespectful to you. If you feel that the other person is breaking those rules – then instead of trying to modify and put conditions on their behaviour – surely you should think – is this love? Confronting them and hearing them lie and calling you crazy – that’s not love. Lying awake and wondering where they are and what they’re doing – that’s not love. Seeing them talking and laughing with an attractive person and wondering what might happen next – that’s not love. Knowing that they have strayed before and you have to put sanctions in place. That’s not love.

Being suspected constantly when you have done nothing wrong – that’s not love. Being told who you can and can’t speak to – that’s not love. Being ordered to get home daily by a certain time and knowing that your every move is being analysed. That’s not love.

Controlling someone or being in control – this is not love.

Love is easy. Love is respectful. Love is letting people grow. Love, sometimes, is letting people go.

If you are with someone you do not trust – let them go. They don’t make you feel good about yourself. You deserve better.

If you are with someone who doesn’t trust you – walk away. You deserve better.

If you are with someone who controls you – walk away and don’t look back. Get advice on how to walk away so that you are safe. But don’t stay and be controlled – no one deserves that.

And if you are a person who feels the need to control others – get some professional, medical help. Controlling others, hurting others, it doesn’t make you happy – get help.

The point of love is – it should make you feel alive. It should make you feel invincible. You should feel free and elated. You should feel that anything in the world is possible. You should feel that you could tell them anything and you should feel that you would gladly do anything for them.

If you’re with someone and you don’t feel that way – is it love…?

My single friends…

For the first time yesterday, I felt the temperature drop. Properly. Outside was cold with some sleet and I gleefully put on my scarf and coat. Finally, it feels as though we’re on the cusp of winter.

Normally, I wouldn’t have ventured out on a day like this. I would’ve snuggled up in my house, wiling the day away, doing my best to stay cosy. But I had arranged to meet my friend, we were going to travel into Birmingham by train for a spot of lunch and then window shopping.

I arrived at the station- which was a second home during my university days. Back then, I had a train pass, I didn’t need to check the electronic boards for the train times. I just knew when the trains were coming, which platforms they were leaving from, and efficiently I’d make my way to where I needed to go. Sighing impatiently at the novice travellers who with bewilderment, would be standing in the middle of nowhere, constantly checking where they need to go, checking the boards, moving slowly and holding everyone up.

So, imagine my feeling of chagrin, when I’m not sure where to buy my ticket from, which ticket to buy, which line to stand in. Suddenly, I felt old – standing in a world that I used to feel so comfortable in, that I used to have dominion over. And then of course the station was packed. Packed with university aged students, all in flimsy Halloween costumes, standing around chatting excitedly in large groups- waiting – going nowhere – just taking up space, dressed up as skeletons and vampires and zombies- wearing clothes that definitely would not protect them from the chilling cold.

Once my friend and I had purchased our tickets, we waited barely a minute before the train arrived at the platform. As expected, the train was crowded with passengers which meant that my friend and I had to stand all the way to Birmingham. But we didn’t mind. We hadn’t seen each other for 2 years and although that time had passed so quickly, we had a lot to catch up on, and within a blink of an eye we arrived at our destination. The platforms were crowded with shoppers, eagerly pushing forward to shop, and families on half term, travelling with their various coloured suitcases, escaping.

Walking to Selfridges took about ten minutes, but it was comforting being in the excited, purposeful hustle and bustle of the shopping centre. Bright lights, clean pathways, beautiful shops – I’d missed it. It reminded me of London and just being back in that atmosphere again made my heart soar.

My stomach often dictates my actions, so we had lunch first. In the end, style trumped substance. I am a fan of Indian street food, and there was a stylish street food restaurant within Selfridges, that we opted for. Luckily, if the company is good, it doesn’t matter if the food isn’t.

So, now we have almost arrived at the point of my blog.

My friend and I, came back in contact with each other 11 years ago, through Facebook. We used to go to the same primary school, but at secondary we went to different places and life took us in different directions. There were many similarities in what we had been through when we were children, and 11 years ago we met up again and have been firm friends ever since then. At the time that we came back in contact again, we were both at the stage of our lives when we were looking for that person that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives with. 11 years on, we are both in stable, happy relationships, both with the knowledge of hindsight – why were we worrying all those years ago, things worked out the way they were meant to.

Let me illustrate this point in a different way. One of the biggest things that my mother drilled into me, from a tiny age – look after your skin. Moisturise, moisturise, moisturise. It still shocks me when people I meet, don’t do that. But skincare is really important to me and my skin feels dry and tight if I don’t look after it. So, as we were in Selfridges, the holy grail of make up, skincare, perfumes and all things gorgeous, it would have been remiss of me not to look for a winter serum to add an extra layer of protection for my skin.

It was simple really – I knew I wanted a serum, I knew what I wanted it for, I knew where I wanted to go to look for them. I approached the counters that I was interested in, one was incredibly warm and helpful, made me try the product, I was pleased with it – the assistant went to get it – but it was out of stock! I didn’t worry, I went to the other counter that I trusted, they also, had none of their serum in stock.

Honestly, I was beginning to get downhearted. This was supposed to have been a very simple task – buy a serum, go home, moisturise. I know it sounds incredibly dramatic and nonsensical to be worried about not getting a product, but it was how I felt. Immediately my friend carried out a google search for respected serums, and as she read out the list of recommendations, my ears pricked up and we headed towards Debenhams to make our purchases. When we arrived, the assistant was extremely helpful, knew just what I needed, gave me some helpful advice and a few free samples to help. I left feeling looked after and satisfied.

So what was the moment of enlightenment that I had? The serum shopping experience got me thinking about life on a larger scale. More specifically, when you’re looking for someone to be in that special relationship with.

When you’re single, you look around and so many people appear to be in such happy, wonderful relationships, people ask you why you’re not in one too – you have no answer. It should be easy for you to find someone, you have everything going for you, you’re doing the right things and are in the right place at the right time, so why not?

The reason why – it’s simple. The reason you haven’t met that person is because the universe is looking after you. Either, the person you are going to be with forever isn’t ready yet and has a few life lessons to learn – or equally – you’re not. Nonetheless- you will find that person. It might take a bit longer to find them. And when you do, you’ll look back in hindsight with relief and be grateful that all the relationships that you thought were ‘the one’, didn’t work out.

The reason for me writing this, is because those of you who might be feeling despondent that you haven’t met that person that you want to be with forever – don’t lose hope. Don’t lose hope. It is always better to be alone, than to be with someone who doesn’t make you feel that you have arrived home. Don’t compare your life with anyone else’s. Don’t be brought down by somebody else’s timeline – you should have been married by this age, children by this age, house and car by that age. Forget all that. It’s archaic, it’s ridiculous, it’s obsolete.

It’s your life. Your very special, unique life – and even though I do believe in reincarnation- this particular life, you will only live once. So live it. Whilst you are single, do all those things that you won’t be able to do when you have a partner, a mortgage, babies and nursery fees.

Go on holiday. Travel as much as you can. Swim in the sea. Climb mountains. Meet new and interesting people.

Smile. Smile as much as you can. Don’t waste life thinking about what you don’t have YET. Appreciate and be grateful for what you do have. And when the universe knows it’s the right time for you – that person will just be around the corner…

The Tale of the Donkey

Once upon a time, a long time ago – I don’t know when, in a far away land – I don’t know where,  lived a man – I don’t his name, who had a donkey – I know nothing more about the donkey than you do.  Anyway, the man had to go on a journey with his ailing parents and so he set off.  Along the way, this quartet met a number of people who had strong opinions about the way this young man was travelling.

At first, the young man had asked his parents to sit on the donkey, as they would find the journey difficult to complete.  People tutted at the parents – ‘look how cruel they are – their son has to suffer, whilst they travel in luxury’; feeling embarrassed, the parents begged their son to travel on the donkey, whilst they walked.  As you can imagine – lots of other people had a lot to say about this!  ‘Look at that shameless man, letting his elderly parents walk, whilst he travels in luxury’.  Needless to say, the son dismounted, and they all continued their journey on foot.  A few hours later, they met a new group  of people who sneered, ‘Look at these foolish people, they have a perfectly good donkey and yet nobody is riding it’.  Hearing this, the son and his parents all clamboured onto the donkey and continued.  As they continued, they were then met with a new group of outraged people, with yet more opinions!  ‘Look at these cruel people!  All three of them on the donkey?  Donkeys have rights too, they should be carrying the donkey!  So, that’s what they did.  The son and his parents, continued the rest of their journey, by carrying their donkey – to the amusements, jeers and sneers of the rest of the world.

This is the story of 90% of the people in this world.  No, truthfully – we are all that young man embarking on our journey.  We have family and friends with us, travelling on our journeys.  And of course, we have the rest of the world – telling us how to conduct ourselves, and giving us their ‘twopence’ worth of unsolicited advice about how we should live our lives, and how we should be treating our metaphorical donkeys.

This is how the story should have gone…

A long time ago, in a far away land, a young man and his parents had to go on a journey.  As his parents found it difficult to travel, the young man made them sit upon their donkey.  The journey was tricky – but they got there.  The End.

There are two lessons to be learnt from this story.  First of all – stop caring about what people think, and what will people say.  Only you know what is right for you, and as long as you make decisions with integrity, and knowing that you are doing the best for you and your family – who cares what everyone else thinks?  People only see things from their perspective anyway.  They don’t care what you’ve been through.  They don’t care where you need to go.  They just want to comment, and make you modify your behaviour, so that it makes them happy.  They don’t care about you.

Secondly, we all are guilty, at some level, of commenting on other people.  But let’s think about this, if we all have our own journeys, with our own bespoke donkeys to complete, why the heck do we even worry about what someone else is doing with their donkey?

I like talking to people who mind their own donkeys and are very certain about how they will complete their own journeys.  These people are goal-focussed and interesting.  Their journeys in life are interesting.  They don’t care about what people are doing -their whole perspective of life is different.  They aren’t people’s business orientated – there is a glow that emits from them, as they are busy creating their own lives.  They visit interesting places.  They read interesting books.  They meet interesting people.  They are spontaneous.  And they live a rich life.  These are my type of people.

I’m not holding myself up as a paragon of virtue by any means.  However, as I become older, the less I care about what other people think.  If they don’t pay my bills, feed me and clothe me – they haven’t got a right to comment upon how I choose to live my life.  And if they do choose to give me some commentary about my life, that I didn’t even ask for, I merrily ignore them because I am perfectly happy about the way I live my life, and have taken great pains to ensure that I am living the life that I want.

People always judge others by their own value system – everything is skewered by this.  No one is truly objective because everyone has pre-conceived ideas in this first place.  All I will say is this – life is a wonderful, challenging, bittersweet, exciting journey for everyone.  Live yours according to what feels right for you.  Make decisions informed by what you know is right for you – not according to the gospel of everyone else.  Follow your instincts.  Live with integrity.  And most importantly, ignore those people who would happily judge you and look forward to seeing you fail.  Don’t listen to them, don’t react to them, because without your reaction they are powerless.

But the most important message I will say is – leave others alone.  You have your own life to live.  Your own goals to achieve.  Your own happiness to focus on.  Don’t comment upon others and how they choose to live their lives, just because it isn’t what you would do.  Who cares?  We will only live this life once.  So make sure you focus on yourself.  Not anybody else.  Focus on being happy and spreading happiness around you.

 

The Last Leaf

Today is a Sunday smack bang in the middle of the most confusing October that I have ever experienced.  I grew up with September hailing the start of the new school year, and the start of autumn with rainy days, winds blowing the ever-changing leaves off their sturdy branches, winds that would make walking difficult and at times would take your breath away.  Dark nights creeping forward.  The heating going on, curtains being closed and a primal instinct that would kick in, of wanting to curl up in front of a fire with your loved ones, trying to keep cosy and warm,

This September and October have been mischievous and tricky.  You wake up feeling cold.  The house is cold.  The mornings are darker.  This all makes sense – after all, autumn is here.  You leave the house suitably and snugly dressed.  Yes, autumn is here.  And then, as the day progresses, and the temperature rises, the sun is out, the cold winds have disappeared – there is a mixture of gratitude, for the heat, sunshine and general well-being, and then a feeling of disarray – this is not how autumn was meant to play out!

Today though, it feels as though order has been restored – whether it is temporary or permanent, remains to be seen, but for now, everything is as it should be.  The rain is falling at a steady speed, the skies are suitable gloomy with grey, non-descript clouds and the wind is making the branches of the trees sway frantically in the wind.  And I am a passive observer, pleased to be indoors, pleased to be wearing warm clothes, and grateful to God for having shelter, warm food and the company of loved ones surrounding me.

As I look outside, net curtains slightly obscuring my view of the street in front of me,  I gaze at the young sapling that stands bravely, fighting all the elements, in front of our driveway.  It’s wiry frame only has a few golden, saffron leaves clinging onto its branches.  Every year, this tree grows a bit taller, the slender trunk thickens slightly, the branches become a tiny bit sturdier and I feel like a proud parent, watching this once tiny sapling, grow steadily and reach its adolescence.  My favourite part of the year has passed. It already revealed its fiery golden colours.  Now I wait.  I wait with infinite sadness, as the sapling loses its leaves.  Sometimes several, with a huge, angry gust of wind.  And sometimes gradual, as the leaves one by one, dance and drift merrily to their impending fate, to the loveless, concrete ground.

The tree reminds me of a film I watched a few years ago, and has stuck with me ever since.  ‘Lootera’, which translates to ‘predator’, someone who robs the innocent and unsuspecting, was based on a short story called ‘The Last Leaf’,  written by O Henry, an American writer, in 1907.  I’m sad to say that I haven’t read the story yet, but I will get around to it one day.

As the title suggests, ‘Lootera’ is about a man who charms his way into a family, with dishonourable intentions.  It is a period drama, set in Bengal in the early 1900’s.  The ‘hero’ captures the heart of the female protagonist and they fall in love.  Unpredictably though, the ‘hero’ does not change his ways, even though the audience are desperately willing him to.  He has a friend/accomplice who reminds him with strong words about what his mission is and the consequences of not carrying out the job correctly.  He lets everyone down – including the audience, who can’t quite believe that he would betray his love, and leaves, completing his mission, but leaving a trail of devastation as he departs.  A few years later, we discover that the family that was left behind are ruined, the heroine’s father has died, and she is dying of tuberculosis, living alone in a remote hill station, with her maid, who is both her carer and companion.  The hero is now a deadly fugitive, and forcibly seeks refuge in this remote house, without realising who the occupants are.  An angry, mistrustful reunion occurs, and there is the constant threat of the police.  In fear of their lives, the heroine and her maid reluctantly provide shelter to the fugitive, whereupon he discovers the extent of her illness, and realises that she is dying.  She tells him that she does not have long left, and that she will die when the last leaf on the trees outside the house drifts away.  Wracked with immense guilt, anger, sadness, and the loss of a love that could have been, he takes care of her and tries to bring some happiness back for her final days.  Her health does make some palpable improvements, but everyday as she looks outside, and realises that there is only one tree with a few leaves left, the rest have all disappeared.  Seeing that her health has improved, the outlaw decides that if he is going to survive, he needs to flee.  So, in the middle of the night, he takes his chance, and makes his escape – but is shot dead by a police blockade who have been waiting for him.  She wakes up the next morning and realises that he has gone.  Her eyes turn towards the tree with the last remaining leaf – and even though the wind is blowing fiercely, this last leaf is clinging on to the branch will all its might.  Suspiciously, she looks closely at the leaf, and realises with wide eyes – the leaf had been tied onto the tree so that it would not fall – and with happy tears in her eyes, she understands why…

I love that story.  I love that ending.  It breaks my heart that the two star crossed lovers could not be together at the end – and yet, I know that the story ended correctly.  Well, at least in my eyes it did.

I think this story will stay for me forever – it’s about treachery, love, devastation and ultimately redemption.  The ‘hero’ was fortunate that he had been able to make amends to the woman that he had wronged before he died.  The heroine knew that she had been loved after all, and although her heart had been broken, she received the closure that she needed as she healed.

It wasn’t a story that I read, it was a story that I watched, and although I’m a huge advocate of people reading, and spending time being lost in a book, I think the most important thing is hearing a story, and hearing about someone else’s life, and the effect that leaves upon you.  Sometimes, I wish we could go back to the days when people gathered around a campfire, snuggled up to one another and let their minds drift away whilst a village elder would narrate a story that might be new, or perhaps was heard many times before.  Because whether you read it, or watch it, or hear it – the story itself is the most important thing isn’t it?  Not the medium that it comes through.