Yesterday, Richard Whitehead stormed to an amazing victory in the paralympic T42 200m, coming from last place at the halfway mark. This amazing athlete got off to a rocky start, slipping on one of his prothetic legs leaving him at the back. Something drove him on to overtake all the other competitors, somehow he found that little bit extra which took him to the finish line. Even in the Olympic games last month it always amazed me, not only how people could come from behind the crowd to take the lead in the final stretch, but how the commentators could accurately predict this, certain athletes being known for their ability to sprint to the end. These people are Completer Finishers, people who see things through to the end. OK, experts will realise that my using this team role description from Belbin is a bit of a misnomer in this context, but essentially I am talking about people who see the end is in sight and then find something more within them to give, no matter how much they have given already.
I am categorically not one of these people, I am in no way shape or form a completer finisher, nor a sprinter to the end. I start things off with gusto, but when the end is in sight I tend to lose momentum as if I am there already. I noticed this as I was running last night. I was nearing home and told myself I just had to get to the bench then I could stop and walk the last 50 metres. Trying to get the most out of my run as the bench came in sight I willed myself to sprint to it, but I just couldn’t, it was all I could to run at my usual pace to my designated end point, despite being able to run further on other runs. I am similar with my crafting projects. I get just near the end and I struggle with the finishing touches. And if a project needs altering once complete, forget it, that door has closed.
One of the reasons I think I am like this is that there are so many things I want to do, that as I near the end of one thing, my mind is already on the next. There are so many things that I want to do that I’m in a hurry to fit them all in. I have written before about my ‘scanner’ tendencies. I can’t bear to be doing nothing, not because I am afraid of boredom, but because I am afraid of wasting time. If I am watching TV I have to be doing something else, crochet or planning a blog post. Recently I went on a 5 hour (each way) car trip with colleagues. I can’t read or crochet in the car because it makes me sick, so all in all I had 10 hours dead time, making small talk with people I barely know. Think what I could have achieved in 10 hours. If I had been on my own I could have listened to Radio 4 or a talking book and you know, learned something. However, this desire to pack so much in sometimes has the complete opposite effect. I want to do so much, and so it well, and fear that I can’t possibly do so that I get struck with a sort of paralysis and instead end up on the sofa watching endless episodes of Gilmore Girls. At the end of those days, instead of relishing doing nothing, I beat myself up for not having achieved anything with my day.
This whole gamut of behaviours stems from fear, fear of insignificance, and ultimately fear of death. Not a fear of dying itself, but a fear of dying before I’ve done all the things I want to do in the world, before I’ve made my mark. I recently read a very salient article in Psychologies magazine by an author named Tom Butler-Bowden. He has written a book called Never Too Late: The Power of Thinking Long. The book is a reminder that success actually rarely happens over night, and we shouldn’t feel demoralised by our lack of (perceived) achievement. He even comes up with a formula for figuring out how much productive life you have left. I can’t find the magazine right now, so I will try and remember it. It assumes that you are most economically active between the ages of 20 and 80. So you take your age and take away 20, then divide that by 60 (no. of productive years in total) then times by 100. So for me that is 31-20/60×100=18.3. That means I am only 18% of the way through my productive life, I have a massive 82% left in which to make my mark on the world. The formula is meant to be a positive reality check, and it really was for me. I’m not even a fifth of the way through my productive life, there is plenty of time to fit in all the things I want to do.
Plus, loads of really successful people didn’t get started till late in life. Winston Churchill, despite being born into very privileged circumstances, had a poor academic record and a speech impediment, and lost a few elections before becoming Prime Minister at 66. Alan Rickman, inexplicably attractive as Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films, spent the majority of his career dressing other actors, and didn’t get a part in a film until he was 46. And last, but not least, Swedish Athlete Oscar Swahn won his first gold medal for deer shooting in 1908 at the age of 60 and was still winning medals at 72 in the 1920 Olympics. So, still time yet folks!
However, we do need to assess the way we measure success. I mean, at 31 I have a Master’s degree, a decent job, a happy marriage, two lovely children, I teach crochet classes, have a blog, am known for yarn bombing, and I am building up to running 10k (5 miles at the last count). Those are all achievements, and for some they would be enough. Not for me, but it’s ok, I’ve got 82% of my productive life to do the rest.
It’s easy to compare yourself to others and feel like you don’t measure up. I feel this is especially amplified in use of social media. On Twitter I follow people I admire, writers, journalists, artists, bloggers. Immersed in their world I feel like everyone around me is more successful and doing more with their lives. But really, that is a select few, and classic case of confirmation bias. Not only am I following people because they are doing things I admire, and doing them well, but also they are likely to only be promoting the successful sides of their lives. It’s not real life and it is important to remember that. I need to ground myself in reality, in my friends and family.
So, these are my resolutions:
Stop worrying about time slipping away, and remember I have 82% of productive time left
Appreciate what I have already achieved in life
When I do have days doing nothing, just appreciate them
Spend less time on Twitter and other social media (yeah, blogs too) and ground myself in my reality
And maybe I need to learn to hold a little bit back, to have a little bit of energy in reserve that will see me through to the end of whatever I am doing, whether that is at work, a craft project or a run. After all, I’m in for the long haul.