Never Too Late To Be Great

Crochet clock time
Crochet clock by Crochet Time

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.

Winston Churchill
It’s not too late for me to make my Priministerial bid

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.

Insert time cliche here

So, this morning, I got up 15 minutes earlier than usual because I wanted to leave for work earlier, because I wanted to get to work earlier. This isn’t some sort of altruistic move, I work flexi-time, and that means if I get to work earlier I get to go home earlier. There is a period of time in the morning, which I haven’t yet got to grip on, when the traffic is so thick that it takes me nearly double the amount of time to get to work. The crux point is around 8am, and I need about 45 minutes to an hour to get ready, extricate myself from my children, and get out of the house. I usually leave the house at about 8.10. No matter how hard I try I can’t get out sooner than that.

Now the easy solution would be to just get up 15 minutes earlier. This is a problem for 2 reasons. Firstly, even though it is only 15 minutes, I can’t get past the psychology of getting up before 7am, voluntarily anyway. And here’s the other thing: it probably wouldn’t even make any difference anyway! Seriously. A few weeks ago I needed to go into work really early, to rectify a problem that erm, well, let’s say someone caused [hint: I was the one going in early]. Anyway, I got up an hour earlier but still only managed to get out of the house half an hour earlier than usually! And this is why:

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

Even though I know I want to leave the house early, my mind sees that it is nowhere near my usual leaving time, so I take the time to do things I wouldn’t normally do, add a slick of mascara, help DH out by making Betty’s lunch, sticking some cleaner down the toilet, and before I know it I’m only half hour early, so I might as well have stayed in bed an extra half hour. The above quote is known as Parkinson’s Law, and it basically means that the work never ends, no matter how much time you have, or think you have, you will fill it. And there will always be more to do.

Lots of people say to me “I don’t know how you find the time to blog and make all that stuff, I couldn’t possibly do it” and I genuinely can’t tell if I should be offended or feel complimented. Are they saying that I am clearly a superwoman who manages to juggle multiple tasks, or whether they are implying that in doing the things that I love I am neglecting other more pressing duties.

My children are in bed by about 7.30. I’m not being smug, it’s taken a long time to get to this stage, and I appreciate that not everyone has that luxury. But I imagine that the majority of families have at least from 8pm till bed time to do such frivolous activities as blog, Tweet, crochet etc. I mean, my house is just the right side of hygienic, and DH and haven’t been out together since before Iris was born. Oh and I don’t iron. God, life is too short to iron. More crochet, less ironing, that’s what I say.

And let’s talk about Time for Yourself. It’s in magazines, on blogs, forums etc., How Do You Carve Out Time For Yourself? The thing is, I don’t see time out for yourself as something you should have to carve out. It should just be a part of your day, like breakfast time or bed time. What it even worse is when these articles link it to motherhood. How Do Mums Find Time Form Themselves? That makes it even more guilt-ridden. Mums, you are so busy, how do you find the time for yourself, and if you do then you are obviously not fulfilling your motherly duties. Well, I am obviously not busy enough, because I have just spent the past hour writing this blog post with The West Wing in the background. I think is absolutely essential that you spend a period of time doing whatever it is you like to do to relax, wind down, or even energise yourself. Otherwise what is life even about. It is essential for your mental, and therefore your physical health.

Now hopefully the fact that you are even reading this post means that you are having your essential down time. And while I have your attention let me point you in the direction of blog that is about crochet and about time. It is called, funnily enough, Crochetime. As well as the blog she has an Etsy shop selling crochet clocks, and the patterns to make your own clocks. I’ve ordered a pattern from her, got some yarn and buttons, ready, I just haven’t had time to make it yet…