Don’t let a Vocation become your life-sentence

Loving what you do is often considered to be one of the greatest joys in life and many people agree that when they found what they considered to be their vocation, they felt a greater sense of achievement from their daily contribution to society.  Indeed, we even see certain roles as vocational choices, which only certain people can carry out; nursing, teaching, policing and paramedics are amongst the most often mentioned.  What happens, though, when you review your vocation and discover it no longer feels like that comfortable coat, or that you’re making a difference in a way that matters to you?

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My life has been largely about embracing changes that have impacted my life due to my health.  Each time I’ve believed I have found my “vocation” something has impacted my choice and caused me to ask the question, “Can I do something completely different and still feel this passionate about it?”

As I look back, I see that I’ve had a new vocation for each decade of my life, even beginning in my childhood:

Until the age of 10, I loved to sing
During my teen years I was sure I would be a Violinist
During my twenties I adored being in Personnel (Human Resources)
During my thirties I found my ability as an Event Manager
And in my forties I knew I had always meant to be a Mentor and Speaker

Now, in my first year into my fifties, I’ve found a new vocation, as an independent funeral celebrant.  Helping people at one of the lowest points in their lives, to deal with grief and somehow put together a tribute to a loved one which does them proud.

I found myself wondering how often we stay put in something because we believe the idea that if you’ve found your vocation in life, you should stick with it.  I wonder how often the changes that occur in our lives prevent us from making change that can feel overwhelming or even ungrateful.

I once worked with a client to help her make the change to become self-employed.  She’d spent over twenty five years in a role she had fallen out of love with more than a decade ago.  She told me it felt “wrong” to leave something she’d always wanted to do.  We so often pin our view of ourself to the job title we carry, and once we can let that go, it can be easier to accept it is not a “failure” to become something else.

We are allowed to change.  We are allowed to feel differently as we age and experience new things. Is it time for your to explore your next vocation in life?

Enjoy the journey,

Dinah

I’m not a Christmas cynic; I’m cynical about what it’s become

Christmas is about giving your time, not gifts

 

I love Christmas; getting excited about being with family, choosing which silly games we’ll play and which of our favourite movies will get played for the umpteenth time. I love how quiet the towns are on Christmas day, how everything seems so peaceful and serene. I love going for the traditional walk on Christmas day, after eating more than I should, and admiring the amazing surroundings of where we live.

I’m not a Christian, and consider myself non-religious. I do, however, love the sense of family that comes with Christmas, and as such, have always enjoyed the celebrations. However, as I age and become more questioning (some might say cynical), I don’t like what Christmas has become for many.

It feels like a competition, which you may not have actually signed up for but you’re in it anyway. As gifts become more extreme, with families buying the latest electronic upgrade for their children’s phones and game-stations and couples getting in to debt to out-shine their friends in the “you’ll never believe what he got me this year” stakes, it all strikes me as nothing like what Christmas is really about.

When did Christmas stop being about giving your time and become about giving an indication of how successful you are? When I watch people giving expensive gifts, I have to ask whom are they really doing it for? Is it for the recipient, or, is it more for themselves; a way of announcing, “look how well things are going for me. I’m so successful I can spend loads of money on generous gifts for those I wish to impress.”

I will always remember the first year my brother and I were working, full time. We both still lived at home and that Christmas was a perfect example of my theory. Did we save the money we’d earned in our first few months of independence? No, we spent most of it on gifts for our parents, grandparents and each other. Looking back, I see it was our way of saying we had grown-up and were playing with the adults now. Naïve if well intentioned.

This year, after several challenges for all our family, and some dear friends, we had a quiet Christmas day. Our daughter cooked and hosted us and her Nan (my husband’s 80 year old mum) and the day was a real joy. We exchanged a few gifts, mainly little things we’d spotted that we knew were needed, but the main thing was that we were together. A family, with memories shared of those who were missing, and laughter at many of the memories. A precious day.

“Imagine if people stopped thinking Christmas involved giving gifts” Hannah remarked this morning. What a wonderful thought. Perhaps we’d return to the idea that Christmas is about giving just one gift: your time to the ones you love.

Here’s to a positive, joyful and family time over the week ahead

Dinah

Let’s Celebrate more often in the year ahead

The past twelve months have not brought many reasons for Planet Earth, or it’s inhabitants, to celebrate.  From election results that made me wonder if I had been transported to an alternate reality, to revelations about behaviour that made me feel angry and powerless.  Each day of 2017 seemed to increase my levels of astonishment, fury, despair and absolute astonishment.  And rage.

As we draw to an end of this dreadful year, I ask myself what I can celebrate; I always reflect on my successes at the end of each day, month and year.  It’s a positive, reflective opportunity to acknowledge my achievements and since my change of pace (from a too hectic “doing” life to a more present “being” one) one that helps me notice the little things that make a big difference to my wellness, my friendships and the lives of those I love.

There have been plenty of things to celebrate in my world during the last year, and when I stop looking at the overwhelming world-picture, one I can have very little impact on, and focus instead on my tiny, and rather beautiful, corner of Carmarthenshire, I see far more to be positive about than I imagined.  Each morning here, we sit in awe of the view from our window and watch the birds.  We start each day with a celebration of the decision we made to move here, thanking each other for the brave and bold move me made.

It can be so easy to focus on the negative news, the social media sensational stories that beg us to share the misinformation, stirring up hatred and ignorance.  All too easy.  It takes a bit more effort to focus our energy instead, on the positive stories, the daily heroes who interact with others and change lives, the things happening in our communities that we can be proud of.  Stories of hope and change.  Stories to celebrate.

They are there if we look for them; and when we choose to put our effort into finding, sharing and liking the good and the positive, when we spend time looking for things worth celebrating, guess what happens?  We find them!  We find them and enjoy them, and gain strength and hope from them, and when we share them with our friends and family, they smile and enjoy the thought that “there are things to celebrate in the world”.

I’m setting myself a challenge for 2018 and I’d love you to join me.  I’m going to find more to celebrate.  I’m going to go out of my way to share things I believe will encourage other people to celebrate the positives in their lives too.  And let me be clear, I’m not hiding my head in the sand or pretending that everything will get better for Planet Earth whilst I’m focussing on the positive.  I am not going to be silent, I am not going to sit back and let the world continue on it’s self-destructive path without speaking and peacefully protesting in any way I can.  And I will do that in a positive way, celebrating my ability to express my opinions in a (relatively) free country.

Who’s with me? I’d love to know how you’re going to celebrate more in the year ahead, and what you’re celebrating about 2017 that gives you hope.

Dinah

November Myddfai Musings

I’ve been reminded this week of the first time we saw North Lodge in Myddfai, now our home for almost three years.  It was a rainy day at the end of October 2014 and we knew we belonged here before we got through the gates.  All our previous homes have “spoken” to me long before we’ve reached the front door, and getting that sense of belonging was the first indicator that we’d found our forever-home.

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“If we think it’s beautiful on a cold, wet, grey and miserable day, then we’re going to be amazed by it in the spring” John said, as we sat discussing our offer in the car after just 20 minutes in the woods and even less time in the cottage.

And as I look out at our garden and small woodland, through a typical November drizzle, I still find myself overwhelmed by the beauty of this place.  We’ve found a little piece of our long-term dream and we’re making it work.  I watch the variety of birds coming to feed as the sun sets, getting the last nibble of the day before the bats come out.  I listen to the stream running full thanks to the rain, and still find it one of the most restful sounds I’ve ever heard.

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I am hugely grateful that we took the plunge and decided to follow our dream, and start a whole new way of living.  It’s hard work living this way, using our own coppiced woodland to provide fuel for heating, cooking and hot water.  Looking after a woodland and wetland and bog garden, of around two acres, requires every available hour of daylight and some serious wet-weather clothing.  And we’re learning as we go with the vegetable patch, expanding into poly-tunnels next year (we hope).

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Every evening brings us to the Rayburn, slightly soggy and smiling, covered with aches, wood shavings and clay.  We’re always proud of what we’ve achieved during the day, and mostly knackered but happy.  We’ve found our happy place, our next chapter.  We’re learning, day by day, to let go of the old way of doing, and focusing on being.  It takes time.

Dinah x

 

Let’s talk about death, darling

Talking about our inevitable death and our wishes after the event, is not usually included in recommended light conversation for date night.  Even amongst those who work in roles where you’d expect talking about dying to be something they’re trained in, and despite us all knowing that we will, at some point, die, many of us never let our family or close friends know if we have any special requests for our own life celebration service.

As a Celebrant, I often have detailed conversations with family members to ensure every detail of the service we put together is exactly in line with the wishes of the departed loved-one.  An integral part of writing the ceremony, is often including particular words or music that meant a great deal to everyone present.

Despite this being such an important part of creating ceremonies that help the family move forward, I realised last weekend, that I had never spoken in any real detail with my husband, John, about what I would like for my life celebration.  Even with my experience and training, I found it slightly difficult to pick the right moment to suggest we ought to make it clear for those left with the task of arranging our funerals, if there was anything particularly important to us that we’d like them to include or consider.

I am pleased to say, that once I got over the initial “this isn’t the most positive thing to talk about over pudding, but I’d like to talk about death, darling” John and I had a constructive, positive and at times even funny conversation.

We talked about where and how we wanted to have our bodily remains left, and both agreed we liked the idea of being cremated.  John has always said he’d like a Viking send-off, but after giggling about sending him down the garden stream in a log boat, set alight with his charcoal, we got a bit more practical and agreed a Life Celebration where we were by water would be more manageable.

We talked about who we’d love to have there, and why.  We shared ideas on who we’d want to speak and what stories they might share.  I was reminded of my first experience speaking at a funeral, when John’s dad died and I was asked by his mum to write and deliver the service, with just two days to prepare.  Before long we were remembering holidays we’d shared before his dad became ill, and it was one of the most positive conversations we’ve had about him since his death seven years ago.

One of the big things we acknowledged, was that the service is really for the people we leave behind, not for ourself.  We wanted to be sure the ceremony would be positive and uplifting for our daughter and friends, we hoped the people we’d ask to read would share joyful and happy memories and be there to offer a hug and support to our family.  By preparing as much as we could in advance, we were removing some of the burden for those that had to plan and make arrangements during a challenging time.

I made him promise that, if he is around to help plan my service, nobody would read “Stop all the clocks” by W.H. Auden; it would have our daughter in pieces.  By the same token, “The life that I have” is far too much like him for her to cope with it at his service, so we’re planning on short, simple and possibly even comedic poetry, with a leaning towards Pam Ayres.

And all the time that we talked about these plans, we held each other’s gaze; we smiled and listened intently.  We cried a little too; the thought of being here without each other brings no joy and after over 30 years together, I don’t spend time imagining a life after John. Yet this evening’s conversation, heart-wrenching, laughter-creating and above all, surprising, had proved to be soothing and calming, leaving me with a sense that, despite the fear, we can talk about death; even with those we fear leaving the most.

Dinah

 

 

Planning a wedding to please everyone (and other ideas that will drive you to the edge)

You know your mother has always dreamed of giving you the Big White Wedding, the one her parents couldn’t afford for her.  You know your dad will be nervous but proud in equal measure and has been keeping his top-hat specifically for your big-day.  You’ve got to accommodate every diet from gluten-free to vegan, via all the allergies and intolerances and that’s before you’ve even started on the table plan.  Just who is this wedding about anyway? Read More

Why I became an Independent Celebrant

This summer, I was ready.  Ready to decide where my new life in Myddfai, Carmarthenshire, was going to head in the next chapter.  When you’ve been lucky enough to live a life that has been full and varied (not just because of opportunities but also challenges) then finding the next thing you want to focus on can be a challenge.

“I need to make a difference, I know that” I told John, my husband and partner for over 30 years now (we will celebrate 30 years of marriage next spring) as we sat by our woodland pond celebrating being discharged from my Cardiologist.  I’d been given a less than rosy picture for the next ten years, and thanks to Myddfai air, plenty of exercise in the garden and sheer determination as a couple, we’ve re-written our next chapter and I am well enough to work, part-time again.

As a business speaker and mentor, I was doing something I loved, with people who were taking control of their future, determined to make positive change and life-time goals come true.  It seems there is already common ground when I take on the role of Celebrant for couples who want to make a life together.

As an adopted child, I was officially given the name of my new family on my brother’s second birthday.  Becoming part of a family as an adopted child gives you a new sense of belonging, of being part of a tribe.  Working with families to welcome new children into their world, perhaps after a second marriage that means step-kids will be becoming a larger family unit, fills me with excitement.

As a daughter-in-law, who wrote and held the service for her father-in-law, who deserved to be remembered by those who loved and cared about him, who knew his humour and his dreams, I want to support others in saying their good-bye in authentic words, with meaning and love.

Becoming a Celebrant has been my new chapter, and I hope it will allow me to be part of the next chapter in the lives of many families.

Dinah

Massive change requires reinvention of Brand-You

Massive Change; an event that has such a huge impact on your life, every moment of it, how you live it and how you define yourself, that you are a different person than the one you were previously.  It can happen to anyone at any time and is not because of karma, or due to some terrible thing they have done to “deserve it”. What goes around very rarely comes around, and accepting this is often the first stage in coming to terms with the person you are becoming.  Accepting that you need to re-invent yourself allows you to start to create a new future, a new picture of positivity and a reason to continue that can, initially, seem impossible.

When I was twenty six, I had a bad car accident which resulted in me being a wheelchair user for more than a decade.  I couldn’t possibly have predicted or prepared in advance for such a massive change.  I had to re-invent everything I had assumed would be my life and re-invent who I was going to be if my life was to continue in a positive and worth-while (in my view) way that I could be proud of and happy in.

It took every ounce of courage, support and a massive learning curve of ups and downs to get out of that wheelchair; I achieved it only because I decided to embrace the situation, make a new life for us as a family and re-invent myself.  I took a promotion at work of seven grades – no small steps up a ladder for me now, I was flying up the ramp!  I travelled all around the world, organising conferences and looking after important clients.  It was a job I adored and it proved I could DO so much, despite my dis-ability.  It taught me I could be this new, re-invented Dinah, a woman who overcame the restrictions of a wheelchair by taking on a job that required her to travel thousands of miles a year, without buying into limiting beliefs.

When I had my series of heart attacks in my mid forties, the same re-invention of self was required.  I had reached a place where I was confident and credible in my work,  I had established a reputation and was in the position where I could choose whom I worked with.  And then another massive change decided to shake things up again.  I had to stop. Not just rest a bit and take a short break. Stop completely for two years.  No work, no stress, just getting well and giving my heart a chance to recover from surgery.  Massive Change.

This June is was four years since my surgery; the physical scars healed much faster than the emotional ones. The emotional pain can still come to the surface if I give it the space.  I am not a fan of regrets or looking back, and this can be one of the great challenges of massive change.

Here are my top tips for getting through the first twelve months after massive change:

1) Give yourself time.  More time than you think “everyone else” would take.

2) Comparing yourself to others, or to the You before your massive change is not helpful and this is a great time to stop this habit.  I know it’s not easy, nothing is easy when you’re going through something this huge, so suck-it up and just drop the self-deprecating “I’m not good enough” crap,  it won’t help, ever. You need to be disciplined about this one. More than anything else, when you repeat a negative message to yourself, you won’t be able to make the step forward required to actually believe in the change yourself.  All the positive outward “I am fine” stuff is pointless if you’re telling yourself it’s not true.

3) Anger is hugely negative when you bottle it up, particularly when the person you are angry with in these situations is often yourself.  You have every right to feel anger and, in a society where we’re taught anger is a negative thing, something we have to control at all costs, it can be hard to let it go.  I used to go somewhere that I could have a good, loud shout when I was first in my wheelchair.  I was spotted more than once in Richmond Park on a cold morning shouting at the ducks!  It worked though, and allowed me to release what might otherwise have consumed me.  Holding in your anger is dangerous and, while appreciate letting it out can be too, I’m suggesting you look for a SAFE way to express it, without that impacting anyone’s wellbeing.  Including your own.

4) Stop looking for the answers.  “Why did this happen to me?” “What did I do to deserve this?” and “If I had/hadn’t done …. do you think this wouldn’t have happened?”  There is no positive answer to any of these questions, and looking for reasons will often leave you more negative and self-absorbed.  What matters when massive change impacts us is not so much why it happened as what we do about it when it has.  When our daughter was very small, we knew it was important to let her express how much our massive change had impacted our lives;  we had one day a month where the whole family talked about how unfair it was that I was in a wheelchair.  We talked about the fact that I was the only mum who couldn’t take part at Sports Day, and that it was really hard to go shopping together because I couldn’t get my chair into some of her favourite stores.  We called it our “Why me day” and it allowed all of us to express our frustrations at living with the impacts of massive change.

5) Let yourself change. I sounds simple enough, but accepting a new “you” is a huge challenge for most of us.  We may believe we avoid labelling others, but there are many labels we give ourselves to define who we are.  Often leaving a job we’ve held for a long time can be an example of that feeling of not knowing who we are anymore; when I couldn’t wear my corporate “badge” anymore, I was lost about how to introduce myself.  It can feel frightening to see that you are a new person, that perhaps you’re going to be seen differently by others.  Once you allow yourself to change and start to feel comfortable with the new person you’re becoming, you’ll find the changes become easier.

Have you had massive changes in your life that have required you to re-invent the person you thought you were?  I’d love to hear your techniques for re-inventing your life after massive change.

Dinah

It’s more than just a communuty class

I am lucky enough to be learning a new skill, making stained glass, as part of this amazing group. It has become so much more for me than a class, it’s a place where I’ve found myself again.

Source: It’s more than just a communuty class

Dear hormones

Dear Hormones,

What are you playing at? Seriously, I thought we, as a body, were all in this together; fighting against the odds of EDS and Heart Failure, beating them against all expectations and doing a pretty impressive job of it actually.  Then, you took it upon yourselves to go off-piste and take control in, frankly, a hostile-coup!  I have been kidnapped and need to be rescued before all the things I know about myself and who I am fail to exist!

Menopause, peri or otherwise, you need to take a long-hard look at your behaviour and attitude to this relationship.  You’re walking all over the rest of the bodily functions and just making decisions without consultation, or warning, and expecting the rest of us to keep up.  What about some instructions or case-studies to ponder before being taken down a path we did not choose?

Let’s start with emotions; I have always been an emotional person, driven to hasty outbursts of love, tears or anger, not one to hide how I feel about things.  I had them pretty much under control as a woman approaching 50 though, and could usually decide appropriate locations to share emotions that might impact others.  Now, however, you’ve decided that I need shaking up a bit and even the mention of a sad-pet-story or a child telling her dad she loves him, reduces me to a wreck, crying uncontrollably, with snot-bubbles and everything.  I heard Michael Buble singing this morning and cried for almost an hour.  When John innocently entered the room and asked what was wrong, I started all over again.

And let’s not even begin to talk about Politics or I’ll be ranting for hours about the injustices on the planet and whom I believe to be responsible for them.  This is often followed by me throwing things!  Seriously, I had to replace a whole set of glasses last week as we were down to our last three.  I go outside almost daily and throw something at the wall, just so I won’t do anything worse.  John is learning to spot the signs and has started suggesting we go and cut wood in these moments as I achieve so much more that physically I thought possible when filled with this overwhelming urge.

Night time seems to be your chance to really punish me though, with sweats that mean I have to shower at 2am and anxiety like I’ve never experienced before. I’m worried about everything at night; from our ongoing struggle to sort our accounts out from when I had my surgery to whether I will make it my 50th this autumn, to what might cause the house to burn down.  And each worry seems to real, so important, that I am totally unable to resolve any of them with a sense of my usual calm.

I am horrible to John, to myself and even on occasion to our pets.  I am ashamed to say I shouted at Branston (our dog) yesterday, just because he made me jump when he put his head in my lap.  He just wanted to let me know he’d picked up my mood and could help, but I shouted at him.  I hated myself for a whole day for that.  I cried over it every time I thought about it.  Thank you for that, dear hormones.

I tell myself every day that I will take control and “own” my response to your constant changing, and that I can get through this without being awful or angry or ridiculously sad.  And so far, every day, you do your best to scupper my plans.  Well, okay, I get it, you want my attention and you want to be noticed.  I NOTICED!  YOU HAVE MY ATTENTION!  Now please, can we attempt to work together on this?

Yours, in hope,

Dinah