The unfamiliar path

January 9, 2022

It’s January, and another year (thank goodness).

Wherever you are and however you feel, I hope this year unfolds with kindness and care. I am long past wanting to heap pressure on myself (or anyone else) with ambitious promises to lose weight, start a new hobby or to sort out the loft; and certainly not to engage in anything wearing Lycra and the inevitable pastry-wrapped-in-clingfilm look. However, I do hope to continue to write regularly in this place.

If you will come with me, I would like us to go to places where we can gently stroll around what kindness and care means for us. I also expect to clamber onto an occasional cathartic rant if we find that dumb knobbery still hangs in the air. I hope we may also rest our bigger thoughts in deeper, gentler waters to allow our weary hopes some peace and calm.

If you will come with me, I hope to avoid wading through the platitudes and clichés about change that we have all heard before. Instead, I want to focus, simply and deliberately, on noticing how things are. The problem with change messages is that we assume we know their meaning because we have heard them a thousand times before. We have cloaked them in plain sight where their truth is now muffled and obscure. However, if we can pause enough to properly notice what is happening around us, we might just see their truth again, with fresh eyes and an open mind.

Noticing is therefore the key, but to notice we need to bring ourselves into the moment; like taking an unfamiliar path to a familiar destination and then remembering more of what we have seen along the way.

The unfamiliar path will help us to notice that it’s not normal or healthy for our work to make us unhappy; work should be a place to feel valued and purposeful. It will help us to notice that it’s not normal or healthy for relationships to undermine us, and that we should not make excuses for how others treat us. And instead of feeling that we have not been heard, we will notice that it is not normal or healthy to hide our needs in heroic stoicism. We have hopes and fears and we need to talk about both.

The unfamiliar path might help us to notice that we could change the way we behave; it might encourage us to do something different or new; and it might help us to find a voice for our needs, rather than hoping that others will notice what we have failed to say out loud.

This unfamiliar path is therefore the start of noticing the things we should not accept from others, while at the same time learning to notice when we can be more accepting of ourselves. Accepting, for example, of the kind things that others say about us. And perhaps, just perhaps, realising that our self-esteem is not always a reliable witness to how others see our contribution or potential.

The unfamiliar path is not a metaphor for going away. If we can change things for the better and learn to accept that our daily self-critical commentary may not be what others think or say, it is just as likely to be a metaphor for wanting to stay.

Finding room in our stubborn ways to love ourselves a little more will be a far more precious gift to our future selves than anything we write in a CV seeking pastures new.

We all know it is a little too easy to say that the place where we will grow will happen next, when it should be now. The time to be amazing might indeed be one day in the future, but it is also today. And the chance to make a difference might never be perfect, but may be lost forever for waiting. Before there is change I know with certainty that we must first notice and then pause. My wish therefore for this New Year is to walk the unfamiliar path with you, so we can notice and pause together. Thank you for your company and for coming with me.

Take care. Paul xx

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