A calm manifesto

I have had a number of opinions over the last few months. Well, that would be an understatement; I’ve had a lot of different opinions over the last few months and years. All of which, when considered in the round, when averaged up and combined, thought about deeply and evaluated for their impact on my life, have added up to a sum total of very little at all.

I’m writing this because I’m starting to grow weary of my own constant desire to change and improve myself. My life over the past few years has been an undercurrent of love and gradual progress – as my wife and I have got over illness, conquered assorted fears together, overcome a myriad of barriers put in our way to have a child, and together grown up and experienced our lives through the eyes of Freddie, who is now nearly two years old.

In that time, I’ve managed to convince myself that I should write more, lose weight, exercise, take on big challenges, learn to code, teach myself formal project management, run a team, write more (again), learn to code (a different language this time), read more management books, become more entrepreneurial, and a whole host of things, most of which I don’t really stick to for that long. The vast majority of these things have made little or no difference to my life as I plod along.

While reviewing some project management documentation this morning, preparing for an exam in about a weeks’ time, I started to panic. “I’m not ready” I thought, “I’m going to fail!”

You can argue that the concept of failure is something that has roots in our very evolution – after all, failing to run or hide from that sabre-toothed tiger will result in our very demise – but that argument falls a little flat when considering the challenges of modern day life. I won’t die if I fail this exam; in fact, I’ll learn a little, try again, and probably pass – albeit a little later than expected. My family won’t starve or become homeless if I don’t learn Javascript or Ruby or some other new fangled programming language. Sure, being an entrepreneurial type would be really nice – I have, after all, come back to this subject many many times – so there must be an inkling of desire in there somewhere, but even so, it’s not the end of the world if I don’t achieve it *right now*.

But seeking the constant rush of self improvement has led me to forget (sometimes) that underneath all this is a life that makes me happy. I am fortunate enough to have a good job, a loving wife, and a happy son who makes me laugh in ways I never expected. When I write about how I should take on a new challenge and then promptly shame myself when I don’t hit that goal or series of steps immediately, I take away a little bit of the life that truly makes me whole.

When I get up that little bit earlier to get into work so I can study, or I get home that little bit later so I can finish off some piece of work or another, I may make some progress in one area, but I’m trading it for happiness elsewhere.

I’ve overcome a lot of obstacles in my life. I’ve beaten cancer, for a start; I’ve recently battled depression and come out the other side with a better understanding of myself, I’ve been promoted at work and now have a team. I’m slowly and surely making things better, and trying to be a better husband and father has always been at the top of my notional agenda, even if I sometimes fail to make it the top of my actual one.

Rather than make a series of promises, and set even more goals, I’m just writing this as a note to my future self. Hitting – or missing – a new target every day, or every week, is not really necessary; being happy is the real goal – and I can do that without constant challenges.