Friday, 13 January 2012

Focusing Attention (or how on Earth am I supposed to choose between all the good causes that I could work towards?)

It is a distinct possibility that I am the most indecisive person on Earth when it comes to choosing a vocation. Possibly my biggest anxiety over choosing a career is that I’ll pick wrong and focus my energies into areas that I was not so keen to be in as others.

Despite a recent certainty that I would apply to become a paramedic, I am realising, having watched a bunch of Ted Talks over the last couple of days, that paramedicine is probably not the career for me. Granted it has all the aspects of helping people, being hands on, useful for volunteering abroad etc. that I am looking for in a career, however I can’t really say that it is the area I would like to be involved in. The whole purpose of my life, as far as I can see, is to serve others. There are so many issues that concern me greatly such as people-trafficking, particularly for sex slavery, education and inequality, discrimination, especially on the basis of gender and sexuality; healthcare and poverty and well pretty much anything that needs addressing. My ability to help, I feel, would be best focused in addressing healthcare and poverty, and those are the areas I particularly would like to work in.

Healthcare and poverty issues go hand in hand through out the world, even in developed nations such as the USA. It is such a truly global issue, the neglect or mishandling of which has such enormous ramifications for work forces, family life, education (young children being out of school to care for sick parents being just one aspect of that) and more, all of which can be viewed as social issues, vital to the quality of life of citizens and the economic development of a country.

Now, contrary to how this post started, I am not writing about my own career angst, but rather am attempting to comment on the larger issue that many people face throughout life. That of having multiple passions. I’ll admit to being a bit of a bleeding heart sometimes, but I am practical if nothing else. I realise that I cannot, as much as I might like, do everything. No one can sadly. But no matter what a person ends up doing with their life, there are always opportunities to be involved in and support the other causes that deeply important to oneself. Being the guilt-ridden liberal that I am, having watched all of the talks I have recently that cover so many topics, I look at my life and wonder what I could get rid of, or reduce, to allow me to support those making great changes in the world. I won’t use the word sacrifice, because there’s very little that I could get rid of (bar the essentials) that would actually constitute a real sacrifice for me.

In the UK, if a person owns and uses a television, they have to pay a licence fee.* Which sounds ridiculous, and I’ve often thought it strange to have to have a licence for something that isn’t a weapon or in some way dangerous (if we side step the issue of TV and sedentary lifestyles). But the licence fee pays for the BBC, which is a brilliant source of news, educational programmes as well as some for pure entertainment. I do have a television, though it is not used. Everything I could want to know or view is available online sooner or later so I’m not too fussed. Which is why, although I was planning to get a TV licence so I could be more like a ‘real’ person, I have decided to continue to not use the TV and instead put that money towards a good cause.

The point I’m trying to make is not that I’m an amazing person, because I am far from that, it’s just that there are small, easy non-sacrifices to be found in many areas of our lives. And if you have a cause that you’re passionate about, something that makes a tiny difference in your life, can easily be done to make a humongous difference in the lives of those who need it more. And just to complete the circle here, I won’t feel guilty about working in one area where people need help, because I won’t be neglecting the others. There will always be some small thing I can change to help people who need it more than I do.

*I used to find it really annoying when I was younger that Americans don’t have to pay a TV Licence, then someone pointed out their healthcare system to me and I realised we have it sweeeeet over here. Ner ner.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Flexing Our Muscles (or making myself and the world a better place through developing will power)

Here’s a story I’m sure everyone’s familiar with:

For as long as I can remember, I have always made big, bold, ‘whole new me’ type resolutions at New Years. Well this year I say: ‘Bugger it! It’s clearly not been working.’ Every year I sit down, write out detailed plans for what exercise or studying or such I will do on each day, usually with some kind of daily routine involving meditating, drinking green tea, waking up early, reading, writing and other such things I’m certain all the amazing, well-balanced, productive people do each day. I’ll be able to stick to the plan, at least the important bits (fitness/studying) for a few days, maybe a week. One time I even stuck to the exercise for a month! But then I falter. Miss a day here or there. Then eventually back to square one.
I find it especially hard to stick to resolutions and ‘whole new me’ type plans because I am something of a perfectionist when it comes to things I’m really enthusiastic about. Which naturally leads to much frustration when I miss a day, or something doesn’t go smoothly in the plan. I huff and puff because I’ll never be one of those amazing green tea drinking, early-rising, productivity gods. And then I do nothing.

That sort of perfectionism has been a real road block for me. It’s ridiculous. Obviously logically doing even a little exercise or studying here and there is better than doing none. I know that, but I’m an idiot and like to huff and puff. I’ve had enough of that sort of bullshit.

Firstly, who the hell are these green tea-drinking, early-rising bastards anyway? No one I know. Not a clue where that idea snuck into my head from. Probably TV. Normal people aren’t like that, so that concept is getting chucked in the bin right away.*

This year my aim is to make a little progress every day. To just take one small step towards improving things for myself and others. There are so many, many, many articles out there about how it takes thirty days to make a habit, and how we should focus on one small thing at a time.  By making use of the advice and experiences of others, I hope I can make some small changes. 

 I’m going to focus on one main goal a month. For January it’s my eating and exercise. I have a plan, which isn’t especially intensive but I’ve read some good testimonials, and some pretty decent science backing up the health benefits, so it’ll do for now. There are several other areas in my life I would like to improve on, and while I will be making small efforts with them as and when the mood takes me, I’m going to put all my willpower towards eating and fitness so I don’t spread it too thinly. For those of you interested I am going to be following, a few (readily forgiven) slip ups aside, the primal blueprint.

Other goals for the year include:

·         Really focusing on getting well.  
·         Writing here more regularly, particularly to include in-depth essays on topics of interest.
·         Writing my novel.
·         Quitting smoking completely
·         Become an early riser
·         Reading regularly (on which I’ve already made a great start
·         Start an investment account. 
·         Cutting back on expenses and putting the ‘excess’ toward charity.
·         Learning to play the guitar I’ve owned for a few years now.
·         Get involved with volunteer activities, particularly in my local community (I’m starting with St John’s Ambulance in February, woohoo)
·         And others that I will undoubtedly be adding, since I have twelve months which will need filling.

The whole idea behind introducing only one major change at a time and aiming to just work on it a little bit extra each day is to help me build up my will power. Will power being a vital tool to getting anywhere in life, I feel . While I am able to take a long-term view on life, and in most situations can, making changes to myself is the one area where I always am short-sighted. It’s always a radical ‘whole new me’ change, or nothing. 

Now I realise that sounds like far too many things to hope for, but they always say shoot for the moon and things like that, so I'm going to. The self-forgiveness of Tuesday's post (which is still masquerading as December 24th for some reason) comes in here. If I try to do all these things this year and only achieve half, I'll be happy. 

So here's to 2012. Please come along with me on the journey. For the most part I'll be writing here about issues I feel are important, but from time to time I'll slip in an update on my progress. Let's hope we can make a real difference this year. 

*If you are one of these people please get in touch so i can interrogate you to uncover your secrets. 

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Putting Oneself First (or taking care of yourself before trying to take care of others)

There is a great conflict in my mind over putting my needs before those of other people (where the other people are actually in need, not just in the queue for the toilet or something). For the longest time I’ve struggled to reconcile the idea that a person needs to take care of themselves before they will be fit to take care of others. In the past I’ve tried to fight this notion, or rather truth. Consequently I agreed to be a part of organisations and take on roles that were beyond my capacity, in that I didn’t really have the energy or time to dedicate to them but blundered on forward convincing myself I would be OK giving a little more time here and there. They just wound up eating into my sorely needed down time. In the end, I was more of a hindrance to these groups than a help, but I always told myself I would definitely be OK doing these things because they were for other people and not for me.

As things currently stand, because I didn’t give myself enough time to get well and didn’t acknowledge my limitations, I graduated from university with a degree class far below what I should have obtained. Now that degree is quite a big obstacle to my ultimate dream of becoming a doctor, rather than the boost it should have been. Despite recognising that I direly need to get myself sorted out and do absolutely everything I can to overcome and (as much as is possible) control my depression, I am refusing to stop trying to move forward. In less than two weeks I will be sending off applications to various universities to study to become a paramedic. Classes wouldn’t start until September, so I’ve nine months to make some good progress with my state of mind, and I shall be talking with admissions officers to determine if I can defer a year should I not feel ready when September rolls around.

Even to me, this seems like it is probably a little mad, but I think the fail-safe of having another year to take off to get well justifies the decision. The thing is, I simply cannot stand the idea of stagnating. Of course recovering from illness is not standing still, but it is just so hard to convince myself to focus solely on that when in my day to day activities such as going to the supermarket, taking care of household stuff aren’t too badly affected. I feel like I ought to be out there making myself useful to others right now. Like I ought to be moving towards my aim of helping people in emergencies and taking care of others.

Part of why I feel the need to study and help people professionally is that I know there are so many places around the world where people need help. It irks me to know I live so comfortably while so many go without basic requirements and medical care. Sure I can donate a little money to various charities, but I so desperately want to give time and my (future) skills to those who need them. I know that unless I can get myself to a place where I can function well enough to become competent in my chosen field, I am useless to these people. This is why it is important to put oneself first. *

Yesterday I said today would be an outline of my grand master plan for 2012. Obviously this isn't it, but I felt it was necessary to talk about this first, because, considering that this is a blog** about ethics, humanity and making the world a better place, my grand master plan for the year might seem a little self-centred without context. Of course it’s entirely possible I’m just paranoid because I have this concept that my life will be without value if I am not in service to others and felt the need to justify having plans for the year that include learning to play the guitar.

*Even parents, who are their children’s life line and support, need to take some time off occasionally to recuperate. Luckily we invented babysitters.
 **Blogger's spellcheck was trying to convince me that 'blog' is not a real thing. Never have I known a website to be self-loathing. 
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