Sorting out my life: the key areas

So much is happening in my life, I need to write it all down. So here are the key areas I’m focusing on.

Wedding 

“Organising a wedding is like a second job,” my manager told me. I’ve known friends who disappeared for six months because they were too busy picking out linen, hand-crafting invites, setting up bespoke websites for relatives and guests. 

But I’ve barely spent any time on it. 

And it’s happening in 15 days. 

Even now, in spite of all this, I’m still pulled towards other projects (writing a secret blog?), getting a start-up off the ground, hanging out with friends and family.  It’s harder when your partner is equally busy and even less motivated to do the admin. 

But the vows and speeches have to be written, the restaurants booked, the invites and details sent. We’ve organised the venue, the flowers, the food, the music but neglected guests, loved ones and ourselves. 

The little touches that would make the day ours are being neglected. We don’t have an order of service or vows.

We are spending a lot of money on a day that both of us don’t want to think about. There is a lot of spending, sending emails, rushed communication with suppliers — but very little thinking and feeling. Thinking and feeling requires time, not getting through a to do list as efficiently as possible.

Right now, we just keeping our heads above water. I was very reluctant to have a Big Day to begin with. But it should be beautiful. 

Start up

On top of organising a wedding and working part-time, I’m also working on my own start-up. It’s on something I care about. A lot. But it’s also challenging me in ways that I’m struggling with: promoting myself, networking, public-speaking, using social media for self-promotion, and navigating the tricky balance between competition and collaboration. Not to mention just getting on with the work.

But having a start-up creates a lot of guilt in your “spare” time. I never feel as if working fast enough. I know that it’s only me working on this part-time: that I’m limited. Creating and designing an app from scratch, while also running workshops and maintaining a public profile through talks and social media are a lot. It’s only been a year and a bit since ‘launching’ – I know it’s going to be a long slog, but there’s always the anxiety and the pressure to feel I should be further along by now.

I also want to avoid burnout. My start-up is about wellbeing and resisting toxic productivity. I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t look after myself. But I also need to accept that when I push myself, I grow. I have learnt more about myself professionally in the past year than my entire career. Anxiety, stress and constant self-doubt are part of the journey. 

Money

My sister has been obsessed with the financial independence movement for a while now, and took me along to the premiere of the FIRE documentary. That sent me on a mini rabbit hole or Mr. Money Moustache blogs and podcasts. The Compound Interest Calculator is now one of the websites I visit the most. It blows my mind that in 20 years, I could have over 100k saved by putting in £150 a month thanks to compound interest.

But I’m making good progress: I bought groceries worth £25 and have made all my lunches and dinners for myself and my partner this week so far. 

But I vow to save more. I’ve opened up a Vanguard account and putting in small monthly deposits. I’m also growing my pension, very slowly. Because I’m self-employed, I rely on my own (stingy) private contributions as a opposed to generous benefits from an employer.

Job Hunting

I freelance at a company with high churn. I’ve noticed that every time someone moves on, announces they’re leaving for another job, I feel a pang of… jealousy. 

I’ve never taken a deep plunge into job hunting. I tend to rely on former employers and contacts, and then settle for the first job offer. But this has left me in roles that feel stagnant. I’ve wanted to move away from digital marketing for a while now and go into product management and user research. 

I am under no pressure to find a new job soon. Even though my contract ends in September, I have a lot to do on my start up. I aim to get the app designed, developed, tested and ready to market by January – at the latest. 

But this is also an up-in-the-air time to do that. I need the time to work on my start-up. Even the risk of finding a full-time, satisfying job-of-my-dreams could put my start-up at risk.

Creativity and learning

Ahh, since starting this blog, I’ve been so excited about writing in it but struggled to find the time. Ironically it’s harder to find the time to write and meditate on the days I have off. People seem to fill this space. Something always comes up. As per my last blog, I use commuting time to write. It’s much harder doing creative work when surrounded by others.

But when it comes to creativity and learning, I’m at a cross roads. I feel like there are so many options open to me. Related to the FI point above, I need to earn more if I want to achieve FI. That potentially means retraining. I’m tempted to retrain as a UX researcher and get into product design. On the other hand, my start-up is the best way of doing this. Spending thousands on a course seems misguided and time-consuming, but it would give me the confidence to go for those roles.

Health and wellness

I seem to be unable to exercise and meditate at the same time. Right now, I’m in an exercise phase. I grew a pasta baby while in Italy. But thanks to intermittent fasting (8 hour window), HIIT exercise and making my own food, I’ve burnt most of it off in 10 days.

But I’ve stopped meditating again. While it’s easier to notice a flatter stomach, it’s much harder to trace the ebbs and flows of my mental state. Is my poor sleep down to hormones? Is my lack of resilience (especially on commutes) down to not meditating? I feel like I’m in a constant bad mood at work. But I’m not sure if this down to general exhaustion. I sometimes feel as I’ve forgotten how to do leisure.

As I blog, I hope to update you on the areas above.

I stopped meditating 6 weeks, here’s what happened

I’ve been on edge lately. When I’m down, I claw myself out after a few days. But that’s not happened lately. Lately I’m overwhelmed by little things: mounting messages on WhatsApp, basic interactions with friends and colleagues, making decisions.

This is partly because the past month has been stressful: I pushed myself to do things that are challenging such as public speaking and facilitating workshops over a hundred people. The hyper-levels of excitement, anxiety and imposter syndrome scooped out my confidence. The smallest things felt like they were eroding me, leaving me exhausted and full of dread. I just wanted to do nothing for weeks. 

But now I’m  doing nothing by being on holiday, I’ve noticed that there’s an ocean of sadness in my empty moments. I feel numb and locked out of lightness and joy. The ‘existential void’ seems more real instead of an eye-rolling joke. 

I realised that this began happening around the same time I stopped meditating. 

Why I started meditation

In search of calm

I’d been meditating for almost a year. I started transcendental meditation after a bout of insomnia and impulsive decision-making last year. I read ‘How to Catch a Big Fish’ by David Lynch. So, in my impulsive fashion, I booked the expensive training I couldn’t afford. I was disappointed by how the teachers seemed to lack the zen they seemed to brag about. But I did it anyway.

After my second day meditating, I had the best night’s sleep in years. It was pure blackness.

I’d tried mindfulness meditation before. But I couldn’t maintain the habit. The sessions were poor quality, especially when I used Headspace (I just did those meaningless 1 minute meditations to keep up my run streak). 

But transcendental meditation was a lot easier to do. There was no effort, time passed more quickly and it was fun to experience. I often got to watch my thoughts dissolve into colours and images. I meditated twice a day for twenty minutes for three months, before dropping down to once a day. 

I moved flat, which meant my commuting time doubled. When I got back into a new routine, it was hard to justify 40 minutes a day on wellness. After commuting, working, eating, staying on top of life admin, I have 3 hours of leisure time a day (and that’s without kids). Spending almost an hour of that on meditation feels self-indulgent. Where do you fit in the side hustle, writing, reading, watching films, exercise, meeting friends, wedding prep, reading up on the world? 

When I dropped down to 20 minutes, I found it most useful for sleep. I also noticed that it would give me 20 minutes of high quality focus after meditating.

Why I stopped, and what happened

But around 6 weeks ago, I found I couldn’t meditate. Those twenty minutes were overwhelmed and disrupted by anxiety. I couldn’t sleep. I began to doubt whether meditation had any impact on my wellness at all.

So I stopped. At first, I didn’t think there were any effects. I was happy for the time I got back. I read before bed instead. I ‘replaced’ meditation with exercise. As I didn’t notice any changes for a couple of weeks, I assumed that it was fine to stop.

But sometimes you don’t realise the benefit of something until you’ve stopped. I found that meditation doesn’t add to your life in so far as it helps to alleviate more negative elements of life. I can’t say I felt more calm or more present, but I could say it reduced sleeplessness, that I experienced less anxiety, that my heart rate was lower and that I was less distracted directly after meditating.

I’d taken for granted the benefits I got from transcendental meditation. I think this is partly because self-help gurus promise too much from meditating. They claim that it can slay anxiety and depression, prevent heart disease, lead to a fulfilling life and even lead to world peace. And when it fails to live up to those promises, it feels like bunkum. I’ve personally found its effects subtle. It makes life less worse — and that’s enough reason to do it.

Beginning again

I meditated for the first time in a while today. My mind was a mess: there were no pretty images, thoughts were flying everywhere. My mind was a cubist painting. I wasn’t sure whether it had much of an impact. But I was focused enough to write this blog post. And so I’m going to start again and test my hypothesis that meditation helps to keep the existential void at bay.