A long post which could be subtitled – the ever evolving state of Gordon McLean and how he’s finally found his identity – and definitely one that was as cathartic and mind opening to write as it is scary to share. But this is my journey, my blog, and my happiness. Read on if you dare!
If you’ve been paying attention over the last ten years or so of this blog, you’ll have spotted a recurring theme. No, it’s not (only) my obsession with Apple products but rather it’s something reflected in the title of this site, something that people have gently taken me to task over in the past, whenever I mentioned that I was looking to try and improve myself in one way or another; Why can’t you just be happy with who you are? Why are you always striving for more?
When I finally landed on Happily Imperfect as a name for this site, it was a knowing hat-tip to those people who lovingly challenged me to step back from the continual push for perfection and try and find a way to accept who I am. A previous HR manager of mine was among the first to realise the deeper seated tendencies of mine; to constantly look for ways to do things better when they were already good enough, to immediately push away praise and not give myself any credit for the work I’d done, to take all the blame of anything bad that happens on myself whether it’s my fault or not.
I now know these behaviours are ways that my perfectionism is brought to the fore, and I’m even more aware of just how damaging some of those traits can be to my well being (and that of others around me). Part of these realisations came a few years ago during a counselling session when, talking about ways to make new ways of thinking ‘stick’, my counsellor suggested that sometimes saying things out loud, with confidence, would help. ‘Fake it ’til you make it’ I replied with a smile, thinking back to David, the HR manager who first spotted these traits in me.
I once had a conversation with him about that exact thing, it was part of a follow up from some leadership training we’d had, and we were discussing how sometimes, as a manager, you had to fake it until you make it. He confessed that, whilst he always gave the same stock reply to the passing “How are you doing?” question from colleagues, sometimes he didn’t mean it. Anyone who knew him already knows that his response was always “I’m great thanks, how are you?”, and it was always delivered with a warm smile.
I’ll happily admit I’ve stolen this approach, particularly at work when I’m not having a great day. A quick pause is all it takes to realise that I have a chance to adapt my mindset with one simple phrase, and it works, honestly, give it a try.
Except, I guess it’s not as easy as that anymore – what is? – given how many of us are no longer working in an office every day. It’s not quite the same to type the words in response to an instant message (I’ve tried) but I guess on the flipside, if there’s no-one else around why not say it out loud anyway?
Ahh the joys of working at home; comfy clothes (I’ve not worn trousers for months and only the weather will force me to finally abandon my shorts in … a month or so?), your own music, your own coffee, your own space, and no more of those overly loud annoying co-workers, or that guy who walks about on his mobile phone like he owns the place!
I’ve found adapting to working from home pretty straightforward. I’m very thankful that it’s an option at all as I know not everyone is as lucky, I can do the bulk of my job from home and the challenges have been minimal and mostly down to communication issues, that said, it did take some a few weeks to adjust properly and get into a sustainable routine.
The first few weeks of working from home were full-on, 9 to 5, with few breaks to let my mind and body relax. I was finding myself exhausted at the end of each working day and I was baffled; why was this so much harder than my normal working day?
It’s obvious really, without interruptions from colleagues, whether work related or not, my days didn’t have any breaks. I’d sit down at 9am, log in, work until lunch, then work until 5pm. That ‘always on’ aspect was very easy to fall into and without the natural cadence of office life, where an invitation to go for a coffee is always a welcome distraction from whatever task is at hand, so I found myself slavishly attending each and every incoming request immediately.
This is not a new problem, with the ability to access emails and instant messages on your phone it’s far too easy to get into this mindset, and I think everyone in my team probably did the same. As it’s so easy to send an email or ping an instant message, and as everyone else is working from home, the expectation starts to form around swift replies. Also, as there are no meetings to attend in person, it’s even easier to pick up the phone and find yourself annoyed that no-one answers, what on earth are they doing if they aren’t working and answering my call!
Add in the fact that we were in the midst of global pandemic – News Flash: WE STILL ARE! – and it’s no wonder that this new mode of work, plus the stress of lockdown and all the uncertainty we all faced lead to complete exhaustion.
A few weeks in though, and as I headed for yet another Monday (was it even a Monday, the days were all blur) I realised I was dreading having to sit at the same desk, and have another day where I felt trapped in a routine that I didn’t not choose. So, realising that this new set of working habits that had snuck their way into my day was not something I could sustain, I took a step back and started making some changes.
First I looked at my day and started to schedule it to give me some sense of control and also to force me AWAY from my desk more often for both a physical and mental break. I set up recurring appointments in my calendar prompting me to grab a coffee mid-morning, stop for an hour for lunch, take a break mid-afternoon, and a hard stop at 5pm. My wonderful partner also suggested I add a commute, so whilst I was going to and from the same place, I would go for a 10-15 min walk each morning, by myself (no dogs, the novelty!) to adjust my head space.
Fast forward and with that routine well established I deleted most of the calendar entries as I’m much more aware of how I spend my day now, well that and the massive life event that happened last month also forced me to re-evaluate that too.
So now, if possible, I pause for 15 mins at 10:30am for Popmaster (I’ve got a rolling weekly average of 19 don’t ya know and yes I have asked for a meeting to be rescheduled more than once to I can listen live), I log off at lunchtime and if I can I’ll get outside, even just getting the dogs out for a few minutes. More importantly I’ve silenced notifications for emails and only check them at specific times of the day, which has had huge benefits to me and, well I’m pretty sure no-one I work with has even noticed. All in all, I’m much more considered with how I spend my working day.
I’ve even gone so far as to find an app that will force me to take regular screen breaks and I’ve got it set to lock my screen for the last 10 mins of every hour; Apple Watch users will recognise this behaviour as ‘Time to Stand’. For those interested in similar, the app is called Time Out and you can configure it in many different ways, this is just the one that works for me.
My working days are now much more balanced, I have time to meditate each day, I listen to Popmaster, and I feel less pressure to respond the instant an email or instant message arrives. Ohh and thankfully we haven’t really gone in for video calls all that much, we tried at the start, but I think no-one was really enjoying them, so they’ve stopped.
The physical differences of working at home are interesting to observe too.
I bought three things very early into lockdown to improve my physical working space. I already had a desk and office chair at home, but I quickly added a posture cushion to the chair, a second monitor for my laptop, and by far the best purchase was a new stand/sit electric desk base. As an investment I was wary but for a couple of hundred pounds I figured my body would thank me for it and I’ll admit it’s been an absolute revelation.
I now spend most of my mornings standing at my desk and depending on how I feel after lunch I might not sit down until the last couple of working hours of my day.
As a result, I feel much more in-tune with my body as I spend more time standing at my desk than I do passively slumped in my chair these days. I feel more productive and focused when I’m standing, able to context switch, and I’m much less easily distracted (no YOU procrastinate!)
Early on I also started doing some basic stretches to help my body cope with this change and, on the whole, they’ve helped me stay reasonably mobile (supple is not a word that features in my vocabulary) and a recent visit to the wonderful Mz. Bandeen for a massage confirmed that, bar a slightly tight shoulder, I was in pretty good nick.
So far so good, and a few weeks into lockdown I felt reasonably good, I’d made adjustments to both my mental and physical spaces that were working and whilst it was still very strange not to be in the office every day, I felt a level of balance returning to my life.
For the first few weeks of lockdown I also looked on at the ways other people were handling it; the planners and goal makers, the suffering acceptance, the drinkers, the eaters, the home bakers et al. Like many I flitted between grand plans of new regimes and habits, and accepting that if you plonk a big bag of chocolate buttons down in front of me, I’m gonna eat the entire thing. I am not going to say any of these are bad things, they aren’t, they are all just ways to cope with the massive uncertainty COVID-19 brought with it and I have my own coping mechanisms that, with confirmation that I won’t be back in the office this year at all, I find I’m keen to hold on to.
But it’s not just about adapting to working from home, more and more I’m realising that my own mindset has shifted, and the person I self-identify with now is finally feeling settled, strong, content, and happy. Am I finally the me I want to be?
Perhaps I am, and without realising it I’ve been following through on those aims I set out to establish at the start of the year. I’ll happily admit this has been more by happenstance than any specific planning, although I guess there is something about having these things kicking about in your brain for a while before trying to fix them into place, planting the seeds and all that.
Largely though it’s been a change in my attitude towards these things that has made the difference, a casting off of any notion of what others may think of me, and accepting that these are things that make me happy and are now part and parcel of who I am, regardless of how well, or often, I do them.
Ultimately it means I am building a new id (for the Freudians among you), a new identity for myself, structured around a new set of desires which are now just part of who I am. At my core I am the same me, but now I am much happier to identify as someone who meditates regularly, someone who keeps a journal, I am a vegetarian, I cycle, I go to the gym. This is who I am now.
None of this is revelatory, yet there has definitely been a subtle change to my approach to these things. In the past I would shy away from even mentioning that I meditate, and exercise was largely something I forced myself to do because I had to do something to balance out what I was eating. Yet now I look forward to my daily meditation, deliberately carving time out for it, I enjoyed my cycle last weekend so much I actually considered going back out later on that day. Who is this guy?!
It’s taken me a while to figure out how these changes have landed without me fulling noticing. At some point these activities switched from being things in my calendar that I’d sometimes do because, hey it’s in my calendar, to things that I actively want to do, things that I’m trying to figure out how I’ll fit in in the coming days and which I’ll feel bad about NOT doing. I don’t like cycling in the rain but if this weekend is to be a complete washout then I know I’ll still be going out, even just for 30 mins, because I want to do it.
For someone who has lived, unknowingly for a long time, with a set of behaviours that are almost entirely driven by my desire to make other people like me and not have a single reason to think anything negative about me, this is eye opening. For example, I now find myself deciding to go out on my bike when best suits me (within reason, I’m not an asshole) rather than putting it off if I can’t quite make it work around the schedules of other people. I’ve turned up slightly later than planned at a friend’s house a couple of times, and I’ve stopped presuming that causing the smallest annoyance is a big deal when it’s just that, a small annoyance.
It would be trite to say that I’ve gotten to this point purely because of adopting that fake it ’til you make it approach, but perhaps I have. Perhaps I’ve brought that simple phrase to the fore and used it to power a positive mental attitude which, in turn, has fostered an acceptance of these things and the part they now play in my life. Perhaps I’ve been unwilling to vocalise this, to publically offer this new me because, well, I’ve never really been all that proud of who I am. It’s not quite imposter syndrome, but is definitely an odd sensation to step back and consider the person I am today, the things I’m prioritising in my life, and realise that, yes, this is me, and I have every right to shout it from the rooftops (and I don’t care if no-one else hears or responds either).
Fake it ’til you make it doesn’t always work of course, but that’s ok too. Even the experts, the greats, have off-days, and it’s important to recognise those days too, the days when I don’t meditate, or write in my journal, or when going to the gym is a real effort. There is only so many times you can utter “Let’s do this” with forced vigour and have yourself believe it. Yet these moments can be used as a way to check in on whether this new thing, this new me, is still valid and correct. Maybe there is something else I can tweak, a small change of direction that will get me back on course. And that’s all part of it, part of growing and adapting and finding your way to happiness.
So here I am. Shiny in my imperfection, happy in the moment as best I can be, adapting to life as it is forced upon me, and in adapting myself to all of this I, oddly, wonderfully, find myself exactly where I want to be.
These last few months I’ve slowly realised just how happy I am, how easy my life is, and how lucky it is that I have found myself here. It’s a place I’ve been striving to get to all of my life, even if I didn’t realise it, and whilst I’ve come close in the past there are enough indicators, small changes of my daily thoughts and habits, that confirm that I am where I should be.
I’ve also spent the last few months questioning all of this, all of these new ideas, new ways of thinking that seem to have fallen into place in my brain. Switches have been flipped and part of me likes to figure out how that happened. I’ve wondered if I’m simply clutching on to these things to counteract all of the swirling chaos that Coronavirus has wrought on the world, but even if that’s the case, so what? It just happens to have been part of this journey since this year and so I’ll accept things as they stand today.
There have been other tumultuous changes in my life these past few months, not least the death of my Father, and it feels odd to be writing about the benefits of self-care, of meditation and happiness in the wake of his passing. Just over a month ago I was delivering his eulogy, but perhaps that in itself has been the catalyst, the final push on this journey of self-discovering and awakening that I didn’t know I needed. Or perhaps this is all just a natural reaction to the death of a parent, a realisation that time moves ever onwards and, to steal a line, we’ve all only really got one choice in life; Get busy living or get busy dying.
I choose living, I choose a life that is mine, a life that I’m proud of, a life that makes me happy. It is well balanced, considerate of others, but places me in the centre with my own needs catered to, listened to and acted upon. I’m putting aside the thoughts in my head that are saying I don’t deserve this, and that I certainly should not be publishing it to the world, and I do all of this not to seek validation but to confirm to myself that, yes, this is me, this is my identity, this is who I am.