Archive | April 2011

When People Die Young

Is life supposed to follow some sort of narrative arc? Somehow I always feel it should. As if each of us are the central characters in our own stories. We don’t know quite what will happen but as the years go by, our stories unfold and as we come towards the end we can look back and make some sense of it all.

Which may explain to some extent why it is so awful when people die young – before their story has been completed. Their lives seem unfinished, the dreams we all have for their future just evaporate.

A friend passed away last weekend. She wasn’t a close friend but I liked her a lot. Some of her closest friends were also my closest friends so she and I would see each other a few times a year at various gatherings. I counted her amongst my friends – but on that sort of outer circle. I would like to have known her better.

I nearly didn’t write about her – I don’t want to exploit her as a subject for this blog, or make a play for sympathy – her tragedy is not my tragedy, and while I’m terribly saddened by her death, I’m not grieving in the same deep way that her family or close friends are. So please, if you choose to comment, don’t offer me your sympathies – I don’t want to make this about me. Its about her.. she was important and her life, while short, made a difference. I guess I want people to know that.

In spite of how little I really knew her, she was inspiring. She was one of those people who made you feel important and valued. When ever we would meet she would smile at me with her warm, welcoming smile, ask questions and seem genuinely interested in my world. Which to me seemed so mundane compared to hers. I was always happy to see her, she helped me feel good about myself.

Whenever I spent time with her I would walk away wanting to be a little more like her. She was fun to be around, with a great sense of humour and she always had something interesting to say. She was confident without being arrogant and had a calm about her – an inner peace that sprang, I suppose from contentment. I know she was happy in her life.

She was highly intelligent and at a young age started working in very senior positions in our state government. Assistant Director General of a government department at the age of 38 is rare. I also work for the state government as an assistant principal of a primary school. It is a senior role with a lot of responsibility, but in our government hierarchy, I’m a mere ant. This woman had gone far in a short term.

I was in awe of her achievements professionally, her ability to lead people, deal with government ministers, negotiate policy with very powerful people. She didn’t seem to be daunted by any of this, inspire of her comparative youth.

I used to wonder how she did it all. She seemed to have found the secret to work-life balance, the same secret I am always trying to unlock. While working hard in this very senior role, she was also a devoted mother to her two young children, and a devoted wife. She had strong, enduring friendships. She was healthy and active, and participated in her community.

She had achieved so much already – I enjoyed speculating about her future – she had the potential to achieve anything and I wondered where she would go next.

However, just over a week ago she died suddenly – an aneurysm. While she was a picture of vitality and good health, she had this lurking condition, which no one knew about. It could have happened to her at any time.

The pain and grief her family and friends are suffering is immeasurable. It seems so unjust, not just the pain of losing her, but also the injustice of her dying before her story was told – I don’t think it was even halfway through.

She did, however, in her time with us make this world a better place. Aside from the significant policy work she did with State Government, that improves the lives of Australians daily, at a personal level she made a difference. She was like a pebble thrown into a still pond – the ripples of her life spread out and affected so many of us. I think I’m a better person for having known her – she inspired me to aim high and to face challenges without being daunted. I try to emulate her poise and calm confidence, her warmth in all her interactions.

At the end of it all, perhaps our story doesn’t matter. Perhaps life isn’t supposed to be a narrative after all. It makes me sad to compare my friend’s life to a story and lament that it ended before it was finished. A better analogy for her life might be to compare it to a song – which was beautiful and inspired, and even when its over, remains with us, weaving its melody through our consciousness, adding its rhythm to our step, continuing to warm our hearts and inspire our souls as we make our way through this world.

I’m grateful to have known her.


Decluttering the Wardrobe

One of my strategies for living more simply is to get rid of all the clutter. I’m only going to keep what I need or what I love. That’s why one of the first steps I’ve taken to living more simply is to declutter my wardrobe.

My wardrobe is a perfect example of why I need to do this. It is packed full of clothes, but still I can never find anything to wear – probably because I can’t find anything in there. I have a small number of clothes that I like and wear regularly. The rest just hang there, taking up space and sapping my energy.

I waste time in the mornings trying to find outfits because most of what I have either doesn’t fit any more, is horribly unflattering, doesn’t go with anything else in my wardrobe or has worn out.

To declutter I decided to make 4 of clothes on my bed: Keep, Give to Charity, Discard, Out of Season.

One by one I took each garment out of the robe and put them in one of the piles. If I liked the garment it would go straight into the Keep pile. Garments that were in good condition but are unwearable because either they don’t fit me anymore or the style just doesn’t suit me went into the charity pile. Garments that were shabby and worn out went into the discard pile. Any out of season clothes went straight into that pile – I’ll declutter them when Spring comes around again.

After the initial sorting, I tried on every one of the garments in the keep pile and looked at them in the mirror. If they didn’t suit me or didn’t fit properly, once again they went straight in the charity pile.

I went through the same process with my shoes.

In the end I had 4 large garbage bags full of clothes to take to the charity stores and one garbage bag full of worn out clothes to put in the rag collection. The out of season clothes were packed in a box which rolls under my bed.

My wardrobe now is much more limited, but everything in there fits me. I still don’t think it all suits me, but I needed to keep a few things I didn’t like so much, like my unflattering jeans, until I can replace them with something better. In the mornings it doesn’t take me so long to get ready because I can clearly see my options. With less, I’ve had to be creative with mixing and matching and have put together some great new outfits using some new combinations of old favorites. I can also clearly see what I’m missing, which means my shopping trips can be more purposeful. I’ll stop duplicating the same garments over and over again, like I did with the 5 pairs of grey work pants I discovered, and buy things I actually need… or love.

Why I Don’t Like Facebook Anymore

The first decluttering action I’ve taken in my quest to simplify my life is to deactivate my Facebook account.

I used to love Facebook. Through it I was able to reconnect with so many old friends. It was wonderful to renew contact with school friends and old colleagues. We could satisfy our mutual curiosity about eachother, and answer the old, “What ever happened to…?” questions.

Through the regular status updates, I felt that I knew what was happening in the lives of friends living in different cities or countries. I could also keep up with the daily minutae of my friends’ lives here. I loved that.

Its been a few years however, and I’ve fallen out of love.

I’ve started to find those daily status updates irritating. Its really just a lot of inane small talk, which, while occasionally amusing, is usually fairly boring and inconsequential. I’d prefer to spend my time having some quality conversations rather than reading and contributing to the inanities of Facebook status updates. I find the blog community that I’ve become a part of far more satisfying. We have real conversations about real ideas – but to do that on Facebook would somehow seem inappropriate.

More concerningly, I’ve realised that Facebook is increasingly becoming a substitute for real communication, and a fairly poor substitute at that. Facebook takes all the effort and care out of communicating – its so easy to send a virtual Christmas Card or post a birthday message on someone’s wall. But while its easy, the gesture seems hollow. I remember a time when I would call my friends on their birthday, and when they would call me. There was a personal touch and a warmth to it that I miss. Its kind of like comparing food from a fast food outlet to a home cooked meal. Once in a while is alright, but you wouldn’t want to have it as your main source of nutrition.

In order to simplify my life, I’ve decided to remove the clutter. I’ll keep the things I need and the things that I love. I don’t need or love Facebook any more. Yesterday I deactivated my account and I couldn’t be happier with that.

Living Simply

Its time for me to simplify my life. It has become too cluttered and busy.

 When I eat, I am usually reading or working on some project. I often find myself gobbling, eating in such a rush because I’m anxious to get on to the next thing. I barely notice what goes into my mouth.

And just as I don’t notice my food, I’ve stopped noticing what is happening in my life as it speeds on through time like a bullet train. I fit so much into my day and I multitask to such an extent that I rarely pay close attention to what I’m doing or stop to appreciate what is around me.

I don’t think I’m the only one. Nowadays there are so many distractions. With our mobile phones and mobile internet we are available 24 hours a day. Before all this, I used to quite enjoy looking out the window watching the changing landscape when I travelled on a train. Now I pass the time with any of the multitude of apps I have on my phone. The real world passes me by – I’m too busy wasting time in the virtual one.

I fit a lot into my life – but it hardly seems worth it when I’m too busy to enjoy or appreciate what I have.  I keep thinking that sometime in the future I will slow down – but there are no guarantees of that. Eventually I will run out of time. I need to do something now. I want to appreciate the life I have now.

And so I’ve decided to try a couple of things:

1. Single tasking – a great article in single tasking can be found here. The approach seems to be working – for the first time in weeks, I’ve written a blog post.
2. Get rid of the clutter in my life. I don’t just mean the physical clutter, but all the other things I don’t want or need. Those activities that take up my time and attention – but contribute little in the way of enriching my life. I’m going to start with Facebook, and I’ll post about why that is tomorrow.