This blog post is not for you. It’s for me. I’m thinking out loud. You’re welcome to ‘overhear’ that process if that’s of interest, but I’m writing it to help me structure my thoughts about it, not to entertain you or convince you of anything. Those things may happen along the way (with any luck), but they’re not the intention.
I’ve been thinking about the year ahead. I know it’s already fairly well established, but I can never really get started on a year until I’ve made my mind up about what sort of a year it is meant to be. What it’s for, if you like. And while most years tend to go in a much different direction than I initially had in mind, it helps at least to make a start with some sort of intent, because that always at least sets you off in interesting directions.
Last year’s theme was reinvention and rediscovery. It was that archetypal quest to ‘find myself’. And I did. Here I am. Perhaps not so different on the surface, but pretty substantially and profoundly changed – in some ways that are entirely deliberate, and in all sorts of ways that I could not have possibly anticipated.
But it’s an ongoing process, so this year is about course correction. Or at least, I’m finding that to be a useful metaphor. I may be on a journey of discovery and it might take me in new and exciting directions, much as last year did, but I do really like the path I’m on. However, there are always certain telltale signs that I’ve gone off-course in some way or another, and they will usually manifest as stress, dissatisfaction, restlessness or exhaustion.
When you get to a certain point in your life (I won’t say ‘a certain age’ – because that suggests decline), you start to become a bit more sure about what it is you’re aiming for. What fulfils you. What ‘doing it right’ looks and feels like. What makes you happy – or, at the very least, content.
And because I have a far better sense these days of where I am, what I’m doing and who I’m with when I am content, it makes sense to simply adjust my focus so that I do more of those sorts of things in those sorts of places with those sorts of people.
So rather than think of the things that I like as merely ‘hobbies and interests’, I thought I’d reconceptualise them as ‘purpose’ or ‘aim’. That is to say – use them as a series of ideal activities and states to give some direction over the course of the year.
In other words – if I’m doing this stuff, then things are, on the whole, good – and pretty much the way I’d like them to be.
Of course, there’s more to a life’s purpose than just enjoying yourself. That should go without saying. But to be perfectly honest with myself (and, by extension, with you), I don’t have any grand plans in terms of contribution. I’m not on a mission, particularly, though I do support some things that other people do – other people’s missions that are important to me and that I feel I can help with.
I’m definitely interested in things like social justice, fairness and sustainability. Things that undermine those sorts of things tend to make me angry.
And yet – other than the odd international ‘music for social change’ project I get involved in from time to time, those sorts of concerns tend to come out in comparatively small, quiet ways. I haven’t, for instance, been out on the street protesting recently despite feeling strongly about many of the things that people who do go out protesting feel strongly about.
Feel free to think less of me as a result. Bloody armchair socialist, etc. But I’m reasonably happy with my politics, and the things that I do in the service of those beliefs. My own personal quest for meaning does not currently include revolutionary activism. Yes, I could certainly do more to change the world and I may choose to do so at any moment – but that’s not the point of the exercise in front of us.
The point of this exercise is to simply spend the next couple of weeks blogging about some things that I like to do, and use that as a barometer of personal success for the year. Not success in terms of ‘winning’, but rather in terms of doing the right stuff more often than not. And this collection of blog posts will give me a road map to help me get back on course and remind me of what I’m supposed to be doing when I inevitably end up wrapped up in a whole bunch of other, less satisfying and more stressful stuff.
You might be surprised at what some of these things are. You might not. They’re all pretty common – frequently mundane. But I’ve selected ten things that add up to what I consider to be “living my life well”. Not in any grand sense – just a good baseline that other, more interesting stuff can then come out of, if it wishes to do so.
A series of blog posts about stuff I like and that makes me happy. That should keep me going for the next couple of weeks. It’s not going to be comprehensive and nor is it a contract with anyone that I must spend a certain amount of time doing any particular kind of activities in any particular way. No 30-day projects, no mandatory routines – just a series of gentle reminders of the things that make me happy, and a perpetual encouragement to get back to doing those sorts of things.
Of course, as you’ll no doubt notice, together those things will add up to a particular kind of person. An aesthetic as well as a ‘type’ – an identity that can be impressionistically arrived at through this curated presentation of enthusiasms and preoccupations.
And to the extent that identity is always a construction, the one I’ve gone for is, I guess, a fairly predictable, middle-class one for a guy in his mid-40s who works as a university professor, writes the odd book, sidelines as a festival director and hangs out in both the music industry and the technology sector. This is, it turns out, who I’ve set out to become. As always, this is up for negotiation, but this is where we are right now, here at the beginning of 2014.
It would be possible – and I haven’t ruled this idea out yet – to make a visual ‘mood board’ of images that capture the essence of that aesthetic, those interests and that persona.
But for now, let me just tell you some stuff I like, one thing at a time. And that will provide a set of guidelines for 2014 that will let me know if I’m doing it right.
Like I say – there’s no reason you should be interested in any of this. This is for me. It’s a writing exercise and a way to crystallise my thoughts. But of course, you’re welcome to read, add your observations as we go along and maybe do something in response.
Stranger things have happened.