March 24th 2013
Today is a very special day for me as it marks the end of a one year experiment in time and space. The experiment started with a problem about space – I needed to find a home. This was proving to be a problem because I was looking for somewhere affordable in London (I was soon to learn that ‘affordable in London’ is an oxymoron). My search was made a lot harder by my other criteria – I wanted somewhere really central so that I could enjoy the city, somewhere that had a good feeling about the place so that I would enjoy working from home, somewhere that made me feel ‘inspired’. At this point you could claim that I was simply being fussy (which I can be) or stubborn (that too). Practical solutions to the problem would have been compromising on the size of my room, living further out of town, or living in another part of the country and avoiding London prices altogether. But my search for a home didn’t feel practical – it felt visceral. My gut instinct told me that my choice of space was going to be important.
When I listened to what my body was trying to tell me I realised that I wasn’t simply searching for somewhere to live – I was doing something more interesting than that – I was searching for my ideal environment.
Once the conscious part of my brain had caught up with the situation an experiment was born. I decided that I would find a place that was my ‘ideal environment’, I would live there for a year, and I’d just see what happened. I was curious to see what would happen if I gave myself everything I thought I needed to thrive.
There was only one minor problem. Technically I could not afford the rent on the kind of place that I wanted. So I took a risk. I signed a lease on a flat knowing that it would potentially wipe out every penny I had ever saved. It was a pretty big risk. I’m self-employed and have an unpredictable income. I have a crystal clear memory of an unpleasant pang of anxiety/nausea once I’d made the decision. All sorts of worries and doubts entered my mind – what if I didn’t earn enough money, what if I spent all my savings, wasn’t this too extravagant…
I didn’t think that worrying about money for 12 months was going to be particularly useful. I wanted the space and the time to be helpful – not something to cause me extra stress and hold me back. So I made myself a deal – for one year I could do whatever I wanted. I could study, read, take up new hobbies, explore London… anything at all. I did not have to work. I did not have to earn any money. This meant writing off the money in my mind, being prepared to spend all of my savings, and treating any money that I earned as a bonus. I chose to let go of control and just accept whatever happened.
It was a gift from me to me. It was the most amazing gift anyone had ever given me.
The useful reminders
I wasn’t sure how successful I would be at keeping the experiment ‘special’ for a whole year or whether I’d manage to remain calm about the whole money situation. So I decided that I would celebrate the 24th of each month as a way of keeping myself on track and I wrote myself a set of three useful reminders to help me if I got stressed (the matchstick person below with the curly hair and big boots was how I drew myself a year ago today).
Armed with my reminders my experiment began – the question I wanted to answer was this:
What does happen if you put Nina in her ideal environment?
Like everything in nature – if you put Nina in her ideal environment she grows.
I think that I have grown more in the last year than in any other period of my life. I’ve experienced the kind of growth I’ve often read about, but until now have not had any first-hand experience of. This year it has felt that the more I do, the more I can do. It hasn’t been the case that ‘working more’ has meant that I’ve been doing other things ‘less’. This year I’ve done more paid work than ever before, more pro-bono work than ever before, I’ve played more, exercised more, explored more, I’ve enjoyed some really good quality time with the people I care about, I’ve met new friends, I’ve started new hobbies, new projects… it feels like I’m simply ‘bigger’ – my capacity has grown.
As well as growth this last year has also been a year of being very ‘me’. From time to time I can get out of touch with the kind of person that I want to be. It’s easy to do – I get busy, distracted, tired… But this has been a year of being very consciously ‘me’.
So after a year of living in my ideal environment I feel like I’m more ‘me’ and there’s more of me.
What happens when I’m more me? I choose and build the life that I want. I want a life that’s authentic and full of adventure – which means having a life in which I embrace risk and challenge. The most visible challenge that I have set myself this year has been my cartooning. About half way through my year I was consciously looking for a challenge – I wanted to work out ‘What’s the biggest challenge I can set myself that makes the most of my skills and will help me live the kind of life I want to live?’
What are the main things I’ve learned from this experiment?
I’m already brilliant – I’m just too stupid to see it: This adventure was not prompted by the conscious parts of my brain that I value so much. It was started by my gut instinct weeks before the conscious parts of me noticed what was going on. In many ways my gut instinct is a lot smarter and quicker than my conscious brain. There have been many instances in my life where a change in direction has been a case of ‘noticing something that I’m already doing’ rather than ‘thinking up something new’. This is how this experiment started, in many ways it’s also how my cartooning started. If I’m looking for change in the future my energy might be best spent trying to look at the things I’m already doing with fresh eyes. I’ll probably find that I’m already doing something that is really interesting and important to me – it’s just that I haven’t noticed it yet.
My power is in the relationship: I do not live in a magic flat and I have not just lived through a magic year. The powerful aspect of the past year has been how I have chosen to relate to space and time. I could simply have thought of this flat as ‘a home’ (albeit a very nice one), and the year as ‘a year’. Instead I chose to make them special, to celebrate them, to make them my adventure, and to see them as an opportunity. I can choose to do this in any situation – an airport delay can be an opportunity to chat to strangers, a walk around town can be an adventure… I don’t have much control over the things that happen to me in life, but I have absolute power over how I choose to relate to them – and my experience is massively affected by that choice.
Letting go of what control? One of the features of this year has been ‘letting go’ of control. At the start of the year I consciously let go of any attempt to control how much money I earned. I also didn’t plan the year at all – my only ‘plan’ was to be me and see what happened. I don’t see it as part of the success of this year, but the ironic thing is that I actually earned more money this year than ever before and I seem to have built a great platform for my future. In some ways risking all of my money may prove to have been a shrewd financial investment. But that would be to miss the main point – the ‘control’ that I let go of was control over things that were actually out of my control anyway. The ‘letting go of control’ was really just about being honest. The thing I let go of was my ‘false sense of control’, and in its place I embraced uncertainty. And I had a blast. If I want an authentic life that is full of adventure then by its very definition uncertainty, risk, and vulnerability are going to be massive features of my life. Bring it on. I don’t think that I find these things any easier to cope with than before – I still get nervous, I doubt myself and I feel anxious. I’m also still perfectly capable of falling flat on my face. But now I know what can happen if I let myself be me – despite how scary that might feel and despite how things might turn out.
This isn’t an experiment anymore – this is how I choose to live my life.
This blog post is dedicated to the many amazing people in my life who cheer me on when I need encouragement, who pick me up off the floor when I’ve crash-landed, and who inspire me to keep going when I’m thinking of giving up.
You are my adventure.