I NEVER WANT TO LOOK BACK AND THINK I WASN’T BRAVE ENOUGH TO TRY
Alison Bale, mindfulness coach, talks about the importance of accepting what you can’t change while having the courage to take big, bold steps.
When I was 40 my husband and I both realised that we wanted a big adventure. We didn’t want to just sit in the UK and then in 20 years’ time say “Wish we’d done it”.
We landed in Goa in 2006 with a suitcase each. But living somewhere is quite different from going there on holiday. We had to navigate the bureaucracy of a different country. I’m a qualified chiropractor and my husband’s a massage therapist and we opened a small healthcare clinic. Soon we were too busy. It was absolutely brilliant of course, exciting and refreshing, but a bit heart-in-mouth at times.
Our goal apart from working was to do loads of travelling, but the work just took over. We rarely even went to the beach. We did manage to explore India itself, as well as visiting Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Borneo. But after a while we found ourselves exploring less, and working more.
It was time for the next adventure. Having retrained I decided I wanted to reorient my career towards mindfulness. I was 55 and realised I needed to make the emotional and personal investment in this new direction and put down some roots – because I wouldn’t want to be looking at the same situation in 10 years’ time when I’m 65. We decided to move back to the UK.
There are multiple revaluations as we go through midlife. Every few years you have to ask yourself ‘Am I okay? Is this what I want?’
But then COVID threw a curveball at us when, three weeks into March, 2020 India locked down overnight. Our plans to move back to the UK were scuppered. It’s been the first time since I was 21 that I haven’t worked. Not bringing in revenue has been very strange. The heart of mindfulness is acceptance as you stop fighting the things you can’t change. I think this is a big struggle for women.
There are multiple revaluations as we go through our midlife years and older. Every few years you have to ask yourself ‘Am I okay? Is this what I want?’ But it’s also important to think about what you can’t control and accept it.
Now I’m setting up my mindfulness practice in the UK I’ve realised that when it comes to big decisions, there’s only a certain amount I can plan for and intellectualise. There has to come a point where I just have to go ‘Does this feel right?’ And if it does, I’ll go with it because I know I can trust myself to put the work in.
Of course starting again in the UK is as scary and potentially as discombobulating as moving to India. I’ve been staggered with the times I’ve doubted myself and then I have to step back and mentally run through what I’ve done over the last 30 years.
What’s been interesting is the longer I’ve been here, the more doors are opening and opportunities are presenting themselves. There’s a ‘flow’ and I hope that flow continues, because in India I was feeling a bit stuck and unmotivated. I always think that the universe will present to me what I need. The moment you actually commit, the universe moves in all kinds of ways to support it.
It’s been the first time since I was 21 that I haven’t worked. Not bringing in revenue has been very strange.
When I made that decision to go freelance, having quit the corporate world back in 1999, all the time I carried a little book with me in which there was a quote that said, ‘Whenever there is forward movement, there is always turbulence’. And it was to remind myself that I was going to be frightened, I was going to panic, I was going to doubt myself and that was just normal and shouldn’t be a reason not to go forward.
In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, they use an analogy about crossing a rickety rope bridge.
If you want safety and certainty, there’s a risk you’ll never set foot on the bridge. And there has to come a point where you trust yourself and take that first step, because you can’t know everything that’s round every bend. But by the same token, you don’t want to go running full pelt across the bridge just in case it really does collapse underneath you.
And the fact that I’ve taken a big step before means I’m not afraid of taking a big step again. I feel like I’m moving towards something fabulous.
I would encourage any woman just to listen to what is really meaningful for her. Ask your own inner self ‘Is this right for me?’ And when you’ve got that ‘Yes’, you can then trust yourself to do what needs to be done.
There are ways and means to take the first step and just stand gently on that rickety bridge and let it slide around for a bit, knowing that you can actually step back if you need to.
As older women, if we know what we’re good at, deep down we do trust ourselves. But it’s important to be working with people who ‘get’ you, because I’ve spent a lot of time trying to manage a culture that doesn’t get me for lots of reasons. It does expand you and that’s great, but being around women who get me and I get them, the women in the Audrey Members’ Club, is joyful.
Not everybody wants a big adventure. Some people want little adventures, or their circumstances are such that doing something extreme isn’t possible. But there are ways and means to take the first step and just stand gently on that rickety bridge and let it slide around for a bit, knowing that you can actually step back if you need to. And whether you want to make big changes or lots of small ones, it does come back to not wanting to live with a sense of regret. I’d never want to look back and think that I wasn’t brave enough to try.
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