Crossroads

September 18, 2009 at 4:19 am (Uncategorized)

I went walking this morning with a friend who lives locally, and it was the first time we’d managed to catch up in weeks. She’s been seeing a life coach, and was full of enthusiasm for the changes she’s making to her life. Now, I should say upfront that when I hear ‘life coach,’ I just want to run away – hard, fast, and screaming at the top of my lungs. I believe everyone is different, so it stands to reason that different things appeal to and work for different people. Life coaching doesn’t appeal to me. It’s just the way I am. I don’t tend to look for external steering mechanisms for my own life, at least not in terms of organised religion, yoga retreats, self-help literature and/or life coaches. Some people find all of these things enormously helpful, even life-changing, and my friend is one such person. She’s done self-improvement courses in the past, is a yoga devotee, and has now enthusiastically and sincerely embraced the lessons offered to her by her life coach guru. It’s very much her thing, and it works for her.

I’m not even sure why I’m telling you this.

I didn’t post yesterday, and I could pretend it was because I was taken out for lunch (which I was, and it was lovely) and therefore didn’t have time, but it was really more a lack of inspiration and inclination. What was I going to tell you? That I was and am still feeling a bit flat? Why would I write about that? There’s nothing wrong, I’ve got absolutely nothing to complain about, and in more ways than I can count I am enormously fortunate, so what’s my problem? I don’t know. I’m just a bit out of sorts. I have no reason to be – I have a great husband, I have terrific friends, I have eggs, I have finished another draft of my MS, I live in a wonderful place, I’m a lucky cow. I really am. And it’s not my birthday, because I don’t get morose about ageing, I’m always relieved and delighted to find I’m still here for another one. So that’s not it, although I will admit to a significant lack of enthusiasm for celebrating it this year. No doubt this will sound ironic given the navel-gazing nature of this post thus far, but I actually think I’m a bit over myself. I’m feeling really ho hum about the thing that is me.

So many people I know seem to be experiencing something similar. I’m not sure if it’s a late-30s, early-40s phenomenon, but I can’t tell you the number of friends I’ve had mention this same basic reappraisal of themselves in the world. We’re seeing our first mid-life crises, for instance, and so many of my peers appear to be looking around thinking, “How the fuck did this end up being my life?” I know some of my friends are unhappy, really unhappy, and that’s a terrible thing to realise about people close to you. As a friend, I often feel completely inadequate, and in many ways, that’s exactly what I am. I can’t help with the majority of what ails them, and that’s because, by and large, we’re all stuck having to help ourselves. I tend to believe that if you don’t help yourself, the help never arrives. And yet, that’s not quite right either. I receive plenty of help, and always have. Loads. More than my share. And I try to put it back out there. But it’s not enough, is it? People still have to find answers for themselves. I don’t have them.

It’s funny that some of the things my friend’s life coach has introduced into her life are things I have always done. One is keep a diary. My friend was telling me how amazing it was, venting all that frustration, letting it go before it mushroomed into something else, and it’s always been a very therapeutic act for me. In fact, Llew realised just how therapeutic when he picked up one of my diaries – it’s hand-painted and he had no idea what it was – and it fell open on a massive FUCK YOU. He dropped it as though it had bitten him. I took up the diary to find what had so enraged me that I felt compelled to take a whole page to write just two words, and it turned out it was Llew himself. It was during the month from hell packing up Nana’s flat, at a time when he was not at his most empathetic. I felt badly let down at times during that experience, and I think he’d probably say the same of me, because he was also stressed out and under a lot of pressure at work. I explained the entry was about him and he said, “That’s not very nice.”

“Well,” I said, “this is how I deal with things. I write them down so I don’t scream at you instead. You really weren’t supporting me at times during all that, and I vented in my diary, and that probably avoided a massive blow-up. So… what can I tell you? That’s the function my diary often serves.”

He was still a bit wounded by the hostile sentiment, I think, but it was also hard arguing against my writing FUCK YOU there instead of starting a big fight in person. I suppose this blog has often done the same thing; you’ve all certainly helped lift my morale during various disappointments and challenges, and thank you. It is a way for me to work through things rather than hold on to them. See? I feel better already.

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17 Comments

  1. woo said,

    I, too, have a friend who’s big into life-coaching and self-help books. My reaction is pretty similar to yours: I know I *should* be supportive and not judge something purely because it doesn’t appeal to me but… I CAN’T (for which read WON’T), I simply want to shout “but that’s just common sense, isn’t it? Why did you need to pay hundreds of dollars to be told that?”

    Having said that, I have found my blog to be an excellent place to vent my petty frustrations which I sincerely hope has made me a more tolerant person in ‘real’ life!

    • doctordi said,

      This made me laugh, Woo. Exactly! But it makes me realise common sense isn’t always so common – some people really do seem to need a nudge in the right direction.

  2. charlotteotter said,

    Writing it down, whether in diary or blog form, is a great way to vent. I don’t think it’s advisable in relationships to share every single feeling – for one thing, it would be time-consuming, and for another, those great ballooning feelings of anger often burst and drift away like smoke.

    As for those mid-life crises, they are happening all around me too – some extreme cases, some less so. It’s been hard to believe the number of marriages, all of which I thought naively were rock-solid, that are breaking up so that one or both partners can find themselves.

    And as for self-help, I’ve been there (with books, not with gurus, whom I automatically mistrust), so I sympathise with your friend. I am sure she will get to the place where she can trust her intuition and make good decisions for herself.

    • doctordi said,

      Oh, Charlotte, the marriage thing is starting to happen, and it’s so shocking. I’m feeling very naive and clueless, really rocked by it, so I can’t even imagine how the bewildered, suddenly single spouses are feeling. I just didn’t see this coming.

      I honestly think part of my friend’s intuition is that she seek guidance externally. She’s always done it, and it does seem to be a good decision for her. I don’t know that it’ll ever change.

  3. Lilian Nattel said,

    I’m glad you’re feeling better. I think you’re right that people have to find their own answers; everybody has a personal journey. But going it alone sucks. So even if you don’t have the answers, just being there is a comfort. And when someone you expect to be isn’t (even for good reason), a safe vent is the cat’s meow for all concerned.

  4. Lilian Nattel said,

    Oh, and I’d say the cusp of 40 is hard because it’s a shock to be the older generation.

    • doctordi said,

      That’s true. I keep rolling it around on my tongue, and ’37’ just sounds kind of older than I feel.

  5. Pete said,

    Interesting post. I think that life coaching really works for some people (as with therapy) but doesn’t for others. Your post reminded me of something Adam Phillips says about how boredom (or in your case feeling a bit flat) can act as a king of fallow period in which ideas start to germinate. To me it seems natural that you’re recovering from the mental exertion of the new draft. I also liked what Douglas LaBier wrote about mid-life that it’s often about going deeper and being more fully adult. There’s such a long lead-in period when we’re studying and starting out and then suddenly you’re there, you’re a fully formed adult and the questions and issues change.

    As for me, I’ve been trying to do daily journalling and it definitely helps but I miss being able to vent on the blog. (For one thing, P doesn’t like it if it’s about her and my family also doesn’t approve.) So I’m steering away from very personal stuff there for a while.

    • doctordi said,

      Oh, bummer you’ve lost the blog as a vent mechanism, Pete. I think one of the reasons it’s so effective as a quasi-therapeutic tool is that we’ve all been able to give each other some perspective and even advice that wouldn’t necessarily be available or forthcoming in day-to-day life. I’d hate to lose that.

      Those theories you mention are really interesting.

  6. Pete said,

    That should be kind of fallow period.

  7. Grad said,

    I call what you’re feeling a “vague malaise.” I get it now and then. Holly Golightly called it “the mean reds.” As far as life coaching goes, or yoga, I guess I’d say, “whatever floats your boat.” I used to do yoga as an exercise at home while watching a yoga program on TV – so I guess I didn’t have a guru. I had to quit, though, when the yoga lady suggested that a great alternative to a BLT sandwich was to sprinkle those Bacos (a “bacon substitute”) on the toast rather than using the real thing. I mean, really…give up “the divine swine”? I…don’t…think…so.

    • doctordi said,

      Vague malaise is perfect, Graddikins, and so is the mean reds. Perhaps I needed to take myself off for breakfast at Tiffany’s… I might try it next time.

      That Bacos story made us (Llewie and me) laugh and laugh. That’s just the LIMIT.

  8. litlove said,

    I’m really intrigued by the juxtapositions in this and the things you don’t say. There’s the opening about life coaching and how it’s not for you, which leads into your general sense of malaise (great word there, Grad). Then there’s the anxiety about how to help friends who suffer and the irritation with Llew for not having been empathetic enough when you were going through tough times. It’s like you are asking questions, without really knowing you’re asking them, and then answering them without knowing you’re answering. I tend to think malaise is really the basic condition of life, and knowing where you’re going, what you’re doing, who you are and what you want are sort of aberrations that attack you sometimes. But both states (the rush of knowing, the quivery-ness of not-knowing) are really interesting, and some people like another person there (like a life coach or a friend) to be interested in them when they can’t quite muster up enthusiasm themselves, for whatever reason that may be. So all you ever need to do for a friend who suffers is to show them you’re interested and sympathetic. That really is helpful. Being curious about wherever you are is a fantastic way to avoid being entirely swamped by the experience, either for yourself or for someone else. Of course not all things are placated by curiosity, not the really bad stuff. But mid-life crises and general malaises tend to respond well.

  9. doctordi said,

    Well, LL, I’m always interested… and I always try to be sympathetic. I fail at the latter sometimes, though, because I have very little patience for career victims. I just want to shake them. And I think curiosity is an essential in life, or at least it’s an essential in mine. It’s so closely related to imagination, I think. Long may both continue to flourish in us all.

  10. davidrochester said,

    I have two friends who are life coaches, and they are both people for whose opinion I have very little respect, though I enjoy both of them on a strictly social level. It amazes me that anyone would want to be coached by them, but then, I’ve had therapists as real estate clients who were the most neurotic, horrible people on earth, so … yeah. Maybe some people are better professionally than they are personally.

    Having turned 37 myself this year, I’m starting to see the faltering marriages as well, especially among couples who married in their twenties and had kids right away … they no longer have the young-child focus, and now they can’t figure out why the hell they’re together. It’s so sad.

  11. doctordi said,

    Yeah, I think that’s part of it for me, David. That question of who’s doing the coaching, and what makes them think they know anything the rest of us don’t know? I have this message hardwired into my brain – I don’t even know how it got there – which is basically, life coach = dick. But I do think it’s true that some people are better professionally than they are personally – and vice versa. Some terrific people are hopelessly miscast in their jobs.

    I’m sad to think this is happening everywhere… kids are often involved, and even some of the people who got married later are feeling the heat. I understand people wanting or needing to find themselves, but for me there’s no question that Llewie would be coming along for that ride no matter what, and I have no doubt – none – that I’d get a seat on his bus too.

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