Holidays

I’m on holiday at the moment. Mostly. Well, I’m abroad for a couple of weeks, anyway. But what even is a holiday?

When most people use the word “holiday”, they are using it to describe something with a very specific and narrow definition: they mean (a) a limited period of time where you (b) travel to somewhere different than where you live, and (c) cease to do the thing you do for a living.

That’s fine. I just find this definition incredibly limiting. It implies that, if you want to get the benefits of a holiday, and you can’t travel, and you can’t stop doing what you do to make a living, that you’re out of luck. Sorry, fella, no holiday for you.

Well, I’m not buying that. A holiday is really just a temporary change – a deviation from the norm. Whatever you consider the normal state of things, a holiday is when some or all of it is different for a bit.

And when you look at it like that, all of a sudden there’s a whole bunch of things you could do literally today that give you whatever you think a fortnight in Tenerife will give you – without forking out a bunch of cash, without having to visit an airport, and without having to spend any time with tourists.

Spending a few hours buried in the world of a great novel can be a holiday. Ditto a few episodes of some of the amazing TV series of the last decade or two.

Uninstalling Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram, and avoiding the news for a few days can be a holiday.

Going for a walk in a part of your town you’ve never visited before can be a holiday.

Our brains love contrast. Not just that, it’s the only way we learn. And when life gets too rote and too routine and too autopilot – when it’s the same old shit week in, week out – there is far too little contrast, and a part of us switches off. A holiday – of any kind – switches it back on, wakes us back up, gets us into the game again.

But there is no need whatsoever to stick to the mainstream definition of what a holiday is. Define it for yourself.

Your Best, in This Moment

All that matters – all that ever matters – is that you do your best in this moment.

Not in the moment that could have been, had things only gone a different way.

Not in the moment you think you’ve earned, by giving to charity every now and then.

Not in the moment you were promised by a demagogue, in exchange for a vote.

This moment, however unpalatable, is the only moment you can ever do anything from. It’s the only moment that exists. Familiarise yourself with it like a spider to her web. Strip away all that is false about it. And then when you do your best, your best will take you further than you could ever have dreamed.

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

Theodore Roosevelt

The Last 37

I just worked out that, if I include what I am writing right now, I have 37 posts left to write before my challenge is complete – before I’ve published something every day for a year. If I’m totally honest with you, that last post can’t come soon enough.

You always think you know what something is going to be like before you do it, and you are always proved wrong if you actually follow through and do the thing. I suppose this is what makes life so damn interesting – sometimes you’re a little off the mark; sometimes your guess was on another planet. Either way, it’s only through direct experience that you can ever put your theories to the test. Only by getting out of your imagination and into reality can you ever know.

Well, after more than 300 posts in as many days, I don’t have to wonder any more. If anybody knows, it’s me. I know what it’s like to have this one thing on my to-do list month after month. And after October 4th, it won’t be on there any more.

Oh, I’m not giving up writing. Quite the opposite, in fact. I’ve decided that, free from the daily obligation to publish something, I’m going to instead get round to exploring the vast backlog of ideas I’ve amassed over the past year – things I never felt I had the time to give the attention they deserved, because I always had to get on with that day’s post!

And you know, that’s been the main discovery of this challenge, which was an exercise in being prolific – in shipping something every day… that in the end, I don’t want to be prolific for its own sake. I want to see what happens if I actually spend time with my pieces and let them germinate and evolve instead of getting them away from me as soon as possible like they were mosquito on my leg. I’d like to share what I’m doing only when I think I can do no better.

Lastly, thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing this journey with me, and for giving me your precious time all these months. If something I’ve written has made you be sweeter to yourself, then I have done my job. And I’ll be back, 37 more times, before I let myself have a little bit of time off.

Usually, You’re Just Scared

Sometimes you really ought to wait.

Sometimes there is a very good reason to hold off on acting.

Sometimes it is the height of strategic wisdom to be patient and wait for a better moment to pounce.

But not usually. Usually, you’re just scared, and there’s really nothing more to it than that.

Take the first step. It’s harder, and accordingly more rewarding, than the next hundred put together.

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it;
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

We Flew to Denmark Today

We flew to Denmark today. The airport was eerily quiet. We had lunch at Costa and the government paid for half of it.

On the plane I had a row all to myself and so I put my feet up and read the first few chapters of Crime and Punishment and had my favourite songs on shuffle at full volume to drown out the engine noise.

We had turkey for dinner and then we drove around for a bit because Emma’s brother can drive now. At Spar she got a pick n mix and I got some crisps.

Soon it will be time to go to bed and I suppose my only point is that you don’t have to do anything noteworthy in order to have a special day. To have a special day, you simply need to decide to open your eyes to the special things that are happening every day.

When you can appreciate the mundane, you’re golden.

It’s Not Writer’s Block

One of the most interesting things about doing a ritual like Morning Pages is that the existence of “writer’s block” starts to seem more and more unlikely.

If you don’t know what it is, Morning Pages is a daily practice popularised by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way, where immediately after waking, you just write, for 3 pages of A4.

Anything and everything that comes to your mind is acceptable. There are no rules, other than to keep going until you’ve got your 3 pages, after which you are free to throw away or burn to a crisp everything you just wrote. The point is not, as it might be in a regular journal, to keep a record of your life, but simply to free your intrinsic creative energies.

Now, I’ll admit that I do break Julia’s rules somewhat. I don’t do it immediately after waking up. And I don’t do it every day (although if I had to guess, I’d say on average I do it five days a week.) But I do do it, and that’s because I’m hooked on the way I can sit down with no idea what my first sentence is even going to be, feel like there’s no way I could possibly write 3 whole pages, and then 45 minutes later, inevitably, have proved myself completely wrong.

All this is to say that I don’t believe in “writer’s block.” I’ve disproved it to myself dozens if not hundreds of times by now. Though it might sometimes be uttlerly pointless and nonsensical, there is always something inside me, if I’ll turn the tap on and let it out. But there is something that I do believe in with all my heart, and that’s call “PROJECT block.”

“Project block” is that special kind of hell we’ve all experienced where you have a creative task – bonus points if there’s a deadline, or consequences to not getting it done – and you just cannot make a solitary inch of progress on it. Even worse, the longer you spend trying to, the shittier you feel.

It’s not writer’s block. You’re not blocked in general. I know this because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat in front of my laptop feeling completely blocked, no idea what my day’s blog post is going to be about, hating myself for committing myself to this year of daily blogging, but I’ve been able to pick up my guitar and come up with all manner of wild and wicked licks and riffs. Or story ideas. Or just about anything, so long as it has nothing to do with blogging.

No, there’s something about that specific project has you blocked. And there are a few different ways to deal with it. The first is simply to power through. Now, technically, this one does work. It’s woefully inefficient. It can be downright painful. But eventually, if you refuse to give up and just stick with it, the odds are that you’ll get there.

The second – and unfortunately, my most frequent option – is to not work on it, but to sort of keep it in the back of your mind, dwelling obsessively on it, feeling guilty for not working on it… So you leave the project for a bit, you go watch telly, you piss about on your phone, and all the while there’s a little voice holding you hostage reminding you of what you’re not attending to. It’s a filthy habit. It’s pain with a chaser of pain.

The third and best solution – in my mind, at least – is again to not work on it, but to actively work on something else. This could be literally anything. It could be some other creative project. It could be making the dinner. It could be some form of strenuous exercise. Whatever – the only important thing is that you give your mind enough stimulation that it can’t do both – it can’t focus on what you’re doing and dwell on the thing you’re avoiding.

And lo and behold, it’s like a shower for your mind. After a while, ideas come. Things that seemed like mountains show themselves to be molehills. You gain a perspective not possible when you’re stuck in the weeds. It’s counter-intuitive. I don’t know why it works. But it works. You go back to the old project and a weight has been lifted.

Next time you feel blocked, check that you’re not just burnt out on this specific thing you’re trying to do. Give yourself a proper break, go do something else, and let your mind work its magic behind the scenes.

Only the Dead Stay the Same

Sometimes I sit and I think back on my life. I remember vividly things I thought and things I said and things I did. I bring to mind scenes of the person I was at different moments throughout the years.

And so often these memories of mine make me recoil. I cringe and I want to look away. I was such an idiot. So, so often.

But before long, I’m smiling. I like how stupid I’ve been. It means I’m starting to get somewhere. It means I’m changing.

Only the dead stay the same. If, compared to now, you used to be an idiot, you’re on the right track.

Be Your Own Friend

You might not need to hear this message today. But just in case you do, I’ll say it anyway:

It doesn’t matter how badly things are going. It doesn’t matter how massively you’ve fucked everything up. It doesn’t matter who is upset with you.

You never have to be horrible to yourself.

You always have a choice, and you can always choose to be your own friend.

Not a Robot

If you look at it one way, sugar and salt are remarkably similar.

They both live in your kitchen, and they look similar enough that, even quite close up, you might mistake one for the other. Does that mean, then, that in a pinch (if you’ll pardon the pun) you can use salt instead of sugar, or sugar instead of salt?

Well, if you’ve ever actually done that, then you will already know the answer to be a definitive NO! It turns out you can’t just pretend that one thing is another thing and have it all work out fine.

Well, it’s not just sugar and salt this rule applies to – it’s everything in the known universe. Things work best when you accept them for what they are, and you use them for that which they are best suited to. And you, yourself, are no exception.

No matter what anybody expects of you, or you expect of yourself, you are not in fact a robot. You are not an automaton. You cannot be programmed. You cannot be reduced to a number.

You are a living, breathing human being, with all the beautiful chaos that goes along with it. You belong to a species so fascinating and complex that, millions of years into our existence, we are still pretty much just scratching the surface of who we are and what we’re all about.

Accept yourself for exactly who and what you are. It might not be glamorous, but it’s a hell of a lot more soulful than whatever can be dreamed up by a Silicon Valley startup.

It Was Always up to You

It’s Friday today. Whatever the hell that means.

You know, it’s been over a decade since I last had to stick to a “typical” daily routine. The kind where you’re expected to be “on” between about 9 and 5, Monday to Friday, and then “off”, free as a bird, Saturday and Sunday. Instead, I’ve had stretches where none of that applied whatsoever, and then stretches where bits of it did and bits of it didn’t.

But old habits die hard. Over a decade after I left, and with all kinds of turns and twists and bashes and blows to my routine, my inner workings still essentially operate on school time. Nothing seems to change my expectations of each day. Monday still feels like something to get through. Friday still represents the end of something old and musty and the beginning of something fresh and new, sort of like the releasing of some kind of internal pressure valve. And on a Saturday evening, I still can’t help but feel as though… somehow… the universe has more in store for me than at other moments of the week.

The pandemic has, admittedly, blurred all this a little. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with people that amount to them saying “I don’t know what day it is any more, they’re all the same…” I nod along, and yet in the back of my mind I’m thinking “I know what day it is: I feel creative and ever so slightly manic… it must be a Wednesday…” … for example.

Now, I don’t know if your schedule has been turned upside down over the past few months, or if you’re one of the people whose routine hasn’t changed as much. Either way, I have the same good news to tell you: IT’S ALL A STORY. And the story you tell yourself can either help you or harm you.

If the way you feel about the days of the week empowers you and makes you feel more engaged and alive in the world, then keep preaching it to yourself. But if it doesn’t – and mine certainly doesn’t – you have to know that it’s up to you simply to craft a different story. In fact, it was always up to you.

Pandemic or not, you don’t get to choose exactly what you’ll do each day, and whether you’ll like it or not. But you do get to choose how you’ll greet the day – your attitude. So Monday has a “feeling.” So Friday has a “feeling.” Sure, but at a certain point, all that shit is in your head. You might not have put it there deliberately, but it’s up to you to clean it out. There is no cosmic, laws-of-the-universe difference between any of the days of the week, and there never has been.

It was always up to you. Always up to you how you greeted each day. Always up to you if you ear-marked Friday and Saturday night as the only times you were allowed to enjoy your life. Always up to you if you were bummed out on Sunday night. Always up to you if Monday morning represented heaven or hell.

The content of the days? Not always up to you. Your atituude toward each day? Always up to you.

And So Become Yourself

You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good-bye.

Crosby, Stills & Nash – “Teach Your Children Well

Yes, we have to work together. If we hadn’t done that, we’d have never made it out of the caves, and the first part of 2001: A Space Odyssey would have been the last part, too.

But whilst we’re doing that – whilst we’re trying to conform our actions to the greatest possible good – we have to also remember something ironic: Our greatest possible contribution to the whole is our truest and most authentic selves.

The individual is meaningless without the collective, and the collective is meaningless without the individuals that make it up.

The most selfless thing you can do with your life is to properly be yourself.

The Other Golden Rule

… is a very good start.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

But I suggest you take it one step further:

“Do unto yourself as you would have others do unto you.”

You wouldn’t want others to be critical of your every move. You wouldn’t want others to hold your past mistakes against you. You wouldn’t want others to always assume the worst of you. So why do you inflict this on yourself?

You’d probably prefer them to treat you fairly. To give you the benefit of the doubt. To forgive your shortcomings and encourage your efforts to be a better person.

Make the first move. Whilst you’re waiting for others to treat you right, get the ball rolling by treating yourself right. Give yourself the gift of always having someone in your corner.

You’re Still Here

Think back. All those things you were so damn sure would be too much for you to handle… they weren’t, were they? In the end? How can they have been? You’re still here, aren’t you?

Yeah, you took some knocks. No, it didn’t all go to plan. And yeah, some of it was incredibly unpleasant. But if your heart is still pumping blood around you, I must congratulate you. You made it. You won. Everything else is a bonus.

I have nothing against aiming high. But some days, being alive is high enough. Every now and then, it’s worth giving yourself a pat on the back just for getting to this moment.

You’re still here, and I couldn’t be prouder of you for that.

There Are Things You Cannot Lose

Some things in life are zero-sum. If you give them away, you end up with less.

Some things are a bit better. You can give them away, and end up pretty not far from where you started. Not better off, but certainly not much worse off.

Some things, however, are not only impossible to lose, but continue to keep coming back to you thicker and faster the more you give them away.

Kindness. Laughter. Music. Passion. Joy. Beauty. Truth. (I’m sure you can think of many more to add to the list.)

If you want these things in abundance, you must first learn to give them away liberally. If you are stingy with them, you only discourage them from visiting you. But if you are generous with them, you welcome them in.

When Was the Best Time to Be Alive?

Now.

What? Am I trying to claim that everything is perfect? That the present moment leaves nothing to be desired? That this age represents a universal improvement on all prior ages?

Don’t be daft.

There’s plenty wrong with this moment in time, least of all the fact that nobody knows what the fuck is going on and nobody knows what’s going to happen next. Still, I will maintain until my dying breath that there has never been, nor will there ever be, a better time to be alive.

How can I make this claim so flippantly, so arrogantly? It’s actually very easy. NOW is the best time to be alive for the simple reason that, unlike the past and the future, it actually exists as something other than a figment of our imagination.

NOW is the only time. It wins first place by default.

You see, we can hark for the past all we want. But we can’t go back to it. Equally, we can pray for a rosier future all we want. We can even work hard towards creating it. But we can’t skip straight to it. Only from the here and the now can we think, and act – only in the present moment do we have any power.

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Everybody Shits and Everybody Sneezes

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty easy to intimidate.

The impossibly good-looking. The rich. The aggressive. The over-friendly. It doesn’t take much to knock me off balance.

Fortunately, I have a little trick that I use to bring myself back to equilibrium. To knock these people down to size in my head. To help me see them as human, no more, no less.

And all it takes is remembering one, simple sentence:

Everybody shits and everybody sneezes.

You’re welcome.

Gateways

I got into KISS because I had lied to a girl I fancied about how they were my favourite band. After she believed me, I got curious, and gave them a listen. Loved it.

I got into Cat Stevens because on the way home from a party in Bakewell about 10 years ago my Dad put on a “Best of” CD in the car. As I drunkenly listened from the back-seat, I couldn’t believe just how good every single song was. I was almost angry that he’d been kept from me. Fortunately, I was still a fan when I sobered up.

I got into The Meters, and Parliament, and Frank Zappa, and Gang of Four because I went down the rabbit-hole of artists the Red Hot Chili Peppers mentioned in interviews.

I got into Warren Zevon because I watched Californication and I fell in love with Hank Moody and Warren was Hank’s favourite artist.

Gateways, gateways, gateways… It really doesn’t matter how you get into stuff. Just make sure when find something new to dig, you say “thank you.”

Goldilocks

First, you have to be able to look past what an awful person she was.

Forget, for a moment, the trespassing. Forget the porridge-thieving. Forget the chair-breaking, and forget the falling asleep in Baby Bear’s bed… at the root of the Goldilocks story is a very important lesson: In all things, there is exists a sweet-spot. It’s not too much, it’s not too little. It’s just enough.

I’ve been thinking about Goldilocks a lot recently, as her tale of breaking and entering relates to stress.

When you feel like life is demanding far more of you than you have the capacity to deal with, the result is distress. It’s a horrible feeling. It makes your hair fall out. It makes your heart weak. It makes you snap at your loved ones. It makes life unbearable. It’s like playing tennis against Rafael Nadal.

On the other end of the spectrum, though, when it feels as though life is demanding basically nothing of you, the result is boredom. When things are too easy, or we are too comfortable for too long, we grow soft. We get weaker. It’s like playing tennis against a five year old.

The sweet-spot we are looking for lies somewhere in-between these two extremes.

It’s called eustress. This is where life is presenting us with challenges, but challenges we can handle, and that we grow stronger as we rise to. We might win sometimes, we might lose sometimes, but whatever the result, we feel engaged and present. Like playing tennis against someone who is ever-so-slightly better than you. Keeping you on your toes.

If life feels stressful, go easy on yourself. If it feels boring, set yourself a new challenge. If it feels brilliant all the time, let me know your secrets.

P.C Budgie Manning

When I was three years old, I wanted nothing more than to be a policeman.

My official title? P.C Budgie Manning. My Dad even printed out a sign for me that I hung on my bedroom door.

People say you should never give up on your dreams, and as nice as that sounds, I don’t buy it for a second. You should definitely give up on your dreams. Most of them, anyway. Remember: you’re here to grow, and to change, and to learn about yourself – something has gone very wrong if your dreams don’t ever change.

I’ve dreamt of being a policeman. A spy. The Mask. A rock-star. A novelist. A footballer. A bra fitter at La Senza.

But to be honest, even though some of those dreams haven’t yet expired (the last one was the quickest to expire – they turned me down due to my “gender” and the “nature” of the work…) none of them really matter to me. I have one dream and one dream only: The full-time pursuit of being whoever the hell Oliver Manning turns out to be.

It’s only natural to cling to old dreams – perhaps you’re doing it out of some sense of loyalty to your past self. Let them go. You’re keeping yourself stuck. You’re choking yourself. Your past self is just a memory. Even worse, when your dream is out-of-date, you feel no joy if it comes true.

The snake sheds his skin for a reason, as does the caterpillar turn into a butterfly. You too must forget the dreams you used to have, and set your sights on the dreams you have today.

All Times Are Unprecedented

It’s just that we got very attached to the way we thought things ought to be.

Us with privilege, we spent so many years like pigs in shit, rolling around in previously unheard prosperity and predictability, that we came to think of this experience as “normal”, and as any deviation from it an “unprecendented” attack on the way things ought to be.

There is no ought; only life. No unprecedented; only what does or does not happen. And besides, there was nothing normal about those times. Nor were they universally prosperous and predictable. It just stings because we took it for granted.

No, the truth is that all times are equally unprecedented, and you’re either ready for anything or you’re not.

The old world is crumbling. Thank God. It had been broken for centuries. Let’s rebuild it. And this time let’s use our hearts.

Wabi-Sabi

DR. HANNIBAL LECTER:
My dear Will, you must be healed by now… on the outside, at least. I hope you’re not too ugly. What a collection of scars you have. Never forget who gave you the best of them, and be grateful; our scars have the power to remind us that the past was real.

“Red Dragon” (2001)

Wabi-sabi is a Japanese word. It means to embrace the aesthetic of imperfection, impermanence, and incompleteness.

The world wants you to conform. It wants you to meet spec. It wants to be able to put you in a little box and keep an eye on you. It wants you to be convenient. It wants you to be categorisable.

Fuck that noise. Fight back.

You are wabi-sabi. You are imperfect and impermanent and incomplete. You are human. The more you try to comply with somebody else’s idea of the perfect human, the emptier you will feel, no matter what rewards they dangle in front of you.

Life is irony. You are much closer to perfection when you embrace your imperfection.

Be Good This Week

Be good this week. You already know how.

To your body – move it more and feed it less.

To your mind – give it a beautiful problem to solve.

To your soul – forgive every last one of your past discretions. They’re irrelevant now.

To your humans – praise the good you see in them and get ready for them to show you more.

The “Right” Side of History

Stop it. It’s a complete waste of time.

You can flush years of your life down the toilet spending it seeking to always be on the right side of history. It’s too much pressure. Too much of it is outside your control. Too much of it is nothing but pure guesswork.

There is only one thing you ever need to worry about being on the right side of. In fact, there’s really only one thing you ever can be on the right side of:

Your own conscience. Right here. Right now. Whatever anybody else is doing, or has done, or will do. That’s all there is.

Be on the right side of yourself, and you can never be steered wrong. Whatever future generations think of you.

You Are Not Alone

Wazzup.

We both know that there’s a fine line between expressing yourself honestly and authentically, and living your life like an open wound. As with all fine lines, the exact location of this line can only truly be found via good old fashioned trial and error, and as your literary compadré and philosophical whatever, one of my jobs is to constantly try to figure out where just where that line is.

Sometimes the only way to stay on the right side of the line is to risk being on the wrong side of the line. So forgive me if I go too far, but know that my intentions are noble.


It’s customary in polite society, when asked “How are you?” to err on the side of the positive – whether you mean it or not. That’s why perhaps it feels so strange – and yet pleasantly cathartic – to admit to you that this has been one of the worst weeks of my life. Why? A great, big, black cloud.

I don’t know where it came from. I don’t know how long it’s going to stay for. All I can tell you is that it hurts. It is the mental equivalent of having someone prod you in the side with a knitting needle every five seconds or so.

I think about the person I was even two weeks ago and don’t quite recognise him. I know he’ll be back – that’s the comforting thing – but I don’t know when. I can’t be bothered to do anything. And not in one of those lazy Sunday kind of ways. The thought of doing things is actually painful. It took me four days to gather the willpower to shave.

But even with all that, it’s not 100% bad. When something forces you to slow down, be it your body or your mind, you have time to suddenly put yourself in the shoes of others. And in the same way that I look perfectly fine from the outside and feel broken on the inside, I wonder who else feels this way and is keeping it a secret from everybody.

Really, that’s why I’m writing this today. Not to draw attention to me and my troubles – I’ll be all right – but for you who might be going through something equally as painful and not have anyone you feel comfortable turning to. I don’t want you to feel alone. You’re not alone. Alone is only ever a feeling.

My email inbox is always open to you. Don’t suffer in silence.

olmanning@gmail.com

And This, Too, Shall Pass Away

“It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: “And this, too, shall pass away.” How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!”

Abraham Lincoln – from his speech at the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society, 30th September 1859

A global pandemic. A crippling bout of melancholia. A goddamn fish-finger sandwich.

For better or worse, nothing in this life lasts forever.

And this, too – whatever you’re facing – shall pass away. That is not me being flippant, or simply trying to make you feel better. The laws of the universe dictate that it must pass.

My contribution is to promise you that there is nothing shameful in simply waiting it out – in weathering the storm.

Difficult Gratitude

The more excruciatingly difficult something is to be grateful for, the more powerfully that gratitude will affect you. Your life will change for the better.

You see, it’s easy – practically effortless – to give thanks for things like your house or your car or your friends or your family, or just those things in your life that seem to always work out just right. It’s easy to give thanks for them because it’s easy to see what’s good about them.

But it’s a lot harder to see what’s good about the difficult things in your life. The situations that don’t go your way. The illnesses, both physical and mental. The people who cause you nothing but pain and problems. The tacky shit that was the best you could afford.

The good is buried way, way down, and so it’s harder and less intuitive to give thanks for these things.

But oh, when you do…

First Impressions

I used to assume that the really fit girls at school acted so stuck up because they knew full well just how fit they were, and they wanted to lord it over me and my friends just how little of a chance we had with them.

I also used to assume that the guys who acted the toughest were doing so because they actually were the toughest, and that they were doing us a favour by letting us know just how little sense there was in challenging their authority.

My Wizard of Oz moment took years, sure, but eventually I realised how full of shit they all were. The fit girls were just girls, petrified of being seen as mingers. The tough guys were just guys, petrified of being seen as bummers.

Look beyond your first impressions of people. Especially the ones who intimidate you. They are often the weakest of all.

I Wasn’t Looking for a Wife

You know, I wasn’t looking for a wife. I wasn’t sure, in fact, that I’d ever be in the market for one.

It’s really difficult for me to over-estimate just how much of my mental energy went towards chasing women – with varying degrees of success – before I met Emma. A marriage would spell the end of all that.

But then I met her and it was the start of something better. I realised I had nothing real to miss. Two and a bit years later we were married, and tomorrow is our second wedding anniversary.

My entire life, nothing I’ve planned has ever worked out the way I envisioned it, and so it bodes well for me that I was never even planning on getting married. I’m making it up as I go along, taking it day by day, and it’s more than good enough for me.

Always Choose Meaning

If you have a million pounds sitting in the bank, but spend half your day worrying about losing it, and the other half comparing yourself to people who have two or three, are you even rich?

On the other hand, if you are in crippling debt that you’re likely never to finish paying off, but you spend your days with people you care about doing things that mean something to you, are you even poor?

It’s nice to have both, but when a choice must be made between money and meaning, always choose meaning.

If Life Is a Car

If Life is a car, we like to picture ourselves in the driver’s seat. Hands firmly on the steering wheel. Foot down to the floor. Seventy miles an hour, but no more.

The truth is, however, that for almost all of what makes up this thing we call Life, we are very much in the back-seat, if not the boot. Life is driving us around, not the other way round. Life knows where Life is going, and Life doesn’t want or need our intervention. It laughs when we suppose otherwise.

That sounds a little depressing at first. But notice that I said “almost all” just now. For there is that rare class of situations in Life where you do have leverage. Where your intervention is not only wanted but needed. Where you have the power to change, if not the world, then at least your world. Where, for a brief star, you are driving Life around for a change.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.

Reinhold Niebuhr

There is no shortcut to that wisdom, and there is no formula for knowing the difference, but I know two things to be true:

One: You must find the answer for yourself. Almost everybody on the planet has it ass-backwards.

Two: Worrying about getting it wrong is a waste of time. You will get it wrong. Constantly. And if you keep getting it wrong long enough, you’ll start to be right just a little more often.

That teeny, tiny margin is the difference between an existence and a Life.