Reflecting Imperfectly: Looking back on the #atozchallenge 2014

A-to-Z_Reflection_[2014]

Another year and another Challenge over. There is no doubt, that the A to Z April Blogging Challenge remains my favorite. I think it’s because of the structure, the camaraderie and the rest stops during the month. I needed them this year with the pre-Easter week working, blogging and academic assignment crunch.

April generates an incredible blogging energy with two thousand participants all plugging away to take the journey from A to Z. I find it really uplifting and motivating. Often times I had the seeds of an idea for my post on the morning of the letter, which would germinate throughout my working day, ready to flower in the evenings when I wrote my posts. I tried starting writing my posts before April but it didn’t feel the same, without that participant energy. By choosing my theme for the Challenge, I felt my posts had to bear some of my personal experience and thoughts, in short, show my authentic self. As there are days when I am plagued by doubts about my own self development and I didn’t want to bury that. So the posts worked better in real time. That was a whole lot tougher than I anticipated, even having winged some of the Challenge posts last year.

This year’s Challenge was the toughest so far. For all of that, I now have a good body of self development posts to add to my portfolio and felt I reached out to more than a few bloggers who could identify with the issues I was discussing. In a lot of ways we are not so different from each other and knowing that we all have doubts and go through periods of questioning is comforting.

As always, I met some fantastic bloggers along the way this year and became reacquainted with other bloggers I met two years ago during my first Challenge. There is some incredibly creative talent out there not to mention passion and focus. The support I received from some of my fellow Challenge bloggers in retweeting and sharing content was incredible. I have also added valued members to my blogging community and I look forward to continuing to add to their communities also.

Thank you to all of you who read, liked, commented, shared and supported. It makes a real difference to the Challenge experience and enhances it beyond measure.

A final thank you to the Challenge co-hosts and all of the Challenge assistants. Another fantastic job by Arlee Bird and the whole team, with this year seeing the introduction of the #AtoZChat on Twitter – a great way to get to know Challenge participants ahead of time.

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The Z of Living Imperfectly: Will It Be A Zig or Will It Be A Zag? #atozchallenge

It is related of a certain king that on a particular occasion he turned his tea into his saucer, contrary to the etiquette of society, because two country ladies, whose hospitalities he was enjoying, did so. That king was a gentleman; and this anecdote serves to illustrate an important principle : namely, that true politeness and genuine good manners often not only permit, but absolutely demand, a violation of some of the arbitrary rules of etiquette. Bear this fact in mind – Martine’s Handbook to Etiquette and Guide to True Politeness, Arthur Martine, Dick & Fitzgerald Publishers, 1866.

Z Challenge LetterMy friend Z is finally here. This Challenge has really been a trip.

When I came up with the topic of living imperfectly, I thought I would write about some of the ways I have chosen  to live life my way despite societal expectations and pressure. Instead my Challenge posts became a journey about my attitude towards my own perfectionist tendencies and perfectionism in general. At times, these posts have been heavy going, but in some ways were clearly necessary for my own self development. Yet other times, the posts have felt light and easy and a whole lot of fun. And looking through the old etiquette books was a constant source of amusement. I thank Mr Martine, for his often entertaining exposition of how gentlemen and gentlewomen should conduct themselves in the late nineteenth century.

I felt like my zig-zag through the Challenge reflects my zig-zag through life.

Having taken this journey I now have some clarity around choices. Cause and effect is now more obvious and while we all have our own recipe for happiness, this Challenge has helped me find some of the main ingredients for mine. It has also helped me to know myself better.

The choice to zig or zag has therefore become clearer.

After this Challenge, my ZIG list would something look like this:

Authenticity

Dancing

Excellence

Flexibility

Heartening

Guiltless

Leading from the front

Non-judgmental

Not being held hostage to fears

Self-belief

Thinking Young

Travelling

 

My ZAG list would look like something this:

Always needing to be right

Expectations

Contaminated time

Constantly ignoring my needs

Judgement

Orthodoxy in behaviour

Perfectionism

Seeking Validation

Don't fear perfection

Now that I have these lists, I feel less confused and somewhat energized. It was a worthwhile, if not always easy, exercise.

Thanks to all of you who joined me for the Challenge, whether it was for one post or more, you have all contributed to this journey. To my fellow A to Zers, I have appreciated your creativity and look forward to continuing to build the alphabet with you one post at a time. Whether you’re still posting a “zed” post or a “zee” post, enjoy the last day!!

The Y of Living Imperfectly: Forever Young and Gen Y #atozchallenge

So many adventures couldn’t happen today
So many songs that we forgot to play
So many dreams swinging out of the blue
We let them come true

Forever young, I want to be forever young
Do you really want to live forever, forever, forever?
Forever young, I want to be forever young
Do you really want to live forever, forever, forever?

From Youth Group – Forever Young Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Y Challenge Letter The thought of living forever seems a double edge sword. As I age, the notion of quantity of life is giving way to quality of life. Of course, this is a personal choice for everyone, but to me, I want to make the days I have left count and to squeeze the most out of them.

I have written before on this blog about thinking old v thinking young and how at this age and stage, the difference between the two approaches becomes more striking. For our perceptions and choices at mid-life seem to have a large bearing on older ageing. At least that’s what it seems like to me . I really feel like I’m at a cross-road at this point, needing to decide whether to think young or think old.  Any decision or choices I make on the score will impact on how I set myself up for the second act.

Ha, I’m still talking as if I am not in the second. Possibly denial, but I would like to think of it more a long the lines of young thinking. For as long as I think young, I can stay in the first act. Thinking forever young works for me.

Being bit of an upside down, back to front person, I feel like I have moved beyond the stage of older thinking in my life. By older thinking I mean being driven to the totally practical because of perceived risks.  This sort of thinking came in my twenties and thirties at a time when everyone else around me was thinking young. Whilst I can’t deny that it served me relatively well, I can’t help but feel there was a price I paid for it, namely regret.

Which is why I have made the decision to age disgracefully imperfectly.

 Need to be careful not to sound like this

Need to be careful not to sound like this

I had a great discussion this morning with my eldest about following your heart and having the confidence to do so. At the age of 19 these are weighty issues to consider, mostly because at that age the heart may not be giving you consistent signals if it is giving you any at all. And as a parent discussions like these are a real tightrope walk, because the practical always threatens to intrude along with the notion of what we would do in a similar situation. The natural instinct of a parent is to prevent pain and suffering for their child, but if we don’t let them have these experiences how are they to learn? Vicariously through others? A lot of adults live their life that way, but to me that’s even more risky because learning through the mistakes of others tends to lead to living through others. I’d rather have my boots on leading the way. And it’s not what I want for my children. However it is their choice.

So it’s why I now find myself in a postgraduate media class at university filled with a bunch of Gen Ys. The experience has been interesting and for the most part I enjoy it. There are a lot of bright young things out there and I believe the world’s future is in good hands if these kids can ever get on the job experience. The necessitymature age student meme of graduate qualifications to getting a job in today’s competitive world has been rammed home to me. Most of the “kids” in my class have started their postgrad education immediately after finishing their bachelor degrees, some with a total change in discipline. They compete for intern positions to build their CVs and with the hope of landing a full-time job, eventually by the time they are in their mid twenties.

This is very different to my undergrad days when postgrad degrees were a sign of “going the extra mile” for advancement. They were therefore regarded as optional until a career move made it essential. Because of my love of learning I actually had only one year from when I finished by bachelor degree and started my postgrad degree. But that was highly unusual and well, I’m weird like that.

So following your heart and making it in this world as a young Gen Y is not easy. Following your heart at any age is not easy, but I think it’s essential to thinking forever young.

The X of Living Imperfectly: Yes Virginia There is a Xanadu

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree :
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round :
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree ;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery. – Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

X Challenge Letter Most folks when first hearing about the A to Z Challenge reach for their dictionaries minding their Qs and Zs. But it’s this little letter X that’s the real toughy. I think if I blogged for long enough I would run out of X words to write about and would simply have to mark the spot. This year the Challenge road has led me to Xanadu.

If you’re my vintage, when you hear the word Xanadu you probably think of a roller skating rink, flowing blond hair, wind machines and disco music and Olivia Newton John. If you’re too young to know what I’m talking about check out this midriff covered video:

Now that I’ve shot the beauty and gravitas of Coleridge’s words to pieces by using the words “Coleridge” and “disco music” in the one post, I can ditch perfection and let you know that the first two lines of this poem are about my only take-aways from high school poetry. Although as I remember it Kubla Khan had an erection where his pleasure dome was concerned rather than a decree. Kubla Khan erecting a pleasure dome seems far more tangible than a decree. Maybe we learned the Australian version of the poem, or maybe Mr Khan’s dome actually got lost in a whole lot of red tape at the rezoning stage and never made it beyond a decree.

As a parent I certainly know that just because you decree something, it certainly doesn’t make it so.

But I digress. Back to the topic at hand of Xanadu.

So, if you had to design a Xanadu, what would it look like? What would your idealized place of magnificence and beauty look like?

Image courtesy of freedgitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of freedgitalphotos.net

 

This has a lot of potential. Serenity, shade, water and a wrap around balcony would almost be ideal. Perhaps white sand and blue water is more your style or rainforest and running water.

The fact is we can surround ourselves with magnificence and beauty but we will never reach Xanadu with just tangibles. Because magnificence and beauty ultimately require acceptance, gratitude and a willingness to look beyond the outwardly magnificent and the beautiful. You could live in the most beautiful paradise but if you are not grateful or at peace it could still be the worst nightmare. In short, Xanadu comes from inside, it is where we are settled, it is where we can truly be ourselves.

Xanadu can therefore be several different places in our lifetime or at any one time, because each place may bring out a different facet of our personality. One day you might be contemplative and seek serenity, the next you might be playful and seek colour and sound.

A little bit of idealism is not a bad thing. It’s a pity as adults we tend to limit our idealism to the point where our imagination is used to create barriers or make assumptions and therefore as a weapon. Instead we should be creating our own Xanadu, that little piece of paradise in our otherwise cluttered days.

Here some more mouth watering pics of ideal locations to get you started thinking about your Xanadu:

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

 

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The W of Living Imperfectly: When Wanderlust Refuses to Wane #atozchallenge

As a general rule, travellers are selfish. They pay little attention either to the comforts or distresses of their fellow travellers ; and the commonest observances of politeness are often sadly neglected by them. In the scramble for tickets, for seats, for state-rooms, or for places at a public table, the courtesies of life seem to be trampled under foot. Even the ladies are sometimes rudely treated and shamefully neglected in the headlong rush for desirable seats in the railway cars.

Making acquaintances in the cars, although correct enough, is a measure of which travellers generally appear to be very shy. There is no reason for this, as acquaintances thus picked up need never be recognized again unless you please. If a stranger speaks to you, always answer him politely, and if his conversation proves disagreeable, you have no alternative but to change your seat – Martine’s Handbook to Etiquette and Guide to True Politeness, Arthur Martine, Dick & Fitzgerald Publishers, 1866.

W Challenge LetterI’ve written posts before about how much I love to travel. The wanderlust I acquired through my parents has refused to wane even through marriage to a perfectly content homebody and parenthood. But the spirit and the soul cannot be denied forever and this is the year I plan to feed both through travel.

From my very first trip overseas at the age of five when I got stuck in a Parisian bathtub that could hold the volume of Sydney Harbour together with its average boat traffic to my honeymoon in Thailand when I found out that drinking milk in a hot country on a public bus was not a good idea and what being married really means, I have loved all of my trips.

Travelling with young children or travelling when a parent of young children is never easy. When the boys were young, the only real travel we did was when work required it. Back in those days the Italian Stallion did most of the work travel, leaving me at home to cope with a demanding career and parenting duties. As the boys grew older we ventured out with them as far afield as New Zealand and Noumea. There was also a trip to America just after no.1 turned two. We have since tackled Europe and America as a family.

Travelling parents tend to be an emotive and polarizing subject. The debate about whether parents should take vacations or travel without their yearn for adventurechildren seems to elicit much debate with strong views on either side. In researching the Web for this post, I was amazed to find the number of blogs that have been written to justify a blogger’s stance on why leaving children behind to travel is right for them. Whatever the case, travel like sleeping arrangements for children is a personal issue for each family and they should do what is right for them.

It is only recently that I have given in to my wanderlust and have starting roaming without my family. I would love to have them come with me, but now the boys are at a stage where they tend to have their own lives and what do you do when your husband prefers to stay close to home? To be fair to the Italian Stallion, I can coax him overseas every so often, but it would never be his first choice of activity just as cooking wouldn’t be mine. It’s a good thing for the Italian Stallion that cooking has to occur every day and that travel is an occasional thing. But I figure after a couple of thousand meals, an overseas family vacation is a fair trade.

There are arguments both ways as to whether being a parent means you should take your kids with you every time you travel. I have done both and will do both this year. People are generally inclined to cut you some slack as a parent if you are going away with your husband for a special occasion, say a wedding anniversary. We did just that not so long ago and it was wonderful and the kids had a good time back home by being coddled by their grandmothers.

But mention going away without kids, without spouse and for pleasure, you tend to get utter disbelief and a whole lot of judgement.

Whether it’s disbelief in daring to travel solo as a mature women or having the temerity to leave your family to fend for themselves whilst you actually do something for yourself, I’m not so sure. But why does this notion push people’s fear buttons so?

Good travellerI don’t really have an answer because none of this scares me. I have more confidence and a higher sense of adventure than I have ever had before so none of this makes any real sense to me. I also have utter confidence in the survival skills of my family, after all isn’t it a mother’s job to raise humans who can think for themselves and be independent?

Two weeks of me being away will do wonders for us all. My boundaries will get the stretching they so clearly are screaming out for, my family will discover a whole new temporary dynamic and the heart in all of us will grow fonder of each other.

If living live perfectly means burying my wanderlust in my middle age then I want no part of it. Instead, it’s time to be energized by adventure. And if that amounts to being selfish, then so be it.

With this post I have pressed that publish button 200 times. Hitting this milestone during the A to Z Challenge can only be described as imperfectly perfect.

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The V of Living Imperfectly: Venturing Out Without Social Validation #atozchallenge

inside you

 

V Challenge Letter Validation is the monster in the closet, lying in wait to pounce on authenticity. And never more so than in this world of social media where self worth seems to be measured in the number of likes and followers and the quest for validation can now be taken to the world with a click of a few buttons. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of the benefits of social media and think it has permanently changed the way we keep in touch with those who don’t live in close proximity.

But like any tool, it needs to be used with boundaries. I learned this the hard way when I literally woke up on day with the notion that the daily posting of my Facebook status update started to feel like a competition. Up until then it was a fun thing to do. I am not sure what exactly brought on this realisation but I am sure that the posting of an update which elicited no likes or comments felt like a party no-one wanted to come to had something to do with it. Warning bells starting going off and it no longer felt right.

I think it stems from my days as a young parent when most of my peers were childless and were having the social times of their lives like most 30 year olds and I went home to routine and exhaustion. Then there was always the Monday morning dread about being asked what I did on the weekend and the only way to answer was to respond with a weak “well, not much, but I managed to survive on 4 hours sleep a night”. Crazy, but I have always felt pressure about that question as if my answer was not exciting enough the person I was talking to would lose interest or I could not fill the void that I felt was behind the question.

Then there was the fact that when talking in a group, I always felt the need to fight for air time. That feeling of having toseeking approval muscle into the conversation and dominate it enough so that people felt you were serious about making a point was always there. My friends used to often joke ‘hang on, everybody it’s Judy’s turn.” A well-meaning jest, with a slightly cruel edge.

It must be that I have carried these thoughts into adulthood because even now I prefer having a one on one or one on two conversation.  What’s slightly weird though is I have never really freaked out about presenting to a group. Happy to talk until the cows come home and present, probably because I don’t have to fight for attention and I’m confident with my stuff.

Whilst Facebook seemed like the perfect early vehicle for me with friends generally being attuned to what I was putting out there, I’ve had to step back from it a whole lot. When the likes and comments became the driver then things started to feel out of balance. Rationally, I know that likes and comments have NOTHING to do with self-worth and like a person missing you passing them in the corridor there are a whole lot of factors which go into someone not throwing a like or a comment your way which have NOTHING to do with you or the material.

facebook insecurityI still use Facebook as a way of keeping in touch, but now I post a lot less often and use it differently. It is not so much a mirror to my life but an entertainment portal. I know there is a big difference between liking my material and liking me.

And I’ll admit to some embarrassment over my nutty thinking. As a result, this has not been an easy post to write. But it seems that once I got started about validation, this material just begged for release and it’s me in a post.

I’m grateful for these Facebook lessons because they have helped me immensely to deal with the world of blogging. I would never have gotten past the first 5 posts had it not been for that change in mindset and no longer having to seek validation or approval for my work.

I blog because it’s a fun and creative thing to do and it’s a great vehicle for learning about publishing on the Internet.

As for my weekend, it’s going to be a corker, for my next post will be my 200th.

Have you grappled with these same issues through your use of social media?

The U of Living Imperfectly: Unorthodoxy In Conservatism #atozchallenge

The true aim of politeness, is to make those with whom you associate as well satisfied with themselves as possible. It does not, by any means, encourage an impudent self-importance in them, but it does whatever it can to accommodate their feelings and wishes in social intercourse. Politeness is a sort of social benevolence, which avoids wounding the pride, or shocking the prejudices of those around you. Martine’s Handbook to Etiquette and Guide to True Politeness, Arthur Martine, Dick & Fitzgerald Publishers, 1866.

U Challenge LetterI tend to always mark the progress of the Challenge through the passing of the vowels and here it is, the last one. As they often say, and then there was U.

There is a fair bit of discussion going on in Australia at the moment about the re-introduction of a late night variety show. We do not have a locally produced version at the moment and have not had one for a while, so the TV executives must be thinking the time is now ripe. For my American friends, we do get your late night versions – Late Show with David Letterman and The Tonight Show, but clearly the populace is crying out for some home grown talent.

There is much speculation as to who the host might be. One former late night host interviewed today confirmed that being a late night host was not an easy gig and that the show’s success or failure depended on choosing the right front man. No number of international celebrities could account for the lack of a fun host and according to Mr Former this meant that the host had to be quirky but conventional.

So that got me to thinking whether this was possible. Because my initial thought was that quirky is the opposite to conventional.

But then I reminded myself that I always thought of myself as conservative but unorthodox which is seems to be equally as anomalous. The way I see it, I’m conservative in the big things like security, job, finances etc. but when it comes to the detail within those frames I tend to carry them out unconventionally.  I’m not ashamed to admit there is a bit of maverick in the old Curtain Raiser because it simply wouldn’t do to be so boring as to be totally predictable or without a sense of humour.

My kids would probably argue about the latter, but it’s nice to see them developing their wit with a few chips from the old block.

Of course one does not wish to wound the pride nor shock the prejudices of those around one, but strongly held notions should occasionally be challenged and rattled. I certainly appreciate it when someone gets me thinking and challenging conventions. It’s called an open mind.

There some great U words which describe all of us who are brave enough do our own thing at times. Here’s a celebration to all of us for being:

unique

  unconventional

     unorthodoxcool duck

       unparalleled

unmitigated

uninhibited

unfettered

undaunted

For we are the ones who share a glimpse of our authenticity with the world.