“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” – George Bernard Shaw

There’s a lot that I’ve changed my mind on recently.

I know this post will grow over time.

I’m not talking about regrets – of which I have plenty. And while we’re on the subject, I do think that the “no regrets/my life is perfect/I wouldn’t change anything” philosophy is overrated. Dwelling on regrets makes no sense, but acknowledging where you may have gone wrong, or would have done things differently can be useful. It can stop you repeating the same mistakes, and help others avoid the same mishaps.

There are certain opinions I have that are so strong they will never change

Let’s start with that one shall we…

I’m not wrong about everything 

I never used to think I was right about everything but I never thought that I could potentially be wrong about everything.

I was wrong.

It’s also hard to know or see what is real. Everyone of us has preconceptions – our own models of the world, which distort what we perceive.

Women who can’t leave their children without having a nervous breakdown need to get a grip 

I used to think that women who got upset when leaving their babies to meet their friends for coffee needed to get over themselves. The baby was safe, healthy, and being looked after by their husband. The child could surely survive 60 minutes of physical separation from its mother.  Plus, it can’t be that emotionally healthy for the mother to be that attached to her child, right?

I then looked after a kitten. A baby cat called Treacle… for two weeks.

I don’t even like cats that much.

But, when I left this fluffy animal, after 14 days – I was a COMPLETE mess.

I dread to think what I’d be like if I had to look after a tiny helpless human being that I’d carried for 9 months in my own body, to which I’d given birth, breast fed, nurtured, and looked after for 24 hours, every day for 6 months.

Couples who are constantly calling/messaging each other need to get a life

I thought that couples who called each other multiple times a day and said I love you after every interaction must have issues.

Why would you feel compelled to talk so much to someone you lived with? And why did you have to tell them you loved them all the time? Surely that just devalues the whole sentence. Plus you must be really needy and pathetic to not be able to get through the day without talking to a certain person. (Romance is not my forte…).

I’m not sure what happened, but after ten years of being with Andrew, we now interact with each other a lot more than we have ever have done before, and we do say I love you far too often…

(“Hi babe can you buy some yogurt? We are out of yogurt.”

“Sure babe.”

“Thank you. See you later. I love you”

“See you. Bye. I love you”

Two minutes later….

“Hi babe, we are also out of milk. Can you get some milk?”

“Sure babe. I’ll get some milk.”

“Okay. Bye. I love you.”

“Bye. I love you”…

I know. It’s embarrassing.)

I’m not sure how or why this started, and I do feel like a 15 year old sometimes. But, I guess you never know whether those will be your last words or not.

Living a full life is more important than a long life

There’s a lot of literature on living fast. How it’s the life in your years, not the years of your life that counts.

I used to be a huge proponent of this. Not that I have any idea of what a “full life” means. I used to think it was experiencing as much as possible (see here, and here). Now, I don’t know.

If you asked people who have been given notice that they’re going to die, (especially if they are relatively young and scheduled to die a slow and painful death, via AIDS or cancer for example), whether they would rather have x y z experience, or have another ten years of mundane normality with people they love – most would take the extra time.

In practice, humans tend to be poor predictors of what will make them happy. Many who achieve what they always dreamed of end up disappointed. A lot of lawyers feel this way.

I think you’ve got to love the process, the day to day journey of striving towards something, and feeling that you are growing as a person. Working and feeling like you’re doing something of value with people you enjoy interacting with.

Ask most people at the end of their lives what’s most important and they will invariably say relationships. Granted, the data is skewed, as you’re asking people who need support in frightening conditions “what is the most important thing they need”, and they will say to feel loved and not alone and to feel like they matter etc. Still, as the longest study on happiness indicates – having a high number of high quality relationships correlates with feeling like you have a good life.

If you had amazing relationships, would you lament not visiting Antarctica? Maybe you would if you didn’t have many good friends? Maybe not? Which would you choose – cruising on a liner in the middle of nowhere with strangers for ten days to see penguins and ice, or spending time connecting, and hanging out with people you care about? The latter is likely to be more fun, fulfilling, and important than ticking off any items on your bucket list.

Or maybe not. It’s easy to pontificate about life when you’re alive and healthy – that you’d rather have an exciting and fun filled life versus one of monotony. Hypothetical conversations, such as “which would you rather – dementia and an otherwise healthy body; or, a clear mind and no control over your body?”, (we were discussing this with friends recently…), are pretty ridiculous. You can only be sure that whichever one you experience, you can bet that you will be wishing that you’d taken the other option. The grass is always greener.

A simple life is a wasted life

I used to be pretty derisory of my unadventurous grandparents. They weren’t bothered about travelling or seeing the world. They never ate out or ventured far. They weren’t at all materialistic and generally satisfied with living a quiet life – one that I couldn’t understand and was sure would have sent me crazy with the lack of stimulation.

I watched Dunkirk the other day.

 

(I had high expectations, it’s well shot but not one of the best films I’ve seen).

Both my grandfathers fought in WWII – one saw his best mate get blown to pieces on the beaches, the other helped liberate a concentration camp, (I was told). The film got me thinking – how after living through a world war, you would be satisfied with anything. Facing death and seeing tragedy and destruction on that level, I can see why you would be grateful to just be alive and healthy, and would be content with little.

Rules are meant to be followed 

I’ve become a lot more cantankerous as I get older. I never liked rules that made no sense. Now they drive me crazy.

If you’re working with someone it’s your moral responsibility and duty to give 110%

It’s easy to prioritise work over relationships. Despite preaching against it – I still struggle with this. I really shouldn’t.

It used to drive me insane when team members would disappear early leaving the rest of us working until 3am+. In hindsight these guys knew what they were doing. They didn’t care about the job, (why should they – it wasn’t important), and they had lives outside of work.

I used to think that letting people down was sacrilegious. Now I know the importance of looking after yourself. No one else is going to do it for you, and life is too short to spend it trying to please other people. (I also doubt whether, even for people who do important work (like doctors), if you’re told that you only have a few months left to live, would any type of work matter, or seem that important?).

A surgeon I met got into trouble recently. One of his trainees left theatre mid-list as soon as the clock hit 5pm – which was contractually when the trainee was free to leave.

The surgeon was shocked and tweeted his disdain. The tweet gained a lot of attention and the trainee was identified. This surgeon is a good man. It wasn’t his intention that the dude would be identified.

What was interesting was the comments that followed. Some argued that the trainee was within his rights – why should the trainee stay if he wasn’t getting paid. It was the surgeon’s job to manage the list so that they could finish on time – it wasn’t the trainee’s problem.

Maybe the trainee had an important commitment, an event he had to go to, a flight to catch, or children to collect from nursery. (Although the surgeon insisted that the trainee was going to the pub…).

People started arguing about whether leaving to collect children from nursery was acceptable, while leaving to spend time in other ways was not.  Was the time of people who chose not to have children less precious?

Older doctors started going on about how the youth of today have no work ethic and don’t know how lucky they are with working hour regulations. (Old doctors – you also don’t know how lucky you were having free university education, grants to live on, and affordable housing…).

Ten years ago I would have undoubtedly called the trainee a prick for letting down his team and being so selfish.

When I read the thread recently though, I could see why the surgeon was pissed, but felt myself leaning towards the trainee. If the trainee wanted to leave, he was in his rights to do so, especially if he wasn’t technically putting anyone’s life at risk. (I have no idea how many other team members there were or what duties the trainee had).  Sure the trainee may be letting the team down, but he would be aware, I assume, of the negative affect the move would have on his reputation, and that was his prerogative.

We also don’t know what was going on in the trainee’s life, or whether he had cleared leaving with someone else beforehand. The trainee may have already worked 80 hours that week, or be rushing to the pub, or to see a sick relative, or be feeling ill himself and unfit to continue in which case he was being responsible.

Having said all that – I did find myself in hospital a few weeks later faced with a grumpy junior doctor, (we had waited 6 hours to see), who was complaining about how they should have finished work 45 minutes ago at 6pm, and didn’t have time to  help us by answering 1-2 questions. I was not impressed by them, (or their reaction to being called to attend to an emergency elsewhere). I know I should be more understanding (see above), but my instinctive reaction was – dude, when I was training, I worked 24 hour days, so you can take an extra 5 minutes to do your job properly. So, I can see where the surgeon was coming from…

Use contraception and it’s best to have children when you’re older

Many people argue that it’s not a good idea to have kids in your teens/early twenties. The older you are, the more likely it is that you will have some security, an established career allowing you more time with your children, giving them a better upbringing, and you may even appreciate having them more.

For most people it’s necessity – loaded with debt, and unable to buy property, people are getting married later and don’t feel comfortable having children until they are “settled”.

But witnessing the difficulties that almost everyone I know has experienced in trying to conceive, even in their late twenties, and the emotional toll and financial and physical stresses of IVF – if you want children, you should be trying as early as possible.
I also don’t know if most people ever really need to use contraception given how difficult it seems to get pregnant.

If you’re in a committed relationship and want children, don’t procrastinate. It doesn’t matter what situation you’re in, whether your work has a good maternity policy, or how it will affect your career, or other goals.

There are countless joys associated with having kids, even if it turns out to be the hardest thing you will ever do. Bringing up children is the most important thing you will probably ever do, and the easiest way to give your future meaning and direction for the rest of your life.

There appears to be a lot we don’t know about conception. It seems to be an imprecise science which we don’t fully understand. Two friends of mine were recently told that it was impossible for them to get pregnant even with IVF, when unbeknown to them, my friend was already pregnant! We can put man on the moon, yet we can’t necessarily make two people have their own children.

And, the longer you leave it, the higher the probability that it will never happen. Procrastinating is a hedge against unknown factors outside of your control. It’s playing Russian roulette with a crucial part of your future.

Sure, you can assess the risk by checking hormone and sperm levels, your ovarian reserve, or get your eggs frozen, but rarely does anyone do that. Having that information may not help you get pregnant either.

There will never be a perfect time to have children, and I’ve never met anyone, (other than people who had children when they were super young), who wish they had waited until they were older. On the contrary, most people wish they would have had children when they were younger, and regret waiting so long before trying.

Working from home is amazing

I used to think that this was what I wanted and what was best for me. Having now worked a lot from home, I know now, that’s not the case.

Granted, I am often more productive at home, and save a lot of time not having to commute. But, I also crave being around people and value the benefits of face to face interactions. I learn a lot whenever I’m in the office mostly from osmosis and serendipitous encounters.

For me, it’s more important to have the flexibility and freedom to get work done on my own schedule as opposed to fitting into random office hours and doing so in the location that makes the most sense. It’s also about creating an office environment where people want to work and having great colleagues that you want to see.

Being angry or complaining is bad

I generally try to be optimistic and I am a fan of positive psychology. I grew up in a fairly angry and aggressive environment and could be pretty volatile as a kid. (Incidentally, it turns out – according to 23andMe that I carry a gene that many violent criminals have. Which makes sense considering certain people in my family. Although, I assume that gene is turned off or badly expressed in me. Or, maybe it’s a ticking time bomb and I’m a psychopath waiting to crack – who knows…)

I don’t think I calmed down until I escaped, and gained a degree of control over my life. Meeting Andrew, one of the most peaceful men I’ve ever met, also helped.

After that, I didn’t get people who were angry and walked around making other people miserable – who did these people with emotional issues think they were? I also have a few friends who consider anger and sadness to be really bad emotions, to the extent that I would feel ashamed if I ever felt them.

We’re all human and it’s natural to feel anger when someone upsets or harms you. Raging, becoming bitter, aggressive, or violent, and dwelling on past hurt – not so much. But I think there is value in acknowledging when you feel angry, and trying to express or deal with it in a healthy way, as opposed to telling yourself that you’re not angry, which I don’t think is beneficial for anyone.

Money is not important

I’ve never been materialistic and still struggle with buying things for myself, (unless it’s related to camera or electronic equipment – I don’t know why).

I’ve always strived to earn as much money as possible, mainly to pay off student debts and to see the world. I rarely cared for anything material and always focused on experiences. Maybe I’m getting old, but I think there is something to be said about having nice things.

I was never taught anything about money and got into a lot of financial trouble when I was younger. It wasn’t until I recently read Money: Master the Game by Tony Robbins and a few other books, that I learnt anything about managing finances.

I always thought that all those benefits that came with a permanent job were overrated, and if I ever needed money, I would just find a way to earn it.

Trouble is, you really do need money. Ideally vast reserves of it, plus assets that you can leverage. You don’t know what will happen in the future, and it’s money that will look after the people you love, pay for healthcare if you’re sick, keep you from going homeless, and give you comfort and security if something goes wrong. Money can’t fix everything, but it gives you options that you may not have otherwise, can make your life a lot easier, reduces precious time being wasted, and takes away a lot of stress.

There is nothing more important than family

For a lot of people, family is a bunch of random individuals to which they find themselves accidentally related. I think this is why so many families are dysfunctional. Invariably, these randoms have wildly different values, opinions, personalities and interests. And these people – who may never choose to willingly interact with each other under any other circumstances, are thrown into situations where they feel obliged to try and socialise, and on top of that are expected to love each other… No pressure…

Of course this isn’t always the case. I know lots of people who are genuinely close to their families, (at least some members, if not all). They get on, care, support, and love each other and sometimes even have similar interests or values.

There’s a general expectation that family members will care about and love one another, purely because of blood ties. But, in reality, regardless of what people say, many don’t.  Just like you wouldn’t necessarily care or love someone that you were put into a project group with at work. Even someone you may have worked with for over a decade, and probably have spent more time with than any family member.

This has been one painful lesson for me this year. It’s a bit like when you’re friends with someone and you know deep down that you probably value them as a friend more than they do you, but you didn’t want to acknowledge that fact, and then something tough happens in your life, and you want some support, but your friend is like, “dude – I love you, but we is not like best friends or nothing”, and quietly walks away while you lie on the ground bleeding.

It’s never easy accepting that people you care about don’t feel the same way. I guess it’s dealing with rejection, and the realisation that a large investment of time and energy could have been better placed.

You can still enjoy the company of these people. Just don’ take it personally, accept the relationship and the person for what they are, and don’t have any expectations.