JUST DO IT

now

Life is fleeting. Single moments swiftly evolve into entire days. Days then become weeks, and weeks become years. Before you know it, your time on Earth is up.

I lost someone close to me last month. Michael was a bright and infectious spirit who will remain etched in my memory forever. It can be hard to escape the shroud of grief, but I take comfort in the following words.

 ‘When I find myself filling with rage over the loss of a beloved, I try to remember that my concerns and questions should be focused on what I learned from my departed love. What legacy was left which can help me in the art of living a good life?’ (Maya Angelou)

Michael was a doer. He seized each day with zestful enthusiasm, pursuing his aspirations with vigour. His memorial service paid tribute to this, as the endless list of his extraordinary accomplishments and unforgettable stories was shared.

As I listened to the colourful account of Michael’s life, I felt a glowing sense of pride at having known a character with such joie de vivre. He packed so much in to his time on Earth, and he did it all with a smile on his face and a spring in his step.

His legacy? Make the most of every day. There is no time to lose.

How do you want to be remembered?

Imagine that you were to die. Today. A bleak thought, I know, but just consider it for a moment.

How would you be remembered? What would your legacy be? And most importantly, would you be proud of it?

Around ten years ago, British management consultant Roz Savage wrote her own obituary, twice. The first time around, she wrote the obituary as if she were to die that day. The second time around, she wrote the obituary that she actually wanted.

Not long after this, Roz quit her high-powered job in the city, and rowed solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She now holds four world records for ocean rowing, and was named National Geographic’s ‘Adventurer of the Year’ in 2010.

Admittedly, Roz’s story is quite an extreme example. Spending over 500 days alone in a raging ocean encircled by marine beasts may not be everybody’s idea of embracing life.

But the question is a legitimate one. How do you want to be remembered?

Are you fulfilling your potential? Are you making the most of each day? Are you creating the legacy you wish to leave?

It is a familiar scenario. Every one of us has big aspirations. And sure, we will reach them someday. Just not right now.

You see, right now we do not have the financial means. Neither do we have the experience. And we most certainly do not have the time.

We’ve all been there. I most certainly have. Setting ourselves an infinite list of criteria that must be met before we can possibly begin doing what we really want to do.

Yet as I sat in that chapel, listening to the story of Michael’s life, I made a promise to myself. From now on, I would live by his philosophy. No more waiting for the ‘ideal’ conditions. No more surrendering to fear or doubt.

Make the most of every day. There is no time to lose.

‘Whatever you dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now’. (Goethe)

Jo Walker

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The Lessons of Little Ones

There are some conversations in life that stick with you. They may be poignant. They may be painful. For whatever reason, certain conversations linger in our minds long after they have passed.

I had one such conversation a few years ago, with a three year old.

Quinn and I were sitting together at the kitchen table, creating a multi-coloured octopus. She was totally immersed in her artwork, elbow deep in a mass of paint, glitter, glue and felt tip pens, while I dutifully ensured all lids were replaced after use.

With each squirt of paint, Quinn giggled gleefully, smearing colour across the page with carefree enthusiasm. The octopus was barely recognisable yet, to her, it was perfect. She glowed with pride.

The delight that Quinn took in her colourful creation captivated me, and I suddenly felt compelled to ask her a question.

‘Quinn, what has been the best day of your life so far?’ I asked, anticipating a puzzled reaction.

She paused, before turning to look at me thoughtfully. A broad grin spread across her paint-speckled face.

‘Today!’ she proclaimed. ‘Today is the best day of my life!’

‘Wow,’ I responded, genuinely moved by her response. ‘And what has been the best moment of today?’

With a handful of glitter, Quinn smiled at me, before sending a flurry of sparkles across the page.

‘Right now,’ she said.

And that was it. Quinn returned to give her octopus a final splodge of paint for good measure while I sat back, our short conversation resounding in my mind.

Absorb the wisdom of children

‘A child can teach an adult three things: to be happy for no reason, to always be busy with something, and to know how to demand with all his might that which he desires’. (Paul Coelho)

Anyone who has spent time with a child will know that they are powerful little creatures. With a single word (‘No’, ‘Why’ and ‘Now’ being the main culprits) they are capable of inciting quite dramatic responses from us adults.

They infuriate us with their endless string of questions. They confront us with their persistent demands. They test our patience with every ounce of their tiny might.

Yet somehow, just by being themselves, they make this world a brighter place to be. They see things we miss. They express things we hide. They combat things we fear.

So what can we learn from our children?

Be present. Make the most of now. It is all that really exists.

Express yourself. Be it joy, sorrow, or anything in between; let it out.

Use your imagination. Free yourself from the grip of inhibition and release your creativity.

Laugh every day. Have fun. Play, be silly and see the comedy in life.

Have courage. Do not fear failure. Believe in yourself and give things a go.

Some may say that Quinn’s response to my earlier question was down to the limited awareness of her young brain. They may say that, at three, she is still lacking in both foresight and hindsight and is therefore only able to conceive of the present moment. Whether supreme wisdom or childish naivety, all I know is that the conviction of this three year old inspired me.

As adults, we may have had a few extra decades of life on this Earth, but this does not mean we have nothing to learn from those who have only recently arrived.

Have a chat with a child sometime. Trust me, they know their stuff.

‘While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.’ (Angela Schwindt)

Jo Walker

Extraordinarily Ordinary

A friend once told me about a psychologist who had created  an experience that was believed to have transformative effects on the adult mind.

The idea was simple. It consisted of taking a group for a walk in a local park. Nothing particularly ground breaking there. However, what made this walk different was the approach that the walkers must take. The psychologist instructed all those involved to try to experience the walk as if they were a child.

Naturally, this seemed an odd request. How does one experience a walk as a child, and for what purpose?

Was the psychologist intending for his walkers to dawdle along, picking up unsavoury objects from the floor and putting them into their mouths?

Was he prepared for all further instructions to be ignored as, upon entering the park, his group scattered in six different directions, squealing?

Was he even willing to risk the eventuality that one or more of his walkers may wet themselves en route?

In reality, of course, the psychologist had no such intention. He did not want his walkers to revert to childhood in what would undoubtedly have been a comical yet equally disturbing scene. His real aim was far simpler.

His real aim was to create an opportunity to marvel at the ordinary.

The walkers were encouraged to see everyday things as if for the first time. They were asked to immerse themselves completely in their surroundings, paying attention to all they passed and observing the most commonplace objects with fresh eyes.

From the crumbling bark of the trees they passed, to the flapping ducks in frantic pursuit of bread on the pond side, walkers were encouraged to look at everything with renewed curiosity and delight. Releasing themselves from the fierce grip of inhibition, they were encouraged to rediscover the intrinsic sense of wonder that, as children, we express with such ease.

And after a while, they did. By paying that little bit more attention to their surroundings and by taking the time to wonder why, the group saw things they had seen countless times in an entirely new way. They found joy in the ordinary.

Open your eyes

‘The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself’. (Henry Miller)

In our hectic lives it can be hard to pause for breath at times, let alone stop to appreciate a blade of grass.

But, if you can, take a moment to look at something you see every day. Try to see it differently. Notice something about it you haven’t before. Appreciate it for what it does.

You don’t need to be in a park to do this. You can be anywhere. When you are boarding the train to work, pause to consider how much time, effort and intricate detail has gone into creating this colossal locomotive. When you are washing your hands at home, pause to remind yourself how incredible it is that that we have running water on demand. And if you really have time on your hands, get down and look at that blade of grass. You won’t regret it.

There are everyday miracles all around us. All we have to do is see them.

‘The real miracle is not to walk on water or thin air, but to walk on Earth. Every day we are engaged in miracles which we don’t even recognise; a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child, our own two eyes. All is a miracle’. (Thich Nhat Hanh)

Jo Walker

International Pillow Fight Day & Other Stories

International Pillow Fight Day is coming.

Amidst an Easter weekend of chocolate indulgence and family get-togethers, a select few (thousand) people around the world will be shrouded in a blizzard of feathers and fluff as they pummel one another with pillows.

All in the name of fun, of course.

Part of the ‘Urban Playground Movement’, the seventh anniversary of this joyful event will be celebrated in Budapest, Buenos Aires, London, Madrid, New York, Vienna, Warsaw and dozens of other major cities across the globe.

And I cannot wait to be part of it. If you can find the time, I would urge you to get involved too. Be part of the mischief, and whack someone with a pillow.

Do something different

‘A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old ways’. (Oliver W. Holmes)

Try new things.

Yes, I know. What a glaringly clichéd and hugely overused piece of advice. But it is not without rhyme or reason. Getting out of your comfort zone and doing something different can be an invigorating experience.

There is so much happening on this Earth; in each country, in each city, in each town and in each village. So much none of us have ever even heard of, let alone considered participating in.

So, challenge yourself to look beyond your daily activities and see what else is out there. Do something you never thought you would. Go somewhere you never thought you would go. After all, what is the worst that could happen?

This year I will be making my debut at the World Bog-Snorkelling Championship in Wales. I will also be making an appearance at the World Toe Wrestling Competition in Derbyshire. Two wonderfully ridiculous events that, until recently, I never knew existed. Thank goodness I do now.

You know when somebody buys you a gift you would never have picked for yourself? Yet it ends up being one of your most prized possessions? Trying something new could have a similar result. You might surprise yourself. You might even discover a world champion in you that you never knew existed.

Of course, it could go the other way. The new experience you have may be one you never, ever want to repeat. But in that (unlikely) case, what are you left with? A bloody good story.

And who doesn’t love a good story?

Jo Walker

A World of Possibility

We live in a world of possibility.  Each day is full of choices, every moment rich with opportunity. All we have to do is embrace it.

A lady on the news last week celebrated her one hundredth birthday plummeting to Earth at the staggering speed of 125 miles per hour. Georgina Harwood had never quite believed she would live to see such an age but, when she did, she did so in style. Her avid sense of adventure led her to make international news after completing an exhilarating skydive to mark the momentous occasion.

She plans to cage dive with Great White sharks next.

Now this is somebody who understands what it means to embrace possibility. To let your imagination run wild. To live in pursuit of your dreams, regardless of the obstacles you may be faced with.

Imagine living like Georgina. Granted, we may not all be the adrenaline junkies that this centenarian is. But suppose we lived with her attitude; an attitude that says ‘I can, and I will’. She is a refreshing reminder that even the most extraordinary ideas can become reality.

I am not saying that you have to throw yourself 12,000 feet out of an aeroplane to embrace possibility. Everybody’s aspirations are different. You simply have to believe in the potential of yours. So, what are they?

Create a List of Possibilities

About five years ago I was introduced to this simple exercise, and it transformed the way I see the world. I think it is a great starting point for everyone, and is something that can be done time and time again.

Here’s what you do:

– Get yourself some paper, a pen and a timer.

– Find a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted.

– Set the timer to ten minutes.

– As soon as the timer starts, put your pen to paper and start writing. List everything and anything that you would like to do in your life. Let your imagination run wild. Write down whatever comes to mind. It doesn’t matter if you believe it possible or not. Be outrageous. Be ordinary. Most importantly, be YOU.

Do not stop writing until your ten minutes is up.

Take a look at your list. I imagine you will have written a great deal of things that you have always dreamt of doing. No surprise there. However I expect there may also be a number of things that have never before crossed your mind. There may even be one or two things you don’t have any desire to do whatsoever. Ten minutes is a long time, after all.

It is important to note that this is not about creating a Bucket List. Sure, some of the ideas that emerge may end up on your Bucket List, if you have one. But what is most central to this exercise is not the final product, but the process itself.

Hug a hippo, eat an entire raw onion and design my own line of highchairs have all featured on previous lists of mine. As I’m sure you can guess, I have not done any of these things. Nor do I particularly want to. Learn a second language, live in the jungle and start a blog have also featured on previous lists. These, I have now done. And I couldn’t be happier about it.

It doesn’t matter what you write on your list. What matters is that you have allowed yourself to think big. You have thrown caution to the wind, embraced possibility (if only for ten minutes) and had the courage to think about what could be.

Take the first step

“Who you are tomorrow begins with what you do today”. (Tim Fargo)

While there is a lot in this life that is beyond our control, there is a hell of a lot more that is within it.

Start by picking just one item from your list. I am sure there will be at least a handful that genuinely excite you. Choose one of those. Now do one thing, today, that will take you a step closer to making that possibility a reality. No matter how seemingly insignificant your first action may be, just get on and do it.

There is no guarantee that you will succeed. There is no guarantee that you will wake up tomorrow morning either. Yet we live as if we will. We live as if we have all the time in the world. It is wholly possible that, like Georgina, we will live a long life on this Earth. It is also possible that we won’t.

Regardless of how long we have, if we embrace the world of possibility within which we live, there is no doubt our lives will be better for it. Let’s make the most of it. Let’s live with a little oomph.

Jo Walker