Blue-sky thinking: why summer is my time to take stock
Life is busy, right? Whatever our family circumstances are, our day-to-day lives are jam-packed with jobs, kids, home, admin, activities and maybe, if we're really lucky, a little bit of fun (I said maybe). Ask any parent how they are doing and there will be a brief pause and a brave (or slightly broken), "Yep, busy."
But summertime brings more chances to lift our heads from the daily grind of alarm, uniforms, lunches, school, office, shop, cook, homework, clubs, sleep. That never-ending treadmill that we are all so busy - and exhausted - running faster and faster on.
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It's a combination of the long evenings, the slightly less crazy mornings, the sunshine and maybe even a family holiday that allows us to pause, reflect and think about what's really important to us. We might even stop to consider where we are going with this frantic life of ours.
This year, I was lucky enough to spend a week on a remote island in Croatia doing nothing more than gazing out at the clear blue sea for many, many hours each day. I had brought books, magazines, notebooks and a strong sense of purpose with me and I spent much of that time deep in thought. I wanted to take this opportunity to see the bigger picture. Where was my life headed and was there anything I should be trying to fix?
I came back with a notebook full of scrawled intentions. I questioned what sort of mother I was, what I wanted to do in my career, whether I was staying true to my values, what I wanted to achieve in the next five years, what I wanted to be remembered for.
And yes, I realise that sounds a bit 'out-there' for a week away in the sun, but really - do we want to sleepwalk through the rest of our days only to wake up and realise that life has passed us by without our even noticing? When else will we get a chance to really think about the big stuff, the important things, the issues that will matter on our death beds?
In her beautiful and thought-provoking article "Top five regrets of the dying", palliative nurse Bronnie Ware writes about the many conversations she had with her patients. When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again.
"I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me." This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.
It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom many of us don't realise, until we no longer have it.
It seems at odds to think about death in summer, but perhaps not our dreams. Summer allows us the chance to make a difference to our hectic lives. It gives us the opportunity to take our foot off the gas a little so we have time and space to think. It allows us to spend quality time with our families - to reconnect with each other and remember that, actually, we all quite like each other, really. We're just too busy and tired and stressed to show it most of the time. Summer allows us what Bronnie's patients would have loved: the chance to take stock each year and remember what our dreams are.
My new intention for summer is to give myself some daily homework. One hour a day to spend on the big picture stuff that sits waiting for me in my notebook. Some of it is wonderful - building memories with the children with late-night summer swims or camping in forests. Some is inspiring self-development - taking courses and listening to well-chosen podcasts. And some is mind-numbingly boring - booking meetings with a pension adviser and running calculations on mortgage rates.
But each one will mean that hopefully, in five years' time, I will be so much further along on the big things, the really important things, because I paused during those summer months and, mindfully, looked up from my treadmill. You could do the same - the view is actually pretty nice when you do.