Designing a (Creative) Life Part I

I have been thinking about the way we plan (or don’t plan) our lives. Partly because life has changed for me recently, and I am in the process of reinventing aspects of it. As part of my process, I’ve been looking at LinkedIn profiles of people doing similar things to me, for inspiration. As I update and add more information into my own profile, I’ve been realising two things: 1. For the first 40 years of my life I didn’t seem to have much of a plan (but that turns out not to be exactly true); 2. I actually like what I’ve done and where I am.

When I say I didn’t plan, I mean I didn’t have a huge overall vision for my life – or anything coherent that I could grasp and run with (or maybe I had the vision, but not the means to make it a reality). For example, I went to university once I left school, because both my parents had been born in the 1930s and didn’t get the chance to have an education. They both left school at 14 years, and they were excited that I should have the opportunity to have the education they didn’t. But, I didn’t plan a degree or major to help me get a job – I drifted into it by choosing something that I loved: a Bachelor of Arts, happily splashing around exploring literature, history, and music. If you’d asked me at that time what I wanted to do with that degree, I probably would have shrugged and tried to change the subject (my secret answer would have been “Be a writer”, or maybe “Be a rockstar,” as I was writing songs, singing, and playing in garage bands at the time). But regardless of whether I had a clear plan or not, the vision in my head would definitely have included books, writing, reading, creativity and ideas.

So Where Am I Now?

A lifetime of libraries, books, reading, writing, jumping up and down with excitement over ideas, exploring creativity and creating, connecting, and joy. Looking back, I have still ended up doing the exact things I love. Part of me knew exactly what I wanted to do – I just made a lot of detours and had some stallings along the way.

So in this series of posts, I want to explore the idea of designing our lives, as well as the aspect of surrendering and allowing us to trust our path.

Wrestling vs Knowing

I discovered a new writer on Tim Ferris’ podcast. His name is Soman Chainani and he is a fascinating person, with plenty to say about meditation, tennis, writing, the difference between YA and middle grade books, acne, daily schedules, and how he became a writer after starting out as a film-maker. He said something very interesting about the Tao Te Ching. He said: “Essentially, there should not be any decisions. It should be automatic. If it’s not automatic, it’s because there’s something in the way. The thing in your way is the ‘I’, the ego, your self-consciousness.” And he goes on to say that we need to let go of that control.

And that resonates with my own experience. When I’ve wrestled with a decision, it’s either because it’s something I thought I should do, or it’s something that I felt everyone around me was expecting me to do, or thought I should do (and, yes, I’m sure they are related).

So there’s an element of letting go and allowing our paths to emerge, converge, change, and surprise us. That has happened to me several times along the way. It happened when we woke up one morning and realised it was time to have a baby, so we reorganised our lives to allow room for that to happen. We just knew it was time. My daughter is 15 years old now, and I am still totally in love with her, and with being a mum. It is the most awe inspiring and joyful experience of my life.

And the time when I trained to be a teacher, and was just starting my career – until it was unexpectedly cut short when my parents needed me to care for them. Four years of surrendering to their care and creating a life that nurtured us all during that time, was an abrupt change of plans, but it didn’t require any decision making. I immediately accepted that was the right path, and took it.

Gaining Confidence in the Process

And now – as I’m refining my life (again) – I am seeing all the elements come together into a direction that is right for me now. The exciting thing about it is that everything I have done in the past is blending together to enrich what I’m going to do now. Except now I have more confidence and a sense of trust in the process.

My writing has been similar. When I focused on what I thought I should write, my writing stalled. Then – while I was caring for my parents – I was so exhausted that when I wrote it was from a different place. It was intermingled with sadness, and a myriad of other emotions, of watching my parents’ health and bodies decline, and then being with them right up until just before they died (they both died when I was out of the room for a short time). I surrendered my life because that’s all I could do. Caring for loved ones, and having no idea of the time frame or what to expect from one moment to the next, calls for giving up your own agenda. It’s impossible to control any of it. You can control the environment to a certain extent, but not what happens. And that changed my writing. Through that exhaustion I was writing stories and it felt different. I was reaching new places. And I think that’s because I wasn’t trying to plan something I thought might interest others, I was writing my way through a sad and emotional time, trying to make sense of it, and beginning to create real characters with real emotions.

Now that I am embracing a new phase of my life, I know several things: I want my career to be in the midst of creativity, and sharing resources and ideas; and I want there to be a huge component of fun, kindness, writing, joy, children’s fiction, and connection.

But I want to design it all using the guidance of Stanford University lecturers Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, who have created a course called Designing Your Life, which was only available to Stanford students, but which has now been released as a book, and as a course through Creative Live (so the rest of the world can get the benefits of their ideas). Over the next few weeks I’m going to write about my own process of Designing my Life, and see how their ideas enhance it.

Some Things to Explore:

Soman Chainani – Writer and filmmaker, Soman Chainani, can be found here. If you want to check out the podcast with Tim Ferris (I highly recommend it – there is so much info in it), you can find it here. Soman has written a series of books about the School of Good and Evil. I have started reading the first one and will be writing a review once I’ve completed it. If you want to check out the first one, you can find it here (or do a google search for it). I managed to find a paper copy in a local bookshop so I’m enjoying the feel of real paper for once.

Designing Your Life – If you want to get a head start and look at the book by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, you can find it at Amazon, or listen to the Audible version. They’ve also got a website Designing Your Life,and a CreativeLive course that has just come out.



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Everything Everything Book Review

Reading is such a refreshing, exciting adventure. I adore it when I discover a book with characters I fall in love with, and circumstances that pull at my heart. This week I’ve been going gaga over a book by Nicola Yoon. Everything Everything is a YA novel about 18 year old Maddy who has to live in a sterile environment as she’s allergic to the world. She has settled into a sense of normality over the situation – until Olly moves in next door.

It’s beautifully written, and captures the teenage heart, and first love so well.

And – even better – the book is coming out as a movie in a few months. It stars Amandla Stenberg as Maddy (remember her as 12 year old Rue in The Hunger Games?), and the very yummy Nick Robinson as Olly (he played Ben Parish in The 5th Wave), who has a stillness and tenderness that suits this movie beautifully.

My daughter received this text from me once I’d finished the book:

(Yes, my daughter receives texts like that from me all the time. When I discovered the movie trailer, the text I sent her was almost bouncing around the screen with excitement!)

One of the endearing aspects to the story, is how Nicola Yoon reveals Maddy’s personality through little dictionary definitions, her Life is Short Spoiler book reviews (very, very short book reviews), IMs, and other musings (the little illustrations are by Yoon’s husband, writer and designer, David Yoon, and really add to the story).

For example:

or one of her book reviews, which reveals how she’s feeling or what she’s thinking:

The closest I can come to comparing it to another book, is Wonder by RJ Palacio (another book I loved), in terms of capturing the character’s life and revealing who they are and the life they live – and the beautiful writing.

You can find information about the book here.

Check out the trailer here.


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The Power of Family

It was a stunningly hot, sunny day today. So what better thing to do than sit in the dark and watch a movie at my local Rialto (my daughter took the more normal option of donning a bikini and going to the beach, but while she’s nursing burnt feet from the hot sand, I’m glowing in the aftermath of a great movie experience).

I went with a group of friends to see Lion, starring Dev Patel, and he was brilliant. As is the story itself. He, of course, is gorgeous to watch on screen. With those curly locks and liquid brown eyes. And, whereas in The Exotic Marigold Hotel, he was bumbling and sweet with a huge vision for the future, in Lion, he is an intense young man who wants to do the right thing by his adopted family, while he is haunted by the knowledge that his original family is somewhere in India and that he hasn’t seen them since he was 5 years old. (He also does an Australian accent to perfection).

The story is based on a true story. I read the book several weeks ago as I knew I wanted to go see the movie, and the movie was very close to it.

This is a heart wrenching story. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like for Saroo’s family when he first disappeared. How could you ever get over the disappearance of your 5 year old child? His mother left for work one evening – she carried rocks on construction sites – leaving Saroo to care for his younger sister, and when she got back the next morning, Saroo and his older brother had gone. And Saroo doesn’t come back for 25 years. 25 years! That is incomprehensible.

The movie sets up his life in India, then shows that fateful night when he begs his older brother to let him come on the trains with him, to help earn some money, and then what happens to him once his brother leaves him at the train station. After a year or two fending for himself, and trying to survive the evilness of the orphanage, he is adopted by a couple in Australia. 25 years later, he is able to hunt for his previous home and family through the Google Maps satellite photographs.

It is an emotional movie. An emotional journey. And one I highly recommend. I will be watching it again, once it comes out on DVD, with my daughter. Not being in a movie theatre, we will be able to sob to our heart’s content.

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Being Connected

I keep wanting to change the tagline of this site: ‘Connecting with the World, Our Children, Ourselves’. I think it should be something about story. But when I try to change it, something stops me. I want it to be that. As someone who values connection, I don’t want to dilute it by saying that the connection is only happening through story. There’s so many other factors at play. And, being a mum, I see my connection with my daughter – with our children – as incredibly important. As well as the relationship we have with ourselves, our inner thoughts, our convictions. The tagline feels big. It hints at things I don’t even know yet.

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Stepping Back Up – When Life Has You Down

Watching movies with older characters rebuilding their lives, is sometimes exactly what we need. Especially if we are going through a challenging time, such as a loved one has died, or we are making a huge change in our lives. Since Mum died in December, I’ve needed to see a world that carries on despite sadness and setbacks. And, right now, older characters comfort me the most. I want to see people who have been through a lot, but manage to carry on. So ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’, and its sequel, have been regulars on my DVD player.

I invite you to look beyond your usual movies, and explore stories with characters of a different age, or circumstance, than you would normally watch.

When life has you down, here’s some excellent movies with older characters, to set you on the path to feeling hopeful again:

1. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, 2011

Starring the fabulous Judi Dench, Bill Nighy (who was so hilarious in Love Actually), and Dev Patel (who has recently starred in Lion), among many other superb actors.

A group of retirees from Britain, travel to India to stay in a hotel that does not live up to its advertisements. The young man (played by Dev Patel) who runs the hotel, has bigger dreams than the know-how on how to make them come to fruition. The Brits end up arriving to a hotel that looks more ramshackle than glorious, with some of the rooms not even having doors, and a hotel manager who has no idea how to manage. As the residents settle in, we watch them adapt to their new surroundings, and come to grips with growing older.

2. The Intern, 2015

I wasn’t quite sure of this one when I first started watching it, but Robert De Niro won me over. An older gentleman with a dapper way of dressing, I found my heart warming to him as I watched him live his very organised but lonely life after his wife has died. Needing something to do, he gets a job as an intern to a CEO who isn’t at all convinced she needs one. The unfolding of their relationship, and the way his values and experience begin to flow on to the younger people around him, is just charming. After watching this I wanted my very own older intern to add their wise perspective to my life. This movie is a great reminder that people have value, at any age. We don’t suddenly become useless and worthless at retirement.

3. It’s Complicated, 2009

With characters who aren’t as old as the previous movies, this is such a great movie I had to add it. There are so many good actors in this movie: Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, and the very funny John Krasinski. And, for those of you who have had the joy of seeing Man Up, there is also Lake Bell who plays Alec Baldwin’s new wife (she is fantastic in Man Up, which is a very funny and relatable movie, I highly recommend).

Jane, a woman who has been divorced from her husband for over 10 years and is now seeing her last child leave the nest, finds herself having an affair with her ex-husband when a dinner turns into something more. While she’s sorting out the tangled mess, she meets an architect who is still hurting from his own divorce several years previously.

This is so well acted, and is so good.

And that’s just for starters! There are so many excellent movies with older characters showing us how life should be lived. And how it’s a privilege to get older.



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