A near death experience won’t transform your life, getting bored of your excuses will.
As a person that has stared death in the face, more times than Theresa May has been stalling Brexit, I can tell you, you don’t have to wait for a near-death experience to truly transform your life.
My 20s were riddled with near-death experiences. One of them was a car crash, as a result of partying two days straight, no sleep and being bribed into giving a lift to one of my parents (not saying which one in fear of a reprimand) at 5am, after a return from that nights activities. I fell asleep behind the wheel on my way back home, and was fortunate the car veered left into an empty bus stop, and not right into the oncoming traffic. A bloody nose and bruised ribs was a miracle escape, considering the car was a complete write-off.
However, many of these near-death experiences have been due to a life long health condition I have, which happens to be Sickle Cell Anaemia, an inherited blood condition that affects more than 100 million people on this planet, predominately of Black African descent but also affects those of Hispanic, Southern European, South Asians and Middle Eastern descent.
Although there are commonalities in the associated health issues that come with Sickle Cell Anaemia, many people with the Sickle Cell can have varying experiences. Some debilitating and life-threatening, and others are able to live a ‘normal’ life all things considered. I fell somewhere in the middle. I would say for me most days this is an invisible condition to many people in my life until they see me on a bad day, if they do. On a bad day, I’m usually in the hospital, tubed up, morphine-induced and in a great deal of pain. In some cases these trips to the hospital have taken a turn for the extreme in that my condition has worsened and sent me straight into HDU (high dependency unit aka Intensive Care).
These moments do shake me up to my core and have had me reevaluating the meaning of my life, and asking ‘Am I wasting time?’, which of course I was in some instances. I truly felt and did all the things that that one might say they experience as a result of a near-death encounter. Changes were made; jobs were left, career changes happened, friend circles got smaller (mostly out of choice), and I became clearer about who I wanted to be in this world and the value I wanted to give.
However, it became apparent after a couple of these near-death encounters, that I gained more clarity and appreciation for the small things in life, but it didn’t sustain for very long. A couple of months of getting my shit together then reverted to doing the things that made me feel like I was wasting my chance at living my best life. Instead, I was yet again wasting time; on men that didn’t earn my attention at all, but I gave them it and more they weren’t even aware of. Wasting time and money on material items (clothes. I know — cliché), food (the Deliveroo kind), which took away from money that could go towards saving for more experiences or investing in my career, or just investing.
I resumed scrolling my life away on Instagram and deluded myself I wasn’t letting social media set my standards for what I expected from life. And this is not to say there wasn’t anything positive that stuck. I really appreciated the small things like a bike ride, or a nice walk and loving solo travel.
However, it was clear that I wasn’t doing the things on the day to day basis to really start the journey of being who I knew I really was.
I wasn’t reading a whole lot, I wasn’t writing, I wasn’t getting out of my comfort zone at work, I wasn’t doing the deep work that it takes to be at least a good creative, even by my own measures. I wasn’t drinking enough water to keep me out of the hospital, which is rule number one for those with Sickle Cell. I wasn’t 100% following the lessons I learnt from dating and relationships with men and drifted back into making space for the ‘not quite right’ ones.
It may seem like I was being hard on myself, but actually, I needed a reality check. I was a person that I had a clear vision of the life I wanted to live day to day but was only putting in 30–40% of the effort required to get me there; on to the next leg of my life journey.
… after you get back into the swing of life, things that seemed like epiphanies just get left in the same place as the things that have been sitting on your to-do list. At the back of your mind.
A near death experience is certainly a heavy-handed slap in the face, and after the pain and disease are resolved you will start to see things clearly and you will have a greater appreciation for the small things. But after you get back into the swing of life, things that seemed like epiphanies just get left in the same place as the things that have been sitting on your to-do list. At the back of your mind.
It’s about two years since my last near death experience and I can say it’s been all the things I mentioned above. But after two years of not being and doing the things that I knew would satisfy me, I had to think to myself ‘Why is it so hard to make things stick?’. I certainly have formed new habits and let old on ones go, but what I knew I needed was a life transformation. Knowing you need one and starting one are two separate things.
So I am going to tell you what really got me to start transforming.
What it took was basically me getting really really bored and tired of my excuses. I was smart enough to know that although I had challenges in my life, more and less than others, what I did have was time. Having had Pneumonia three times I knew every breath you took meant you have more time.
I held on to my excuses like a piece of amour, ready to fight off any questioning as to why I haven’t done something yet or why I just don’t do it. I really believed the validity of my excuses about all kinds of things, like having a long commute to work that sucked the energy out of me. I mean it wasn’t like it wasn’t true; the District line and South Eastern trains are more draining than a days work for me. But as much as I felt that was a solid argument, just as I stood by the believe that all men in London are self absorbed and are only in dating to satisfy their own needs, I knew there was an alternative. I knew I could do something practical. I could get up earlier and be on a less crowed train, even if it means getting to work too early. Or in regards to men I could… I could… I’m still working on that one. Ha!
So in the almost most clichéd fashion, on the 2nd on January 2019, I didn’t even overthink it, I hadn’t written down all my goals, but I knew in my core it was time to really change. I may have cringed when I said ‘New year, New me’ to my friends and they might have eye rolled, but I knew I already started. I became a regular at Yoga, which is my kind of workout regime; strengthening, balancing and at a pace that won’t leave me gasping for air. However it took me years to actually make it a part of my life. But now it’s become something I do, just like brushing my teeth. There was no pressure, it just has to be done, just as your teeth needs to be cleaned.
There were other things I incorporated into my life this way; writing was one of them. I was no longer trying to do things, instead, I simply did them or I didn’t. No guilt or shame. It was as simple as ‘If you are a writer then write. If you are not a writer then don’t’. So I knew being a writer is something I have been carrying around like a dead weight for years, so either I let it go or I lift up the weight like a proper weightlifter; high above my head, it may be shaky at first but it will become easier over time.
So let’s get down to the practicalities of transforming your life:
- Be clear on how you want to fill your hours, days, weeks, years and ultimately your life
This could be tied to what you believe is your life purpose, your values, what you enjoy doing, what you want to do more of, where you want to be and the type of people you want to be around.
Some people do visualisations and vision boards which are great. If you see it you can achieve it and all that. But it can be as simple as making a list of things you like doing, make you feel fulfilled and like you are accomplishing something that matters. I enjoy being around people that are deep thinkers but don’t get too anxious about the things they are thinking deeply about. That is because I like to think i’m that way too. So the best way to seek these people out are by just being that myself; like attracts like. I knew I love stories about the world and people, so I have to be the kind of person that is curious enough to spend time seeking out these stories. I needed to be reading more, and wider. I needed to be listening more and instead of having conversations about why I haven’t, can’t and should do something.
2. Find your guiding word
I don’t know how this became a social media cliché of a hashtag, but I’m convinced I started it. My guiding word for this year is Balance. But it seems like I’m not the only one that has struggled to find the Ying to my Yang. After 31 years of my life, I truly understand that to live a life in which you don’t feel pulled by the tide, or in a constant state of resisting, you have to frequently take stock and re-adjust as you go along. You need to be self-aware enough to know when to shift things before they shift themselves. Putting in all the hours into your job may be necessary for a moment, but this cannot be a constant. Know your limits and adjust accordingly. This is not to say there will be an even split in all the things that matter in your life. It is a reminder that burning the candle at both ends, or one end too long, will eventually take its toll on the mind body and spirit.
3. Plot it all out
I like to think of myself as spontaneous. I don’t like to be tied down to a decision I made long ago. But I knew that was me being non-committal.
I now think there is room for some spontaneity in my life, but just like I wouldn’t spontaneously brush my teeth, or go to work, there were things like reading, writing, cooking my own meals, being active, seeing friends and family (regularly-ish) that were also non-negotiable. Although I knew this, the weeks would pass, months, and years and these things became ‘occasional’, ‘sometimes’, ‘maybe’ things. So whatever method I was using to keep track of things wasn’t working.
I don’t know if I stumbled upon this naturally or was a by-product of watching more than enough productively videos on YouTube, but I started using my calendar to schedule my life. A month in advance would be detailed, two months ahead would have the regular things in; like work and sleep (yes, I schedule sleep, it’s the Duracell battery powering this transformation), and a couple of months ahead for any big things like vacation plans, project deadlines, etc. I categorise and colour code the different types of activities, like sleep and reading fall under ‘Relaxation’, seeing friends and family under ‘Social Events’.
I’ll tell you why this has worked for me. Because I can look at my week and get an accurate representation of how I spend my time. If something does change in my plans I edit it in the calendar to what I actually did. So if there is a week with no fitness and wellness activities, I’m aware and can do something about it the following week.
Accounting for how you spend your time is essential to living out the life you want for yourself. Not everything will go to plan but much of our time is in our hands.
How many things you schedule or categories you create is totally up to you. But as a city girl, with big ambitions, spending my time wisely is a key to achieving my goals.
4. Being present
I know this is what many spiritualist yogis bang on about but I believe many people that aren’t having a mid-life or even quarter-life existential crisis probably live like this without labelling it anything. It is the act of being present in the moment. When we aren’t in the moment we are mentally in the past or the future.
Anxiety is the act of worry of things to come; the future, depression is worrying about things that we can’t change; the past.
I have spent a long time in those places and occasionally in the present. When I’m on vacation I’m literally just being that person on vacation, I don’t think of ‘the before or after’. For some, it’s when they are working out, or cooking a nice meal, or watching Birdbox (I was there with Sandra Bullock and Girl and Boy!). You are completely captured by what you are doing and your attention is fully there. I realised I needed to apply this to more things in my life.
So I identified some of the things that are distractions in my life and this is no surprise but social media and my phone. I wouldn’t consider myself addicted but I knew a huge chunk of my day was spent glued to my device. I knew what I could do with that time instead and proceeded to flip things around. I didn’t go cold turkey, but I did things like put it in my bag at meals, put it on airplane mode at night and taking a break from being social on social media; I allowed myself the occasional browse, but it didn’t satisfy me like it used to, so I’d last two minutes and eventually began checking it less.
I had listened to Cal Newport’s Deep Work and I knew to really improve on my writing and creating and overall attention, I need to be present when I am doing the work. The smart ones at school had this nailed, but if you were an average student like me, you paid attention just enough to pass. At 31 I realised that wasn’t working for me anymore.
5. Don’t try to do it, Just do it!
I mentioned this before but it is one of those things that I think is not fully understood by many, despite the Nike slogan being stitched into the advertising fabric of modern society.
The very act of trying to do something is not doing it. We can spend a lifetime of trying to do something and nothing is done. So as I said before, either you do it or you don’t. The burden and disappoint of not doing it when you have been trying, will be the stumbling block you encounter more than the one where other people tell you they don’t like your work or something unforeseeable gets in your way; like a death. Don’t die trying, as 50cent suggests in his debut album Get Rich or Die Tryin’.
Just do it, or don’t.
Realising a lot of things in life are relative and that everything is a process will free you up to just do it. You might like to sing but stop because you don’t think you aren’t near as good as Adele. But the very act of holding a note is a miracle that not everyone is blessed with. You may be as good as Adele to someone out there, but more importantly, you may just find yourself enjoying the very act of singing, regardless.
If you decide not to do it, that is okay too. Just let it go and do something else that you like. Don’t hold the guilt. We are free to change our mind.
So there you go — a guide, which I hope is practical enough to help dissect the process of transformation. For you, a near-death experience or something else tragic, like a break-up may be the slap in the face you need. Or it could be something not so big like reaching 31 and realising your excuses have no place in your life anymore.