I’m pretty sure that the one thing most single parents would like more than anything else is a little more time to themselves. I don’t mean at the cost of seeing their kids, but rather some sort of space between all the work, jobs and activities it takes to manage and fund more than one person’s life at a time.
I spend quite a lot of hours in the sky at the moment and I’ve noticed that the only time I really get to myself, ironically, is through my job. Just a couple of hours to do nothing but sit, sleeping, talking or thinking.
Invariably, reflection prioritises itself. I’m not exactly sure why it is, but my mind usually decides it needs a mental work out when my body is forced into an otherwise fairly unproductive ‘flight mode’.
Perhaps it’s partly to do with the intimacy and familiarity of the situation. When I look around there are constant reminders of the life I once lived: the happy, flirtatious couple just starting out together; the cute baby that everyone is willing not to cry; the apparent nausea of a passenger, which always reminds me of how my anxious wife would get physically sick before the plane had even moved. With so many thoughts floating round my head, I’m moved to tears – if only momentarily and always behind sunglasses – almost every time I fly.
Making my way back from a business trip today, it occurred to me that I’ve been working in the PR industry now for half my life. I started out at eighteen on work experience with a rather inspiring set of people in Liverpool and, eighteen years on, I work for one of the best and most successful agencies in the world. Balancing what’s expected of me professionally with what I expect from myself parentally is far from easy, but increasingly I think it’s something I owe to myself and my son.
It wasn’t all that long ago that I decided I was done with my career. I left a good job, rejected offers for even better ones and turned to an innate passion for a writing – a skill I never even knew I had before life (or rather death) unearthed it from within.
I had never been more productive. So many people would tell me that they simply wouldn’t be able to function on any level through grief, but I’m not convinced anyone knows what they are capable of until (or perhaps unless) the most terrible things happen. And it’s the many talented and creative people that I get the opportunity to work with whose stories fascinate me. People who seem endlessly – even if non-traditionally – brilliant in both their personal and private lives who inspire me to better myself in mine.
The lesson the outside world keeps teaching me is the power of confidence and self belief. It’s something I think many British people struggle with – even to suggest it can be seen as conceited or arrogant – but I think maybe we have it all wrong.
Twenty-five years ago I decided to start learning Spanish – a ridiculous waste of a time for a child who was largely afraid to open his mouth in public, even in his mother tongue. The fear of getting anything wrong made it too crushing to even try. Two and a half decades on and I’ve realised that fear serves no other purpose than to keep us safe (at the positive end of the spectrum) or to limit the lives we could live (at the other).
Fear, I’m beginning to believe, only really gets one chance to shine brighter than self belief, though. Its fire may eat us up inside for years, but the thrill of even the tiniest momentary success at something we really know we should do or say has the power to ravage it right back.
It seems to me that the most memorable and talented people I meet have one fear-fighting thing in common: they are less scared of failing than they are of not trying. They know their lives have the potential to be more fulfilling if they care more about what’s right for themselves than they do about what others might think of how they perform in the process. How much more satisfying it must be to thrive doing something you know makes you feel good rather than suffocate from the fear of something you think might.
Anthony Hopkins once said: ‘My philosophy is: It’s none of my business what people say of me and think of me. I am what I am and I do what I do.’
So why care? And why stop living just because others around you may have never started?