Friday, 31 July 2009

A Simpler Life?

Creative Content director Ali Muirden is thinkingabout a simpler life...

With so many people these days facing either redundancy, or at the very least job uncertainty, it does seem that this could be the right time to consider whether your life is really going in the direction you always imagined or dreamed it would.

I faced this dilemma a couple of years ago when the prospect of continuing to commute for four hours a day into London several times a week became untenable.

It’s not just the physical energy it requires - the mental “battle” to just get to and from work on the train and tube made me realise that I needed to change my lifestyle before it began affecting my health. I was already suffering shoulder pains from carrying large manuscripts and files to and from the office and some days as I walked up the stairs on the final leg up to my office I wanted to cry with tiredness… and that was even before the working day had properly begun!

I really wish I’d had a title like “The Lifestyle Lowdown: A Simpler Life” to help me work out just what it was I wanted to be doing in the future.

I’ve really enjoyed working on this project with Lifestyle authors Lucy McCarraher and Annabel Shaw. This title helps to focus your mind on what really matters to you, to find out what are your “core” values (and they might not be what you think they are when you really consider it seriously!) and to work out a plan to change your future in a practical and realistic way!

One of the exercises asks you to think about what your friends might say about you and your life on your 90th birthday. It’s really a hard question to ask yourself. I discovered that there are lots of things I’d like to be said about me when I am 90, but would they really be the truth? I’d like people to say I was a good and kind friend, but they would probably add in “bossy.” As a work colleague, I’d like them to consider me well organised, efficient and dynamic – but they might also add that I don’t take criticism at all well and hate to be in the wrong!

Rather than just imagining what people might say, I decided to ask two of my friends who have known me longer than anyone else (other than my family or my husband) to write what they thought they might say about me on my 90th birthday:

Lucy Hale, Sales Director at Hodder & Stoughton

“Well you certainly know where you are with Ali! In all the years I have known
her, she has been a very loyal and steadfast friend; but if she has ever felt
that you are not giving as much back in the relationship as she is giving, boy
do you know it! Irritatingly, she usually has a point. She called me a
selfish cow back in the 80s and it still rings in my ears …

I admire her for having the strength of character to follow her own instincts
rather than follow the crowd; once, when we worked together, our company went on
strike, but Ali changed her mind at the last minute and crossed the picket
line; I was very angry with her then, but I see now that she had the guts
to do what she believed was right.

She really knows how to enjoy herself and ‘treats’ are an important part of her life, be they in the form of a mini-break or a new outfit; she has always had a firm hold of her work/life balance in a way that I have failed to do.

Her temper! Well, if you have ever seen Ali’s eyes flash then you know to remove yourself to a safe difference. I think it has got her into trouble a few times.

I guess, in conclusion, I can safely say that Ali has followed the advice ‘to thine own self be true’- and at the same time managed to be very successful. Not a bad combination.”

Anne Mitchell, best friend

"Ali and I became friends well over 30 years ago, mainly through default. I was dating" her older brother and Ali loved to sit on the sofa with us (mainly between us), showing me the latest pony novel she had read and insisting on me taking it home to read (sorry Ali, never did read them - just not a pony person really)! Even in those early teenage years of hers, she had a love of reading, a drive for what interested her, and the passion and determination to persuade others and steer herself forward to whatever path she chose to take in life.

I admire her capacity to fit so much in to her very busy life. Believe me, I’ve witnessed a few ‘simple quiet weekends’ away with her: I never thought it possible firstly to cover so many miles in one weekend and secondly to do and see so much as well - totally exhausting, but so much fun and so much laughter!

Fun that is the word I would choose, if I had to choose just one word for Ali, her laughter is totally infectious, we have often been rendered totally helpless through laughing together!

Capable, oh so capable, Ali is the role model for the phrase, ‘to get something done, ask a busy person’ – she relishes a task or a challenge. Never mention a holiday in front of her, you’ll probably get an email from her within half an hour confirming you flight details etc!

Ali is not good at lying. She cannot lie to save her life. She was terrified before the birth of my two children that she would have to lie and say they were gorgeous (even if they weren’t) – I told her I would know if she was lying anyway, so to just tell the truth , thankfully they were both totally beautiful, so no lying was involved!

Kind, Ali is such a kind person, I don’t think I have the words to express how very kind she has been to me through all our years of friendship, unfailingly so.

Ali is the sort of person everyone should be allowed to choose to take to their Desert Island with them (Radio 4 please take note). Umm ...having said that, she would have to take her collection of make-up, perfumes, shoes, dvds, books, cats, her husband Al, etc. with her - and that may be asking just a little more than the statutory ‘one favourite book and piece of music please’, (other than the Complete Works of William Shakespeare!).”

I was almost dreading finding out what Lucy and Anne would say about me. They both know me so well, in both my personal and working lives, so it was fascinating to discover what my key personality traits are when seen from a different viewpoint. The 90th birthday exercise in ‘A Simpler Life’ suggests using this exercise to see what things you might like to change in the here and now to ensure that people are saying what you would like them to say about you in the future. My friends were astonishingly kind in what they said, but I can see that perhaps I should work on my diplomacy skills a bit – and maybe think about downsizing my personal possessions!

Working on a Simpler Life has enabled me to take a step back from myself, think about what I really want from my life and to look forward to a 90th Birthday Party with my family and friends around me knowing I’ve had a life well lived, full of fun and laughter and hoping that I got the balance right between work and play. It’s important not to forget that. - AM

What would you want your friends to say about you on your 90th Birthday?

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