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I believe in pushing myself to step outside my comfort zone. But I’ve pushed myself so far and so fast this month that my comfort zone has become something of distant blur on the horizon. In its place is a constantly changing vista of new adventures, new challenges and new fears to face.
It began with a request by my lovely hairdresser, Elke, to model for her at the end of year show in the college where she lectures. No problem, I said confidently when she asked a couple of months ago. But, when I discovered that the theme was “futuristic” and she wanted me to wear a silver jumpsuit and high heeled silver boots, my confidence deserted me somewhat.
Despite appearances to the contrary, I am actually rather shy and the idea of walking catwalk-style in an outfit like this filled me with dread. You may have noticed that I never wear jeans. The reason for this is that my legs are rather short and more muscular than I would like and, as a consequence, I don’t feel comfortable in jeans or leggings. My mantra is “wear what makes you feel good” and because trousers don’t make me feel good, I don’t wear them. So, although I have no fear of looking outrageous, putting on a tight plastic jumpsuit was way outside my comfort zone.
I also don’t wear heels because I’ve never really learned to walk in them and they make my feet hurt. So, this was a double challenge. To add to this, Elke said she wanted to backcomb my hair until it was crazily frizzy and then put blue-white fairy lights and a silver mesh panel over my eyes. Oh yes, and the finishing touch was blue lipstick!
The show took place on 3 May at South Devon College. OK, so we’re not talking New York Fashion Week here but, nevertheless, walking along a makeshift catwalk in front of a couple of hundred people in a skintight jumpsuit wearing boots I couldn’t walk in and a face mask that meant I could barely see was a challenge. But, you know what, it was also an adventure. And it was new. And it was a way for me to say thank you to Elke for all the times she has cut my hair and made me feel great.
I took my daughter, Beth, with me who is 12. The evening was a visual extravaganza of creative outfits and crazy hair. It was fun for her to see young people expressing their creativity in this way and I imagine it was also an interesting experience to witness her mum feeling insecure and uncertain but “feeling the fear and doing it anyway.” I am not big on teaching her lessons – I think she will discover her own truth for herself – but if there is one thing I would like her to get it is that fear is never a good reason not to do something. If we wait until we’re unafraid, it seems to me we will never do much at all.
The second hurdle I jumped this month, and it was a big one, was giving a TED talk. I have already written a couple of blogs about this so I won’t go into a huge amount of detail here other than to say that a few times along the way, when the fear became so intense I felt sick, I fleetingly considered quitting. The night before the rehearsal, for example, I realised that I had way too many slides. I didn’t have time to learn which points in the speech corresponded to which slides and I texted my friend Katie in a panic to say I didn’t think I could do the talk. The feeling lasted for maybe an hour before I regained control of myself and realised that I would forever regret it if I allowed my fears and my ego to get in the way of giving a talk on a subject that is important to me and that I “feel” with my entire being.
In the last few days, I jumped the third of this month’s big hurdles, which was flying up to Edinburgh to attend an event with my clients from the Scottish Government. This entailed a feat of logistical planning as my ex-husband was away so I needed to find somewhere for my daughter and my dog to stay for two nights plus organising how to get to the airport, as well as completing all the work that needed to be done before I left.
My record on catching planes is not particularly good to be honest and, once again, I managed to mess up the timings at the airport. Instead of going through security before my flight was called, I waited until after the plane began boarding. The woman on security seemed intent on making me strip down to my underwear (bit of an exaggeration, but I did have to take a lot of things off!!) and then test every single fluid in my bag before allowing me to pass. As I emerged from security, I heard my name being announced over the tannoy. They said I was holding up my plane. I ran to the boarding gate and had to be escorted onto the plane by a security guard, amidst much finger-wagging.
I’m pleased to say the rest of my trip passed without incident. It was wonderful to finally meet people that I have been working with via email and phone for the last few months and to hear presentations from the most senior people in NHS Scotland, as well as hearing the Cabinet Secretary for Health make a further pledge of £9 million for the programme I am helping to promote, 6 Essential Actions to Improve Unscheduled Care. It was great to hand out copies of case studies that I have written and to feel that I am playing a part in helping to spread best practice that could, at the very least, improve the way patients get treated and at most save people’s lives.
I wrote the majority of this blog on board the plane flying home from Edinburgh. As well as all of the big hurdles this month, I’ve jumped many smaller ones too, such as giving myself concussion after hitting my head on a metal latch and having to have my scalp glued back together in the hospital. And finding myself with a totally empty bank account with no petrol in my car and no food in my fridge.
The last photograph was taken at a Charlie Dore concert where I performed as part of a pop up choir, providing backing vocals to some of her songs including her most famous Pilot of the Airwaves. The name of the tour is Dark Matter so we were asked to come dressed in black and sparkles – hence the necklace and the facial jewels.
Although my particular hurdle race this month has been unique to me, it’s made me think about the hurdles that we all jump all of the time. Like a friend of mine who faces one major health challenge after another, one indignity after another, and yet who still manages to laugh with me on the phone. Or another friend who has to do three different jobs to be able to afford to continue to do the one job he really loves, supporting people with mental health problems. Or someone I know who is facing childbirth alone after the suicide of the child’s father and PTSD after being the one to discover him.
So, whether you’re a spacesuited hurdler like me or one of the millions of hurdlers in everyday clothes, running your race without fuss or approbation, I salute you. I am at the finish line of this particular hurdle race and I will look out for you on the next one.