• Simon Birdsey

Taking control of life

And learning when to let go


Up until my late twenties I was about as passive as it's possible to be. I didn't really cook or clean for myself, didn't manage my money or look after my health, didn't have any hobbies and, even though I had a degree, I thought the only job I was capable of was working in a factory.


Unsurprisingly, my confidence was very low and pretty much everything made me feel anxious. So my experience of life was limited to the same few 'safe' activities such as going to the pub or the cinema. It didn't really occur to me that I could challenge the way that I felt or that I was missing out on so many fun things.


I can't remember whether a counsellor said it to me or if it's something I've picked up from a book but the turning point was hearing the phrase "You don't wake up one morning feeling confident. The doing comes first and confidence follows".



So I went from mostly sitting at home watching tv to becoming the voluntary Social Coordinator for a local gym- setting up four football teams and a netball team.


At the time I believed that I was suffering from a form of depression and that by pushing myself to achieve as much as possible I'd feel better about myself. I didn't realise that the stress of doing so much was going to make my anxiety worse though.


But I was afraid of going back to the way that I was and I thought that I could push through it. Soon the success that I'd managed with the sports sides made me hungry for more and I wanted to I plough on. So I set myself up as a music promoter, organising a city-wide festival, and then I started a business helping people to overcome their fear of heights.



In all honesty, I've probably been burnt out for the last 10 years but I'm not sure if I'd change any of it. By pushing myself so hard I've learned that I don't need to avoid stress and responsibility, I just need to be mindful of it and practice self-care. In fact, when there is a crisis, I'm now very often the person that friends and family will turn to.


Someone said to me the other day that they were feeling overwhelmed by their to do list and it occured to me that a list can be infinite- you can keep adding things to the bottom or starting new lists. But I only have four achievement boxes to fill on my Jossed board and I can balance them out with pleasurable, relaxation or social boxes.


It's helped me to have a much better balance and I now try to schedule time to do nothing.


In fact one of the things that I loved about living in London was that I could just be. Without much effort I could go to the park and spot Helena Bonham Carter, notice Zoe Ball as I walked through Camden or go to the pub to find Graham Coxon from Blur playing.


I read John Cleese's autobiography a little while ago and he said that the only two things he's ever actively persued were Fawlty Towers and writing that book. Everything else just fell into his lap.


If only it was that easy! The difference between my younger self and John Cleese is that he put himself in the way of opportunity. He decided to join the Cambridge Footlights and that led to him being offered work by the BBC. Opportunity was never going to come and find me sat in my pyjamas in my bedroom.


The other important point is that Cleese is a 'yes' man. Whenever he has been presented with opportunities he has accepted them.


My hope with my own Jossed board is that I'll actively have things in mind that I'd like to achieve but that I won't get too blinkered about making them happen right away. Instead I'll enjoy the process and put myself in the way of opportunity. Then, when new experiences present themselves, I'll have the courage to be a 'yes' man .



"I can't remember whether a counsellor said it to me or if it's something I've picked up from a book but the turning point was hearing the phrase "You don't wake up one morning feeling confident. The doing comes first and confidence follows".

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