On drawing all the grins we can from life


I guess not being in my thirties any more, I’ve begun spending time looking at how I can make what remains of my time on this colourful wee planet as “good” a time as possible. Good. Positive. Not complicated terms, not particularly poetic, but they’re the best expression for what I mean. I want to continue to chuckle, guffaw and grin, I want those who I enjoy spending time with to draw positivity from me, and I want to find someone I admire and respect to share my experiences.

I’ve spoken (typed) before about understanding what makes me “happy”, but I also think it’s important to draw joy from as many aspects of life as possible. I also believe I need to avoid counteracting this with too much stress about the past or the future. Life throws enough challenging events at us independent of our own fears and regrets. We don’t need to compound these with our own neuroses.

Some time ago I started with minimising the negatives. A good friend and probation officer (not mine…) once convinced me that there’s no point in having regrets. She explained that every choice we make, everything we’ve undergone, made us who we are today. She was able to help me cull my most significant regrets, or at least turn in them into something I could handle. I find that remorse keep me locked to the past, they’re a result of placing too much weight on a choice I once made, and failing to take what I’ve learnt and move on. I was (slightly) younger when this information was imparted, I was to a degree an idealist, and I had someone I cared for and shared with, that I thought would be with me forever. But over the years since then, particularly after discussing this with others, I’ve realised that this approach is far simpler if you’re happy with who you are, right now. If you’re convinced you’re in a shit place, and that you’ve put yourself there through your choices, this bouncy, positive ideal is a bit of a struggle. Maybe even offensive. So maybe we also need to look at ways to avoid collecting the regrets in the first place.

Each day we’re faced with choices. From whether to tell our second-best-friend that we believe their soon-to-be love bride is a terrifying, soul leaching mistake, to assessing whether flip-flops are appropriate footwear in Rattlesnake Canyon. Some of these decisions deserve serious consideration, but too often I’ve dumped too much energy on the simplest, most inconsequential decisions. How many online reviews do I read, agonising over which travel camera to buy? It’s a camera, bruv, not a double mastectomy. Rather than sweating the smaller stuff, I’ve realised I should be dedicating more time to the other end of my choices, the results. If I don’t learn from my choices, I’m Homer Simpson without Lisa or Marge. If I don’t pay attention to the outcomes, I’m unlikely to learn from the greatest tutor of all, experience. But just as importantly, if I examine the entrails of my choices, I can usually find something positive or constructive in even the worst seeming outcome. If I fail to pay attention, and determine only that I made a “wrong” choice, I miss the chance to grow from the experience. This was hugely important in moving beyond my last relationship, and something I failed to do when my marriage went tits up. And the only thing I readily think of when I consider my regret status, is that painful separation from my once wife, Claire. At least today.

The most recent area I’ve been considering, is how I might use my competencies in one area of my life, to improve another. Specifically, harnessing my ability to derive satisfaction from my work, whether it is chainsaw sculpting or working for the most evil Irish bar owner in Britain, in order to improve the areas in which I tend to flail. Like finding someone who wants to share the incredible experiences I’m going to continue to lift from life.

While I was picking up a range of coffee-making, dish cleaning and scone baking skills in Michaelhouse Cafe, I had an affable, passionate manager, Dean. He steered me from lagers towards real ales, and he introduced me to the idea of finding a whiskey that works for me. You might be thinking “top bloke, job done”, but he had one more trick up his occasionally philosophical sleeve. When I left the kitchen in Cambridge to return to New Zealand, he told me my approach to baking was like something from “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance”. I had an idea that this meant I tried very hard to find joy in whatever it was that I ended up doing. It was only three years later when I read Robert Persig’s book. The author explores the way we can derive quality from life. Even if we’re faced with difficult or monotonous tasks, chores or jobs, it’s all down to our attitude. He uses his characters to give examples of two different ways we can leverage “quality” from life. The first is the “romantic”. These people focus on being “in the moment”, and care little for the workings of the things they experience. The other point of view is the “classical”, these people derive joy from understanding the mechanics of what they are doing, they attempt to understand all the intricacies of their experiences. Like with any good explanation of opposing ways to reach the same destination, Persig’s protagonist, Zen, decides the most worthwhile approach, the one most likely to result in the best quality of life, is a mix of the two approaches.

When I look at my approach to work, to performing tasks in order to make enough money to live, I can see my approach is a useful mix. When I was learning to bake, starting work at 6:30am on midwinter mornings, I biked to work through the snow with an ipod soundtrack accompanying my slips and falls. My fellow early starters and I used banter, “chef’s rants”, and cooking competitions to drag giggles from long hours of hard, hot work. I struggled towards the perfect complement winning scones, the most splendid  pizzas, the finest five grain loaves. And it was rare I had a bad work day.

But when I look at my attitude to relationships, I have always been a romantic. I am always trying to achieve better, more memorable moments, and I’m disappointed when I can’t contribute significantly to the happiness of the person I focus on. I have been entirely willing to set such things as “the children question” aside, so that I can just create incredible, beautiful, memorable events. I’ve run to the other side of the world for a chance of a life eternal with someone I barely know, ignoring the difficult questions, like whose family to spend Christmas with, differing opinions on the ideal temperature for beer, and the Northern Hemisphere inability to handle Vegemite. As a result of these ill-informed, spontaneous bursts of romance, I have had some incredible, passionate  relationships, but eventually they have had to end. I failed to address the mechanics, the framework. I rarely looked towards the inevitable frustrations, the tearful departures, believing passion and faith would be enough.

I know now I need to balance my romantic idealism, to engage with a woman (sorry lads) who doesn’t want things I can’t offer. I need to ensure I learn from my choices. And I will try to harbour no regrets. I’ll let you know how that all works out for me some time.


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