5 years ago I decided to chase an old dream of mine. The dream was to live on a boat. Not a small narrowboat, but a big, beautiful Dutch Barge. I found a lovely vessel in West London, on a private island with plenty of history. That first month was an absolute dream. Beautiful weather, alfresco dining and plenty of G&T. Each day I walked back across the bridge I found myself grinning like a cheshire cat.
Then the tides turned and things started to break. First the sewage tank overflowed. Twice. And not just a little bit. Then we lost cold water, hot water and then all water. Followed by electricity, which again meant no water but also nothing else. That first year we didn’t get the central heating working until the end of January. I used to come home and get changed into, and go to sleep in, my skiing gear.
It was a constant, brutal cycle of problems. Initially, I stepped up to these problems with a smile. Happy to learn and prove myself capable, but as the months turned into years it became really hard to weather.
Before this time I had never experienced anxiety. I’d been nervous about exams or having my wisdom teeth out, but I’d never had true anxiety. Now it started to creep in. First, I started to wake at 3am for no reason. Then I started to get nervous every time my housemate called, knowing it meant trouble. Eventually, even when someone asked about the boat I’d feel anxious.
Slowly, very slowly, I started to get on top on things. Instead of new problems arriving once per week, they arrived once per 6 months, and although they never completely disappeared my attitude towards them drastically changed. I learnt some valuable lessons. Some I only recognised after doing a lot of reading and listening to those wiser than myself.
1. A stitch in time, saves nine. This goes for rust, leaks, strange car sounds and your health. If you notice something, get on top of it and save yourself time, money and hassle.
2. Your life is the balance between your aims and fortune. You could be the hardest working, most talented person in your field, and you still might not be successful. Successful people down play how important pure, blind luck was in their success. It’s the same with misfortune. It’s not all your fault if things go wrong. Shit happens.
3. Lower your expectations. My huge mistake with the boat was expecting that it would be the dream I wanted. Everything that went wrong was completely natural and happens everyday. I was unlucky that it happened so consistently but no one said it couldn’t or wouldn’t. This rule is especially important when dealing with people!
4. Is it in or out of your control? If it’s in your control change it, if it’s not, try to accept it. This one is easier said than done.
5. Whatever the problem, there’s someone who knows a quicker, cheaper and more simple solution that the one you’re considering.
6. You’re stronger together. Before the boat I was sure that could go faster and further by myself than with a partner. The boat beat that out of me. Two heads are better than one…
7. This too shall pass. Rough patches are part of the deal but all things change.
8. Positive thinking can be destructive. It’s really easy to have a positive attitude when life’s easy. It’s much harder when you’re in the storm. Being told to keep your chin up, push through and keep fighting, just makes you feel worse when you can’t. It’s better to lower your expectations, change what’s in your control and let go of the rest.
9. Be curious, be grateful. There’s not a huge difference between a puzzle, a challenge and problem. Be curious and find the answer. When you’re ready, be grateful for the lessons you learnt which will bear fruit in the future.