With every percentage

That scrappy bit of paper above is a list of life ambitions I wrote, aged 18. You can see I didn’t exactly hold back.

That scrappy bit of paper is a list of life ambitions  I wrote, aged 18.  I didn’t exactly hold back. In full it reads:

write at least one novel
have a photographic exhibition
speak 5 languages
save someone’s life
work for UN/NATO
sing in a band
visit over 50 countries
publish a historical/political work

learn a form of martial art.

To complete this grandiose document I then apparently scribbled some train times upside down at the bottom. In a similar vein, I didn’t find this note carefully stored for future reflection but by chance, stuffed in an old folder, when I recently moved house.

A few ambitions have changed in the 10 years since then; I never did apply for that NATO job nor have I seriously picked up a camera since I was 19. Ambitions change as we grow older, sometimes for better sometimes not (although me not singing in a band is almost certainly doing the world a favour). But what really hits me looking back on that list now, is the fact I had no limitations. My 18 year old self saw no reason for me to dream smaller or be cautious.

And why should I have been? At 18 I hadn’t had a single IV admission, I didn’t take any regular nebulisers, I hadn’t developed CF related diabetes, I only took about 10 pills a day. I’d just been prescribed my first inhaler. I was not by any stretch, what you would expect from a young adult with CF. I am proud to have dreamed so big.

The thing is, those big dreams may have evolved but they haven’t gone anywhere. I am loath to accept limitations, and the list I’d write aged 28 is just as ambitious as the old one, Cystic Fibrosis or not. But a little life experience has taught me that achieving every dream takes time and compromise.

A thought popped into my head the other day, and I found myself speculating how much lung function I had permanently lost in the last 3 years due to normal stresses like long hours at work and city air. I settled on 6 percent. Lung function fluctuates naturally, mine has gone up and down by 20% in the last year depending on how well and generally fit I am. But there is something called a baseline measurement in lung function, and CF doctors will use it to assess what your best figure is.

After my morbid moment, I mentally slapped myself and went back to mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed. But navel-gazing Elly had a point, there’s an opportunity cost in everything we do.  We all need a method of measuring how we spend our time – even if spent percentages of lung function is a little niche – how else will we work towards our goals?

I thought about all the hours that made up those three years, some spent in pursuit of goals big and small, others spent happily pursuing no goal at all. I wouldn’t go back and change them; they’ve led to personal and professional achievements I’m proud of. But I do wish I’d spent more of that 6% in pursuit of the things I really measure myself by. The motivations, beliefs and dreams that inspired that little list in an A5 notebook aged 18.

Which is why, 2 weeks ago, I quit my job. I’m spending the next few weeks working on a writing project I’ve been awarded a grant for.  Beyond that I’m looking for a role in a creative agency where I can work on the kind of social change, charity and sustainability projects that get me really excited.

I’d like to make every percentage count.

“Illness isn’t inspiring.”

Illness isn’t inspiring.

I’ve often heard lines like “He’s so inspiring, I could never do what he does,” when someone expresses their admiration for a person suffering from a serious illness. It’s a nice sentiment. But I don’t think many people realise what they could do, if faced with an illness and having no choice but to deal with it. Some people become extraordinary in the face of their adversity, but none of us really know what we’re capable of until we have to. Your resilience can’t be tested in theory, only in reality.

But for me, when it happens, there is nothing inspiring about being ill.

The day-to-day of being ill, is very far removed from ‘inspirational’. It’s characterised by all the things you can’t do, the possibilities you can’t realise in that moment.

It’s about the books and articles I can’t quite grasp the meaning of, because my head feels fuzzy.

The blogs I don’t write because I lack the energy or I feel down.

The projects I put off because I stop believing in myself and feel like I don’t have the ability to pull them off.

The exercise I don’t start because I just don’t want to be reminded of the heavy concrete feeling settling in my chest.

The friends I don’t talk to because I don’t have news to share and I don’t want to keep repeating myself.

 

Good health on the other hand, is like an adrenaline shot. It’s a burst of clarity and creative excitement, of possibility. A chance to start afresh.

It’s inspiring.

And for the first time in a while, I’m feeling pretty damn good.