The power of intentionally letting go

I’m amazed at how things come together sometimes.

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself at a tournament for Magic: The Gathering. Picture a forgotten corner of a local civic building, plastic chairs crowding long tables under a row of fluorescent lights. A few dozen people – all about the same age as me – card sleeves and binders at the ready. Some of them setting out their card mats for the competition, others crowding about a row of cabinets to see the cards and holders on display.

Cards in hand, I joined one of the nearby queues, shuffled my way to the front, and received a number.

Unlike the others, however, mine wasn’t to compete.

It was to sell.

I was about thirteen when I first encountered the game. Shortly after entering senior high school, shortly before coming up with the first ideas for my story, as I recall. I still remember that first match even today, how the pictures on the cards and their miniature stories inspired a love of a universe that went far beyond the simple rules and strategies. Afternoons after school spent trading cards (and metaphorical blows) with friends, the joy of discovering new sets of cards and their possibilities.

All these years on, it wasn’t that I’d fallen out of love with the game. I still drew as much joy from them as I did when I first started out. At the same time, I had to face the hard truth that the last game I’d played, I wasn’t even old enough to drive. And that, even though I wouldn’t mind another round, the game meant something different to me today than it did back then.

I promised that if I could, I’d find a good home for my cards. And that, if they had any value, I’d find a way to reinvest that value in something creative today.

And thus, a series of events set in motion.

I looked up events in my local area, and found just the type of community I was hoping for.

Moreover, their next annual event was scheduled in just a few days’ time.

I got a spot on their schedule.

Barely a few days after, I received some advice from a source I didn’t think I’d hear from on a great method for connecting with some readers.

And the cost – almost the exact same dollar amount as my cards.

I’m not sure what mystical energies conspire to give birth to such events, but this wasn’t the first time something like this had happened to me. I remember the time I chose to give up a hobby I could no longer get along to only to discover a new one closer a month or so later. Or the time I stepped away from a stable professional relationship that no longer met my professional goals, only to encounter a new ongoing client that did the very next day.

In each and every case, it was only after I’d made an intentional decision to let go that something new came into my life. Not before, or during, but only once I’d made the decision without any promises or safety nets and stepped into the unknown. As though the world were waiting for me to understand how I truly felt – apropos of nothing – before offering something more.

I’m not sure that I believe in fate, but I do believe that when things simply fall into place, it’s a good sign I’m on the right track.

I believe that as I change, the world I became accustomed to may no longer be the one I need today.

That there’s a time to everything – to enjoy or to endure – and that the best time to take advantage of it is when that time is near.

That even though I might not be engaged in something anymore, it plays no less a piece of who I am today.

Most of all, that sometimes saying goodbye can also mean saying hello.

And my cards?

I still miss them, but I’m grateful for the last piece of magic they cast on my life.

Central Bites: Maxims

Of the many traditions in Central, none are as famous or as anxiety-inducing as the maxims. Anyone who has visited Central on even a casual basis will have encountered these curious greetings the moment they arrive. And anyone who has ever gotten them wrong will remember the awkward silence and impatient glares as they try to correct their mistake.

More than just a set of greetings, however, or a regional oddity, the maxims are a way of life.

“Welcome to Central,” said the attendant with a polite smile as she arrived. Her voice was clipped but clear, with a lilting tone unlike the more rounded sounds in Northbrook. “May the fortress bring you peace.”

Vivian froze.

Was that… a maxim?

The birth of the maxims

The year is 652MT. Early in the morning of a cold day in December, the remaining population of the world awakens to plumes of smoke choking the skies above a barren valley. Weak rays of sunlight reflect off the broken shells of countless mechanical monstrosities, their remains running to the horizon and beyond. But for each of their number fallen, the shattered form of a person lies in the valley’s keep, their lifeblood painting it a permanent red.

It’s a moment of momentous victory, but equally momentous loss. This was the survivors’ first victory, but not their final battle. This advance alone cost the lives of countless families, all in the name of stopping the enemy rather than pushing them back. If safety and security are to be won, it will be a gift that future generations enjoy; not their own.

And so a pair of figures appear in that barren landscape. The survivors recognise the one who rallied them to the cause – Sampson Valent – and the fierce woman who led them to victory – Wendy.

One by one, they gather the survivors about them and begin to speak.

From that day on, those who fought in the valley are to call themselves souldiers. A representation of that which sets them apart from their enemy, and the very thing they must fight to reclaim. They shall be bound by a concord, a promise spanning generations to remind them of their cause. And they shall greet one another using a from of ritual phrases that reinforce those values and the bond each member of the community holds to one another.

And thus the maxims were born.

Growing pains

Every tradition that outlives its origins must establish a system to pass on its wisdom to future generations. And so it was with the maxims. When the survivors spread across the free territories, settling into new cities and towns, they took the maxims with them. In the years that followed, they repeated the maxims Sampson and Wendy gave them, and for a time, it seemed their success was guaranteed.

Time, however, had other plans. At first, the peoples of the free territories repeated the same set of maxims using the same structure and format as each other. As time went by, some of the regions introduced differences to better reflect regional circumstances while others created new maxims entirely.

In under half a century, the number of maxims in circulation ballooned from little more than twenty or so to almost a thousand forms and variants.

To combat the ever-growing collection, the peoples of the world handed control over to a new office in Central – the Office of the Adjutant General. The office drew members from across the free territories to create a complete catalog of all available maxims and their variations, then cut down the set to one that could be more easily remembered and that represented the core ideals Sampson and Wendy handed down.

Four years after the effort began, the office announced the first ever set of official maxims, giving the world the set of 250 maxims still in use even today.

What’s in a maxim?

All maxims follow the same basic structure – a greeting (known as the “call”) matched with a set response (the “refrain”):

CallRefrain
May the day be yoursI shall make it mine
May your actions invite esteemI shall always be true
Common maxims

Most calls and refrains are set, but some maxims allow conversation partners to choose from a range of refrains according to the situation (for example, “may the weather be a sign”), or the time of year or an event (for example, “may you remember those who give their lives”). Some maxims can also be chained with others to create a set of calls and refrains spanning multiple responses, allowing conversation partners to express more nuanced ideas.

CallRefrain
First roundMay the day be yoursI shall make it mine
Second roundAnd may it be yours alsoOur fates are intertwined
A chained maxim

Making changes

The maxims might be highly ritualised, but they aren’t static. As the currents of the world change, the Office of the Adjutant General updates the set to better reflect the needs of the time.

Whenever they do so, they issue a new epoch or verse.

An epoch represents an update to the entire set of maxims, and is only issued once a decade or after an important event. While some calls and refrains are carried over from one epoch to the next, the majority change completely. Even when a call or refrain does remain, the wording often changes to reflect a new nuance or situation:

MaximEpoch 249Epoch 256
May the day be yoursIt belongs to us allI shall make it mine
Changes across epochs

When the Office of the Adjutant General issues a new epoch, it distributes the new set to important organisations such as the heralds, Railway Corps, and Adjutant Corps to memorise in advance. Members of these organisations must use the new set of maxims from the official issue date without exception. Members of the general public, however, are given a transition period during which use of the new maxims is encouraged, but not enforced.

Compared to the complete overhaul of an epoch, a verse represents a minor adjustment to the calls or refrains of several maxims in the set. More common than epochs, verses allow the Office of the Adjutant General to reflect trends in maxims and common interpretations:

MaximEpoch 256, Verse BEpoch 256, Verse C
May the fortress bring you peaceIt offers us protectionI welcome its protection
May you think of those who give their livesThey shall remain in heart and mindThey shall live within my memory
Changes across verses

Cultural influences

Despite best efforts to maintain a single set of calls and refrains, different groups and peoples have had different ideas over the ages. Indeed, the maxims have become such a core part of life in Central that residents often modify them or use them in ways other than originally intended.

Perhaps most egregious amongst these are the souldiers themselves. Not only do the RFC maintain their own set of maxims, the souldiers often chain maxims together to create speeches or adopt parts of common maxims as slogans and mottos:

MaximsMotto
May you carry the Line
May you live to see the dawn
Carry the Line, greet the dawn
May the Line be quiet
Good fortune
Hope for silence, prepare for fate
Maxim-based mottos

Competition amongst the great families is also common. Children of the great families often participate in competitions to recite or match calls and refrains during their school years, with those aiming to become heralds on attaining adulthood priding themselves on their ability to remember entire sets and their changes. Printed copies of the latest set of maxims are often a cherished addition to the personal libraries of those families able to afford them, as are seasonal decorations using maxims as motifs.


While the reach of maxims has grown immensely since their beginnings at the First Triumph, the spirit that began them remains the same. And, as they gain more and more importance amidst a society eager to hold on to relics of the past, it is almost certain that an interesting future awaits them in the decades and centuries to come.

What is “In the Shadows of Eternity”?

The year is 1345 Modern Time, more than half a millennia since a catastrophic event that decimated the earth’s population and left the southern hemisphere uninhabitable. The only things that stir there now are the mechanical monstrosities that arrive to assault the remaining peoples of the world in twice-yearly waves. The only thing standing between them and total annihilation are the men and women of the Reactionary Forces of Central, more commonly known as the souldiers.

“What… are they?” she said. “The enemy.”

“It’s hard to say,” said the man. “What is certain is that once upon a time, a great many centuries ago, we depended greatly on the intelligence they provided. The entire world is said to have engaged in a great race to outdo one another with the most wondrous inventions until, at some point, they slipped out of control…”

The idea for Central and the Line came to me almost twenty-five years ago now. It was my first year in senior high school, and I had just moved to a new school where I suffered terribly under the faithful attention of the local bullies. My writing started as a way to escape at first, a collection of notes and drawings about an imaginary future that could take my mind away from the events around me. As time went on, however, I started to see how it could become the vehicle for a story of a much more meaningful kind.

At its heart, I wanted to write a story about that time-honoured tradition of the science fiction genre, the evil robot uprising. Although the world had yet to see the likes of The Matrix, I was a very impressionable recent viewer of one of its forebears, Terminator. It had action, it had robots, it had high stakes, and every flash-forward to a vision of the bleak future filled my imagination with thoughts about how the world could end up in such a way. When the secret was finally revealed, however, I couldn’t convince myself that it could be something simple as a pushed button or a bad piece of code.

Unsatisfied, I set out to create my own.

“Never let your mind believe the design of an
object defines its only purpose.”

As you can probably guess, while I came to the idea much earlier in life, it’s taken me a long time to build up the experience to actually write it down. As much as I wanted to write it sooner, one benefit of that prolonged process is that the years in between gave me more time to grow as a person and refine the themes and approach to the story itself. The robots are still there (as well they should be) but the story has grown from one that focused on the conflict and the past to one of a much more personal kind.

In The Shadows of Eternity is as much a story of high stakes and fast-paced action as it is one of reflection and personal growth. It’s the heart-wrenching search of a young woman’s journey to discover what happened to her best friend set against the backdrop of a dangerous and unforgiving world whose secrets she must unravel (and survive) if she wants to discover the truth. It’s a love letter to introverts of all kinds, an ode to eastern and western science fiction, and the answer to many of the struggles I have encountered in life.

Perhaps you’re a fan of the mystery and emotional tension in Neon Genesis Evangelion, the character dynamics and growth in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, or the scope and grandeur of Horizon Zero Dawn. I’m a fan of all these series, too, and if these are the type of stories that resonate with you, I’m sure you’ll find something to enjoy here as well.

Want to learn more?

Read the first chapter –

Where is a.j.dahms?

Hi everyone,

Given the quiet over here and my other social media accounts over the past few months, you might be given to wondering –

Where on earth is a.j.dahms?

Well – I’m still here, but the truth is, there’ve been a couple of things.

First and foremost, publishing the first volume in the series was a momentous occasion. One made all the more special thanks to the support and kind words of so many amazing people. It was also the moment that, after a frantic schedule of research and preparation for so many years, my body decided it needed some well-earned rest.

Second, and perhaps more influentially, it’s been a demanding year all round. My day job has been extremely busy, I’ve had some personal issues to contend with, and – on a more positive note – after ten years of saving, my wife and I finally moved into our own home, a change that comes with as much joy as it does fresh responsibility.

So, what does all this mean for the series?

Needless to say, my original plan of publishing successive volumes once every six months seems a little ambitious now, doesn’t it. By this time of the year, I’d hoped to be announcing the release of the third volume, yet here I am, still figuring out some aspects of the second.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though.

While I haven’t been active on social media, I have written (and re-written) almost 80,000 words of concepts, chapter ideas, and lore for the world of Central and the Line. I have a much better handle on the series and feel confident that when it comes time to publishing the rest, they’ll be an order of magnitude better than anything I could have produced my first time round.

What it also means is that I’ll need to ask your patience a little while longer as I get things ready for the second volume. Things are moving ahead, though, and it’s in no small part due to the overwhelming support I’ve received from you all that I want to make sure that I get them absolutely right.

I’ll be providing more updates as things go along, but for now, thank you for reading, and – as always – may the day be yours.

Editing update #4

Hi everyone!

Well, it’s hard to believe that almost two months have gone by since the release of Souldier. If you’d asked me where I expected things to be in two months’ time, I don’t think I could have answered, but suffice it to say, I’ve been overwhelmed by the support I have received.

To everyone who has set aside the time to give it a read, who has reached out to me with feedback or liked or supported my writing in any way, thank you. Your comments have settled me, given me insight into the direction to keep things moving, and made my day more than once, and I am eternally grateful for each and every one of you.

With the first volume out the door, then, what am I up to now?

Working on volume two, of course!

The good news there is that everything is still on track to publish it sometime around halfway through the year.

The bad news is that at the start of January, I ran into the greatest bout of writer’s block since the series began.

It might sound strange to encounter writer’s block on something that’s already been written, but volume two is an important one to me in more ways than one. After all, I wrote it during a time when external events affected myself and many of the people I knew at the time quite deeply, and those of you who have read the first volume can guess at some of the themes that might already appear in it.

In short, some care is needed.

This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered writer’s block during the series; in fact, it’s happened quite a bit. Most of the time, several hours, days, or – in this case – even weeks of introspection follow, during which all the worst possible emotions seem right at hand. Am I a terrible writer? Am I following the wrong direction? Maybe I was never meant to do this in the first place.

The voices go on and on.

Despite the negativity, time has shown me a more positive side to writer’s block as well. As I struggled with problems past and present, I came to find it isn’t so much a lack or ideas or inspiration, but that I need to spend more time listening to the characters. Writer’s block is like running into a brick wall during a marathon – the answer is rarely to keep moving forward, but to change direction instead. And it’s the characters who’ll tell you when something isn’t quite right, that they’re actually feeling a different way to the one you wanted to portray.

A few techniques can help, too. In my case, running is the most common cure. No matter how much sitting down and staring at a screen I do, there’s something about getting outside for a while that not only helps me move, but gets my thoughts running, too.

Safe to say, things are moving again now.

In other news, one or two readers have asked me to do some matchmaking so that they can go over some ideas about what’s going on in the story. If you’ve got any budding suspicions or have anything you’d like to go over, I’ve created a general discussion thread on Goodreads so that you can find some other readers –

https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/21865004-souldier—general-discussion-thread-spoilers

Got questions of a more direct nature?

I’m pleased to announce that after some wrangling, the Adjutant Corps have agreed to let me send some messages down the Line. If there’s anything you’d like to ask Vivian, send it along to me and I’ll pass it down the relay, then post the responses here on the site once she’s found some time to respond. Keep in mind that she’s a bit sensitive about certain topics at the moment, but she assures me she’ll make every effort to answer everything she can.

Until next, may the day be yours.

Wallpapers

Greetings, souldiers, and may the weather be a sign!

On behalf of the Adjutant Corps, I am pleased to announce the release of several images that are now available for official use.

There are three designs, two of which are more suitable to mobile devices, while the third is formatted for larger devices such as terminals and transifax pads.

During your time in Central, you have no doubt seen the seven-pointed star of Central on the fortress and many of the city’s other civic buildings. However, if you have yet to pass field training and receive an assignment on the Line, you might not be as familiar with its meaning.

The seven-pointed star of Central is one of the souldiers’ oldest symbols from the Age of Awakening. And, like many of the souldiers’ older traditions, it is rich in meaning.

Each of the seven points represents one of the major continents on Earth, the largest representing the homeland of the enemy, otherwise known as the ‘sundered continent’ or the ‘lost continent’. The star is always depicted upside down in mourning, with each of the points bound by the Line. The colour is important as well, representing one of the most important things that separates us from the enemy.

Can you guess what it stands for?

As for the background, be warned that it can get extremely humid on the Line during the summer months. Sudden rain on a hot morning often draws out the moisture in the jungle, creating clouds of mist that gather about the mountaintops. Spot commanders are advised to avoid similar conditions unless absolutely necessary due to decreased visibility; if you must enter affected areas, extreme caution is advised.

Further communications to follow.

Until then, good fortune!

Finding New Year’s resolutions in an uncertain world

Happy New Year!

Across the world, the clock strikes twelve, signalling the end to a hectic and traumatic year. And now, as the fireworks fade and the year begins anew, I find myself wondering what the next twelve might bring.

Will they be better?

Will they be worse?

Even though I spent the year in an area less affected by the spread of the Coronavirus, I still found myself feeling its effects in ways I hadn’t expected. For example, as an introvert, I’m used to being at home, but I didn’t expect to miss an important connection with nature (also affected by the bushfires in Australia) as much as I did. Travel restrictions meant I couldn’t get out to see my colleagues in person as I had in past years, making it difficult to maintain closer connections. And, as a highly sensitive person, my feelings of anxiety over the state of affairs in the world and my worry for those in my life grew to a steady, constant stream that made it hard to focus or relax.

If the challenges I encountered were unexpected, however, then my response to them was equally so. Instead of turning to new things or making great changes in the way things were, my refuge came from questioning things I had long taken for granted instead. Was my work environment at home set up in a way that was actually comfortable and conducive to being productive? Was I reaching out to people in ways that helped me feel connected, and just what were my communication preferences, anyway?

In an uncertain world, my antidote was to make small changes, not take giant leaps.

Perhaps this goes a ways in explaining a problem I’ve always had with another curiosity of the change in calendars – New Year’s resolutions. On the one hand, the perennial list maker in me has always found them a great way to focus on the things I want to achieve in the coming year. But on the other, well… let’s just say I’m keenly aware of how often I fail to meet them.

(Then again, is there any surprise that it feels hard to suddenly get up and start going for runs in the morning when you never did so before? Just the thought of it makes me want to hit my alarm and get five more minutes in bed.)

What I’m coming to realise about New Year’s resolutions is that they are a change, just like any other. And that, just like any other change, I need to plot them out as a journey rather than treat them as a set of goals to achieve right away. And so, this year, I’m making the small changes that saw me through the previous year into my mantra for the coming one. I’m viewing the start of the year as exactly that – the first step towards goals that can take a year to achieve, measured in one small, incremental step after the other.

Here’s what I’ve got:

Exercise

I know, I know – I already moaned and complained about getting up and going for runs earlier in the post, but that’s not entirely what I had in mind. I already walk and jog, do some martial arts, but these are merely disconnected dots in a life spent mainly in front of a computer, typing away at a keyboard.

Late last year, at the recommendation of my wife, I began doing a series of stretches after waking up and before going to bed. I’ve never been particularly good at incorporating physical activities into my daily routine, but when the start is as small as a few seconds on one or two stretches, things get suddenly easier. Once that becomes familiar, another can be added, and so on until a routine takes shape in full.

Understanding

I’ve never been a very big user of social media, so when I started this website and became more active in other forums such as Twitter and LinkedIn, it was a bit of a shock to the system. What did I have to say? Would anyone read it, and how could someone who is not good at self-promotion get the word out?

What I’ve come to realise is that even though I feel emotions quite strongly, I don’t always connect them to what’s going on at the time. When I’m upset, there’s usually a specific reason, but it rears its head as a generalised sense of frustration at first. And even though I have many interests and many things to say about them, most of it ends locked up in my head in a similar way.

Although this is a problem I personally struggle with, I suspect it’s something other introverts and highly sensitive people deal with as well. Over the coming year, I plan to get better at telling myself to stop and think before reacting. In doing so, I’m hoping to find better ways to deal with situations that tend to feel overwhelming, and get better at articulating myself.

Gratitude

This brings us to my third and final point – giving thanks.

Throughout the challenges of the previous year, I found there were many things that I was grateful for as well. Not just the big things either, but being able to wake up in a safe place, to greet the dawn once more, and to feel the change of seasons. They say that sometimes, you don’t fully appreciate some things until you lose them, and last year made me painfully aware of the many things I enjoy each day, but took for granted.

I’m also eternally grateful for the many people who have shown me support over my own journey. As much as writing a story or creating articles is a personal activity, it’s a form of communication like any other, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without your support. In the coming year, I want to not only show gratitude for the small things, but connect this with my goal above and be a better person to you all.

And with that, this feels like a good place to wrap things up.

To all of you who have followed my work over the previous year, who have supported my journey in any way, thank you. It has been a great pleasure to be there and take part in your lives as well in some way, shape, or form, and I hope the coming year is a good one for you.

I’m sure we’ll connect more directly some time in the coming months, but until then, take care, and may your days be long.

It’s here!

Hi everyone,

After years of writing, months of editing, and weeks of anticipation, I’m thrilled to finally announce the release of my debut novel, Souldier –

Get it today on Amazon via the links above, or on Apple Books via the following:

Get it on Apple Books

After such a long time in the works, it’s a strange sensation seeing this story out there in the ‘real world’ alongside other authors and books. It’s a cathartic one as well, and as I stumble my way through these first steps in getting everything out there, I find myself eternally grateful for the support and enthusiasm of a great many people who have helped me get where I am today.

Many thanks go to my amazing beta readers, Tahlia Richardson, Martin Lopes, Lucy Bopf, Alex Wellstead, and Ellie Minto, and to Brice Fallen for sharing his insight into and knowledge of the publishing industry. Their advice and feedback has helped me grow as a writer in ways I could never have imagined, and I am deeply appreciative of the time and expertise they have shared with me.

Many thanks must also go to my wonderful wife, Chie, who has stood with me every step of this process, given my encouragement when I felt down, and gave me the strength to keep on going. Everything I am today, I am because of her.

And last but by no means least, thank you to you as well, dear reader. As I have mentioned before in other posts and forums, this series touches on a number of themes that are incredibly personal to me, and it is thanks to the support and consideration you have given me over this process that I have been able to find the courage to speak so openly about them.

Whether you go on to read the full series or your adventures remain here, I thank you for whatever serendipity has brought you to this page, and wish you good fortune.

Until next, may the day be yours.

Editing update #3

Finishing something – actually finishing it, once and for all – is a curious thing.

I’ve been sitting on this story for almost twenty-three years now, and in that time, I’ve re-written and re-approached it so many times that it’s almost hard to imagine it as a real and solid thing. Somewhere along the way, however, the rough edges have gotten smoother, the characters more real, and the scenes most important to the story stronger than the rest.

We’re still about three months away from the final publication date, and with a first draft in place, it might be hard to imagine what could possibly take so much time to complete. There’s work, of course, and other life events that dictate the amount of time I can spend editing, but more so than that is the sheer volume of things to do.

Most importantly, the closer I come to finishing the manuscript – to actually finishing it, once and for all – the more I’m becoming aware that these words that have been bouncing around inside my head for so long are themselves about to be decided, once and for all. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s also at this moment that the mind begins to wonder – have I been creative enough? Is this sentence quite right, and what does it mean to finish something, anyway?

The good news is that, after several weeks of constant editing and re-working, I’m happier with the story than ever before. Years of growing practice have helped me understand some of the areas I can improve, as has the feedback from a small group of dedicated beta readers whose praises I’ll be singing as we draw closer to the publication date. I’ve finished most of the major edits now, and am focusing on sentence-level changes, spot edits, and making sure the details of the world itself are right instead.

In short, there’s still more to come, but it’s all moving along.

10 Things to Do on Sabbatical – One Year On

When the opportunity came, I was well and truly in need of a break. After ten years of moving country and moving home, of changing and building careers and juggling the demands of my personal life with those of my professional one, the rigours of a busy lifestyle were taking their toll. My wife knew it – I knew it – but it wasn’t until the stars aligned in that tenth year that I could finally take an extended period away from work to rest, recharge, and relax. [1]

That short time away from work was a welcome one, but to take full advantage of it, I knew that it had to be more than just an extended holiday. Instead, some parts of it had to stick. But which ones would they be? Would the space and awareness that I found survive the rigours of a return to a full-time job, and would I find, as one colleague suggested, that I had changed for good?

With these questions in mind, I vowed to return in one year’s time to reflect on how it all went. In doing so, I hoped to find some insight not only into the long-term benefits of taking time away, but also how to incorporate some of those benefits into an otherwise busy lifestyle.

That time is now.

Finding time

One of the reasons it can be so hard to take time away is finding the time to set aside for it. We’re all busy, perhaps more so now than ever before. Competing priorities and the sheer volume of current world events can all conspire to make it tricky to find time for ourselves, let alone the multitude of tasks that demand our attention each day.

I was keenly aware of this when I started my time away, so I set out to take as much advantage of this newfound freedom as I could. I ran every morning at dawn, I went to martial arts classes twice a week, I created a proper sleeping schedule, and I spent time cleaning and organising my surroundings every day.

Unfortunately, some of these habits didn’t survive the transition to work. My wife and I still go for a walk every day, but I no longer find the energy to wake up early enough in the morning to go running. Likewise, I only get to martial arts once a week, and I certainly don’t sleep as well as I used to.

What I did realise, however, was that I didn’t have to do all these things. It was good to explore some options and to understand my preferences, but most of the things I wanted to focus on and improve in the long term, I was already working on every day. As such, it was less about finding the time to do more things, and more about finding the time to do the right things. And whether we have three months, three days, three hours, or even just three minutes to ourselves, the things of the most importance to us are those we can work on while we do them.

Finding focus

One of my core goals during my time away was to take better care of myself. I sorted through old belongings and made some hard decisions about what still felt like me and what needed to move on. I made an effort to get out and about and see more of the state where I was born. And, most importantly, I went to the doctor’s to get checked.

Many of these were one-off activities that I still benefit from today, but much like the item above, it is the process rather than the activities themselves that has lingered with me the most.

When we’re caught up in the whirlwind of our daily lives, it can be easy to shut out the messages our bodies send us. Are you a poor sleeper, someone who suffers from patchy skin, or who feels tired or unwell after certain types of activity or food? All of these can be related to stress, of course, but there might be another cause, one that has been with you for so long it no longer registers as out of the ordinary. Pay attention to the patterns and rhythms of your body, and you might find it comes down to getting pillows or mattresses more suited to you, finding a better skin routine, warming up properly before working out, or that certain types of foods just disagree with you. (And yep, all of these apply to me.)

Challenge what feels normal.

Finding inspiration

Reflection was always going to be a big part of my time away, and I’m glad I set aside some time for it. Meditating, keeping a diary, and searching through my feelings all helped me sort out a number of professional goals and perspectives. It helped me identify the things that mattered to me, and helped me prepare for my return to work.

The most inspiring revelation, however, came from one of the most unexpected sources: re-reading The Lord of the Rings.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been a fan of science fiction and fantasy. Whether it was because I had to focus on my career or some abstract idea of ‘growing up’, however, somewhere along the way, I forgot all about that. Instead, I got to thinking that everything I did had to somehow ‘mean’ something or contribute to getting ahead, and in doing so, I missed one of the most important messages of all.

Not everything we do needs to ‘mean’ something. Some things are meant to be enjoyed for the sake of enjoyment itself, and that’s enough. They almost always connect back to some core part of our being, hold some special, untouchable meaning of their own, and the more we refuse to accept them, the more we drift astray.

Since re-reading that childhood favourite, I’ve been re-exploring some of the titles from my childhood and getting in touch with a part of myself that I had long thought cast aside. I wrote about some of that in my previous post, Nordock. And as I have, it’s been encouraging to see that rather than the rejection of these parts of my life I had always feared, I’ve found more supporters than ever, including my wife (who, much to my surprise, happens to be a hill dwarf barbarian).

Looking back on my time away, I am eternally grateful for this period and the reprieve it gave me. Likewise, for the encouragement and support of my wife to build up the courage to take this opportunity. In hindsight, there were some experiences I could only have gotten in doing so. However, it’s also encouraging to see that the most important benefits are those we can all tap into by taking a few simple steps in our daily lives.

[1] https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/10-things-do-sabbatical-andrew-dahms/

10 Things to Do on Sabbatical – One Year On