As part of the great adventure which is my post-cancer mid-life transformation, I grabbed an opportunity that popped up on my Facebook feed one day to join an intensive ten-week boxing training programme, culminating in a big match, to raise funds for Breast Cancer Care. I expected a pretty gruelling physical challenge – and it lived up to that expectation. But what I didn’t expect was the incredible camaraderie, support and bond that develops between boxers and coaches as we urged each other on to push past the point at which we want to give up, to achieve and perform way beyond what we could do alone. Early in my training, they switched me into a more advanced class, where I trained with women who were a lot younger, a lot fitter and stronger, and a lot more proficient and skilled at boxing than me. If there was a moment when I feared I wouldn’t cope, it didn’t last long. My fellow boxers welcomed me in and gave me their full support and encouragement. Ultimately, I may have got into the ring and faced my opponent alone, but I had a whole team of people in my corner. I learned that boxing is a team sport. And it was my ‘team’ that enabled me to do something which was way, way outside my normal comfort zone – something brave and bold and just a bit crazy! I didn’t (quite) win my fight, but I am so proud of myself for having the courage to get in the ring at all, and for putting up a pretty good fight and making it a close one. As the only boxer who has actually had breast cancer, they awarded me the ‘fighter of the night’ trophy! It was a very memorable night, and weeks later I am still coming down from the ‘high’. But it was the life-changing experience of the strong bond that forms between a team of people all supporting each other to do something brave and challenging that made my boxing experience one of the highlights of my life. What I learned from my boxing journey is that not only can we do way more than we think we can when we are part of a team, but the ‘fellowship’ of people going through something with us, side by side, keeping us going when the going gets tough, and sharing in our achievements and our victories, is immensely powerful, life-enriching and rewarding. Pushing myself outside my comfort zone added more value to my life than merely the physical challenge of boxing. My fellow boxers and our coaches were, and are, a source of inspiration. Life is so much more worthwhile when we work together to achieve more than we could achieve alone.
So today I handed in my Masters dissertation, completing a two year Master of Science degree in Middle East Politics. And everyone has asked me if I feel relieved and glad its over. The answer is no. I feel very proud of myself for having decided on something I really wanted to do, just for myself, out of pure interest, with no career move in mind, but just to stretch myself and achieve something meaningful and really stimulating. And I did it. And because it was something I was really motivated to do for myself, with no other motive, it didn’t really feel like work. This degree is one I enrolled in just before I was diagnosed with cancer. I had to postpone the start of studies for a year while I went through nine months of grueling treatment. I started evening classes on top of a full time job whilst I was still fat, frumpy, unfit and working my way through ‘chemo-brain’. But I was motivated. I loved the classes, I loved learning. My dissertation was a subject I have had a lifelong interest in, and now that it is finished I almost don’t know what to do with myself. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. And now I will need to find a new challenge (which shouldn’t be hard. I have a bucket list long enough to fill several lifetimes!). I guess the lesson I would share with you is that when you really tap into the person you are deep down inside, and align your life to let the real you out, the easier it is to be motivated to do whatever you have set yourself to do. If you don’t get up in the morning looking forward to what you have to do today, then what you’re doing is not enabling you to live authentically, to be true to who you are. So do whatever you have to do to change your life around to live your purpose, and then you will be living a life you love! You’re worth it!
Do you ever feel like those carefree, childhood dreams and ambitions of great things have gone forever, and you are stuck in the rat race doomed to repeat the groundhog day of an unfulfilling cycle of work, eat, sleep, always feeling tired and bored, and knowing you were destined for more, but just not sure what that is or how to get there?
We spent our childhood exploring, experimenting, trying things just for fun, living life with gusto, figuring out what we like and don’t like, what we are interested in, what really taps into our deepest desires, passions, dreams and aesthetic senses, what really gets our juices flowing. In that process of exploring who you are, and what makes you ‘you’, you were subconsciously developing a whole set of beliefs and core values – the things which are most important to you – which have stayed with you and shaped your most essential sense of self into adulthood.
That rich tapestry of beliefs and values is what makes you interesting and completely unique and set apart from every other human being who has ever lived. There has never been, nor will there ever be, another human being who is identical to you. Even if you have an identical twin. That makes you profoundly valuable and interesting. You have a contribution to make to this world that no-one else can make, and the world will be a poorer place if you bottle up all that makes you so special and wonderful and interesting and valuable and gifted, and retreat to a ‘comfort’ zone of wanting to be just like everyone else, to blend in, to hold back something of yourself from the world around you. The irony is that this ‘comfort’ zone is anything but comfortable. It is unsatisfying and unfulfilling, and lacking in purpose and meaning, and that can be deeply unsettling, even if outwardly we appear to be ‘successful’.
So what is the number one reason our lives are so unfulfilling? Every single time, it is because we have let our sense of self get lost as we have drifted into a life which doesn’t allow us to fully express who we are. There is a fundamental mismatch between our lifestyle and our core values.
My core values are those of an adventurous, brave explorer. They are values such as independence, freedom, courage, exploration, strength, health, fitness, appreciation of natural landscapes, experience of foreign places and cultures. For me, to be cooped up in a big city office job, chained to a desk, commuting in over-crowded trains, represents a lifestyle which doesn’t allow me to express my core values – my adventurous, explorer spirit. I don’t feel like I can be fully me when I am trying to fit the corporate mould.
Of course there are elements of my senior, corporate career that I love, otherwise I wouldn’t have stayed with it for so long. It’s not all bad. And that is the trap. It isn’t so bad that I was desperate to get out, to change my life. But it wasn’t so good that it gave me the life I always dreamed of or allowed me to feel like I was really making a difference in the world. It is that mediocrity that is the real killer of dreams, passions and hopes for the future.
So if your life is just not satisfying, meaningful or fulfilling enough, no matter how ‘successful’ by society’s definition, how do you turn it around?
There are three steps to getting the life you want:
- Know your core values. To help you figure them out, list all the things that make you feel happy – the experiences, the people, the material things, the places, the aesthetic values. Think about the times in your past you felt happy or fulfilled or deeply satisfied. What are the values that they embodied? For more help on figuring out your core values, see the ten lifestyle types in my book “How to have a midlife crisis”.
- Choose one area of your life where you can make the most difference to your life fairly quickly. Focus on just that one area of your life to begin with, so that you don’t get overwhelmed and give up. It might be physical health, beauty or fitness, it might be career, it might be relationships, or it might be giving something back. There is a free Transformation Matrix on the Resources page at catherinesearle.com to help you figure out where to start. One note of caution: don’t resort to your ‘safe’ zone to avoid an area you are afraid to tackle. For single women, it is most often career or fitness that are their go-to safe zones, when all they really want is to find a partner, but they have a past full of disappointment that is stopping them from really going for it. Life is short. Be brave, and don’t be afraid to tackle head on the one area you know will make the biggest difference.
- Make an action plan. Decide what you need to do differently and set some goals. Your goals should be a mix of short and long term. Include some quick wins so you can see the difference you are making in a very short space of time. Your goals should be things that really target your core values, and allow you to express the real you. If you are struggling with these, think back to the kind of life you always dreamed about when you were young, or the things you have always wanted to try or do. Allow yourself to daydream, and explore ideas online or talk it through with friends who know you and want you to be your best self. You will soon find that you rediscover some long lost dreams, and find that the real you is still in there!
When I was at the peak of my post-cancer mid-life crisis, feeling fat and frumpy, the first things I did were to go vegan, join a gym, get a personal trainer, and makeover my wardrobe. I felt radically different in a matter of days. The combination of a vegan diet and working out gave me such a feel-good factor that I was on a permanent high for months – in fact I haven’t ever really come back down, one year on! It put me in a radical upward spiral, with my newfound health and fitness boosting my mood and vice versa. The reason I was so motivated to make it work is that I realised I needed a strong, fit and healthy body to live the kind of adventurous life that was consistent with my core values.
You can achieve the same radical transformation by taking a few simple (but life-transforming) steps to get the life you want. But the key to making it stick and making sure it is ultimately fulfilling to you, is to match up your lifestyle to your core values, the qualities you hold to be most important to you. If you are trying to live up to someone else’s values or society’s definition of what it means to be successful, and these don’t match what you hold to be most important to you, then you will struggle to find that deep motivation and fulfilment which enables you to see the changes through. But if you do know your values and live them out, you will make a bigger difference to the world around you than you could have ever dreamed of.
Don’t be afraid to let the real you shine through!
Do you want to be just like the thousands of people who are living their dream, raking in millions whilst lying on a beach in Thailand, partying every night with their huge entourage of passively-incomed friends, and jet-setting around the world to interview Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Jesus, for their latest vlog?
Despair no more! Success is actually really easy if you follow my simple steps. The secret is that there are a few daily habits you must get into if you want to take your life from the boring, mediocre, average struggling Joe to the super-successful, celebrity, mega-rich, whizz-kid, jet-setting, in-demand, TED-talking, uber-popular, hot-shot entrepreneur that you aspire to become. I have trawled the best of the blogs, learned from their trial and error and condensed thousands of not-very-secret secrets into the 101 things you should be doing before breakfast if you ever hope of being a success in life. If you’re not doing these, what is wrong with you??
- Get up at 4.30am
- Go for a run. Preferably the Three Peaks Challenge, but if you’re just a beginner you could settle for a full marathon.
- Write sixteen blog posts, three e-books, twenty-seven social media posts, film three vlogs and hold four live webinars
- By now the kids will have got themselves up, showered, ironed their school uniforms, done all their homework and packed their school bags. Prepare healthy school lunches for them in bento boxes with crudites, home-made hummus and sandwiches in the shape of dinosaurs and Hello Kitty. If you don’t have kids, make lunches for all the neighbours’ kids.
- Make bread dough.
- Whilst you’re waiting for the dough to rise, use this otherwise wasted time to mow the lawn, clean the oven, and make a piece of furniture you saw on Pinterest with a recycled pallet.
- Hold several teleconferences with your big corporate consultancy clients in Hong Kong, New York, Singapore and Geneva. Give them five minutes of your wisdom that will instantly save them millions, and bask in the warmth of their grateful accolades.
- Read the Financial Times, the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, the China Times and the Sydney Morning Herald. It’s important to be well-read, up to date with what’s happening in the world, and get a balanced view.
- Don’t let those 1,001 emails in your inbox get the better of you. Fire off a quick but well-crafted reply to each of them and empty that inbox!
- Text Her Majesty the Queen about meeting up for Tea at the Ritz in London this afternoon, and arrange to meet Mark Zuckerburg for dinner at the French Laundry in the Napa Valley, followed by nightclubbing in New York with Taylor Swift.
- It’s important to give something back. Go onto Amazon, order a million ipads, and have them sent to starving children in Africa.
11-99. You should still have a few minutes to spare before breakfast. Having achieved quite a lot already, don’t make the classic average person’s mistake of not squeezing maximum value out of those few remaining, unallocated minutes. Use this time wisely by doing another 89 or so tasks of your choice, which might include, for example, re-roofing the house, starting another company, fixing the economy or bringing peace to the Middle East.
- Now that you can be confident that you haven’t wasted a single minute of your time, and you are cultivating the healthy habits of a successful person, there are just two more things you need to do to start the day: whip up a three-course raw, vegan, gluten-free, paleo, wholegrain, no-carb, no trans-fats, 5:2, Mediterranean, Jamie Oliver breakfast; and
- Check yourself into rehab.
Those of you old enough to remember Hyacinth Bucket of the TV show “Keeping up appearances” will appreciate why she is my anti-hero, after my midlife transformation. The very plain, frumpy, old-before-her-time Hyacinth, with her mind-numbingly dull life, represents everything I have left behind since my midlife transformation.
So when I decided to start planning my departure from London (home for the last15 years) to move back to Australia next year to buy rural, forested land and build a treehouse (yes, an actual house, up a tree, to actually live in!), I realised that there are probably 101 things I have always intended to do in the UK and haven’t got around to yet. I didn’t want to move to the opposite side of the planet and be constantly kicking myself for things I meant to do and didn’t. So I decided to write a UK bucket list, which I have re-named in honour of my anti-hero, to remind myself why I have a bucket list: to avoid life slipping away in hum-drum mediocrity only to wake up one day and realise the opportunity to fulfil all my dreams is gone.
So what is on my ‘Mrs Bucket’ list? Farnborough Air Show, for one. And last weekend I checked it off my list! I come from a family of recreational and professional pilots and general aircraft fanatics, and I have spent my life in and around small planes (see the photo of me as a kid in a glider tow-plane in my book “How to have a mid-life crisis”). Farnborough is one of the world’s great air shows, and in fifteen years of living a 30 minute drive down the road, it has been on my mental bucket list but I have never been. That changed last weekend.
As well as Farnborough, amongst various other things, I have included:
- Europe’s longest zipline in Snowdonia, Wales
- Europe’s second longest zipline in Italy
- and a totally crazy but fun project: I want to have my photo taken in front of some iconic London landmarks whilst wearing a fabulously fun steampunk costume!
So why these things? Primarily I just want to put some fun back in my life. But importantly, the things on my ‘Mrs Bucket List’ are things which are consistent with my primary lifestyle type: The Adventurer (see my book “How to have a mid-life crisis” for the ten lifestyle types). The core values of the Adventurer are things like freedom, independence, adventure, exploration, and love of the great outdoors.
Some of the things on my ‘Mrs Bucket List’ came from looking through my childhood photos, and realising just how many of them included me in or on various vehicles (a single engine plane; a sea kayak; a camel; my Dad’s motorbike; etc). This week, when I checked Farnborough Air Show off my Mrs Bucket List, it took me back to the kinds of adventures I had as a youngster when my core values were being formed. It put me back in touch with the ‘real’ me – re-establishing my sense of identity and personality. These things aren’t just fun. Hearing and feeling the earth-rumbling roar of an F35 fighter jet overhead gives me such a thrill, it is a memorable highlight and a reminder of what makes me unique and interesting. And after two years of cancer treatment and post-cancer frumpiness and feeling old before my time, I really needed that. I feel like I am really living again and regaining my sense of who I am.
Three Steps to making your bucket list a reality
So what’s on your bucket list? Is it a bunch of ‘nice’ dreams that you will probably never fulfil? I had three steps to making my bucket list work for me.
- Write it down
For most people, their bucket list is just a vague notion, not an actual list. So the first step to making your bucket list a reality is to actually sit down and write it! Brainstorm everything you have ever wanted or dreamed of or you thought you might like to do. Don’t be afraid to write down things which are personal, or which you might be embarrassed by if a friend or family member found your list. Keep it secure if it’s that personal. But write those things anyway, because seeing them in black and white helps to really cement in your own mind that some of these things are actually things you really, desperately want.
- Make it meaningful
The second thing is to include the things which are really important and meaningful to you, like getting married (or making the marriage you have more fulfilling and meaningful), having children, or doing charitable work. Don’t limit yourself to just a list of fun stuff like holiday destinations and adventure activities. Nor should you limit yourself to the big stuff. Write a bucket list that includes a variety of fun and serious, big and small things. But make them things which put you back in touch with who you are and what brings you most fulfilment, meaning and purpose in life. Even the fun stuff.
- Make it happen!
Once you have a list, schedule some things in to your diary and make them happen!
I hope that you are inspired to avoid becoming a boring Mrs Bucket, by writing and fulfilling your own ‘Mrs Bucket’ List. If you do, please comment below and tell me what you have added to your list and what you have done to inject a bit of your own personality back into your life!
Great news! My book is finally complete and available on Amazon!
In coming days I will be posting some free resources from the book on my resources page, to help you plan your own mid-life transformation. I am also working on a questionnaire to help you identify which of the ten lifestyle types you identify with the most!
I piled on the pounds after my cancer treatment. Chemotherapy gave me a lot of fluid retention, and I went from a size 12 to a size 14, but months later, just as the fluid retention was going down and I thought I was getting back to my pre-cancer state of ‘normal’, I suddenly ballooned from a size 14 to a size 18! Once I hit 18, I decided enough was enough, and I kick-started my whole life transformation. In the space of ten months, I went from a size 18 to a fighting fit size 10 – the slimmest I have been in nearly fifteen years! And the best part is that I did it without even trying to lose weight! So how did I do it? On reflection, there are 4 things I did to transform my body:
- I decided to get fit and healthy
In other words, losing weight was not the objective, just a fringe benefit. As part of my midlife transformation (see my ebook “How to have a mid-life crisis”) I rediscovered my ideal lifestyle type – I am a natural adventurer, explorer, active, outdoorsy, speed-freak type. Getting back to this kind of lifestyle was my motivation for getting a body that would equip me to live life to the full. Defining my ideal lifestyle was the ultimate motivation for my physical transformation, so that it wouldn’t become just another New Year’s resolution I couldn’t stick to. The ultimate secret to successful weight loss is to be appropriately motivated for a better life.
2. I went vegan
Cutting out animal products completely – especially dairy – was the one step I took that saw the most dramatic, immediate effects. I literally watched the weight disappear before my eyes. At one point, I bought a new pair of jeans, which I could just manage to get done up. Ten days later they were too big to wear. Going vegan also had the surprising side effect of making me feel fantastically energetic, youthful, optimistic and motivated! Being vegan doesn’t mean missing out on vital nutrition if you eat a balanced diet including leafy veg for calcium and legumes (including soy) for protein.
3. I got a personal trainer
I started jogging, and after weeks of not seeing any tangible difference, and then giving myself a stress-fracture, I decided to call in the experts. My trainer really got behind my transformation and tailored an exercise regime based on strength-building, which really sculpted my shrinking body into a tight core and a more muscular physique. I realised how much all those lunges and squats and push-ups that I used to hate are actually key to getting the body you want. Cardio alone just won’t do it. Strength training also got rid of my cellulite thighs more effectively than anything else I have ever tried.
4. I bought a water bottle
Sounds pretty simple, right? Just having a water bottle that I carried around with me everywhere meant that I was suddenly drinking a whole lot more than ever before, and also replacing those sweet take-away coffees with something much healthier and more hydrating.
So there you have it. Those four things turbo-charged my weight loss, and gave me the body in my 40s that I had in my 20s – fit, energetic, and motivated to live life to the full!
It’s all very well to plan a whole life transformation, but that is a huge task, so where do you begin? I have made it easy for you with my Transformation Matrix, which you can find on my Resources page. Just score each area of your life in terms of how important it is to you, and how dissatisfied you are with it right now, and it will calculate colour coded total scores to show you which area of your life you should focus your transformation efforts on to make the biggest difference!