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I’m struggling to be positive about my future

Our agony aunt, Mary Fenwick, offers a new perspective on whatever is troubling you

by Psychologies

Positive

3 minute read

Q. I feel like I’m on a hamster wheel that is out of my control. I’ve been in my job for 14 years and am studying law part-time, which I’ll finish next year. My job has become more stressful since I’ve been studying and, after talking to my GP, I made the big decision to reduce my workdays from five to four. However, I still feel unhappy and under pressure from my family because I’ve reduced my income.

I think my main problem is having no time to myself – I see a dark, continuous tunnel until the course finishes and I’m wondering if it’s all worth it. What can I do to remain optimistic about the path that I’m on? Name supplied

A. It might sound counterintuitive, but if you stop and appreciate the view for a moment, you’ll gain more energy. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Simon & Schuster, £16.99), Stephen Covey refers to it as ‘sharpening the saw’. You could keep hacking with a blunt blade, but it’s quicker in the long run to take an intentional time out.

This does not have to cost money or even much time. It might mean going for a walk, watching a sunrise or sunset, or having a family games night. You have done everything right so far – you’ve met all the course requirements; you’ve actually talked to your GP (many people might hold the thought in the back of their mind and not do it); and you’ve negotiated reducing your working hours. It’s a good time to share the sense of how far you’ve come with your supporters, and be explicit about their part in it – ‘thank you for giving me the headspace’; ‘I couldn’t do this without you’; ‘I notice and appreciate what you do, even when it’s hard and I seem distracted’.

When you share the successes out loud, you share the good feelings, too. Could you talk about your higher purpose and ask each person what would make this journey feel worthwhile to them? What are the values that drove your decision to study law in the first place? What are the personal strengths that you use each day? Would any of these phrases help: ‘I want to be in a position to help more people’; ‘it gives me a buzz when something suddenly makes sense’; ‘I’m showing my children that it’s never too late to learn’?

My only caveat is to check whether you are doing the same amount of work as previously, but you’re just not getting paid for it. That’s an easy trap with a four-day week, unless you are really specific about where the other 20 per cent of the job is now allocated. I’m not suggesting that you can magically make everyone happy, but if in doubt: stop, look, listen. 

Image: Getty