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My 2015 Annual Review – part 1

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Enjoying the beach in Combe Martin

Sitting down to write a review of a tough year is a strange experience. So far, I’ve probably written a bit of this blog on seven or eight different occasions, and each time, I’ve felt different. As 2015 gets further away, the emotions become less visceral. Som
e perspective is gained.

I’m reminded of my grown up job, when no matter how hard you tried, the answers you gave in the engagement survey about the previous 365 days were largely governed by how shitty the last few hours had been!

Even so, on most occasions, writing the title of this blog has made me sink into my chair a little. I started to feel a little more stressed than I did before I wrote those words, and I then immediately started to wonder how I was going to make this a balanced, positive blog, rather than just a deep dive into the struggles we’ve faced in the past year. But the distance from it is helping, and as this is meant to be a reflective blog, I’m glad I’ve waited.

I’m going to use the format that has kept me on the straight and narrow for the past few years, and break it down into ‘What went well?’, What didn’t go so well?’, and ’The year ahead/conclusions’. The good thing with this strategy is that it will force me to write some good things before I start writing the bad! I’ve also decided that the blog is going to be in two parts. The primary reason for this is that the combined blog was over 5,000 words – or about half of my university dissertation!

So, a word of warning: this is another Porter epic. Yes, it’s split into two, but both will be a long read. You might need some coffee. You might need some tissues. You might need some counselling once you’ve finished it. You might even be thinking it’s way too late for this blog! Nonetheless, this is an important review for me personally – it’s all well and good writing things down when the going is good, or when success comes easy. But, being honest about the struggles along the way – that’s all part of it too. In fact, a friend sent me a message after my last post saying that she connects with my blog the most out of every healthy lifestyle blog she reads because it’s “honest, realistic and real.” I could have cried when I read that, as that is exactly what I want this to be.

Me and my little family are on a health and life journey. We’re slowly realising that the directions change all the time and that most changes are absolutely fine. You just have to roll with them and not let yourself feel like a change is automatically a bad thing.

It’ll be better when…
The other day, I read something that really made me sit up and take notice. Essentially, it explained how this person was always looking to the future, saying ‘it’ll be better when…..” But, in reality, it won’t be better when whatever the thing is happens. There’ll be another struggle or challenge to take its place. In 2015, I found myself saying “it’ll be better when…” a lot. When Lucas sleeps. When we make the garden better. When we can travel again. When Lucas’ eczema has gone. When Angie has recovered from her eye problem (more on that in part 2). When we have a little more money.

Just reading those things out loud is a little embarrassing, because they are so future looking, and I thought I’d stopped doing that years ago. But I suppose when you’re facing dark times, it’s inevitable that you focus on a happier time ahead. Even though the happiness and future don’t yet exist, it’s comforting to think things will be better.

A while back, I got much better at living in the present. It slipped in 2015, so there is work to do.

Here we go then…

What went well
At times, I feel a little ridiculous when I focus on the ‘bad’ about life in 2015. I have to remind myself that no matter what we’re going through, there are people in some countries in this world going to sleep wondering if a bomb from the sky will hit their home in the night. There are people going to sleep not knowing if they will eat tomorrow. There are people going to sleep with a disease or ailment that affects every aspect of their life, yet it would be perfectly curable if they lived in another, ‘richer’, country.

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Lucas enjoying Norsey Woods, Billericay

A sympathetic soul might say that no matter what other people’s situations are, it’s okay for me to feel down if I’m struggling. In fact, my pal Kris pointed out that the reason it’s so difficult to contextualise is that your problems are right in front of you. They’re happening right now, and it’s hard to see around them. And yet, I have so much to be thankful for that I can’t help but think that this needs to become a priority for me – to be thankful for what I have right now, without comparison or negativity, and to get back to focusing on the positive.

We have food, warmth, remarkable friends and family. We have clean water when we turn on our taps. We laugh, we stomp through woods, we have breakfast out every now and again, we sing together, we cook together, we sit and read the Gruffalo. We have a health service that twice had an ambulance outside our door within seven minutes when our little boy needed help, and that fixed Angie’s foot when it went a little wrong. We have parks where we can feed the ducks. When we have a family day out, we can choose from thousands of safe, fun, accessible options. We have bikes that we go for rides on.

These are all things that I’ve probably taken for granted in 2015, and that I rarely stopped to be grateful for.

Angie, Lucas, a big stick, and Ali and Ed in the Wyre Forest.

Angie, Lucas, a big stick, and Ali and Ed in the Wyre Forest.

If we remove the tough moments, 2015 was full of things to be thankful for. When Lucas was at his worst point with his skin, we went to stay with our friends, Ed and Ali, in Kidderminster. Ed has a knack with children, and seemed to instinctively know that me and Angie were struggling a little bit. His solution? He entertained Lucas with ridiculous, repetitive games for an entire weekend, while Ali made sure we had full gin and tonics for our entire stay. Gin and tonic is paleo, by the way. Sort of. Well, not really, but it definitely tasted nice that weekend.

We had a great family holiday in Devon, in a little village called Combe Martin. We stayed with my Auntie and Uncle on the way down, who made a real fuss of us, and then saw our pal Julie and her family, who have been right there with us as we’ve changed pretty much every aspect of our lives in the past four years. Combe Martin was a great place to access the coast, and despite the largely rainy weather, (and Lucas’ deteriorating skin) we enjoyed visiting a new part of the UK.

We used to go camping with our friends Jan and Jimbo, but when Angie was pregnant, the idea of camping lost its appeal somewhat! So, we decided to take a few of the bits of camping that we love – chatting and playing cards – and turn it into a regular event! This carried on in 2015 with regular get togethers, and they always lifted our spirits.

Hallie with us in Hylands Park, Chelmsford

Hallie with us in Hylands Park, Chelmsford

We also had loads of friends from Camp Encore/Coda staying with us this year. Hallie, Sam, and then Charles and Megan made a huge difference when they came to stay, filling our houses with love, warmth and music. We may not be going to Camp again for a while, but if Camp keeps coming to us, we’ll be pretty pleased. Oh, and you need to check out Charles’ band, The People, because they are out of this world .

Growing a business from seeds
Our Live Simple journey continued, despite a broken foot, and we ended the year with the most clients we’ve ever had, and a growing local reputation.

Personally, I found the Personal Training offered me just as much as it offered my clients. You see, I love Personal Training. I absolutely love it. Helping someone get fitter, stronger, or fix their mobility issues, has been far better than I thought it potentially would be, and every time I go to the studio, I go with a spring in my step. Even though Lucas’ eczema and lack of sleep sometimes made it hard to have the energy to teach, as soon as I was in the studio, I felt alive and alert again.

Even better was that I developed a really interesting range of clients that found me in a variety of ways. These included a friend who was in my drama club at college, who sent me an email after reading about our lives on the blog. He ended up training with me, losing a lot of weight, and regaining the strength, mobility and confidence that enabled him to be a world class Judo practitioner in his teens. It was wonderful to get him firing on all cylinders again. Even better was that as he just needed a kickstart, he was able to absorb what he needed to know from me, get inspired, and then continue his journey on his own.

That was actually one of the things I had in mind when I started Live Simple – teach people everything they need to know, so that they don’t need me anymore. Tim Ferriss subscribes to this philosophy, and I completely agree with it. I know that Scott took the lessons he learnt from me home with him, and as a deputy head teacher, he was subjected to a lot of questions about his sudden ‘biscuits are dead to me’ approach, which led to other people making changes. It shows the positive impact that one person can have on the people around them.

And then there was the neighbour who tried a session with me because he thought he needed to do something, but didn’t know what. Together, we focused on his posture, form and mobility for weeks, before introducing strength training. Seeing him deadlift now with perfect form and a look of crazed determination on his face is often a weekly highlight for me! In fact, this neighbour is probably the best advertising we’ve done all year, as he got the whole street talking about his change in appearance! Well done, John. I’m proud to be your trainer!

What I’m discovering from training a variety of people is that most people aren’t sure what their goal is – they know that they don’t feel great anymore but have no idea how to turn that into action. And that suits me down to the ground, as I was exactly in that place five years ago, so can help people really, really change how they feel.

Angie is also developing a wonderful Pilates offering of her own. With hardly any advertising, pretty much every class she runs has a waiting list, with people attracted by the very small groups, her skill as a teacher, and quite frankly, how damn nice she is. Angie is making Pilates a moment in someone’s week where they just get to listen to her gentle voice, relax, and take part in a transformative workout. The feedback we’ve had is that it’s so different from the mass-Pilates sessions that people are used to, and it’s something that we’ve got exactly right with the business.

Pilates has also helped us build connections across our town (it’s still hard to think of Chelmsford as a city!), with Angie becoming friends with an inspirational Pilates instructor, Monica, at Moulsham Mill, and also teaching cover classes at Unique Results after me and owner James met up for coffee and realised we had rather a lot in common! Chelmsford is really lucky to have people like Monica and James. Like us, they had a vision of what they wanted to give to the world, and they’ve both built brilliant, people-first businesses out of a genuine desire to make a difference to people’s lives. In fact, it’s about time I pestered James for more coffee, as well as a kettlebell session. Maybe not in that order.

Playing the corporate game
When I quit the full time corporate world, I imagined it would be for good. I was so done with the whole experience, that I practically skipped out of that office on my last day.

And yet, in 2015, working one or two days a week for the very same large corporate, writing about subjects that I’m passionate about, for a team that I like and for a boss that values me…well, it changed my view of what a corporate career can be like if you make it more on your terms. Don’t get me wrong, I think it would be very hard to go back to a 9 to 5 office job now, but 2015 showed me that there are ways to make working for a big company mutually beneficial.

I think I’ve done some of my best communications work in 2015. I’ve enjoyed it, and the team that i’ve worked for have valued my input. Interestingly, it has also led to other work offers, as my reputation as someone who can come in cold and create effective copy, and give effective communications advice, is growing. We’ll see what happens in 2016, but along with my work for Example Marketing, I’ve realised that I still like writing and communications – I just had to get all of the office BS out of my life to see it.

Play it again, Sam
IMG_3452One of the best things I did this year was rediscover my love for music. My longtime musical collaborator, Jim, and I got together early on in the year and had a great chat about what we wanted to do. We’d written original music, played in bands, and played cover songs as a duo at events. All of it was cool, but the fun of the duo, playing the same old cover songs, was starting to wane.

After developing a love for Country music in the past five years, we decided to start a country covers band. Now, what we actually created was some kind of hybrid originals/covers band, which completely reignited my creativity and led me to write the first songs I had for years.

Of course, once the honeymoon period was over, a mismatch emerged with some of the goals of the band members, leading to me, Jim (and now Jamie, who was in my first ever band with me!) reassessing what it is we want to do, and deciding to focus on songwriting for the time being. Without the stress of trying to be good at everything you need to do to be an up and coming band, we’ve now got the balance right, and music is once again an enjoyable, constructive and creative part of my life.

I’m energised by songwriting in a way that I haven’t been for years, and pouring out some of the emotions that I’ve been feeling over the past few years has been a therapeutic, enlightening experience. I’m sure you’ll get to hear some of it soon, and you can find us over at The Skylight Crowd’s website.

Being a Best Man
One of my best friends, Ed, got married in 2015, and I was privileged to be the Best Man. As a designer, Ed has a serious eye for detail, and it was the most beautiful wedding I’ve ever been to. The Cotswolds’ venue was spectacular, and the little touches that Ed had designed for the venue were a true demonstration of his skill.

I think I get most of the credit here for the creation of this display for Ed's wedding cake.

I think I get most of the credit here for the creation of this display for Ed’s wedding cake.

I took the role of being a Best Man really seriously, just as I have before. I spent weeks on the speech, talked to as many people as I could on the day, and even provided the after-party entertainment on the piano!

Me and Ed have been friends for over 15 years now. What’s interesting is that in that time, I’ve let several friends drift away, as I’ve realised that the things that once connected us aren’t there anymore. With Ed, 2015 brought us closer than ever. His empathy and care at the struggles we were facing, his thoughtfulness, and then sitting beside him in the church on his big day, has made us both realise that this will be a friendship for life.

Breaking this blog into two parts, I think, was a great idea. Seeing all of this positivity in one place has been great for me and Angie, and will leave me with a lot of good memories of the year.

Finished? Here’s part 2 of my 2015 Annual Review.

 

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