A midlife crisis typically involves a road to Damascus conversion to something cool or weird – yoga and raw food, body piercings and expensive bicycles, music festivals and Indie pop.
But what do you do if you are already a yoga teacher, with a nice bike, in a trendy place like Brighton where groovy tunes and wackiness are the norm?
To be honest the endless parade of goofy stunts from naked bike rides to zombie walks was making blood boil. Craving a life more ordinary, my midlife rebellion made me shun adventure and seek out structure and methodical processes instead.
My dear, dependable sister – an accountant in the Midlands – showed me the alternative path. One desolate wintry day when I despaired where I was heading, she built an Excel spreadsheet the size of a small planet that suddenly made life – add up.
It was a momentous occasion, a cold November morning shortly after my 25-year-old boiler had bust, when I sat at her kitchen table with a jumble of notebooks, diaries and receipts. One by one I decoded my hand written scribbles, smoothed the creases from the scraps of paper and began to type numbers into Excel boxes. Re-experiencing my life within a framework of figures was very comforting. For the first time in ages I was feeling in control.
Nothing escaped my rigorous new system – I discovered even the most troublesome anomalies could go in a box. This was a revelation.
The results were both miraculous and fast. By the end of that first day in November, I had calculated my self-employed income for the past three months and attached it to a grant application for a new boiler. One month later a £3000 cheque arrived in the post from the British Gas Trust – on the day before Christmas. Brilliant timing.
The following January I had the satisfaction of completing my first tax return. Ok, I had not earned enough money to pay tax but my spreadsheet was outward confirmation that I had become entirely self-supporting doing something I loved and believed in. Astonishingly I was bending and squeezing for a living – teaching yoga and doing a strange, hard to pronounce Japanese body therapy called Shiatsu.
My spreadsheet was abandoned half way through the year in the maelstrom of moving house from Brighton to Scotland. When I picked it up again in January 2017 to complete my tax return, I was struck once again by the profound satisfaction it gave me.
Accountancy makes me examine my life in micro, recalling and recording, the many small actions I have performed to build up my business and make life work. I put aside my daydreams and look at what’s really there. The sums are modest but the repeated efforts through winter, spring and summer, over bank holidays, evenings and weekend make me proud.
Seeing it in black and white, I am impressed by my dogged commitment. And I have paid my mortgage, stayed out of debt and added some shiny new components to my bicycle.
I lost some of my records in my house move and was forced to trawl my emails for dates, receipts, expenses and invoices. Doing this I find evidence of all my creative acts – creating a website, flyers, blog and gathering items to make a therapeutic space. I also rediscover the enormous amount of support I have had in the form of funny email conversations with family and friends. I excavate touching feedback and thank you messages from students and clients who tell me I’ve made them feel better.
Life as a self-employed yoga teacher and Shiatsu therapist is precarious. I am often racking my brains to find ways to be more successful – and I am often feeling inadequate because I’m not flush with cash. In a world where material wealth is highly valued – it is easy to see myself as a failure.
I’ve turned my back on shopping but, believe it or not, I now find clothes that fit on the forest floor and in the hedgerows when I’m out on my bike. And my clients offer me old cars, furniture, bicycle repairs, accommodation, dinners and cups of tea in plentiful supply.
Some may call it dull, but the methodical process of keeping accounts was the door to my midlife liberation. Learning to think inside the box, made me count my blessings and acknowledge the things that matter to me. It stops me from thinking about all the stuff that is missing and makes me remember I’m chosen the business of making people feel better – which makes me happy.