by Mark Kelleher
Age 46. London
After separating from my wife after 20-odd years and four children, I moved back to the city at the start of 2015 and into a flat in North London. Living on my own for the first time since my twenties. I had a long list of things I had to to to find myself again; have dinner parties will various cool friends, inhabit the cafes and restaurants of London, laugh a lot, travel. And I am doing all of that; I am a very happy man. My marriage was a good thing. I, we, enjoyed ourselves for many years. We just wanted different things after two decades, no one was to blame, we had just changed and failed to adapt the relationship to how each of us as individuals had changed.
When I was a young man I had thought about questions like why are we here, what was I for and so on, but life took over.
When I was a young man I had thought about questions like why are we here, what was I for and so on, but life took over. The philosophy became working out how to fit four kids into a house, or how to amuse small humans on the beach for the day. It was fun and enveloping, but that era moves on. I desperately didn’t want to be the man they came back to visit and spent a few hours with, then went back to their marvellous lives. I had led a traditional life: school, university, work, girlfriends, marriage, fatherhood. I did not feel as though I had missed out on anything, on the contrary I had felt privileged by my state-funded education, my career and marriage.
But dissatisfaction crept in. I had always said there were things “I would do one day” – write a novel, get piano lessons, become a fashion photographer; and I started to explore how I could do these things as my lifestyle and relationship started to be a mis-match of my needs and aspirations. I wrote a couple of scripts but didn’t get them taken up, I started doing photography more seriously and made a bit of money but it wasn’t the vision I had had. Too ordinary, too normal. By the time the end story of the relationship was playing out, I decided to get piano lessons as an escape.
By the time the end story of the relationship was playing out, I decided to get piano lessons as an escape.
My piano teacher had a way of approaching the work that was utterly different to the goal-oriented life I had led. I was all about achievement; I wrote to do lists and ticked things off when I had achieved them. By my late 30s I was actually running out of things to put on the lists – but now I know the lists seemed limited from the life context I was in at the time.
At first I thought my piano teacher was far too hippyish; not focused enough on achieving certain things within certain times limits. But within one lesson; one hour of my life, she had illustrated for me that life was not about achieving goals, and although this is going to be a cliche, it really is about the journey.
She has taught me that the experience we are in at this very moment is not “as good as” achieving goals, it is a far more valuable way of measuring how good your life is. This is not a philosophy of disengaging with life – not about staying in bed and saying to yourself, “I’m just really engaging with these pillows, I’m staying put.” Actually this is about getting out there and trying everything, as opposed to thinking “I thought about doing something but I won’t be any good, so I’m not doing it.”
This is wrong because “being good at it” the first time you try something is not the point, the point is you get the experience of trying it. Then your context has changed and the second time you try it, you have the previous experience of the first time and so on. So her philosophy is just do it, do the things you love, and love the experience of doing them. And we do progress, I am much better at playing the piano now than I was, so achievement comes out of this approach, it’s just not the front-of-mind measure of whether you’re spending your time fruitfully.
What started as lessons of how to play the piano has turned into a whole life philosophy.
What started as lessons of how to play the piano has turned into a whole life philosophy. I now approach my job in the same way, and my personal life. My daily experience is my focus now. It doesn’t mean I don’t have a bucket list though either, and the measure of adding them to the list is “will it be fantastic to do?” If the answer is yes, stick it on the list and over time, do it all. She has, literally, changed my life.