Life rarely goes in straight lines, but if we can learn to relax into its twists and turns, then truly remarkable things happen.
It struck me, with some force, the other day that it’s 40 years since I finished my A Levels and left school and this made me wonder about the boy that I was then with all his hopes, dreams and assumptions about the world and the man that I have become who has had to lay aside nearly every one of those hopes, dreams and assumptions.
Leaving school in the summer of 1983, I had secured a job with Lloyds Bank that I had assumed would see me through to retirement; a gentle progression of promotion that would deliver me to the territory of pipe and slippers in my mid 60s. Little did I know!
It should have been blindingly obvious to anyone who was paying attention - if not to me - that being a bank clerk and working in an environment that demanded both attention to detail and an ability to ditch any natural creativity that one might have, was simply not for me!
The gradual failure of my ambitions to take the world of banking by storm was the time of enormous confusion and disorientation. The assumptions of my small town upbringing on the Isle of Wight could no longer withstand the challenges of the real world that I was encountering both inside and outside of myself. This inculcated a cognitive dissonance; that mismatch between beliefs and reality that so often Leeds to positive change. As life would unfold, so I would come to learn that whilst cognitive dissonance can be an uncomfortable process it can also be a great friend and a wonderful teacher.
Like many people I guess, autumn is the time for new starts for me and in the autumn of 1992 I began training for the priesthood in the Church of England. The lost and slightly disorientated me that emerged from high street banking was thrilled to find himself reasonably capable in an environment that reeked of establishment credibility, but faith does not lend itself to the certainty that banishes cognitive dissonance and, overtime, that lack of certainty would give way to overwhelming doubt and to a parting of the ways with the Church.
Coinciding with the breakdown of my marriage and early father hood as well as finding a life giving and life enhancing relationship with my now wife, the period of seven years since leaving the ministry of the church has been a rich and fruitful one. I am father to a daughter who is becoming a wonderful young woman. I am good friends with her mother for whom I will always retain the utmost respect. I am a stepfather to two remarkable young people who are building fabulous lives for themselves. Most importantly I am continuing the fundamentals of the vocation that I pursued as a priest, standing with one foot on earth and one foot in ‘heaven’, and enabling people of all sorts, shapes, sizes and orientations to mark big changes in their lives with wonderful and thoughtful ceremonies.
The columnist David Aaronovitch once commented that he wanted his brain always to feel slightly sore from scratching against the questions in his head. This is the joyful creativity of cognitive dissonance.
The twists and turns of life can be challenging and it is often our instinct to resist, particularly when painful loss or failure is the driving force of change in our lives.
However, it’s abundantly clear to me, from listening to countless eulogies of those who have managed to surf with the choppy seas of life without overly resisting the forces of change, that they are the ones who have thrived and created lives marked by optimism and humour.