Winging It. And loving it.

Winging It

It occurred to me recently that a phrase has entered our vocabulary (and our wardrobes) that is gaining traction. ‘Winging It’. Two words that embody a sense of liberation and free-thinking, a carpe diem, ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ kind of attitude.

Of course, this ain’t news to Selfish Mother and The FMLY Store. They put it on a best-selling t-shirt. There’s even been a recently created spin-off, ‘Winging It Club’, which holds regular workshops so panels of inspiring women can tell their stories in the hope they may encourage others to achieve their full potential.

A quick TED search throws up social psychologist and associate professor at Harvard Business School Amy Cuddy’s talk on body language, number two in their Top 25 playlist of most popular talks of all time (a mere, almost 41m views). In it she argues that our body language not only affects how others see us, it might also impact our own brain chemistry, confidence, and how we feel about ourselves. Adopt a confident pose and even you might start to believe you are the most important person in the room. Unsurprisingly, ‘fake it until you make it’ is her mantra. Women especially are encouraged to believe in themselves more, to ‘Lean In’. In her much-quoted book of that title, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg asks: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” ‘Lean In Circles’ nurture small peer groups, whose members ‘step outside their comfort zones’.

But when I stopped to think about it, it made me realise that actually, maybe most of my life has actually panned out in a sort of ‘winging it’ kind of a way. Not a super-confident, consciously trailblazing, winging it mode. More a sort of, go with the flow, try to trust your gut instinct and learn from your (inevitable) mistakes as you make them, winging it.

'Fake it until you make it'

Take motherhood. Surely one of the wingiest examples of winging it you can come across. How many of us really know what we’re doing? How can we?? I’ve done it four times (motherhood that is, not just the act to get me there…) and I can honestly say it has not become de-mystified to me in any single way. Who would have thought that bringing up humans could be so difficult? It has undoubtedly pushed every single boundary of my love, patience, boredom, frustration and elation thresholds. My first foray into parenthood started with a positive pregnancy test delivered in a camper van on the South Island of New Zealand while ‘winging it’ through a round-the-world six month life sabbatical. (Not part of the itinerary.) My fourth and final bundle of joy arrived as I (aged 42), and my now partner, juggled jobs, our other three children and a small beach hut conversion project. Totally winging it.

In terms of relationships – well, I winged it (‘wung it?’) through my 20s and a steady stream of boyfriends, some more suitable than others. (Isn’t that what your twenties are for?) And as for career. I can honestly say I negotiated my post-university path without so much as a single signpost, let alone a map. From working for independent production houses and guiding crews into amazing charity projects around the UK, to filming rehab hospitals in post-war Sarajevo, talks with the likes of child psychologist Penelope Leach in her Hampstead sitting room and the spellbinding Poet Laureate Seamus Heaney at a recording studio in Dublin, to keeping up with fast cars in Portugal, and motorbikes in the South of France. None of this was engineered. And as all of these experiences evolved into more sedentary freelance writing and editing jobs thanks to family life, I’ve looked back at them and thought: “Well, I suppose I must have done something right.”

Now on the cusp of finishing (by choice) a contract as online content editor for a much-loved British retailer, I’m all set to ‘wing it’ again. Quite where, I have no idea. I keep saying I might do something completely different like work in a flower shop (I can recognise at least three blooms by sight so should absolutely be able to wing that one, right?) But as I board the next Winging It jet to Mystery Central, will I feel a little bit terrified? Absolutely. But I’ll do my best to sit out any turbulence and enjoy the in-flight snacks.

There has never, ever been an over-arching masterplan to my life. And in a world where expectations, even the most ‘well managed’, are high, no-one should feel like they have to take a massive step through the looking glass. But to get from whatever A to B in life (or A to C, or D) maybe looking back to celebrate even the smallest winging it triumph before we pay it forward, is key.

Be brave. Free up that little “I suppose I must have done something right,” inner voice every now and again to try and feel a little bit confident, and a little bit encouraged.

Because after all, we’re still here. And we’re all just winging it, really.

Been there, bought the t-shirt.


© 2017 Debra O’Sullivan