My system is broken

Kelly Doonan
4 min readOct 10, 2018

I started writing this post as an email response to a friend, but about halfway through writing I realised that it was morphing into ‘something else’. I think that something else is a call from my heart to my brain. Life is short and strange and difficult. And it’s too short and strange and difficult to live in a way that doesn’t feel right; and that doesn’t create joy for me and the people around me.

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I fell off the face of the earth again didn’t I?

I keep doing that to people lately and I think two things are happening. The first is that I read messages and write devastatingly witty and insightful replies in my head — and then forget to actually type an answer in real life. When I realise I haven’t responded, I panic and send a couple of inadequate lines to the friend to prove that I haven’t forgotten them. A sort of constant digital holding pattern, rather than an actual conversation.

The other thing I’ve noticed happening is that time seems to have changed.

Do you remember when you were younger and and you used to get bored? Do you remember sitting around with a whole afternoon stretching out in front of you and struggling to think what on earth you could do to fill it? I remember sitting on my bedroom floor and experimenting with different ways to plait my hair. I can’t believe I once had the luxury of being bored.

Now, it’s the opposite. Time rattles past at an extraordinary rate — faster than I’ve ever known it to move before — and all I can seem to do is hold on for dear life. I don’t have ‘free time’. I can’t remember the last time I had free time. Occasionally time billed as ‘free’ hoves into view, but then it arrives (quicker than expected) and there are so many jobs to do, and so many programmes I should watch and podcasts I should listen to that I inevitably spend an hour scrolling through Netflix menus and then end up watching a repeat of Grand Designs instead.

Each moment is filled to capacity and beyond. Every time I choose to do something the ghosts of all the other things I could or should be doing but aren’t are floating around my shoulders: haunting my hours.

So I feel that I’m constantly failing. And I feel that I’m constantly compromised. The things I want to do are read, write and have adventures with my family. And write about my adventures with family. And read books aloud to my daughter and read books quietly next to my partner. And that’s pretty much it. But what I am doing looks like laundry and making sandwiches and putting the bins out and washing uniform that makes my daughter uniform and working to a school schedule that makes us all stressed and a work schedule that gets my best hours every day and could never pay me what they’re worth.

I know that this situation has to change. Because if it doesn’t I will change. I will become the things that I do and I will lose the potential of everything that I could ever be.

What I can’t quite see at the moment is how to change it.

At work my job is to understand systems. I open them up, lay them out and study them to understand the right places to intervene; to make effective and sustainable change. I help people in the system to understand how to do only the things that really matter.

So maybe this is what I need to do with my life. Map the flow of my existence and understand where I can make more value; and where I can get rid of waste.

What is the purpose of my system? What am I really here to do? What gives my soul joy? There’s only one thing I’ve ever wanted to do; and that’s write. Every day I feel the words bubbling up inside me; and every day I swallow them back down, waiting until I have time to write properly, to think clearly. Sometimes, like now, they won’t go down. They pour out, they flood out and I feel like me again. Soaked and empty and happy.

I turned 40 this year. Statistically I have another 44 years left: I’ve used up nearly half of my time. I mean, that’s a fairly sobering thought isn’t it?

But technically time is still on my side. I have time to change. My system is broken and is no longer working to purpose. But I know that if you created the system, you also have the power to change the system.

So that’s what I have to do now.

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Kelly Doonan

Learning out loud. Thoughts on living a better life and learning how I can make the world a little bit better. @allyblue22