The circle of eight.

Readers, I don’t complain often.  I’m genetically programmed to see the positives; in people, in situations, in life.  I see problems as challenges, setbacks as opportunities, and so far, so good; this has served me well.  I’m probably a pessimist’s worst nightmare, blowing in all breezy and bright into their  comforting vision of gloom and grey. 
But readers?  Even by my lofty standards,  2011 has sucked
Really.  From January to October, it’s as though life, who I always was so pally with, always so nice to, who I would go for drinks with, buy thoughtful presents for, be there in moments of crisis with tissues and Dairy Milk, has done a 180 on me, punched me in the face, kicked me to the kerb, and…and…cut my ponytail off.
There was the excruciatingly difficult four-stage interview to be PS to a junior Minister, who talked to me for over an hour, made me believe I had the job, and then chose someone else.  Then there was the work I did in March that had me pulling 18-hour days and not sleeping and for a civil servant earning peanuts, that is hardcoreThen I had an interview with the Home Secretary where, again, she chose someone else to work for  her.  Then, as thanks for all that work I did, the “Board” decided to move me to a job I didn’t want without asking me, got my replacement lined up, and I only found out because I overheard a conversation in a lift.  Then I got chronically sick in Greece.  Then I had rubbish blood incident, near death, hospitalised, whatever, for which the recovery process has been grim at best, including but not limited to baby problems, flying problems and long-term health risks.  Then we got into some at-home trouble that I can’t go into here but trust me, it was can’t-sleep stressful.  Then I applied for promotion with a series of assessment centres which, you guessed it, I failed.  Now I have a chronic ear infection that makes me want to chop half of my head off.  The half that sucks at interviews, and LIFE. 
There’s been good stuff.  I’ve become part of a batshit brilliant blog team.  I’m writing again.  I passed my driving test (FINALLY).  I’m still married, still happily so.  

Fun this summer: Love is…giving your wife a spoonful of your dessert when she HAS ONE IN FRONT OF HER
But the best bit of this year of constant kicks has been how my friends have come through for me.  In many different ways.  From a “We’re Glad You Didn’t Die” dress (Clare and Aisling) to inordinate kicks up the behind and hours and hours of listening and affirmation, to dealing with 3am existentialist angst phone calls, to kindness and support, I have been lucky.  They’ve all gone above and beyond the job description.  People say you get out of friendships what you put in, and if that’s true, move over Florence Nightingale, Anna K is here to seize your wimple.    

Fun this summer: the Lake District and 4/5 of University housemates.  Beats E3.  

This is not a post about me whining…fear not, dear readers!  That’s not how I roll.  I have a theory.  Yes, a theory.  It’s called the circle of eight, and I’ve rabbited onto my real-life friends about the circle of eight for many, many years.  And now, readers, it’s your turn! 

First, a bit of history. 
The Witanagemot (Old English: “meeting of wise men”), also known as the Witan, took place in Anglo-Saxon England.  The Witan was assembled from the ruling class, from eldermen to senior clergy, and its primary function was to advise the king.
The king would stand, and the members of the Witan would stand in a semi-circular formation around him. 
The king would pose a question.  Each member of the Witan would take it in turn to respond, offering advice, support, and a solution.
And here’s the key bit: the king would listen to the opinion of each member, take all views into account, and then state his solution, an amalgamation of all of the advice he’d just heard.  No one member had the answer. 
If you think about it, we all have a council of eight (it’s sometimes seven).  Eight people we would trust with our greatest life decisions, eight people who we’d trust to drive our getaway car.  Those eight people whose advice we value above all else. 

Try it.  Count up yours.  I swear, it’ll be eight.  It’s uncanny. 

More fun this summer: sometimes your circle of eight involves people who encourage ill-advised moves like posing in rockeries to a timed flash.  Roll with it.  

When you’re younger, you get upset if someone doesn’t take your advice.  You’re right!  Your way to solve the problem is the right way!  But no, it’s not.  It can never be.  You are not the person asking for advice.  Your circumstances and context are different.  The way you’d solve a problem is not necessarily the way that they would do it.  Learning that that’s okay is a hard lesson.

When you have a serious problem, try it.  Ask your circle of eight, individually, what they would do.  Bring their combined life experience to bear.  And pick out the bits of advice that resonate the most with you.  Chop and change.  If you choose not to take someone’s advice, that’s not a slight on them.  You do what’s best for you.  And if that’s an amalgamation of it all, then so be it.

This is the singular best way of approaching problems that I have ever encountered and it has never failed me.  I always end up doing the right thing, because the wisest, sanest people in my life all had a part to play in how I approached the problem.    

You don’t need therapy.  You just need your circle of eight.      

And your circle of eight doesn’t have to be static.  As you grow, and change, so will your circle of eight.  At different points of your life, it’s natural that you will need different people.  And readers?  You’re never too old to make friends.  It may be harder, riskier, to do so, the older you get, but trust me, the rewards will be greater, because the friendships are more resonant, vivid, satisfying.

Gin, teacups…casa Aisling Picture by Lucy Stendall
Like I said, I’m a blind optimist.  2011 will get better, I know it will.  If for no other reason than I have a motley crew of friends to see me through it.
This is what I look like, consulting my circle of eight.            

Categories: Family, Friends and Relationships, Life Experience, Written By Anna
22 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Posted October 12, 2011 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    Ummm…so are you saying that you have more friends than Aisling and I? I'm not sure I'm happy about that.

  2. Posted October 12, 2011 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    On a serious note though, I just counted and I'm at seven – but that's kind of perfect because it leaves space for someone from my new home here in KL to slot right in. Your theory could well be right!

    Also – I'm sorry that 2011 has been such an utterly rubbish year for you…but I'm glad that you feel that you've got a solid support network around you to help you through it all. And it's true – what you put into friendships you get out – so that says a lot about how much you put in to yours.

  3. Posted October 12, 2011 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    This is such a great reminder to be a good friend and of how amazing it is to have great friends. So often we focus on the bad (understandably, I hear ya Anna K 2011 has been a shitty year) but it's those understanding faces we should remember as the year draws to a close (it's practically Christmas) and of course celebrate with, with a whole lot of egg nog to wipe away the rest!

  4. Fee
    Posted October 12, 2011 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    I'm sorry you have had such a sucky 2011 (although I did giggle at the cutting ponytail off analogy!).

    Clearly you are due a fantastic 2012 – when all those fools who didn't give you the jobs you applied for will rue the day they didn't hire you and your health will slowly but surely return to top notch.

    I love the circle of eight theory -I am going to notify mine now of their new Anglo-Saxon style responsibilities!

  5. Posted October 12, 2011 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    I just counted, I have five in my circle, but I can be quite introverted in real life.

    Anna, I'm sorry you've had such a bad time of it, and hope things get better. I love your positive outlook, and that you finished your post with such happy pictures. I think you are wonderful.

    I'm sorry you didn't get the job you wanted, but I am terrifically impressed that you got to meet the Home Secretary. I've never managed to get past security.


  6. Posted October 12, 2011 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Katie, my circle is quite small too. But that's ok. Room for more :)

    Anna, my dear, I am so sorry your year has been so royally crap. I hope the next two-and-a-half months bring you wonderful things – fingers crossed it's not too late for 2011 to redeem itself. And if all else fails, I know where you cen get a *great* fake ponytail. That'll show Life who's boss.

  7. Posted October 12, 2011 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    You guys are brilliant. I have had EMAILS TOO. I am the most supported person, EVER. From offers of drinks to offers of fake ponytails.

    I should have said in this post that the circle of eight does sometimes come out as seven, which I flippantly brush aside as something one can round up, but NO LESS THAN SEVEN. So all those with small circles, re-count!

    I guess the principle is the same, isn't it, circle of eight, square of four. As long as you ask for that advice and cherrypick the bits you want to use.

    And people reeeeeeally like being told they're in a circle. Brings out all sorts of pagan excitement. Perhaps all my circle should learn a secret hand signal. Or get a tattoo behind their ear.

  8. Posted October 12, 2011 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Yeah I'm not even close to eight either! Hopefully there are more in the post.

    This is all weird because I have just last night drafted a similarly last-year-reflecting post. My year has been relatively awful too (in spite of getting married, which has been the one enormously high point). I hope both of our 2012s turn out to be brighter – stuff moving in cycles and all that. The fact that you can deal with all this without cracking up speaks volumes about the strength of posi-Anna.

    If we ever meet, I will bring you 2012 Power Cake (the type with chocolate buttons on)


  9. Posted October 12, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Anna your year sounds like hell – I'm honestly giving you a round of applause for still standing, still smiling and having the strength to be able to share all this with us :) well done luv.

    I do believe that things happen for a reason, there are lessons to be learned in everything and that which doesn't kill you only makes you stronger.

    Keep thinking happy thoughts and here's hoping fate graces you with a better 2012.


  10. Posted October 12, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    What an awful amount of crap to happen to you this year! But- it sounds like you are in very loving hands. I hope your ear infection clears up soon and that the rest of the year brings you nothing but good luck. You deserve it!!


  11. Posted October 12, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    What an awful amount of crap to happen to you this year! But- it sounds like you are in very loving hands. I hope your ear infection clears up soon and that the rest of the year brings you nothing but good luck. You deserve it!!


  12. Posted October 12, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    I've given up on 2011 if I'm honest (it's been very similar to yours – work problems, never ending interview unsuccess, flat problems, money problems, health problems – although not nearly so serious – etc etc etc), but I have high hopes for 2012!
    Circlewise I'm between 5 and 10 depending on the problem at hand so that's pretty much on the ball.

  13. Anonymous
    Posted October 12, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    I feel like a bit of a failure on the friendship front now as my number is well below eight.

    It's rather depressing, actually.

  14. Posted October 12, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    It's not friends, Anon. It's people whose advice you'd value above all others.

  15. Posted October 12, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    I love that distinction between 'friends' and 'people whose advice you value above anyone else'…I'd say I have 7 bestestbestever friends and 6 bestestadvicegiversever but only 3 people feature on both.

    Hmm. Interesting.

    Love a history lesson on a Wednesday.

    K, I'm alllllllll over making 2012 the Year of K. You Judy watch.


  16. Posted October 12, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    Yeh I think that's really important – for all of you out there who think you haven't got anywhere near eight… I certainly don't have eight really close friends….but when you include parents that you seek advice from, or a sibling, or even a senior work colleague who you trust and always turn to for advice and mentoring – they count too. Great Aunt Barbara would totally be in my eight if I ever met her.

    I think that's how it works anyway – Anna, am I right?

  17. Posted October 12, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    Exactly, C

    One of the people in my circle I don't even like that much. Shhhh. But he gives bang-on advice, every time.

    And Aunty Barbara is totally available to loan out.

  18. Mahj
    Posted October 12, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    Hmm/ack, I have just counted and I got 5. Need to have a root for 3 more!

    I am so sorry Anna that 2011 has sucked ass for you. But things can only get better right?

    My shittier than shit year was 2008. God, I didnt think I'd ever make it but you do and you lady definitely will.


  19. Helen
    Posted October 12, 2011 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    Hey Anna, I'm really sorry to hear it's been such a crap year but you are clearly very well-supplied with all the positive attitude, brains and super-wise advisors to make 2012 a whole lot better.
    And although you've had a terrible run of luck in interviews, it has to be said that they are some of the most glam-sounding interviews ever. Impressive! I feel reassured to know that someone as clued-up as you, is advising our beloved leaders! Here's to speedily getting your next job.

  20. Posted October 13, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    Bit late to the shitty year party but I will vouch for that also!
    Anna you are fab and I hope 2012 will see you get the happiness and career luck you want!

    I also had a job failure this week, on the morning that my auntie died. This week has been a shitter. And 2011 hasn't been that great overall either, but I did read somewhere that 2011 was a bad year for most people based on the ever reliable horoscopes haha.

    I am counting down the days to start a new year, the year I marry my boy and begin a new chapter.

    Here is hoping everyone has a fab 2012!

    I am still trying to think of 8…can I include the wise owls of AOW that I have never ever met? I would defo ask you for advice!

  21. Posted October 24, 2011 at 3:00 am | Permalink

    I'm always so slow to leave a comment here because I always want to think and then poof days (or weeks) have passed.

    I get the sucky 2001-11 vibe! I honestly know I only have one in my circle right now. But that's ok because he's a keeper!

    I'm very much up for 2012 which makes me think I'm turning into an optimist too!

    As always, thank you ladies for making me think.

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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