Fix the ship not the ocean…

sinking ship

As I sat in a busy bustling coffee shop on my own, I knew I was there to avoid thinking about things too much. My brain is constantly whirring, trying to work things out. So occasionally it’s good to just sit in the midst of it all, cradling a coffee (or the occasional cheeky glass of wine!) and watch other peoples’ lives unfold. As the warming taste of coffee started to kick in, I mused that there’s a sense of freedom to be found in concentrating on other people going about their business. And then it struck me like a slap in the face…I have more interest in helping to fix other people and resolve the external factors than I do in fixing up and looking after myself. When I start to sink, it would seem I’m too busy trying to fix the ocean around me to concentrate on the one thing I can truly affect…the ship.

I figure I’m not alone in this. Have you ever just reached the point when it feels like things are just ‘a bit much’ at the moment? I hit that point last week – I felt tired, low, unsociable and had a constant dull headache. At first, I put it down to ‘having a cold’ or some such excuse, but then I realised that when I laughed about something or turned my focus to anything other than my own life, the tiredness and headache lifted. I decided to be honest and acknowledge that there were at least two big areas of life where I wasn’t feeling happy or successful and for some reason, where I’d usually be able bang out a new plan of action faster than you can say ‘chaaaaange’, I was stuck, unable to come up with a way to make things better. Paralysis had set in and with it, even more feelings of guilt, uselessness and frustration.

So what happened next to make this situation a blog post rather than a tale of downward spiral? I realised that most of my issues were people related – it was the behaviour, words and actions of other people in a range of situations that were making me feel bad. For weeks (months in some ways!) I had been trying to get people to change. To be nicer / more appreciative / kinder (the list goes on). I’d done it because genuinely I felt (and still do an extent) out of principle they shouldn’t be given free reign to behave in a thoughtless, uncaring way. But in being blinded by my own values, I hadn’t realised the number one point that all great self-help books and motivational speakers will tell you – the one thing you will always be able to control and change is yourself. Now I know this is no great epiphany, people have been saying this for years…but the revelation for me was that, particularly where other people are involved, it’s near enough impossible to get them to change. People are like the ocean – wild, unpredictable and can be the both welcoming and destructive all at the same time. The self is like the proverbial ship trying to work with the ocean (people) but sometimes it’s just a rough day…and there needs to be to be a way to work with that. The ship needs to adapt to the ocean, not the other way around.

So, having written about this watery tale of reflection what have I learned? A lot actually, particularly about the sense of calm and clarity you can feel when you take back the control. Specifically:

  1. People are like the wind in your sails and the ocean beneath your feet. People can push you on and keep you on course, but sometimes they can knock the wind from your sails leaving you directionless and lost. But, you can choose to own your experience – choose to make the most of and appreciate the good conditions and fight to get through the rough ones. In some cases you can even choose to steer away from the rough waters into better seas. Put in real terms, love and appreciate the good people in your life and try to navigate through or around those who bring negative energy.
  2. When you feel like you’re sinking, perhaps it’s time to throw some things overboard. The guilt, the negative feelings and sometimes even some of your crew members need to go – to stay on course you cannot carry the weight of everything, much as you might want to.
  3. When the waters are choppy, keep the faith. Not necessarily religious faith (although of course this is fine too!) but keep faith in your course and faith in your destination. We all go through times where we question who we are, where we’re going and the decisions we’ve made / are about to make but don’t let one (or a few) bad days at sea make you turn back from your path.

So, in concluding I suppose to stop using analogy and to talk plainly, I’ve really learnt this past week that although I would never give up trying to change the world (and sometimes the people in it) for the better, the trick is to first fix yourself. Make sure you’re ready for the challenge before you embark upon it and be willing to take some knocks along the way in order to reach the best destinations.

“If the highest aim of the captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever” (Thomas Aquinas). 

Flourish or fail?

flourish

Working in the field that I do, an analogy has often been used comparing the success and development of people to the growth of a plant or tree  (yes, yes I know it sounds a bit ‘hippy’ but stay with me 🙂 ). That is to say, within certain conditions we will thrive and flourish and in others we shrivel up and shrink away. The idea of ‘greenhouse organisations’ in which staff are provided with the right conditions for growth, development and expansion is not a new one but I am reminded recently of how rarely our leaders and managers try to understand our individual level ‘greenhouse conditions’. The tragedy that subsequently results, is the shrinking and confinement of otherwise excellent staff.

As ever, I’ll start with a little context and perhaps a personal anecdote or two. Usually I choose to write about topics outside of a work environment but as I started thinking about this, it struck me that ‘greenhouse conditions’ and ‘nurturers’ are just as relevant to our personal lives as they are to work. We are talking about understanding our conditions for success and the people who support and encourage that.

I have been fortunate in my life (or unfortunate depending upon how you look at it!) to experience a very wide range of people, personalities and styles – most of them incredibly positive and inspiring but a fair few I have to admit unfortunately fall into the ‘soul shrinking’ category. As my experiences grow and I talk more and more with people of similar-ish life circumstances, ambition and outlooks it is becoming less and less the case that I hear somebody say ‘I love my job. My team are great, the work is interesting and fulfilling and my manager is fantastic. I feel valued and recognised for my contributions and I can see myself staying here for a long time. Better still, I look up to and admire our leadership and I’d like to aspire to be like that some day”.

Some people may look at that statement and say “huh? that’s idealistic thinking right there – no job is like that” but I can tell you, I have been lucky enough to live that job and thrive in that environment – it does exist! Perhaps I am now ‘spoiled’ forever more as a result 😉 One of the main issues is, we’ve all become accustomed to just ‘putting up with’ the quite frankly mediocre (and in some cases toxic) environments we find ourselves in – in many cases even thinking ‘perhaps it’s my own fault, I expect too much’. So what (in my humble opinion) is at the heart of this outbreak of unfulfilled, down-trodden, unheard staff? Bad management and bad leadership. And linked to this, an idea I am calling the ‘enemy within’ for many organisations of today. That is, a glut of bad managers and leaders who are poisoning the organisations from the inside out and bringing down many bright, passionate staff with them.

One of many issues with the ‘enemy within’ is that people are unaware it’s there and / or are unwilling to accept it’s existence. Bad managers and leaders are allowed to crush and shrink their staff like the proverbial plant shoved into a dark corner. This can be for a number of reasons – it might be because those people are good at ‘politic-ing’ and maneuvering away from scrutiny or that the organisation doesn’t care enough to honestly reflect in on and challenge itself. The most common thing I’ve heard (and seen) a lot of is the genuine belief of some leaders and managers that they are great at what they do, but the reality is a far cry from their perception.

This situation I think raises so many questions for the modern day workplace (and could be extended out to our personal lives too) about how we understand our people, value them and ensure the very best performance that comes from the heart.

I can’t (and wouldn’t want to) tell others what to do, as I am far from perfect and have much still to learn. But as usual I will share my thoughts on what works – as a manager and leader and as someone who has been managed and led. These are the killer questions I ask of myself:

  1. Have you sat down in a relaxed environment and asked your people about themselves, their interests and ambitions? This sounds basic and common sense but I believe this is where many managers and leaders are going wrong – they haven’t really invested time in getting to know their people so how can they genuinely care for and understand them.
  2. How clear are your expectations? Do your people know what you expect of them in terms of delivering specific things and the kinds of behaviours you would hope to see? This is another important thing for me, as a manager or leader there is no getting away from the fact that you will have expectations of your people – for me I think it’s about clearly articulating these but then allowing people the space to decide for themselves about the approach they take to meeting them. Goal and objective setting together is a great way to understand each others’ expectations and aims.
  3. Have you developed trust and openess with your people? This doesn’t just happen because you say it does. Actions speak louder than words so how do you really show people that you are to be trusted and that you truly welcome honesty.
  4. Do you regularly ask for feedback with a genuinely open approach? Are you prepared to hear the ‘bad’ things as well as the good? Nobody is perfect and hardly anyone gets things right first time. When someone is new to your team (or wider life) how do you find out how you’re doing and whether you’re hitting the right note? It’s by asking regularly and being prepared to listen to ways in which you can do better.
  5. Have you spent time reflecting on what things might feel like / be like for that person? Empathy is a hugely important part of connecting with someone, so being able to think about how you might feel if you were in their shoes goes a long way to helping them to feel understood and supported.

I know much of the above sounds simple and common place but having recently seen too many fantastic, intelligent and ambitious people be adversely affected by bad managers and leaders it struck me that perhaps more sharing of experiences and ideas wouldn’t go amiss. More challenge aimed at organisations to really assess whether they are good at leadership and managing their people.

So in finishing, here is my question to everyone out there…What will be your choice for 2016 and beyond? Do you choose to support people to flourish and grow or will you knowingly or unknowingly fail them, leaving them to shrivel in a world of disengagement and frustration? Will you choose to help your people to thrive and innovate or are you going to thwart ambition and change in favour of comfort and control?

An organisation is only ever as good and successful as the people working there and in investing time, effort and care in your people (much as that may require a cost to you in the short term) you will be successful beyond your greatest dreams.

“Success is a team sport. It requires dedication, inspiration, and passion; and one can never get that without cultivating the culture of trust, mutual respect, and empowerment.” Forbes 

 

What’s new pussycat?

What's new

Happy 2014 one and all! This officially marks a year and a half of blogging for me so I’m starting the year feeling good for persevering…when I started this, I didn’t even know if I’d make it past post one but clearly I’m a gal with a lot to talk about 😉

I am also a gal starting the New Year feeling different, something has changed.

Let me begin with tackling the ever contentious topic of New Year resolutions since it sets the context of this post nicely. The range of responses to this topic can be (generally speaking) summarised into two camps – those who don’t DO NY resolutions and those who use it to kick start something they’ve been putting off doing for a while. Personally (just to be difficult some might say 😉 ) I like to approach it slightly differently. I set myself NY aims with the understanding that although I want to have a goal(s) for the year ahead, if for some reason I don’t quite reach it or I let it go, I won’t waste time giving myself a hard time over it. For example, my aim this year is to do at least 12 hikes of varying difficulty and length (starting at 8 miles and working up to 18). I’ve already begun positively but if I get distracted and don’t reach my goal I won’t be too hard on myself. As a result of this, the pressure is immediately lifted and my goal becomes something I WANT to do rather than something I feel obligated to do.

This way of seeing things is a new perspective for me…I used to fall into the ‘all or nothing’ camps above. Each year December 31st would come around and I’d do my usual reflective thing and wonder why I felt a bit rubbish, even when the year had been full of achievements. After reading some excellent and insightful books, I realised that when I didn’t set any NY goals I felt as though I hadn’t strived to achieve anything for the year. But, when I did set the goals, I had set the wrong goals and therefore set myself up for failure…resulting in constantly giving myself a hard time for not achieving what I’d set out to achieve! Basically a ‘lose-lose’ situation. This is when I arrived at the small (but significant!) idea to set goals but to make them guilt free and fun to do.

But why is this significant enough to be writing about I hear you ask (or more accurately, I imagine you ask because hearing voices would just be plain disturbing at 10 o’clock on a Sunday eve!:) ). Well it’s significant because it’s part of a whole new way of approaching things for me and as ever, when I have these changes I like to share them for my own clarity and also in the hope that it might help / stimulate ideas for someone else in the world too 🙂

So, what’s new? Over Christmas in particular and through some of 2013 I decided to read more – I love psychology and therefore I picked out books that specifically look at exploring and changing ways of thinking. I am currently about a quarter of the way through a book on how to bring about positive change. What this book (and some great ‘Psychologies’ magazine articles) has changed for me is my ability to understand the things that drive and motivate me. In doing this, it has changed both my ability to bring more positive things into my life and has also taught me how to deal with the negative a little better. Let me give two examples to illustrate my point:

  • The positive – I used to bounce between fitness drive after fitness drive, never understanding why I would keep flaking out after a matter of months. The reason, I discovered, is because I focussed on the wrong motivation – outward physical benefit rather than inner mental well-being benefits. Once I decided that the way it made me feel emotionally was more important than a physical reward, it changed what I wanted to do in order to achieve it…hence my switch to hiking rather than gym. Hiking gets me outdoors and I feel great after every walk completed – better still, it’s free, I can do it independently and I can do it whenever I feel the need day or night. And guess what? I can already see some physical benefit too! Bonus!
  • Dealing with the negative – when someone let me down I used to find it all-consuming. I’d keep thinking about all the things that could have gone better, all the things I blamed myself for and ultimately, tie myself up in knots working out why things went wrong. The worst part was, I beat myself up for even having these thoughts! The trick to dealing with it now is simple. I allow myself to feel whatever naturally comes to me, acknowledge the way I feel and then consciously decide whether I have the power to change it. If I can’t change it, I tell myself to put it to the back of my mind and think of something else. I’ve cut out the self-criticism and just accepted that sometimes you can’t control your thoughts but you CAN control what you do with them next.

Because this is a relatively new way of seeing things, I am yet to be really tested on it and so I can’t say whether it’s something that can be maintained through the toughest moments and times of greatest ‘wobble’ – I guess we shall see! The bottom line I suppose I’m getting to, is that from what I’ve learnt, it is entirely possible to change your thought patterns and way of seeing things – the key is mostly about understanding yourself, and in particular, understanding what motivates you. We all strive to be happy in life and to me, that’s about how you maximise the positive and limit the negative.

So, top tips of what I’ve learnt thus far (and I’m sure there’ll be plenty more to share as I read and grow!):

Start with the basics and get to know yourself. Strip back things to the absolute basics and ask yourself what motivates you. What gets you out of bed in the morning? Think of a time when you really persevered with something or achieved something great, what was it that sustained you and gave you the drive to keep going? I bet if you look at a few of these times in your life, you’ll see a theme start to emerge.

Don’t be unkind to yourself. If you don’t achieve a goal or have a thought cross your mind that you don’t like, don’t beat yourself up about it. If you beat yourself up, you are only doubling the pain – something has happened that you don’t like AND you’re giving yourself an ear bashing!! By all means acknowledge and reflect but just accept that whatever it is has happened and it’s time to focus on something else more positive. Trust me, the conscious acknowledgment of a thought or a situation is half the battle – upon acknowledging you then have control of the decision to either dwell or ‘put it away’.

Be determined to feel positive. Yes I know this is easier said than done, particularly in some really crappy situations, but you really ARE in control of your own feelings and so you can decide to find something (or better still a few things!) in a day to feel good about. More importantly, never go to sleep feeling bad – do something before bed to clear the mind and replace it with the good thoughts. You might laugh, but I even have a book of mantras I like to read when I feel rubbish – just positive sayings I’ve noted down to help me smile about things 🙂

As I say, there is still so much to learn but these are the three things I currently use to feel good and it’s working. Just as the saying goes that you ‘count the pennies and the pounds look after themselves’, I like to think that you make small steps and have mini epiphanies and the bigger picture will fall into place!

My final thought to end on before I hit the hay to get some beauty sleep, therefore is this… I am hoping so much that the new perspective lasts and by putting it into writing it also rubs off on some of you lovely people. It has really helped me to stress less and be kinder to myself. But do you know what? Even if it doesn’t last and you all think I’ve gone slightly mad, I’m not worrying as I’ll dust myself down and I’ll just start again…that’s the beauty of what I’ve learned, you can always try again and you can keep striving for happiness however many shots it may take to get there 🙂

Believe your value…

Know your value

 

I love people – that’s a fact. When I see my friends and family I see wonderful, creative and inspirational people whom I consider myself lucky to know and spend time with. I made myself a promise long ago to make a conscious effort only to fill my life with people who make me feel good, who inspire my curiosity and who would help me learn more about the people and the world around me.

Yet over the past few weeks I have heard many a good friend criticize and belittle themselves – saying things that had I heard a stranger say it, I would have confronted them for speaking about my friend in such a way. I even heard one friend tell me that she blamed herself for her long-term boyfriend having cheated on her – that somehow a fault of hers had led to him going elsewhere! Another told me that he felt he had somehow deserved the frankly disgusting behaviour afforded to him by his employer and perhaps he should have been more ‘accepting’.

Of course on hearing all these stories I soon put them straight (anyone who knows me can imagine how quickly that was done! 😉 ). I also asked them to consider whether, had the same situation happened to me, would they be laying the blame and responsibility at my door? The answer was of course ‘no’ and the point was made. So then moving on from self-blame we were able to talk about how they felt and what did it mean for tomorrow, the next day and a longer term future. From destructive blame to positive solution (helped by a big glass of vino! :)).

But on thinking about my friends I have realised that I am just as (if not more!) guilty of doing exactly the same on a daily basis…constant self criticism, constant self blame and a large helping of regret…

– ‘If I’d just played that differently, perhaps it would have had a different outcome’

– ‘If I’d just been less honest and held back more…’

– ‘If I’d just said it in a different way…’

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. I always told myself that this thought pattern was positive because I’m a ‘very self-reflective person don’t ya know!’ but the reality is, that self-reflection turns to self-destruction the moment you go from learning to approach things differently to blaming yourself for doing things ‘wrong’. Until this weekend, if I were to play back my self dialogue it would sound as though I felt I was to blame for all the world’s ills and conversely, any successes were down to pure luck!

So why are we always so tough on ourselves, yet such advocates for other people? Why do we value others so dearly and not even believe our own self worth?

If we start with looking at any given situation in life, the fact of the matter is that maybe you are responsible for the outcome and maybe you aren’t… so why automatically assume the blame when something goes wrong? In most situations there is usually more than one factor at play so why should we ignore the rest and focus in on ‘me’? The reason in most cases (including my own!) is control. In the majority of situations we cannot control others’ feelings / opinions / behaviours or the external environment around us but we can control our own internal thoughts and behaviours. So naturally when something doesn’t work out as we’d hoped, we focus on what we can have a chance of changing…ourselves. The trouble with this approach is, perhaps there was no need for us to change – we were probably great just the way we were.

The epiphany I have had this week is that self-blame and constant criticism holds us back from solutions and success. It does this because the only solution to something where you are to blame, is to change ‘you’ and lets face it, we can all change a little but we cannot become a whole new person…and neither should we. The better thing to try and change (and probably the easier thing!) is your perspective…stop seeing yourself as the cause of all wrong and ill in the world and instead, see yourself as the brilliant, unique and successful person you are!! (And if you don’t believe me go ask your loved ones, they’ll soon back me up! 😉 ).

This girl on this weekend has done exactly that. I’ve had enough and I’ve decided to change things – from this point on there will be less self-blame and more self-belief. If an employer, a love interest, a friend or anyone else for that matter doesn’t recognise what I can bring to their life and they don’t seize it with both hands, then it will be their loss rather than a fault of mine.

And for anyone wishing to do the same, here’s how I’m personally going to approach it:

Practice: For something to change and for something to become a habit it must be repeated over and over again. This is no different. I am telling myself on a daily basis to believe in my abilities and keep trying. I’m a capable, strong and decent person.

Catch negative thought patterns before they bring you down: If I slip into bad thought patterns, I am consciously stopping myself from listening. I’m sure on occasions I’ll slip up and allow myself to let them sink through but I’ll keep trying to replace them with something positive.

Listen to people when they tell you good things, believe it: When people I respect and love tell me I’m a good person I’m going to listen properly and play it back to myself during tough times. By not listening to friends and family, you are effectively disregarding their opinion so do them (and you!) a favour and take it in 🙂

Use it to grow success and resilience: If I want to be successful, strong and resilient I need to believe in myself and roll with the punches. To achieve great things you first have to believe you can do it.

Challenge yourself everyday: The achievement and recognition of challenges, however small, reinforces self-belief. Even if the challenge is just to get up an hour early one morning you’ll feel good when you manage to do it – it proves you can do whatever you apply your mind to doing.

Trust and rely on yourself: The one person who will always be in your life is ‘you’! It sounds obvious but learning to love and trust yourself is the key to feeling confident in whatever direction your life twists and turns – anyone else who chooses to join you along the way is just the lucky passenger along for the ride 😉

It is worth saying, however, that none of this is to suggest you should go through life cocky, arrogant or over-confident…that’s not the point. The point is to believe in yourself as a person capable of great things and to feel happy and satisfied in that knowledge. Of course there will be times when your behaviour has been less than ideal – reflect on it, learn from it and improve for next time. Everyone goes wrong from time to time but mostly when a rubbish situation occurs, it has more than one person or thing responsible for it. It is not just you! By believing in yourself more and blaming yourself less, you can enjoy success and cope with the bad times better.

Our parents, our friends, our partners, our (insert important person here) all tell us how brilliant we are and we respect their opinion on all other matters so why not on this? How is it that we know better? Trust your loved ones, trust yourself and skip into work tomorrow happy in the knowledge you are a brilliant person and that you will always give life your best 🙂 (Okay, okay…perhaps skipping into work is a tall order – lets say crawl in with a coffee in hand instead 😉 ).

A wise man once said ‘Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you are usually right’ – so go out there and believe you ‘can’!!

I have a dream…

shebelieved-786x1024

What do you want to be when you grow up? The million dollar question we continue to ask ourselves even when we have by definition ‘grown up’ a very long time ago. But just recently I think I may have found my answer…(and no, sorry to disappoint it’s not to become a blog-writing, tap dancing, burlesque queen 😉 ).

Quite simply, my purpose and passion is this: (If and when I grow up :)) I would like to be happy and I would like to make the people around me happy too. There, that’s it. I realise it’s not exactly a trailblazing ephiphany but bare with me and please keep reading as I explain more…if for no other reason than the fact that I also need you, my lovely reader, to step up to the mantle and help me out with a little something 🙂

Okay as is usually the way with my entries, I want to explain where I’m coming from on this. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking (no change there then!!) in an effort to understand myself better and get properly focussed upon what it is I’m doing here (that’s ‘here’ as in planet Earth, not ‘here’ as in Arnold which is a different question entirely 😉 ) and also giving thought to how I want to leave my stamp on the world. In spending some time thinking about it, I realised that from a young age we are all striving to find our purpose / our focus /  our talents / our calling / etc in life. A lucky few happen to find it easily and early, some seem to have a whole path already laid out for them, while others (the majority I would say) keep struggling through, continually trying to clear the fog and reach the refuge of clarity. All of us have to know we have something to ‘be’ in life because without knowing that, it’s hard not to wonder what the hell we are doing to make full use of the short time we have on Earth.

But in trying to ask myself all these ‘big’ life affirming questions, I just found that I was getting more and more confused and annoyed. So then I decided to strip things completely back to basics and simply ask myself this – what is the most common thing I am seeking in all that I do? In work, play and all the things inbetween what do I want? Is it money? Is it respect? Fun? Fulfilment?

A few mugs of coffee and multiple doodles later and the answer jumped out to me plain as day…I just want to feel happy. In work, love, friendships and all the other important things in life I’m looking for that feeling of happiness and satisfaction. The one simple (and often forgotten) answer to the ‘what do you want to be’ question is really just to be happy. It’s something we all have in common and it’s something we all deserve to feel. But sussing out the feeling is the easy part…the tough question after that becomes….yes, but how do I do it??

I won’t go on to bore you with all the details of what I decided to do next but essentially, I reached a point where I made a great long list of all of the things that make me happy and make me unhappy. I then started drawing up a plan as to how I can bring more of those happiness inducing things into my life and minimise the things that sap it. It won’t be an easy (or short) process but at least there’s a starting point now.

One of the biggest features on my list (if not the biggest) was the area I am now starting to think of as as my purpose / mission / focus: I am going to begin directing my life more towards helping people to be happy and satisfied. I want to spend time with people to find out what makes them tick and ultimately what makes them happy… I then want to give them the tools to ruddy well go out there and make it happen. There’s no qualification I’m going to study for / no professional name / no titles for what I’m suggesting, I am keeping it as simple as calling it my ‘happiness project’. All I know is that for me to be happy, I have to know that I’m helping others to achieve their own happiness and ambitions in life. Cheesy, cliched, idealistic and perhaps even somewhat self-satisfying it may sound but quite frankly, I don’t really care – I believe in it, so I’m going to do it. Me, you, a comfy chair, some coffee and a conversation – it’s as simple a starting point as that.

So now is the point at which you, lovely reader, can help me to realise my dream! My first stage is to bring together lots of pieces of brilliant advice / inspirational sayings / motivational stories / learnings etc. etc. and start to build up a sort of ‘brilliance bible’. I have an ambition to work with young adults in the near future (particularly young women) on uncovering their happiness drivers and sources of self-worth and looking at how this can help people to become confident, well-rounded, satisfied people capable of achieving great things in the world… It’s a developing idea but all ideas have to begin somewhere 🙂 So, if you are still reading this I would love to hear your thoughts and pieces of advice – I’m looking for the things that you’ve heard in your lifetime that have truly made a difference to you. Ask a bunch of your friends too and keep adding! Here are a few of mine to get the thinking juices flowing if it helps:

  • Know yourself and you’ll know happiness. When you love and accept yourself, so too will others.
  • Always try to find time in the day to remember your achievements, however small they might be
  • Be the change you want to see in the world
  • Dissatisfaction is a symptom of ambition
  • Inaction is the enemy of thought
  • Be a friend and you will always find me yours
  • Treat others as you yourself would like to be treated (respect, dignity & honesty should be a given)

Not only will your thoughts and ideas be incredibly interesting to read in their own right but if my plans take off and one day go in the direction I hope they will, you can feel good that you’ve contributed something towards helping others to be happy. I can’t make any promises as to how this ‘project’ might progress – it could be the start of something simple but successful or it could just be another silly idea from an idealistic over-thinker 😉 Either way, all I know is that half battle in achieving your dreams is getting started on them so *deep breath* – here goes!!

A big thank you in advance… I’ll keep you ‘posted’ (no pun intended) 😉

Mission impossible?

I was recently asked to define my mission in life i.e. why am I here and what do I want to achieve. Should be an easy concept right? Surely we would all naturally know our purpose and why our being around adds value to the world. But as I sat down to put my purpose to Powerpoint, I suddenly found it extremely hard to a) define my mission and b) articulate it. Now I’m sure those of you reading this who are parents (for example) may find at least a part of your mission fairly easy to define (or else scoff at me for even having the time to think about such things 🙂 But for us lot who are not yet in a place where family and cohabiting are on the agenda, how do we get to a point where we know that the things we do in life are making a difference to the world? Or indeed, even if we do have families and partners how do we make a mission that includes our role as a mum /dad/husband/wife etc but doesn’t define us only by it? I refuse to believe that my mission and reason for existing is to become a wife or a mother – valuable as these things may be!

So before continuing, perhaps it would help to give a little background to this topic. I’m currently studying for a diploma in leadership and management – a core part of it is based around the concept that to lead effectively, you first need to know who you are, what your values are and what you want to achieve in work and within life more generally. This is often known as your ‘brand’ – defining what it is that you’re offering or selling to people (an employer, a friend, a partner etc). Personally I really buy into this idea – how can you expect others to want you, support you and go with you if you can’t give them any clue as to where you’re heading and why they should be around you? I’m also a firm believer that the better you know yourself and what’s important to you, the happier you’ll be.

So as I sat down to pull together my own brand I foolishly thought it would be a straightforward, quick job since I always believed I was fairly self-aware and clear on where life is headed. An hour and a half later and I was perplexed as to why this wasn’t coming naturally to me. Why could I not pinpoint my mission, values and ‘what makes me different’ in an instant?! On reflection, there are a number of factors as to why this was hard (such as never really allowing quality time to think about purpose or thinking it a little self indulgent) but the main reason for the block was that I was trying to make it too complicated. I wanted it to be some earth shattering, amazing revelation and of course, was finding it hard to find such a thing in my relatively modest way of life. So I finally found success when I decided to keep it simple – think about what are the things I really want out of life and how can I make them happen. I came to this:

My mission is to live, learn, love and laugh…and to help others to do the same.

That is it. Simple I know and who would believe it took such a long while to reach that conclusion (perhaps it was just my slow brain on a Sunday night or the fact that Homeland was proving a tempting distraction! 🙂 But the conclusion I came to, simply put, was that life is for enjoying and living to it’s absolute fullest. I always want to keep an open mind so I can continually learn and see more, I want to love the people in my life with all my heart and I want to laugh as much as I can (that last one is particularly important by the way 🙂 And the way I can make sure this happens? By playing my part in helping other people to live, learn, love and laugh too – to do what I can to help others to be happy.

Okay, I am well aware of how cheesy my mission sounds – really I am. Usually I’m the first to cringe at overly soppy or lovey sentiments…but there is no other way of putting it, so indulge me for just a second! The reason I’m sharing this is because just by doing this relatively small exercise, I’ve found it has helped to clear the fog in several areas of my life. For example, at work I’ve recently been feeling somewhat flat and I’ve felt myself slightly losing the passion and enthusiasm I used to pride myself on. The more I became flat, the more miserable I started to feel because I couldn’t work out what was wrong. When I did this exercise it helped me to see the reason for why I was beginning to feel flat. It was because I couldn’t see through my role at work, how I was helping people – something I now know is really, really important to me. In fact, the nature of the work I do and sometimes the attitudes of the people around me are such that I often feel like a nuisance rather than a help. My biggest ‘highs’ have been when I’ve been out talking with those who need support and advice because I can see clearly how my role helps them to be happy. So now I’ve realised what was causing my ‘flatness’ I can spend valuable time sorting out a solution to it. But had I not realised the link between mission and my funk, I would have been in a downward spiral to the murky depths of miserable… As a positive aside, I also feel that should the time come to apply for jobs in the future I now know what I am looking for and how I will communicate all of this to prospective employers at interview – everyone’s a winner 🙂

The second aspect to this exercise was also about defining what makes you different – your unique selling point. Again, this was a tough job! But I came to find that the mission and defining your difference are very closely linked since I believe that what makes a person different is how their mission manifests in practice. Let me give an example to illustrate the point:

Many people’s mission in life is to be healthy. For one person this will manifest in structured lifestyle choices – a gym session twice a day, healthy food regimes and early nights since they are looking at health mainly in the physical sense. For another, this will manifest as complete lack of control – health is more psychologically based and therefore takes the form of lots of nights out, treats, spending sprees etc. And for another, perhaps a balance of both. The thing that makes each person different is the little routines, mantras, activities they undertake…essentially their behaviours. All have a common mission to be healthy in this example but each will have a very different approach to achieving it.

The reason the link is important is because if we’re honest, many missions will sound similar-ish. More often than not once you’ve written your mission you then start to think ‘well this doesn’t make me very unique at all!’ – beating yourself up for being just one more face in a very large crowd. But then if you have a think about the things you do to help make your mission a reality, you’ll soon find hundreds of things that are unique to little old you (some of them perhaps a little too weird and wacky so keep those bad boys to yourself please! 😉 For example, I’m well aware that the slogan ‘live well, love a lot and laugh often’ is a well-used phrase and my interpretation doesn’t set the world of USPs alight by any stretch. But what does make me different is the way I will choose to make my mission happen – the extent to which I passionately believe in it and the way in which I will always openly share it with others.

So at the end of this blog rather than offer my key learning points as is usually the way, I’m going to be different (see what I did there?!) and set a small challenge instead – how about you have a go at establishing a bit of a brand for yourself by writing down the following things:

– Your mission
– Your values and beliefs
– What makes you different

If I was selling this exercise as a product, this would be the point at which I would say 100% satisfaction or your money back…but seeing as no money is exchanged I can’t really offer that, sorry! But what I will say is that if you trust me (and hopefully because you’re reading my blog you do!) give it a go – it’ll help you in some way whether that be securing a new job through your newfound vision and focus, re-evaluating your current one or just getting a bit of insight into what really makes you tick 🙂 I’m sharing this because I genuinely think it’s helpful…and chuffing hell, if you didn’t know how much I love helping people before this it should be unequivocal by now! So, as Jerry Maguire so passionately puts it ‘Help me to help you!’ 😉

Giving up the ghosts

Our past is unchangeable – it’s the one aspect of ourselves that can never be altered, adapted or improved. How ironic then that it influences who we are so significantly – that who we are today is inevitably shaped by where we’ve been yesterday and all the days before that. Past experiences can be such a power for good – they may help you to learn, improve and grow as a person. But they can also be an influence for bad – dominating your whole existence so that you become afraid of being hurt again or repeating a past mistake. But surely there is a balance to made – a point at which you take heed of the warning bells in your head while at the same time not closing yourself off from experiencing life? A balance that minimises naivety while not quashing curiosity and hope?

Personally, I’ve always been a big believer in the ‘no regrets’ philosophy. Time is too precious to waste it dwelling on the past and wishing things had worked out differently. If you can’t change something (your past) then try and find something else that you can influence and control (your future). One of my biggest fears is to become a person who is so consumed by my past that it controls every part of my future – to become convinced that I know the outcome of a situation before I’ve even experienced it. To me, that’s when life becomes monotone and uninspiring…if I already know how things are going to work out why bother trying anything new, right? The very essence of living has got to be about keeping the hope and excitement alive when thinking about what might be just around the corner – whether that be a new job, a love interest, a hobby, a new friend or a new place to explore!

But all of that said, I certainly don’t think the past should be discounted and ignored altogether otherwise surely you’d just keep making the same mistakes all over again. As painful as it is remembering how you felt when that guy / girl broke your heart or when you found out that the person you thought was your closest friend was your biggest enemy or the time when a colleague screwed you over etc etc, you can use that experience to learn from it and ultimately, to help shape how you approach similar situations going forward. The film ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ epitomises exactly this concept – you may feel that memories are painful and destructive but until you have none, you can’t realise how useful and important they really are…even the really bad ones.

Perhaps though, my outlook is in part because I’ve had the luxury of being able to think like that. I’ve had my fair share of knocks in life of course (and some of them seemingly quite big to me at the time) but generally speaking, I’ve been fairly lucky and stable within my 27 years so far. I cannot speak for those who’ve been unlucky enough to have awful past experiences – memories so bad that even the strongest of people would find it hard to forget and move on. But the one thing we all do have in common regardless of the severity our past ghosts, is that we all have the power to determine whether we let it dominate our futures.

As is my usual way, I’ll use an example personal to me so that I can illustrate the point I’m trying to get to… So those of you who know me and in fact, even those of you who don’t but have followed these posts before – from my blog ‘Falling and Failing’, you’ll know that I’ve had some pretty phenomenally rubbish luck with men. I’m the sort of person who is generally pretty picky about who I go for but when I do, I fall fast and I fall hard. Each time I’ve liked / loved someone I’ve genuinely believed that they are a good person – admittedly more often than not with 101 issues to boot, but ultimately I’ve had a feeling that they are a decent person underneath (and even when others around me couldn’t see it). I also think of myself as fairly astute in assessing whether someone likes me and so I’ll never put my feelings on the line unless I’ve had some pretty clear as glass signs that they like me. But (and this is the big BUT) despite all of this not one of my (fairly substantial number) of relationships has worked out well – I have literally had my heart trampled on, squished, ripped into a million pieces and pulverised into a vague existence. Every variance of the girl-meets-boy-boy-breaks-girls-heart scenario you could think of I’ve pretty much experienced. And yet…I still remain open minded and hopeful that not all guys are the same. I refuse to let my past dictate who I meet in my future and if that means being hurt again, well I’d rather be hurt a thousand times more than never to open myself up and risk driving away the decent few that are out there.

Now don’t get me wrong, I would say my past experiences have definitely made me more wary and a little more cautious…if I have a feeling that another heart bashing might be on the cards I’ll be packing my bags before the baseball bat has even been raised – self preservation is key! But I’m trying to find that balance between letting my past change me a little and letting it control everything. I would be well within my rights to generalise and say that my generous sample of boys so far tells me that they’re all prats and that there’s no point even trying to find a decent one…but then that would make me a) a defeatist (which I mostly certainly ain’t!!) and b) a slave to my past (and I refuse to be controlled by a has-been!!). The same could be said for any number of scenarios where bad experiences have been had – work, friends, family, living arrangements etc etc – the point is, to truly move forward with life you have to learn to let go of some (not all!) of those past demons.

So, now we’ve clarified that point about letting go and moving on….how (particularly if you’re not used to putting the past to bed) can you achieve it?? Well, I’m no expert and I’ve certainly not perfected the art as yet but here are a few things I have learnt:

Sometimes you have to be your own hero. We could all wait around for someone or something to rescue us, like all of a sudden something will change that means that life is more amazing. Well the reality is that you could be waiting a very long time for this to happen. Why not instead decide that you are more than capable of being the hero of this story and make the changes needed by your own fair hand?? Trust me, it’s much more satisfying that way – AND you’ll get the what I like to call ‘go me!’ glow afterwards too 😉

Learn from your past like you would a sage old guru but don’t let it be your master. The trick is to recognise when you’re beginning to submit far too regularly to Mr/Mrs Has-Been and decide that for once you’re going to try ignoring him / her and give Mr/Mrs Future Opportunity a chance. Essentially, avoid the safe generalisations and self-fulfilling prophecies and start giving things a chance again…life might just surprise you!

Allow yourself to hope that things can get better. Without hope and faith life can be a very dark and lonely place. If the past has stolen hope away from you then embrace your inner hero and go kick some ass to get it back. To become hopeless is to become lifeless, but to become hopeful is to become ambitious…ambitious that life should and will give you more!

Keep an open mind. Someone once mused to me that they couldn’t decide whether an open mind was the same as an empty one…well I’ll say the same thing I said to them, it’s not. How can it be empty when you’re allowing so many new and exciting things to enter it? How can it be empty when you’re opening yourself up to learning all the time? So do keep your mind open – open to people, open to experiences and open to life. You never know, you might just find that the new experience / person / opportunity ends up replacing your past memories with a new and positive ones 🙂

And so ends another musing and at the end of it I find myself more determined than ever not to become enslaved to my past – to let it have its say but not to go blindly into situations thinking the outcome is pre-determined. Staying happy, hopeful and curious is what life is all about and it’s always important to remember that the future is full of opportunities as long as we stay open to them.

“When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which are wide open for us.” Never a truer word spoken…