An addiction to crack…

Light

I was first diagnosed with the condition of ‘giving too much of a shit’ at the age of 5 by my favourite primary school teacher.

I had been out playing with a group of friends when one of them rounded on the other, pushing them to the ground and stealing their favourite pog (it was a 1990s game!). As the victim of this heinous crime (!) ran away crying, I turned to the kid who’d pushed them down and asked them if they were okay… As the teacher came round the corner to smooth things over, he asked me why I was involved in the incident. So I told him I had just been there at the time and for some reason felt sorry for the other kid. The teacher just chuckled and told me that one day my caring for the ‘mean ones’ would either be my making or my downfall. As a five year old child, clearly this made no sense to me and I happily shrugged and skipped off back to my game of pogs… but several years later and I’m reminded of his words in my adult life.

Why is that we care for some people so deeply and not for others, particularly when to the outside world our care is wrongly directed? I imagine that if you were to ask this question to ten different people, you might well get ten very different answers. Are our feelings related to the things they do for us everyday, the words they utter to build our confidence, the support they provide in a crisis? Is it because they are perfect in every way and they only make us feel good? When we find ourselves drawn to people, what is it that keeps us there – even when, at times, it seems crazy to stay?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently because on the whole, I think I’m a pretty good judge of character. I mostly surround myself with honest, caring and grounded people who I know I can depend on and trust. But I’ve also noted a pattern in being drawn to some quite complicated, complex and in some cases, destructive people too. When I care about someone it happens quickly and is pretty hard to shake, even when someone behaves in a way which is hurtful and to many, unforgivable. Does that make me stupid? Naïve? Ridiculous even? To keep giving my time to those who seemingly don’t deserve it…

The way I explain it to friends and family is that sometimes to get to the most beautiful parts of who a person is, you have to wade through the murky bits – with some people there’s just a whole lot of murkiness to contend with before you get to the good bit, but it has to be there. I guess I like the idea that much like the art dealer who finds a discarded masterpiece that others’ could not or would not take the time to see, that I’ll find the person / people who, with time, will be incredibly interesting and rewarding to be around. The diamonds in the rough 🙂 I know I’m not alone in this way of thinking, we can all surely think of a time when we’ve held onto someone even though we know they haven’t done a huge amount to deserve it and / or haven’t given us anything back in return…

So in thinking about this, there are the obvious explanations that spring to mind. Curiosity – perhaps the more someone behaves differently to ourselves, the more we want to understand and explain it. Self-punishment – perhaps we don’t believe we deserve any better so we’re willing to accept hurtful behaviour. Do-gooder syndrome – somehow we want to relieve the world of all it’s ills and pain, one individual at a time. The list goes on…

But I have my own theory – perhaps it’s the case that the things we seek in other people (be it friends, lovers, colleagues etc.) are sometimes the things we want others’ to find out about ourselves. By trying to understand someone who (for example) has treated you badly, perhaps you are somehow hoping they will try to understand you back. It’s a well known fact that we tend to seek out those who are similar to ourselves in life because it reinforces our view of the world and makes us feel our values and beliefs are the ‘right’ ones because they are shared (a several thousand word dissertation on the topic has emblazoned that particular fact in my mind! 🙂 But to dig into that deeper, perhaps alongside reinforcing our beliefs and values we are also seeking out ways to confirm that the not-so-great aspects of ourselves (our imperfections and cracks) are loveable and acceptable too. For example, by finding someone who is imperfect and broken, it makes it okay for me to be imperfect and broken too – an understanding between people who have experienced difficult times in life and have not just lived life safely in monotone, and they accept and care about each other because of it.

Everyone, regardless of the façade they put on, is looking to be heard, understood and accepted. To be truly understood is rare, and to be accepted for all your imperfections and cracks is even rarer. It has always been my view (rightly or wrongly) that a person with seemingly no imperfection and no issues is either a boring one or a fake one, so it follows that when I meet people who have things to work through I equate that with being real and having experienced life a little more. I’m not sure that’s something I want to change about myself but what I am realising is, at the point at which caring about someone comes at the cost of caring about myself, that is when a line has to be drawn somewhere.

So where does this leave things I wonder for a crack addict like me? Well I think my three step programme would sound something like this:

1. Remember that understanding people is good, trying to fix them is not. The one thing which is a sure fire way to be eternally dissatisfied is to believe you can fix people – people can be broken by others’ but they must always fix themselves. You can support people by providing the tools to help and the unwavering support but ultimately they are the only ones who can do what’s necessary.

2. Keep caring but don’t let it come at the cost of your own needs. This is one I will struggle with because I just never like to give up…but it’s an inescapable truth that you can give all of yourself to help someone and they’ll take it all, leaving with you nothing. Know when it’s ‘just too much’ and take a step back, you do no one any favours by sacrificing yourself.

3. Remember that cracks are as much of who you are as rest of you. Imperfections and ‘isms’ are what make us unique and interesting, allowing people to see that can be a good thing. I remember reading an article about the success of ‘the imperfect leader’ as a leadership style because people identified with it and felt that when a person is willing to be vulnerable, it shows their ability to be real and present.

Finally, a quote which has stayed with me ever since I first encountered it is below. Although it sort of feeds my addiction to ‘finding the cracks’, it also makes me feel good that as an ambitious woman trying to make my mark in the world, it’s okay to sometimes show your vulnerabilities and drop the mask for a while 🙂

“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in” Cohen

Searching for unicorns…

Unicorn2 I’m a dreamer, an optimist and a Piscean – a combination some might consider a recipe for disaster. Not only do I like to (occasionally) live outside of the real world but I also believe there’s got to be a better world that I may have a cat in hell’s chance of creating…there has to be more to life than the card that has been handed down, and I have a duty to do what I can to make it so 🙂 Ever since I was really young, I was the same. Obsessed with stories, adventure and mythical creatures – I could spend hours just lying in the grass on a warm Summer’s day dreaming about all manner of things… from the places I would explore one day, to the stories I would write as a famous novelist, onto how amazing it would feel to be in love with someone with all my heart… So I would spend days looking up at skies of pure blue and feeling so happy and full of anticipation I could burst. But I think I knew at the back of my mind that one day I would need to grow up and become ‘sensible’ – I would need to give up the daydreaming and tone down my imagination. I would need to swap unicorn chasing for a steady job and an occasional adventure. The trouble is, although I now have the steady career and sensible life, I’m not so sure I’ve quite given up the chase. There are still some things in life that feel like the proverbial unicorn…talked about, rumoured to exist, glimpsed by some and yet, so illusive and out of reach to me. There are things other people claim to have seen, experienced and felt but still, they continue to escape me until I begin to question whether the things I really desire are out there at all.  Perhaps the thing(s) I want with all my heart and soul is so beautiful and pure it might as well be a mythical creature…but still I search and still I long for a sign that it’s real. To put this another way, have you ever had the feeling that perhaps you are looking for something that may not exist or materialise? It might be a feeling, an idea, a person or a dream place – the ‘something’ is a thing you’ve held onto for a day or even a lifetime and yet it is so important to you, you’re not sure you’d be able to look back on life and say you’ve truly ‘lived’ without having experienced it? So at what point should you just accept that your ideas and dreams may not translate to every day life and they are not for this world… Your long held desires need to be discarded and replaced with the reality of ‘what is’ rather than what could be… I suppose the challenge I’m trying to work through in this blog is how you balance out remaining ambitious and hopeful in achieving your dreams and desires with being realistic and accepting when you’ve given it your best shot and it’s the right time to let it go. I’m optimistic enough to believe that I should be able to achieve what I set out to achieve in this life but I hate the thought that I could be holding onto an ‘ideal’ that may never be. Desiring something that may never happen has been known to make people bitter and cynical – something I am determined never to become.  So can you be hopeful and hopeless all at the same time? A hopelessly hopeful dreamer perhaps 😉 You see, the seductive thing about dreaming is that it represents hope and hope provides a purpose to life. For example, I might hope to have my own business one day and so it gives me something to aim for – therefore the steps I take in my career are towards that purpose. Or perhaps I dream of a better world in which people feel appreciated and respected for who they are – therefore the way in which I behave and interact with people around me will be towards (on some small level) achieving that goal. My own personal dream which is very close to my heart is about my desire to cultivate a life filled with ‘real’ connections and ‘real’ relationships – it’s about really seeing people as they truly are and that they will see me as I truly am. I get so tired sometimes of so many ‘surface level’ friendships and relationships where we talk about such meaningless things…I’m someone who needs connection and meaning (not all the time – don’t get me wrong, I can have my silly carefree moments like the best of ’em! 😉 ). I keep chasing the idea that one day I’ll meet more people who just ‘get’ and love me for me…and I for them. I guess it’s my view that there are just some dreams that if you let them go, you may let go of a part of yourself….it’s like accepting that you’ve failed to achieve something you really wanted to achieve. But equally at the same time, the down side of never letting go of the unobtainable is that it may hold you back in other ways that you don’t even realise… So, in my soul searching what exactly have I come to conclude? Well this has been a particularly tough one for me and I don’t think there is one black and white answer that anyone can tell you about when to keep going and when to give up, but here are my thoughts… 1. Keep chasing until it holds you back. I think it’s important not to let go too quickly…all the mythical stories of unicorn chasing almost always involve a huge amount of perseverance and blood, sweat and tears before the character finally catches the long awaited glimpse. In real life, most dreams worth pursuing may be hard work and require a huge amount of faith. But the point at which perseverance tips over into pain and disappointment, perhaps it’s time to make the call about whether continuing is the right thing to do. 2. Dream in multiples. The one thing I have most definitely learnt is how important it is not to put all your eggs in one basket – having several dreams which you hold close to your heart helps you in striving for a fuller and richer life, but also helps in taking the edge of the disappointment if one doesn’t materialise. If one seems impossible or out of reach, shift focus to another. 3. Make your own decision – don’t let others tell you what is or isn’t obtainable. Someone once said to me that I should never limit my accomplishments to other peoples’ expectations of me and just like that piece of advice, I don’t think you should let others tell you what you can and can’t dream of for your life. Listen to advice, of course, but use the advice to make a decision that you can own completely. I’ve always believed advice is (mostly!) for confirming a decision you’ve sort of made anyway… All in all I guess what I’ve learnt is that dreaming is a positive thing… until it’s not! Holding onto an idealistic dream of something which may never happen can of course hold us back from enjoying the present and ‘what is’ but our hopes and dreams can also give us passion and purpose. They can give us ideas for what our future may hold and can stir up excitement about what we might be capable of…An amazing man once said: ‘There is no passion to be found in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living’ Nelson Mandela

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’!!

No half measures…

Half measures
Life is for living and you have to live it with your whole heart, not just parts of it. I’ve always believed in this philosophy passionately and it explains why I will often reach decisions quickly, see them through to the very end and prefer that if I am to regret anything it should be the things I’ve done, not the things I haven’t. I don’t do things by half measures – it’s all or it’s nothing, you either do something completely or you don’t do it at all.

Interestingly though, I’ve never considered myself to be a ‘black and white’ sort of girl – I know that life has many colours on a spectrum far wider than just black, white and grey. For example, I believe that someone could come to me with pretty much any scenario, dilemma, issue or reflection and I would remain open-minded and judgement free…because I know only too well that life can be complicated, surprising and a long way from clear cut. But recently, I’ve found myself frustrated and uncharacteristically annoyed with people and situations that seem to float within the grey area of my philosophy which I have been so determined shouldn’t exist.

The frustrating ones are often the people and situations that seemingly have no ‘resolution’ – resolution in the sense of having an ending / outcome and in terms of those people lacking in resolve or determination. There are certain situations and people I just wish were either one thing or another, black or white, open or closed and it really plays on my mind when they have any kind of ambiguity. In this sense I feel contradictory because on the whole I’m very open-minded and fluid but in this respect, I am quite resolute in my need for resolution and clarity.

I first noticed this pattern in relation to my love life but I think it also plays into work, friendships and everyday situations too. I’m an open and decisive gal and I like to know where I’m headed. Drifting along worries me because I could easily ‘drift’ into something that hurts me or isn’t right and that, dear readers, to my mind is a waste of time. As is spending hours on end agonising over a decision or situation when the answers are there for the takin’, if you can be brave enough to take the plunge. Thus when it comes to dating (for example) I’ll fairly quickly need to establish that I’m on the same page as the other person – once that’s out the way, I’ll settle down and let things move at their own pace. I’m not scared of hearing or doing something I don’t like but knowing what you’re dealing with sooner rather than later I feel is the way in which you make the most of your time on earth. It enables closure when things aren’t right but it also enables moving forward positively when they are. I need clarity and I’ll genuinely go to the ends of the earth to get it (well, the furthest I’ve been before was jumping on a plane to Egypt but hey, that’s pretty far! :)) – I suppose come rain or shine I just like to know whether to pack my umbrella or my sunnies 😉

I know I’m not alone in this way of living – some of you reading this are similar I’m sure. But it feels like I’m encountering more and more people and situations where drifting, lack of decision-making and generally ‘grey area floating’ seems to be the norm. Let me give some examples (admittedly ranging from the ridiculously mundane and everyday to larger, more significant situations but hey, I like to use variety!! :)):

Situation 1: Friends who take days to reply to simple text messages. To my mind you’re either in a conversation or you’re not – if this were a phone call or face to face situation you wouldn’t stretch a conversation out over days. For one thing by the time you respond I’ve forgotten what we were talking about and for another, it loses its ‘flow’. I know life sometimes gets in the way and it’s not always possible to get back straight away but this should be an exception not a rule. Talk to me or don’t but please don’t drift somewhere in-between.

Situation 2: Taking a decision to holiday but not booking the travel. If you decide you want to go on holiday or go to see someone in another country you need to put actions to words. Decisions that are made without the necessary actions to see them through are the most frustrating of all – if you can’t do what’s necessary then perhaps you should have reached a different decision.

Situation 3: Deciding not to close down an organisation or workstream after months of uncertainty but effectively doing so through restructure and remodelling. Decisions that sound like one thing but effectively mean the other are just the worst because to me, it means you weren’t brave enough to voice your real intentions and instead chose to sneakily call it something else. It assumes that you can ‘trick’ people into believing something that isn’t real. Call a spade a spade please.

Situation 4: Having regrets and wishing you’d just…(insert reflection here). We all have some small scale regrets (for example I wish I’d had coffee this morning instead of tea!) but looking back on life and wishing you’d done something majorly different is not a healthy way to live. When you regret the decisions you didn’t make or the dreams you didn’t pursue it’s the saddest thing to hear. I know I’ve made some decisions that haven’t always worked out well but looking back, I’m still glad I made them – wondering ‘what if’ is enough to drive anyone to distraction!

Okay, I think I’ll stop with the scenarios now as I think I’ve made my point 😉 But I guess what I’m getting at is about having the courage of your convictions to see things through. Some of the toughest decisions I’ve made have not always led to where I’d hoped they would…but sometimes they’ve led to somewhere better. When I flew out to Egypt to see if this ‘thing’ I felt with a guy I’d met travelling would work, it didn’t result in me finding the love of my life but I was glad and proud of going for it whole-heartedly… and I’d do it again tomorrow. Finding closure, resolution, peace, clarity or whatever you want to call it is the main thing – for some people that’s not important and for some even the drifting and uncertainty is a draw. I suppose it’s about knowing who you are and what’s important to you. Answers and knowing where I stand in this life are important to me.

Final thought? Well I remember quite vividly someone once saying: ” A life lived in fear is a life half-lived” – well as a gal who won’t accept any half-measures I guess this means I have to keep facing the fears and seeking my answers…I remain hopeful though that one day this will help me to cut through the ‘grey’ and into the answers I really want and deserve! I hope you too will do the same 🙂

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!’ 😉