Glow

Candle 

“Love in your heart is not put there to stay. Love isn’t love till you give it away”

Anon

It’s been on my heart for a while now to write this particular blog.

Christmas seems the perfect time to do so, when we are all focused on finding the perfect present for loved ones.

Last Friday marked 20 years since the death of my grandmother. Her funeral was on the Christmas Eve. Christmas Day was surreal and bittersweet that year. I don’t think that any of us really knew how to feel.

Granny absolutely adored Christmas. She would scour the shops in the lead-up to Christmas searching out the sweetest and most unusual treats, which would be laid out on the sideboard for Christmas Day – we’d try to sneak a mouthful before lunch when Mum wasn’t looking. Being together as a family was Granny’s most perfect gift. Her face would light up into the most enormous, enduring smile whilst she watched the family festivities. She just glowed with contentment and love.

It isn’t the glittery, wrapped box that makes the best gift.

“Happiness has a new best friend. His name is kindness”

Seth Godin

In his book, “Graceful”, Seth Godin observes that “Kindness creates connection. It generates respect (on both sides) and it scales.”

I love where I live. Most of my neighbours are retired and are living life to the full, despite suffering from the usual health complaints age brings to us all. We share plants, garden produce and advice on DIY, gardening and life in general. In the recent cold weather the chaps even had a word with my husband, as he hadn’t de-iced my car windscreen for me !

Kindness is contagious – an infinite gift. It is a parcel of love, which says, “You matter to me”.

Following a family bereavement, a colleague recently had to travel home alone on a train. They were in pieces, sobbing and not one person asked them if they are OK. I guess it was the usual story of everyone assuming that someone else would step in. Psychologists call it “diffusion of responsibility”. I’m sure that you can think of people who have stepped into your life at a crucial moment with an act of kindness. Remember how loved they made you feel, if only for a brief moment ?

Receiving a gift of kindness is a gift in itself.

Some months ago I was in Tesco at lunchtime, buying a sandwich before a meeting. There was an elderly chap in front of me, with a small trolley full of shopping. He came up to me, smiled and said “would you like to go first ?”. Thinking I was being thoughtful, I said “no thanks, I’m happy to wait”. His face fell. I felt so mean. Of course I should have said “yes”, he was trying to give me a gift and I threw it back at him. Lesson learnt.

“You don’t know how strong you are until strong is all you’ve got”

 Anon

There is a heart-wrenching, but truly awe-inspiring interview, by Anita Chaudhuri, in January’s Psychologies magazine. It is with Scarlett Lewis, who lost her six-year old son, Jesse, in the Sandy Hook school shootings. Scarlett describes how, through an incredible act of courage, Jesse gave his life to save that of his classmates.

 “Even with his head wound, Jesse stayed on his feet and faced the gunman…Something happened to the man’s gun and he was forced to stop a moment…so Jesse yelled to his classmates…to run as fast as they could, now…Nine terrified first graders managed to run from the room as the gunman took aim at Jesse.”

After losing Jesse, returning from a trip away, Scarlett saw the message that Jesse had written on the kitchen chalkboard on the morning of the shootings “Norurting helin love”. Over-whelmed and inspired by Jesse’s message, Scarlett decided to set up a foundation to teach the concept of Nurturing Healing Love in schools, through the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation.

The Foundation’s aim is to turn anger in society into love – to give others the ability to be kind.

All I can say is “Wow”.

 “In this life we cannot always do great things, but we can do small things with great love”

Mother Teresa

Small acts of kindness can make a real difference. Perhaps unexpectedly offering to load the dishwasher for the frazzled cook on Christmas Day or smiling and saying “Good morning” to someone you pass by.

Research shows that giving makes us just as happy, if not more, than receiving. So let’s give ourselves a gift this Christmas. Let’s light a candle and make a promise to be kind to those we love and to be that kind stranger. As the flame glows, let’s imagine how warm our hearts will feel when we know that we’ve made a difference to someone else’s life.

As a stocking-filler from me to you, I would like to share my favourite quote. I like to think of it as my personal mission statement, as it truly reflects how I feel about my life.

This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognised by yourself as a mighty one; being a force of nature, instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.

I want to be thoroughly used up when I die. I rejoice in life for its own sake.

Life is no brief candle to me. It’s a sort of splendid torch which I’ve got to hold up for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible, before handing it on to future generations.

George Bernard Shaw

Wherever you will be, whoever you will be with and whatever you are doing, I hope that you have a happy and peaceful Christmas.

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Lost in translation

The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place”

George Bernard Shaw

 The way in which we each interpret the world is pretty unique. Often, we fail to acknowledge this, thinking autobiographically, from our own perspective.

A woman looked out of the window every morning and commented on the dirty laundry on her neighbour’s washing line. One day she noticed that it was sparkling clean. “Maybe she’s using a new washing powder” she remarked. “No”, said her husband, “I got up early and cleaned our windows”.

A few weeks ago the weather was lovely and a walk on the beach was beckoning.

Since the age of 3, when we moved to the coast, our youngest son has been a beach-junkie. He is magnetically drawn to water – even puddles. But now the beach is in competition with his latest passion, playing on Xbox Live with his friends. Here’s how the conversation went when I made my beach suggestion:

–          Me: “Let’s go to the beach to run around and get some fresh air”

–          Son: “No thanks, I’m playing Minecraft with my friends”

–          Me: “You love the beach. It’s only for an hour or so. Exercise is good for you”.

–          Son: “Nah”

I was getting no-where fast.

In his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, Stephen R Covey introduces us to Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. It’s about stepping into someone else’s shoes, seeing things from their perspective, so that you can respond to them in the best way possible.

I tried again, using Covey’s advice and played my ace card – fossils. Dinosaurs and fossils are what sold the Isle of Wight to him when we moved here 3 years ago.

–          Me: “Let’s go fossil hunting on the beach”

–          Son: “Where are my shoes ?”

Sometimes, we listen autobiographically too.

Think about the most recent time someone talked to you about a problem they had. Did your mind wander off to search its filing system for something similar that has happened to you ? Did you then, to be helpful, share your experience ? It’s something our brains automatically do.

The trouble is that when we listen autobiographically, we are looking at the situation and providing advice from our own perspective. What we should be doing is giving the person our full attention, actively listening and stepping into their shoes.

 “The word LISTEN contains the same letters as the word SILENT”

Alfred Brendel

 Last year I had some training from the Arbinger Institute, about improving communication and relationships. It seemed to boil down to one thing, treating people as people, not as objects. It brought to mind the following poem, which I’m sure that many NHS colleagues will be very familiar with.

The cute little lady in the blue sweater, by Dawn Maselli RN

They can take my meal away before I’m done, they can talk to me like I’m dumb

They can refer to me as a “Feeder”,  fluff me up to make me look neater

They talk about me like I’m not here, they address me as “honey”, “cutie” or “dear”

 

But there are things they can’t do to me, as they insult my dignity

Oh there are things they can’t do to me, they can’t take away my memories

My roles through this life cement my presence, with withered mind they call senescence

I am rich in culture, wisdom & knowledge, that medical people can’t learn in college

I am a mother, a sister, a historian, a wife, I have mastered many roles throughout my life

I created warm meals in my day, I cared for a close knit family, who look up to & value me

 

And now I master another role, dependent patient with golden soul

If just one of “them” would sit with me, I’d share with them this history

And if one would stay awhile, I’d teach them that I’m still God’s child.

 

They are so busy this I know, I have aged & have gotten slow

This I must share in written word, I may not be seen but I will be heard

They say I’m anxious, noisy and loud, this life has taught me not to be too proud

I am too many things to capture in a letter, I am so much more than the lady in the blue sweater

If you’ve listened from the start, I may help you find your heart.

 The word “communication” comes from the Latin word “communicare”, which means “to share”.  Without a shared understanding, things get lost in translation.

When I was growing up, one of my grandfathers was always very quiet. He sat in the background, watching myself and my siblings play and I have to say that as a consequence, I really didn’t feel I knew him very well. Of course, I loved him, but we didn’t really communicate. In my 20’s I started to get interested in the family tree, so one day, I sat down with him and asked him to tell me about his life. We sat on the sofa for hours and he painted me the picture of his early years, bringing to life his parents, brothers and sisters. We held hands, with tears rolling down our cheeks as he re-lived waving one his brothers off to war – it was the last time he saw him. What an amazing, powerful, shared experience that was. I now have such a wonderful memory to cherish.

 Let’s invest in some active listening; to treat people as people. Let’s seek to step into the shoes of others, to understand their perspective. We will then know how best to meet their needs, but also how best to help them to understand ours, avoiding misunderstandings and improving relationships.

By doing so, it seems to me that there is little to lose and everything to gain.

Have a great week.

 

 

Blank canvas

130818_bembridge_sand face

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls”

Pablo Picasso

 It’s half term break and children’s ability to entertain themselves never fails to amaze me.

My 10 year old and his school friends are in the grip of Minecraft, a computer game they play together over the internet, communicating via head-sets. Normally, I despise computer games, but not this one. The lads build their own world using blocks made from different materials. The thought and consideration that goes into each build is awe-inspiring. My son’s latest addition to his Minecraft world is a cake and coffee stand, complete with an outside toilet and a sharing table for people on dates. By exploring their creation you get a (sometimes scary) glimpse into how they see the world, what their dreams and aspirations are. I suppose that’s it is an indoor version of building sandcastles on the beach.

For the next few days I’ve unhooked my son from his X-Box and dragged him on a family visit. He’s been having a magical time playing in the piles of leaves brought down by the storm and throwing sticks up into the trees to bring down prime, shiny conkers.

As a child, when I wasn’t whizzing around on my bike, I liked to trash the kitchen inventing horrible, inedible recipes (usually involving raw pasta and Oxo cubes) or build dark and wobbly dens in the garden hedges, in which I’d try and cook sausages over candles. I sometimes wrote stories, which I thought were silly, but my grandma used to take them off me, put them in a shoe box high in her wardrobe and tell me that one day she’d publish a book of them called “Juicy Jelly’s Tiny Tales”.

Now that I’m all grown up I still love doing the same things. However, my recipes aren’t quite so inedible, my house is my den and this blog has (for the moment…) taken the place of my stories.

I’ve recently read a great book called the Icarus Deception, by Seth Godin. In it he defines art as “the unique work of a human being, work that touches another”. To me, all of the weird and wonderful creations described above are pieces of art.

 “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself”

George Bernard Shaw

 I find that there’s nothing quite like losing myself in a really good book, with a gripping plot, full of deep, complex characters. I move into the fictional world I’ve created in my mind and develop intimate relationships with its population.

The downside of a great novel is that inevitably, someone turns it into a movie which I can’t resist watching and “BANG”, my fabulous creation has gone.

Watching a movie is passive – it does all of the creating for us. If we’re not on the look-out, life can creep up on us and do exactly the same thing.

The good news, explains Godin, is that even when we are working we have a “choice between doing art (and forging our own path, on our own terms and owning what happens) and merely doing our job (which pushes all the power and all the responsibility to someone else).” It’s not about being an anarchist. We will always have unavoidable boundaries and constraints within which we have to live or work. It’s caring deeply about what we do, challenging the status quo and being a proactive pioneer.

 “A cook follows a recipe. A chef invents one. We have too many cooks. The world is begging for chefs”

Seth Godin

 According to Godin, to be truly awake and living our lives to the full we shouldn’t be waiting for a map, we should be drawing one.

A 12 year old school girl from the USA, Brittany Wenger, became interested in computer programming after a talk by a futurist and taught herself how to do it. When her cousin developed breast cancer, a 15 year old Brittany developed a breast cancer diagnostic programme which is 99% accurate. Wow.

Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s summer palace on the Isle of Wight, is one of my favourite places to visit and should, in my opinion, immediately be added to your “places to visit before you die” list. It was designed by Prince Albert and is packed full of inventions and innovations. For example, cockleshells were used for insulation – a stunning example of self-drawn map and a true work of art.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were fascinated by technology and often invited scientists and inventors to Osborne to demonstrate their latest discoveries; for example, Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated the telephone and Marconi the wireless telegraph. Securing such patronage must have boosted the adoption of their inventions.

 “Creativity is contagious – pass it on”

Albert Einstein

Godin advocates the following six daily habits for artists:

  • Sit alone, sit quietly
  • Learn something new without any apparent practical benefit
  • Ask individuals for bold feedback, ignore what you hear from the crowd
  • Spend time encouraging other artists
  • Teach, with the intent of making change
  • Ship something that you created

For me, the most important habit from the list above is “encouraging other artists”. Those artists include our children.

A friend of mine, who was a social worker in a coastal town, told me how she often came across children who had never been taken to the beach by their parents, despite living five minutes’ walk away. That really stuck in my heart. It’s the most wonderful children’s playground and it’s free – a place where imaginations, along with little legs, can run wild.

There is a truly wonderful gift we can give our children – to teach them that the world is their blank canvas and to provide them with every opportunity and encouragement to create.

But we can’t stop there.

As Pablo Picasso observed, “every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist when we grow up”.

I’ve chosen the path of “doing art”, will you ?

A Vanishing World

Fossil shells on rock

“To touch the soul of another human being is to walk on holy ground”

Stephen R Covey

 You won’t be surprised to hear that I am a huge fan of Christmas. As soon as the schools are back, I’m eagerly and excitedly searching the shops and the internet for this year’s cards. My selection criterion is simple – it has to make me feel Christmassy, so the more glittery, colourful and sparkly the better.

Every year we have the same debate in our household – do I really need to buy and send so many Christmas cards, especially to people we haven’t seen for years ? My answer is a very definite “Yes”.

For me, Christmas is not about the material things, it’s a chance to share and connect friends and family. Often, with everyone’s busy lives and people living miles apart, Christmas cards become the once a year opportunity to do this. With the days getting colder and the evenings drawing in, it’s the one time of year when we feel more inclined to snuggle up on the sofa and between Strictly Come Dancing and Downton Abbey, put pen to paper.

Last week I found myself with a couple of hours to kill and unusually, I had nothing with me to read. I ventured into a newsagent’s and spied a magazine that I hadn’t read before – “Psychologies”. In it was a review about a book due out on 24th October, called “To the letter: A journey through a vanishing world” by Simon Garfield.  In the book Garfield discusses letter writing and the personal, physical touch it delivers;

 “This is not a letter but my arms around you for a brief moment”  Katherine Mansfield (as quoted by Simon Garfield)

  Perhaps I am just a product of my all-girls high school, Jane Austen rich education, but I just love letters – receiving, reading and writing them. Someone has invested their time and energy in handcrafting something personal. What saddens me greatly is that letter writers seem now to be on the endangered species list.

During the past few years my parents have shared letters with me that they’ve inherited from family members. They are pure gold – full of raw emotion, passion and dreams. As they’ve been written the ink has sealed in tiny pieces of their author’s soul, just like prehistoric insects immortalised in amber.

One set of letters is from my grandmother to her younger sister, many written during the war. There are accounts of her having to talk herself out of trouble with her commanding officer for elicit nights out. In one letter she introduces the wonderful soldier she’s madly in love with (my grandfather) and asks her sister to use her ration coupons to help her put together her wedding trousseau. My mum and I sat one afternoon whilst I read them out, and we laughed and we cried.

Having talked about the joy of receiving and reading letters, let’s explore what writing the letters has to offer.

“We write to taste life twice. In the moment and in retrospect” Anais Nin

 Research, and my experience, tells me that the act of writing accesses our left brain – analytical and rational, which then frees up our right brain to create, intuit and feel. This provides us with clarity of thoughts and feelings, reduces stress and helps us solve problems more effectively. As Anais Nin points out in the quote above, writing also allows us to “taste life twice”.

The method of writing is an important consideration. In our high-tech world, it is much easier (and cheaper) to write using our PCs/tablets and to send things by e-mail. I might be alone in this, but I am a hundred times more excited and appreciative when I receive a hand-written, personal letter by “snail-mail”. Perhaps it is because it’s now so rare to see anything other than bills and junk-mail lying on our doormats.

I am hopeful that all is not lost. That Mistress Technology, with all of her whizzy gizmos and gadgets, hasn’t hypnotised us all into thinking she’s now the only show in town. As the following article explains there are actually benefits to writing by hand:

“The Week” (Jan 16th 2013) Chris Gayomali – “Four benefits of writing by hand”

  • It’s better for learning – putting ink to paper stimulates the Reticular Activating Centre which lights up areas of the brain associated with learning;
  • It makes you a better writer: 2009 University of Washington study showed that students wrote more, faster and in more complete sentences by hand;
  • It prevents distraction (e.g. Facebook isn’t flashing up);
  • It keeps your brain sharp by engaging motor-skills and memory.

 “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart” William Wordsworth

 Sending cards at Christmas can be the perfect time to include a handwritten note or letter, crafted just for that person. Written from the heart, it can have great power. It can “touch the soul of another human being”. Perhaps it can also create something to pass down through the generations, just like my family’s letters have done.

There are 13 weeks until Christmas. Plenty of time to get your pens charged with ink, to sharpen your pencils and build your stack of letters full of news, views, thoughts and dreams.

But let’s not stop there.

Steve Toepfer, of Kent State University in Salem, undertook research on the benefits of writing letters of gratitude.  He found that when people wrote three letters of gratitude per week, each week their levels of well-being, happiness and life satisfaction increased and levels of depression decreased.

So, once the Queen has done her speech and our Christmas pudding has gone down, perhaps we should start work on our beautiful, handwritten “thank you” letters.

Have a great week.

Does what it says on the tin

Yarmouth through berries

“What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

 What a busy few weeks it has been.

A couple of weekends ago we visited family on the mainland. I spent Saturday afternoon in the wacky, wonderful world of my beautiful 2 year old niece. It was almost as if I’d fallen down a rabbit hole. We searched for tiny snail shells in the dirt, kissed and hugged the flowers, chased and popped bubbles and peered into the compost bin to see what lurked in the dark beneath the lid.

In stark contrast to my previous weekend’s adventures in wonderland, last weekend I worked two very long days preparing our new work HQ for everyone to move in on the Monday morning. Whilst collapsed on the sofa surfing the web on Sunday evening, reflecting on why I’d given up my weekend to do this, the mystery was solved when I spotted the following quote: “What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other” – George Eliot. As project lead for the move that’s exactly the scenario I’d committed to deliver.

I promised myself that I’d seize this weekend, to reconnect with my family and our beautiful Island. We headed to Yarmouth (a place that does exactly what it says on the tin). With the warm sun on our faces, blinded by the dazzling light glinting off the water, we meandered along the footpath by the estuary, feasting on sweet and juicy blackberries from the hedgerows – memories of my grandma’s delicious blackberry and apple pie, with its cracked and misshapen pastry lid, came flooding back.

In all, it has been a very happy and rewarding few weeks. But none of it would have happened if I hadn’t kept promises, both to myself and others – to have done what I said I was going to do. As Stephen MR Covey says in his book “The Speed of Trust”, making and keeping commitments both to ourselves and others, builds Trust. He goes on to quote Cardinal de Retz “A man who does not trust himself can never really trust anyone else”; and to point out that people judge others on their behaviour, but themselves on their intent.

 “Pain is temporary, quitting is forever” Lance Armstrong

In his book “Graceful”, Seth Godin explains that we are all wired to avoid situations that might endanger our great-grandchildren. It is what scientists call our lizard brain, responsible for anger, revenge, fear and reproduction. It was for survival, but now it just makes us miserable. It’s the petulant and incessant voice in the back of our head that destroys our good work.

Godin goes on to say that anxiety is experiencing failure in advance; repeatedly putting yourself through something that didn’t happen and probably never will. It sounds a daft thing to do when you put it like that and yet, I’d bet that most of us regularly do it. However, as Pema Chodron says, “lose the story and you only have the feeling left and that will fade”.

Three years ago I prolapsed a disc in my back. The pain was dramatic – indescribable. Until earlier this year I was utterly terrified of doing any exercise, fearful that it would happen again. My lizard brain had kicked in.  I decided that enough was enough and that the annual “Walk the Wight” was the cure.

It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. For the last few hours of the 10 hour (27.5mile) walk it was lashing with rain and blowing a hoolie. So much for waterproof clothes, even my underwear was drenched. By the time I got to the summit of Tennyson Down (3 miles from the end), I was crying. But thanks to a wonderful work colleague (our un-official team coach), my determination to prove wrong the physiotherapist who thought I’d only manage half the walk and a promise of £200 in sponsorship, I got to the finish line. What an amazing feeling – definitely worth having to waddle for the next two days.

The lizard has been banished.

“In everybody’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those who re-kindle the inner spirit” Albert Schweitzer

 What was truly wonderful about the whole experience was getting to know an amazing 10 year old, who walked as part of our team. Despite only planning on doing half the walk, she did all of it, holding her mum’s hand and sobbing (like me) for the last few miles. Awe-inspiring – but that’s only half the story.

On the morning of the walk she arrived with her mum, having had her long, golden hair cut into a very chic, cropped bob. She explained to me that she’d been growing her hair to a certain length so that it could be donated to the Little Princess Trust, who provides wigs and hairpieces for children who suffer hair loss due to cancer treatment. Wow – this hit me straight in the heart. A friend’s daughter, also aged 10 and with long, golden hair, had recently been diagnosed with cancer and was about to receive a wig from the Little Princess Trust. We are hoping that they can soon swap photos.

Keeping commitments to ourselves and to others, living our lives with no gap between our intent and our behaviour, is brave and powerful. This week a GP colleague, who was presenting to a large audience our organisation’s strategic priorities, one of which was to remove the stigma associated with having mental health issues, openly spoke about suffering from depression herself. It was courageous and inspiring. I bet that everyone in the room admired her for it and believes she is committed to delivering what she had said.

Mahatma Gandhi believed that “Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony”.

Perhaps we all should reflect on whether we “do what it says on our tin”.

If you’d like some more food for thought, try reading “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” by Rachel Joyce.

Life is out there !

Bembridge crab

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”

Eleanor Roosevelt

 As a traditional “bucket and spade”, Victorian seaside resort, walking along the promenade at Sandown always evokes feeling of nostalgia. This Bank Holiday weekend, there’s a twist. Scooters are buzzing along the streets, some so laden with mirrors that they look at tipping point. Every few steps along the pavement there are groups of smiling people dressed in traditional Mod gear, hugging and shaking hands. The Island has opened its arms to embrace 6,000 scooters (and riders) for the annual Isle of Wight Scooter Rally.

In his article “10 things happy people do differently” (www.lifehack.org, 20th August’13), Scott Christ observes that “happy people are passionate. They find their passions in life and pursue them to the full.” There are at least 6,000 people doing exactly that on my doorstep this weekend.

For many of us, our grown up responsibilities have taken over the space in our lives, leaving our dreams and passions packed away in boxes, hidden in the loft. Mine sat up there for 20 years, before I ventured up the ladder to re-discover them. They’d been up there for so long, with other clutter piling up around them, I didn’t know where to start looking.

One of my favourite day dreams is about winning the lottery. It’s not about having lots of money to buy things, but about what I would do with all of the freedom that comes with it. How I’d spend my time doing things that set my soul on fire. Getting to the root of that passion meant stepping back into childhood, looking at what I chose to do with all of that innocence and freedom. For me it was learning to help people, family holidays by the sea, playing the piano, camping and walking, baking and sewing with my grandmother, reading and spending time with friends and family.

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost, that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them.”Henry David Thoreau

 In their book “Sticky Wisdom”, Allan, Kingdon, Murrin and Rudkin explain the importance of making a creation real. For your hopes and dreams this perhaps means drawing a picture of them or writing them down. Why not fill your desk, your fridge door or your iPad with the results ? You are then a step closer to achieving them. You have them in a place where you can examine them, question them and work out the practicalities.

“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” Dalai Lama

Setting your soul on fire can be a bit of a slow burn. There have been easy changes I’ve made, about choosing to spend my free time to do the things I enjoy. Others have been a real challenge. Fortunately for me, as Scott Christ observes in his article mentioned above, happy people see challenges as opportunities.

Living by the sea has been a long-held family dream. Seven years ago I saw a job advertised in the Channel Islands, which made my heart skip a beat. Financially and from a job security perspective it was a massive risk, but we just had to follow our dream. We had a wonderful few years, met and made amazing friends and I learnt so much, both professionally and personally. It paved the way for us to return to the UK, to another beautiful island, closer to family. I never tire of looking across the beautiful coastal vistas and feeling blessed to have realised a dream and live somewhere so breath-taking.

Friends of mine have recently ventured out from their safe, well-paid jobs to follow their passions, setting up businesses in completely different arenas – moving from accountancy to photography and gardening, from graphic design to yoga. Scary, scary stuff when you have a mortgage and a family. It requires super-hero bravery, but I know that they’ll make it work – they have their hearts and souls invested in it. They won’t be living their lives wondering “What If ?”.

 “In the hopes of reaching the moon men fail to see the flowers that blossom at their feet”. Albert Schweitzer

 It doesn’t have to be about making big, bold life changing decisions. Passions come in all shapes and sizes. They can be old, they can be new. In fact there is nothing more exciting and exhilarating than discovering that you love doing something you thought you hated. I always struggled with art at school, but in recent years I’ve discovered quite a talent for drawing and achieved top marks in an interior design diploma. As we do with our children, let’s give ourselves opportunities for new experiences. Perhaps we will find a new passion.

Last weekend we jumped in the car with our crabbing buckets and lines, popped into the local shop to buy cheap bacon and headed for the rock-pools. Scattered along the beach were clusters of young families with children squealing, jumping up and down as they found tiny crabs and shrimps. We met a man who had spent hours happily wading through the rock-pools, sweeping a net trying to catch enough shrimps for a tea-time sandwich. Sometimes, it’s the simplest things in life that make us happiest.

As my 10 year old’s favourite t-shirt says, “Life is out there”.

Let’s get out there and grab it !

Note: Please check out the other pages on this blog for inspirational quotes, recipes and recommendations (services, websites & books). There is also a community page on Facebook called “The Lettuce Patch”.

Back-to-work butterflies

130818_wildflowers

“Weeds are flowers too, when you get to know them”

Eeoyre, Winnie the Pooh by A.A.Milne

 It’s been a good first week back at work. I bounced into the office, with armfuls of edible, very bad for you home-made gifts from my staycation. In years gone by, I would have returned with “back to school butterflies”, dreading what might be lurking in my inbox. So what has changed ? I’ve learnt to trust.

For those of you who work in the NHS, you may be familiar with the NHSManagers.net blog. If not, it comes highly recommended. Its author is Roy Lilley, a highly regarded NHS commentator, who is woven into the NHS through an influential and well placed network of contacts. This week, in a blog entitled “Little things”, he tells us about bumping into his elderly mum’s friend, who had just come out of hospital. After enquiring how she was he steeled himself for her response, expecting another Mid-Staffs-like tale of being ignored and uncared for. Instead, she reported “they were all so kind. Everyone was so kind”.

It seems that sometimes we can’t help ourselves. We instantly assume the worst. Seth Godin, in his book “The Icarus Deception” calls this our Worst Case Scenario Generator.

 “Never ascribe to an opponent motives meaner than your own”. J.M. Barrie (as quoted by Stephen M.R. Covey in “The Speed of Trust”)

 From childhood I have a vivid memory. I was eight years old and it still hurts as if it were yesterday. My friends and I were in the playground, happily swapping coats and advising each other on which looked best. The next day I was called to the headmaster’s office. He told me that I had made a racist comment. One of my friends was of mixed race, something which hadn’t even registered on my eight year old radar and was upset because I’d commented that a brown coat didn’t match her skin colour. I was threatened with the cane (it was during the barbaric 70s) if I ever did it again. There was no consideration given to whether it might have been an innocent comment or to my reputation of being kind and caring. He broke my heart.

As Stephen M.R. Covey says in his book “The Speed of Trust”, trust is one of the most powerful forms of motivation and inspiration. Extending trust to others re-kindles the inner spirit – both theirs and yours.

 “I bring you the gift of these four words: I believe in you”. Blaise Pascal (as quoted by Stephen M.R. Covey in “The Speed of Trust”)

When you read the quote above, think of those people who have given you that gift. Doesn’t it make you feel blessed, valued and like you could take on the world ?

Fortunately for me, apart from the incident above, I had a wonderful childhood, filled with loving family, whose hearts overflowed with belief in me. When I was six or seven I leaned over the garden fence and punched the boy next door on the nose for being mean to my little sister. My mum was really shocked and angry and dragged me next door to apologise. However, she didn’t jump to unfair conclusions. Mum made it clear that she understood why I did it, that my motive was right. It was just that responding with violence wasn’t. She was demonstrating her trust and belief in me. You’ll be pleased to hear that was the last time I punched anyone, but my brother-in-law is always on his guard, just in case I find out that he’s upset my sister and revert to my old ways !

In his short book “Graceful”, Seth Godin quotes from Richard Stengel’s biography of Nelson Mandela”…Mandela sees almost everyone as virtuous until proven otherwise. He starts with an assumption you are dealing with him in good faith. He believes that, just as pretending to be brave can lead to acts of real bravery, seeing good in people improves the chances that they will reveal their better selves.”

Mandela’s belief in people is brave and inspiring and certainly not for the faint-hearted.  In “The Speed of Trust”, Covey talks about Smart Trust, which is perhaps an approach more people are comfortable with. It is also about having a high propensity to trust but alongside it, using judgement to analyse and assess what is to be trusted.

Using Covey’s suggested approach, I’ve reflected on how I got to the point of trusting that I’d come back to work and all would be well and have concluded that my decision making was as follows. I considered: the opportunity – I’d have a relaxing holiday and my colleagues would feel confident and motivated by the trust shown in them; the risks – everyone was aware of difficulties that might arise and knew how to deal with them and anything unexpected; the credibility of the people involved – they are highly knowledgeable and extremely competent.

Covey suggests that we should: “Extend trust conditionally to those earning it and abundantly to those who have already done so.” It’s something that works for me.

Next time you find yourself distrusting someone, stop and reconsider. With a bit of courage and heroism, you could instead start from a position of trust. As you do so, imagine the fear and anxiety caused by that distrust evaporating like an early morning mist as the sun comes up. Sometimes we will be let down and we will be disappointed, even hurt. We’ll have to be resilient, prepared to give second chances and realise that to achieve anything we have to take risks.

Perhaps trust will become infectious and we’ll start a pandemic. I hope so.