leader isn’t just a job title

Leaders surround us. It’s not just about being the boss, or being on the “leadership” team or the Exec or a member of the “C-Suite”. I have had the extreme good fortune to know leaders across all levels in every role in every  organisation I’ve been in. People who provide a high level of human interaction others relate to. People who are leaders in their religion, race, peer group, sport, school and even their relationship.

Leaders show others great examples of excellent behaviour. They show people a different way. They provide an alternative solution to a difficult problem, or they simply role model how to be engaged, peaceful, resilient or unruffled. They have empathy. They show concern and they help our problems not feel as big as we make them in our head.

A post-Covid world might look very different around leadership. I feel there is an even bigger shift towards empathetic leaders. It’s no surprise that we are drawn to people who are interested in who we are, what we can contribute, how we live our lives and what impact we can have on others. We need a place to belong, a people to connect with and someone – or a group of someones who can relate to our purpose. 

The old fashioned ways of leadership is no longer best fit. Much like Zoom during lockdown allowed us to see the whole person – or at least their bookcase, art, dogs and children – leaders need to start looking as if they were in the Zoom Room of your life. 

Some of the best examples of leadership I have encountered have been demonstrated by a 20 year old apprentice and a 40 year old admin assistant. Neither of them had any ambitions to be part of the C-Suite – so not a traditional leader. They lived exemplary lives, filled with compassion, generosity and a dedication and commitment to their role and the people around them. People chose to follow them because they were inherently good. I recently posted a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson about having succeeded on my Instagram page.  I feel it’s a different success to what we sometimes see in corporate life:

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends. To appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

It might as well say: “This is to have lead”. I love this definition. It’s one of the few things I have on my wall in the way of quotes. By this definition we have all succeeded. If we spend our time trying to be or do these things, we might just make a greater impact than “telling” people what they need to do without caring for who they are.

Leadership is a trait. It is also an ability we can develop. Development takes practice and reflection. Practice and reflection. Like most other learning we need to embed the lessons – by practice and reflection. Some have this innate trait – and I also know other’s who have learned it, well.

This nurturing leadership creates an environment of Psychological Safety. In a psychologically safe team, people fly. They feel safe to be authentic, creative, flexible and innovative. They are trusted and comfortable making mistakes. They share something before it is finished and they ask for input and feedback. They are people who don’t care a lot about ego or traditional leadership ideals. They’re usually kind, compassionate and generous people and they are authentic. We are drawn to authenticity because it shines like a beacon.

How do we become authentic? We start by listening to our people in our teams, our friends, family. We truly care what impacts them and show up when we’re needed. Most importantly though, we listen to ourselves. We pay attention to all of our voices – and whilst doing so, be kind and curious in finding out what those voices mean. We all have our own voices. I talked recently about our Inner Critic. Those voices. They are the ones we pay attention to. Not just what they say, but how they makes us feel. Sit with that a bit……that’s when true leadership starts to really kick in.

This is what I mean by being kind and compassionate to ourselves.

That old inner critic called love….

I’m very familiar with the Inner Critic. My dear friend Karin Peeters has talked about the inner critic ever since I’ve known her – over ten years. Until recently – like very recently….OK Thursday, I honestly thought I didn’t really have one anymore, so well hidden she was. In a brilliant coaching session from the wonderful Heather Parker yesterday, I realised that my internal wanderings and challenges of not being good enough, consistently pushing myself to earn more, be more, do more – just might be my inner critic! (mind blown…) Well I’ll be! It fascinates me, that old adage about the cobbler having no shoes…..but boy is it real! I talk to people all the time about being kind and compassionate to themselves. And whilst I do practice that myself, I seem to have not quite nailed this one.

In my meditation this morning I decided that my Inner Critic and I will be friends from now on. This idea was planted in my head by Nishe Patel, who even has an identity for hers (a bright green fluffy crocodile no less!). I haven’t yet fully imagined mine, but I really want her to be uber cool. A cross between Kate Bush, Michelle Obama and Tina Turner. It might be the flowing robes, mini skirts, power suits….??

I write this because I want my clients to know that we are all works in progress. I want to normalise what we think of as being wrong or confused or unclear or foggy or as I used to say FITH (F***ed in the Head). I’m not FITH. I’m my own version of kooky normal. By being kind and compassionate to myself, I can start to listen to, hear and understand what this very uber cool chick is telling me. We can be mates, she can challenge me, but she no longer has the  power to criticise me or put me down.

I often wonder why it can take us a long time sometimes to see what is obvious – or obvious to others. I knew I had an inner critic but I thought her only focus was body image! She was REAL busy there for a while. I obviously missed a few other messages she had in mind for me.

As Karin and Nishe say, the work we do on our inner critic can change the way we think of ourselves. If we sit with them and befriend them and make some sense of why they are being so vocal, then bringing it into our conscious mind can help resolve the angst. Being kind and compassionate with myself looks like telling myself it will be OK; that I do have this, that whatever I am doing or being in that moment is enough. When I have the resources within, action will take place. When it’s needed.

This is what I mean by being kind and compassionate to ourselves.

 

the traveller not the cartographer

One of the joys of being funemployed is the learning.  I have learned how to be a systemic team coach, I have learned how to assess people in a number of different ways via some cool psychometrics; I’ve read plenty of very cool books. (Thank you Dave Graham for the latest eye-opening, life changing one.)

Another joy is clearing out old shiz! I’m not a hoarder except when it comes to note books. Stuff with my musings, old work notebooks of lists and meeting notes; great ideas; every imaginable quote, model and teaching on leadership…

I found one today that I wanted to share. It started out as one of those notes to a younger self things which I would not normally do, but was prompted by a relative’s 21st birthday. The more I look at it and the more I talk about Leadership, the more I realise it is about humanity. Something on LinkedIn caught my eye yesterday, (because I have also been saying this for a while.) Excellent leadership is about being the best human we can be. We may have lost sight of that a little lately. So here is my manifesto.

  1. Be brave enough to truly know yourself. Be brave enough to ask yourself tough questions and really listen to the answers
  2. Love yourself. Love your imperfections. NO-ONE ELSE SEES THEM!
  3. Listen to the anger that goes on in you. Find out why
  4. Ask yourself what you want your legacy to be. How do you want to be remembered?
  5. Check-in with yourself: Am I happy, kind? Am I doing what I want? Am I being who I want to be? or am I just going along?
  6. Take time to BE and to explore and to do the things you love
  7. Be a contributor to family, friends, community, causes
  8. Challenge. Question. Say no. Say YES! Play. Have fun regardless of how old you are.
  9. Remember the little girl or boy in you, because they never leave you
  10. Be grateful and kind and gentle. There isn’t always a need to fight everything/everyone, or chase everything/everyone
  11. Be you! Listen to you. It doesn’t matter what you “DO” for a living, it matters what kind of soul you have
  12. Simplify the confusing stuff – break it down. Listen to your heart and your gut. Intuition is underrated
  13. Know you are beautiful. Know you are talented. Know you are unique and know you are loved for all that you are
  14. Don’t strive to make people happy at a cost to yourself. That’s not your job
  15. Feel ALL the feels. Emotional intelligence has more credence than intellectual intelligence
  16. Travel. Eat amazing food. Learn new things – music, another language. Be shocked. Be shocking! BREAK THE RULES
  17. Be whoever you truly are. Know who you truly are. Respect who you truly are
  18. Hold tight to the belief that you are wonderful
  19. Approach difference with curiosity
  20. Have empathy and compassion in your life. For everyone. All the time

There are many more I am sure, so if you have them and would like to add to the manifesto, I welcome your thoughts.

“I am the traveller, not the cartographer”.  Nothing here is new, I didn’t make the map I’m just on the journey.

the heavy weight of empathy

That sounds terrible, doesn’t it? Empathy being a burden, or a heavy weight. Of course it isn’t – the world needs more of it. We as humans need more of it – for our fellow humans, for our animals, for our planet. It’s what separates us from our lower level animals. So how on earth could it be a burden?

For me, it isn’t usually. It’s one of the things I seem to have in abundance. And I am so very grateful for it, believe me. Having it means I’m not a narcissist. Good thing. It also means I can help others, I have a clearer window into the world of someone else’s pain or hurt; it means I can feel other people’s pain and excitement and unlimited emotions. 

Having it – I hope – means I am a better leader, auntie, partner, friend…all the endless things that I am. Having it makes me self-aware. It makes me laugh and cry and feel sad and reflect and learn and grow. 

So why is it a burden? As a Highly Sensitive Person I feel. A lot. Not just my own feelings, but I take on the feelings of others. In my case though, I’m not talking about anxiety. I am not anxious about things – I just feel them more intensely.

Recently I got some good news health results. Yippee for me – thank you Universe for all you moved around and schemed there for the lucky number to have my name on it. The professional person who shared my news with me seemed delighted to be the bearer of wonderful news. And then he also told me that I was the ONLY person that he had given good news to. That day was results day, he said and that means every other person who had gone before my allocated 15 minute slot had been told bad news. 

I felt the weight of that statement like a tonne of bricks. I felt the energy in the room that had all day held people and their loved ones hearing bad news about their health. I could feel them all floating quickly around me, darting left and right and over my head. In a panic and a frantic haze. I walked out after shaking his hand feeling overwhelmed. It’s a common thing feeling overwhelmed for me. I felt the pain of his job, I felt the heavy hearts of all the people who had left before me. I had to steady myself in the hallway as the tears very quickly sprung to my eyes. I took a moment. Then I walked into the waiting room – to a sea of faces that I immediately realised may not be as lucky as me. And I felt all of their fear and hurt and anger and sadness.

I stopped again on the way to the car, just to assess my own emotions. I had been given good news right? – So why was I feeling this confusion? This sadness, this tidal wave of emotion?

The feelings I could identify were relief, obviously. Then sadness, then guilt. I think there were dozens more that never made it to the surface.

I was still processing it all, hours later. Was I relieved? Of course I was. Was I worried about it? Not really. I have an incredibly positive disposition and I firmly believe the Universe looks after me. We had words earlier, she is on my side. I felt sucker punched. I felt the weight of the words that were spoken to me “You are the only patient I have seen today who I have given good news to”. This is the NHS. They have 15 minute slots. It was 3.15pm. That’s a lot of bad news.

So, when I talk about empathy and it’s weight and burden, this is what I mean. I am a sensitive person. Sometimes more than others. Sensitive people feel a lot more. We used to be told it was a bad thing to be so sensitive – and I used to believe it. I don’t any longer, that’s not my story and it’s not my voice. I feel more than a lot of people. I feel it like it happens to me. I pick it up, I carry it and it takes me a long while to sit with it, to soothe myself, to reassure myself and to say silent prayers for those who did get the bad news.

I live a life based on gratitude and today there are many millions of things I am grateful for. My health being the primary one. I’m also grateful that I am an empath. I live with an empath too – so you can imagine that car journey home, because he was in there with me and felt that whole wave of emotion, the same way I did. It can be fun in our house – we just pick our moments!

I would rather be an empath than not. I want to feel all the feels and I want to make sure that mine are spoken about, registered, spilled out of me and recognised. I am blessed with this gift. It can be a burden, but one I am happy to carry.

Ships. All the ships….

I was talking to a friend of mine this morning about friendship. About how truly lovely it can be and how challenging, interesting and fun and 1000 other adjectives.Anam Cara

We were talking about the “rules” of friendships and how some of them differ drastically, just like the friends. How you can be friends with someone you never thought you would, how those people can change and grow, as we do and how at different times, friends become different things. The friend I was talking to is my sister.

I am so very blessed to be able to call both my siblings friends. I like them as people and I love them as siblings. They are pretty awesome in all they do and they enhance and enrich my life. I’ve got the funkiest 70 year old Mamma who is also a great friend of mine and who continues to disperse wisdom that sometimes saves me from myself. I have friends who are cousins, aunties and uncles, nephews and nieces who I love and like and choose to have in my life. They are people I admire, people who have it mostly worked out and if they don’t – well, we travel that journey together.

The older we get, the more we tend to accumulate our friends. Albeit it, the rate of our new friendships may dwindle over the years as we become more discerning and a little pickier about who we choose to spend time with. I applaud people who continue to make new friends as they age, it becomes more difficult as we get more set in our ways. I’m fortunate enough to share my life every day with a great friend and a great love. I’ve made new friendships through him and some of those are strong bonds, as if they were my very own friends, and not an inherited set.

I am SO blessed to have the wonderful people in my life that I call friends. Writing this blog has made me reflect on all of them. There are lots. There are new friends who fill me with delight just being in their presence. Friends who came into my life and feel like they have always been there.  My friends sit in my head in a ring of concentric circles, the close inner ones and the further away outer ones who are no less meaningful, but the “rules” are somehow a bit different. (If you’re reading this, then of course you are on the inner circle! :)).

Quotes and songs abound about friends and no doubt those people were inspired by the special connections they had in their lives, as I do with mine. Friends come in so many shapes and sizes, with many needs, careers, lives and most delightful attributes. Friends can be siblings, parents, relatives, strangers, life-long friends, friends of friends and even ex-lovers. (The “rules” for these ones, are unique right? I’ve never been a believer that you can be friends with exes, but I’m open… and learning!).

I am friends with so many people who inspire me to be the best version of myself. Friends who live all over the world and who I may not see from one year to the next. I am friends with people I met on a life-changing experience who I continue to be in awe of, because they outshine all around them. I have friends who mean the world to me because they always have. One I inherited because our parents were friends. That particular friendship has grown of its own volition and strengthened with time to be one of the ones I treasure the most. One of the men I respect most.

I have a friend I thought I could NEVER be friends with when I first spoke to him on the phone. He subsequently moved in to live with me and he is one of the most treasured souls I know and my friendship with him is a privilege. Another man I have great respect for.

Some of my friends have had the most challenging years of their lives. Some have been struck with grief and sadness and such atrocities that no-one should ever be party to. Some soldiered through depression when very few people still understand it (WTF??) They are the ones that I feel closest to in times of duress. As a friend what is it you can do when you witness horrible things? You show up I guess and that doesn’t have to be a physical showing up. It’s a mental connection of some kind. It’s a continued connection. It’s an email or phone call or Facebook or Twitter or Instagram connection. It’s thinking of them and letting them know. Friends who can still be friends in these times are truly unique. They give back when all the life is being sucked out of them. I find they are incredible, caring souls and I am in awe of their spirit.

We are fortunate to have the use of technology which allows us to be more in touch than ever before. Is it the same? Does it count? It does for me. Words of encouragement, words of support mean the world to me. Questions about how are you doing? What did you get out of that experience, how was it for you if you like! They count. They matter. They make me feel cared for and important, which is just our basic human need fulfilled.

I am sure that my encouragement and support from afar are also important to my friends in duress. I hope that words of encouragement and support are graciously received in times of happiness too. There are so many shared experiences that I miss, living away from a lot of my friends, but it doesn’t mean I am any less happy or sad for them. Sometimes that’s when the distance feels the greatest.

I have friends who are making life changing decisions in the coming year. They are my special kind of heroes. Follow your bliss, do what you want to do and have the guts to do it, because you know in your heart it is right and true and may cause waves, but they are nothing you can’t handle. Hats off. Some have had changed forced upon them and shine like bright stars that I can only admire.

What is a True friend? I have true friends that I don’t speak to for months. I know that I could pick up the phone and call and be in their kitchen having a cuppa like nothing ever changed. Is that a true friend? I hope so, because my life is littered with those ones! I have friends I would die for, would kill for (only one there, so don’t be alarmed!) and who I also know would do the same thing for me. Not that that’s a measure of friendship. It’s swings and roundabouts with friends. Sometimes you are the leaner and sometimes you are the leanee. If we both had to lean at the same time, that would make for a very unstable grounding.

My strongest, most endearing friendship is with a woman who in many ways is similar to me, but in many ways very different. I love her like a sister and always have. From the first day I met her and we didn’t stop talking until the wee hours. Someone I would lay down my life for.

Friendships grow and change and they come in all forms. They are without judgement. That’s a very difficult one to hold onto, but that’s the absolute glue of a friendship.

They are the ships, true ships in our lives. Ones that move and change, ones that remain solid and steadfast, ones that were once something else and have morphed into a different ship. Friendships often pop up in my gratitude journal. There are boundless ones I am grateful for. Some of the most endearing friendships to me are those of people who worked for me and endured some pretty tough times to come out as friends on the other side is a blessing and an honour for me.

I hope there are no boundaries about how many friends you can have in the next version. I hope when I pop into the next life, nobody says – “Sorry, you were particularly greedy in your gathering of friends in this life, so we will have to limit you to 3”. I’d be lost.

Are you OK? – I mean, ARE YOU? REALLY?

How to Ask.....

It’s RUOK day in Australia, (11 Sept) a brilliant initiative around suicide prevention. I say in Australia, because it doesn’t seem to reach here in the UK, except via the Facebook posts of the Aussie friends and relatives I have.

I absolutely applaud the initiative and I am sure it has made inroads into the public recognition of things like depression and bullying that lead to suicide.

If we only ask this one day per year then it is a start.

How to Ask.....
Are you really?

It takes a brave person to say that they aren’t OK actually. People who are depressed or leading a terrible life fighting their own demons, or other people’s demons, sometimes won’t say what is really going on for them. Are you OK is a great start. But what if they say yes and they aren’t?

How many times do we get asked Are you OK and we answer, “yes, fine thanks”? In fact there is a plethora of “funny” jokes all over the interwebs about how women are asked this often and they send a chilly “I’m fine” response back! Oh yes, I laugh until I stop when I see these and that’s a short journey…..anyhow I digress.

The thing is – we aren’t usually OK all the time. And that’s OK. The more we get used to hearing that people are not OK – that they might be struggling a bit, that they are tired, or run down, or they have had an emotional day crying on the couch, the more we will realise that life is actually like that.

I think what we could all do with some more of is learning what to do when people do actually say, No – I’m not OK. We can’t always know what people are going through. Sometimes, we don’t even know how much people mean to us until we lose them. That’s what happens in a world where we feel like we can’t get too close to other people, where making friends is hard, where just wanting some “me” time comes before being with friends and family.

A friend of mine recently lost a friend to suicide. She feels eternally guilty that she didn’t see what was coming. Of course she asked if she was OK – and the response she got back was, yes. It’s tough, but I am OK.

We don’t always know when we aren’t OK, as weird as that sounds. Sometimes it takes someone to nudge us a bit and not only ask if we are OK, but to ask some more questions. Perhaps remind them on some behaviour we may have noticed.

This world sees most of other people’s lives through social media eyes, via our computers and mostly through our phones (wankers flashlights as I heard them recently referred to). Am I going to post on Facebook that I am not OK? No way. I don’t want sympathy, or I don’t want platitudes from people who say they are “here for you” and who aren’t. I probably want to be alone with my demons. As awful as they are, they are mine and parting ways with them takes time and guts and courage. I am fortunate enough to have people close to me who do recognise when I am not OK, but not all of us do.

Perhaps what we can say to friends is to not just ask the question Are you OK, but to tell them it’s OK to not be OK just for now. That things will change and life can get better, or we can work on changing our thoughts to make the most of a shitty situation. And then as the website suggests, start a conversation. Ask, Listen, Encourage, Follow Up. Simple steps that could make a difference.

It takes a brave person to say they are not OK, and it takes a true friend and an even braver person to keep that conversation going.

Disclaimer: I’m not a pyschotherapist, nor a mental health professional. I’m just a normal person who is sometimes not OK. (And thank the gods, this isn’t one of those times if you are wondering – I am perfectly OK and I mean it! 🙂

Rich and Privileged

We have a sign on the chalkboard in our kitchen that reads “Rich and Privileged” – and it has nothing to do with money....and it has nothing to do with money.

Let me clear something up. We are neither rich, nor privileged in the biblical sense. There is no old money in my family (in fact there is NO money in my family!) and there is no peerage status awaiting either of us.

I was at Tesco on a gorgeous sunny day recently, when I was greeted by some wonderful customer service. One of the men who worked there helped me with my groceries and took me to an empty register.  He didn’t have to do that, but was just being generous. When I got to the counter, I said to the woman who was serving me, “you poor thing, inside here with a jacket on, whilst the sun is shining outside”. She said to me “Oh, I’m not poor darling, not by any standards, I’m rich in SO many things!” She was Jamaican as I found out later, so you can imagine that statement just sounded so much more gorgeous with that beautiful accent!

I agreed with her and told her that there was a sign in my kitchen which has been in our house as long as we have, almost 4 years. This past year hasn’t been our best, certainly not financially and certainly as I haven’t worked for 3 months or more this year. Some of my friends have given me sympathy and are supportive and wonderfully empathetic. Of course it’s tougher living on one wage than it is on two, but good heavens, there are a few million people in the world worse off than me!

Every day of this wonderful life, I am grateful for everything I have. One of my favourite sayings is that I have two legs and I’m breathing, and that’s a jump on some. Every day that my feet hit the ground – well you know what they say – Any day above ground is a good one. I’m fortunate that I have this mindset. It hasn’t always been with me and there are some days it is tested. But I have so many living examples close to me of people who are worse off than me, that I am grateful, just grateful. (Comparing myself to others isn’t the sole purpose for feeling this way, I do still justify and have my own feelings; can recognise and appreciate them for what they are – for all the psychologists reading this!)

Apart from waking up with all my body working, including the breath part – seriously what else could be wrong? I’ve used applied this mindset lately more than ever during the time I have been looking for work. Every day I get up and think it is an opportunity to re-invent myself. Not that I hate the me I already have, but if you can, why not?

Every day I think there are people out there in recruitment land who haven’t heard of me, so it’s my job to change that. It’s a numbers game. I want to get back into something I haven’t done in a while, so I know it is going to take some time. I also haven’t done much Change stuff in the UK (which by the way recruiters, doesn’t actually mean I can’t do it!) I also don’t have a linear CV – it doesn’t read like a straight HR pattern, one HR role into the next.

I’ve been selected for my career roles because of my attitude. I’ve also succeeded at them because of this attitude and that’s a hard thing to put on a CV. I have won jobs due to my attitude and kept them because of the skills I have learned and applied. My old favourite saying “recruit for attitude, train for skill” gets tested when people only look at the skills side of the equation. Something wrong with that standard recruiting model perhaps?

So, given that I already think I’m streets ahead before I get out of bed, the rest of the day can only go well right? To be able to use the internet, make phone calls; to be able to read and write and cook my own food without hunting it; these are things we take for granted every day. In my world, we have smart phones, laptop’s notebooks, tablets – every imaginable way to make contact with people. I live in a city of more than 12.5 million people. A lot of us are out of work. However, a lot of us are far worse off than me.

I’ve always given thanks, way before Oprah made it trendy. I’m still not sure who I’m giving thanks to – (but that’s another post). I just believe we can be thankful for all the things we take for granted.  I won’t go into the people who inspire me every day, they know who they are. And there are millions of people I don’t know who inspire me every day. They aren’t the usual heroes of everyone else.

Even though I am a massive sports addict and I am convinced there is an athlete buried under here somewhere, sports people aren’t the ones who drive me. I’m not saying they aren’t inspiring, but I do get my inspiration from people who just have a great handle on the balance in their lives.

I get my inspiration from people who do jobs they hate, because there is a greater good; from people who have problems in their relationships and fight to keep going; from people who have made massive life decisions and have had massive life decisions thrust upon them. I get motivation from people who are the antithesis to all these things. If we can’t see the truth and beauty in other people, learn from them and adapt those lessons to ourselves, what on earth are we doing here?

Please don’t think I am a Pollyanna, I don’t “DO” this to win points or to write great blog posts! I am optimistic and I am positive – and yes, those two things are different. I believe we can always be more, and I believe we can learn all of these things. One of the remarkable books I have read in my life is Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman. To say it changed my life is an understatement.

We are 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to it. It’s a choice. We choose our reactions, our mental state (mostly), our surroundings. If we don’t like it and it starts to go a bit off course, then we have the power to change it.

A recently appointed mentor of mine (although he may not yet know that!), recited a story to me about going to a circus as a young child. He watched the clown practice and practice and practice juggling. He got it right most of the time, and when he didn’t, nothing happened. No attitude, no despair, no reprimanding himself because he had got it wrong. He just kept going. What a gift, to have obstacles put in your way that will make you fail – and go on regardless.

In my rich and privileged life, I am taking the lessons from the clown and applying them, one day at a time.

Go to the edge and jump, you never know you just might fly…

T.S Eliot said: Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.

It’s a funny thing, this risk business. You’re either into it or you aren’t, no fence sitting where risk is concerned. It makes you either grin ridiculously or panic spectacularly. I’m the grinning type and so are hundreds of others I know. They’re all around us these risk-takers. Know anyone who has left a relationship, started a new business, changed jobs, moved house, got married, had kids…..they all took risks. We don’t always see ourselves as risk takers – and let’s be honest, we all know people in our lives who have never risked. Some stay in the job they hate, the marriage that darkens their soul, the house that makes them ill or unhappy. I’ve had a bit of risk in my life and I really encourage it, even though it may be one of the most difficult things you will ever do! I was one of the early adopters if you like a risk taker before my time. As a kid, I was the one always getting into trouble, having accidents, being found out….some things never change.

What is it that makes some of us take risks and others’ not? Is it confidence and belief in ourselves? Is it out of necessity? Is it learned – did our parents risk? Or, do we risk new things in spite of what we learned growing up? I think it must be a combination of all them – or some of them at different times.

I had parents who took risks. Sometimes they turned out and sometimes they didn’t. We moved a bit as kids, some moves bigger than others. Always those moves meant new schools where we adjusted to life and made new friends. I know we weren’t always happy about it, but those choices were never our decisions to make, so we went along with it, coached and supported by strong parents, committed to their decisions. I remember being very happy to move to the Gold Coast – beach, sand, sun etc – but not necessarily all that happy to leave 5 years later! Did my parent’s cautious risk taking affect me? Yes, absolutely, what great role models! They decided to move because of job prospects, better education for my brother, sister and I and to be closer to (or further away!) from family. My Dad took the biggest and bravest risk of his life, changing profession as an older guy – from construction to this new-fangled computer business. What a tough few months for my family, and what a proud daughter I am to think back on that now he isn’t here.

I risked so much when I chose the Unhusband. Friends and family were surprised when my marriage fractured (or was smashed with a hammer as one of my friends likes to put it!). So was I by the way – but that’s another story. The phone call and message that stuck in my mind was from a gorgeous friend who told me how brave I was! I never thought I was brave, I just did what I felt was the “right” thing to do – for my soul to sing. Brave wasn’t something I set out to be – and it certainly wasn’t top of my feelings list.

You do become brave, you do grow, you do feel like you are much better than you ever thought you were, because you took a risk.

Things don’t always turn out, I’m not Pollyanna (she was blonde and American…) Sometimes life is tough and sometimes it sucks like a Hoover. It’s about making those new circumstances work for you. Accepting the status quo, just for now, until things can be better. The Unhusband and I took the biggest risk together when we moved from Australia to the UK. Sheltered little naïve things, not quite entertaining the impact of this little thing called the GFC. Wow – what a shock that was. It took a long few months to get work for Unhusband, but thankfully he is an uber-god in the geek world and London needed his skills. I wasn’t in such high demand. As an HR professional, falling into an enormous pool of HR professionals who had been made redundant, I wasn’t needed so much! And they all had UK employment law experience, which I didn’t have. So, no-one was quite falling over themselves to employ me I can assure you. I would be lying if I said it didn’t affect me. I had come from a high powered job, complete with a post-graduate degree to being unemployed for the first time in my life. (Although I never saw myself as that, maybe it helped.)

So I did what any woman in her early forties would do. I panicked. Then I re-invented myself. I can assure you the story was not as wonderfully romantic as it sounds, but I got through. I started my own business walking customers through the mire that was social media (it was early days). I was fascinated with social media in the HR arena (still am) and thought I could help some people out. I took a massive risk. I also had amazing people supporting me. Would I have done it otherwise? Probably – I would have had to!

Is it the best thing I ever did? In many ways yes. There was an awful lot of pain – not the least financially! But on the back of that came a new-found confidence, pride in myself and an ability to appreciate that I was a risk-taker; that I would put myself on the line to make something new work. In a lot of ways there was choice. I could have chosen to remain defeated. I honestly did try being the un-housewife for about 2 weeks. Unhusband came home one day to find me quite literally bored rigid, frozen on the terrace.

With risk there comes change  and if you don’t like change, this risk thing is going to be a bit of a malarkey!

I have watched people come in and out of my life, some I really care for who don’t have enough personal power to take a risk that will change their lives forever. It makes me sad and I wish I could bottle my risk taking and give it to them. As my Mum says, it would be a boring old place if we were all the same, but don’t you just wish you could gift the things you know you’re good at?

I have other people in my life who have taken risks that I admire. Three of whom stand out right now. Interestingly, they are all women (this is not a gender assessment, simply a comment). I admire them for their courage, for their determination and for their belief that whatever they are doing now, there has to be something else better. My sister is one of my current risk-heroines. She chose to be alone with her 3 amazing children rather than be in a marriage that was failing to live up to all she had created. All my family at one time or another have taken risks that I admire them for. An Adelaide friend is another. She is about to launch her own business. She has two young boys who are far more important to her than her next career move and this enables her to focus more on the life bit of that balancing thing. Her values are so strong; she knows she can take her unique style of professionalism and turn it into something people want. Brave women.

The last one is my cousin. She had risk thrust upon her. Well, actually she had change thrust upon her when the love of her life, and father of their gorgeous boy Will, died suddenly with cancer at 38. So there’s a risk no-one planned for. She is an amazing woman. Brave and strong and tough – and emotional and fragile and doubtful. But they took a bigger risk too. Before he died, her husband started his own business. She is keeping it going. It is so far out of her field it’s almost funny! Incredible. Would I have the courage to do that – who knows? I have the blessing at this time to not have to find out like she did. These women all have something in common. They are mothers. How fortunate are the kids they have, to be shown these brave role models. I don’t have kids, I don’t think that affects whether you are a risk taker or not, but I do think they have much more to lose than me!

Bottom line: At the risk of alienating half the world, I like the risk-takers. I respect them. That’s not to say I won’t be friends with you if you aren’t one, but I think there is something fundamentally different about people who take risk. We believe in ourselves, we are optimistic, we are prepared for either the worst or the best of times, we plan ahead and we adapt.

What is the worst thing that could possibly happen? Can you manage it? Short of death, I bet you could!

My favourite quote must be this from Bertrand Russell. “Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps most fatal to true happiness”.

“we’re just so busy”….except for me, thankfully.

The life posts of this blog have taken over the work bits lately, which is a healthy change for me.  I have this thing called adrenal exhaustion. Actually it’s clinical name is adrenal fatigue. Never one to do things by halves, I kind of ignored the fatigue part and soldiered straight on to exhaustion. To be fair, I didn’t even know I had it when I was at the fatigue bit. Mostly because all of my life until just recently I have been too busy to stop and pay attention. To my own health! Writing that now just sounds ridiculous. It was true; and at almost 45, one of the life lessons I am finally getting. There are many reasons I am with my beloved Unhusband; him teaching me the pace that life should be taken at, is one of them. (I do believe the word should needs to be removed from public circulation, however it is terribly handy sometimes!)

So not paying attention to fatigue gets me to exhaustion. How did I get there? Could be cycling in the Alps – 2 mountains per day for 3 days, a 342km round trip. That was certainly the clincher. But living the life of always busy, constantly striving to achieve, overdoing every last thing – from cleaning the house to eating and drinking, to studying just didn’t suit me long term. Over-achievers disease can be a wonderful thing if you have the adrenal glands to sit it out. Clearly mine were very ordinary from the offset. I think I got a few second hand things in this body, they were one of them. Liver is a bit ordinary too, metabolism……well the list goes on . Oddly enough – they’re all linked to the wonderful adrenal glands, who knew?

Life, stress and just existing all depends on these 2 little glands in our body that drive almost all of our functions. The fact that they are not recognised by the medical profession the world over only starts to raise my ire. I won’t go into the detail of being diagnosed with this business, but let’s say if I did, the NHS would not come out looking like a profession concerned with wellness. (My favourite quote given to me during this time by a well respected NHS GP – and the best one I saw! – was, “Well, we don’t really do much about nutrition at the NHS”). Anyone with any IQ points can make a leap between nutrition and obesity – right??

Moving on!

After almost 8 months of being ill, I reflect on various things that contributed to this little state of mine. Yes, it could be the bike ride. It was HUGE! It was a long haul to get fit enough to do it (I still don’t think I was!); it could be the emotional year I had with one of the closest people in the world to me being diagnosed with and later dying from cancer. It could be that I spent weeks flying all over the world, eating food that didn’t agree with me – particularly during training for the bike ride! But you don’t know what you don’t know right? I know I am a Glutard (coeliac is the clinical name). I’m allergic to all kinds of things food wise, mostly wheat and gluten. With it come all kinds of other food allergies and sensitivities that your body can’t process because your intestines are damaged. If they don’t work, you don’t get the nutrients into your body that you should be. Vicious circle. Suffice to say, my diet has now changed radically (yes, again!). To the point where a dear friend asks me if I am off the paper and onto high grade cardboard now, given the restrictions to what I can and can’t eat.

Glutardia was only a bit of it. The ride, the emotional stress of losing someone you love, and all the bits of life in general. I had given it a good beating over the past few years, moving country, arriving in the GFC, not getting work, starting my own business, training for the ride, doing the ride, back and forth to Australia to support those in crisis. But when I think about it – and of course I have for a long while – this ridiculous effort has been going on for years! How many jobs did I do where I worked insane hours per week. One of which, over the past 15 years of my career, I know I was truly appreciated. One!! This is why it made sense to me when I read the amazing book Wilful Blindness by Margaret Heffernan. One page in particular screamed at me. I have taken the following from her, but could have written it myself.

Knowing the hard limits to our cognitive capacity and the huge costs of long hours should not be an intractable problem to address. We have a century of data and a roll call of the disastrous consequences that follow those who insist that heroic hours are a proof f commitment to an employer. Companies that measure work by hours could make themselves smarter by the simple act of measuring contribution buy output rather than input, and celebrating those who can go home early.

Many people – and not a few companies – like to think that they can somehow stretch the cognitive limits of their minds, that doing lots of Sudoku or using programs like Brain Trainer will somehow enlarge their capacity. They’re out of luck. They only exercise that seems to nurture, or at least protect our brains aerobic exercise 1. Yoga, toning and stretching may make you feel good, but in fMRI scans, only aerobic exercise seemed to have a visibly positive impact on the brain. If you want to protect your own intellectual capacity, or that of your employees, the only way to do that is to go to the gym – or go home! When Gail Rebuck assumed the chairmanship of Random House, she inherited what she calls ‘an hours culture’ in which everyone stayed late to impress the boss. Unwilling and unable to work in this way herself, she let it be known that anyone working past six pm was either incompetent or had a boss who didn’t understand how to manage workload. The culture shifted overnight. The sooner we associate long hours and multitasking with incompetence and carelessness the better. The next time you hear boasts of executives pulling an all-nighter or holding conference calls in their cars, but sure to offer your condolences: it’s grim being stuck in sweatshops run by managers too ignorant to understand productivity and risk. Working people like this is as smart as running your factory without maintenance. In manufacturing and engineering business, everyone learns that the top priority is asset integrity; protecting the machinery on which the business depends. In knowledge-based economies, that machinery is the mind. (p301).

For all of you who work like this, I urge you to think again. I doubt anyone has ever said “Gee, I wish I had spent more time at work” on their dying day. I know too many managers who manage their people in this way.

I played the game. I was addicted to the power, the rush, and the over-achievement of it all. I was really good at it, I practiced hard; I made myself ill for weeks, I didn’t really have a life, I ran around telling everyone how busy I was all the time, I got a gold medal in moaning about it really. Now though, I just can’t bring myself to listen to people who tell me how busy they are. We are as busy as we make ourselves and if you are busy – you are. Enjoy it. If not, shut the bejesus up and stop moaning. It’s a 21st Century affliction. Where did we ever get the thought that busy was so good? We now spend our days on social media telling the world how busy we are – The Busy Brigade are trying to take over the world! Although, now I live in the UK I have to say it seems far more prevalent in Australia!

We are all different. I thought I was a robust, tough little cookie – I still think I am. I just think now that I am no longer equipped to withstand it as I once did, or as people still do today. I was ill for long periods of time. I had migraines every other month that shut me down for 3 days! When we start listening to ourselves, it is truly frightening what we hear.

I’m not saying that over-achieving is bad. I still achieve, I still have goals and lists and I have an amazing life. I just don’t need to do it at such a break neck pace. It made me ill. Not doing it doesn’t. That bit ain’t rocket science!