“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!

even in death there are lists to make

My best friends’ mum is dying of cancer and I am riding my bike up the French Alps and, yes, those things are related.

I visited my best mate recently; not my standard idea of a holiday. She won’t exactly get a great rating on Trip Advisor for the quality of the stay, the entertainment or even the food – I cooked most of it myself. I do think she got one more smile she hadn’t planned on, one more chuckle she thought was gone and a quick flit of time where my best mate in the world got a tiny reprieve.

Life never ceases to surprise and delight. In the midst of this phase of life, I saw some amazing and shocking things that reminded me of the joy and beauty of life. I saw sadness and helplessness, frustration, anger, disappointment and bitterness. I saw a woman stop her car, pick up a wounded bird and take care of it. I saw a sunset out of a plane window that reignited my faith. I needed the jolt I can reassure you.

The only other woman I have ever called Mum has lung cancer and secondary brain tumours. She is in the final stages of her life and her daughter is trying to make that as memorable, pain free and relatively normal a life as she possibly can.

She writes lists my mate, just like me.

On my friends’ list was written the word “End”. She explained that it was a reminder to her to ask the doctor what happens when her mother passes away. You might think it odd to write yourself a note to remind yourself of something so important. I marvel at how she manages to remember to breathe in and out for herself every day, given that she manages every imaginable facet of her mothers’ life right now, including how she breathes. Writing herself lists is quite possibly the only way she does make it through the day; her reminder of what normal is.

I’ve known her and her family for 27 years. We have had the most interesting intertwining lives that any friends could have. We have been quite literally parts of each other’s family for that long. I dated her brother, she dated my cousin, and we even married brothers. I am convinced we only did it so that we could be related, to strengthen a friendship that comes once in a lifetime.

She’s tough, my best mate in the world. Always has been. Endures things far longer than anyone else because she is just made of that and that’s just what you do. You pitch in without being asked to help; you have close personal conversations with your friends’ kids because their parents can’t quite get through to them. You travel vast distances in short periods of time for a party, funeral, or to support friends, family or even someone you once knew.

Our lives have mirrored each other, but we ask that no more. Both our fathers’ died of cancer within years of each other. Whilst marriage to the brothers probably wasn’t one of our finest moments, she did create the most awesome adorable child from hers. I have a lovely wedding day photo album.

My bestie is the eternal optimist, finding the sun shiny bits of life amongst the bleakest coal darkened moments. She cares for everyone, she puts others first. She is without question the funniest human I know. She is sharp witted and intelligent and loves a debate. She is fiercely independent to the point where she hasn’t fully realised that she can accept help however it comes, and she can even ask for it.

I have always had great respect and admiration for her and all that she does. Of course she has made some dubious choices, who hasn’t? Sometimes her choices have been influenced by me and sometimes not. Those influenced by me aren’t always the smartest, but boy have they have given us some wonderful stories! We recently decided that the Child of the Union is Saffron and we are the Ab Fab girls. Mad as cut snakes, hilariously cracking up laughing at our own humour, antics and bad jokes, whilst the Child of the Union asks us not to disturb her as she does her maths homework. The kids’ life is a combination of puberty, divided parenting, step-families; I-pods, books, boys and now death. And she wants to focus on her maths enrichment homework. Admiration and respect for the kid too.

So I temporarily entered the world of the carer. Not for the first time. I watched it from afar when it happened to my own father and when time and distance permitted, popped in there too. (Not nearly enough and a world of growth later acknowledge that I could have done better.)

The carers’ world (for the acute patient) is one where the phone never stops ringing, where you spend your days driving to and from the hospital, doctors visits, appointments for scans or x-rays or medication appointments, or treatment or therapy or a dozen other different things. A world where if you don’t make lists, the tiniest details are forgotten or not done. A world where you have to repeat the same information over and over and over again to all the best intending and well meaning people in the world. A world where you are asked what to do to help, but you can’t give a definitive answer. There is so much to do, what is important, what gets done first, what can be left alone? A world where you cancel appointments, but would never dream of asking someone to cancel theirs.

It’s a world where millions of people live for myriad reasons. My own sibling and his family do it for his son with cerebral palsy. I saw my Mum give up every part of her day, every aspect of her person to care for my Dad. They were partners for life and she stuck to her end of the bargain up until the day she threw his medication across the room in anger, sadness and frustration. That she had worked so hard and cared so much and still was powerless, she still lost him.

My bestie finds her caring rewarding. So does every other carer I know. Of course she is frustrated, angry, upset and sad. She keeps going through it all. My brother and sister-in-law keep going through it all. My mum just kept going. That’s what you do as a carer. It saddens me deeply to know that we live in a world where Governments get a reprieve because of people like these. Collective governments around the world breathe a massive sigh of relief, because these people are being looked after by someone else. The carers’ payment from the Australian government is $7.57 per day. Wow. Been to Coles, Woolworths or Tesco lately? I know what you can get for $7.57 a day.

I’m not a campaigner, or a crusader for unfair treatment. Perhaps I should be. Or maybe I am. Maybe I will crusade for dying with dignity, voluntary euthanasia or fighting the governments for the right for carers to be recognised, acknowledged and supported in our community. My bestie is doing this short term. My brother is in it for the long haul. They both have quite low maintenance models to look after on the grand scale. My bestie enquired about respite care. There are people in this world who come to your home just so you can go out, get some fresh air, sanity and pay your bills. They survive on donations!! There are a few things in the world I classify as just plain wrong; that is one of them.

So, get on with it Sharon!
I made a commitment to ride up some mountains, to raise money and awareness for Macmillan, the cancer carers’ charity here in the UK. Does it help my bestie’s mum or my nephew? Nope. Not directly – and for them, not indirectly either. But the feeling of being useless, unable to help, unable to champion the cause or make the pain go away or get them some fresh air is not easy to shift.

Not everyone can be a carer. I doubt if I could honour that role myself. If you can’t be, then take a meal, do their gardening, take the dog for a walk or to the vet, buy some milk, bread & fresh fruit, do a load of washing, their ironing, make them laugh, sit with them and watch a movie. It doesn’t have to cost money and you don’t have to solve the issue, just give you. Don’t get me wrong, if you can – give money too!

So, when I say it out loud, “I’m riding a bike up a few mountains”, it doesn’t really mean much. I love the idea of challenging myself, don’t get me wrong. I like the idea of doing something for a good cause. I get a massive kick out of the fact that if I do something, someone will be helped. It isn’t the people I know. Some of them I can help and others I can’t. I hear stories about Lance Armstrong raising over $235 million for cancer. What I don’t hear is the impact that has. What did that buy that $235m?

I have a theory. Governments and NGO’s can’t afford to cure cancer; it’s too big an industry. The drugs cost a fortune; companies produce them to make profit. End of story. Take away the need for the drug, remove the need for a cure, and remove all that profitable revenue.

Call me a cynic, and please try and prove me wrong.

I am hauling my ass up a few mountains to raise awareness of these invisible members of our community; carers of others. It is a tiny 310km up a few Alps in France. It will last for 3 days plus a few weeks of training. Training I am fortunate and blessed enough to be able to do and enjoy. I need to raise a minimum of £1800. It will buy definite things. Things I know will help sufferers and their families. If you would like to add your bit of help, please donate here. I’m not curing it. Riding up mountains won’t change cancer, or the number of people who get it, or die from it. It probably won’t even raise awareness. It will make me proud of my own achievement and you proud for doing your bit too in sponsoring me. I’d love to reach my target; I’d love to smash it. I’d love to cure cancer. I’d love carers to be recognised. I’m not even running for Miss Universe, but I can still have these dreams.

the cobbler has no shoes

I first heard that expression when I was talking to a friend of mine whose partner is a financial adviser. They had just paid a massive tax bill. Not ever a pleasant situation and I know at some point or other we may have all had to do just that, but when you think your partner has it all under control and then learn the opposite, well let’s just say, not a happy time! He is the managing partner of a large national firm. Yes, you could argue, who could possibly have time to do their own tax, when some of the most influential business people in the country rely on you to do theirs – sound familiar?

Surely it is one of the most common psychological phenomena in the world. Like the plumber who has a leaky tap, the electrician has their wires crossed (sorry, indulge me!), the overweight doctor who smokes, the link building/SEO company that has an atrocious website……or in my own case, the blog that is out of date and the laptop that needs attention (un-husband is in IT!).

I am learning slowly that I do good work for my clients (there is that whole female fraud thing we do so well, but that’s another story!) and I can do all that wonderful strategic thinking, planning and carrying out – for them…but I am loathe to admit, it is something that I don’t do very well at all for my own business. For me, it seems a strange bit of imbalance; I focus all my time on my clients and usually the stuff I do for me is last…and I’m not even a mother!

Is it because we are so busy (we are all as busy as we make ourselves though, remember that!) or is it because of what we expect people in professions to do because they are good at it? You know, we think – oh, they’re in IT, I bet all their own stuff is in order. Or in fact, is it because (particularly for careers in IT), when you go around to your friends and families places, the first thing they do, after handing you a beer, is ask if you wouldn’t mind taking a look at their laptop! A friend once told me when I had started out that he envied my being able to do this blog and that write-up…..because he had become so engaged with his contracting work, that he barely had any time to focus on his own business. Now I’m almost there and none too sure I like it either!

I know I am not alone here, it is a common problem. In truth, I do know the most obvious reason behind it is: this is what I do all day long, then I have to come home and do it all again here too. Where is the fun in that? I’d much rather go for a ride, or go to the gym or throw the Frisbee around the park – anything but more of the same.

So what is the answer? For me, I apply the same rules to this as to any other issue – I call in the network! Professional networks across all of my “professional spheres” – social media, HR and corporate relations, including coaches and of course social media groups, discussions and forums. The personal ones include friends, family and at times, specialist help, counsellors, therapists etc. I have never been too shy to admit that I can’t do it all and I can’t do it alone. I have cleared out all my self-help books….or most of them, but I keep my network of professional advisers.

For those of you who know me, I am the great outsourcer! I love a beautiful garden, but am not that good at it. Get someone in. I love a clean house but resent the time spent cleaning it. Get someone in (bless you Shelley!); I love to cook, but there are sometimes when that just isn’t feasible (un-husband his share of shifts, as does Cook and the local takeaways) – so why not apply this logic to an age old problem?

I am really fortunate to know a very cool and talented bunch of uber business people; the group we call The Rocketeers: thankfully, all very different to me! When I need some help to strategise about my business, or to kick off the strategy for some corporate fund-raising (or even some personal fundraising, big plug) then I get a great team of people together to bounce ideas off – and they come up with stuff I had never thought of.

I do rely on coaching quite heavily as well. I am fortunate enough to have a life coach and a business coach, both work complementing each other and both have very similar strategies to help me to achieve my goals. If you can’t afford a coach right now (I am fortunate that my business coach is a part of the remuneration of my contracts), then the old networking group is a great solution. There are only 4 of us in our group, and even though we have different needs at different levels for different reasons, I value their input individually and as a group. It is also an interesting learning for me, I was never very good in a team unless I was leading it, so they are very patient with me!

So, the old “I get by with a little help from my friends” (big concession, I am not a Beatles fan!) has never been truer, especially now in tough economical times. The answers are usually all there, we just need to step outside ourselves and do some creative thinking, and especially creative listening. Either that, or outsource! Who could ever live in a world without shoes?

Incremental Change, in life, HR and Social Media

When I arrived in London in November last year, I walked into the coldest winter and the hardest recession to hit the world in 20 years. Not quite the welcome I was expecting. It took me some time, months in fact to adapt to not only the weather and the media hype about the recession, but to the changes that had occurred to me physiologically and psychologically.

I come from a country that doesn’t take things too seriously, except getting an early morning surf in before work, over-indulging our children and eating too much. Most Australians are pretty laid back and although they will always give you a piece of their mind, they won’t act on much at all, not even a worldwide recession!

In spite of this environment, I still thought I was prepared for whatever this country could throw at me, the winter being the biggest issue or so I thought. Having lived in London 20 years earlier, I thought I would cope perfectly well. I refused to believe the media “beat-up” about the recession. I certainly enjoyed the change in climate it, it was a novelty all this cold weather business. Where I’m from, the coldest it gets is either inside the 5-below-zero Vodka bar, or occasionally at The Valley pool when you’re swimming in the middle of winter. No need to worry there though, a warm shower, trip to Merlo for coffee and walk to work will get you well sorted.

Change is one of those things that you sometimes don’t notice until it has happened – and sometimes even then, not until someone has pointed it out to you! An interesting thought for me, given I have spent the past 10 years managing and instigating change as my job, career and life.

Funny then, how change can just sneak up on you, tap you on the shoulder and shout obscenities in your face.

When I decided to emigrate to the UK, I thought myself very fortunate and blessed and still do. Not once did I imagine it would be a tough gig! They speak English there…, I’m employable – it can’t be that different!  Well, yes as true as all of those things are, there are some variations. Yes, they do speak English here. It may take a while to determine, but once you get your ear in, you can almost make out, that it is in fact English. Certainly a few words like “wot-eva” and innit”, repeated at 30 second intervals helped clear up my doubts. Teenage speak is similar the world over.

We all know language is interesting wherever you go. Having heard the type of English here and trying to get my ear in, I found even when I thought I was speaking English, I was asked to repeat myself. Not only the impact of my Australian twang (which of course I thought I didn’t have!) but my constant mistaken use of words and phrases. For example when walking in the summer I tended to take my “thongs” in my bag with me as my feet always tended to get too hot and too sore in heels. I gathered quite a few strange looks and offended more than one person when I felt the need to share my strange underwear fetish with them (thong here is used in the same way the Americans do, not what I wear on my feet to the beach).

I still can’t bring myself to call them flip flops……

I learned whole new names for vegetables – courgettes, peppers and aubergines instead of zucchini, capsicum and eggplant. That an Oyster was not necessarily found in rivers and Nectar not necessarily something derived from flowers! I became very intimate with a whole bunch of people I would not normally meet, usually on the tube or bus but sometimes the Tesco delivery guys and the people who came to read the electric and gas meter, inside your house, at 7am on a Saturday, (meters are only ever outside in Oz).

I missed not being able to order a long black or a flat white, with soy (not soya) and no, thank you I don’t want milk with my Americano (Does that not defeat the purpose of a black coffee??).

I have learned to avoid the post office at any time; Tesco on a Friday night, the tube in rush hour, riding anywhere on the route to Heathrow, wearing stiletto heels, and ever leaving home without my portable “Do Not Disturb” sign (iPod).

Even after my years of experience instigating and implementing change, it took me a while to understand that this incremental change was having an impact on me.

Incremental change can affect people as much as if the change happened all at once. I went from driving everywhere to catching public transport whilst reading a map. From a place where 35 degrees on Christmas day can be a little bit too uncomfortable, to a place where 4 degrees is the best it will ever get for Christmas lunch.

I have coped by realising that I have been undergoing incremental change (not without help I will admit!) and by learning to respect and appreciate that these changes abound and are sometimes sent to challenge us. We grow from them, learn from them and understand that one is not better than the other – just different.

I know I am not unique in this experience nor even in sharing it.  I have done my share of major change as well, changing careers, homes and family situations. What I learned is that change of any nature, can be challenging to say the least, even when you instigate it. I sincerely feel for those who never seek out change and then when it happens to them, are grossly affected by it, to the point where they no longer feel able to cope with life.

The two links I want to make about incremental change are around two of my passions, HR and Social Media. Change in HR is inevitable and is usually driven by us, the HR team! We enforce it as part of our strategic business plans in line with what is best for the business. We then try and steer the people in the right direction with as many tools for learning how to cope as possible. Sometimes we fail miserably, sometimes we succeed astonishingly.

Change in the form of new technology, including Social Media can be even more threatening. Something else we don’t understand, another thing we don’t have time for, something we don’t know how to use, something that we aren’t even sure is going to be of any benefit at all to staff and the business as a whole.

If you approach the use of Social Media in your life, be it for business or pleasure, then think about how it will change you and your routine, incrementally. It has the potential to change the way you do things, change the way you receive information, change the way you react to information, change your business processes and procedures and change the way your staff listen and react to you. It can be welcoming or it can be destructive, and like all change, it is how you react to it that determines how powerful it will be in either being part of another tool that you use to help you, or a distracting nuisance.

Whatever the impact, I hope you learn as I have, that it isn’t all bad, just different.