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.

The Siege of Malta 1940-1943

In the light of a Facebook post from my Mum two weeks ago, celebrating 61 years of living in Australia, I’ve been prompted to share this history, which is part of my life and culture. My maternal grandparents both died when I was very young and I have always felt a bit ripped off to not have them share their cultural history with us as kids. I do know that in the lead up to and during the Second World War, they were living in Malta, with five of their six children. As the youngest, my Mum was yet to be born and my Grandparents were up to seven years from leaving Malta to live permanently in Australia.

I’ve always thought my Grandparents were so very brave, moving their six children and the only lives they ever knew, to a new country. This was 1951, only a few years after the war finished. This story ends on the 10th of July 1943. Granny probably just found out she was pregnant with Mum; incredible for me to imagine!

Having emigrated myself, I know how difficult a move like this can be, let alone with six children! English was widely spoken in Malta during that time, but it was still their second language. It surprises me how my Grandparents survived the war and what was happening to their beloved home country, then decided to leave, when peace arrived.

Even though I didn’t know them, I have great admiration for the risk they took. Had they not have done this, my Mother would not have had the love affair of her life with my Dad, my siblings and I would never have been here; I would most certainly not be living in the EU….and so it goes. I was enthralled to read this story.

The history of the Siege of Malta is on a stone plaque here in London. I have transcribed the words below. If you don’t know the story, it’s an interesting read. If you do and like me, have part in this brave and courageous culture, you will no doubt be as proud as I am.

The Siege of Malta 1940-1943
The text on the stone plaque in London commemorating the Siege.

Malta GC:  The Siege of 1940 -1943.

In the sinister shadow of fascism spilled across Europe and into North Africa, Malta under the protection of Great Britain, found herself alone in a hostile Mediterranean 800 miles from her nearest allies in Gibraltar and Alexandria. Besieged by enemies, Malta became a fulcrum on which the fate of the war balanced for the next three years. If Malta fell the rest of North Africa would follow, opening the door to the oil fields of the Middle East and for the Axis powers to join in Asia and threaten India. The allies knew this, so did the Axis powers. Malta, besieged, became and remains the most bombed place in the history of war.

Supplied only by sea, at great cost, Malta was defended not only by her own people but also by forces drawn from the whole free world. Figther aircraft delivered by the American and Royal Navies were piloted by Britons, Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders. Convoys crewed by British, American and Commonwealth seamen were supported by the free forces of Greece, The Netherlands and Poland. Free Norwegians added their merchant fleet to the allied cause.

In April 1942 King George VI awarded to the people of Malta, the George Cross, the highest decoration for civilian courage and heroism.

By summer 1942 only weeks of food remained and the Allies mounted Operation Pedestal as a last attempt to save Malta. After a five-day running battle the convoy’s four remaining merchant vessels and the immortal tanker Ohio, all that was left of the fourteen that set out, entered Grand Harbour. The date was 15th August 1942. The Feast of Santa Maria. The siege was broken. Within months North Africa was retaken and the first steps of European Liberation begun.

The stone this text is from, was taken from Malta and presented by the Maltese Government on the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War to commemorate all who participated in the siege and defence of Malta, 1940-43.

Chronological History

June 1940:

Italy declares war on Britain. Malta is now only 100 miles from Axis Airfields. Defences are three obsolete fighters and a few guns.

July 1940:

The first convoys arrive. Air raids total 80 already.

August 1940:

More fighters and better guns arrive; civilian population evacuated from target areas.

September 1940:

Two more convoys arrive with troops and equipment; Malta is to become an allied fortress in the Mediterranean.

October 1940:

More fighters and additional airfields commissioned.

November 1940:

Torpedo bombers attack the Italian fleet at Taranto with devastating effect, a strategy later copied by the Japanese at Pearl Harbour.

December 1940:

The Italian army is defeated in North Africa forcing the Germans to send massive reinforcements. Striking forces from Malta cause so much damage to axis supply lines the axis high command decide to annihilate the island. The Luftwaffe moves to Sicily and begin round-the-clock attacks on Malta.

January 1941:

Axis bombers attack and damage the British carrier Illustrious in a convoy to Malta. The ship arrives at Malta for emergency repairs and is subjected to three days of ceaseless bombing before leaving to the USA. 39 axis planes are lost in the blitz for only 2 allied fighters.

February 1941:

The attacks continue; the civilian population are moved into rock shelters underground. Air raids now total 400.

March 1941:

Four ships arrive in convoy with essential food, ammunition and fuel; they are bombed incessantly on their approach and in harbour.

April 1941:

The carrier Ark Royal delivers another consignment of new Hurricane fighters.

May 1941:

Malta’s fighter defences are strengthened and reorganised; a bombing squadron is added to attack axis supplies to North Africa.

June 1941:

Axis forces invade and occupy Crete with airborne troops, a similar plan is proposed for Malta.

July 1941:

Sixteen Italian torpedo boats attack newly arrived convoy in Grand Harbour; all are destroyed by the defences.

August 1941:

The siege is gripping more strongly, food is severely rationed, the air attacks continue incessantly.

September 1941:

Eight ships reach Malta in convoy with vital food, fuel and stores. Malta striking forces are now destroying half of all axis supplies being sent to North Africa.

October 1941:

Food is desperately short, 3 British submarines shuttle in supplies under water to avoid the air attacks. Rationing is made more severe.

November 1941:

Malta striking forces are reinforced and increase axis losses to convoys to North Africa. Axis air forces increase the attempts to subdue Malta.

December 1941:

Air raids increase to 175 in this month alone; the entire civilian population is now conscripted into the defence of the island. Everyone lives underground in rock shelters. This memorial is quarried from that very same rock.

January 1942:

The axis determination to eradicate Malta continues with no demarcation between months; some bombing raids last up to 36 hours, during this month there are 263 of them. Food fuel and ammunition run dangerously low.

February 1942:

An allied convoy from Alexandria is attacked and destroyed on its way to Malta; the supply situation becomes even more critical. What food there is is now contaminated with the taste of high explosive.

March 1942:

With great determination, two fresh deliveries of spitfire fighters are made by aircraft carriers. Three ships arrive with 5000 tonnes of supplies which are discharged under ceaseless bombing. 177 axis aircraft are destroyed.

April 1942:

Raids are now between 4 and 10 per day in waves of 100 or more aircraft. By now, 15,500 buildings have been obliterated but civilian casualties are mercifully light at 1,104 thanks to the shelters hewn into the living rock of Malta. Air raids now total 5,807 accounting for more than 6,557,231 kilos of high explosive bombs. Food is shared between the entire population via communal “victory” kitchens. Ammunition is in very short supply. As the raids pass the 2000 mark, King George VI awards the entire island population of Malta the George Cross in recognition of their gallantry in the defence of their island fortress. With fighters now depleted to dangerous levels, reinforcements are desperately needed.

As April becomes May the USA comes to Malta’s aid, USS Wasp successfully delivers 2 cargoes of Spitfires and their pilots.

May 1942:

General Lord Gort replaces Sir William Dobbie as Governor and Commander-in Chief, he brings in his hands the George Cross medal and citation from the King.

June 1942:

The new fighters take immediate effect in improving the defences but food and supplies continue to deteriorate. Single-ship deliveries by fast warship and submarines cannot keep up. In North Africa, the axis retake most of the coast of Libya and fears of an airborne invasion become acute.

July 1942:

The axis, encouraged by their advance in North Africa and the success of their air raids on Malta opt to press on to Egypt, invasion fears recede. Fuel and ammunition stocks are critical, food stocks weeks from starvation.

August 1942:

With no alternative, Britain recalls all available warships to fight a convoy through to Malta. 14 of the fastest merchant vessels are committed to Operation Pedestal. They are escorted by the heaviest concentration of warships in the war so far. For 5 days, the convoy is continuously attacked. The attrition is horrific, but finally the 4 surviving merchantmen are delivered to Malta. The new American-built tanker, Ohio, decks awash, engines wrecked, bombed, torpodoed, a crashed axis plane burning on her deck; is, by a miracle, brought into Grand Harbour on the 15th of the month, the Feast of Santa Maria. All of her 11,000 tonnes of fuel are intact. The entire population watch as their salvation is nursed home by two small destroyers. The tide of the Siege and history, was turning.

September 1942:

Malta striking forces again press home their interdiction of axis convoys. Air defence goes on the attack seeking raiders before they reach Malta skies.

October 1942:

In a 4 day onslaight, the axis lose 114 aircraft to 25 Spitfires. Axis losses now total 1,252 with another 1,151 unconfirmed. The civilian populaton has lost 1,600 killed and 1,818 grievously wonunded.

November 1942:

Axis forces retreat in North Africa, allied landings take place, leading to their eventual rout. A convoy arrives unmolested. The siege is finally over.

December 1942:

Malta becomes the forward base for the first steps in the liberation of Europe. Allied and Commonwealth troops begin to build up in Malta with supplies arriving unhindered.

On the 10th of July 1943, the invasions of Europe begins in Sicily.

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”.

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?