A whole lot of Should

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I’ve been pretty life-busy over the last couple of weeks and as such have been feeling guilty about my lack of blog writing. I’m not sure why, I guess I’ve promised myself I’ll start writing one now, so my brain has obviously then turned it into A Thing that I should do, and I should do regular posts because that’s what everyone does and I should be inspired all the time and so on. Well, with a lack of other inspiration right now, this is all I’ve got to work with.

Shoulds are an interesting thing. Sometimes, they completely fill our lives, from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep. We should brush our hair, put on our make up, go to work, eat a healthy breakfast, enjoy the cycle in, feel grateful for our lives, look forward to seeing our children and partners, enjoy the latest TV show that has 9.5 on IMDB. Some of the Shoulds can be super secretive, you don’t even notice they’re there.

I have a fairly constant Should that comes back to visit often, which is that I Should be progressing my life all the time. Always doing something new, creating something of worth, making a difference in someone’s life doing something crazy or wild or amazing. I have lots of things in the pipeline too, but apparently it doesn’t count if I’m not actively working on them right just now. And unfortunately, my Should is pretty fickle too. I can start something and think “Yeah, I feel so good right now, this is totally what I want to be doing and it’s going to make such a difference to my life!” and then all of a sudden this then becomes the newest Should. And not just once a week or month. The Should comes out every day, in every spare 5 minutes. Yeah, I could just sit and watch the birds or watch TV or play horses with my daughter. But I should be writing my leadership course. Or writing my blog. Or booking an amazing adventure holiday. Or something else life-affirming.

And I tend to find, as soon as anything becomes a Should, it becomes a whole lot less rosy. Suddenly it’s on my mental to do list, taking up brain bandwidth and getting in the way of listening to what I really want to do. And making my brain come up with stupid stories about me in the process (I knew I shouldn’t have started a blog, I knew I would give up and lose inspiration, I knew I should have saved all those previous posts and scheduled them instead of just releasing them when I feel like it, even though I took a concious decision not to do that).

I don’t have much of an answer for these trixy Shoulds. Perhaps we need to call them out and mentally tell them to sod off (or literally I suppose, if you can handle the potentially slightly weird looks from others). In fact, perhaps we can put this into action – every time I feel like I Should do something, I’m going to specifically not do it. I can do anything else, just not the Should. I might have to make exceptions for the things that would have significant consequences (I’m guessing work aren’t going to be too happy if I stop turning up because I feel like I Should go). But this will force a whole lot of Shoulds out of my brain.

Let’s see how it goes!

Feeling like a fraud

I’ve had a little germ of an idea for a business for a little while now and over the weekend my thinking got to the point of deciding that I was ready to start putting time aside to work on it properly. So, this morning I dutifully sat down to start writing a development programme for leaders. An exciting and creative start to the day I thought. Goodness me, I’ve never felt so inadequate in my life. And I’ve barely even done anything or shown anyone yet.

The problem with starting anything that you haven’t done before is that you can’t help but feel like a fraud. All the more so when you’re advising and guiding other people. When I started the current job I’m in, I went in as a leader of three areas that I had never worked in before. I had a bit of understanding of what they did, but mostly I was learning as I went along. Man, did I feel like a fraud there for a while. I still do when I’m having a low confidence day. I feel like everyone is watching my every move, deciding whether I’m going to be any good and whispering behind my back. Judging or opposing my every suggestion and choice. To be honest, there are people I work with who seem to find it hard to hide the fact they are judging me, even though perhaps they don’t mean it that way or I’m reading into it too much (not in my team luckily, they’re all lovely).

So, what to do about this feeling like a fraud business. Because, the thing is, if everyone stopped at the point where they felt like they were faking it, nothing would ever happen. No new ideas would come about, nothing new would get made, businesses wouldn’t start or grow. Somehow we have to push past this feeling of fraudulency and carry on.

One piece of advice that struck a chord with me was from Liz Gilbert in her book Big Magic. She talks about creative pursuits being simultaneously both the most important thing you can do, and meaning nothing at all. In terms of being a fraudster, it is key to realise that your creativity, input and guidance is of imperative importance to whatever you are trying to do, your unique perspective will make it something which no one has ever done quite the same way before. You may not feel like you have enough experience, training, knowledge or expertise but you will have more than you think and you will have passion and that’s more important than anything else. On the other hand, it makes no difference at all. In the great grand scheme of things, in 1 or 10 or 100 years time, all will be forgotten. If you don’t do what you do, or you don’t do it right, the only person who misses out is you. In fact, you could create or write or lead something and no one need ever know. Take this light hearted look at your work, play with it, make it seem like a game. Because that’s all that life is anyway.

Another thing that helps me live with my imposter syndrome is to realise my humanity. Every single person on this earth will feel this way some time. Every person who starts a new job or business, every new parent, every child on their first day of school, every creator who invents something new, feels small and foolish and scared and like they have no reason being there and doing what they’re doing. There is no optional choice in this, we are human. And to be a human that can live to their full potential and experience all the bits of the world they want to, we have to be new at things sometimes.

So, I’m going to acknowledge this gut wrenching, heart palpatating feeling of inadequacy, get up and go back to the writing. I’m going to keep pushing through, despite all the voices in my head telling me it really isn’t worth my while. I’m going to pour my heart and soul into it and then realise its insignificance. Because that’s what I must do to keep going, and so must we all.

Feel the fear and do it anyway

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I took my three year old daughter swimming at the weekend. She hasn’t been for a little while and was really looking forward to it. She’s always seemed to love all the waterfalls and slides and tippy buckets.

However, this time she had developed some fears about bits of the pool. I’m not sure if there was a specific reason for it. We went to go on the flume (which she LOVED last time we were there, so much so I had to stop her going on again as she was shivering madly) and she was terrified, screaming not to go on. Now, it would be a very normal parental response to accept this, take her back to the pool where she was happy and carry on. However, logically, there was no reason for her fear. She had been on many times before and she had enjoyed it. Nothing significantly scary had happened in the meantime that involved big slides. Perhaps she had seen a scary video, or got scared of a different slide, or perhaps that’s just something that happens when you turn 3, I don’t know. Anyway, I decided to take her on. A bit of bribery with sweets and she let me carry her up the steps. She was fine whilst we were waiting in line, got a bit distracted with seeing a train out of the window. She was pretty scared when we went to sit down on the green slide entrance, gripping on tightly to me, but she wasn’t in any danger. I made lots of fun “wheeeee!” noises on the way down. I’m not sure she actually smiled but she didn’t cry on the way down. When we got to the bottom she had a little cry, maybe because of the adrenaline of doing something scary. I asked her if she wanted to go on again and she said no, so we went back to the little splashy pool.

Now, perhaps other parents looking on would have thought me a bit cruel and heartless, forcing my child to do something she didn’t want to do when she was supposed to be having fun. However, I never want her to not do things in her life because of fear. Fear can stop you harming yourself, yes, but it can also stop you living life entirely. It’s a totally natural, normal human emotion, but not one that should be listened to all the time, as I’ve discussed previously. I want her to grow up knowing that things in life, maybe the best things, are scary, and that sometimes you just have to feel the fear and do it anyway.

(There’s a book named that by the way, written by Susan Jeffers. It has been recommended to me by more than one friend, just in case you’re interested).

I asked her later that evening what her favourite part of swimming was. You know what she said? “The big green slide”.

Riding out the bad days

I’ve specifically decided to write this when I’m having a really “bad day”. I’ll explain the quotes in a bit.

Bad days are like a bad smell – they can hit you very suddenly, you never know when they’re coming and they just seem to permeate everything. They can’t really be avoided either – humans are made to feel the whole range of emotions for a reason, they are there to tell us something, even if that something isn’t very obvious.

I think my “bad day” was fairly explainable to be honest – I went back to work after a wonderful 4 day weekend away full of sun, it was rainy, I’ve started coming down with some sort of illness and I made my child cry by taking away her toy before bed.

If I’m really honest, it wasn’t even that bad a day – my meetings at work went pretty well, I ate good food, I went for a little drive through some lovely villages after work with the family. Hence the “bad day” quotes. All in all, could have been much worse.

So what do we do about these bad days? Well, the natural response is to catastrophise, slump back into your worst habits, whatever form they may take, and mourn the good days, wishing time away until some external factor makes you happy again.

However, perhaps we need to approach bad days a little differently. Perhaps they should be given a bit of a break, allowed to have their time and move on. If you fight them, you just spend more time feeling guilty, annoyed and anxious. Perhaps we could even relax into them a bit, allow ourselves the time to relax because maybe they’re trying to tell us we just need a bit of TLC. And even, a radical idea, we could celebrate them, thank them for allowing us to realise how good a good day really is. Because if all we had were good days we wouldn’t be able to appreciate them, we wouldn’t have anything to compare them to.

Writing this post has made me feel better. Acknowledging my rubbishy day has been cathartic, and perhaps there’s something I just love about writing too.

And to make you (OK, me) feel better, here’s a pretty little picture from the weekend:

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Start celebrating failure

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My opinion of failure has completely changed in the last few years. I’ve obviously always known that failure is something to be avoided, something that makes you look like an idiot and means you should stop doing whatever it is and focus on the things you’re good at. This was emphasised at school, where getting a low grade in a test was seen as a bad thing, or building something that fell down meant a patronising pat on the back, never mind maybe you’ll do better next time. I was actually pretty successful in my classes and tests at school, but this added extra pressure to not fail – I obviously couldn’t possibly get less than an A in Maths, I was really good at it and one of the top in the class. Urgh, talk about pressure.

And then when we did fail it was sort of swept aside, excuses were made for it or we were told to just try harder or revise more. What lacked from all my failures was an air of curiosity, interest, a chance to learn, even celebration. Because failure is just that – a serious of experiments for you to learn from.

I’ve been particularly inspired by a recent TED Talk and flurry of related articles by Astro Teller (best name ever right?) who leads the team at X, Google’s moon shot company. They are creating some of the most crazy but world changing projects in existence, including a self-driving car and floating balloons to bring the internet to billions of people around the world. And they don’t just allow failure or find it curious at X, they literally celebrate it:

“We work hard at X to make it safe to fail. We killed over 100 investigations last year alone. I didn’t kill them. The teams themselves killed each one. And teams kill their ideas as soon as the evidence is on the table because they’re rewarded for it. They get applause from their peers. Hugs and high fives from their manager. They get promoted because of it. We’ve bonused every single person in teams that ended their projects, from teams as small as two to teams of more than thirty.”

How great would that be? “Amazing Alex, you completely failed that exam, well done! I’m so proud of you!” “Congratulations, what a fantastic failure on that presentation Alex, you completely didn’t cover anything that needed to be covered, hurray!”

OK, joke examples aside, failure is INEVITABLE in everyone’s lives. EVERYONE. 100% guaranteed, you will fail and will have failed. You’re not special because you fail more than other people, people fail all the time, they either don’t tell you or they don’t see it as a failure. Revising more or being more careful or preparing further in advance won’t guarantee that you won’t fail. And that is fantastic, because if you fail more it means you’re trying more new things, spending more of life doing the hard stuff and learning loads on the way.

I still find it hard to fail. When I mess up a project or meeting at work, I still feel a fool and like I want to hide in a hole. I often find myself thinking I am really not cut out for my job / parenting / coaching / whatever else I feel I’ve failed or fallen short at. However, more often and quicker I’ve been addressing that rude little voice in my head that says I’m a failure and asking it “OK, so what went wrong? Is there something I can change? Can I learn something from this? What will I do differently next time?” I haven’t got to the point of actually giving myself a mental high five for failing yet but maybe that’s what I should aim for.

The most important thing I want to do is instill this curiosity around failure in my daughter. I always want her to enjoy failing, be inquisitive about what could be done differently, try the hardest thing because she knows that’s the thing she’ll probably fail at and therefore learn the most from. I was disproportionately upset about the fact that when she started doing jigsaw puzzles she wouldn’t try the harder ones, or would get so frustrated when she couldn’t do them that she would sweep all the pieces angrily to the floor. I’ve been trying to gently encourage her to try again anyway, maybe later, but always keep trying, keep experimenting, keep light hearted about not achieving and keep learning.

Failure could be one of our greatest allies. In the words of Astro Teller:

“How are we going to try to kill our project today?”

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How to find your calling

In relation to my earlier post about following curiosity, this just sums it up perfectly, but spoken in a very different way:

Do you have any insights as to how one finds their calling?Akshat V. (Bangalore, India)

Say two people want to find the love of their life, Person A and Person B.

Person A never goes on dates, opting instead to sit alone debating in her head about who the exact kind of person is she will fall in love with. She scours online profiles, but never contacts anyone. Instead, her plan is to wait until she comes across the profile so perfect for her that she’ll know she’s found The One. Then and only then will she reach out to that person for a date.

Person B goes on a lot of dates, constantly meeting new people and keeping an open mind, because she knows she probably doesn’t know either herself or the type of match that makes sense for her as well as she thinks she does.

Who’s more likely to find the love of their life?

Tim Urban

This is stolen directly from the Wait But Why blog, which by the way is one of the most interesting and funniest blogs I have delivered to my inbox. It fact, it’s one of the very few that survived my recent cull of email subscriptions. Congratulations Tim!

It’s all very interesting

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“Curiosity only ever asks one simple question – is there anything that interests you?” – Liz Gilbert, Big Magic

Is there? Anything, any little thing at all?

Perhaps you already know your life’s work, the thing that drives you every day, that you can’t stop doing and you can’t stop thinking about. Your Passion, your Element. If you’re lucky, it might be what you do for a living, or you might earn a living which enables you to do your Thing as often as you need and want to.

But this is for those who aren’t really quite sure. Which, I’m guessing, is most of you. Because passion doesn’t come to everyone all the time, in fact it might not come to you very much at all, maybe never. Perhaps you’ve never felt that burning desire to throw away everything and follow That Dream, because, well, you haven’t got one. IT’S OK. THAT’S TOTALLY NORMAL.

What you will have in your life is curiosity. The “little yeses”, as Lisa Russell talks about in her blog post. Those teeny tiny things that you feel peeking at you, beckoning you to try them out. Planting a bulb, cooking a meal, drawing a quick sketch, taking a course, reading a book. Not the ones you should do, the ones you’re just kinda interested in. Maybe you’ll draw a sketch, then never pick up up a pencil again. Maybe you’ll start reading a book, then give up as it doesn’t interest you. Maybe you’ll cook a meal, then decide perhaps it’s better your partner carries on doing the cooking. But maybe, just maybe, your little curiosity turns into something. You sign up for a blog writing competition. You reinvigorate your blog. You scrap all the old stuff. You write your first post. Your Mum responds to it because you forgot she was following you. This inspires you to write some more. You start to realise how fantastic it feels to put all these curious thoughts and meandering interests into words. Who knows what will happen next.

(Yes, I am talking about me by the way).

Whenever you find yourself coming up with reasons and excuses not to follow the curiosity trail, I would urge you to put them aside and just see where it goes. Humans are naturally curious creatures, when we allow ourselves to be. Seems a shame to shut down an instinct as natural as that.

Wherever your curiousness takes you, it will all be very interesting after all, and that is surely a pretty good way to live life.

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How could we quantify happiness?

maxresdefaultI’ve just been drafting up a document at work where I was quantifying our time in the team to give estimates of how much some pieces of work would cost (in £ terms, as is fairly normal). Then it got me to thinking… what if we quantified other things? Money is easy, it has round numbers and is exact. Time is also a measurable resource. But what about happiness? What if we could quantify happiness? What unit would be give it? Maybe Happions. Or Gleements. I can imagine it now:

Chocolate bar: 69p, 13 happions

We could then work out the monetary to happiness ratio for any given thing. Yes, taking 2 months to travel in Thailand will cost you £3,000, but your happiness ratio is 1:100! No amount of 1:5 day trips out is going to get you to that.

So, perhaps you won’t be able to put Happion prices in the shops just yet as we don’t have technology that can read our minds yet. However, perhaps there is a way we can work out the Happions for a given thing ourselves. Perhaps positive costs get added for closeness to personal goals, adherence to personal values, desire, freedom, exhilaration, pleasure. Negative points get added for time away from other important life requirements , guilt, personal danger, hassle, inconvenience to others. Then you get your Happion score for any given purchase, life event, trip or experience. Or even person, dare I say it. You could see how much impact all the Happion elements have for you. Perhaps your guilt score is always pretty high – might be something to work on. Maybe you rarely get high points in the “adherence to personal values” score – could be why you’re not feeling quite satisfied with any of your decisions.

And then, how does your Happion score compare to the time and monetary score? Is the chocolate bar actually worth the Happion points? Is spending lots of money moving house worth it in the long run? Does spending time keeping in touch with that friend improve your Happion score or drain it? How would these scores change from day to day depending on how you were feeling?

Well, there’s my slightly random thought for the day. I reckon my time to Happion ratio for writing this post was definitely worth it, even if the last few sentences took me longer to write than the whole rest of the post 😀

A conversation with Fear

Sometimes Fear wins. Despite wanting to do something, thinking positive, knowing we “should” be fine, preparing for something, thinking it’s silly to be scared, being egged on or even ridiculed by others, sometimes Fear just puts all its legs and claws out like a cat going into a carry basket and says “NOPE. No frikkin way I’m doing that, whatever you say or do I don’t give a shit, I’m out”. And it makes all sorts of very compelling arguments why you should listen. Maybe Fear has a point.

And then you get that horrible Fear hangover where you feel a bit grotty and like you just wanna hide in a hole for a while (maybe forever). And that you missed out. And that everyone else is better / having more fun than you. And you’ll just go back to your alright life and it doesn’t really matter, you didn’t want it that much anyway. Except deep down somewhere you can’t help feeling that you’re a crap, fearful and rubbish person and you’ll never do anything you really want in life cos Fear always wins.

Well, Fear does sometimes win. It’s very good at winning, it’s had your whole life to practice at it. If it’s used to winning it will know exactly which buttons to push. If you’ve been used to it winning you may have forgotten what to say to fight back. But it doesn’t have to win every time. It might win today. But maybe not tomorrow. Maybe it needs to lose on a seemingly small and insignificant thing first – Fear will think “Pah, that was nothing, I don’t care that I lost this time, I usually win”. But it will have shown a weakness. And next time it will have a harder time trying to convince you that it’s always right. And you’ll know that it can lose.

Sometimes Fear not winning might be a big event: coming out about being gay by shouting from the rooftops or jacking in that job, selling your house and moving to the Bahamas. But Fear can be shown that it doesn’t win just a little bit every day. You walk into that new class with a smile, even though you know no one. You disagree with someone about their opinions, even though you always avoid conflict. You walk through that crowd even though there’s so many people you can’t see which way to go. And every little success you have over Fear, the more Fear’s arguments become weaker and less important.

I used to lose out to Fear a lot. Fear would tell me I was no good at acting compared to others so why bother auditioning. That I was annoying or boring so please stop talking. That I wasn’t as pretty as my friends so why would any boy want to go out with me. That if a boy was talking to me then watch out, they’re probably taking the piss behind my back. That I shouldn’t travel on a train because there was no escape if I suddenly needed to get out. That I was going to be stuck in a career I didn’t like for life because that’s what my degree was in. Fear kept me trapped like a prisoner in some weird relationship where we were both convinced it was ultimately a good thing as it would keep me safe. Except every time Fear won it got a bit more confident for next time and slowly got involved in more and more of my life until it was my main adviser and my world felt very, very small.

There wasn’t really one major thing I did to turn the spiral round to start it going back up again. I remember once I went to a rehearsal for a show because I wanted to join a theatre group. I didn’t know anyone so Fear told me I was bound to make a fool of myself, no one would notice or care I was there, they wouldn’t want me in the group and therefore the whole thing was a bit of a waste of time. Well, that day I told Fear to do one and thank you for your advice but I’m going in anyway. I did join the theatre group for about year, got to know a few people and was even in one of the shows. It didn’t completely change my life, but it did show Fear that it wasn’t always right. And there were other times too when I won a small victory and over time the victories became more significant and suddenly I was winning Fear arguments I never thought I would. This year I’m going to a festival on my own with my three year old daughter. I never thought Fear would let me get away with that one.

Fear still chats to me fairly regularly. Sometimes I listen and it convinces me to stay at home, not spend money or stay safe. But more often than not now I dismiss Fear’s arguments because I know they don’t make sense and my life will be so much richer and fuller if I put its very good points aside and carry on regardless.

Just because Fear won you over today doesn’t mean it will win you over every day, or in fact ever again. Don’t dismiss those little wins. Everyone has to start somewhere.

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