Staying Upright

We are facing it again – the illness of a loved one – my family kicked in to an oddly known pattern, following a phonecall… bad news… information…response…. we gather in Scotland. We talk and speculate, we have terrible gallows humour about the grimness of the situation. We crumple. We recover. We hold each other. We separate and stay in touch – messages, phonecalls – we manage the conversations – medical, social, relatives, practical. It runs as it needs to – a strange stream – not a linear pathway – not a torrent of a river, but a small, determined stream, bubbling in a mostly-predictable direction – with sudden bursts of flow and then back to something steady.

I find myself slightly annoyed with the familiarity of it. Having been through something similar with Dad, this feels like de ja vu. The crappiest roller coaster in the park. I hated it first time round. This time it’s no party either, but somehow I have a sense of “ok… this is how this goes…” so somehow even the unpredictable parts are … partially expected. And somehow that saddens me more….That I can feel resigned and stoic. That I’m not raging against the dying of the light in the way I did before.

Emotions are complex beasts.

And in the midst of familiarity, I experience my own change, my own learning, the unfamiliar shifts in my responses. Where once I was laid flat by how I felt– worried and frightened and small and furious – I find I can now stand in the maelstrom a little better. It gets a little wobbly, but I’m definitely more upright…. Where once I ignored that I was completely flattened and attempted to crawl on regardless…I find I can’t do that now… I’m not prepared to do that now…
Whilst I’d still prefer not to be on the floor, I recognise that sometimes sitting there is right. I need to stop. To take stock. To write. To articulate: I feel this. It is this way for me. I’m struggling/ I’m surprisingly ok/ I need X – and then less is pinning me down… and I can stand… and walk outside and breathe.

In all of this, I have a sense of coming face to face with my mortality – turns out I don’t ACTUALLY have super powers. The irony of the upcoming Wonder Woman movie is not lost one me – I’m seeing her everywhere & I so love some of what she represents… and still, I don’t have super powers… This is old news… but it still never ceases to surprise me. My mode of being is one where I can affect change, I can create conversations, take action, have a plan B… in the world I create for myself, I have agency most of the time…
But in a situation where someone you love is dying, you have no agency. You can’t DO a damn thing. Circumstance dictates. Your phone becomes your friend and foe. The ringing brings a second of dread – what news? You are beholden.
These are lessons well learned…and I’m truculently thankful for them.

And in the face of no agency, I still need to feel I can choose. So I choose to continue working, to do good stuff that gives me pleasure and purpose – and to be realistic about what that means. And I choose to go do stuff that feels good – I choose to live, in the face of the alternative choice I think “live” is a good one. I choose to drive 4 hours for a visitation that is rationally pointless, but needed and nurturing. I choose to design team days that enable joy, creativity and thought-provocation and I choose to put stuff around me so I can deliver those well, and still be here and clear – and rest myself a bit after.

I choose who to talk to .. sometimes steering clear of folk who might help…or who might open me up – because I need to be not-open to function for a bit. I choose to lock down a little. I choose easy books and kids movies…I choose not to get political. I choose no sudden moves. I choose to go gently where I can.
You do what you do to get through. To survive and thrive.

I choose these things because I don’t want this to be the only thing. The arresting thing. The defining thing. The sole focus.

It’s the only way I know how to stay more upright.

Picture: Human condition by T Storm Halvorsen

Working in Less Obvious Ways.

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I’m over it.

To be honest, I’ve been over it for days – the news, the TV, watching the politics and the games and the claims and the counter claims. The inauthenticity of pre-prepped speechifying. Entire massive hulking gnarly issues conveniently disappeared. The egos. The stubbornness and blindness. The platitudes and clichés. The energy it takes to sense-make in the midst of all of this.

My deep need to hold to a change narrative that involves kindness, inclusiveness, tolerance, creativity and collaboration….My lived experience that true lasting change doesn’t happen without some of these things. How very sorely tested that belief feels right now – like I’m a dreamer, an altruist, a hypothetical tree hugging cloud-starer who doesn’t understand real power and politics.
Only I do…. I just don’t have the appetite to play that game. That mean, selfish, self-serving game.. which at the same time seems necessary…. And if I’m not in the game, how can I ever affect it?

It’s a puzzle.

What I’d say to my clients is: step back. Look after yourself for a while. Stop engaging with the poison around you, it will soak into your being. Go find some anti-venom. Find connection. Love. Kindness. Stuff that sustains you. Find purpose. Get folk round you who you trust and enjoy. Get stronger. Refocus. Return with renewed, different vigor. Work from there.
There is more power and courage in walking a different path, than re-treading the old ones. If you feel that stepping away is woose-ing-out, take heart..it’s only that way if you stay gone – the world needs you here. Stepping away might be just what you need… but come back. Gentler, stonger, heartfilled, joyeous, detoxed.

Physician, heal thyself.

So I’m taking my own advice for a bit. Turning off the telly. Listing to music which lifts or soothes. Seeking out those who nurture and refresh me. Walking the dog. Having silence around me. Cooking good food. Attempting to run a little faster. Putting time in on my travels to see the world through less-tainted eyes.

In a conversation recently, there was an element of: lucky you. That you can do that. In your job. You can just potter about & mull on stuff.
Nope. That’s not how this works. Running a business is rarely a part-time thing, if you want to make an actual living out of it. I’m carving that time. Intentionally. Trying to hold some regard for myself and others around me.
This is the work – my work – in all of the madness.
To look after myself and those around me.
My reach isn’t National.
I hold no power to put money in your pocket
This work could so easily be written off as unimportant….
But it’s not. It’s more vital now, to counter hate-filled, venomous, broken-ly furious narratives that take us down paths of division and separation.

I’m here and I’m part of this…. So I’m working to do the best I can… in less obvious ways, perhaps, but I believe they have power.

image courtesy of Brutallyhonest.org

J’apprends avec mon coeur et ma tête *

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*I learn with my heart and my head.

I’m writing this in the days after the Friday 13th Paris attacks.

I’m thinking about learning and the importance of it at every stage in our lives, and at every level in how we organise ourselves, our work and our society.

I’m thinking about starting with personal learning – and how important it is to keep an open mind, even if it is with a defiant heart. How our ability to see the other side to an argument and not become entrenched in our own narrow world-view has never been more important. How we still have much to learn, no matter how sure we feel.

Over the past days I have read narratives in the media, on Twitter and Facebook – some have resolutely advocated compassion, bravery, tolerance and understanding. Others have resolutely advocated vengeance, retaliation, punishment and retribution. At times over the past days I have sympathised with and rejected both sides as “the way forward”.

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Advice you’d give to someone starting in L&D?‬

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I’m not used to being a “list” blogger…but this is following on from a #LDInsight chat a couple of Fridays ago (follow @LnDConnect on Twitter and #LDInsight on Twitter on Fridays, GMT 8am)
I was on “broadcast mode” that morning, Tweeting a bunch of stuff I would say to new (and existing) Learning and Development types.
I’ve been thinking about it and this is a slightly extended version.

‪1) Stay open to new ideas. Keep challenging your own thinking. Constantly. Others will need that from you‬… If you don’t want to continuously learn, you are in the wrong job.  Keep your thinking fresh & embrace your ability to be critically evaluative of what you hear.

2) Get a good dose of “in the room” experience under your belt. You learn more about yourself/others when working in a confined space with a bunch of semi-strangers than any textbook/course can‬ ever teach you.

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Help

help-depression

How can I help you? He asks
Oh God…. My mind is blank.
I don’t know.
The honest, truest answer I have is, I don’t know.
I don’t know how you can help me.
It is a mystery.
If I knew it, I’d ask for it… I really would…

Help me out here, will you?

What is on offer?
It becomes more useful if I understand the territory we are on.
“How can I help you” is a World… a Universe of Possible Helpings.
It slightly freaks me out
I’m not good at articulating the help I might need… this ain’t my natural language.
Can you be more specific about what you see yourself offering?
It would settle me down a bit.

Mostly, if I sit for a bit, it is this:
You can help by listening.
By being honest with me about how I seem.
You can offer me time and energy to build something new or different.
You can help by offering me a different perspective.
You can help by being straight with me – be kind, but be true
If the truth isn’t pretty – kindly, truly tell me thus..
…in the long run, that is real help.
Remind me I can – because if we are at the point you recognise I need help,
perhaps I think I can’t.
Ask me whether I should – because I might believe I should or ought to
& that might be a pile of nonsense & that might be good data for me.
Don’t look at me like I am broken and you need to fix me; rather believe I can fix myself

Actually – if you’d like to source me some damn good glue, that really would be helpful.

And laughter.. that’s always a good way forward

Yes… perhaps this is how you can help me.
It’s helpful to know.

Good Will Huntin’

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Good will.
It has an organisational currency.
I understand it as the thing that means folk will stay a little longer, put a little more in, keep the place a little tidier, a sense of pride, of liking being here,  of choosing to put our time and energy in to something collective…. that stuff that is put under the heading “intangible”.
It’s a bit tricky to measure (although, if you’re an accountant, I believe there is a methodology of sorts) yet you can often sense it, feel it in an organisational context. If you work in a place that is operating with a fat dose of good will – you know it.

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Thrive

Thrive

Sometimes in life you get a wee boost of something that inspires. When a copy of Arianna Huffington’s book – Thrive, dropped on to my mat a couple of Saturdays ago, courtesy of Random House Group (humble thanks to Neil Morrison (@neilmorrison on Twitter) – I suspect you know what you were doing… damn you!) – I was making a cuppa and had about half an hour to spare…. I started flicking through the book and ended up tucked up reading for over an hour (apologies to my mate Liz – I was late for good reason, honest!)

The basic premise is this: we are mostly operating in a world where success is defined through money and status. This brings about emptiness, stress and burnout. It means we are encouraged to spend our lives striving for money or getting one over on others. We end up divided and filled with compromise as work & life are seen as binary and non-inclusive…..In this particular reality – we battle ourselves and each other. Not. Too. Smart. Continue reading

Helplessness and the kindness of strangers

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On Friday evening I got the type of call everyone dreads – your father has not been seen today. His house appears to be dark, the curtains are closed and the car hasn’t moved. I nearly ignored the call when I didn’t recognise the number on my mobile. I was in bed, suffering from what I had decided was ManFlu, shivery and feeling deeply sorry for myself. I’m bloody glad I answered. Continue reading

Remember

Poppy

Do not stand at my grave and weep,

I am not there; I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow,

I am the diamond glints on snow,

I am the sunlight on ripened grain,

I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning’s hush

I am the swift uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circled flight.

I am the soft stars that shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry,

I am not there;

I did not die.

Mary Elizabeth Fry

I saw an image today that said: “Remember the dead, but fight hard as hell for the living

My Dad says to me every now again “Enjoy yourself for God’s sake. You’re a long time dead

On this, Remembrance Sunday in the UK, I will, along with millions of others, fall silent at 11 am and remember.

I will honour the people lost to me, smile quietly at what they offered me, thank them humbly for how they touched my life and feel the sadness of their loss.

Then I will begin again to be thankful for all that I have.

For being able to move and be in the world on a freezing, crisp November day.

I will remember that  it’s good to be alive.

Gentle Learning?

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

 A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor. 

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in. 

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

~ Rumi ~

It’s odd how things circle and loop sometimes.  I was first introduced to this poem two years ago whilst on Pause for Breath (http://www.originate.org.uk/Pause%20for%20Breath.pdf) and I remember hearing it read very beautifully by someone and loving it. At the time, however, I’m not sure I fully “got” it.

In recent weeks I have been exploring the Nature of my Practice for the MSc at Ashridge. The path I’ve taken is to ask peers, colleagues, clients and a few close friends how they experience working with me. The poem was offered to me by a colleague during this period of inquiry – and this time, it landed beautifully and well…. Because MAN I can be tough on myself.

My story of late is I’ve found myself at times in some weird introspective, introverted, critically reflexive bubble. I’m not saying I’ve had a full-on crowd of sorrows violently sweeping my house, but I’ve not been picnicking with Teddy Bears,either. While this is not wholly comfortable or familiar territory, I’m kind of learning that this is my process. I’m action orientated – so in order to truly learn, I need to go out and do stuff; seek widely, absorb loads, go through a period of playing & poking & battering into the information – leading to sense-making (the exhausting part, I’m learning) and ultimately I’ll have some deeply-fought for understanding and take-aways…

..and yes. I get that there is fighty- battle language in the above. If I were coaching me, I’d have a word!

This process is exhausting at times –I could seriously do with a gentler one…. And I’m figuring that in order to create a new, kinder process, it might be useful to understand the battlefield I currently seem to occupy when I’m learning.

So Rumi’s poem reminds me to laugh and smile and be a little wry in the face of HUGE new learning. Watching the inspiring Brené Brown in Her TED talk Listening to Shame: http://youtu.be/psN1DORYYV0 reminds me that my inner critic is louder and harsher than anything offered to me by those who have been generous enough to share their thoughts, time and words to enable my learning. She asks us to “dare greatly” – and to do this with empathy and vulnerability – not to battle ourselves into submission.

So I’m looking to not hang out in the introspective, existential room for the next few weeks. Looking to lighten up and show myself some kindness and empathy – in the hope that looking after myself thus will allow me to look after others better. I’m looking to do this and I will forget at times… and I’ll need to be kind to myself when I forget. Ah well… this being human is a guest house.

I’ll end on my favourite quote from Caitlin Moran in the excellent How to Be A Woman, because I use it often: “But the problem with battling yourself is that even if you win, you lose”

Yup. I concur.