Category Archives: Personal

A Labour of Love

Over Christmas, I spent a fair amount of time with my son at the Olympic Park in Stratford. One day, while my son was sleeping, I came across an unassuming little shed, sat just outside of the Orbit. It was cold and I was curious, so I popped in to see what it was all about. There, I was lucky to catch artist Caroline Jupp, who was in residence from 16 October 2014 to 17 January 2015, working on Labour of Love, a project celebrating the lives of East Londoners and visitors to the park. There were a few ‘CVs’ dotted around the shed, detailing people’s work  past, present and their hopes for the future. One in particular that caught my eye was someone who had a supporting role in the circus in the 60s!

Caroline asked if I would like to take part. At first I felt I didn’t have much of a story but as we got to chatting, I realised I did. When we talked about future aspirations, I realised that I have started to achieve some of my lifelong dreams recently and that in itself was something of a story. So, we sat down and talked about my work history, influences and plans for the future. Once I stopped paying attention to the fact I was being recorded, it was just like chatting to an old friend. Afterwards, Caroline thanked me, said she’d send across the finished piece of work and I promptly forgot about it.

So, when my ‘CV’ popped into my inbox it was a nice surprise! Want to see?

CV

Black text = Past
Red text = Present
Green text = Future

It’s not quite in the right order but I didn’t talk about them in order and sometimes I had more than one of these jobs at the same time!

Caroline has also captured more detail, which she has separated into four sections (a page each): Early Rhymes, Redundancy to Start Up, The Business and Writing and Values.

I was struck by how much we’d covered in a short space of time and, seeing my journey mapped out in this way, how it was further evidence that I’m on the right path with what I’m doing now.

Here are some snapshots of some of my journey:

Early Rhymes

I don’t remember not writing. There were periods when I would spend half the day just speaking in rhyme, which must have been really annoying for my mum! I do write non-rhyming poems now, but generally they do rhyme.

Certainly, I get lots of creativity from her [My Mum] and she fostered that. My sister is a singer/songwriter and my brother is creative too – he’s really funny but always rejects the idea he could be a comedian (it’s not just us who thinks that!). Mum had a fantastic imagination. As far as I know she believed in fairies all her life. She had a lot of pictures of fairies in her house. One night when I was little, I dreamt that fairies had taken me away and then brought me back home and when I woke up there were rose petals in my bed. I mean, my mum must have heard me talking in my sleep and put them there. But I believed for years that the fairies had taken me away for the night.

Redundancy to Start Up

…So then I was a writer and personal coach anyway, but it was more like a hobby. I said to myself, ‘I will be self-employed one day, just need to save some money and just need to do X, Y and Z.’

I needed that push I guess. When I’d decided I just contacted everyone I knew and said, ‘I’m going to do this, really this time!’ That was in August. My sister says it’s the happiest she’s ever seen me. I liked the job I had, but I love what I am doing now.

The Business

There was one line in this section that really struck me because even though I say it all the time, reading it back was a very powerful reminder that this really is heartwork:

Even if I won the lottery, I would still do all this.

If you would like to see Caroline’s response to the project (during which she gathered more than 100 CVs!), you’ll need to wait until 1 March when she will be releasing a limited edition Labour of Love booklet. All the CVs are anonymous, which I feel makes it all the more fascinating! I’ve no idea whether mine will be included but if you want to look for it,  it’s number 125. I share so much here you probably know half of the journey anyway! If you’d like to read more (of the more interesting journeys), Caroline is still sharing snippets of some of stories she has transcribed over on her blog.

Edited 23 Jan 2015 to correct the details of the booklet, which will not contain all of the CVs gathered as previously stated!

 

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Rolling resolutions

So, another year is upon us. In a post I wrote just before Christmas, I said that 2014 had been a good year. On reflection, that wasn’t entirely truthful.

The end of 2013 wasn’t great and 2014 started quietly. It seems that was the right way to go for me. The year has had its ups and downs but I managed to find Joy in the little things and continue taking baby steps towards my big dreams.

Endings and Beginnings

Then, in June, my role at work was made redundant. This could have been a disaster and to say that I didn’t experience quite a rollercoaster of negative emotions around this time would be a lie. I didn’t blog about it because other things were happening at the time and I needed to process all of it. I didn’t know how I felt about any of it and didn’t feel ready to share… So I simply took some time out.

Taking time out was (and so often is) the best thing I could have done. Within a month, I had made my decision. Rather than look for another similar job, I would see this ending as a new beginning, an opportunity even, to start being even more authentically me; to take the plunge and start out on my own. Full time. I decided to be more Present.

That was scary. It still is! But so far, so good. I felt the fear and did it anyway and I have learned a lot. Actually, the learning never stops… I have learned many things in the past few months – about myself, about how I work and who I am.

Heartwork

I love my work now. I mean, I liked what I was doing before but now? Well, I don’t love the admin but everything else really does make my heart sing. I’m a recovering perfectionist so I’ve had to learn to let go of the need to make everything perfect before putting it out there but as I’m learning to embrace my imperfections I am also helping others do the same. My biggest problem now is that I want to do all of the things… All at once! So, in 2015 I have a few big projects coming up, the first being a series of coached workshops for parents of young children; Proudly Imperfect Parents, which starts with a workshop for working mums.

In order to give this, and other upcoming projects, my full attention, I once again need to review my commitments and rethink the amount of time I spend on social media (more on that in a future post) but I think it’s safe to say that no matter what I decide to do next, authenticity will be key.

Keeping it Real

Being authentic isn’t easy. My first meeting with a potential major client left a weird feeling in my belly. In my heart I knew that feeling was a “no” but who says no to their first major piece of work as a freelancer? It’s crazy right? Well, as it turned out, it would have been even more crazy for me to take on this work. It just wasn’t right for me. And I’m glad that lesson came early. It’s so important for me to be honest in my work and when I really believe in what I’m doing that passion shines through.

And that authenticity isn’t just important in my work. Take the redundancy for example, I hadn’t mentioned it before now because I didn’t feel ready but even as I sat down to write this post I had planned to leave it out. To offer a sanitised version of the year that would have looked like I just found the courage to live my dream and got on with it. I mean, in the end I did. But. It took lots of little pushes (some positive, some less so) and this big kick up the backside to get me really moving and it’s not always easy. Fulfilling? Yes? Rewarding Yes? Real? Yes. But easy? No. Sometimes it takes for a pretty big door to slam shut before you realise just how many windows are still open and how much motivation you actually have to climb through one. By ‘you’ in this instance I mean me, of course. Unless the same applies to you, in which case let’s talk!

Rolling resolutions

I don’t really make resolutions any more. Not that I don’t want to grow but I see growth as a constant, not a once a year, thing. So I’ll continue with last year’s promise to Be Kind to myself and add/step up to Be Real, as well as adding more rolling resolutions as I go.

Finally, I saw something on Facebook before Christmas, asking what you want to see more of for 2015. In my response, I said ‘Joy.’ I think I’ll stick with that. Here’s to more Joy, for all of us. *raises glass*

HappyNewYear2015

How about you..? What are your reflections on the past year and what do you want more of in 2015?

Why are we losing our love for languages?

I recently read this article in the Guardian, about language learning in the UK and how 80 per cent of those who studied popular languages (French and German) at school are now unable to understand more than the most basic phrases. The knock on effect of this is that less and less teenagers are opting to study languages at A-Level and beyond.

This article really struck a chord for me. As a child, I was good at languages. I started learning French aged eight (which was almost unheard of in the UK at the time) and went on to achieve French, German, Italian and Russian GCSEs, followed by A-Levels in French and Russian and a BA in French. Not bad, right?

Well, now I can just about say hello, count to ten and ask for directions in German and Italian. I can read the Cyrillic alphabet but often don’t understand the words I’m reading (despite having written an extensive essay on women’s rights – in Russian – for my A-Level exam) and my French is now at conversational level… Why is this? For ten years of my life I studied languages. At school, I was good at learning new languages quickly and proud of my achievements. Certainly there were others who were more skilled than me, learned faster and had flawless grammar but I could be understood, which I think is the main thing.

For me personally, there were two issues at play… A lack of confidence and not enough time spent practising. During my school years of course, oral tests were frequent and although I was often terrified of making a mistake, not practising was not an option. Fast forward to university years where I didn’t make the effort to practice speaking German, Italian or Russian (despite many opportunities) and many of the modules I chose for my French degree were delivered in English. So while  did have conversation classes, the essays I wrote analysing French literature were in English. I took a fascinating linguistics module… that was delivered and tested again, in English and when I moved to France for a year what did I choose to do? I taught English! I did speak French with my peers but also spent a lot of time with my English speaking friends. So, who is to blame for my lack of language skills? Well, me! Had I spent more time in conversation classes, sought out study groups, only taken modules delivered in French and spent more time speaking French while in France, I would be much more proficient than  I am now.

The thing is, I am probably not as bad as I think I am. I’m told by French friends, when I work up the courage to chat in their mother tongue, that I sound Parisian when I speak French and although my grammar isn’t always correct, I am understandable. If I’ve had a drink or two I am fairly fluent. Of course all this means is that I lack confidence. The more I speak, the more I’ll learn, right?  It’s just a fear of getting it wrong that holds me back but what’s the worst that can happen?

So, to hopefully give my son more confidence when it comes to language learning and to remind myself how much fun language learning can be, I’ve started taking him to a French class at a local café. It’s a combination of storytelling, playing games and singing and importantly, he has no idea that he’s learning. For him, memorising vocabulary isn’t hard work, simply because he doesn’t know he’s doing it. I wonder whether this playful approach could work as well with teenagers, who seem to be finding that learning a language is not what they signed up for. They want to speak and be understood, not spend hours writing essays in exam conditions. More of an emphasis on the oral examination could be hugely beneficial when it comes to making language learning more attractive to young people again.

When it comes to the children learning languages now, I do wonder what age those tested were when they started learning, how they were taught and tested and whether their language skills, outside of an assessment situation, might actually be a bit better than they appear… If only they weren’t so afraid of getting it wrong.

Do you speak a language other than your mother tongue? Did you learn at school, or by travelling or some other way? Or did you learn a language at school that you now struggle to even understand?

How do you think we could improve on the way we teach modern languages today? Do share your thoughts in the comments below!

Getting out from under the crap cloud

Earlier this month, I received an invitation from fellow coach and writer Christine Livingston. A while ago now, Christine helped me start to recognise when I really need to ‘show up’ to get results and when I really just need to (in her words) ‘give less of a shit.’ This might sound a little unorthodox but it’s what I needed to hear at the time. I can’t tell you how much of a difference it’s made for me to stop when I’m getting caught up in unhelpful thought patterns and think ‘but do I really give a shit?’

Not your average networking breakfast

Anyway, I digress. My initial reaction when I saw Christine’s email was ‘urgh, networking.’ I got curious about my reaction and realised that it was the image that this word conjures up for me. A bunch of people thrown together with the often tenuous link of being in the same (or similar) profession, many of them bringing only their personas and not really being present (myself included – what if they don’t like the real me?) and plenty of awkward small talk.

But Christine is not your average host.

Even though we’d never met in person until last week, we met on social media some time ago and had spoken, so I knew that the image I had conjured up for myself was not the sort of event she would run. On reading the email properly, I could see that. The breakfast was to be a small gathering of what Christine called ‘VIPs’ (including me, really?) having a discussion around a particular topic:

Are business success and wellbeing mutually exclusive?

Having recently launched my freelance business and still working out the balance between getting it off the ground and still taking enough time to take care of myself, this was definitely a subject I am interested in exploring. I was still very nervous that morning, thinking about how I hadn’t had time to really prepare (what? A deck of flashcards with my thoughts? How authentic would that be?). As I stepped off the tube, I took a moment. What did I really need to do, to get the most out of this? Then it came to me. A reassuring voice (the one in that bubble I told you about last week), saying ‘Just Show Up.’

Be Present

That’s it. Show up. Be present. Listen, really listen and speak up if you have something to say. So I did. I was still nervous, but less so as I focused on what was in front of me and let go of any notions of what others might or might not think of the fact that I was late, barely spoke, and was hesitant when I finally did share something. And of course, I got so much more out of the morning than I otherwise would have.

I took away so many things from the session but I’m just going to share two today. One, I have already shared, sort of…

Be yourself

This is what I mean by Show Up and Be Present. After the session I was heartened to read that Christine also has an internal struggle with allowing herself to be vulnerable in this way but that that there is a hidden power in allowing yourself to be fallible, to be human. She says, ‘Drop the need to anything other than who you are. In fact, see how it doesn’t serve you to try molding yourself to someone else’s version of what good looks like’ and concedes that this is not easy!

Mindfulness vs Mind Fullness

mindfulness-graphic

I couldn’t find the original source of this image. If it’s yours, please get in touch so I can credit you!

There was an interesting discussion on what it means to be mindful and suggestions ranged from just sitting with one’s thoughts (as in sitting/silent meditation), being present in the body during exercise (which raised the question of whether a high intensity workout could increase cortisol levels – and therefore stress – as opposed to say, yoga or pilates) to a complete focus on the simple act of sitting and eating a chocolate coin. The actual word itself became a talking point too, as someone got up and wrote Mindfulness vs Mind Fullness on the flipchart and explained explained that he had recently attended a conference where mindfulness was a topic and halfway through, it became clear that half of those present thought they were discussing the latter word. A different conversation entirely!

Getting out from under the cloud

I know I only said I was going to share two things but as this relates back to mindfulness it counts as part of the second (stay with me!). We talked about the ‘cloud’ of negative self-talk we all have. Not sure what I’m talking about? Well, here’s a glimpse of what mine was like that day in the moments I let my mind wander (staying present takes work!):

The CRAP cloud

CRAPcloud

Click to enlarge

And here’s what it was like when I Just. Showed. Up.

A crappy picture, yes. But there’s no crap in this cloud.

A crappy picture, yes. But there’s no crap in this cloud.

How often do you really show up, especially when it comes to work? What’s in your crap cloud (‘cause that’s what it is – just crap. It’s not real) that’s stopping you from showing up? Do share in the comments below, let’s crack these crap clouds together!

What’s in your bubble?

Hello again.

Today, I’m thinking about bubbles. I think about bubbles quite a lot. You may have noticed… No? Take a look at my header image… Now, pop over to my website… See it now? It’s something of an obsession.

Wedding bubblesLike most kids, I loved making and watching bubbles as a child. I never grew out of this and it’s still my favourite activity to do with my three-year-old son. I even had bubbles (instead of confetti. Now there’s something I like less) at my wedding.

I love the way the word rolls around in my mouth and the way it sounds… To me, it’s an onomatopia. Listen: “Bubble.” See? Hear how light and spherical that sounds? So deep and watery yet light and hopeful? No? Just me? Ok then, I’ll stop.

Giant Bubble

Image Source: The Enchanted Tree

This isn’t just a simple love letter to bubbles. I wanted to share my personal bubble with you.

What??

Ok, I know that sounds weird, so let me show you. Come this way… That’s right… and step inside my bubble for a minute… It’s ok, it won’t pop.

My Bubble

Quiet isn’t it? It’s ok, I don’t live in here all the time. It’s just where I come when I need to rest, or get things done. Let me show you around. It won’t take long, it’s not too big…

See how the bubble has a green tinge to it? That’s my calm… It reconnects me with nature and helps me to focus. It gets greener when I’m writing and has a sort of citrus smell about it. Although it makes me feel more awake, at the same time it sort of helps time to slow down…

Then, when I need a confidence boost it changes again… A sort of deep red colour that seeps in at the bottom and works its way up one side… Yes, behind me like that, sort of pushing me gently forwards. It smells musky doesn’t it? Makes me feel powerful. Now, listen. Can you hear that voice? A gentle, woman’s voice saying ‘It’s ok. You can do this. I love you.’? Yeah. Reassuring, isn’t it? She’s always there when I need her.

Then, when I need to completely relax – to sleep, for example, it goes quiet again and these giant beanbags appear… See those red, pink and purple cushions over there? Almost womb-like, that corner, isn’t it? Smells a bit like vanilla ice cream… Just lie down there for a second… What’s that like? Comfortable, right? are you feeling sleepy yet…?

Hey, wake up! Ok, time to get out now…

What was that like for you? Did you feel focused, alert and then relaxed? Or something else? Those images, sounds and smells work for me. When I’m feeling anxious or tense, overwhelmed (happens often to me, you..?) or simply need a confidence boost, I step into this bubble for a little while to get back to myself. It wasn’t always this way. I used to shut myself into a cardboard box that was cramped and dark and would tell me I’m stupid and worthless. I still climb into it on occasion and have to remind myself to get out and try the bubble instead.

What about you? Do you have a bubble you can go to when need it? Or something else? Where do you go? What does it look like? How does it feel? What does it sound like? And is it helpful? If not, what could you change to make it better? Do share in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you!

Present

This blog post has been a long time coming. In fact, it feels as though my very first post, Now is the time, is as accurate a description of my journey from then to now as it was of my journey prior to starting this blog. I move forward a bit, then freeze. I move forward a bit more, then freeze… And so it goes on.

It has often felt like I’m getting nowhere but actually, each time I move forward that little bit more. The more I feel the fear and manage to move past it, the more risks I’ll take the next time.

Usually I have a long list of things I want to achieve at the start of the year. This year, all I wanted was to try and remember to be kinder to myself. To be truer to myself, to worry less about what other people might think and to take more breaks. In short: To be more present; to be authentically me.

Being more present

Being more present has some interesting side effects. The more I managed to stay present, the more I noticed when not being present had actually served me pretty well, on some level. When I started this blog I had a dream – to move towards living a more authentic life, one where I could be more of me – all of me, even – all of the time. I had a vision of what that might look like and started taking baby steps towards it but never made that big leap… Something was holding me back. In fact, the closer I got to realising my vision, the more I stalled. Not being present allowed me to do this.

A wake-up call

Ready to Rise

Actually, I had more than a couple of wake-up calls this year. Some seemingly insignificant coincidences came together to propel me forward to take bigger steps toward my dreams. As I did so, more things began to happen. The pieces started to slot together. It was time.

Writing. People. Poetry

Back in 2010, I wrote a blog post in response to Ann Hawkins, who had invited readers to share their straplines. I came up with ‘It’s about People, it’s about Poetry,’ which later evolved to ‘Writing, People, Poetry and everything in between.’ At the risk of sounding like an M&S advert, this is not just a strapline.

Writing, connecting with people and creating poetry are my passions. They are the ‘what’ that drives me, that makes me who I am… I will stay up half the night to write and still not feel tired. When I’m doing this work, it doesn’t feel like work. Time feels different. It slips away unnoticed and hours feel like minutes, or it stands still and ten minutes can feel like hours. In a good way.

So why not do more of it? Fear of change, fear of failure, fear of success..? Probably a combination of all three, and more… So, when fate stepped in and forced a life change on me, I decided it was time. My strapline has now evolved again, to ‘I write, I coach, I rhyme.’ Why? Because Writing. People. Poetry has become my brand.

bubble_logo_3

I’ve put myself out there. Properly this time. From ‘doing the odd bit of freelance work’ for years, I have finally taken a giant leap of faith. I’m here. Present.

Is there anything you have been thinking about doing for a long-time and not yet got round to? If so, what’s stopping you? Or have you taken a giant leap recently that you’d like to share? Please do share in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

Words are not enough | Another legend lost

There are so many words to describe Maya Angelou and yet so few feel like enough. I don’t usually post about people passing but Maya was such a big influence on me that I felt I wanted to say something.

 So, rather than say something inadequate, I’ll let Maya do the talking…

She lives on in me, you and anyone who has even been inspired by her. RIP to THE Phenonemal woman, thank you for your words.