Friday, 30 August 2013

When you don't know the whole story...

I read a piece a little while ago by a woman called Jai Stone.  She was talking about the obesity epidemic in America and how she was part of it.[1]  She made a statement that really stayed with me.  She said “you don’t know my journey and that makes you unqualified to counsel me”. 

I knew that I wanted to explore it a bit further, but I didn’t know how I would be approaching it.  Inspiration struck yesterday (in the nick of time) at a training workshop that I was co-facilitating.  A couple of the delegates came up to me and suggested how my fellow facilitator and I might run the workshop better.  I’m a big fan of feedback, but in this instance, it was feedback based on incomplete knowledge and therefore it wasn’t as helpful as they had intended it to be.  And that leads me neatly to my first point:

When we don’t know someone’s journey, we tend to fill in the gaps using assumptions.  And when we make assumptions, more often than not, it leads us down the path of criticism and judgement. For example, what goes through your mind, when you meet a single mother? Or hear that someone is HIV positive? Or that someone you don’t think that highly of has just got a promotion.  Hands up, how many of us, would initially wonder if the single mum was just some careless young thing, who got pregnant and now plans to sponge off the State? But there could be several other explanations.  She could be a widow, a rape victim, who couldn’t bring herself to terminate the pregnancy, a woman whose contraception failed or even a professional woman who got tired of waiting for Mr Right and decided to have a baby on her own.  I’m not debating the morality of any of these scenarios, just using them to illustrate my point, about not knowing the full story and the danger of assumptions.

When we judge ourselves by our best intentions and others by their worst behaviour, that’s when we end up as the Mayor of Criticism Valley.  When we evaluate other people based only on the part of the journey we see, we do them a huge disservice.  People are more than just what we see, looking in from the outside.  Even, if the single mum is a careless young thing, who plans to sponge of the State, she’s on a journey and we really have no idea how that journey’s going to end.  What if she meets someone who sees her value and is prepared to invest in her and help her to turn her life around?  How we start the journey is not nearly as important as how we end.

So what do we do, when we see someone’s journey and we’re tempted to rush in with our value judgements and criticism? I’d say, take a moment, pause and see if you can’t find out more of the story.  Secondly, I’d say, come with the right tools.  Criticism and judgement will not get you anywhere remotely helpful.  How about coming with empathy and respect and a willingness to listen and really hear the truth of the situation?

I don’t know if you’re a person who’s made a few wrong turns and is struggling to get back on course or a person who is handing out criticism and judgement based on incomplete information.  Either way, I’d say that the story isn’t over and tomorrow is a chance to do and be better, if you make up our mind to change.
If you'd like to talk to someone confidentially about any of the issues in this blog, contact us through the website.  The first 30 minute consultation is free.

Until next week, go well.



Friday, 23 August 2013

Anything you can do, I can do better...

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of connecting with 2 young people, who were crystal clear about what they wanted to do with their lives.  It was amazing to see how bright and energetic they became, when they were talking about their life plans.  I could also feel how much less energetic they were, when they were talking about something that just wasn’t their passion.

It reminded me of something I read last week, that Oprah Winfrey said[1].  She said “the biggest fallacy on earth is that you can be anything that you want to be.  You can only be what you were meant to be”.  After I read it, re-read it and digested it faster than a chocolate biscuit, I thought “yaay, this is gonna set some people free!”  Grandparents, parents, teachers, aunts and uncles (frankly, anyone in a position of authority usually) tell us that we can be anything we want to be, as some sort of pep talk, to encourage us.  To get us to dream big and follow our dreams.  As great as that is, it’s actually only half the story. Oprah’s quote is the second half and probably the most important half at that.

This week, I’m speaking specifically to parents and any other cheerleaders out there, who want to empower and encourage the children and young people around them.  I’d like to talk about 2 consequences that come from only paying attention to the first part of the story and why you need to set yourself free, by paying attention to the second half too.  Hope it blesses you and sets you free.  Let me know how it worked out for you, by leaving a comment on the blog.

Firstly, believing that you can be anything you want to be, can make you one unhappy bunny, if you latch onto something that you’re just not wired for.  It can keep you stuck in a very unhappy place, trying to flourish at something you’re just not cut out for.  Imagine you’re like me and a column of more than 3 numbers brings you out in a cold sweat.  Planning on becoming the world’s best accountant becomes less of a dream and more of an epic nightmare. A former colleague and I had a running gag: if we got anything to read, she looked immediately for the numbers and I looked for the text.  Together, we produced some pretty good stuff, but only because we knew what our strengths were and used them accordingly.  Sure, you could press ahead, taking extra lessons and cramming accounting methods day and night.  Chances are though, that you wouldn’t end up winning any prizes for your accounting skills.  My question is then: why waste your time being an average accountant, when you could be a pretty awesome lawyer/doctor/singer/dancer/actor (or whatever your passion is)?

The second consequence is the opposite.  You spend your whole life flitting around, from one thing to another, like a hyperactive toddler, trying your hand at a gazillion things, because you’re certain that “you can be anything you want to be”.  As the mother of a sometimes hyperactive toddler, I can tell you that it leads to exhaustion and tears before bedtime (mine and hers!).  There’s a scene from one of my favourite movies- The Best Man that illustrates this perfectly. The girlfriend of one of the characters announces that she wants to be a chef.  Her boyfriend looks at her and reminds her of the 3 or 4 other things that she’s wanted to be, in the time they’ve been together.  That was fiction, but I’m sure we all know at least one person, who seems to change careers every few months and saying each time “now this is what I really want to do”.  Am I saying, don’t experiment, to find out what you want to spend your life doing? No.  What I am saying is pay attention to who you are.

And that my friends, is how you set yourself free. By paying attention to how you are wired.  What do you like? What are you good at? What are friends always asking you to help with?  What are you passionate about? What life experiences have you had?  If you can answer these questions, then you are well on your way to finding out what you are meant to be.  So that, even if you can’t express it fully on the job, you can find ways to express it, outside of the 9-5.  Personally, I’m never happier than when I’m teaching in some way, coaching, writing, bringing order to chaos or making women look beautiful.  Doing any one of these things makes me so happy, I’d do it for free (please don’t tell anyone that, or else I’ll never be paid again!).

As I end this piece, I invite you to find a quiet, comfortable spot, where you won’t be disturbed and begin to ask yourself these questions.  As you answer them, check to see if you’re able to express the answers on the job or elsewhere in your life.  If not, what can you do, to begin to walk out those answers?  Feeling a bit stuck or don’t know where to start? feel free to contact us through the website.

Until next week, go well.



Thursday, 15 August 2013

Let girls be girls

I’ve been a bit busy for the past few weeks, hence the sporadic posts.  I’m back now, refreshed and raring to go!  However, even though I haven’t been posting, things have been registering on my outrage radar.

One of those things is early marriage.  Back in July, when I set off on my summer jolly, there was a massive outcry about a clause in the Nigerian national Constitution that appears not only to condone, but legitimise early marriage.  Last week, I was reading a magazine and came across an article about early marriage in Yemen.  Unfortunately, it seems that early marriage is a problem in a number of African countries.  Early marriage causes a whole host of challenges for girls.  For me, the bottom line is girls need education, not marriage! 

I spent some of my holiday with family and I was 
amazed by how much my 11 year old niece has grown.  The thought of her being married off makes me break out in a cold sweat and sure that I could do serious harm to anyone who tries to hurt her in any way.  Early marriage has serious physical health ramifications for girls.  Their bodies aren’t fully ready for sexual intercourse and they definitely aren’t ready for pregnancy.  The girls run the risk of complications with the pregnancy and labour, leading to death and their babies run the risk of being a stillbirth or other complications arising from being born prematurely.

Apart from the health ramifications, girls who are married as children also face a higher risk of domestic violence.  Girls are routinely married off to men, who are substantially older than them.  They have little or no chance of asserting their independence and domestic violence, rape and other forms of sexual abuse are often a hallmark of early marriages.  For some girls, suicide becomes the choice they exercise, in order to escape an abusive marriage.
Finally, early marriage usually marks the end of any hope of the girls continuing their education.  Current levels of child marriages suggest that if things continue as they are, about 39,000 girls a day, will marry too early.  That’s 39,000 girls, whose life chances will be cut short, who will have little or no hope of attaining an education or their dreams. 39,000 girls who will not be able to make any real or significant contribution to the economy.  My nieces are 6 and 11 and they are already talking about what they want to be when they grow up.  Their choices are limited only by their imagination, not by the risk of being married early.  And that’s exactly as it should be.

Early marriage has been around for aeons and there are various reasons put forward for it.  Poverty, ensuring the sexual purity of girls and avoiding the risk of the family being dishonoured by pregnancy out of wedlock.  At the root of all of these reasons is gender inequality, where girls are seen as expendable commodities, worth less than the boys of the family.  Whichever way you look at it, it’s a fundamental breach of girls’ human rights.

I have a 3 year old daughter and I want her to be all that she can be.  I want her to have great adventures and to live a full life.  That’s my work and the work of all of us who speak up against violence against women and girls.  What can I do? I hear some of you asking.  Start by speaking up, when you see violence or gender inequality.  You don’t have to be loud or aggressive, just persistent.  Until the message gets heard and society begins to change, we all need to keep speaking the truth: “violence against women is wrong”.

Want to know more about the issues raised in this post? contact us through the website.

Until next week, go well.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

...that's what friends are for...

It feels like ages, since I've blogged (only 2 in reality!).  It's been a hectic few weeks and one of the things that has kept me busy is a school reunion.  When we started talking about this, way back last year, I thought it was a splendid idea.  I paid my money and started looking forward to reconnecting with long lost classmates and friends.  As it got closer though, I started panicking.  Bizarre thoughts like "what if no-one remembers me?"; "worse still, what if they remember me, but don't want to talk to me?"  Ridiculous I know, but there's nothing like a 30 year reunion, to bring out the crazy in a girl right?

As it happens, I really was worrying about nothing.  From the moment I arrived, until the moment I left, I felt nothing but love and affection from the girls (I still think of us as girls).  Since we parted, there have been loads of emails zipping around, imploring us, not to lose touch with one another and keep up the momentum.  I haven't written anything yet, because I needed time to process my thoughts.  I'm done now and here are the things that I took away from that wonderful week.

Since I left school, I've made new friends, but I have to say, there's something special about the old friendships and bonds that are special.  When we were all together, it was like no time at all had passed and we just fell into old friendships.  Laughing, joking, sharing tips and war stories, crying, dancing into the wee hours, we did them all.  I don't think I managed to get to bed before 3am on any night.  One night we didn't get to bed until 5.30am, that really separated the girls from the women!  There was a feeling of safety that was indescribable.  Some of my sisters had been through some seriously tough challenges, but were brave enough to open up and share their stories.  By doing that, they gave other women the permission and space to share their stories and receive the love and help of some pretty incredible women. My point here, is don't let old friendships just wither away because you're busy or afraid that if people really knew what was going on with you, they might be scared off.  The old friendships and bonds can be the strongest you'll ever find and you need to cherish them.

Secondly, don't be afraid to reconnect and make new 'old friends'.  There was just something about that week in Malta, that encouraged us to open up to each other and in the process forge some new friendships.  In reconnecting, I've identified some women that I would love to work with, be mentored by and just generally get to know a bit better.  In reconnecting, I've also come across some other women, who blow me away with their courage in the face of adversity and I want to get to know them better too.  I've often heard it said that women sometimes struggle to be friends.  In the bunch of awesome women that I reconnected with, there was nothing but generosity of spirit and encouragement- even if it came in the form of a kick up the backside (you know who you are!)

Finally, the reunion offered the chance to know and be known, as we are now, but with the comfort and security of old bonds and friendships.  Although I still think of us as girls, the truth is, we are women now.  Some of us have children who have graduated from university already, others have very young children and some are yet to have children.  Some are professional women and others are stay at home mums.  Some have left behind 'careers' and are now doing what makes their heart sing.  The bottom line is that although we've all grown older, the young girl that we were is still there and this was her chance to come out and play amongst her peers, without fear.

I didn't say much about the reunion when I got back, because in truth I was overwhelmed by the love that was so evident during our week in Malta.  Even as I write this blog, I'm wearing my reunion tee shirt, because really I don't want that feeling of acceptance and love to go away.

As I end this week's post, I rely on the words of an old Dionne Warwick song to say it best:

"...keep smilin', keep shinin', knowing you can always count on me for sure.  That's what friends are for.  For good times and bad times, I'll be on your side forever more.  That's what friends are for..."

Until next week, go well.