|Posted on 29 May, 2019 at 5:10||comments (0)|
Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels
In the past couple of weeks, I have heard two very contrasting attitudes to birthdays.
On one side, a friend was pleased that he had managed to stretch his birthday over two weekends. At the other side of the scale, a younger client was bemoaning yet another candle on the cake, saying she did not celebrate birthdays anymore.
Personally, I am in the first camp. This is in part because I like any opportunity for a celebration. It is also because the birthday will happen whether I celebrate it or not, so why not try and make the best of it. (And on my recent 'significant' birthday, I can assure you I celebrated in style!)
And if you think birthdays are awful, consider the alternative. Whilst I have been lucky and most deaths personal to me have been ‘timely’ - in ripe old age, with long lives well lived - my best friend died at 44, my cousin and another good friend in their mid-forties. They thought they still had lots of potential, lots of time left when they could have been counting off the years, but they never got the chance.
I often use birthdays as milestones with clients. Looking 5 or 10 years ahead, or using the New Year are all useful markers. However, setting a goal to be reached by the next birthday, or one of the ‘big’ ones (with a 0 at the end of it), immediately creates a more personal timeframe.
It also means that when the birthday arrives, you have a double celebration, reaching the age and the goal.
So before you look in dread at the birthday on the horizon, think of one thing you would like to achieve, however big or small. Instead of hiding under a metaphorical duvet, use the unavoidable fact of your birthday as a tool to pull you forward to a day of happiness.
|Posted on 23 May, 2019 at 0:10||comments (0)|
Last week, I got stuck in a lift.
It wasn’t quite as dramatic as it sounds: the outside wall of the lift was glass, overlooking a wide open expanse; the lift never moved so I was just stuck on the ground floor, not between floors; I was only in there for 5 minutes; and the alarm button was extremely loud in a crowded building. Also, I don’t have a phobia about lifts. (Actress Rebecca Front has written about her lift phobia in her book, 'Curious: True Stories and Loose Connections'.)
However, a few years ago, at a time when I was dealing with several stressful situations, I regularly had panic attacks. These were usually associated with being in large, crowded, formal spaces such as theatres, cinemas, concert halls, conference rooms, from which I perceived I wouldn’t be able to easily escape. Luckily for me, no-one ever knew about these attacks, because I got very good at keeping myself out of situations where they might occur. However, trying to deal with this on my own, secretly, over a period of 6 years was going to come to a head at some point and when it did, I went to the Doctor to ask for help. He gave me Betablockers (which in the end I never took, but it was nice to know they were in my bag if I needed them), and sent me off for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. (Interestingly, I also started learning tango at the same time and it was fascinating to see the connections between learning a positive mindset and learning the dance, but that is a whole other blog!)
Over the intervening years, gradually, my panic attacks have subsided. Admittedly, when I go to the theatre, my long suffering friends know I still need to be on the aisle and/or near a door. I have moments when I can feel the beginnings of a panic attack, but I now have the techniques to try to stop it. And on rare occasions, I might have what Rebecca Front calls in her book a panic about having a panic, but hey, it is just part of who I am.
So what is the point of all this soul bearing?
Panic attacks are not pleasant; however, they don’t have to stop you from doing what you want.
How do people cope who do have a phobia of lifts? They take the stairs, live on the lower floors of apartment blocks, specify they can’t be above the 3rd floor when they book into in hotels… How did I cope with my panic attacks? Okay, I gave up on the cinema and theatre for a while, but in my professional life, I had to find other ways around it. I found coping mechanisms.
For example, I had to go to a three day conference for my employer, at the end of which I had to give in a report on current trends, opinions, contacts made. I was anxious but, as I always did, told myself it would be fine. It wasn’t. I went into the first session (aisle seat, back row next to the door) and spent the whole 45 minutes gripping my seat to keep me from running. And I was looking at three further days of this. Something drastic had to be done.
I checked that the speaker notes from all the sessions would be made available by email after the conference. I picked up all the literature which was available. During the coffee breaks and lunch breaks, I worked the room like there was no tomorrow. I talked to as many people as I could, asked them about the sessions they had been in, their thoughts on trends in the sector, their sources of information, collected their business cards… After the breaks, I disappeared into the hotel coffee shop, typed up all my notes and made a list of next actions, things to follow up. For the three days, I didn’t go into another single formal session but still went back to my employer with a very comprehensive report. They got what they needed and I did it in a way that worked for me.
The point is, whether you have panic attacks, phobias or any kind of fear which holds you back, don’t let it stop you. I am not saying, “man up, just break through it” - I know from personal experience that is not how it works. However, again from my own experience, I know that it can be possible to have panic attacks and find ways to work around them.
There is a quote in an interview with Rebecca Front which I love and with which I totally identify: "I don't want to be defined by being scared of things. I want to be defined by all the things that I can do.”
So, what can you do?
|Posted on 4 April, 2019 at 4:15||comments (0)|
"Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference." Winston Churchill
When I first went to big school, I went along to a parent’s evening with my Mum. During the course of the evening, a teacher told my Mum that as I was very good at English, I wouldn’t be good at Maths. As a quiet, make no fuss, trusting 11 year old, it never occurred to me to question this sweeping and frankly, unsubstantiated, statement. A teacher, an elder, said it and so it must be true.
Until recently, this “truth” followed me about. Show me a page of text that I have written and point out what you perceive to be errors and I will argue every word with you. Show me where I have written 2 + 2 = 4 and tell me it is wrong and I will take your word for it because, hey, I can’t do maths.
Throughout my career, I have, for example, successfully created and managed large budgets; produced financial reports for box offices; sales reports and analysis for retail outlets; and managed cash flow forecasts for charities and businesses. And what do all these things have in common? Yep, you’ve spotted it – maths.
Now, I am never going to be the Chancellor (and indeed, why would I want to be!), but I can comfortably hold my own with most people on basic, everyday maths. I have even been known to walk around Sainsbury’s adding my shopping bill up in my head, when not being distracted by an urge for their giant cookies (the white chocolate ones - yumsk!). I am actually very good at managing figures and money.
However, any type of maths task has filled me with dread. I put off doing them as they would be “hard” and I would probably get something wrong. When I got around to doing the work, my heart would be in my boots and I would feel vaguely like “I will do the very best I can, but I can’t really do this.”
A few months ago, I was working with a client, helping them put together an income projection for a potential new project. They were very financially savvy so I was quite anxious when they were looking at the figures and I was waiting for the “you got this number wrong” comment. They put the budget down and said, “Yes, that’s about what I thought it would be. Thanks.” It was very matter of fact; they had expected me to do the figures right and that’s exactly what I had done. No fuss, no drama. We carried on with the meeting.
Afterwards,I thought about the stress and worry I had put myself through prior to the meeting about these figures. (And all the other meetings.) Had they been hard? Not particularly. Had they used calculations I had never used before? No. Had I created lots of these projections before? Yes. Then why was I worried? Because I can’t do...
Hold on a minute, who said I can’t do maths? Certainly one teacher, once, a thousand years ago. Then me every day since. But if I had been less distracted by my negative attitude, I would have noticed that I have been knocking off accurate numbers left, right and centre. So now, I have changed my attitude and inner conversation and if I notice a negative thought, I can catch It, check It and change It.
I’m Deborah and I do maths.
So what do you do successfully on a regular basis which you are convinced you can’t do?
|Posted on 7 March, 2019 at 4:15||comments (0)|
"You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don't try to forget the mistakes, but you don't dwell on it. You don't let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space."
I hate making mistakes, of looking 'bad', or like an idiot or of letting people down. Or rather I should say, I hate me making mistakes. If other people do it, I encourage them to see mistakes as life lessons. I always say that the only person who lives a mistake free life is the person who is doing nothing (although that could be their biggest mistake of all).
But when I think back on my many mistakes, I have gained a wealth of experience and learning. For example:
My four failed driving tests (devastating to my confidence at the time) meant I had to have more lessons and driving practice and by the time I passed my fifth test, threw away my L plates and finally hit the road, I was a reasonably accomplished driver.
When training as an Image Consultant, I sailed through the first few weeks getting every client right. The only problem was I had absolutely no idea how I was doing it. This was great for the ego but I knew that I had nothing to fall back on if my instinct let me down. Then one day, in front of all my fellow trainees and all the tutors, I got a client completely wrong. But as my errors were explained, my audience could almost hear the sound of the pennies dropping as I finally grasped what the process was all about. At that moment, I became more confident as a consultant.
Not making mistakes can also create a barrier between you and others. I was once a secretary to a quite high flying board, made up of CEOs and Senior Management of big blue chip companies. I would write up minutes and then before the next meeting, I would have to phone all these powerful people, chasing them up to make sure they had done their actions. Although individually these were nice chaps, I was intimidated by their positions and found phoning them a real discomfort. Then at a meeting reviewing the last minutes, I noticed I had made a huge, glaring mistake. I prayed no one had seen it. Alas, when we got to it, one of the CEOs pointed it out with great glee. He was delighted to see that I was capable of making a complete dog's breakfast out of something. It seemed that whilst I was anxious about making the monthly calls to him, he was equally anxious about getting the calls, because he usually hadn't done what he was supposed to, and I, as far as he could see, was always perfect. I found out the rest of the board felt the same. What for me seemed a horrendous mistake which would ruin my reputation FOREVER actually created a much better relationship between me and the board. Who'd have thought it?!
We all make mistakes. That isn't a problem. The problem is if you let the mistakes define you, where you create the self image that mistakes = bad person, or hold yourself back in case it all goes horribly wrong. Embrace the mistakes, learn the lessons and move on, a more knowledgeable and experienced person.
And if all else fails, just remember what Fred Astaire said: "The higher up you go, the more mistakes you are allowed. Right at the top, if you make enough of them, it's considered to be your style."
How stylish will you be today?
|Posted on 31 January, 2019 at 5:00||comments (0)|
Who have been your major positive influences, who have helped to shape you in ways you never realised?
It is the late 1960s. I am sitting watching my paternal Grandmother, Victoria, putting on her makeup. This is the first time I have been allowed to do so. She will be dead in a few months, so unbeknownst to both of us, it will also be the last time. Grandma is the only woman in my small 8 year old world who wears makeup. She is in her late sixties, but has a timeless glamour with her brilliant red lipstick, hennaed hair, whip thin figure, style and elegance.
Her morning transformation is my first real encounter with what it is to be a ‘glamourous’ type woman. As she applies face powder and tea rose perfume (the aromas of which still conjure her up to me), I ask lots of questions, like why should women wear makeup and worry about their outfits?
“Because,” she says, “a woman should always be ‘finished’. You never know who you are going to meet during the course of a day. It could be the person who could change your life.”
"But," I ask, "why makeup, why stick paint all over your face?"
“Because to get on in this world, a girl has to be seen to be pretty or intelligent.”
Taking my chin in her hand, she looks at me intently and says, “And you, my dear, will have to be very intelligent.”
At the age of 8, none of this means a lot to me (although I know enough not to recount this episode to my mother.) For one thing, I am a tomboy whose greatest ambition is to be a cowboy, and cowboys have never struck me as needing to be either pretty or intelligent. However, as I grow up, reach my late teens and start getting interested in being female, subconsciously I start taking Grandma’s advice. I try to dress as well as my budget will allow and even when I’m being casual, always make sure that I am “finished”. This has stood me in good stead when I have been called to a job interview with 4 hours notice or have met someone at a casual event who turns into a future client. (By the way, I am not saying women 'should' wear makeup - it is about finding your own definition of what gets you ready to meet the world.)
I have also taken the intelligence bit to heart, keeping an open mind and a willingness to learn. When I got the results of the degree I undertook in my 30s, my first thought was for Grandma. I think she realised that I was like her in many ways. She was a strong, self-reliant woman who never let circumstances beat her, who was always looking on the optimistic side and who, if something went wrong, would brush it off and move on to the next thing. Abandoned by her husband and left alone with their baby, she went from crying on finding a coin in the gutter because it meant she could buy food for that night, to owning her own house. She never saw a reason why being a woman would have to stop her doing anything she wanted (although pragmatic enough to know that sometimes, it paid to play by 'the rules' of the time, hence the pretty or intelligent comment).
I think she was aware that I would not, as an 8 year old, get upset and take to heart, negatively, what she had said.
But I do wonder if she knew exactly how much what she said would shape my life and who I am.
|Posted on 11 January, 2019 at 0:35||comments (0)|
Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace.
11 days into January and how are you doing with your New Year’s Resolutions? That bad, huh?!
Last year, I made a list of things I wanted to do; create more work, learn as much as possible, make new friends and contacts, read, dance, visit galleries, exercise, etc, etc. I had it all set up with goals, timelines, action points. Gosh, it was impressive, but in order to get everything I wanted done, it seemed I would have to timetable my life down to the last second. By 3 weeks into the shiny New Year, I realised there was no way I could keep up with my clever plans and all I had done was created about 30 sticks with which to beat myself.
Now, goals and action points can be really useful, but sometimes they can become the focus rather than the tools. You can find yourself completing your actions successfully whilst losing sight of what you wanted to achieve in the first place. I would say that most often, what we ultimately want to achieve is a state of mind, such as happiness, balance, security, independence, well being, accomplishment.
When I recognised this last year, I immediately threw out my New Year’s Resolutions and decided that I would concentrate on just one word, which for me was Abundance. This covered so much – abundance of time, friendship, money, energy, balance. I lived my life within this context during the year and at the end of it, I had had a successful business year; written a book; created new collaborations; made loads of new contacts and had new clients. By living in a mindset of Abundance, I felt I had enough of all the things I needed to achieve all the things I wanted. I didn’t get quite as stressed out by self imposed “oughts” and “shoulds” and found myself open to all kinds of opportunities which I never expected.
This year, I am keeping Abundance as my word and adding Forgiveness – forgiveness to myself for the days when I get a bit too action led.
What is the word which will inspire you this year? And if you can't find it, perhaps I can help.
|Posted on 8 November, 2018 at 4:25||comments (0)|
...the luckier I get is a quote ascribed to several people. Who originally said it is unimportant.
I have often been described by people who don’t know me well as being “lucky”: in the right place at the right time, etc.
My letter asking if there were any vacancies as a window dresser arrived on the day the junior window dresser handed in their notice.
When a theatre marketing job came up, I was contacted because I had been talking to people about how to get into the profession.
When asked a contact to help me revamp my CV, she offered me a job project managing her new business.
A fundraiser friend got a celebrity patron for her charity because having lucked out via the actor’s agent, she happen to mention it to an acquaintance, whose girlfriend was the actor’s PA.
A client wanted to reach the then editor of a leading newspaper. She mentioned it at a networking meeting and someone in the group turned out to be the editor’s house sitter.
Yes, these all seem like luck or coincidence, things which happen by chance. However, in every case, these was an intention and an action (or a series of actions) which had to be in place first. I had to write letters; get into networks. The fundraiser had to identify the potential person they wanted to get the charity message out. And in all cases, once the “coincidence” happened, it had to be backed up with a track record of hard work and knowledge. So you have to do the work, meet the people, know what you want and get the message out.
Trusting to luck is a nice idea, but luck never shows up unless you do.
|Posted on 12 October, 2018 at 0:55||comments (0)|
Imagine the scene: Nunhead Station, 7.30am on a cold, misty Monday morning. I am wearing THE coat. This is double breasted, scarlet, ankle length and has earned me the nickname The General from more than one friend. To accessorize, I am wearing a red and brown velvet scarf and a brown angora pill box hat. I am Julie Christie in Dr Zhivago and I look the business.
The train arrives and the doors open on an already crowded carriage where people are studiously ignoring each other as well as they can given that they are close enough to count each others ribs. There is no space for me so I dash along to the next carriage. Here, I find just enough room for my feet. I clamber in and lean slightly forward, because I have to make sure that the doors can close behind me. The door mechanism starts to beep and the doors slide shut. I've done it! I am on the train so I do not have to wait 30 minutes for the next, equally crowded one. I don't have to hold on because it is so full that there is nowhere to fall and anyway, I can just lean back against the doors. Whoops, a bit shaky there, but no problem because something is holding me back.
It is at this point that I realise that my extravagant and deeply loved red coat is trapped in the doors behind me. And not just a rogue corner, but all the way from hip to hem. I have suddenly switched from Julie Christie to Buster Keaton. My mind starts racing. I know that these doors do not open at any point between here and up to and including my final destination at Blackfriars. I begin to tug discreetly at my coat, but because there is no room, I can't get any real leverage and so the coat sticks fast. To my mind, I have three options:
1 wait until I get to Blackfriars, wait for people to leave and then tug like fury
2 go to Blackfriars, stay on the train which I know will return to Elephant and Castle where the doors will open on ‘my’ side of the carriage and I can leave, get onto the Tube and make my way to town or if all goes horribly wrong,
3 get to Blackfriars, wait for people to get off, get out of my coat and leave it hanging there. (Obviously, this would cause a possible manhunt as they try to find the body to go with the coat, but this is a minor consideration.)
The eagle eyed amongst you will notice that there is not an option 4) ask for help. I want to be inconspicuous - well, as inconspicuous as someone dressed like an extra from War and Peace can look. Being seen as someone with an eccentric style of dress is one thing; being seen as someone who can't even board a train without making a complete hash of it is another thing altogether.
So, here I am, still on this train. Just in case drastic action is called for, I have transferred my gloves and tissues from my coat pocket into my handbag. We pull into Blackfriars Station and draw to a halt. People rush off the train and hurl themselves at the ticket barrier. I stand coolly aloof, as if elbowing my way through the hoi polloi is beneath me. When the coast is clear, (and against the clock – the train is due to go the other way any minute), I grab the back of my coat and pull. It moves about an inch, which is promising. I just need to get a bit more leverage, so I plant my feet about a foot apart, take a firm grip with both hands and give it a damn good yank. Voila! Like a hero from a boy’s action story, with one bound I am free. Or to be more exact, with a hefty tug, my coat releases from the doors and I catapult across the carriage and out of the train doors like a shot from cannon.
My tango training (I knew it would come in useful!) allows me to stop the momentum dead and as I do, the doors of the train close behind me, ready for its’ return journey. I take a deep breath and walk purposefully towards the barrier. Aside from a long dirty black mark on the back of my coat, I think I have pulled it off and the words of Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain run through my head – “Dignity, always dignity”.
And the life lessons to take away from all this?
1 have several solutions, however silly, up your sleeve
2 always keep your cool - other people won't know how you are feeling
3 often, in fact most times, things never turn out as badly as you expect.
|Posted on 2 August, 2018 at 8:35||comments (0)|
The concept of kindness has been popping up around me in the past few days. I was introduced to a quote from Kurt Vonnegut's book, God Bless You, Mr Rosewater. "There's only one rule that I know of, babies, God damn it, you've got to be kind." And there is a quote (attributed to various people) going around social media, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."
Being kind is one of those concepts which could sound anodyne, a bit like "nice". But kindness in action is a powerful thing, for both the receiver and giver.
Many years ago, when I was very young and easily influenced, I started work in an office. On the first day, several people warned me about another member of staff. She was, they said, moody, abrupt, humourless, rude and aloof. And this seemed to be true because although I didn't have much direct contact with her, I could see she was like that with everyone. I was very intimidated - I was used to people being friendly - and being immature, when I did have to work with her, I would be abrupt first, as a defence mechanism. True to form, she was rude and snappy with me.
After a few times, and knowing I was going to have to be in a meeting with her the next day, I was feeling very anxious. Abrupt wasn't my default mode and it was very uncomfortable for me. I started thinking about how I had taken other peoples' word about her character as truth, before I had made my own decision. What would happen, I thought, if I approached her in a new way - being respectful and, yes, kind?
Initially, it didn't make much of a difference, but I persevered. Over time, her attitude towards me softened. Gradually we became, if not exactly friends, at least warm acquaintances. I treated her with kindness and surprise, surprise, she treated me the same. (She even became less frosty with other people in the office, although they were still too attached to their opinions of her to really loosen up.)
In time, she made passing mentions of a seriously ill husband and of her own tentative health. But you know what? Those hidden hard battles shouldn't matter.
We should be kind to each other just because we can.
|Posted on 27 July, 2018 at 4:45||comments (0)|
“To die is nothing; but it is terrible not to live”
Victor Hugo, Les Miserables
A popular technique used by coaches, including me, when helping people to focus on their long term goal is to ask what they would like to have said in their eulogy.
It may sound a bit grim to ask people to think about their death, but it can be a powerful tool to help concentrate peoples’ minds on what they want their legacy to be and what they need to do in life in order for that legacy to happen. Sometimes, however, it is difficult to know what you might leave behind.
Some years ago, someone in my family was diagnosed with a terminal illness. When his illness was first diagnosed, in his mid-40s, I wondered how I would feel if I had received the same news, what would I think, what would I wish I had done? Out of this, I decided the two things I really wanted to do were to visit to Russia (which I did in April 2007) and to try the Argentine tango. Russia was amazing on so many levels and I loved discovering Russian art. Out of the tango, as well as the sheer enjoyment it has given me, I discovered new levels of creativity, improvision and communication, and developed a new outlook, including the confidence to take the plunge of starting up “Catching Fireworks”.
We all make ripples as we go through our lives and sometimes we have no idea of the effect that we have on other people. Therefore, even if you are given to introspection and wonder how you will be remembered, I suspect that you will never really know – you can only hope. All you can do is live as honestly as possible, being true to yourself, your vision and your values. Enjoy the moment and even if you feel you are working in isolation, somewhere, sometime, there is a good chance you will influence someone.
For the here and now, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but we are all going to die and alas, it is not always going to be when we are old. If there is something you have always wanted to do, a burning desire or dream that you will get around to “one day”? Well, as long at it is not going to hurt someone else, may I suggest that you just do it?
You only have the one life; ensure that you make the most of it, both for yourself and for all those people you impact on positively, and possibly unknowingly, along the way.