Furnace time

You know sometimes when life just gets really tough? When you feel nothing else could go wrong, but it does? When you could really do with a decision going in your favour, only to have it go the other way? When you really feel at your lowest, and something comes along and just makes it worse? We’ve all been there. In the words of my darling Dad, “Life’s a bitch, and then you die”… 

But; you know, that’s just when you learn the most. That’s when taking heed of your inner voice and asking the question ‘what can I learn from this?’ can be so important and so powerful. 

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It’s so true. Through adversity comes some of our most creative, inspired and inspirational work. When the chips are down and we have no choice but to pull it out of the bag, so often the answer is there. So often it’s the tough times that make us. 

That’s why I call these times ‘furnace times’. When purifying a metal from it’s ore, the usual way to do this is through heating the ore up until everything melts, and then skimming the unwanted impurities from the surface. The impurities only rise up and are able to be separated thanks to the intense heat – but leave the metal more pure and better fit for purpose than before. The way to purify a metal is to repeat this process many times, and each time more and more impurities rise to the surface, until eventually the metal left behind is about as good as it gets. 

Sometimes in our lives we’re put through ‘furnace times’. Bloody hell, I’ve been there! But, I’ll pretty much guarantee you that each of these times we’ll look back on and say ‘I’m stronger for that experience’ or ‘I learned a lot from that’… or even ‘that was the best thing that ever happened to me’. Sometimes these experiences can be what makes us, what purifies us and equips us for the purpose we have, and sometimes these experiences can cause us to focus on what’s important and ‘cut the cr*p’ out of our lives. 

So, instead of getting depressed, getting angry, or feeling that life is unfair, try to get inspired to find those brilliant solutions. 

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My bit part in The Truman Show

Recently I went on holiday with one of my best friends. To her, holidays mean Disney, so off we went for 10 days in Florida, staying in one of the Disney hotels.

Now, don’t get me wrong here. I had a lovely holiday, it was fantastic to enjoy the sunshine and I relaxed, rested, got a holiday cold, got a bit brown – all the things you would expect from a great time away. We visited all the parks, rode the rides, ate our way around the world and shopped until we dropped. But, something just kept jarring with me and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Something wasn’t working for me.

I thought at first it was my discomfort at the way some of the staff were attired at the hotel we were staying – and definitely this left me feeling awkward. My friend had chosen the Port Orleans Riverside hotel – based on the theme of the deep South, the ladies all wore a very traditional ‘bustled’ dress which I found difficult to see on non-white staff. Overtones of days when the world wasn’t as equal as it is now, which jangled.

I thought about this a lot, and whilst it did make me uncomfortable, I worked that one through. But I still couldn’t quite shake off this feeling of discomfort – until my friend and I had a conversation on one of the last days of our holiday. She made a comment about something being ‘A bit Truman Show‘, recalling the film starring Jim Carrey which chronicles the life of someone who is unaware his whole life is a fabrication for a TV show. It hit me square between the eyes – that’s what I was uncomfortable about. The whole of Disney is like a giant Truman Show set – nothing is real, everything is fabricated, artificial… I realised that flying in to Orlando airport and spending every moment of our 10 days in the States in Disney just wasn’t the sort of holiday that I relish. When I travel I like to connect with the culture and life in the country I’m in. I’ve been to Florida before with my kids as a family, but we stayed in a villa and just travelled in and out of Disney for a couple of days, and made sure we did a number of other things including going to a Rodeo, and visiting other parts of Florida as well as Disney. However, on this occasion I spent my whole holiday in the Disney bubble – and whilst I love the parks and ethos, I do need more from a travel experience.

Never again will I spend so much time in plastic reality. I have no desire to be an extra on the Truman Show.

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How to spot a firework business

No, I’m not talking about the businesses that create the reasons for our oooh’s and ahh’s at this time of year. There’s no reason to avoid them – well, unless you happen to be of a nervous disposition or carrying a naked flame ;).  I’m talking about businesses that I call ‘firework’ businesses. Businesses that launch in a whoosh of noise and a plethora of bright lights, calling attention to themselves and gathering a lot of publicity; yet once the bright lights are over, they drift away like smoke on the breeze…

If you’ve been around in the world of business for a while, you’ll recognise what I mean. Those businesses that launch in a blaze of self generated hype, making amazing claims and promises. Where the hype just seems a little too good to be true…

If you’ve been around in business long enough to see these type of companies, you’ll also have been around in business long enough to know that with extremely rare exceptions there are no ‘get rich quick with minimum effort’ schemes. There are no short cuts to success. And there are so many so called business owners who love the idea of self employment, like the kudos with being able to say ‘I have my own business’ and call themselves ‘Managing Director’ – a bit of a stretch, given it’s normally just them and the dog – but they don’t want do invest the graft, grit and determination to make that business successful in the real world.

Associating with firework businesses can be a draining distraction. Best to focus your attention away from the self publicists and instead build a network of trusted contacts who have proved their worth. Don’t stop nurturing new businesses or making new contacts, but beware of those who launch with a blaze of light and sound, without the substance behind them to give the confidence that they’ll be around after the initial display.

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The power of a hug

My daughter sent me this cartoon a few weeks ago:

 

 

Apparently it reminded her of how I would send them off to school each day with a hug. I’ve always been a very tactile person, and believe that a hug can communicate so much more than words at times, and that touch is a vital part of nurturing and caring for those around us. Nothing calms me like a hug, nothing says I care like a hug. A hug can say so many things, all without uttering a word.

Hugs rock.

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I don’t do losing.

 

 

After a bruising few months and some major life upheavals, I had sunk pretty low. My self-confidence was shot to ribbons, and getting out was becoming difficult – almost impossible if I was going into situations where I didn’t know who was going to be there or where I felt I had to be my best. I even suffered a couple of anxiety attacks. Life was becoming quite tough, and my sparkle had been hidden by a black fog. I was constantly tired, easily fatigued by crowds or busy, noisy places and felt disconnected from life.

I’ve been here before. I’ve suffered with depression a couple of times in my life – after the birth of my younger daughter, and then in the year or so after my Dad’s death. Both times I sought medical help, and ended up on SSRI anti depressants. I don’t want to get into a debate here about drug therapy for depression – but all I know is that whilst no doubt at these times I needed the chemical support, drug treatment has some side effects which I find very difficult to live with and was keen to avoid on this occasion. I’ve also had a battle with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for the last 8 or so years, and I could recognise these symptoms returning, which scared me… not helping my anxiety levels!

There is no doubt that this was a reactive episode – a reaction I could directly attribute to some major life events in both my personal and professional life – and I am in NO WAY suggesting that everyone suffering from true clinical depression can change their way of thinking to get better. I’ve been in that horrible place and no amount of changing my mindset or positive thinking would have helped – believe me, I tried.

But this time I knew the way I was feeling was a reaction to everything that had happened to me over the past few months. I also know that when the fatigue symptoms start to hit, I get anxious, which doesn’t help my mental state. I took a long, hard, cold look at what was going on in my life. I reflected on what had happened to bring me to this point, and how I felt about this, worked through accepting and forgiving; and then I looked at the quote that opens this blog post. I had three choices.

I will win. I don’t do losing.

It’s tough – I won’t deny it. My energy levels aren’t where they should be and fatigue is my constant companion. Every now and then my self confidence takes a nose dive and panic rears it’s ugly head – but I’m getting better at recognising what’s happening, breathing through it and taking some time out to be thankful for the many wonderful things in my life. To remind myself that so many of my fears are only stories I’m telling myself – they aren’t fact. To spin other stories around the facts, to remind myself that my anxieties are being created by my thoughts about one way the situation may play out – that there are many other possible outcomes. I’m focussing on doing everything I can to minimise the fatigue symptoms, and in helping myself to minimise the negative thoughts by positive affirmations.

I will win. I don’t do losing.

 

 

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Why I’m not playing the numbers game any more.

For the last year or so I have sporadically got caught up in feeling that I ought to increase my number of Twitter followers, Google+ circlees or likers for my business Facebook page. I allowed myself to get wrapped up in all sorts of techniques to increase followers – many of which work effectively if you simply wish to end up with a big number. I have always drawn the line at paying for followers, but I do know of people who have, and apparently it’s very effective…

Now, before I get shouted at, I’m not suggesting that everyone who has a large Twitter following has paid for it, nor am I suggesting that those who follow large numbers of people are doing so with an ulterior motive. There are many on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or indeed WordPress or other blogging sites who have a large following because they post relevant, engaging, and interesting content and have genuinely got a large number of people interested in hearing what they have to say. But there are many other ways of rapidly acquiring a large following that are well known to those in the Social Media world which have faster and easier results, if your metric is acquiring followers, but do they genuinely increase engagement and give you a wider audience for your posts? To be quite honest, I really doubt it.

Why am I so sceptical? Just recently my business has changed a little, I’ve taken on an on site consultancy where I’m focussed on business process, sales, and predominantly off-line marketing. I’m not spending as much time as I used to on line – and when I do get a chance to read my Twitter or Facebook feeds, I’m finding it’s more and more difficult to keep up with the posts I don’t want to miss without getting bogged down in the noise. In other words, I’ve emerged from the Social Media bubble I had become wrapped up in.

I know I could manage this feeling of overload by spending time setting up lists on Twitter or by categorising people on Facebook – and to be fair, I find my Google+ circles are easy to manage because the very nature of that platform makes that sort of separation easy. But really, honestly, what is the point of following people I’m going to sideline into a stream I read only occasionally? If I’m not interested enough to want to engage with their content regularly, why follow them in the first place?

So, I’ve started gently unfollowing Twitter accounts I’m no longer interested in, or which have little relevance to me. Ones which, to be honest, I possibly only followed in the first place as part of a ‘Twitter growth strategy’. Personal and business contacts, well of course I want to hear from them – but right now they’re getting lost in the noise.

And guess what? Unsurprisingly, as I’ve unfollowed some accounts, my own following has fallen. So, these people who were following me weren’t really interested in what I had to say, they weren’t really engaged in my content, they were only following me so I would follow them, so they could broadcast their content to me, or to increase their own follower numbers. Fair play, that’s pretty much what I was doing. But, the moment I stop receiving their broadcast or boosting their numbers, they go elsewhere. So, I go back to asking what is the point of a large number of followers, if they are only following you so that you receive their content or because you follow them back? This isn’t benefiting me in any way other than an egotistical bragging opportunity. I have proved that if I wished to grow my Twitter following to several thousand or beyond, I could – but why would I want to via these kinds of methods? I would rather have followers who are genuinely engaged and actively want to hear from me, because they value what I say, than those who are only following me to boost their own figures – it becomes a mutual ego massage to no benefit and drowns out the important interactions that I have come to value.

So, for me, follow/unfollow strategies and other techniques to boost numbers are a thing of the past. I will be focussing on content, engagement, and interaction with those I enjoy hearing from, and I’ll leave others to play the numbers games.

Footnote: With huge and grateful thanks to the awesome Allan Blair Beaton who as well as my friend is my guide and mentor in all things Social Media, and who first set me thinking along this path quite some time ago, it just took me a while to realise he was right! Now if there is one person who is worth following and engaging with, it’s him. Not only is a thoroughly decent guy, he also knows his Social Media onions like no other.

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A new month, a fresh start and time to reconnect with what I love…

Wow, that’s a big title eh? I can’t deny that the last few months have been tough – there’s been a lot of change and upheaval in my life. Some has been of my doing, some not – but as I don’t do change very well, all has been challenging.

A couple of weeks ago I decided that from the 1st November, I would challenge myself to blog every day. This will be quite an ask – for both logistical and emotional reasons – but it’s a challenge I’ll try to keep to. Why do I feel this is important for me? Not for any business or self promotional reason – to be honest I shy away from anything too ‘boo-ra-ra’ and I won’t be heavily promoting the blog – but because there are so many themes and ideas buzzing through my brain right now and I need to make myself write them out and draw sense and meaning from them – and if I’ve gone to the trouble of doing that, I hope that in sharing those thoughts, someone else may find something useful in there too.

A while ago I found this quote floating around on the interwebs

I saved it as it struck me that so many who use Social Media to promote their business stray into the posting because they feel they have to say something category  rather than seeking to post quality, relevant and engaging content… But there’s a whole blog post in itself! I hope I will not stray down the path of blogging for the sake of it during this challenge and fall into my own trap. No doubt the blogs will cover many topics over the month, some deeply personal, some business related, and other posts might even make you smile. So buckle up dear reader, and enjoy the ride with me – and do feel free to share your thoughts along the way.

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