Volunteering; why it’s not just others that benefit

18 Jun

Compassion and kindness are key ingredients for happiness.  It leads us to want to do good without expecting anything in return, to look after each other and our environment.   

When I hit 30 I was unfulfilled and unhappy, despite having every material I could ever have wished for.  I had a good upbringing, climbed the corporate ladders, earned good money, had a company car and a house by the beach so why was I unhappy?  At this point I set off on a journey that lead to understanding there was another way, the path to happiness and how to create a life we love.  I discovered what I valued, how to balance life, learned a new relationship with money and rediscovered what mattered. During this journey which I wrote about in my first book A Rough Guide to a Smooth Life I discovered my authenticity, made life more simple and rebuilt my life around my passions to find meaning and purpose.  Part of this involved quitting the corporate world and volunteering overseas.  I trained to be a yoga teacher, practiced mindfulness daily and did my life coaching certificate.  I now write books and run my own business and still enjoy volunteering.  In celebration of volunteer week I’d like to share why it’s so important as well as give thanks and gratitude to all those volunteers out there who give their time to good causes.

Vietnamese Zen Monk Thich Nhat Hanh said “The word compassion is a verb”.  Just think back to the last time you performed the action of helping someone in need.  How good did you feel?  Buddhists have a saying; “All the happiness there is in the world comes from us wishing others to be happy.” 

Our natural response to seeing someone in distress is the impulse to help, we care about the suffering of others and we feel good when that suffering is released.  This applies if we do it ourselves, see it in a movie or witness it in real life.  It makes us feel good.  Feeling like we’re making a difference in the world and helping those who need it brings us joy, it gives us meaning 

James Baraz quotes statistics on why giving is good for you in his book; ‘Awakening Joy’.  “According to the measures of Social Capital Community Benchmark survey those who gave contributions of time or money were 42% more likely to be happy than those who didn’t.  Psychologists even have a term for the state of euphoria reported by those who give, it’s called ‘helpers high’ and is based on the theory that neuroscience is now backing up; giving produces endorphins in the brain that make us feel good, this activates the same part of the brain as receiving rewards or experiencing pleasure does”.

You may say, that’s easy if you’re happy, have money and the time to help.  But when you’re busy, worried and burned out it’s not so easy to find the space in your heart or mind to be compassionate.  Yes, it does make it harder but not impossible and can in fact be the opening to more joy in your life at a time when you need it most. 

I must admit that when I’m working full time and trying to run my own business I don’t get the time I’d like to volunteer but when I have periods between contracts and can focus on one job I make sure it incorporate a day to volunteer.  Not only does it give me a break from writing it gets me out mixing with others and that feeling of contributing to the community, being of service and doing some good for others. 

It’s not just for others though, it’s good for our souls, our sense of meaning and purpose, learning new things, social connection. All the things that are fundamental to our health and happiness.  It helps us think more positively about the world and our own contribution to it too.

It’s the voluntary work I’ve done over the years that I’ve enjoyed most above any paid job, no matter what the salary or benefits.  I spent time in Thailand teaching English to Buddhist monks, worked at yoga ashrams and Buddhist centres as well as doing the soup run for the homeless and volunteering to teach IT to the over 50’s and coordinate activities at elderly day care centres. I enjoy the company and get a sense of satisfaction from this work.

Studies are also showing there are physical health benefits of compassion and giving through the form of voluntary work.  United Health Group commissioned a national survey of 3,351 adults and found that the overwhelming majority of participants reported feeling mentally and physically healthier after a volunteer experience.

·         76 percent of people who volunteered in the last twelve months said that volunteering has made them feel healthier

·         94 percent of people who volunteered in the last twelve months said that volunteering improved their mood

·         78 percent of them said that volunteering lowered their stress levels

·         96 percent reported that volunteering enriched their sense of purpose in life

·         Volunteering also improved their self-esteem

Researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School in England analyzed data from 40 published studies and found evidence that volunteers had a 20 percent lower risk of death than their peers who do not volunteer. The study also found that volunteers had lower levels of depression, increased life satisfaction and enhanced well-being. 

It doesn’t have to be money, it doesn’t have to be a lot of time if you’re short on that.  It can even be as simple as starting with some random acts of kindness throughout your day.  When we think of giving we often think of charitable donations but it doesn’t have to involve money.  Donating items to charity collections, baking cakes for local events, helping out at a local animal shelter or using some of your skills to help others are all forms of giving.  Giving is not always about your time or money.  We all have skills and strengths we can share with others, we can all choose to be compassionate.  Even if we have very little material wealth, we all have infinite non material wealth we can share.

Take the project ‘Random Acts of Kindness’ for example.  They have many ideas of acts of kindness we can perform for complete strangers and at the same time encourage those who have been the recipient of an act of kindness to pass it on and do something kind for someone else.  This can be as simple as helping an elderly neighbor with their shopping, paying the toll fee for the car behind you, holding the door open for a stranger or making coffee for a busy colleague. 

It doesn’t have to be hard or take up a lot of time, there are so many ways to help and by doing so we’re not just helping the recipients we’re helping ourselves too.  In a world where we’re increasing too busy for kindness see if you can make space to volunteer yourself in some capacity – your health and happiness will thank you.

#NVW2107

The business of writing; lessons learned from my first book 

4 May

3 years ago I quit my corporate job, left my house by the beach and all the material trappings I’d created in search of a different way of life.  You see, I’d followed the path to success and when I’d ‘arrived’ I hadn’t actually got to where I thought it’d lead – I wasn’t happy.  In fact quite the opposite, I was unfulfilled, tired and unhappy.  Over the course of the next year I travelled the world in search of answers, learned from different cultures and traditions and spent time doing the things I loved to see where that would lead. I made life simpler and I grew happier, I found my authenticity and sense of purpose and what’s more I discovered my passions. One of which was writing and out of this journey came my first book to share with others what I’d learned.

I remember how proud I was when I’d finished the manuscript and when it went to be printed and I chose the cover design.  I delighted in signing copies for family and friends and calling myself an author but ironically I thought that writing the book would be the hard part, I thought at this point my job was done!  What I hadn’t realised at the time that there was a whole new world about to open up, a world of the business of writing that I needed to learn to navigate and a world that I knew nothing about.  Having learned so much about the business side of writing a book over the last year, looking back there are things I’d liked to have shared with my unpublished self as I set out on this journey and I hope that by sharing it helps others too.

I wrote a non fiction, self help book related to wellness and happiness so the advice will likely be different for other genres and especially different for fiction.  Find out more about my book, A Rough Guide to a Smooth Life here www.inspireyourlife.org/book

I wanted to get published but had no platform so despite the agents and publishing houses I submitted my work to (even those who fed back the writing was good), no-one would take a punt on a first time, unknown author with no following.  So I had to do it myself and that meant understanding how to market the book and set up my ‘author business’.  Here’s a few things I leanred along the way;

Marketing

Self promotion can be hard for authors, it doesn’t often come naturally.  I knew nothing about Marketing when I started and it was one of my least favourite things to do but I set out, step by step, to put the things I was learning into practice and build my business and platform.

When writing a (non fiction) book, platform is so important. Who will buy it unless they know it exists?  Marketing what we do is a critical part of this, allowing the message to resonate with people, reaching your target audience and encouraging followers to build that platform. These are people that want to know you, like what you have to say and may buy copies of your book, products you create and may then also talk about this in their own networks.

We all have existing networks and can often overlook this in search of new followers.  Leverage your network – we all have one even if it’s just family and friends, get out and connect with the community, talk about what you do, send messages to local groups, get the word out.

I now have a monthly newsletter and a mailing list set up in mailchimp and use this to communicate events, blog posts, places to buy the book, encourage people to leave amazon reviews etc.  Sometimes I’d do competitions and give aways or launch a new product this way too – like my online courses and coaching packages.

I had to strike the balance between teaching myself what I didn’t know (the internet is such a great resource for this) whilst paying for some of the stuff I couldn’t do myself (website SEOs for example!)  However with the budget being tight I ended up having to learn a lot more than I’d anticipated.   I also sought out those who’d gone before, those who were 5 years further down the track and the success I wanted to become.  I learned from those people, even the ones I couldn’t meet (with skype, online tutorials, reading their books etc).  YouTube and Udemy have been invaluable for my education as have countless blogs from those who’ve been there before and made the mistakes I’d like to learn from.

Getting the word out

I blog but not just for my own site.  I send blogs to other platforms with millions of followers, it was all for free but great exposure and sent traffic towards my website and helped boost my mailing list.  It also puts my work infront of far more people than I could ever reach alone.  I set up a YouTube channel and recorded short video clips with nice backdrops talking about the same topics I blog on.  Not everyone likes to read so having a variety of mediums for your message reaches a different audience and makes it more accessible.  I also find blogging helps me try out new ideas and initiates some creativity in my writing.  In fact some of my chapters of the book actually include previous blogs I’ve written.

Another way of sharing the message and an offshoot for many authors is speaking.  Not often a writers favourite thing but necessary if you want to promote the book.  Speak anywhere to anyone and even if one person shows up you never know where that might lead.  Some of my events have sold out, others have had no-one turn up, it’s trial and error and we learn as we go.  I also set up a meet up group to form a new network and followers but also a chance to host my own events related to topics within my book and a way of spreading the word and increasing my platform.

Although I hate cold calling I did send off short emails with a link to my website to anyone who I thought might be interested.  I’d just explain who I am and what I do, a bit about my book and that because it’d just launched I was speaking for free in a bid to aid my marketing and should they wish to take advantage of this we could discuss dates.  I targeted other meet up groups, local community groups, book shops, libraries, yoga studios, face book groups and local businesses and conferences that had a similar audience and matching themes to my book.

Setting up as a business

The first thing I did was learn to build a basic website in wordpress.  It has an about me page with my photo, a contact form, a page about my book and a blog page which is linked up to my mailing list so each time I blog they get it sent straight to them. There is also a pop up on there to encourage visitors to any page to sign up to the mailing list.

I also got some business cards produced which have my details on one side and my book on the other.  Further down the track (quite recently) I also got some professional headshots done to use on my website, biography, promotions material and hopefully the next book!

I learned about social media and got myself onto as many platforms as I could manage; facebook, twitter, pinterest, linked in, Instagram etc.  I use these platforms for sharing links to my book, articles and blogs I write, events I’m running and gaining more followers by directing traffic back to my website/mailing list.  Sometimes I use boosts to target audiences to promote my book, new products or events.  I’ve also found it helpful sharing these things on other facebook groups for extended networks and promotion but also connecting with those similar to yourself who you can learn from or just networking.

The Book launch

When it comes time to launch the book marketing a promotion is key.  I set up local free events about the topics of my book so interested people would come to learn; the book was for sale at these events.  I used thunderclap to garner support for launch day (a social media campaign to garner support and promote coordinated exposure across platforms).  I contacted local press and did interviews with anyone who’ll listen, I also gave free copies of the book for them to use as competition give aways.

I made a book trailer, like a movie trailer, to help spread the message and promote the book upon launching.  It’s on YouTube and I can share the link anywhere, I’ve also embedded it in my website and on my amazon author page etc.  Check it out here https://youtu.be/OgKoSLQpUt4

Sometimes you have to give to get and at first this may seem counter intuitive but I’ve found doing giveaways and competitions great ways of getting coverage and people talking about the book.  It seems counterintuitive when you’re trying to make sales but if you give a sample of your work away for free and people like it they might by a book or they’ll talk about it to their friends who’ll by a book.  Also used this mantra when putting material free online; blogs and video blogs.  Samples of my work that’ll do the talking for me should someone be looking at what I do, an example of my work in action and a taster of what they’ll get should they buy the book or any other service.  I’ve given away free copies of my book at special events (for exmaple the one year anniversary of being published) this actually drove more sales at that event than I’d done before, even though I gave 5 copies away for free.

Streams of income

As many writers will attest we write for love not money and whilst it may be true that very few books make a profit I’ve found that from non fiction books often comes other streams of income.  From my book came online courses, events, retreats and coaching.  At the events people would ask me to come and speak to their business on the same topics, especially mindfulness.  So then came the corporate gigs, presentations, workshops and training sessions.  My book is a tool to sell my business/work but vice versa my business is a platform for book sales too.

Lessons I learned

It takes time – be patient, Rome wasn’t built in a day and we’re not going to be overnight successes.  It’s slow progress every day where we’re building our platform or book sales.  I thought once the book was published that would be it, instant success.  Building the business that is the book and being an author is like building any business from scratch.  It takes time, word has to get out and you build it up from the ground over a few years.  So in the early days prepare not to make money, I had a day job to back me up during these times.

Reflect and be proud – quite often with so much to do after the buzz of the launch it can be easy to forget you made it, you published a book, you’re now an author.  So keep remembering to hold it in your hand and reflect on your success in getting to this point, all the hard work and here you have a finished book, you’re an author.

It’s a careful balance and sometimes I feel like the business of writing takes time away from my actual writing but in order to sell books and be known I feel like sometimes it’s a necessary evil.  I’ll pullback on the business commitments when I begin a new big project, like my next book but also find that sometimes it’s a welcome distraction to do some of these admin jobs on a day when the inspiration is not flowing as I’d like.  It doesn’t matter how good a book is, if no-one knows it exists it’ll never get read so marketing is key (love it or hate it) in helping get the word out.

Having done it once I now know so much more that I hope to apply next time around as I contemplate writing book number 2.  As a result of my work promoting this book and learning about the business side of writing I am now also a more attractive prospect to a future publisher.  I have one book to my name so they know I can do it, I have a following, have built a platform, I know how to market and I know what’s involved in publishing a book.

The others lessons I feel have been important during this journey are that we should never expect that it’s going to be easy.  It is all down to us and no-one will do it for us so row your own boat.  And most importantly, never give up. It will get tough and there’s times it’ll feel too hard and that everything is failing but if you give up you’ll never know how close you could have been to success and all the work you’ve done to date will be for nothing.

Like many first time writers I’d assumed that once I was published I’d be a best selling author in no time despite everyone telling me writers don’t often make money.  The lesson I’ve learned is whilst our books may not make a profit it can lead to other things that do.  I also learned that success as a writer for me is less about sales and royalties and more about sharing my message and the people I get to help along the way.

I don’t pretend to be an expert (far from it) and am continuously learning in this space but i certainly feel more prepared going into book 2 as a result of what i learned from my experience publishing my first book.

10 things you need to know about happiness

27 Mar

Last week was international happiness day and I’ve been celebrating all week by reminding myself of what makes me happy and sharing my advice on happiness with others.  It’s something we’re all in pursuit of yet so often missing the mark.  It’s the question we’re all trying to find the answer to.  What is happiness and how do we get it?  Happiness is not the mere absence of suffering or temporary cessation of unhappiness.  It’s less about elation and perfection more about how we react to challenges, about purpose and fulfilment, being connected to who you are.  To mark the close of my week long celebration of happiness here are 10 things we need to know about happiness

  1. It’s the journey not the destination

We seem to think that happiness is not possible in the here and now.  It’s a struggle now so we can enjoy happiness later (perhaps when we retire?)  We seem to think happiness is always some far off destination we’re aiming for.  A point we eventually reach, a place where everything is perfect. But tomorrow never comes and nor does perfection.  The good and bad will come and go but every day we have a chance to be happy, in how we chose to live, how we react and how we treat ourselves and others.

We spend so much of our time worrying about the future or going over the past that we often miss the here and now and therefore the moments of happiness that exist in the present.  If we are too busy looking for the pot of gold we miss the beauty of the rainbow.

  1. It’s not a thing we search for and find

We see happiness as something outside of ourselves, something external we have to pursue and ‘find’.

We fill our lives with the business of searching for many things and all this pursuit is for one reason, our happiness, yet the very pursuit is taking us further away from the goal.  You may want a house, car, job, partner but all you really want is the feeling these things bring; love, status, wealth.  The pursuit of all these things is for the sake of happiness.  I think we’ve all been there, thinking; “If I could just have this then I’ll be happy”, but when you get this it becomes a case of, “I just want that then I’ll be happy”.  It’s a bottomless bucket of constant craving with no fulfilment.

Caught in this pursuit of happiness it is easy to believe the grass is greener on the other side, but even when you get there the future will always seem better.  This leads to permanent dissatisfaction and un-fulfilment.  We know this because the car we drive and the house we live in at one point were new and it was amazing but the novelty eventually wears off and leaves us wanting more, needing to be fulfilled again

  1. It’s the small things

In celebration every day last week I posted a photo of something that made me happy. Generally this was the wonderful food I ate, the sun shining, getting outside in nature, cuddling up on the sofa with my partner, talking to my family, patting the cute dog that we met in the park and being on the beach.  It wasn’t my house, my bank balance, my car (because I don’t have one) or my job title.  It was the small things, often free things that meant the most and brought a smile to my face.  As Brene Brown says, so often we are so busy chasing down the extraordinary moments that we think will bring us happiness that we miss the ordinary moments of joy that already exist in each day.

It is in fact the little things that are the big things – like our health, love, the food on our table and the roof over our head.

Read the rest of the article here published by elephant journal

How to thrive at work (and life) as a woman

21 Mar

Last week we celebrated International Women’s Day which brought up many conversations, some about progress and some about the inequalities that still exist today despite said progress.  We talked a lot about why there are still so few women in leadership and how we change this.

I’ve worked in leadership and personal development for many years so much of this is close to my heart and being a woman, something I’m passionate about.  Women have faced many challenges over the years and even now many of us seem to do it tough, partly due to the world we’ve grown up in but I believe also partly to do with our own thoughts, views and expectations.

I’ve watched women both in and out of work try to juggle many balls.  To be the career woman and compete with men at the top table.  To come home and be a good mother, make delicious meals for the family, pick the kids up from school, arrange the family social engagements, keep the house clean, ring the parents and try to ensure we don’t forget anyone’s birthday!  All whilst ensuring we wear the latest clothes, go to the gym, make the 6 am yoga class, keep our weight down and always look our best – no wonder it seems so hard.

I’ve never felt as a woman that I’m less capable than a man or less worthy of being at the top table and I grew up with no women role models in business.  I worked mostly in manufacturing and in my first senior HR job when promoted at 25 in a timber factory I was the youngest manager and the only woman.  I knew most of the guys doubted my abilities on both counts but it drove me to prove them wrong and deliver on what I knew I was capable of, even though I knew I was, at times, out of my depth.

What followed was the climbing of the ladder progressing in my career but also the development of me as a person which ultimately ended in me realising I was on the wrong ladder!  At the peak of my career I decided to give it all up to follow my passions as a writer.  At the same time I went through my own journey of self-discovery, finding my authenticity, comfort in my own skin and a self-awareness of who I was and what I wanted.  Here are some of the lessons I learned along the way.

I’ve been lucky to work with some great male colleagues and also some not so great over the years and whilst I believe they play a huge role in aiding our success (the majority of leadership roles, and therefore positions of influence, are occupied by men) I also think the buck stops with us.  If we don’t value ourselves or think we’re capable of the job or think we deserve a seat at the table how do we expect anyone else to?  As woman we are responsible for setting the boundaries and the expectations on what is acceptable and expected.  If we go into a room feeling second class or like we don’t belong we put ourselves at a disadvantage and create conditions for this to be accepted by others.

Last week I heard many women talking about leadership using the comparison to their male counterparts.  ‘A man would do this’.  So What?  Why do we compare to them?  Being successful is not about being more like men but being more like ourselves.  Sometimes I feel like as women we’re waiting for someone to sign a permission slip for us to succeed, for it to be ok to achieve our potential and be as great as we truly are.  Well in the spirit of my comment above – men don’t ask for permission, why do we?  Why as women do we have a need to feel validated outside of ourselves, to be invited to speak?  A lot of this comes down to self-confidence and belief.  How can we expect others to believe we’re capable if we don’t?

This is easier said than done.  For many years I’d offset my Imposter Syndrome with the ‘fake it till you make it’ technique.  I’d tell myself over and over in my head that I was confident and capable until that message sank in.  I’d remind myself of all the feedback and praise I got and use the words of others to help my own brain understand what I was really capable of despite my own doubts.  I’d keep a list of my achievements in the back of my notebook and add to it each day.  Positive thinking and a positive mind set are key, it’s having a ‘can do’ attitude.  The belief that anything is possible and any set back can be overcome.  As Henry Ford said ‘whether you think you can or you can’t you’re probably right’.

It seems that men find this easier than women.  In my years in HR and Leadership countless times I’ve come across men who consider themselves capable of jobs that outweigh their skill set and women who think the opposite, the jobs they are more than qualified for they still see as a stretch.  Add to that the tendency then for men to ask for more than they are worth and women settle for less – this is surely a contributing factor to the gender pay gap and one we contribute to ourselves because if we ask for less we’ll be paid less.

There are other differences I’ve noticed during my years in the corporate world.  Women seem to want to devote a lot more time and effort into making their work perfect whilst men seem to do ‘just enough’.  Sometimes this is driven by our perfection and the need to do the best job possible but sometimes driven by an unconscious belief that we have to work twice as hard as men to prove our worth.  Many of these women I witness outperform their male counterparts and it’s less about the hours they work and more about the abilities they have.  Sometimes as women we struggle with presence.  Not speaking up, worried an idea is not yet perfect enough to be shared, or that we may not have the authority to challenge the discussion taking place.  I’ve seen women shy away from taking credit for their own good ideas or even letting their male counterparts take that credit on their behalf.  But how do we get noticed beyond letting our work do the talking?

I don’t believe we need to be more aggressive or assertive to break through the glass ceiling.  It’s about being savvy, letting our work do the talking and taking deserved credit for that work.  Others need to know who you are and see what you’re capable of, this implies having a presence, being noticed and taking the opportunities as they arise.  But in a bid to be noticed it can be too easy to try too hard, to be louder, more aggressive, more noticeable.  It’s tempting to fall into the trap of, if you can’t beat them, join them.  But success in leadership is not about being more like a man but being more like yourself and confident that this is enough.  I’ve found if we build good relationships when we talk people listen and it’s less about who is male or female around the table and more about who adds value and contributes.

As women, we have so many natural abilities that make us better leaders.  Emotional Intelligence is now seen to be one of the must have skills for successful leadership and it’s often something women possess naturally.  It helps us with empathy, resilience, people skills, relationship management and communication.  It’s our motivation in the face of set backs, the ability to understand and manage ourselves and others, it’s the awareness we have of both ourselves and others, it’s our passion and it’s our ability to make good decisions.

Our current position may be impacted by history, by the cultures we grew up in and what we’re lead to believe but it’s also within our control and down to us.  Our mind set, our attitude and ultimately our self-belief.  The buck stops with us if we want to change this.  Yes we may have had it hard in the past but there’s never been a better opportunity, it’s never impossible and it shouldn’t be as hard as we make it.  The only person stopping us is ourselves.

By being yourself and letting your results do the talking you’re already proving your worth.  We don’t need to act more like men to get noticed to earn our seat at the table.  We don’t need to be more assertive or change ourselves in some way to be seen as a leader, we just have to be good at what we do, embrace our authenticity and believe in our own worth.

Top tips for women at work:

  • Know yourself
  • Empower yourself – own this
  • Know what you want
  • Align to your values
  • Have an open mind
  • Learn and reflect
  • Take credit for your work
  • Take your opportunities – platform to be noticed, networks for those who’ll support you
  • Be resilient
  • Take time out for yourself
  • Trust your intuition
  • Find a mentor
  • Leverage your strengths
  • Set goals
  • Dream big – don’t limit yourself
  • Always do your best work and let that do the talking
  • Face your fears, get out of your comfort zone and believe in yourself

Weathering the storms

7 Jan

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How many of us have started 2017 thinking; “This year I want life to be less tough”? It may have felt like 2016 was tough, doesn’t every year feel that way by December? 

We heard a lot in the media about how awful 2016 had been, how many celebrities and top musicians we lost, the US election, the NZ Earthquake. I’m sure like most years 2016 has had its ups and downs for all of us, but in reality it’s less about what happens to us and more about how we react to it.  Toughtimes are always going to come so how do we navigate them better?  This quote sums it up well I think and puts us back in control.

Unfortunately we all have a tendency to focus on the bad and remember the negative more so than any positives, it’s how our brains are wired.  But how do we break this cycle?  Now it’s not about ignoring the bad and being Pollyanna or unreal, but more about remembering to acknowledge the good too.  I found this particularly true relfecting on the end of the year. 

Like most 2016 had been a long year of hard work, I’d achieved a lot and I’d had some failures too, things had gone wrong and there were goals I’d missed.  I found myself reflecting on a recent failure to deliver on a personal milestone (which admittedly in hindsight was way over ambitious!) and feeling like 2016 had not been a good one as a result.  What I wasn’t thinking about was all the wins I’d had along the way, the previous 11 months that had gone well and all the things I’d achieved throughout the year.  There were plenty of wins when I did sit a think about it so why was this one failure (albeit very recent) weighing on my mind? 

We can be too quick to move on from our successes and too slow to wallow in our failures, giving us the perception that if a few bad things have happened everything is bad, it’s been a bad year and life is hard.  What about all the good things, even the little things, especially the little things.  How often do we ever pause to consider all the things that have gone right?

Why don’t we take a minute to do that now?  List all the things that went well last year and all the things you’re currently grateful for and lucky to have – it may surprise you how long this list can be and how little time we may have spent celebrating the items on it.

It’s never all bad so let’s spend some time remembering the good.  Think of all the things now you’re lucky to have; family, friends, health, money in the bank (even a small amount), food in the fridge and roof over your head and all the things that make life good that so often we take for granted.

This came home to me recently when I took my annual trip back to the UK to see family over Christmas and whilst this meant leaving summer behind and a new relationship I was excited to reconnect with loved ones.  As sometimes is the case though, things don’t turn out how we expected, bad things happen and things don’t turn out the way we planned. This was one such occasion.

After a 33 hour trip I landed in London to make my way to my parents house. Unbeknown to me my 90 year old grandmother had a massive stroke the night before and was not expected to live.  My first port of call upon landing became a hospital stroke unit, and then for many days after as she struggled to let go of the life that was clearly leaving her.  Shortly after arriving I got sick, the kind of respiratory infection you only seem to get after long haul flights or English winters!  It left me bedridden with energy for nothing.  I was trying to enjoy being back but really I just wanted to be curled up at home in the sun with my girlfriend.  I found myself feeling guilty that I only get this chance once a year and people are looking forward to seeing me and I can’t be happy about it. I also find myself feeling like a failure when I become unhappy, after all it’s what I teach others!

The reality is we are all human and life is always going to be imperfect, rough and smooth.  Tough times will always come and sometimes all we can do is feel the pain, grieve a little and then move on.  It’s ok not to be ok, but it’s not ok to stay there.

My grandma passed away just after Christmas.  I was in bed by 730pm Christmas Eve and again at 5pm on Christmas Day.  Yet during the times I was awake I made the best of those moments.  I played with my nephews, had dinner with my parents, walked the dog and spent time with friends.

There is always a silver lining in every cloud but just sometimes we have to look real hard. If we are alive then we have something to be grateful for and it’s being grateful for the small things that helps us through the tough times, gives us perspective and strength to weather the storms.  And knowing when the storms hit that this will pass, it always gets better eventually.  As the saying goes, you can’t calm the storm but what you can do is calm yourself and the storm will pass.

Permission to fail; slowing down

11 Dec

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I don’t know about you but towards the end of the year I get jaded.  The last few weeks always seem a bit hard and I find myself counting down to a break over Christmas and the lure of the reset a New Year brings.  A chance to regroup and a clean slate to push on into another year.

It’s also a point I look at what I’ve achieved over this year, I’d set some lofty goals and being ambitious always want to ensure they’ve all been ticked off the list by the end of the year. Usually I’ll make sure of it, in the past even at the cost of my health, juggling many balls in the air making sure none dropped.

These days I try to spend more time being and less time doing, we live in such a busy, driven, over achieving world that it’s all too easy to lose our balance.  This might be why so many of us reach the end of the year longing for a break and limping over the finish line.

As I looked at the things I’d not quite done yet and the time left this year, my over committed schedule and the nice to haves I’d like to fit it (yoga, time with my girlfriend, Christmas shopping) I felt a little overwhelmed.  I also felt so short on energy that I lost all motivation to even want to do things nice to haves. I couldn’t even get excited by Christmas and the impending opportunity to visit my family, even buying them gifts seemed like an effort I didn’t have the time for and for me this is unusual.  I was so close to launching my online course, my last goal for 2016, and felt pressure to do this to coincide with the New Year and time was quickly running out. I’d had so much else on of late though and a packed travel schedule that I also felt like I didn’t have the energy to even know where to start.

I had one free weekend left so I figured I could work 12 hour days to cover some of this off, but then how good would it be, I really ought to be spending more time getting prepared and getting this right I thought.  But that would mean not completing this in 2016 as I had set in my goals – this would mean failure!

This is something that’s not normally an option for me but for the first time I allowed myself to fail and be comfortable with that, knowing I’d made the right choice.  I made peace with not having to get this done now, the fact that I’d overpromised and not allowed myself time for everything I’d wanted to do. I also remembered that without energy, rest and health how was I going to achieve any of my goals?  Self-care and balance really are the foundations for everything we do thereafter.

I’d had a lot of travel of late and needed to reground, I also knew I felt very tired and needed some rest.  I’d spent so much time doing that I’d left little time for being and this is so important to my health, not to mention my creativity and focus.  So I didn’t work 12 hour days, I let go of the notion of having to do everything and achieve all the goals I’d ambitiously set.  I allowed my overflowing schedule to relent for the weekend and spent the time on what I needed the most – rest, recharge and balance.  I used that time to go for walks, sleep in, meditate, rest and recharge, read and catch up with friends and family, I also got some Christmas shopping done and post recharge I feel excited about Christmas and am looking forwarding to spending time with my family overseas, I also feel slightly more prepared!

Balance is the key and knowing when to reprioritise and ensure we always do the things that matter first.  Whilst I’ll set more goals for 2017 I’m sure, as is my habit I’ll be over ambitious and need to re-tweak as we go through the year but this is less about failing and more about balance.  Knowing what’s important and ensuring we look after ourselves in the process of achieving our dreams.  Understanding that whilst we can do anything we want we can’t do everything and it doesn’t all have to be done now!

I’ve also taken the time to reflect on all the things I have achieved this year, rather than just dwelling on the misses.  I suggest you do too as we are always inclined to focus on what we missed rather than all of the little wins along the way.

We do have a tendency to over estimate all we can achieve, particularly in the 24 hours we get in a day!  I’m learning (slowly) that whilst we can do anything we want, we can’t do everything we want. Realising this helps me reprioritise what’s in my overly ambitious schedule to make it more manageable and realistic.

So as we prepare to enter into another new year I have set my goals but I’ll also know my priorities and when things get busy (as they do) I’ll make sure I manage them, even if that means some have to get reprioritised and pushed down the list.  The good news is the online course will be out next year and it’ll have had the time and effort put in that it so deserves which I hope brings a better product. I certainly feel like I have the energy required to put into the project now and have also learned another valuable lesson for balancing our busy over achieving schedules with what’s most important.

It’s ok to take time out, to say no, to admit something can’t be done and relook at our to do list and reprioritise.  In fact it’s often necessary to us being able to carry on effectively and not burn out, particularly at this time of year.  It’s critical we prioritise the things that matter and that we find time to look after ourselves, otherwise it’s very difficult to get anything done.

Love Trumps Hate

21 Nov

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Love Trumps Hate

I’ve never really been one for politics, not even watched much media at all over the past few months. I don’t enjoy the fear mongering, the sensationalism and certainly not the negativity. I found my life and my mind was just much better off without it, and I still found out when important things happened in the world.

The recent American election was one no-one could escape though and certainly one that would touch everyone in some way due to the nature of the world super power and what it meant.

As I watched it unfold I saw a mixture of shock, disappointment, disbelief, anger, sadness and fear. The following day felt flat and a little uncertain as the world held its breath to see what would unfold now, what did it mean and what impacts would be felt from here on in. Not just for America but for the world. The morning after the night that was seemed a little surreal, almost like the world had sunk into a depression. I felt like I was watching a reality TV show unfold or that I was stuck in a bad dream I was about to wake from. But sadly neither was the case, this was real life, it was happening now, in our modern, ‘developed’ world where so much progress has been made, this was a true story and one our world has created.

As people tried to make sense of what had happened I watched different reactions unfold. Those who got angry, shouted, blamed. Those who got upset and shed tears and those who didn’t know what to do such was the shock. I reacted in my usual manner and turned inwards, I went quiet, I internalised all I was seeing and hearing in a bid to make sense of it all and here’s what I came up with.

After many years of learning the hard way I believe that getting angry or upset doesn’t change what’s happened it only makes us feel worse inside. Or as Buddhists put it, anger is like holding a hot coal with the intention of throwing it at someone else, you’re the one who gets burned. But then what if we don’t get angry, isn’t the passion behind the anger what evokes change, what makes the world listen, what starts a revolution?

Regardless of what we do next and I think we still have many options all I know I can control right now is how I feel and the only person I can impact or change right now is me, it all starts with me. Rather than running all over the world trying to evoke change in those who do not wish to see it, all I can do is be the change I wish to see. Lighthouses don’t run all over the coast trying to find ships to save, they just stand there shining. This empowers us to be the best version of ourselves. It also allows us to do the many good things that still exist even in a world that seems to be turning sour.

I remember all the things I’m grateful to have. I’m heart warmed to see so many other messages from American’s and other world citizens that seem to share my hope, my optimism and those who, despite the situation we find ourselves in, have chosen love over hate.

Things happen that we never believed possible, that we thought we were beyond, knew better, wanted better. Things don’t turn out the way we planned. There’s so much we don’t have control over, this is one of the main sources of our unhappiness, trying to control outcomes, meet our own, or others, expectations. But the one thing we do control, every day is our reaction, who we want to be, what we’re going to do about it? Whilst what’s happened is done, there’s a whole future ahead of us waiting to be shaped and whilst it may seem a little harder now, there are still so many good people in the world, good things happening and things to give us hope and what’s more. We all have a role in shaping that future, what role do we want to play?

Whilst we have so much to be angry about and many we could hate, where does that lead us? In fact it may be what got us here in the first place. I’ve decided to choose love, hate is too big a burden to bear.

Don’t confuse my acceptance for apathy, that I don’t care, that this doesn’t hurt me or sadden my feelings about our society. Trust me I’ve considered opting out and going to live on a hilltop in the middle of nowhere. Don’t think that by choosing love I’m giving up, I just don’t think fighting it the answer, in fact I think it’s contributed to the problem. “I am right, you are wrong” we have to put our own views and opinions at the top of the pile – isn’t that how we got here in the first place?

I have simply decided for my own sanity to accept the things I can not change, what I do have control over is how I react. How I support myself and those I care about through a sad situation. To retain my inner peace despite the craziness of the world unfolding around me – the skill that is equanimity.

To see compassion for those who are so disillusioned with society and scared for the future that they see this as a way out, see this option as their ticket to a better life. Those who feel that for them to succeed it needs to be at the expense of others. Instead of building a bigger fence, why can’t we build a longer table? We are all human at the end of the day, one race, with one planet to call home in one moment which is now, let’s make the most of that and celebrate all that we are and all that we have.

Without hope we have nothing, without love what’s the point.

Perspective in the face of disaster

19 Nov

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My 10th floor CBD apartment following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake

This week has been particularly unsettling in New Zealand following the recent 7.8 earthquake, one of the largest in NZ in 150 years. It struck in the middle of the night, was followed by damage, loss of life and tsunami evacuations.

We’d gone about the usual Sunday night routine that consisted of thoughts of work Monday and the week ahead.  Things that seemed like issues and problems upon going to sleep suddenly paled into insignificance.  When something like this happens this all changes, you think about only what is important and it’s a stark reminder of what that is.  We went to bed saying we’d rather not have to get up and go to the office tomorrow, the Monday morning feeling, but had not quite imagined this.

As what happened sunk in we reflected on lucky escapes – thank god we stayed at yours not my 10th floor apartment (pictured).  Concern for family overseas watching it unfolding on the news and worrying for our safety.  Realising just how much those we love mean to us.  Loved ones headed out of the door to work, with long shifts ahead and without much sleep, like so many who keep the country going in times like this and put the safety of others before their own.

Our Monday morning conversations usually about plans for the evening, what the work day looks like became emergency plans, arranging where to meet should there be a significant aftershock and phones be out.  Events like this truly put perspective about what’s important in life.  How lucky we are, how everything can change in a moment and how important it is that those we care about know and are our priority.

My 10am meeting now doesn’t seem so important, in fact it can’t have been because it won’t be happening now, nor will any other the other ‘important’ events of the day.  The conversations that were ‘what’s for tea?’ ‘have you put the bins out?’ now become ‘stay safe, I love you’ and discussions about how we’ll know each other are safe.

The work to do list that occupied my mind and seemed so important last night is now nothing more than a distant memory so the question is, was it really that important in the scheme of things?  No-one is missing it now, the world still continues to turn and the sun will come up tomorrow.  So often our worries, our concerns, our priorities are not a reflection of what really matters and events like this put perspective around this.  It also highlights all we have to be grateful for, even when that’s no power and no way of leaving the house.  I am unable to return to CBD to check on my apartment but really there’s nothing in there I couldn’t lose, not compared to my life and those I love.

But why does it take a significant event like this to underline the things we already know.  To remind us of what’s important?  Maybe we get too carried away with the busyness of life we lose touch with our perspective.  Beyond life and death there are too many things to worry about these days and it’s this that takes our thoughts, our energy, our significance.  Often at the expense of what really matters.  Maybe it’s the brush with death that brings the realisation of how small we really are and how little we do have control over a life that we try to plan down to the last detail.

The ‘what ifs’ start to circle.  What if this had been in the day time not the middle of the night, the Capital city which was deserted would have been full of people, traffic, life.  But in a few weeks we’ll have forgotten about this, buildings will be fixed up, roads cleared and life will return to normal.  Our to do lists will fill up, life will become busy and the perspective will fade.

Each aftershock a stark reminder that life can change in a moments notice and no-one is immune to that.  They are also a reminder of everything this event has brought to mind, everything we should try and remind ourselves at every opportunity not just in the face of disaster.

Material things can be replaced – every single item in every cupboard fell out, the only thing that didn’t smash was one solitary wine glass.  But the things I hold dear, the things that are irreplaceable all survived and they aren’t actually things at all.

Out of tragedy comes kindness.  Seeing the events unfold and the media coverage of the worst hit areas, towns at the epicentre cut off and houses crumbling to the ground.  Out of these stories of devastation came acts of kindness; yoga studios opening with free classes, people welcoming displaced strangers into their homes, volunteers cleaning up and providing food and supplies to those who needed it.  After a few days of walking around shell shocked, on edge, with a lack of sleep and a nervous disposition life began to return to normal, people got on with it.  Buildings were fixed, the CBD cleaned up and we built a little more resilience.  We learned that we may bend but we don’t break, we get knocked down but we get up again and whilst the earth moves often in New Zealand, it always continues to turn as well.

As aftershocks continue and those with lucky escapes wonder if they’ll ever be able to live in a high-rise apartment again we allow ourselves to come together. To discuss near misses, our stories and the ‘what ifs’.  Feeling the connection of a shared experience, we comfort each other, reassure and understand that it’s ok not to be ok.  Often the emotional impacts of such an event can be felt long after the structural damage is repaired. The frayed nerves, the sea sick feeling of constantly moving ground, the fear of what’s coming next, the probability of further quakes.  This all adds to the unsettled feeling that comes naturally when the solid ground you live on, your bedrock, your earth becomes so unstable.

It’s all a stark reminder that life is too short, we never know what’s around the corner and we are rarely in control no matter how many plans we have in place.  But like a glimmer of light on the horizon and the dust clears, we have so much to be grateful for.  Being alive for a start, the safety of those we love and a whole life ahead of us and whilst it may be uncertain it’s also ours to live.

Ignite your life; live your passion

13 Oct
Live your dreams, find your passion and light your fire
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So many of us end up in jobs just for money—jobs that suffocate our soul but pay the bills.

I did.

I went through the motions of life without meaning and purpose. These are such a fundamental part of our happiness, but often we believe we can’t have both.

Meaning and purpose don’t have to come from our job; they can come out of our hobby (as for many artists) or the sense of satisfaction we get from helping others through volunteering. I felt more purpose in my voluntary jobs than in any paid job.

We may also find ways to incorporate our values and beliefs into our day jobs to make them more bearable—teaching others, solving problems, being a listening ear, or creating something unique. As we spend so much time at work, though, it makes sense to try to make money doing something we enjoy. Purpose is so much more than money can buy.

As I progressed up the corporate ladder, I found I became less fulfilled, despite the increased salary, the company car, posh hotels and holidays around the world.

My life still lacked meaning and purpose.  Find out how I found my passion and turned it into my career.  Read the full article here or watch the video blog below

 

6 life lessons learned from writing a book

12 Oct

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It’s on most people’s bucket lists—everyone has a book inside them, waiting to be written.

It’s such a big task though, where do we start? That’s why so many great books just stay inside people’s heads, unwritten.

I loved writing poetry as a kid, but these days, my writing skills are utilized more in the form of reports, emails and letters to staff. I was just about to quit my corporate job because I was unhappy, but I wasn’t sure what else I was going to do. I decided to take a year off to fix a life that had recently fallen apart and rebuild it into something that vaguely resembled happiness.

I set off around the world to live my dreams, to do all the things that made my heart sing and discover my passion. I trained to be a yoga teacher, visited many countries and experienced different cultures. I studied mindfulness and meditation and I volunteered, teaching English to Buddhist monks. I learned a lot about life and so much about myself and what it takes to create our own happiness.

Along the way I wrote—more for my own needs than anything else. I loved what I was learning and took notes as I went. This newly found wisdom, plus my own personal transformation, became a powerful message I wanted to share with others—and by the end of that year I was a blogger.

But a full-fledged author? That was another step—maybe one too far. I’d never really thought about it before, but as the notes piled up, I almost felt like there could be a book there. For a few months, I wrote in secret, before I was comfortable telling people about my dream. I’d never considered myself an author before, but here it was an actual book that I had written.

I overhauled my life and learned so much in the transformation, I wanted to share my story. What started off as my own personal writing therapy became something that now inspires others on similar journeys of self discovery. But as I wrote a book to share lessons I’d learned, the process itself taught me a host of other lessons too.

Advice for life and how to make the best of it from a writer.  Read the full post here