Power

I had a dream last night that I’m sharing with you partly so I’ll remember it but also because it may speak to you as it did to me.

I’ve always considered dreams to just be something our mind does to process our experience or a time where we can access our imagination and the treasures of our mind. However, some books I’ve been reading recently have intrigued me in the power of dreams to not just access our unconscious but to also tap into something deeper than that…this is why I’ve been paying particular attention to them of late and perhaps why I’ve noticed more of them recently.

The dream last night was almost marvel or DC Comic-like in its plot. Where several people were waging against a tyrant with the intent for destruction and domination. His hunger was for control, for all to surrender to his power and to be under his influence and doing his bidding.

His cronies were destroying someone – perhaps it was even me (or part of me?) – who was daring to speak up and stand up to him.

And then I saw the master himself, smooth-tongued and hell-bent on destruction. He had gathered some people to him who could take a stand against him.

He was telling them the contracts they had taken with him – the deals to keep safe, but keep small. He was promising them their safety if only they bent to his will.

And then one of the people in that line said ‘but this contract isn’t signed in my true name’.

It wasn’t a trick that the person had played upon this tyrant, signing with a fake name to deceive and render the contract null and void.

It was deeper than that – the realisation that the role we step into of worker, carer, well-behaved, rebel – is not the true nature of who we are and the power we give away doesn’t have to be our path in life.

For we have different names – that speak to our soul’s calling and the irrevocable belonging that is our right.

It reminds me of the final main scene in the Labyrinth when the female lead, Sarah, breaks the spell of the Goblin King, realising that the only power he has over her is the power she gives away to him.

And it also reminds me of this beautiful poem by David Whyte from RIVER FLOW: NEW & SELECTED POEMS:

I can’t say I know my ‘name’ yet – and I’m not fully acquainted with my wild mouth and my song – and perhaps it’s naive to think that I will get ‘there’ in a swift, decisive moment or that it’s a fixed thing.

But I do know that the roles I’ve complied with in life – the carer, the ‘well behaved’, follower of rules, striver of excellence – are not ‘it’ and I feel the call within – the possibility of what it might be to step into my power.

Holiday reflections

I’ve spent a glorious week away on holiday in Wales and want to take a few minutes with you to reflect on what I’ve experienced during my time here.

I’d felt a bit apprehensive about this trip, having felt stretched beyond measure on previous visits here in the early years of motherhood and in need of a proper rest after the past four months of lockdown.

But despite having planned in time alone, I didn’t need to take any space by myself. I truly enjoyed everything that we did as a group – swimming, hiking, chilling, cooking – so much so that I felt out of sorts last night….a feeling I discovered to be a sadness of leaving this bliss, this reprieve from ‘normal’ life.

So here are my thoughts from this week.

Grounded

I can see and feel how much I’ve changed over the past year.

Part of the joy this week was thanks to the company – people who had no expectations of me – and the love and care that they showed Jenson, my son, which gave me a bit more time alone.

However, a big part of the peace was down to me being ok just doing my thing. Not worrying about what others think, not taking on responsibility for the happiness of the people who were here with us, being ok stating what I wanted to do and not worrying about the opinions or needs of others.

I can see that I’ve grown to be ok in my skin. I’m grounded in myself.

And it feels good.

Moving

I also can see how my relationship with my body and exercise has changed too.

I went on two gorgeous long runs in my time away and went hiking with the group in Snowdonia.

But unlike before, what I loved about this exercise was the feeling of my muscles straining, my heart beating, my body feeling alive with the effort of movement.

Instead of running to be able to eat more or to offset over eating, I ran and hiked for the love of it.

Watching my thinking

I also witnessed my thinking a lot on this holiday. I was able to step back and inquire into unhelpful thoughts.

The few times that I worried about whether it was ok to be spending my time reading or going to bed at 10pm when everyone else was up until 2am, I was able to step back and ask myself what was going on. Why I was worrying about this.

Usually it was from fear of not fitting in, worry of what others were thinking about me, feeling tired and so more critical of myself.

And being able to witness my thoughts, I was able to not be swept up in these thoughts. I was able to challenge them and be more choiceful in my response.


So there are my thoughts from this perfect week away. I wish I had another week to go but will have to wait until next year…I wonder what will have changed in me by then.

This tree and me

I’m out today on a walk in nature by myself. A few months ago I would never imagine myself feeling safe in nature, alone as a female within woodland, but I’ve come to recognise the call to connect with nature is greater than the fear of harm coming to me by somebody lurking within its depths.

And on my entry into the wilds of the woods today I came upon a tree that spoke to me. I want to share with you what I learnt from it. Or at least what I learnt from what was mirrored in its shape and form about my path.

I saw some roots, exposed and forming almost a chicken foot shape as this tree, perched on the banks of the hill, has found security and balance in itself.

I recognise in its form and history my Vero own journey. How I’ve often stepped onto the precipice of life, unsure of my worth or my place in life, and yet have still clung on and remained on this earth. I’ve remained stronger for the roots that I have created to adapt to this world.

And on these roots, moss has grown. Like a beautiful yoke of cloth, draped over these roots, twining and twirling up through the tree.

My pain and hurt has likewise shaped me into something beautiful.

And just behind the tree, I see a small sapling who has found shelter in the broad trunk of my tree.

I see the young tree is plentiful and beautiful, although parts of it have been cut off by human hand.

The two trees mirror something of myself. My hope of providing a shelter for my loved ones from the storm of life. A place where they may find respite and reprieve.

And yet I note, as the larger tree shows me, it’s not my job or within my gift to protect those I love from all harm. It’s a reminder of the limitations and perhaps the boundary of my role.

I can not prevent harm falling on those I love – and, even though it pains me to say it, neither is that my task.

But I can provide a safe space in which others might find shelter.

And on the tree trunk itself, I find small shoots coming forth. I see areas of new growth within the solid base of the tree.

And I see myself reflected in this new growth of the tree. I too am experiencing areas of new growth in areas which have felt long fixed solid. But now these parts of me are starting to move and grow. From them, new shoots are bursting out.

I find hope in this course of nature. It mirrors the course of myself. The growth in and of myself.

And I finish my reflections with the branches that are reaching out from this tree into the heavens.

The expansiveness I feel are reflected in the sun-dappled boughs and I find myself stretching out metaphorically into this wilder space.

I find myself being both my individual self and part of a wider ecosystem.

I feel a sense of wonder and oneness in being both very human and also finding an extension of myself within this tree and an extension of this tree within myself.

And so the ripple continue as I find myself within this forest and this forest within myself.

Myself within the very arms of nature herself and nature extending into me.

Get back up

My mum sent me a really helpful image the other day about what we’re currently living through with coronavirus:

It was such a relief to find in this image a reflection of my experience of late – feeling slightly crotchety, not as resourceful or kind to myself as usual and sometimes just in a funk, despite the gorgeous weather outside.

I’ve just finished co-hosting some sessions on resilience at work, supporting people who are feeling less than their best selves. Some may be living in social isolation, trying to juggle work alongside childcare, knowing someone who is seriously ill or feeling anxiety as lockdown eases.

I really benefitted from being reminded about some basics of resilience from putting on these sessions, so thought you might benefit from them too:

Physical resilience:

If we don’t have good physical resilience, we will find it incredibly challenging – if not impossible – to be socially and psychologically resilient.

If you take nothing else from this bit of my writing, it would be this – you need to take care of your physical self.

This isn’t anything fancy, it’s all the boring things we know we should do to take care of ourselves, like:

  • Getting enough sleep
  • Having down time
  • Exercising
  • Eating nourishing food
  • Drinking enough water
  • Limiting screen time (staring fixedly at something can trigger nxiety as it mimics how we’d freeze when faced with a threat, like a wild animal)

I repeat again – without physical resilience, we will snap easier, we will be angrier, we will be buffeted around more by the fear and uncertainty of what’s going on.

So take care of yourself!

For me, I’ve realised that I’m not having enough down time and solitude. I’ve not been taking lunch breaks, I’ve gone from drop off at nursery with my son straight to work and then back to parenting and finally an hour with my husband before we topple into bed to repeat the same thing.

And my son has been waking at around 5am this past week, so it’s been exhausting.

So for the past week, I’ve taken a lunch break, gone outside for some fresh air for some exercise. And when it’s been my husband’s turn to pick up our son from nursery, I’ve taken a nap.

It’s so nice to then have energy to enjoy the evening and stay up past 9pm!

Please continue to hold me to this if you are reading this as a close friend or member of my family.

It’s done the world of good to me and I’ve felt more on an even keel and able to deal with the stresses and strains of this current life due to the small steps I’ve taken to increase my physical resilience.

Social resilience

We humans are pack animals – we can be grounded by those around us (problematic if we have no one physically around us!) and look to others to check that we’re ok. And so when we’re going through a situation and people are panicking en masse, the opposite can also be true – our resilience can be reduced if those we are in contact with are freaking out.

It sounds simple – and it is – but it’s good to remember and think about who you are spending your time with (whether that’s physically who is at home and how they’re dealing with things or who you’re in contact with on social media).

The answer?

Maybe choose who you are in contact with! Or balance it out a bit with calmer people.

And look at how you can protect yourself from those whose anxiety or anger or sadness (or whatever) is so big that they’re unable to step away from it.

A good thing you might be able to try is speaking to what they’re going through “I can tell you’re feeling anxious, what might help?” instead of getting drawn into it their feelings yourself or getting a wave of anxiety thrown onto you that you then have to deal with.

And boundaries!

You have the right to protect yourself and ask for what you need in a relationship.

This might be something like “I can tell this is a big deal for you, but I’d value if we could talk about other things that are happening besides covid-19. So can we talk about this for five minutes and then draw a line there? I promise I’ll be all ears to hear you during this time”

I can’t say, as someone who can find it challenging to put a new boundary in place, that I’d be super at ease saying something like this. But I know that this might need to happen if I was with someone who was amplifying their anxiety on me.

And I’m reminded of the trite but very true saying that ‘those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind’.

It’s helpful to remember that we feel group anxiety and it can seep into us even if we’re not feeling anxious about anything. So it’s even more important to take care of your physical resilience and, if you’re thinking ‘why aren’t I coping so well?’ remember to be kind to yourself. The ‘not coping’ might be down to the anxiety of others.


Another HUGE factor in resilience is our psychological resilience and I have so much to share with you. But I know that I don’t currently have the right mental bandwidth to write about it now. I’m tired and ready for a pre-lunch nap!

So it’ll have to wait for a follow-up post.

I hope this has been a helpful share, whether it’s a reminder about resilience or new information to you about how you might increase your resilience right now.

Finding joy

I’ve found such a sense of joy during these lockdown months as I’ve spent more time with my immediate family. Weekends are made of rambling walks, barbecues if the weather is right and movie afternoons with us all snug on the sofa.

Don’t get me wrong, the time hasn’t been perfect with a strong-willed two year old with a penchant for 5am wake-ups and it’s uncomfortable to be finding such happiness when others are struggling so much, but I’ve realised that if I had to spend the rest of my life in isolation, I’d be happy with this company to keep me happy and sane.

I want this to be my life predominantly when we get out of lockdown – life is better lived at a slower, gentler pace.

But I have fears too.

What will happen to friendships that maybe need to be gently let go of to keep this space? Is this just going to tumble around me one day, leaving me with no friends and regrets for those I let overtake me in their faster life?

But this feels right for me and so I’m going to keep unfurling in the gentle joy of being a family of three.

Work, if I’m honest, has been less joyful.

Don’t get me wrong – this is not to say that my life at work is not full of satisfaction. But I’m realising that there’s something about how I’m approaching work and the distance between people which is starting to rub a bit.

And so here are my thoughts about how I can bring more joy to my working life over the coming weeks and months.

Connecting

Connecting with peers and people who inspire me on a 1:1 basis is so important for me. After a good conversation – talking through challenges, connecting with others on a very human level – my heart feels bigger, my spirit feels lighter.

I feel joy.

But the connections I’d usually have over lunchtime walks and meetings have been fewer and further between.

And conversations with people in the organisation who inspire and spark something in my have been fewer and more focused on the immediate than the spacious time they were in pre-covid times.

I’m learning that these are conditions are important for me to thrive and so they should be one of the priorities that I take forward – thinking who I need to connect with and looking at how I can be intentional about this in the weeks ahead.

Finding fun

One of the permission slips I’ve written for myself at work is ‘the permission to have fun’. I notice how uncomfortable this feels to share with you, dear friend, because having fun isn’t ‘serious’.

It might be seen as wasting time or not being productive.

So let me clarify, this isn’t having fun in the sense of playing video games or fooling around instead of get things done. It’s a mindset, and an important one for creativity, reimagining what’s possible, stepping into new roles at work.

For me, fun is setting myself a hard task and being intentional about the areas where I can gain enjoyment from it.

Fun is looking at other people and organisations to see what I can learn from them.

Fun is trying out new things, knowing that the point is to try – not get things perfect.

Fun is working with people who are as open and imaginative as I am.

And I haven’t really allowed myself to have much fun recently. I haven’t prioritised it.

So I’m going to bring this back.

Distance

Until now, I’d said that I’d be happy to work from home for the rest of my life.

I like not having to leave the house by 6:45am to catch the right train to work. I like being able to eat lunch with my husband. I like spending the time I used to spend commuting running along the seashore and through the fields near my house. I like sometimes working from my sofa, in my garden, at different times of the day.

But I recognise now that it’s a bit lonely.

There are limited spaces for interaction outside of the meetings I’m part of and the online presence means that these meetings have less chat at the strt are are more focused on a particular purpose.

And meetings set up for connection are in big groups, which I don’t enjoy or feel nourished from.

There are no conversations in hallways that lead onto something.

There’s less laughter, less spontaneity, less connection.

So, while I like the better balance of working from home, I can see the importance of finding a way of being together in a group and recognising the impact of online connections on my joy.

So what does this mean?

There are some easy things I will be doing over the coming weeks – it feels good to have ordered my thoughts with you to look at what’s going on and what I need:

  • Considering who I want to connect in with over the next few weeks and months
  • Finding a sense of joy through looking at the road ahead and where I want to be intentional in bringing some fun and lightness
  • Acknowledging that it’s hard to connect online, reminding myself that this will pass

Kindness

When I got married, my mum gave me a card with some advice to me as a newly wed.

She said the most important thing in a successful marriage is kindness. I couldn’t agree more with her – it’s been one of the most vital things for my relationship to stand the test of time – we’ve been together for close to ten years now!

And as I spent a day off work last week, completely exhausted from the ups and downs of covid life and lack of sleep (thanks for the 5am wake ups, Jenson!), I was reminded of the importance of kindness not just towards my husband but towards myself.

I spent the morning having a wonderful run to the seaside and into some countryside – time in blue and green space was just what the doctor ordered, but after that, I started to feel really antsy and uncomfortable. The day that had started so well was no longer going so well – I was doubting myself and feeling like the day was going to be one big disaster.

And then I remembered that what I really needed was a huge dollop of kindness.

I started to ask myself ‘what would be the kindest thing to do for myself?’.

And here’s what I was guided to:

  • Get back into your PJ bottoms to stay cosy
  • Listen to the sound of rain on an app you’ve got as you spend a bit of time just chilling
  • Have lunch in bed, watching a feel good film
  • Enjoy the nice full feeling you’ve got from having eaten slightly too much chocolate
  • Have a nap
  • Take it slow

It’s such a different approach to a child-free and work-free day of the past where I’d try to cram in so much – needing to feel like I’d achieved something from the day instead of asking what I needed from the day itself (rest, fun, reflection…).

Instead of telling myself that I need to be productive or do something with my time, it was such a relief to just be. 

To allow myself to unwind from the pace of life for a moment. To sink even deeper – if that’s possible – into the potential of a life designed around taking care of myself with loving kindness.

And I’ve really appreciated a tip I took from a resilience webinar I attended on Wednesday (shown in the photo below) – in every choice we make throughout a day, we have a range of options – from something that’s the best possibility, to the worst possibility.

Our days are made up of these possibilities, stacked one after another in each decision we make. They can make us ascend or descend – the image shows how you can make the least kind decision but then bound up and ‘recover ground’ by making the most kind decision next.

Yet I rarely lived like this before. In the past, if I made one unkind choice towards myself (usually around eating my feelings away instead of acknowledging what I was feeling) I’d immediately discount the day and would spiral into some form of hell – beating myself up, eating even more, feeling crap about myself…it’d usually continue in that way for some days after until I managed to jolt myself out of the cycle.

But what I see now, what the model shared in the webinar showed, is that after that initial ‘worst’ choice, there is always another opportunity, another decision, another path to take which can lift us up – whether that’s the choice to:

  • stop eating and acknowledge what is going on to us instead
  • take a step back and assess our options
  • start speaking to ourselves with kindness
  • take the higher ground

It can turn around a day that has started to spiral

It’ reminded me that it’s never too late for kindness.

So what are you going to do with your day? How are you going to show yourself kindness today, friend?

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Merry go round

In the past, I’ve had so many conversations with people about how overstretched I feel. I can’t count the amount of times over the year that I’ve said “I wish this merry-go-round would stop”; talking about my life and how I wish I could just get off it for a moment to catch my breath.

I think I’ve even written it here on this blog.

Life pre-covid-19 was so busy – family time was demanding with a young child, work was stretching (in a good way) and my social life kept me busy with plans stretching months ahead.

But the other day I was speaking to someone on the phone, asking each other how we were doing and I realised that with the current lockdown we’re living through, I’ve slowly unfolded into a new slower pace of life.

The merry-go-round has stopped.

And I’ve loved it.

Sure, there have been challenges – I’ve written about them on this blog – but the overwhelming feeling I’ve had in my life is relief for the time and space I now have in my life. 

Relief of having weekends filled with nothing but family togetherness; the highlight being a pizza night or a cycle down to the seafront and time throwing stones into the sea.

Relief at having time to properly care for myself – running through parks instead of commuting to work, reading in my newly set up ‘cosy corner’ in the afternoon sun, finding moments of kindness and connection as I wave to people on the walk up my road. 

Relief to find myself suddenly in a pace of life where I don’t expect myself to do anything or be anything.

I just am.

And part of me feels awful for feeling thankful in this time that is so deeply challenging for others – people pushed to the brink of breaking point psychologically, emotionally, financially, physically.

Is it right to flourish and have gratitude for the sudden break in life when people are losing their lives to this pandemic? 

But as I find myself whirling into a tailspin, wondering if I can even share these words with you, dear friend, I’m reminded of a podcast I listened to recently on comparative suffering, knowing that my lack of suffering at this moment doesn’t take away from what others are going through.

There’s room in this world for all our experiences. 

And I recognise that I was suffering before this pandemic slowed me down. 

Suffering from lack of space, a life that was unsustainable, an unhelpful pattern of constantly saying ‘yes’ to things that didn’t serve me, FOMO, not listening to myself and what I needed. 

And part of me is scared about what will happen when this lockdown ends – when I am back in a life that has more hard edges to it – with commuting, for example – and more soft edges too, with the possibility of socialising. 

I feel like a freak for loving the additional time alone, for not wanting to be with lots of people, for having a life that is full enough as it is. 

And yet, this is my truth. 

  • I love time alone. 
  • I only need a few close friends to feel like the richest person in the world. 
  • I’m happy living a simple life, with the company of my family and time out in nature. 
  • I like living somewhere with neighbours who look out for each other. 

I love this world where the merry-go-round has stopped – not for the suffering it has caused others but for the simplicity it has brought to my life. 

I hope I find a way to not get back on the merry-go-round – or to find a way to regularly get off it – when it starts to turn again. 

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I’m not alone

I’ve been coming to terms for a while now with the fact that I’m not somebody who enjoys small talk.

It’s made me feel shame that I’m not enough – that I can’t easily fit into the world of people who enjoy nothing more than being in a group with others, laughing and joking, sharing the every day occurrences of the world.

I’ve got a few good friends with whom I share a different type of relationship. It’s not a bond borne through years of knowing each other – it’s a bond of letting ourselves be fully seen.

We may not know what we’ve done on a day to day basis, but we know what makes each others heart stop with wonder or fear or anger. We know what stops us from stepping into our true calling. We share our highest dreams and our lowest moments.

We share from our depths of our souls. 

But that’s only with a handful of people and I’ve felt quite alone for much of life with how I’ve felt, not sure how I could both honour myself and find my path through a world built on a different type of interaction.

It feels like I’m speaking a foreign language – stilted, awkward, unsure.

It’s hard to share this as I feel like writing my truth – how I love deep conversation – discounts or belittles the pleasure and the fulfilment that other people get from chitchat, banter, sharing what’s going on in the day-to-day. And it’s not that I think it’s wrong to enjoy this way of living – it’s just not right for me.

And I’m finding myself feeling more and more uncomfortable living at this level.

Feeling this way and being unsure what to do about it has felt really lonely.

I felt unsure what to do or where to turn until I read a section from the book I’ve been reading recently called Soulcraft.

Reading these passages felt like a coming home to myself and I wanted to share them in case you feel similarly alone in seeking deeper soul connections:

We spend much of our time talking about trivial matters and practical ones – the weather, plans for the day, routine office events, frivolous gossip, the new movie, canned jokes, the latest shopping acquisition, the next technological miracle, stock-market shifts. Chitchat, the every day wins and losses. So little of our conversation addresses our passions, loves, emotions, dreams, or our creative insights and soul stirrings.

An effective strategy for tuning our awareness to the frequency of soul is to minimise every day conversation that separates us from the here and now and from what is truly meaningful. This can be a rather challenging discipline. Sometimes it seems almost everything in our culture conspires to distance us from the heart and soul. So many messages are ads, trying to tell us something of questionable usefulness while ruthlessly pandering to our vanity, insecurity, or happiness – new toys, fashion, entertainment, or insurance against the inevitabilities of life.

Few people ask the bigger questions. For the Wanderer, however, nothing is more important: she seeks the hidden treasure, the spring bubbling in the desert, the song of the world.

Constant superficial conversation keeps us from noticing what’s going on with us emotionally or spiritually or in our bodies. Small talk alienates us from ourselves – perhaps a purpose as well as a result. 

Sacred speech is conversation that deepens. It deepens relationship and enhances the fulness of our presence wherever we are and whomever we are with. It is dialogue centred in what exists here and now between us. We speak from the heart and address what truly matters – our feelings, imagery, dreams, life purpose, our relationships, soul stories, our discoveries of how we project aspects of self onto others or learn to withdraw those projections and our meetings with remarkable humans, animals, plants and places. There is no requirement that such conversation be solemn or hushed. The sacred is often funny as well. We laugh at our oh-so-human foibles and the jokes that life plays on us everyday. The more real our conversations become, the more alive we become, the more we want to scream or shout or cry. 

What a relief to hear that my experience is one shared by others. 

What joy to feel fully understood and to know I’m not alone. 

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Daring to lead

I’m reading a leadership book by Brené Brown, Dare to Lead. It’s the book we’re discussing at work in a book club I’ve started.

The sub-title for the book, to give you an idea of it, is:

  • Brave Work
  • Tough Conversations
  • Whole Hearts

It’s about daring to step into discomfort and lead wholeheartedly in work.

And it’s brilliant.

I read it a while ago when it first came out but reading it again and making notes to guide what I want to get out of the conversation with other leaders at work has been really helpful.

Here are my thoughts from what I’ve learnt so far:

What gets in the way of daring leadership

I’ve nodded a resounding ‘yes’ when reading what gets in the way of developing potential in others and in the work we do:

  1. Avoiding tough conversations – choosing comfort instead
  2. Not addressing fears and feelings
  3. Lack of empathy
  4. Fear of failure and perfectionism, which stunts creativity and risk
  5. Getting stuck and defined by failure, setbacks and disappointment
  6. Too much shame and blame, not enough accountability and learning
  7. Moving to fix stuff instead of staying with the problem to really learn about it

Whose opinion matters

Through what I’ve read to date, I’ve considered whose opinion of me matters in my work and have been reminded of how often I’ve been swayed by naysayers who sit back and criticise whilst avoiding involvement in imperfect, messy work that has the risk of failure. I feel lucky to have people in my organisation who I respect and trust – who will stand alongside me and give me honest feedback to help me on my path.

What quotes have resonated with me?

I’ve loved so much of what I’ve read – the book is now littered with underlines and highlights. Some of the words I’ve especially loved are below:

“Vulnerability isn’t winning or losing. It’s having the courage to show up when you can’t control the outcome.”

“Great leaders make tough ‘people decisions’ and are tender in implementing them, giving people a way out with dignity.” 

I’ve wondered whether the processes organisations have in place to ensure a consistent approach to how people are treated takes away the humanity in things such as the management of poor performance or how redundancies take place.

“If you believe people are doing their best, you sometimes can no longer know how to lead them. The strategies of pushing and grinding the same issues must give way to the difficult tasks of teaching the team, reassessing their skills gaps, reassigning them or letting them go.”

Shame

A whole chapter of the book is dedicated to how shame manifests at work.

Many of the areas where shame manifests – not getting a promotion, being demoted, public belittling by a superior at work – aren’t experiences I’ve had. But I did spot one source of shame that I think is particularly rife at the moment and that I’ve had experience of during this period of pandemic:

“Shame is seeing things change so quickly and not knowing how and where I can contribute. The fear of being irrelevant can be a huge shame trigger.” 

I’ve been thinking where this shame shows up in me – a lot of self-talk about not being a ‘good enough’ leader or not knowing how to contribute in a meaningful way to make things better – and I’m sure this is showing up in others right now.

So if you feel this way, you’re not alone. And you don’t have to hustle for worthiness, trying to be more than you are. Yes, strive for being helpful, but your innate worthiness as a human being isn’t solely down to you being the most helpful or saving the world through covid-19.

Values

One part of the book that I’m struggling with a bit is around values.

I’ve had my share of working with values over the years – at most, I’ve seen them as something used as a measurement (i.e. you get to go on this leadership development programme because you’ve shown that you are accountable and you challenge the status quo!) and at worst they are words used that get put on marketing packs and are miles away from the experience of people working within the organisation.

If I’m honest, I don’t like them.

But this isn’t what I’m struggling with – the book is in agreement with my dislike for these measurements and Brené says that only 10% of companies she’s worked with have measurable values that are used to train employees and hold them accountable. And without this, they’re really just empty words that serve no purpose and can actually do more harm than good.

I like, instead, the concept of getting clear about individual values – what are important values that can guide us as individuals in becoming brave leaders.

In the book, there’s a list of values (I got this sheet from the Dare to Lead Resource Hub in case you’d like to use it) and you’re guided to select the two values that are the most important to you. 

Not the values you’ve been taught you should have or the values that others have taught, but the ones that define you and who you are at your best.

Mine are faithfulness – to myself, the parts of myself that I value, the issues I hold as important, to those I love – and growth – ever deepening my knowledge and experiences, like a tree reaching high and taking root low.

It’s taken me so long to find these words – it was so hard to do, because for years my natural inclination was to self-protect and so I took decisions based on what I thought others would want of me. And I channeled my growth into what I thought I should become, not what made my heart sing.

But these feel right, they feel like my words.

What the book then guides you to do is to define three or four behaviours that define these values and some slippery behaviours we’re tempted to do even though they go against our values. So here is my starter for 10:

Behaviour 1: Faithfulness

Three behaviours that support this value:

  1. Choose courage – putting myself out there – over comfort
  2. Lean into conflict and stay curious
  3. It don’t make it my job to make others more comfortable or be liked by everyone

Three slippery behaviours I find myself doing:

  1. Taking decision out of shame – thinking that I’m not enough (and trying to make up for it) or am too much (so trying to not show myself as I truly am)
  2. Choosing a shallow belonging – “you agree with me, I accept you” over the possibility of a deeper belonging “I see you and accept you for all you are”
  3. Unkind self-talk

Behaviour 2: Growth

Three behaviours that support this value:

  1. Healthy striving – wanting to explore up, down and out over following a set path
  2. Knowing this is my journey to take at my own pace – honouring my individual path instead of comparing it to others
  3. Lean into my growing edge

Three slippery behaviours I find myself doing:

  1. Fear of not belonging closes of avenues of exploration or deviant views I might hold
  2. Wanting to ‘be right’ instead of ‘get it right’ means I don’t ask beginners questions or stay curious
  3. Avoiding the discomfort of not knowing or not having an answer

It’s been really interesting to consider my values and to think more about what they might mean for me.

By being really clear about what they look like, I feel better equipped to live by them.

It was useful to hear Brené’s thoughts about how it feels to be living into her values – it’s less of an exciting flash of brilliance of living an epic life totally aligned to the values, but more like “quiet moments when I feel strong and solid.” 

I can relate to that.


So there are my thoughts of what I’ve currently read – I’ve really enjoyed and got a lot out of it and I hope you’ve learnt a thing or two from what I’ve shared.

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It’s a marathon

Over the past three weeks while we’ve been in a covid-19 lockdown, I’ve seen incredible reactions from organisations and individuals, helping those most in need to get through this period of time.

Informal groups have formed on streets to look out for each other, people have stepped into new roles where needed to fill gaps, people have stayed indoors during this glorious period of sunshine to protect others and individuals have burned the midnight oil, working well into the night and into weekends to sort out the logistics of changes to services and the volume of work that needs to be done.

I’ve started working shifts at a crematorium that is part of my organisation because they need to increase capacity (a sad but necessary task so we can support people to say goodbye to their loved ones in a dignified and meaningful way) and have been working to support the work being done to link up volunteers with those in the community who are vulnerable and in need of help.

And I’m working on some resilience support for people within my organisation.

And am at home with a two year old a lot more than I have been in the past.

It seems to me that we need to shift from ‘sprint’ mode to getting into a marathon stride. One that is slower paced, but necessary to not burn out.

It’s needed if we’re to accept that we’ll probably be living this altered reality for some time yet to come in order to protect our health system from being inundated with sick people and to protect ourselves and our communities from covid-19.

So here is what I’m doing to keep my marathon stride:

Keep some sort of routine

Life seems more manageable if I’ve got some sort of routine in it. And that’s fairly easy to do because of childcare and work…but it’s been a bit challenging around the Easter weekend when we would usually be going out with friends or having lots of plans for how we’ll use our time.

So we’ve had discussions each day about what the bank holiday would have in store for us.

Usually some form of exercise outside – a hike or bike ride, a film in the afternoon, the games or activities planned for the day (I’d highly recommend playdough pictionary!) and an idea about dinner, whether that was a BBQ in the back garden or a pizza night, which we’re looking forward to this evening.

With a toddler who has the need for attention, routine has been helpful to not go crazy and to feel like we could carry on with this, even if it was for a few more weeks, months or longer.

Take care of the basics

I’ve been making sure to take care of the basic things that make me function well. The boring stuff, like getting enough sleep, exercising, not just eating trash (Easter Eggs aside), meditating, blogging…

Someone in my team sent this around in our team Whatsapp and it sums up how I’m trying to live through this time – remembering that it’s the normal self-care practices that enable me to make the difference and not go into meltdown.

WhatsApp Image 2020-04-09 at 08.40.05

Find ways to get my ‘time out’

If you know me well, you’ll know that there’s nothing more that I like to do than go to a cafe and spend hours there – reading, writing, eating cake and drinking coffee.

And while it’s an easy sacrifice to no longer get this time outside, I still have the need for space by myself – the main reason for my cafe addiction.

And so I’ve created my own comfy space, where all my trinkets are now stored and where I can keep all the books I want to read. I’m currently sat in this little cosy corner – tap, tap, tapping away on my laptop in happy solitude.

And I’m keeping my ‘alone time’ routine – spending the Thursday evenings I’d usually be by myself off parenting duty – in my chair in happy solitude. WhatsApp Image 2020-04-04 at 18.10.36

Acknowledge what I am doing

At the start of lockdown, I felt hopeless. ‘I’m not doing enough’ was the story I was telling myself. ‘I should be taking more of a leadership role at work’ was another of the stories floating around in my head.

But I was doing all I could – in work and outside of work.

I wasn’t perfect, I could have perhaps done more, but I did what I could.

So I want to say the same thing to you –

  • If you’re a key worker, going out still, you are doing your bit.
  • If you are staying inside and socially distancing when you’d really love to go out, you are also doing your bit.
  • If you are phoning up friends and family to make sure they’re ok, you are doing your bit.

Now is not the time to be unkind to yourself about your shortcomings. Now is the time to acknowledge all that you are doing for yourself and others.

Finding gratitude

For all the fear and uncertainty that covid-19 is bringing, there are also things to be grateful for. Finding them has been key to keeping my mental health as well as it is.

I feel grateful that I’ve kept my health and that most of those around me have stayed healthy and well too.

I’ve also felt grateful for the simple things that are having so much more meaning to me now, exercise outside once a day – a jog has never been more of a treat than it is now – the sunshine we’ve had this weekend, time saved not commuting to work that I can spend having a longer lunch break to do said jogging or to spend time reading.

Before covid-19, my time was mostly allocated – weekends had things booked in, evenings were busy for two months ahead. And I’ve been grateful that this has stopped and I’ve had time to breathe and be still. To live a simpler life co-parenting and enjoying less plans and more living in the present moment.


So here are some of my thoughts about staying sane during this time and getting into the stride of a longer period of isolation.

I hope some of my words have been useful to you and give you inspiration of what you can do to look after yourself.

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