Time goes by…

If you knew you only had a limited time left, how would you spend it?   I’ve had a bit of a contemplative week, following the death of a neighbor and the serious illness of another friend.   None of us know what’s round the next corner yet I’m conscious that I, for one, can drift through life in a rather blasé and unthinking assumption that “some day” or “one day” I’ll get round to something.


To quote the inspirational picture I’ve seen on the internet, there are 7 days in a week and “some day” and “one day” are not among them!


So what gets in the way?   Not television in my case, as I don’t have one (long story).   But even allowing for internet time, I can spend a lot of time “pottering”, which is pleasant in its own way but not exactly going to help me learn another language, write a book or find a place on a PhD programme.   I have found changing my surroundings can help, going to the university library to work or study, or down to a Costa Coffee, just for some thinking time without the distractions of the house.


Journaling has helped me process my thoughts and come up with ideas.   The act of writing down or telling someone else what’s on your mind really does seem to help in finding my own solutions, I guess that’s why the Samaritans have helped so many people find their answers to far more significant problems in their lives using that approach.


In other news, here is a picture of the snow leopard cubs at Lakeland Wildlife Oasis, out and enjoying the good weather last weekend!




I’m speaking at a school tomorrow, talking about my “day job” and how young people thinking about a career in the same area might progress towards it.   I’d prepared slides with the academic requirements and ideas of the sort of roles available.   I’d also prepared a slide with ideas for gaining experience, firstly to see if this really is a career they want to pursue, and secondly and to begin to acquire skills and knowledge of the area.


I did wonder how to put across to them though the intangibles that go into finding work you love.   It’s also day 7 of Celestine’s Positive Affirmation Challenge (http://personalexcellence.co) and the theme is opportunity-“I can find or make opportunities and make things happen”.


For example, in my line of work, you have to spend 2 years in a training role, under the direction of a qualified practitioner.   I was ready to begin training during the last large recession, around 1992, and these were not easy roles to find then, as now.   So I went to a local practitioner on “work experience”.   I sent in my CV, pestered them by telephone and agreed I would spend 2 weeks without pay in the summer, helping them out and learning things.   And I just never left.   I kept working and kept quiet and finally they agreed to pay me (possibly through guilt!) and 3 months after I started my work experience, I was given a formal traineeship, which let me begin my career.


I was lucky in that I was able to support myself and live with my parents through the 3 months that I wasn’t paid.   I viewed it as my opportunity to get my foot in the door, or as valuable experience for somewhere else.   But how does a young person without that support manage?   The world is different now.   Is t still possible to find or create opportunities?


I think it is.   Sometimes maybe by the more indirect route-rather than focus wholly on one way to a goal, be prepared to consider different paths.   At the moment I am trying to find a PhD placement but accept that a fully funded placement for 3 years is going to be hard to find.   So I am considering studying over 5 years and working part-time to fund my own living expenses.   Back at the start of my career, I accept I would have had the fixed mindset “I must find a grant and do it in 3 years” but now I’m old enough to accept that the ideal isn’t always possible.   It doesn’t mean that the whole thing isn’t possible though.


One of my mother’s favourite sayings is that we each make our own luck.   She doesn’t actually believe in luck, she believes in working hard, taking opportunities and making the most of them.


So tomorrow I hope to encourage the young people I meet to look for and take opportunities, however far off the beaten track they may seem.   Who knows where they may take us and the unexpected treasures we may find there.

Attitude of Gratitude

Day 5 of the Positive Affirmation Challenge from Personal Excellence (http://personalexcellence.co) is all about gratitude.


“I am grateful for everything in my life”.


Despite the complaining which I certainly indulge in, as do others I come across, I am conscious of just how much I have to be grateful for.


So it rains a lot in Britain.   It may throw the schedule at Wimbledon or cricket grounds.   But switch on the news to see rains which destroy homes and communities over the world.   Public transport could be better.   Try using it in many developing nations, as I have, and you begin to appreciate the comfortable conditions and relatively short journeys to get anywhere.


I’ve worked at a nursery school in Kenya where the toilet was literally a hole in the ground and visited a rural school in India where children were taught with very few resources.   Everyday I have clean water, books and access to the internet, yet I’ll still curse the connection speed.   I’ve been driven through the downtown Cairo traffic on a Saturday evening yet I complain to myself about having to wait a few minutes at traffic lights at the end of my road.


Living in the moment of complaint without taking a step back to consider the bigger picture is something I could certainly do to overcome.   I am conscious that when I complain I am reacting to the world not being quite as I would like it at that moment, when the reality is the world is mostly the way I like it, most of the time.   I have health, freedom of choice and the benefits of living in a small, caring community.


If I ditch the complaining, I can focus on what I can progress and what I can be thankful for.   I can focus on taking action against the things that are totally justified as matters of complaint-the real poverty, violence, discrimination and lack of opportunity still present throughout the world.   I can move from a negative and inward looking position, to one that is open and flexible enough to move forward.

The obstacle course…

On day 4 of Celestine’s Positive Affirmation challenge on the Personal Excellence blog, and the immediate obstacle I had to overcome was writing this post in the first place.   I had a busy day at work, I had my goddaughter’s school play to go and see, it was late before I got home…how can I possibly be inspired to write??


Simples.   Sit at the computer and start typing.   Let out the immediate worries and concerns onto the page and then more thoughts start to flow out.   I know this would happen if I just sat down but I didn’t.   Too much effort, far too big an obstacle…


“I have the power to overcome any obstacle that stands in my way”.


I’m happy to admit that my most challenging obstacles are made by me.   I decide I can’t and therefore I don’t.   Even when there is a certain amount of third party involvement, for example in trying to obtain a place to study for a PhD, if I decide I can’t and don’t make the effort, then back to the old self-fulfilling prophecies again.   If I don’t contact the academics to discuss their programmes, research funding, sit down and write a proposal then quite simply the obstacle is definitely going to remain right where it is.


I have to accept that even with the work, I may not obtain a place straightaway, due to the constraints of others, but consider the benefits of doing the work.   I have knowledge for the next application round.   I have contacts. I have ideas of how I could improve or focus my proposal.   I may have more insight into what it is I want to research and whether it’s really what I want to do.   The obstacle may move in the future or I may find my way around it, or through it.


One of the benefits I have found from following Celestine’s challenge, and blogging about it, is the opportunity it has provided for me to really examine my thoughts and behavior in response to each day’s affirmation.   Yes, rather than decide I was far to busy to think about these things and therefore contemplate what I might rather ignore, I sit myself down and type away.   Progress isn’t made without a plan and insight, and this has been a useful way of focusing on how I would like to develop in terms of my learning and skills, and what I need to do to move in that direction.


This is an interesting article on a similar theme by Laura Vanderkam, which appeared on her website yesterday.




Also, Tiny Buddha published this article by Deborah Shelby today.




From Believing It To Achieving It

This is day 3 of Celestine’s Positive Affirmation Challenge (http://personalexcellence.co/blog/affirmation-day-3-ability/) and today’s affirmation is a variant on one I’ve always had some difficulty with.


Can I really achieve anything I want if I set my heart on it?   How about my childhood dream of being an astronaut?   The reality is-no!   Britain does not have a manned space programme, I’m over 40 years of age and I don’t have the many skills or qualifications that those fortunate enough and brave enough to have made the journey into space possess.


It’s also something upon which I’ve read some criticism.   Just telling yourself you are rich, you are thin, you are successful does not make it so, however much you decide to believe it in your heart.   This, as Celestine points out, is not the purpose of affirmations.   Just saying words isn’t enough, I would have the same results as if I were to recite nursery rhymes to myself (although I have been known to recite the Rudyard Kipling poem “If” to myself when facing a difficult situation, to help me focus- http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/if/ ).   You also have to do the work-set your goal, believe in your own mind that you can achieve it and then do something about it.   Make a plan and actually implement it, facing the difficulties and carrying on even when all you want to do is give up.


Where this affirmation helps however is reminding me to tell myself the truth.   I am someone who values integrity and that should include what I tell myself.   The example I gave yesterday of my desire to learn a language, quite simply I have told myself that I can’t.   Is that true?   No.   I have not been prepared to spend the time and effort needed to learn, to keep going in the face of difficulty and to keep practicing.   I won’t, rather than I can’t.


When I say “I am going to be an astronaut” I know I am lying to myself.   But when I say “I am able to learn French by studying a little every day, even when I find it hard I will remind myself that I have done and learnt many difficult things in the past”, that is both true and positive.


Setting your heart on something means also setting your brain, your hands and your efforts onto the work involved.   It means honesty with yourself.   This is perhaps why I find this affirmation so difficult, I know in my own mind what is possible and also how much work and effort it will take to bring that possibility to fruition.   But I also know how much it would mean to me and the worth of that goal to me, and only I can decide if that is worth the work involved.


I read the following insightful piece by Dr Suzanne Gelb, which was published today on the Tiny Buddha website, she makes the point about honesty with ourselves far better than I ever could.


Celestine’s Personal Excellence site has a lot of useful material on setting and achieving goals, and getting past our limiting beliefs about our abilities, worth having a read.

Unconditional Love

In the C.S. Lewis book, “Voyage of the Dawn Treader”, Lucy uses a magic spell to look like her older sister, Susan, Lucy’s idea of the epitome of beauty.   But when shown the vision of her life under the spell, Lucy has ceased to exist for her family.   The sage lion Aslan explains to her that in trying to be someone other than herself, she ceases to exist.


To be someone other than yourself has a long history, whether through art or through more modern desires to change appearance or thoughts.   Greater consciousness of who “we” are and why we are here is a laudable goal, attempting to totally change the “who” and “why” for external reasons takes us right back to the consequences of Lucy’s spell, as well as being unlikely to lead to a healthy outcome.


Spending time in galleries, looking at the paintings of the royal and wealthy going back over the centuries, they clearly did not show up for the sittings in “this old thing”.   There was probably also some degree of artistic licence to improve the appearance of the sitters-Tudor and Elizabethan Britain was a time of widespread disease, poor quality food and water, and even poorer medicine.   The sitters more manifest imperfections could be smoothed over.   It is said that Henry VIII rejected his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, when he finally met her in person, having been given a somewhat unrealistic impression of her beauty from a portrait sent to him.


Why?   Because the portrait was the sitter’s statement to the world.   I am wealthy enough to have these clothes and possessions, and to be well-nourished.   I am powerful enough to have these chains of office and this jewelry.   I am blessed and I meet the conventions of appearance for my era.   Is this actually any different from now?   Except we can capture an image at the click of a button and circulate it around the world in a moment.   But still, feeling we have to change to measure up doesn’t seem to have gone away.


Day 2 of Celestine’s Affirmations Challenge is “I love myself unconditionally”.   I find it heartbreaking to see and read of those who cannot accept themselves as they are because an external voice or movement or belief tells them they cannot, should not, must not.   Yet how many succumb to these thoughts?


A slower start to the day makes me lazy and unproductive.   A school career spent struggling with French grammar means that I am absolutely never going to be able to learn another language.   Yet as soon as I tell myself this, it’s immediately a self-fulfilling prophecy.   I am lazy and unproductive-so pass me the biscuits and kittens on Youtube, here I come.   I will never learn a foreign language, so as soon as an irregular verb rears its head, put the Rosetta Stone book down and retreat.


But what about those with bigger yet unfounded beliefs about their worth, their skills, their looks?   Their own fears and loathing magnified through comparison, retreating from opportunity, fulfillment and the rich tapestry of life.   Heartbreaking.


My own response to day 2 is relatively straightforward.  I can choose my pace for my own day, I am not scared to persevere in learning anything I choose.   Like any human being, my value and dignity are innate, not something to be given from outside, depending on my view of how I’ve spent my time or whether I can negotiate a discount in Russian.


But isn’t it also important to offer encouragement to those who struggle, who can’t see their own worth and dignity?   Human to human, it’s both decent behavior and an uplifting thing.