Tag Archives: having it all

The Power of One

I am outing myself as an Only Child. Not only an Only, but also dual nationality and on the easy end of the autistic spectrum with synaesthesia thrown in for good measure. Good grief, I am even professionally interested in myself.

 

There are tensions and delights to be had from all the above. I am Irish/English, and until I started school at a convent where I lived in London I had thought I lived in Wexford with trips to Dublin. I only ever met Irish people and they only ever talked about Irish things. My streets were Irish streets filled with Irish people and Irish papers. We visited Ireland many times and it was where Family was and where Family happened. Good stuff was there. So………slowly realising we lived in London and I was a little bit English was a bit of a moment. And the accent! Well, that was finally knocked out of me once I hit Grammar School in the Shires. As a bright pupil I was lucky enough to have earned a proper education for which I am grateful, but no room for diversity back then! Conform or suffer, the stuff of Grammar and Boarding Schools throughout the  Counties back in the day, and I am not sure it has changed much.  I chose not to suffer. Well, not too much……….

That flaccid grip on national identity has an upside. As an Only I am not a natural joiner, I stand back and evaluate, I overthink, buying into something is not an easy gig for an Only and that apartness, the sense of being outside, brings strength as well as missed opportunities: strength to say no, to weigh up friendships ruthlessly, to maintain integrity and authenticity even at the expense of relationships or career choices – to maintain rightness. Juggling the Irish English that is deep inside is made easier by the lack of joinership – without that need to be within, to join, there is less of a sense of loss of identity as the roots are not firm but swim and sway back and forth under the connecting Sea. The downside is the crushing disappointment that can be had if what one has bought into is revealed to be corrupt or decayed. Childish disappointment in an adult can be corrosive. And that smug integrity can mean an intolerance for others who disappoint, personally and professionally. But, topically, this background makes it easier to understand current cultural issues: amidst the multitude of “communities” that take root around the UK many individuals claim to be ignorant of some of the dreadful things some people within those communities plan and commit. Nonsense. An entire community that can maintain its identity so precisely within another host community does so only by knowing what is happening within and either supporting it or allowing it and by controlling its members. I do not believe those protestations of innocence that are paraded on the tellybox when an atrocity happens. They are not credible. I was on the verge of radicalisation myself – although of course we didn’t know what that meant then –  as a young girl with family members in Sinn Fein when the IRA was casually sold to us as a romantic and necessary part of our culture. My apartness saved me then, and I am grateful for it.

I was “home” recently in Enniscorthy. Travelling alone allowed me to reflect as much as I needed to: I went to see family and friends, spent time simply watching and hearing the Slaney and listening to the birds and the horses, soaked up the familiarity of the places and enjoyed the simaltaneous detachment that is in the DNA of an Only. I watched and listened – something Onlys do a lot. My synaesthesia means that listening is an often joyful and often inadvertent experience, as well as sometimes complex and distracting. The sound of the horses hooves on the turf became a very visual experience for me, the birdsong I enjoy every morning provides a colourful backdrop to activity. I can be surprised by a visual experience from an unexpected sound or some music that I had not expected to hear – delightful, if a little unnerving at times! And Ireland has the best beach on the planet in Curracloe, and I spent time there too. My children all had their first experience of sand there as babies, deliberately.  Saving Private Ryan was filmed there. The fine pale sandy beach is in surroundsound and stretches away right and left fringed by the magnificent dunes and rushes, and the ocean, with its mauves and greens and blues rolls away to the horizon where everything surely falls off and magically glides back home………It fills the vision and the senses and recalibrates everything within a few short breaths.

I also spent some time at my parents grave. No comfort there, I thought, just pain and grief. I was on the verge of an internal meltdown as I sat on the edge of the grave and ran my fingers through the pebbles and stones covering what remains of my parents. And then, a tiny dog appeared from nowhere. Genuinely, I was sitting in the centre of the graveyard and the dog had not been visible, and then he was, and he made a fuss of me and insisted on sitting on my lap and I had no option but to fuss him and talk to him. And slowly the world righted itself again and things came back into focus. Job done, he ambled off, only to return magically just as I was about to leave, insisting on a final fuss and chat. Small wonders make ones day. And as a wise friend said, The universe can be a calm and comforting place , the gentleness of its messengers can heal and support in the most unexpected ways.

So, in a circular way, we are back at Integrity and Rightness. A part of grief grows directly out of regrets: regrets for things done and not done, for mistakes that can never, now, be put right, conversations that can never, now, be had, and love that can no longer be shared or spoken.  However we treasure our integrity – my integrity – it will always fail somehow. And that is because we are all flawed and broken to some extent and we will forget to do things, or will choose activity that we later regret. And sitting there next to the place my parents now share as they shared so many years together before that, I started to understand it better. In the end we are all alone with our grief and our regrets as well as with our triumphs and achievements.

I feel grateful that things conspired to make me aware very early on of the Power of One. It made me a better leader and a worse follower, oddly both non-judgemental but also intolerant of hypocrisy, created in me an over-thinker but thoughtfully balanced that with a resilience and drive that has led me along a fabulously interesting and rewarding pathway. Not an easy companion but I hope a rewarding one for those who choose to be close to me, and I cherish those who choose to be so. Celebrating your own Power of One and connecting with that solitude that nourishes, you will discover the strength within. Trust me, I am an Only!

 

 

 

 

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Diabetes, then…..tch!

You have probably not been wondering where I have been as you have better things to do. After regular blogging there has been a pause, a whistling  tumbleweed silence unfilled by words or thoughts. I have missed you, though.

Like many women of what used to be called “a certain age” but is now called the New Forty I have discovered that  I am not a grumpy tired old bat, but that I have diabetes with a side order of thyroid malfunction and some yummy cholesterol. Well, ok, I am also a grumpy old bat, but I now have a lovely ready made off the shelf excuse for it and I’m not afraid to use it. With a vivid memory of the PMT I used to suffer, or rather my Old Man used to suffer, pre-menopause (men, look away now) I put the  recent irritability and low moods down to being a woman. Call myself a Feminist?! I should be ashamed, bringing dishonour on the lovely bright green dungarees I used to proudly wear in the 70s, with the universal Feminist sign all over the front. In case the short hair, dungarees, free-flow pit-hair and  belligerent attitude didn’t give it away.

So, the low moods, exhaustion and annoyance are the result of diabetes. Another confession: I used to be a nurse (technically I still am, which is scary), and I still don’t understand diabetes. I tried to convince the diabetes nurse that my blood sugar was raised because I have honey for breakfast and that the dizziness, fatigue and biting the heads off small children was probably because the Old Man was annoying. Which is true. But it wasn’t the reason that getting out of bed in the mornings was becoming less of a pleasure. I am a natural early riser, every morning, around 04.00 or 05.00 at the latest, up and at ’em, starting the day with meditation, focus, honey (of course) and tea – I love the start of the day. But in the last few months my mind has continued on the same plane but my body has been dragging behind whispering ” do we have to do this….?” and generally loafing around making my mind think twice. And when I was first identified as diabetic I dived straight into denial, taking to it like an old hand: it wasn’t diabetes because I eat properly/don’t smoke/it can’t be/I haven’t time for this. I thought that I could eat my way away from diabetes. Partly true, but a little optimistic I think. I think I thought I might grow out of it, like acne………

So on the whole I made a nuisance of myself avoiding the inevitable, bobbing and weaving to miss the headlines and warning signs, finding plenty of sand in which to bury my head and making a pain of myself.

Running alongside the diabetes was a serious dip in confidence. Hitting fifty (and the rest) can be a shock to the system, especially if the usual things all happen at once – and I can almost hear the rumble of agreement from other “New Forties” out there as you anticipate what I am going to say. My parents both died within a couple of years of each other (horrible circumstances, for another blog), I became disabled enough to need a blue badge, and the kids started leaving home/having babies/getting married/being grown up. And I continued to run the business and work hard. I wasn’t about to let grief, disability and pain, and the empty nest stop me! Oh no, because I am Superwoman, hear me roar.

Except I didn’t roar, I shrieked, snapped, snarled and moaned. I lost the ability to step away and see the bigger picture, and my assertiveness began to drip out of me and stain the carpet. I am used to achieving and have high expectations of myself, not unrealistically.  I know what I am doing and that bigger picture is what informs me. I always think my work is like being the conductor of several orchestras – the job is to lead, to show the tempo and understand the destination, and to make sure all the component parts get there at the right time and that any improv enhances the show. The energy and thrust needed for the business gives me energy, feeds me, and gives me purpose. And when all of those other things, those Life Events, converged, I lost the Kerpow Whoomph. I no longer really knew if  knew what I was doing even though I thought I knew that I did, I wasn’t sure. If you see what I mean! Where once I would have known with certainty when something was actually mine and the buck stopped at my feet, and when it wasn’t and that buck needed to be re-directed, I suddenly found it harder to tell, and started to think it was indeed all my fault, that I was wrong, it was me, and that I didn’t know anything. I think it is fair to say I was confused. But confused on the inside. My Fellow New Forties,  you know what it’s like – you are the one in the middle holding it all together. You have the reins, the strings and the plug that could be pulled and let it all swirl away, so you can’t let it go. So I didn’t, and the music played on. But I did shut down for a while, which is why I haven’t been here for a few months. It took all my energy to keep the plates spinning and I didn’t have any left over for Life.

So……..now I am diabetic and proud! I remember when I first became disabled, and I kept thinking “when this gets better I will get the bike out again” until gradually (d’oh!) it dawned on me that this was as good as it got and I was disabled. Diabetes received the same treatment. I have now reached acceptance and along with it the ability to take the advice and the pills, and I am living again. Maybe next time I have a Life Event you will be kind enough to send me a copy of this blog post so that I don’t waste too much time on denial and faffing. And, a bit like the Walking Stick club that I inadvertently joined – that band of walking stickers who with a nod and a smile, and a comment about the stick, offer unity and solidarity in disability – I have found a new club of diabetics that I hadn’t known existed. The more impaired I become, the more clubs I seem to be invited to join…….Happy Days!

Did You Marry A Coffee Table?

You marry someone mostly because you love them – they appeal to you, look good, fit with your tastes and lifestyle –  you want them. Much the same reasons you used when buying a coffee table. You know where they will fit into your home, your style, your image and your dreams.

Once that coffee table is in place, though, if it is a quality table, a good one, one that needs little attention other than the odd wipe or squeeze, doesn’t need to be moved about too much because it fits where it is, perfectly, you probably don’t pay it much attention. It fits it, looks good, gives you pleasure just being there, does what you expect it to do, doesn’t have any features that require repair, and no bits drop off.

After a while – sometimes a long while – you might notice almost by accident that it looks a bit faded. Perhaps it has started to peel, isn’t as shiny, has lost its gloss.  Perhaps it doesn’t fit in quite so well with the rest of your lifestyle – you look at it more closely. The rest of the room has moved on, the walls are a new colour, the floorboards have a new varnish, your tastes have changed a little. What were you thinking when you bought that chintz sofa way back? Chintz? Who does chintz any more? Thank goodness you replaced it with that handsome new brightly coloured modern sofa! Where does this quality but old coffee table fit these days? It has stood where it is for the longest time, has held your coffee cups and plates, your pretentious coffee table books, had stains wiped up, has tolerated the dogs using it as a back scratcher and the cats using it to sharpen their claws, has supported the babies when they cruised the furniture as they became more independent, has blended in with the various morphs of your home, has never mentioned those times when you dumped rubbish on it or kicked it in temper, and has never complained or asked for anything. It was just there, doing what it was expected to do, strong and dignified. Durable.

You take a long look at your table. You can’t remember what it was that you liked about it way back then, can you? Has it always had those great big feet? When did it develop that slight list to one side? Did it really look like this when you brought it home? At what point did it begin to look out of place in your house and start to chip? What to do? It obviously doesn’t fit in any more – it is shabby and too old, it needs repair and looks damaged. Those cups and plates you kept leaving on it have left their mark and isn’t that a crack where you deliberately threw your bag onto it that day when you were tired and irritable?

Well, if you value quality, enjoy reliability,  value trustworthiness, love steadfastness,  perhaps you need to step back and think. That table has been there throughout all the upheavals, the changes, the fads and fancies, the tempers and the frustrations. It bears the scars of your annoyance, and of your carelessness. It is still strong, still there and still yours. It may not be perfect, it may not be as beautiful as it once was, but isn’t that partly because of you? And isn’t imperfection also part of its charm? If it were perfect, perhaps you would also need to try to be perfect, and how would that work out?!

What is it that it needs to be what you want it to be? Some attention? Some loving caresses and nourishment? Some repair and rest? Can you offer it those things? Because if you can, you will be rewarded with a handsome, supportive, reliable, durable, quality table that actually puts your modern new stuff to shame just by being quality and dignified. And administering those remedies could be a joy in itself, part of that healing pathway that you can both savour and enjoy, knowing that when it has finished you both know it will not cease – that you recognise that in fact if you had administered that amount of care in the first place, as a matter of course, there would not be as much damage as there was. True, if the table had been able to tell you it was in need you might have listened; if the table had just once raised a voice to say it was starting to list, starting to deteriorate, you might have heard. But you  might not, and besides, tables don’t talk, and you knew that when you brought it home.  You knew what you had back then, you just forgot over the years.

If you don’t get a move on and give some of that nourishment and care you might find that someone else appreciates the properties in that table that you have forgotten about and finds they have the time and energy to deliver nourishment and affection, and will reap the rewards. If you cast off that table, send it to the second hand shop, or worse, simply allow it to continue to subside, you will have lost a real treasure. And there is little if any possibility that you will replace such a find.

Take another look. Remember. Your old table bears the reminders of happy times and sad times, both of which matter if we are to grow and learn. Nourish what you have and delight in the result.

Life and Business and a Major Thank You……

Going into the New Year I need to offer a Huge Thank You. A Thank You so huge it has its own postcode, so warm you will need to wear sunscreen to carry on reading. I want to thank all the people who have been so marvellous, so warm, and so caring while I was unwell in the last few weeks. Life and Business, eh? Always something to learn……..

My Old Man took me to see the new Bennett at The National on Saturday as a celebration of the fact that I am now able to both go up and down the stairs, and cough without passing a kidney and half a lung. A measure of how ill I was is that we had tickets to see Fiona Shaw at The National in December and I couldn’t go. A measure of my wonderful Old Man is that he chose also not to go. He also chided me very gently, reminding me that it isn’t worth it, for continuing to work as much as I could, doing all the things I was able to do without being seen in public – it was not a good look. I found having a head the size, shape and texture of a football was surprisingly repellant and I found a good use for that spare hooded jacket we have lying around. (It had fallen into dis-use as we were all too scared to use it in case a Tory MP started to hug us.) Given that I also lost my voice and most of my hearing the work I could do was reduced to that which could be done remotely, and that I was glad to do. Those who know me will know that I will be working until I peg out and belong to that merciless club formed for  the Workaholics among us. He was, of course right, but please don’t tell him that!

So, I am now able to get up the stairs to bed – comfortable as the wonderful recliner is, there is no substitute for a bed – and able to speak and hear again. Hurrah! And the most wonderful thing to emerge from the last few weeks is the certain knowledge of who my friends are and who I can trust, who has warmth and humanity within them and who has not. Not a bad lesson to be learned! I am grateful to all of you – you know who you are! – who were kind. I cannot believe, incidentally, that my eldest daughter spontaneously did the huge pile of ironing that had mounted up and which she knew would be bothering me. Ironing!!! Blimey! Thank you!

Given the lessons learned I should fess up and say that the lessons I have learned have not surprised me, they have simply confirmed for me what I really already knew and shone a light on those people I am so lucky to know and lucky to have met. I am a reasonably tough and ruthless woman with a sound and hard business head, but I know that underpinning all the ruthlessness, all the toughness, all the business decisions, there has to be a purpose and a warmth. Without that scaffolding the rest is worthless, its value is brittle and cold. Those of you who follow my posts, and those of you who know me,  will know how much I value the heart of a business, the beating heart that informs the purpose and the ethos of an organisation. You will also know that I view success from a sideways perspective, not solely in terms of P&L (only one of the tangible range of measures of success) as much as in the balance of achievements, the path that is developing, and the ability to survive. Life and Business are not too different (for me they happen to be the same thing….): they both need purpose, a raison d’etre; they both need  planning and effort but also the ability to take an unexpected turn, to field a curve ball, to take a punt; they both need some tough decisions to be taken sometimes; they both benefit from a firm but loving touch. They both need the interactions of the people inside them in order to survive. It is not good enough for a business to exist, it also has to have a reason to exist and a benefit to the communities it touches – that includes the workforce as well as those who use its services and the wider environment. No namby pamby soft centred rubbish here – those who don’t pull their weight need to be managed – but rather a holistic view of business as a force for good and for change. The Big Issue is successful for that reason – Richard Branson is  a man I admire for that reason!

Life is packed with lessons to be learned, adventures to be had, and achievements to be made. Even the hardest, most punishing of experiences is an adventure and an opportunity to learn – often those are the very best opportunities to learn. So, Thank You kind people for re-affirming my already warm and appreciative view of you. And thank you, too, to the others outside of that circle for, well, for the same! A lesson learned is always worth learning!

Happy New Year to all of you. Here’s to more adventures, more lessons, more warmth and more achievements.   Here’s to 2013!

The Accidental Buddhist

How are you doing? Do you sleep well? Do you manage to hold all the boxes in your life inside the one container that is you? It isn’t easy. We all have to find our own pathway to peace.

A few months ago I was casually clicking about, as you do, on the laptop in between doing more meaningful stuff (I bore easily!) and I started to read a blog about Buddhism. To my astonishment I recognised myself. Raised a Catholic, and now a Buddhist. I was a little surprised……….

For a few years I have been doing what I discovered to be meditating – spending time focussing on nothingness and depth, breathing, and looking straight ahead reasonably fearlessly. Re-aligning myself, if you like, every day. I fell into doing this after a turbulent period, a time when I was not sure if I knew who I was or what I wanted to be, if I had any meaning. Very selfish! It took me years to realise that in fact being centred and sorted was the best thing I could do for my family, friends and colleagues.  I accidentally started to meditate while taking a break from paid work some years ago to re-evaluate things. I had come to a full stop and needed to do some real things like painting pictures, writing poems, playing some music. During those activities I found myself lifted into a new place and a new way of thinking and it was apparently and very naturally simply because I was deliberately creating things – I began to think around corners a bit, think not harder but better, with more colours and less white noise. I had to let the colours and words in my head out of their boxes in order to create the things I wanted to – needed to – create. There was no option – it was a simple need. It was accidental. I now make time to do this, often just before sleeping, but sometimes at work, or I pull the car over into a parking space and tap out, and it happens anyway when I am painting or playing music. I make the time. That isn’t always easy either: washing piling up, letters to answer, work to be done, people to see. But the best way for me to manage all that is to make the time for the tapping-out-thing.

Accidents are such a huge part of what we do – the incidental or accidental conversation, the inadvertent over-hearing of a radio programme that chimes with you, meeting someone at a conference or dinner. The excitement of knowing that most of what happens is by virtue of accident is truly liberating! And this from a woman notoriously wedded to GANTTs and action plans, who examines all the What Ifs with a fine toothcomb. Who knew!?

A large part – the largest part –  of my drive at work, before and after my break, has been around respect, dignity, Human Rights, giving a damn. When I began reading – accidentally – about Buddhism I realised that I had been practising the basics of Buddhism for years. Accidentally. I don’t think the diagnosis of Buddhism made a difference to what I was doing, but stumbling across the name for how I live was extraordinary. And I don’t want a cure!

What works for you? How do you re-arrange the shelves in your head so that they fit?

Once your toothbrush dries……..

How many of you are married? In a long term relationship? Remember when you decided to marry/move in/take your toothbrush round? You knew, in that small dark cupboard in the back of your head, that it could all go horribly wrong if you weren’t careful, but it could all go so very right if you were doing the right  thing. It felt right, it smelled right – it felt and smelled damn good if you are honest! Despite a little voice saying “take care”, you were happy, skipping down that path, toothbrush in hand, towards that open door and that embrace.

Ok – your toothbrush was hardly dry when you realised that there were some things you didn’t realise about your other half. Love was in the air, you knew you had made the right choice, but you were becoming aware that some of the things you had been told were less than truthful – some were lies of omission, and some were downright porkies.  But hey, that’s what we do sometimes when we want to impress so you forgive. But as time goes on you discover bigger porkies, more major gaps. You start to get angry and you have rows, shout a bit, let it out a bit. You begin to regret committing.

STOP!

Think about it. Think about the reasons you had for committing – the rush of excitement, the feeling of rightness, the opportunities to do stuff you enjoy (shhh….!!!!). Take  time to reflect on the  face you fell for, the reasons you felt the excitement, the rush of affection. Step away from the disappointment of finding out the flaws, look at the love.

Ok, you will know by now that I am also talking about taking that new job. You were wooed by an organisation who needed you and fell for you too. They put their most attractive side forward to attract you and perhaps were less than honest about the flaws. Weren’t you also a little eager? You fell for the job as well as the organisation, you felt that lurch in your heart for the role, became excited by the opportunities, perhaps you overlooked the clues that might have been there because you wanted it so much……….you have had jobs before, you know the score, you will have noticed the clues, you chose to ignore them in that heady rush towards commitment!

If you care deeply about what you do, if you have high expectations of your professional colleagues, if you buy into the carefully crafted appearance of the organisation, you will feel disappointment when those flaws surface. The extent of your disappointment will depend on two things: the extent of the flaws and whether they are more important than the rewards and the opportunities to achieve. But before you bale, reflect on whether the organisation also cares as much as you do about what you do. If it does, if there is a shared drive, put that anger away, reach out your hand of friendship and support, and walk forwards together towards that shared goal. The flaws  may or may not be repaired, you may or may not regain that first flush of love, but perhaps you may both be stronger for the honesty and the clearer vision.

Feel the love, look with clarity on that face, and try again.

Would Hockney Paint Your Shed?

If, by some fabulously lucky turn of events, David Hockney fetched up on your doorstep and offered to paint you a picture, would you say “no, ta, but the shed needs a lick of taupe, so off you go, son”? I thought not. So why do so many organisations do just that with their people? There is a richness of talent out there sitting in offices being dimmed by the indifference of the organisation, shrinking from the sides of their role for want of a bit of watering. Walk through any organisation and you will see wilting branches, and execs wondering out loud why their workforce is not more motivated. Those same execs may well spend a fortune on motivational exercises or exec training in “Motivation and Modern Man” or some equally painful title, and still wonder why the workforce slips sideways in its chair.

Well, to be blunt, it’s you.

Those wilting shrinking violets will thrive on a conversation, good use of their talents acknowledged and rewarded, and good, solid, old fashioned engagement. You remember, before we all had to grab the latest buzzwords and trends, when we talked to people, took an interest in them as individuals, noticed their talents and enabled them to achieve.

There is little doubt that Hockney, if faced with the blundering disempowerment of having to paint your shed a nice shade of taupe, would find a way to creatively subvert that and create something better. Your teams are probably doing the same in their own way and within the limits you have imposed on them. Free them from those shackles of under-estimation and your own fear of being exposed as having areas of weakness and let them paint their masterpieces and practice their etchings. Nurture and release them and they will come back to you with riches and rewards, smiles and friendship, and a genuine gratitude that no money could ever buy.

The Cure…….

Ok, following the blog yesterday you have noticed your Sick Organisation Syndrome going on. You have flagged it, got a skilled medic in, decided it is worth trying to save, and are trying to  plan the treatment. What next?

Organisations – rooted. remember, in the word Organic! –  are living breathing creatures with many living and breathing creatures inside them who need them to work. Most of them will be people you care about who need their jobs, and who joined the organisation for a reason – whatever that reason was it is worth remembering that there was, at some point, a reason. We like to be proud of where we work – sure, we need the job, but layered onto that are the other reasons like pride in our achievements, status, opportunities to contribute and be valued, basking in the reflected glory of the organisations reputation, working with people who share some of our ideals, enjoying a particular style of leadership, contributing to a Greater Good. Many people working particularly in the Third Sector have chosen the sector for a mashup of those reasons, chopped up with good intentions and a desire to Do Something Worthwhile, with a side order of self interest. All of those are good motivators and salary is the icing on the cake of incentives.

Saving your organisation can mean a couple of things: stripping away the canker and curing the problem from within, or giving it to someone who can. As I noted in my last piece, the medic administering the cure will have to be someone with outstanding and muscular medical skills or someone who has nothing to lose in the trying. This means it can be someone within who understands the underlying issues and the need for prompt and fearless action, or someone from outside who does not depend on the organisation for survival. If you like, in order to keep the organisation alive you can attempt to cure it yourself or you can give it to another medical team to cure and keep.  Keeping it within means there should be a good understanding of the causes and the potential pathways up, enabling takeover means a fresh start with new injections of cash and ideas and a more objective view of the internal toxins. You pays your money………  Either way there is a need for ruthlessness and skill. Those living breathing people huddled inside the failing organisation need to know they are needed and that there is a motorway out leading towards a better future. Without someone in the driving seat who can inspire, value, encourage creativity and share vision it will continue to fail.

Your organisation, however troubled it is right now, has roots and had meaning. If you can find those roots, assert that meaning, and find the right people to treat the disease you are part way to cure and recovery. Next time we will look at the care plan and recovery programme that will follow the treatment and the cure!

Your Start-up – know yourself and succeed!

When we started our Company we knew it had to be based on values and principles. We are not Richard Branson and don’t want to be, although we admire him tremendously. We started our organisation because we believed in better: better quality, better services, better lives. The advice below is very pertinent for companies of all sizes, and especially for those grounded in health and social empowerment. This is the approach we took. We made deliberate decisions about the kind of work we would take, the kind of factors that would lead our decision making, and the limits we would self impose so that we could better manage our work and our priorities.

Adapted from “Four Things to Get Right When Starting a Company” by Bruce Gibney and Ken Howery: “As a start-up gets off the ground, it has a short-lived opportunity to decide how it wants to do business. With each new hire company culture becomes more entrenched and somewhere after two dozen employees, it tends to cement. Establish a set of genuine values before your start-up gets too complex. Articulate a coherent philosophy about who you are and how you will work. Also be clear about who you aren’t and what you won’t do. This will make decisions easier and ultimately improve results. Rather than analyzing each new decision afresh, you’ll have a common foundation from which to make them. If you don’t do this deliberately when your organization is young, the culture will (often rigidly) form itself.”

We knew we wanted to be small, in control, and able to choose who to support, and who to challenge. The rest takes care of itself, once you understand your own drivers and the context of your start-up.

Good Luck with your venture. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

The Family Way

Thank you Nicola Horlick for once suggesting we could have it all. No advice about what to do with it all once we have it, but hey ho, that’s liberation for you.

Cards on the table and no fudging the age thing: I am about to become a grandmother for the first time. I am at an agreeable age for grandmotherhood – not too young so that I have to find excuses for grandchildren and not too old to enjoy a bit of energetic childcare. Of course, my daughter thinks it is all about her, but as all other grandmothers will know  – and as we speak will be nodding wisely – it is about us. I am an incredibly lucky woman. I have a gorgeously  lovely husband, beautiful and diverse children (and the ones who have partners have chosen terrific partners), a great house and a job that I am enjoying to bits, capacity for choices about work and a room of my own which houses my piano, paints and canvases, banjo, books, and other bits and pieces that keep me very nearly sane. It is also right next to the kitchen………. I have a good life. And into that life another life is about to step.

I remember as clearly as if it were last week the births of each of my children. I remember that my Old Man watched the World Champion Athletics on the telly in the labour room as my son was being born, and that in frustration at my pains at one point he grabbed the TENS machine and turned it up to full strength. I can feel the collective winces of all those women who have used TENS. Yes, ladies, I did hit him once I had been peeled off the ceiling. I remember on another labour day the midwife going to fetch a beanbag to support my back thinking Molly wouldn’t be arriving for a while and Molly arriving almost as soon as she had left the room, and my sight taking a brief holiday as my blood pressure hit the roof. I remember my firstborn experience: a patronising junior doctor leaned over me and reminded me sharply that I had “precious cargo” inside me. I told her I had, until that moment, thought it was a bag of f***ing sugar and was grateful to her for pointing out my mistake. I can be a little irritable. (Memo to self: try to remember not to piss off people who are either preparing my food or delivering my care……) And my lastborn – an enormous baby of almost ten pounds who decided to get stuck with her knees around her ears and attempted to arrive bum-first. She was my little Caesarean, as she is fondly known. All different from the word Go, and so different now. I wonder what this first grandchild will be like? So many genes to choose from!

Whichever genes are uppermost, whatever shape, gender, pedigree or colouring my grandchild turns out with, she will have a particular advantage: an extended family who will love her and care for her, and for her Mother and Father, whatever happens – and no mistake, we never know what is going to heppen; a family who will nurture her talents and indulge her fancies,  notice and enjoy her quirks, and cherish her forever. I am reminded today of all those who do not have what we have and in my own fortunate world I regret those lost chances for those lost children. Wherever you are, and however you live, perhaps you could join me in supporting Barnardos  http://www.barnardos.org.uk/   , CAFOD  http://www.cafod.org.uk/ , Fund It (because arts and culture are also important to children) http://www.fundit.ie/browse/ , Save the Children http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/ , the NSPCC http://www.nspcc.org.uk/ , Action for Children http://www.actionforchildren.org.uk/ , Demelza House http://www.demelza.org.uk/home/#,  the Big Issue http://www.bigissue.org.uk/    and UNICEF http://www.unicef.org.uk/UNICEFs-Work/. Please feel free to add some more to this list.

As I grow older I realise that, in almost every aspect, there but for the grace of God (and for those atheists among us, there but for the grace of Circumstance) go I. And you. I have been privileged, genuinely, to work with some of the most vulnerable and abused people in our society, and there is a mere hairs breadth between us. Don’t ever think, as I have heard people say, “I would never allow myself to sink so low”. You simply do not know what you might do given a particular set of circumstances, most of which are not within your control. And most certainly the children who are there have not chosen it.

I “have it all”, and I am grateful. I do moan a little about how to manage “having it all” because it is damned hard work, but I don’t moan much. I know how lucky I am, and I also know that having it all has been my choice. Having a first grandchild on the way, from a dearly loved and cherished daughter and her lovely partner, has reminded me of all that I should value, and of all that is missed by some. It hurts me deeply to know that my own parents, who died within the last few years, will not see Mollys baby, but  it is wonderful that all my In Laws and her fathers family will be here to see her and that she has such a loving and diverse family to join.

As the Big Issue says: a hand up not a hand out.  Supporting organisations who support people to move up and out of their circumstances rather than simply throw money at them, who return the power to where it belongs empowering individuals to regain control of their lives, is the best possible way to return some balance to society and promote success.  We will support and cherish our grandchildren but, as with our kids, we will expect them to work and share the jobs out, to earn what they have and to remember to value it. That way they will be less likely to take it for granted or chuck it away, and will be more able to face the inevitable challenges along the way.

I look forward to meeting our new family member. It matters that while doing so, I also remember others. Loving my babies makes loving other babies so much easier, and not taking action is not an option.

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