Archive for the ‘Personal development’ Category

Is your focus on being busy and important? Or on actually being productive?

January 12, 2015

How busy and important are you?  I’m beginning to think that we live in a culture where we reward ourselves – and others – for being busy and important, rather than being productive.

It’s almost as if the appearance of productivity is more important than productivity itself…and that isn’t useful for the individuals caught in this mindset, or for the organisations for which they work.

Here are 5 familiar scenarios, and what they probably really mean for those involved.

 

“I was in the office until 11 o ‘clock last night!”

I’m sure we’ve all been aware at some point in our careers of ‘presenteeism’, and the bizarre situation that the person to stay in the office the longest gets the most kudos from managers and colleagues.

I used to work with someone years ago who routinely worked for HOURS longer than anyone else in the office, and would tell us all pretty much every single morning what time he’d left the office the night before. He’d also make a point of looking at his watch in an obvious manner when the rest of us left work at a sensible hour.

Was he more productive than the rest of us? Who knows. What I DO know, though, is that he burned himself out and had a breakdown a few short years into his management role.

There are always going to be times when working long hours to meet a deadline might be required. If you find yourself saying this with any degree of frequency though – consider what’s actually going on, and where your focus is.

What people THINK they are saying here is “I work really hard. I sacrifice my free time for the company. I work harder than the rest of you. Look at ME, management – I deserve a bonus!”

Is this what’s actually going on? Or is it actually a matter of  “ I can’t or don’t manage my time so that I can actually leave work at a sensible hour. I’m a martyr to the company. I don’t actually HAVE a life outside work.”

The result is that long term you’re not doing yourself or your company any favours. You’re more likely to make mistakes because you’re tired or – as my colleague did – burn yourself out completely.

 

“I had 900 emails waiting for me when I got back into the office!”

Why is it that having a million emails in our inbox makes us feel important? Do we really believe that every single one demands our attention, and that everyone who sent us a message is waiting with baited breath for us to reply with our words of wisdom?

Sometimes when I’m delivering training programmes, there will be a participant who revels in telling everyone at the first break time how many emails they’ve received since the start of the programme two hours ago.

When I, or anyone else suggests that they could probably ignore some, or get themselves taken off the recipient list for others, we’re met with the response that “they couldn’t possibly do that! What if they missed something important?!”

Actually, if a matter really  IS that important and your immediate response is essential the sender will email again, or text/call you.

Again, if you find yourself saying this, consider whether or not your focus is in the right place.

What people THINK they’re saying is “I am in demand. I am important, and people want my opinion on things. I am popular – look how many people want to get in touch with me!”

It could be that they are indeed in demand. Or it might be that what they actually mean is  “Receiving lots of emails gives me a sense of importance that I don’t get otherwise. It validates me somehow.” Or “I’m afraid of being out of the loop – even if I don’t particularly need to be in the loop.”

 

“I need to be there for my team”

This happens quite a lot on training programmes: someone within the room will make it clear to me as facilitator (and therefore to everyone else in the room) that they are working on something extremely important, and may need to dash out or take a call at any given moment to rush to the aid of their team back in the office.

Again, to be fair, there will always be circumstances in which this is entirely reasonable. There are also times, though, when it’s not, and it’s said for effect.

What people THINK they are saying is “I’m indispensable to my team. They can’t work without me. I’m a manager, don’t you know, and therefore very important!”

To the people in the room, what they’re saying is “I’m more important than you. My work is more important than engaging with you”

Does the team really need them? Or is what they’re really saying  “I need to control my team.” Or “I’m worried that they will do well without me…and not need me” …or “I’ve actually mismanaged my team so that they can’t or won’t work without my direction. I can’t or won’t delegate responsibility”.

 

“I haven’t had a holiday in 10 years!”

Why do some people see sacrificing holiday time as a virtue?! Is working without a break REALLY something to be commended?

Another acquaintance of mine pretty much cancelled Christmas because of what he saw as his work requirements. His I.T. company was (and still is, I believe) working on a new piece of software. I’d bumped into him in mid December and asked what his plans for the festive season were, to which he replied “Oh, we’re working right through – we have to”.

What he THOUGHT he was saying was “I’m dedicated to my work. My groundbreaking work is extremely important”

What he was actually saying (given that he was expecting his team to similarly sacrifice their Christmas holidays and continue with the project) “I’m a slave driver. Cancel Christmas. Just call me Ebenezer Scrooge. Actually, I have no friends and family to celebrate with, so I’m making sure my team don’t enjoy themselves either.”

There is no virtue in pushing yourself (and others) to breaking point – a sensible work life balance is essential for both wellbeing and productivity.

 

“I wish I had the time for stuff like that, but I’m just too busy!”

Last autumn I had collected some sloes from the hedgerows with which to make sloe gin for Christmas, and was offering them to some friends in case they wanted to do the same. One of the group loudly said that she wouldn’t take any because she didn’t have time to make sloe gin. She wished she did, but she just had far too much to do.

Again, I guess what she thought she was saying was ‘I work harder than you. You waste your time with frivolous things, but I have more important and demanding things to attend to.”

She just came across as a little bit patronising. It only takes 20 minutes to make half a dozen bottles of sloe gin, after all. And she was missing out – not only does it not take long to make, it’s quite fun to do and results in a wonderful festive drink that makes a nice gift for others.

One has to question why this person feels the need (fairly consistently) to point out how busy they are, and that they have have more to do than everyone else. Are they looking for respect? For sympathy? It’s hard to tell.

Here’s the thing. EVERYONE is busy…and actually EVERYONE is important in their own way.

To what extent is your focus on how busy and important you appear to everyone else…and to what extent is it on how productive you are?

If it’s the former…what can you do to refocus and make a difference?

Lost your direction? How to get back on the right path…

October 12, 2014

 

I’ve written a few blog posts in the past about hill walking, and how it provides so many metaphors for life.

Today, I’m thinking about being lost – physically and emotionally – and how uncomfortable and frightening that can be.

Earlier in the summer, I took part in a beginners’ course on how to map read and use a compass. Based in the stunning surroundings of the Scottish Highlands, the course not only taught valuable practical skills…yet again it provided yet more parallels with life in general.

We all feel lost sometimes. Here are three thoughts from the hills that may help.

 

 

Lost

 

1) You are NOT lost – you are temporarily unsure of your position

Our lovely instructor Monty made this point at the start of the day: you are NOT lost. You are just temporarily unsure of your position. At some point in the recent past, you DID know where you were: what road you were on, what hill you were climbing, what loch you had just passed.

You might have wondered off that path, deliberately or otherwise, but you are still roughly where you were. In the same country. In the same valley. On the same hill. You are not as clueless as you might imagine.

The same is true of life. To feel lost is a horrible thing. To remind yourself that there was a time when you weren’t lost and you knew where you were, when you were confident and courageous, when you had a sense of purpose and direction – is the first step in getting back there.

Being lost is temporary. You can find your way back.

 

2) Your got here, so you can get back 

It might not feel like it, but if you’ve managed to walk somewhere and become lost (or temporarily unsure of your position), then you CAN get back.

The longer you’ve been wandering around the more challenging it might be, but the fact remains…you got here so you can get back.

You don’t have to resign yourself to being lost forever.

 

3) If you’ve been lost, you can learn not to be next time

One of the reasons that I chose to go on the course was because on a few occasions when I’d been out hill walking, whilst I’d not been completely lost, I’d not been completely certain where I was. Either that or I’d just been hoping that the people around me knew where they were and what they were doing.

Well, sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t.

In life generally, simply following the next person and not really having the skills or mindset to know where you are going is not a great place to be.

Once you’ve been lost and found your way back, reflect on how you got where you got, and how you got back.

Consider what mindset and skills you might want to develop so that you don’t wander too far off your chosen path in the future…or if you do, you can navigate your way back confidently.

 

If you’re feeling a bit stuck about which direction to take, please feel free to contact me about life and career coaching, at annabelle.beckwith@yaraconsulting.com

Stuck in a rut? Lifestyle changes #2: Why are you here?

July 16, 2014

choose your path

A few weeks ago I began this ‘In a rut’ mini series with a few questions around where you are now: that is, where are you actually, as opposed where do you like to tell people you are (or even pretend to yourself that you are).

In this second part of my blog mini series, I’m looking at three factors which play a part in WHY you are here.

 

1) You’ve made (or not made) decisions that have got you here

A while ago I read a book by Larry Winget called ‘Shut up, Stop Whining and Get a Life’ – if that’s not a challenging title, I don’t know what is. One of the key themes that Winget writes about is the fact that we are where we are because of things that we’ve done and decisions that we’ve made.

This might make uncomfortable reading. I read Winget’s book at a difficult point in my life and believe me, I didn’t want to take any accountability for where I was at that point: I wanted to blame anyone and everyone for putting me there.

Before I go on, let me say that I’m NOT saying (and nor is Winget) that anyone is responsible for being the victim of crime or abuse. Clearly that is NOT the case.

What I WOULD say, though, is that we have a choice as to how we respond to our circumstances in order to create better circumstances (or not, as the case may be).

Maya Angelou, the poet, philosopher, activist and generally remarkable human being who died earlier this year overcame the abuse and racism of her difficult childhood to become one of the most influential and respected women of our time.

Model Katie Piper, whose ex-boyfriend disfigured her for life in an acid attack, overcame the physical pain and emotional trauma of what had happened to her and is now a TV personality and a spokesperson for burns victims.

I could go on. The point is that both of them could have given in to misfortune, accepted that their lot in life was not a happy one, and settled into a rut of blaming others for their situation.

Others may have been responsible for these women’s situations…but they took accountability for their lives and chose to move on.

So. What decisions have you made – or shied away from – that have led to you being where you are?

What would you do differently if you could turn the clock back…and what can you do NOW?

 

2) You get something from being where you are

Dr Phil McGraw writes extensively on strategies for life. I was reading one of his books recently and was challenged by the idea that, if you’re not changing a situation that you’re unhappy with, there must be something about that situation that you ARE happy with, and that does something for you in some way.

Like the statement in my first point, this can be hugely challenging, and, if you’re in that situation it can be difficult to figure out what ‘the thing’ is.

By way of example, I used to work with someone who was always complaining that a pet project of his never got the support of the organisation we were working for, never received funding and therefore had never got off the ground.

He was taken aback when one of my team managed to get him the funding he needed, to the extent that he almost tried to talk himself out of the project: it was too late, there still wasn’t enough funding, and so on.

The point was, he seemed to ENJOY being able to moan about not having the funding. It’d be a fantastic project…but THEY wouldn’t let it happen. He could have achieved something…but THEY wouldn’t let him.

With the funding in place, he had lost the ‘they’ he liked to blame.

On a another note, I had a friend who often found herself being asked at work to deliver high profile projects to very tight deadlines. She was great at her job and always delivered.

However, what started to happen more and more often was that other people who hadn’t managed their time properly would turn to her for help at the last minute.

She was becoming stressed and exhausted to the point of making herself ill. And yet…..part of her really liked to be the caped crusader who could fly in at the last minute and save the day.

Think carefully: if you’re not happy about a situation but haven’t don’t anything about it, what is that situation doing for you? 

Are you prepared to lose that ‘thing’ in order to create a better situation?

 

3) You don’t realise you have a choice

This is always a tough one – so many people don’t realise that they have a choice.

OK, so sometimes in life that choice is between a rock and a hard place, but there almost always is a choice, even if that choice is just about deciding on your attitude in response to a situation that’s not of your making.

‘I’ve got no choice’. It’s the voice of defeat. Of dejection. Of giving up.

We’ve all been there and heard that voice from ourselves at some point…but it’s a voice that lies. We have choices. If we’re brave enough to make them.

Where in the past (or even now) are you telling yourself that ‘you have no choice?’

Look again. They are there somewhere. Ask yourself: if you did have choices … what choices would those be?

 

Next time I’ll be looking at ‘what’s your destination’…. join me then!!

Stuck in a Rut? Lifestyle changes #1: Where are you now?

June 11, 2014

Stuck in a Rut

I’ve been doing a lot of corporate work recently on culture change. Companies, it seems, are increasingly realising that ‘the way it is’ doesn’t have to be ‘the way it is’, and that steps can be taken, in time, to turn it into ‘the way you want it to be’…or at least, something close to that.

The whole corporate process has had me thinking about our PERSONAL environment, and the extent to which we accept our circumstances and lifestyle as just the way it is, and the extent to which we can do something about it.

Or, in short, do we recognise when we’re ‘in a rut’ and are we prepared to DO something about it and get out?

This is the first of a three part mini-series where I’ll be looking at ‘Where, Why and What?’ : ‘Where are you now?’, ‘Why are you here?’ And ‘What’s your destination?’

In this first ‘episode’, I’m going to be inviting you to consider where you are now.  And as always, I’m speaking as much to myself as to anyone else here.

 

Where are you now? Actually?

Take a look around. Where are you? I don’t necessarily mean ‘in the office’, ‘in my kitchen’ or whatever, I mean where are you REALLY, in terms of your lifestyle, and is it where you want to be?

It’s actually quite a difficult question to answer, particularly if you bear in mind that you’re not where you tell other people you are…you’re where you actually are.

What do I mean by that? Well, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing your own hype sometimes – maintaining a persona and an image that might not accurately reflect what’s going on in your life.

So…where are you?

 

The ‘boiling frog’

Most of you will have heard the urban myth about the boiling frog.

Rumour has it that if you put a frog in boiling water (don’t try this at home, folks!) it will leap out immediately, as the water’s too hot. However, apparently if you put the frog in a pan of cold water and bring it to the boil the frog will remain in the pan as the water gradually gets hotter, and will eventually boil to death (grim, eh?)

Whether or not this is true is neither here nor there. The point is that so many of us find ourselves like the frog in the gradually warming pan of water – we don’t realise what’s going on until it’s too late. The gradual evolution of a lacklustre lifestyle or poor habit has taken us unawares.

We might wake up one day and think “Hang on, how on earth did I get HERE?”

Or we might not. We might just chunter on, oblivious.

So where are you?

Which aspects of your life are you happy with….and which have you let slip, possibly without realising?

What did you used to enjoy doing, that you don’t do now?

What are you not doing that you know you really SHOULD be doing?

….What excuses are you making for not doing those things?

 

My mum’s a bit deaf…

Bizarre though it is, my mother’s unacknowledged deafness is also relevant here. She’s in her 70s, and although she really IS getting hard of hearing (answering a totally different question to the one that’s been asked, not hearing something until the 3rd or 4th repetition etc etc) she steadfastly refuses to admit that she has a problem.

Claiming that the doctor has told her that she’s fine “as long as people are looking directly at her and speaking clearly” (which I find hard to believe, quite frankly) in her mind, it’s everyone else’s problem: we ought to be speaking louder, more clearly …and my husband ought to do something about his Scottish accent.

There are two things to consider here. The thing is, if my mum had experienced this level of hearing loss overnight, she’d have been worried and addressed the issue.

The fact that it’s happened gradually over the years (not unlike the boiling frog) means that she’s barely recognised the incremental loss of hearing. It’s crept up on her.

The second thing is that according to her, if everyone else modifies their behaviour it would be fine.

Now it has to be said here that she may have a point – maybe it IS everyone else’s problem – we‘re the ones after all who get frustrated at having to repeat things and consistently talk in a voice several decibels louder than normal.

However, the fact is she IS missing out – we see her not taking part in a conversation that she would have taken an active part in in the past, not laughing along with everyone else at a joke, getting upset when her grandchildren give up trying to communicate with her because they know she won’t hear them. We see her, and we wonder WHY she won’t just go and get a hearing aid.

What are you in denial about?

And are you telling yourself that everything’s actually fine, despite evidence to the contrary?

Are you telling yourself that if everyone else would change (and they won’t, by the way), things would be just peachy?

….What factors are you writing off as other people’s fault or problem, when it’s actually YOUR responsibility to address them?

 

“I wasted the weekend”

One of the people on the village pub quiz team I’m part of is a keen hill walker. A few weeks ago he had said he was going to climb a particular mountain. When I asked the following week how his walk had been, he said that he’d not got out of bed early enough, and had ended up “wasting the weekend.”

This ‘waste’ appears to have involved doing a bit of gardening and generally pottering around.

Now, to many of us, that might have appeared a reasonably productive weekend – at least he’d managed to make some headway with the weeding.

However, it wasn’t what he’d planned to do. He was doing something…but not what he wanted.

Lifestyle is as much about what we don’t do as what we do. Wasting a weekend once in a while isn’t a life changing fiasco. But wasting EVERY weekend, and not being mindful about what you’re doing with your time IS. It’s the sort of hidden waste that can catch you unawares.

So…what are YOU wasting? Time? Money? Relationships?

What have you said you’d do that you just haven’t got round to?

Where’s your energy being spent?

…Where, on what, and on whom is it being wasted?

 

Next time we’ll have a look at WHY you’re where you are. Some of the answers might surprise you.

 

 

How to be ready for opportunities that come your way (…and schoolgirl hockey)

February 4, 2013

marr hockey 1

One of the highlights of my Saturday mornings is watching my daughter play hockey in her school team against other local schools.

I was always hopeless at sport as a youngster, so I’m all admiration at the dedication of her and her team-mates in regularly attending practices and turning up week in, week out to play their matches in all weathers. They’re a strong team, and have only lost once so far this season.

Last week, it occurred to me that there were some similarities between what was going on the field … and taking on opportunities elsewhere in life.

 

1) A mindset to create and capitalise on opportunities

The start of each and every game sees every girl joining in their team chant of “M-A- double R: … We’re the best, we know we are, we’re MARR!!!”, followed by a high pitched shriek to drive terror into the very hearts of their opponents.

The point is this: from the very outset, and even in the grimmest of weather conditions (and believe me, in the West of Scotland these can be very grim indeed) each member of the team is determined not only to make the most of every opportunity that comes their way …. but to CREATE opportunities to win.

Do YOU sit waiting for things to come your way? Or are you actively looking for opportunities, and doing your utmost to create them?

 

2) Keep your eye on the ball. Be ready.

Let’s continue to imagine that ‘opportunity’ is represented by the hockey ball in play. Say a player out on the wing hits it to someone in the centre. What’s going to happen if the person at centre is ambling along looking the other way, hockey stick over her shoulder, not focused on the game?

She’s going to miss the ball.

Making the most of an opportunity and turning it into success requires focus, quick thinking, and, fundamentally, being in a state of readiness to accept the opportunity and make the most of it when it arrives.

Otherwise it will pass you by, and someone else will get it.

 

3) Run to meet the ball

Watch any game of hockey and it soon becomes clear that the players aren’t hitting the ball directly TO one another, but AHEAD of one another. Most of the time, the receiving player has to run to intercept the ball before taking it on up the field.

If you’re waiting for the ideal opportunity to land at your feet, it probably won’t. You need to run to meet it, stick down, focused, and ready to forge forward towards the goal.

 

4) Do your own thing with it

Within my daughter’s team, different players inevitably have different specific skills.

Stella, for example, will never lose a ball when in a close stick-to-stick grapple with her opponent. It’s a tactic at which she excels and she uses it well. Corrie can always be relied upon to wallop the ball up the field. Kirsty is very quick on her feet and will dribble the ball up the wing before hitting it back into the circle.

When opportunity comes your way, play to your strengths and do your own thing with it …. which may mean doing something with it that other people might not do, or that they wouldn’t expect.

It’s YOUR opportunity: do YOUR thing.

 

5) DO NOT be afraid of the opportunity

These days, the hockey team functions very well together. When they first started playing, though, no one seemed to actually WANT to hit the ball. Everyone made a play of running up to the ball, but shied away at the last moment.

It was even more of a faff when they’d managed to get the ball up to the goal: no one seemed brave enough to take a shot – they were all intent on passing the ball to someone else a few inches away, hoping that THEY would take the shot.

Plenty of people shy away from genuine opportunities because, deep down, they’re scared of them. Are YOU actually AFRAID of opportunity? Afraid of what you might do with it? Afraid that you might mess it up when it actually arrives?

 

Now it’s a different story: the girls work well as a team and make the most of every opportunity they get. Which is why they usually win.

 

Get brave. Don’t shy away from opportunities. Grab them. Stick down, focused, and moving strongly toward your goal.

 

(As an aside, if you’re interested in learning more about team management and team dynamics, Yara’s team management programmes don’t involve sitting in a room theorising about management guff – you get out and learn about them … and your own team …. in real life.  We won’t force you out on the hockey field, though.  Well, maybe…… http://www.yaraconsulting.com)

How to make negative emotions work for you

September 17, 2012

You don’t need ME to tell you that dwelling on negative emotions to the extent that they chew us up is never helpful.

However, emotions are a signal of something, and acknowledging them and analysing them can prove useful in finding a way forward and spurring us into action …

 

Regret: highlighting things to be replaced

Regret is often characterised by wishing you’d not done something, wishing you HAD done something or wondering what might have been if you’d taken a different course of action.

Overall, it’s probably more useful to focus on what IS rather than what might have been. However, focusing on the specifics of what it is you regret can be useful, as you may be able to replace or compensate for some of these things.

If you regret moving house, for example, WHY exactly? If you pinpoint exactly what it is you miss, you may well be able to find replacements where you are now.

If you regret a relationship break-up, what specifically were the good things about the relationship that you can find with someone else?

If your regret is about things that you wish you’d done but didn’t, or an opportunity missed, learn from that and DO something now.

 

Anger as a spur to action

In this context, anger could vary from mild annoyance to incandescent rage. And once again, if unchecked, anger can be extremely self-destructive.

However, it IS telling you something.

Try to focus on what specifically you are angry about. If you feel so strongly about it, what can you DO about it? Likely as not, the more angry you are about something, the more motivated you might be to do something about it. And make sure it’s useful: I’m not talking about revenge here!

Where I live, many people are angry that the local authority is planning to build hundreds more houses in the village. Many are planning to make a protest of some sort, and it’s fair to say that the strength of their feeling will probably have an impact on the level of protest they make.

If you really can’t do anything about the thing that is making you angry, think carefully about developing coping strategies – you may just have to learn to let it go – and perhaps consider a Plan B to address the issue.

Deciding to DO something rather than just feeling angry will make you feel more empowered and less helpless and frustrated.

 

Boredom as a signal for the need to change

Boredom. Stuck in a rut. Ho hum. It can often lead to frustration, which in turn can lead to anger.

It’s all too easy to blame circumstances, your job, your boss, you family situation … almost anything … for being stuck in a rut.

What boredom IS telling you, though, is that it’s time for change.

Don’t just sit there. Challenge yourself to do something different. Try something new.

 

Fear as a spur to develop strength of character

Fear is the biggest single factor that stops people from doing things: fear of what people might say, fear of being wrong, fear of failure, fear of success.

The clue is in the title of Susan Jeffer’s book ‘Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway’: feeling fear, isolating SPECIFICALLY what you’re afraid of and moving beyond it are the stepping stones for developing courage, confidence and strength of character.

I once (briefly) overcame my fear of heights and abseiled down the side of a tall building for charity. My specific fear was of falling to my death. Logically, given all the safety procedures, I knew that that simply wasn’t going to happen: I still FELT the fear, but I focused on the logic of stepping over the edge and raising a few funds for a good cause, and I did it.

I’ll never do it again, mind you … but at least now I know that I can overcome my fears and just get on with it if I have to.

 

Jealousy to tell you what you want

Ah! The green eyed monster! How could jealousy POSSIBLY be useful in any shape or form?

In common with ALL negative emotions, extreme jealousy is NOT helpful. Mild envy, though could be telling you something.

I’m not the least bit envious of people who drive big fancy cars even if they brag about them … because I really don’t care about big fancy cars.

On the other hand, I always feel a slight pang of envy when I hear of someone I know having a book published … because I want to have a book published. I don’t begrudge them their success, but I DO recognise that their success is something that I’d like to emulate.

So that’s it: I’m going to write a book.

Who do you envy, and for what? And how might you turn wishful thinking into a determined action to achieve something?

 

In a nutshell, then, what are your negative emotions telling you? Focusing on the emotion, rationalising it and figuring out exactly where it’s coming from, and then moving through it to some sort of action could ultimately make the pain worthwhile.

 

Ideas + guts + action = success

September 3, 2012

Last week I attended a networking event, held at the Anta showroom on George Street in Edinburgh.

For those not in the know, Anta sells the most beautifully designed, covetable things handcrafted in the Highlands of Scotland (have a look for yourself at www.anta.co.uk and you’ll see what I mean. And order their catalogue – it’s got some fabulous recipes in it!)

One of the most inspiring things about the entire evening was the story of how Anta came about, as told by its founder, Annie Stewart.

Here are three key things that I took from her story:

 

Ideas

Whilst many people start out with a clear vision of what they want to achieve, this isn’t always the case.

Far from having a lightbulb ‘eureka moment’ that was to shape the rest of her life, Annie speaks of leaving Edinburgh Art School with a degree in Fine Art, and having an ‘”oh sh*t” moment, when it dawned on her that she’d have to do something to make a living.

Capitalising on knowledge that she’d developed from her course, she approached a weaver of Scottish tartan and asked him if he’d weave a small bolt of cloth in a traditional pattern, but using pink and lime green wool.

Whilst the weaver wasn’t entirely delighted with what he’d produced, Annie set about making ties and other accessories with the resulting cloth.

Sometimes necessity really IS the mother of invention: sometimes you have to be in an uncomfortable place in order to feel the need to do something different.

The challenge is, what knowledge do YOU have (even if other people also have that knowledge) that could, with a twist here and there, be turned into something new and unique? And are you, in fact, too comfortable with the status quo to really bother doing anything with those ideas?

 

Guts

With a small range of accessories made of her lime-green-and-pink tartan tucked into a suitcase, Annie set off to visit a friend in New York.

While she was there, she telephoned round a few designers and department stores: note, we’re not just talking one or two small boutiques here, we’re talking Jasper Conran, Bergdorf Goodman – the highest end of the fashion market.

In short, she managed to blag her way in to see some of the biggest names in fashion at the time, and to begin to sell her accessories in prestigious locations.

Often, success requires us to be brave and step out and do something, even though we might be taking a personal or emotional risk. Success takes guts. It means taking a risk that someone will laugh at you, shut the door in your face, or just say “No”.

On the other hand … they just might say “Yes”.

So here’s the question: what are you afraid of? Is it just time to feel the fear and do it anyway?

 

Action

Success in the States and recognition from major-league fashion houses brought its own challenges in the early days: the almost accidental design of tartan ceramics led to a commission from Vogue for corporate gifts for its advertisers, which in turn led to one of those advertisers placing an order for a large number of ceramics which they wanted delivered in a very short space of time.

Annie and her team of designers and craftsmen back in the Highlands of Scotland took the commission and, despite time pressures, delivered.

And here’s another lesson that often gets missed: once you’ve set yourself up as something, you have to follow through on it. This is about more than delivering on your promises – it’s about psychologically stepping up to the plate and becoming the person you aspire to be. It’s about not being afraid of success.

It would have been easier to take a step back and say “sorry – we can’t fulfil that size of order in the time” and take a step back. But that’s not the choice that Annie made.

And the challenge for the rest of us? To be brutally honest, most of the time, it’s just ‘easier not to’. But success requires you to get off your butt, rise to the challenge and DO something when most people don’t.

 

Now, some 25 years on, Anta is a thriving business providing a valuable outlet for the handiwork of dozens of skilled designers, craftsmen and women.

Who knows: but for an idea, some guts and some serious action, it might never have happened.

Be creative, even if you think you’re not. Just do it.

May 26, 2012

This isn’t so much of a blog post as a challenge. Do something creative.

Do it this weekend. Make something. Draw something. Write a song. Bake something. Decorate something. Do whatever grabs you.

Why? Well, I don’t need to tell you when these three other people can:

Picasso: “All children are born artists, the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.” …Rediscover your creative capacity.

Vincent van Gogh: “If you hear a voice within you say, ‘You cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” …Stop saying “I can’t” and start saying “I’ll give it a go”.

Sir Ken Robinson: “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”….Worried it won’t turn out perfect? Do it anyway.

Go on – I dare you.

As for me, I’m doing something I find it very difficult to do, and that’s play the piano in front of people.

Here’s a short piece I wrote recently. It was inspired by a day out climbing Goat Fell on the Isle of Arran (off the West Coast of Scotland) with some WONDERFUL friends, and I’ve called it ‘View From The Top’.

It’s not Mozart, but it’s mine.

It’s not great, but it’s original.

It’s not professional, but you won’t have heard it before.

Do something creative. Be original. Be unique.

 

 

Positive Thinking and Resourcefulness … and Macaroni Cheese.

May 22, 2012

Let me nail my colours to the mast: I find people who constantly complain and take a negative view incredibly annoying. It’s a behavioural trait that I find difficult to tolerate … that said, I’m very well aware that I used to be very negative and sarcastic myself …

Today I’d like to share a little story about my friend Sarah and her macaroni cheese to highlight how – by contrast – a little positive thinking and resourcefulness can go a long way.

About 20 years ago, Sarah and I were room-mates in halls of residence at Birmingham University (UK). In typical student fashion, the closer we got to the end of term, the less money we had, and the deeper we dug into our overdrafts.

On one Saturday afternoon, we were both hungry, but a quick inspection of the cupboard (which rapidly turned into a desperate search for anything edible) revealed that we had practically nothing to eat.

My own response was to grumpily resign myself to the fact that I was either going to go hungry or head to the supermarket and get further into student debt.

Sarah, though, had other ideas. “What can you make with flour?” she asked.
“Flour and what?” I replied.
“No,” she said, “just flour”.

Imagining the most tasteless of flatbreads, I dourly replied, “nothing”.

About half an hour later Sarah appeared with two plates of macaroni cheese.

Where … How??! I cynically thought she must have resorted to theft … but no!

Searching again in the cupboards that we’d previously thought were bare, she’d found a packet of dried macaroni left by a student the previous year. It was past the ‘sell-by’ date … but it was dried macaroni … how bad could it possibly be? (Not bad at all, as it happened)

She’d also remembered that on our outside window ledge (we didn’t have a fridge) we had left a few individual portions of wrapped cheese that we’d pinched from the student canteen.

I’m guessing she stole a splash of someone else’s milk from somewhere in the kitchen … and with such unpromising ingredients had conjured up a passable macaroni cheese for two.

The moral of the story is:
1) Think positively and don’t give up. Where there’s a will there’s a way.
2) If the situation seems bleak, look again carefully, and re-evaluate: you have more resources at your disposal than you realise
3) Think laterally and don’t give up: even with a little it’s possible to do quite a lot.

And Sarah, if I never said so at the time, thank you for that macaroni cheese … and for the surprising life lessons it taught me 🙂

Goal Setting and Mountain Climbing – 5 key lessons

May 7, 2012

Sometimes, achieving your goals can seem like climbing a mountain. Well, funnily enough … it is!

I’m fortunate to have some wonderful friends – a few days ago we decided to climb Goat Fell, the mountain on the Isle of Arran just off the west coast of Scotland … and we all took our sons with us.

Climbing a mountain really does hold several great lessons for goal setting and success. Here are five of them:

1. From a distance …

From the mainland, our goal (the highest point on the island) looks very distant indeed.

It’s actually difficult to get a true sense of it from across the water: sometimes it’s too misty to actually SEE the mountain from the mainland. Sometimes the top is shrouded in cloud whilst the rest of the island is visible.

Perhaps more to the point is that I see this view – weather permitting – almost every day. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve said to myself, “I really must climb that thing …”

And isn’t that the thing with life goals sometimes? The bigger they are, the more distant they seem, and it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of saying, “Ah yes! One day …” rather than actually making plans to get there.

2. As you get closer …

As the ferry gets closer to Arran, Goat Fell starts to look alarmingly large and steep, especially to a novice hill walker like me. The dreamy image of an island across the water in the sunset gives way to a towering hill of rocks … and a challenging summit with a rocky outcrop.

When you focus on your goals and move them from the status of a wish or a pipe-dream to something you actually intend to do something about, the enormity of the task can seem daunting … to the point of actually putting you off.

It’s important at this stage, though, to look at the challenge in front of you, and make a decision to go for it.

Once you’ve determined to set out, the route to the top turns out to be pretty straightforward: you prepare and plan as much as you can for your journey … and then you put one foot in front of the other and keep going until you get there.

3. As you journey up the hill towards your goal …

It does get tiring climbing up the hill. Your focus is often on where you’re putting your feet, so that you can avoid stumbling on a loose rock or slipping on the scree. However, you’d be missing the point if you didn’t stop from time to time to look up and make sure you’re still on the right path to the top … and to look back and admire the view.

In terms of goal achievement, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, one-step-at-a-time tasks that are taking you to the top. These are, of course, extremely important.

It’s also vital, though, to pause from time to time and check that you’re still on the right path, and if not make adjustments and realign your direction … and to look back see how far you’ve come.

Getting to the top is important … but so is enjoying the journey.

4. The path becomes apparent

From the bottom of Goat Fell, it’s not easy to see exactly how you‘ll get to the top: the last stretch of the climb looks like a challenging heap of large rocks with no immediately obvious path.

As you get closer to those rocks at the top, though, a path becomes obvious. Bizarrely, the rocks have formed a sort of natural stairway to the top of the mountain.

Sometimes when you set off towards your goal, the path to the top ISN’T obvious. Sometimes that can put people off. But as you carry on purposefully towards your goal, a path will open up in front of you (I’m not being trite here … it really does!)

5. At the top … the next peak is on the horizon

Yards from the top, walkers on their way back down encouraged us to keep going, that it would only take another 10 minutes or so, and that the view from the top was spectacular.

They were right – on a clear day, the view from the top of Goat Fell is stunning, and absolutely worth the effort of climbing to the top.

Celebrate your successes and your goals as you achieve them.

And in exactly the same way that, once you get to the top of one mountain, you can see the peak of the next one, your next goal will already be on the horizon.