Motivation, Reflection

Sew what!

As the days have got longer and with the weather kind, I have been spending more of my evenings in the garden cutting the lawn, tending to the plants or just sitting with a drink, relaxing.  Well, that’s my excuse for not writing in a while.

A couple of events earlier this week inspired me to pen something tonight.

The first was not so good. I happened to be at a desk that had lost its laminate edging strip along the part you would sit facing, thus exposing the rough chipboard underneath. In itself this wasn’t a problem as I have rarely found the quality of desk construction material to have a strong positive or negative correlation with my productivity. However, as I leaned across the desk to plug in the laptop, my shirt caught on this jagged surface and pulled a handful of threads leaving a series of tugged and uneven “tramlines” down the front.

Now I hate to spend money on work clothes – this shirt was a recent purchase and one of my smarter items of clothing. I was pissed off and let this nag at me all day. I even found myself absentmindedly picking at the lose threads in some of my meetings. Letting small things bother me is a recognised failing of mine but I couldn’t shake this and upon arriving home at the end of the day was still miffed, but at least I could now do something about it…

…so I got a very sharp pair of scissors and set to work trimming off the threads hanging from the front of my shirt, no doubt more prominent thanks to my fiddling. All was going well until I held the scissors away from the shirt to pull away the last offending piece of cotton when I felt the blade catch. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t have been a problem but this was no ordinary day and these were no ordinary scissors – they were made in Japan, the Land of the Razor-sharp. In an attempt to finesse the ever-so-slightly damaged shirt back to its original state, I ended up poking a dirty great hole in the garment. Many would not notice some irregular looking stitching, many would notice a hole. Needless to say, my mood did not improve.

The second, and more positive, thing that happened was that I started listening to a podcast recommended by a colleague called Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast . This involved Richard chatting with some other comedians, probably at the Leicester Square Theatre although I couldn’t verify this from the acoustics alone. I had a flick through the guests and settled on Katherine Ryan, a Canadian-Irish comedian who lives in the UK. Stating the obvious, the conversation was very funny and helped to wash away some of my frustrations. I had seen Katherine’s stand up before but what I really liked was her humility, honesty and terrific outlook. In her own words:

“You can walk through life and just not really pay attention to the things that don’t matter. You really can and then you can be happy all the time.”

When I heard this, my initial reaction was this sounded like somebody who had everything they could ever wish for – she is an extremely successful stand-up comedian – but in response to being asked such a question we hear that she learned to be like this when she had absolutely nothing. In other words, it was a conscious choice and she used this to build her life.

I really wasn’t expecting to pick up something that I could use to improve myself and my reaction to the challenges that life throws my way, both big and small. As I dropped off to sleep, I thought to myself, “it’s only a fucking shirt, sew up the hole and forget about it.”

We often can’t change the things that happen to us each day but we are in control of the way that we react to these external stimuli. Be aware of what matters and what doesn’t. I have even found myself questioning whether something I thought mattered really did. It’s worth challenging yourself on that point as the fewer things that do matter, the less you have to worry about. Not sure I can be happy all the time but being happy most of the time is a prize worth aiming for.

The next time you splash water down your front when washing up, drop a glass, experience internet outage, hear someone say something stupid, run out of milk, bite the inside of your cheek when eating or catch your clothing on a piece of furniture just stop to think about how you will react.

In many cases a simple “so what” will do.

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Motivation

I’ve got sunshine

For those of you in the UK, you won’t need reminding that our weather can hardly be described as the best in the world. Sure, we don’t have to deal with extremes of temperature, typhoons, monsoons etc. but there is a distinct greyness about our temperate climate. However, with the rough comes the smooth and every once in a while there are days that make you feel good to be alive.

Off the back of recent memories of the “Beast from the East” which was just about a month ago, we have entered what looks like a pleasant period of unbroken sunshine. And what a difference it makes. I go for a walk most lunchtimes to get away from the computer screen and give my body a well needed stretch. Today was like being in a different country. People were laughing, smiling, dancing, running around and generally looking like they had awoken from hibernation. Gone were the scowls, the grim hooded faces with shoulders hunched forward against the wind and rain. Manners returned,  a couple of times strangers nodded at me knowingly as if to say “I know, it’s just great isn’t it?”

I listened to a podcast on Freakonomics Radio called Why is My Life so Hard? which explored why most of us think that we face more headwinds and obstacles in life than others, causing resentment. Conversely, we don’t appreciate the tailwinds that help us along the way, leaving us ungrateful and unhappy.

I often moan about getting wet during my cycle to and from work and wondered if my perception of this followed the Freakonomics proposition. Shane Lynn who is a data scientist has done some analysis of this and I was surprised with the results. Admittedly, I was looking at London, the closest major city to where I live and the best performer in the UK, but his work shows that just eight percent of commutes are “wet commutes” whereas equivalent analysis for San Francisco, Rome and Madrid shows wet commutes on 5.7, 5.4 and 4.6 percent of occasions, respectively. If you said that I would get wet just 21 times in 261 commutes I wouldn’t have believed you! If you live in Glasgow, then your perception of getting wet all the time is a little closer to the truth although still only 94 times in a year, just over a third of commutes.

Since listening to the podcast, I have been much more aware of the tailwinds when they arrive and have learnt to really appreciate them while they last. I feel like I have one at the moment and the sunshine is helping to power me along. The headwind will come eventually but I will try not to get resentful.

In the meantime, time to get another cold drink…it’s been a scorcher!

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Japan, Motivation, Nature

How short, this life?

Around this time of the year people all over Japan are on the lookout for the sakura cherry blossom which comes into full bloom between the end of March and the very beginning of May, depending on where you live*. The celebration, called hanami written using the characters for “flower” (花) and “watch” (見) involves groups of family, friends and colleagues gathering together under their favourite tree to enjoy meticulously prepared food and (more than) a few drinks.

What surprised me the first time I experienced  the cherry blossom in Japan was how soon after coming into full bloom did the petals of these delicate flowers come fluttering to the ground like confetti at a wedding. It is for this reason that hanami is so hard-wired into the psyche of the Japanese; it marks not only the beginning of the new year for schools and companies but also serves as a reminder of the fragility and fleeting nature of life itself.

There has been plenty put out there about how much time over the course of a typical life we spend working, sleeping, eating, washing up, cleaning or even on the toilet.  However, I came across a graphic on a website called WaitButWhy which represents a 90-year life as a series of weekly blocks. There’s not that many of them – 4,680 to be precise.

I have had times in my life when I have been looking forward to something in the future or longing to get over something unpleasant in the present. The weeks have disappeared, sometimes turning into months.  How often have you said to yourself “I wish this week would pass more quickly” or “I’ll just get this month out of the way and then I’ll…” or something similar?

As I finished the first paragraph of today’s post, I received a telephone call from the son of a dear friend of ours who has been in hospital recently. It was not good news; he had passed away after 92 years on this planet, that’s 4,784 blocks. Listening to some of his stories, he made the most of his life and the time he was given. None of us really knows how many blocks we will be blessed with, so make each one count.

I know that I’m going to.

*****

*You can plot the progress of the sakurazensen cherry blossom front on the Japan National Tourism Organization website

 

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Motivation

I get knocked down so I get up again

I have just come to the end of a pretty stressful chapter in my career. Not because of anything going on in the job itself, which I have been enjoying immensely for the last year or so, but because of the nature of my employment being fixed-term with a clear end date.

Today, I am writing about  Personal Resilience, something which I think is a vital life skill.

Much has been said about entrepreneurs who have failed many times before coming up with a product or business model that delivers success beyond their wildest dreams. The former UK Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, once said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

It is very rare in life to breeze through every challenge sent our way. Those who give the impression it is easy are either exceptionally talented but more likely masking the hard work and soul-searching they have been through in private to get to where they are.

I remember the first time I was unsuccessful with a job application – it was for graduate entry into the UK’s Civil Service – and it felt at the time like the world was falling down around me. Roll on almost twenty years to this latest challenge and I still experienced moments of self-doubt and the inevitable deflation from yet another “thanks but no thanks” but surprised myself with the resilience I showed, picking myself up time and time again until I landed a permanent role.

So what changed? I think it was a shift in my focus towards being in the moment of the job application, the selection test or interview and away from thinking about the spoils of victory or the disappointment of defeat. It also helped not to take rejection so personally. The recruiter will often already have an idea of the type of person that they want in their team and if you don’t match that profile then it’s not your fault!

Some of you will recognise the picture of the T-1000, a shape-shifting android assassin from the film Terminator 2. In the film the T-1000 experiences countless acts of violence  and each time re-forms, stands up and keeps on going.

We’re not androids and human feelings make it all the more difficult but the next time you get knocked down, think of the T-1000…

…and get back up again.

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