Tuesday, 25 October 2011
It’s Up to Us
So often we can fall in to that “too small” trap ourselves. We can often think we’re tiny or ineffective, that problems are too big, or other people are too powerful. And yet, so far as I’m concerned, it is always up to us to decide who we are and how we choose to be – even though sometimes it’s all too easy to forget. As I’ve said before, we always have the choice to remember our own power and find ways to use it. It’s the same as thinking about the huge amount of power in the tiniest chili pepper. Just the smallest bit can be enough to spice up an entire dish.
I remember when I was a child, my mother used to play Frank Sinatra’s “High Hopes” about an ant who was determined to move a rubber tree plant. Even now I can hear the tune in my head and it brings a smile to my face. Holding on to the same “high apple pie in the sky hopes” is something that has kept me going through many an emotional storm I can assure you! The same song has also spurred me on when I’ve been faced with blockages and a relentless stream of negativity. I don’t even care to remember the number of times I’ve heard phrases such as “That’s not possible” “You’ll never be able to do that” “It can’t be done” – often from the mouths of so-called professionals, particularly over the past couple of years. Oh yes, that little old ant has appeared in my mind on many occasions!
People, I’ve found, can be far too keen to share all the reasons why things are impossible, shaking their head and tutting at any suggestion that perhaps there is another way. But there is always a solution, and there isalways a way – even if it seems that everything is stacked up against you. All it takes is a bit of stubborn self-belief and small, determined moves in the direction of your dreams. The rest, as they say, then falls in to place.
There’s Always Another Way
My divorce was complicated – or at least, that was what the solicitors would have me believe. I was told that I would have to follow specific guidelines and obey certain laws, even though the person I was dealing with had no intention of doing the same. I was warned that it would cost me tens of thousands of pounds to take my case through the legal system – a system that my ex knows how to play because he doesn’t give a hoot about what is right or just. But the solicitors just didn’t seem to get it. They simply didn’t believe what I was saying…
“You must put your faith in the law, Miss Pledger, this is the only way” they’d tell me, while advising me that they would need to prepare yet more paperwork that would again be ignored, costing yet more money I didn’t have and wasting a whole heap of time. Yes, of course I believe in the necessity of a legal system. And yes, in most cases, it works well. But in my particular case, I found myself bashing my head against a brick wall – and I wasn’t going to stand for it. The more they told me there was nothing else I could do, the more determined I became to find another way. And I did.
Over the months of numerous futile conversations and useless legal actions, although my frustration levels were pushed to the limit, I actually learned a huge amount about what can and can’t be done. I began to understand where the complications lay, and slowly slowly I began to craft my own solutions. As time went on I became confident that I knew what needed to be done – and eventually, at the beginning of this year, I found a solicitor who was willing to do exactly as I asked. She understood my specific requests and agreed to prepare the necessary paperwork. What a relief! At last somebody was listening. At last someone was prepared to believe that I did know what I was talking about and could work with me to facilitate my plan. And it worked.
Yesterday I received the fantastic news that the courts have rubber-stamped all my divorce papers, which means I am now finally and totally free from my ex. It’s official. It’s legal. It’s over. And boy does that feel good – wooo hoooo!!
It hasn’t been easy – I’m not here to kid anyone that the road to freedom is straightforward. But I am here to tell you that if I can do it, then so can others. Anything is possible, so long as you put your mind to it. Just the smallest of actions can make a difference – because with each decision, each tiny step, each minor movement we can keep ourselves heading in the direction of our dreams.
Just last week I was away on a wonderful yoga retreat, and our inspirational teacher reminded us that it’s often the smallest of movements that count. Just lifting and dropping our shoulders a few centimeters, or deepening our breath just a tiny bit more has untold benefits on the body. It’s the same with our attitude. Deliberately shifting even one negative or restrictive thought can have a huge effect on our achievements.
As Henry Ford is quoted as saying “Whether you believe you can, or whether you believe you can’t – you’re absolutely right”. Well, I am now more determined than ever to keep my dreams alive and I am holding fast to the expectation that all of them will be achieved. And, once again, I find myself giving thanks to my ex. I am thankful that he tried so hard to break me, even though I wouldn’t wish the pain on my worst enemy. But in the end, the ensuing emotional battles for survival have turned me in to the person I am today. So yes, I am grateful. Because now I know that anything is possible, and my life has just begun.
To finish, I’d like to share another positive reminder that I keep on my wall. Like so many good things, this famous poem by Marianne Williamson has kept me going through some of my darker days – I thought you might like it.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Tuesday, 18 October 2011
There is a particular scene that centres around Yoda and Luke Skywalker. Yoda is a master Jedi, and he is intent on passing on his skills to the young Luke. In the swamp, Yoda teaches his student how to move rocks and stones with the power of his mind. Luke struggles as first but then manages to do it. Yoda tells him to use the same powers to free his spacecraft, which had crashed and sunk in to the swamp.
“Moving stones around is one thing, master, but moving a spaceship? That’s something completely different!” he protests.
“It is only different in your mind. You must unlearn what you have learned” replies Yoda.
“Alright” says Luke “I’ll give it a try!”
“No!” Yoda instructs “No try! Do or do not, there is no try!”
Skywalker gives it his best shot, but despite his efforts there is no sign of the spaceship. Yoda then takes over, using “the force” exactly as he had asked Luke. The spaceship rises up out of the swamp. Luke, clearly surprised by the result turns to Yoda
“I don’t believe it!” he exclaims, prompting Yoda’s famous response
“That is why you fail”
For anybody who is interested, you there are plenty of Yoda scenes and sayings posted on Youtube.
So what does all this mean? I know it’s only a film, but for me, that way of thinking has always been hugely important – and has become even more valuable over the past couple of years let me assure you! In my opinion, the point is that there is absolutely no basis in ‘trying’ to do anything at all. It’s very easy to say “I’ll try” to anything at all – but, in my opinion, it means nothing whatsoever. It’s about making a decision and a commitment – to yourself and/or to another person. The ‘try’ word is usually just that – a word. It negates the necessity for action. It’s a fluffy word that results in fluffy focus and fluffy results. A non-word, a non-decision, a non-commitment – heck, surely it becomes non-existent… doesn’t it?
I was fascinated to overhear a typically fluffy exchange between two people as I was waiting at a train station. I gathered that this pair were teachers, and they had been talking about organising a new project within the school. They’d clearly made some degree of progress, and they agreed they’d talk more about it tomorrow… or did they? This was how the conversation went:
“Thanks, I’ll try to give you a call tomorrow and we can discuss more options”
“Great, yes, ok, I’ll try to make sure I’m around, and if I don’t hear from you I’ll try to give you a call”
“Okay then, let’s try to get together tomorrow. I’ll hope to see you then!”
They parted with a smile and a wave – but were they really going to achieve what they said they wanted to do? I don’t know, but I’d be willing to take a guess. I do know that I couldn’t help giggling to myself at yet another example of the vague promises and commitments that people give to each other on a daily basis – no wonder so many of us wander around lacking direction and inspiration!
For me, this life is all about recognising and using our own power – for ourselves and also for the good of others. The first job is to become happy with who and what we are… then, and only then, can we really offer support or guidance to others. In any case, that’s my opinion and experience – and I can promise you it’s a lesson I’m constantly revising and developing! One class didn’t seem to do the job for me – neither did the homework or experiential workshop sessions. Nope, as I’ve said before, until relatively recently, I was perfectly happy to carry on giving and supporting others without a second thought about myself. Doh!
That way of being has changed for me – and is continuing to develop on a daily basis. It started with awareness, and continues to be built through intention and commitment to follow through.
Mind Over Matter
I believe that everything starts with an idea, or a thought if you like, which is then followed up by a decision. Talk can indeed be cheap, and ‘trying’ to do or be something is one thing – but doing or not doing is something completely different. It’s a commitment. My friend Judi made me chuckle last night. We were talking about weight loss (she has lost a staggering amount of weight since the beginning of this year) because of a comment made by somebody who hadn’t seen her in many months.
“You look amazing!” this lady had exclaimed on seeing Judi walking towards her “How on earth did you do it?”
“A personal decision and direct help from a nutritionalist” smiled Judi “and lots of positive thinking. It’s all mind over matter you know!”
“Yes, I’ve been thinking about losing weight, but it’s so hard” replied the other lady “I tried for a while last year and lost 4kg (about 10lbs) but it’s all gone back on again. Oh well, maybe one day eh?”
Is it really any wonder that this particular lady had not made any real progress? I think not! She’d “tried for a while” which is fluffy enough by itself, but add to that an underlying belief that it is difficult to lose weight… well, it was never going to happen was it?
This kind of ‘non-action’ I believe is part of the problem in the world we live in today. I don’t actually believe it’s deliberate – at least, not for the vast majority. The thing is, though, we’ve become brainwashed in to forgetting that we have power. It’s become normal to say “I’ll try” and to expect to fail “I told you so” “What’s the point?” “It’s useless trying” And it’s this kind of apathy that subconsciously invites manipulation and control. Think about the corporates – if the staff believe there’s nothing they can do, well, guess what? They’re right. On the other hand, when they start to wake up and realise that they can do more than they were thinking – just by changing their thoughts in the first place… well, then that’s when we start to get results. And that is very much along the lines I use when working with teams and individuals. It’s about reclaiming the power that is already within us, and then deciding what to do with it.
Pick Up That Lightsaber!
It’s like the many inspirational people who have overcome all manner of challenges and hardships to make something of themselves. I absolutely love real-life stories like these. They encourage the positive “me too” type of thinking that I adore. One of my friends is best-selling author Eileen Munro (“As I Lay Me Down To Sleep” and “If I Should Die Before I Wake”) Now there is a lady who has used Jedi thinking to get her through an incredibly tough and relentless set of challenges! Whenever I start to think I might be having a tough time, all I have to do is dip back in to her book and it puts everything in to perspective. Eileen, you see, refuses to give up or give in – and her relentless positive movement forward is an inspiration.
So far as I’m concerned, no matter our particular circumstances we all have the power to think like a Jedi…. There is no try, there is only do or do not. It’s a clear matter of choice. Once that choice is made, then you can pick up your lightsaber and prepare to make things happen. People tend to laugh when I point out that if you take the word JEDI and you imagine that the bottom line of the “E” could, with a little bit of imagination, represent a lightsaber (well, okay, a lot of imagination!) you could imagine picking it up ready for action. Having picked it up, the word JEDI changes to one of my favourite acronyms – JFDI which, as many will already know stands for Just Flippin Do It!! (There are other F-word options, of course, depending on your preference)
In conclusion, I am calling out for more of us to think like a JEDI. Forget ‘try’ and instead think only in terms of do or do not. And in doing so, remember to believe that a positive result is the outcome – because that’s what is going to make the difference.
So, come on, let’s get clear in our intentions, make a commitment, pick up our proverbial Lightsabre and do it.
Tuesday, 11 October 2011
“But you know what, Mel?” he’d enthused at the beginning of last year “This is such a refreshing difference, because this company actually means what they say. They’re true to their values, and I’m really glad to be here!”
But… and it’s a huge but… his faith was mis-guided because, these values on which my dear friend and so many others had hung their hats, turned out to be nothing more than pathological lies.
“Oh, come along now Mel, isn’t that a bit harsh?” Yes, some people may well say that. And the thing is, it’sbecause so many people continue with that line whenever corporations behave badly towards their employees (and suppliers, and customers, and so many human beings who are touched by their actions) that they continue to get away with what I now term text-book corporate sociopathic behaviour.
“It’s a dog eat dog world out there!” “It’s not personal, it’s just business!” “Well, you’ve got to be tough to survive in this industry!” Those are typical examples of the excuses for poor behaviour that I hear time and time again during my professional career as a leadership and team development specialist. And it concerns me that it’s deemed “ok” to treat people in the business world in a completely different fashion from the “real” world. It’s “ok” to squeeze every last drop of loyalty from employees. It’s “ok” to promise great rewards, and then cull people at the whim of a new board executive who “didn’t like somebody’s face”
In business, human beings often become faceless numbers – and ambitious, hard-hitting leaders can get away with being ruthless manipulators. “The bottom line is king!” is a mantra that seems to excuse what I would deem inhuman behaviour towards the lifeblood of the organization – the human beings who make it happen. Figures, statistics and profit have taken over – yes, I realize, of course, that these elements are what make the wheels of industry turn. Don’t worry, I’m not turning in to some flakey hippy-type, burning josticks and spouting free-love and peace to all (well, not yet in any case!). I am a successful businesswoman myself. Of course I work to create money – that’s why I’m in business! But… and here’s the important difference… I know that my business depends on the people within it. My team. My clients. My suppliers. We have a simple mission statement “To create raving fans”. And that’s what we do. And in order to do that, we therefore have to be honest courageous, fair – and whatever other number of values Jack’s employers spouted as their guiding values. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Jack’s employers, however, like so many other companies I have come across in my time, have proven themselves as little more than conmen who will manipulate the truth, believing themselves to be above the law, and turning on the very people who have upheld their banner for them – showing no remorse and no empathy. Hmmm… does this ring any bells here?
Fine, some may suggest that I’m merely jumping on the sociopathic bandwagon to make a point. Others may say that I will spot psychopaths everywhere since I now know what to look out for. I say that my personal experience has now simply allowed me to pinpoint more clearly where those sociopathic tendencies are showing themselves within an organization. Whether it’s seeped in to the culture, whether it’s led and encouraged by the board, or whether it’s just the specific behaviour of an individual. How far it may have spread, and what steps can be taken to counter it. And, trust me – these behaviours can be so hard to spot, and can lull so many wide-eyed and loyal employees in to a false sense of security, that by the time they realise what’s happening it’s too late. Another all-too familiar story perhaps…?
Is it really right that people should come in to work and behave completely differently as human beings? There is an advert on British TV at the moment, asking why we behave aggressively when we’re driving cars, if we wouldn’t behave that way walking down a crowded street? It conveys its message in an amusing and clever way. And to me, it’s exactly the same thing in business. For many years (way before I knew anything about sociopathy!) I have been banging on about the dangers of what I call “corporate double-speak” – the business-babble language that seems to exist purely in the business world. Why say, for example, “we must secure more resources” when what they mean is “I could do with some more people”…? In my mind, that kind of distancing terminology at the very least merely serve to depersonalize, and in the worst cases desensitizes to the point where we forget we are dealing with human beings. Real people who have real feelings and real lives! It’s clever and it’s subtle – but it’s brainwashing.
Control and Manipulation
Let me ask this in another way. How ‘just’ do you think it is that a company hires a highly respected and experienced people-manager on the promise of long employment and great rewards? That the same company encourages this manager to go out on a limb and “do things differently” in order to get the job done? And that at the flick of a switch, that same company then tells the manager (who has succeeded in achieving the impossible, through dedication, devotion, and putting years of valuable experience in to play) that they have decided on an organisational re-structure and that his role is no longer valid? Fair enough, you may say, business changes. Of course it does. I agree. But what I don’t agree with was the fact that this manager was then accompanied off the premises like a criminal, but wasn’t allowed to say anything to his team. In fact, he wasn’t given any further information – nor was he allowed to share his news or voice his fears to anyone else within the company. He was forbidden to answer calls and emails from his concerned staff. He was given no opportunity to ask for detailed explanations (“your case will be discussed at next week’s meeting – not before”). He was isolated in every sense of the word. Or, as another person put it, was treated to “Mushroom Management”… kept in the dark and fed on shit.
Now, I’d call that kind of behaviour abusive – wouldn’t you?
This treatment went on for over three weeks – can you imagine how his team must have been feeling, deserted by a boss they respect and admire? Are they really going to be willing or able to give their heart and soul again in the future – once bitten twice shy and all that. On top of that, does this kind of short-sighted decision-making really take in to account the long-term health of the company? Surely this is just another example of impulsive behaviour, and a failure to accept responsibility for such actions – you can bet your bottom dollar my friend will be paraded as the scapegoat, while ‘those at the top’ continue to twist and turn their decisions, re-defining the goal-posts whenever boredom strikes again? Leaving the teams to wonder “what did I do wrong? Is it going to be me next?” and forcing people to keep their heads down and walk gingerly over the scattered eggshells.
Does this sound familiar…?
At the end of the three weeks, by the way, this particular “values-driven” company went back on what they had promised in the first meeting, ultimately implying that my friend is a liar.
“There’s nothing we can do” said my friend’s solicitor “There were two of them in the meeting and one of you. It’s their word against yours.”
He is finally out of there, with a pretty measly pay-off, having been forced to sign a legal contract promising that he will never say anything derogatory about the company or about his treatment at their hands. His team, however, still have to wait another few days to be told the truth.
Corporate sociopathy to a tee, wouldn’t you agree? There are so many more examples, and I’m only just starting to get my teeth in to this massively unexplored area. So the business world had better watch out, because as you know, I’m not one to stay quiet.
Tuesday, 4 October 2011
Being An Enabler
Ever since I can remember, I’ve been what I would call one of life’s enablers – a giver, carer, supporter and fighter for the rights of other people. I have been one of those people who will stick her neck out to protect others. I will stand up for rights, and fight against injustice. I still do it to a large extent. That, I believe, is part of what makes me successful in my chosen profession as a leadership and team development coach.
At work I am known as being someone who says it as it is and will stand up to the bully. I also encourage others to do the same, be it in their professional or personal life. I am the person who helps others identify their core values, to facilitate their discovery of what really makes them tick, to guide them in clarifying their focus for what is important to them. Not what’s important to other people – their family, their boss, their colleagues, their friends – no, what’s important to them as a human soul. For most people it can feel weird to become the centre of their own attention. For many, they have previously measured their success or failure, their likes or dislikes, their progress or regression through other people or situations.
I am grateful for my skills, and feel privileged to enjoy a career in the field of human development. I am lucky enough to work with people, often on a deeply personal level. It is a position of trust that I value extremely highly – I know I am lucky to do the work I do, and I am constantly enriched by the progress that people make through coaching and development. It’s incredibly rewarding!
So, being an ‘enabler’ therefore is a good thing…. Isn’t it? Well, yes it is…. And there can also be a downside, as all of us who have experienced any kind of abusive relationship will testify.
This is what has hit home to me once again this week. This is where I have discovered another aspect to my own blind spots. Since becoming free from my sociopathic husband, I have been much more mindful about the friendships I keep. Some have gone by the wayside. Others have strengthened. New ones have started, and old forgotten ones have returned. It’s been – and continues to be – an extremely cathartic and enjoyable process. And, to be honest, I thought I was doing pretty darned well!
It would appear not. It would appear that I’d once again slipped in to the trap of bending over backwards in too many ‘friendships’ that really didn’t warrant that level of attention. It appears now, that in my general sense of happiness and well being, that I had let some less than healthy aspects of some relationships thrive and take space right in front of my eyes. I’d been caring for cuckoos in the nest – blindly feeding and nurturing them to the detriment of other healthy friendships, including the one with myself.
It was my friend, Beatrix, who gave me some incredibly wise advice last summer. I’d been struggling against a backlash of unpleasant emails from somebody who I expected to know better. I felt shocked and exasperated and found myself wailing at my dear friend “But I don’t understand! I thought we’d moved past all this! We have had a really good relationship over recent times!” She looked at me at this point, and put her head to one side, a wry smile on her face “You know what, Mel?” she said “It’s amazing how many great relationships anyone can have when they bend over backwards to make them so…” She was right of course. My natural fall-back position of carer and giver meant that I had been the one putting the vast majority of effort and flexibility in to that particular relationship. I could continue doing that (and feel like a doormat in the process) or I could gently but firmly stand my ground, letting the relationship transform in the process. I chose to stand my ground, and kept that particular person at a healthy arms length.
It was Beatrix, again, who has put me on the straight and narrow today – thank you my friend. When I shared the stories of what I’d experienced over the past few days, she simply shrugged. “All of those people have behaved in exactly the way they normally do” she said “you already knew what to expect from them – so what’s the point in being upset? You’re the one who’s being unreasonable because you’re expecting them to do something different – that’s just plain crazy. Just because you’ve changed and grown, doesn’t mean they have!”
Once again she was right, of course. With each of the examples I gave her, she reminded me gently that I’d already decided some months ago to keep my distance in each case. And as my life and experiences have continued to be more joyful and rewarding, I have become more tolerant and understanding of others. And yes, as a result, perhaps I forgot some of my boundaries.
Unconsciously I had once again been putting myself out – bending, flexing, staying open, being tolerant – and in the process allowing myself to put up with situations which, while in some cases were not actually harmful to me, in all cases were certainly less than supportive.
No wonder I had been feeling angry! No wonder I’d been confused! Whilst the circumstances of last week can hardly be called ‘abusive’ they have certainly pushed the old buttons from when I have been in an abusive relationship. Betrayal, abandonment, isolation, shame – all of those insidious emotions started to re-surface. Not enough, it has to be said, to overwhelm – certainly sufficient to knock me a little off balance, and to start the “What am I doing wrong? How is this happening again?” questions poking and picking at the scars that had long since healed.
Standing My Ground
In all fairness, the behaviours of those specific people last week were probably not worthy of a prison sentence – perhaps just a caution, or a sharp rap on the knuckles. But because of what I have been through, as for so many of us here, I will no longer tolerate anything that is not supportive to me. The glaringly obvious fact that I had been blind enough to anticipate supportive behaviour from people who have shown me their true colours on countless occasions in the past, left me feeling shameful and angry. You may remember that I’m writing my first book, and that has involved going over a huge amount of old ground. So yes, I was feeling angry at my past. Yes, I was feeling angry at the way so many people who were meant to care for me, even in my childhood, have treated me badly. So yes, it’s fair to say that my emotional responses have been perhaps a little more intense than usual.
But they are no less valid – no matter the strength, or the underlying reasons.
I am standing my ground. Fairly, squarely, and with my head held high. Friendships, to me, are about a healthy symbiotic relationship. Where two people meet honestly, to share ideas, to grow, to laugh, to help each other, and to enjoy each other’s company. As the blinkers continued to fall from my eyes last week, one particular person asked whether I would remain friends with them. I responded honestly and as gently as I could. I said that in view of what I had realised, I would never turn them away if they asked for help – but that I didn’t think I would continue to be a friend. Not, at least, in the way that I value and measure my friendships.
If the only way to maintain a friendship is if I continue to bend, flex, stay quiet, support and understand the other person – while ignoring the emotional bruises I am getting in the process – well, then that’s not, in my world, a healthy relationship. It doesn’t make the other person an enemy – but if I continue being a friend on those levels, then I am being an enemy to myself. I am giving myself the message that I’m not worthy of having people around me who love me for who I am. I am telling myself, just as I was told as a child and later on by my husband, that I’m not good enough. That I’ll never measure up to much, and that nobody could possibly love me.
Well you know what? That just isn’t true. So, my friends, although I might have re-built my boundaries this week and created more distance between us, you have all helped me tremendously – thank you. It’s said that people come in to our lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime. Well, as time continues, my lifetime friends are becoming more and more valuable to me – and top of the list is my relationship with myself.
Thank you for reading, I hope this has been useful! With love and blessings