Archives for the ‘Courage’ Category

Time Out for Adults

Light of Mind

The State of Play

Every so often, people come to me for advice. “How are you?” I ask. “Life is good. Lots going on. Plenty to do,” says my friend. Then just before her voice trails off, “Perhaps too much.”

In our frantic world of go-getting and Blackberry prayers at the dinner table, there can be little time to catch our breath, let alone think. And think clearly.

The Value of an Empty Mind

The most effective thing I’ve learned to do is to take time out. That’s easier said than done, of course. The trick is to first recognise when your head is full. Then you look out for the next moment when you find yourself sitting still in a quiet spot. You then seize the moment and empty your mind.

Staring out the window is a great way to decompress quickly. Notice all the minutiae your eyes usually gloss over, like that robin staring straight back at you through the window. Or pay special attention to the sounds around you. If you listen carefully, you may even hear Nature’s symphony of spring.

“How long do I need to sit for?” you ask. “I’ve got stuff to be getting on with.”

Mindful Thinking

Taking a moment to pause for breath helps empty my mind. I know I’ve paused for long enough when the curtains of the empty stage that is my mind begins to twitch and fresh ideas skip in, gently reminding me of why I rush around so much. Of how I’d like to live my life.

Time out isn’t just something that can help our children pause for thought. When we’re able to take ourselves to the time out place as adults is when we’re able to become whole again.

Good Deeds Indeed

Be Good

Be Good

Growing up, all the adults around me used to say, “Be good.” And when I asked why, some simply replied, “Because it’s important” with no further explanation.

Then one day, one of the more knowing adults, a teacher, told me how if I did good deeds, good things would happen to me.

So one Saturday, when I was 12 years old, I decided to test my teacher’s assertion. Not so much to see if she was telling the truth (since many of the same adults also told me lies), but rather that my heart told me I was onto something important.

In Search of Good

The experiment went as follows. I decided to “be good” for the entire day and keep a tally of my good deeds.

On my way to the library, I met an old lady waiting to cross the road. With naive enthusiasm, I grabbed her frail arm and said, “I’ll help you cross the road.”

Afterwards, as I beamed with pride at my obvious first good deed of the day, I noticed a bewildered look on the old lady’s face. “What’s the matter?” I asked, “Can I help?” To which she replied, “I didn’t want to cross the road. Now I need help to get back to the other side.”

By the time I returned the old lady to the other side of the road, I’d learned an important lesson. A deed is only good if the recipient benefitted from my help, regardless of my best intentions.

Full of youthful gusto, I went about the rest of my day doing good deeds, starting with handing in a purse I found on my way to the shops to the nearest store to give the person who lost it the best chance of finding it again. This taught me my second lesson of the day. Good deeds are rarely done in isolation and I needed to trust others to do the right thing for my good deeds to work.

When eventually I got to the library, I was disappointed to find the last copy of the novel I wanted had just been taken out minutes before my arrival. “Never mind,” I told myself. “I’ll just have to wait a bit longer.” Then, as I was leaving the library, one of the librarians called me back to say that luckily, someone else had just returned a copy and would I like to borrow it?

Of course I did! I smiled to myself as I clutched my treasure of a book. Perhaps good deeds did happen to people who do good, I mused.

Be the Change You Want to See

By the end of the day, I was convinced. For each good thing I did that day, I was rewarded by something good happening to me. It didn’t matter how big or small my good deed was nor how big or small my reward was. The fact that the numbers tallied up was what made the difference to me.

I stopped keeping count after running the same experiment on several more occasions as it seemed simpler to do good whenever I could. It’s not always easy, but it makes sense to me.

It’s true what the adults say. What you focus on, you get more of. And what goes around comes around.

Zombie Test

Welcome to the City of London

The Inhumane Condition

The risk with working in London, or in any large cosmopolitan city in the 21st century for that matter, is that we sometimes lose touch with our own humanity.

The Stress Test

For instance, how was your journey from your home to your desk this morning? What do you remember of it? And what of the people you spent your 45-minute commute with?

For many people, it’s a case of tune-out-the-outside-world until you make it to your desk. Avoid eye contact and social interaction at all cost.

For some, this zombiefied way of living continues from waking until it’s time to go to bed. Again. And again. And again.

A Different World

Now imagine a world where we greet one another with a polite smile when we board a train. A world where we offer those more in need than ourselves a seat instead of shoving aside the young, the old and the needy before squeezing into a seat ourselves.

The cynics out there will complain that no such place can exist where mankind, womankind and childrenkind tread.

Live Dangerously

What if you could change the world one seat at a time by gifting it to those who truly need it? After all, it only takes one living person to awake a carriage full of zombies.

A Question of Why

When we’re sixty…

“When you get older, time speeds up,” an old lady once confided in me as I fed the ducks by the pond.

Not long after, an elderly gentleman with whom I shared a bench at the playground said, “When you’re my age, you’ll have less time to do the stuff you want to do.”

While this phenomenon of time speeding up with one’s age has yet to be scientifically proven, I don’t want to take any chances.

I’ve learned enough life lessons and made many more mistakes besides over the years to leave my life to chance alone.

When I was young, I’d happily bumble along life’s well-trodden path like Frodo before the ring.

Now that I’m older, I’ve distilled my beliefs into a list of 3 guiding principles and devise strategies guided by them.

1. Have fun
Life’s too short to be taken too seriously. Let your hair down. Dance like no one can see you. Sing like you’re in the shower. Play brings people together and enables us to do impossible things.

2. Dream, believe and achieve – together
This is really three principles rolled into one. I first came across it as the motto of one of my favourite local primary schools. It inspired me back then and inspires me still.

3. Do things with heart
See a world where there’s enough to go around. Give freely whenever I can. Operate by a gift economy instead of only trade. What’s more, give generously to those who share my values and principles to co-create a better world.

Why do you do what you do?

It’s Not You, It’s Me

Purple-Cow

Where’s the milk?

It’s a beautiful summer Sunday morning. You’re looking forward to breakfast. You open the fridge and discover there’s no milk. Your eyes continue to scan the other shelves in case it has been misplaced. Like the shelves before you, you mind goes blank with silent rage.

The Blame Game

Then all the clamourous voices in your head complain as reality sinks in.

“Who’s drunk all the milk without replacing it? How can this have happened? I was having a great day and now it’s spoilt for good… Who’s to blame?!?”

Perhaps you keep your cool better than I do. May be you even stay cool for longer. One thing’s for certain. Everyone’s got something that makes them tick and go “Boom!”

What’s the one thing that drives you mad about a certain someone? What if the only thing you could change is yourself in a Boom situation?

Missing Me

By going from Denial, Blame, Justification, Shame and Obligation, we can all eventually arrive at Responsibility where the Good Life happens.

How can you transform a situation by taking responsibility and applying The Responsibility Model before all hell breaks loose on account of a bit of missing milk?

Strike a Pose

Whether you’re a first time developer, manager, leader or parent, according to Amy Cuddy in her Ted talk, the key to increased confidence in what you do is to strike a pose. Literally.

While your mind can clearly control your body, according to research, changing your posture can significantly affect what you think. Especially how you perceive yourself.

Years ago, while I was totally daunted by the prospect of my final year French spoken exam, a girl who lived down the corridor shared with me the secret to her consistent high performance in exams.

“Of course I study for every exam,” Miss High Achiever said. “But there’s something else I do right before I go into the exam room. It’s very silly, but it works.”

It turns out my friend would spend a few minutes psyching herself up in front of a mirror, usually in the ladies toilets. She would stand tall, look herself in the eye then say just loud enough for herself to hear, “You’re the best. You’re the best. You’re the best.”

At the time, out of desperation, I tried out my friend’s tip. I did much better than I ever imagined in my final year French spoken exam.

Of course, spending a year out in France as a language assistant helped as did my intense revision.

Standing in front of the mirror just before my exam telling myself “You’re the best” didn’t turn me into a narcissist anymore than it did with my friend. Instead, it reminded us that no matter what happened, we were going to give it our best shot.

And that’s my takeaway from Amy Cuddy’s Ted talk. “Fake it until you become it.” With enough practice, preparation and self-belief you, too, can make it.

This tip got me through one of my scarier moments in 2012 when I gave my first TedX talk last year.

How are you going to fake it until you become it?

When You Wish Upon a Star

Miserly Wishing

Some people are stingy with their wishes. “I have only three wishes, so I must make each of them count!” they tell themselves. The result of this miserly attitude to wishing often results in wishes that barely resemble what people really, really want. And, more importantly, what they really, really need.

Meaningful Wishing

To discover what really matters to you, try answering this question from artist Candy Chang: “Before I die I want to…”

Infinite Wishing

I’ve heard tell that in the original version of the Genie in the Lamp there was no constraint on the number of wishes one could make upon setting the genie free.

Plenty More Wishes in the Sea

So go on. What do you wish for? Come up with one wish after another. And remember, when you wish upon a star, you’re a step closer towards turning that wish into a reality. After all, everything we do begins with a thought. For the lucky ones, it begins with a wish. For those who persevere, we can make our wishes come true.

Here’s wishing you a Happy 2013 and beyond!

2012 – A Personal Retrospective

To make more of the future, we have to learn from the past. In order to learn from the past, we need to take time out to reflect. Only then can we can identify improvement actions effectively and do them. I might not like what I see when I look back but it’s always worthwhile.

WHAT WENT WELL

  • Do at least one thing a day that scared me, from challenging the status quo to confronting my own incongruent behaviour
  • Playmaking: I say “Play once a day to keep the doctor and priest away” – Used play to repeatedly transform conversations and situations by helping people (re-) connect with each other. Watch my talk on infoq.com
  • Identify my goals and go for it: I set myself SMART goals and achieved them – including writing my first book and the first ever Agile Choose-your-Own-Adventure novel “The Dream Team Nightmare“, presenting an idea worth spreading at TEDx “Enterprise Gardening: Transforming workplaces into somewhere we belong” and growing a family of my own

WHAT WENT WRONG

  • Being too judgmental: This remains one of my top flaws. While making judgment quickly is a pre-requisite for an effective consultant, it’s also a self-limiting habit, especially for a coach who wants to improve herself. Going forward, I will focus first on facts then bring in intuition and experience
  • Slow to improve: In order to improve quickly, I will make every interaction a learning opportunity and apply what I’ve learned as quickly as possible to a) test its effectiveness; b) get in the practice of applying it; c) release the value of that learning
  • Too much work-in-progress: I find it difficult to prioritise my workload and procrastinate when it comes to less interesting work. Instead, I will work on one thing at a time and release the value of that item as quickly as possible before starting work on another

LESSONS (RE-) LEARNED

  1. Use what I know: It’s all too easy and wasteful to talk the talk without walking the walk
  2. Sustainable pace: Work at a pace that allows me to think fast and/or slow as necessary so that I can do what I love well forever. Working at a sustainable pace gives me the head space to think and act more congruently
  3. Be gentle with myself and others: Instead of expressing passion in terms of metaphors of violence and destruction, use nurture to help ideas and people grow
  4. Try things out: Experiment and put ideas to the test in order to see if they’re any good before casting them aside; challenge assumptions
  5. Help those who want to help themselves: When asked if we want to improve, most people’s answer is “Of course!”. This is often followed by inaction in spite of the individual’s initial response. Invest wisely on what, whom and how I spend my time to maximise the Return- On-Investment for everyone involved
  6. Slow down to speed up: As the rabbit said, “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get”. Check out Carl Honore’s talk on Slowness on Ted.com
  7. Follow my dreams: Only I am capable of realising my dreams. Figure out what they are, envision them coming true, then reverse-engineer what it’ll take to get me there and take one baby step at a time

Back to the Future

How was 2012 for you? What will you make of 2013?

Up Close and Uncomfortable

Challenging the Caring Profession

In the run-up to my Christmas baby, I’ve had more close encounters with those who work in the “caring profession” than I’ve had since I first arrived in the world over all those years ago.

And all the time I now spend in waiting rooms has given me lots of time to think.

Caring vs Competence

What makes me uncomfortable is the large number of people I’ve met who are not only not passionate about their job but are incompetent at what they do.

In my experience, the caring profession is no exception in a world where we are encouraged to demand more than the value we actually add.

What People Want

The usual demand goes something like this: “I want more recognition, more money, more influence, more power…” And so the wish list continues.

And I find myself asking in return: “How much value are you providing for your current wage? How do you provide a positive Return-On-Investment to your organisation?”

If you cannot answer these questions to your satisfaction and that of your organisation’s, how would you feel if your organisation asked for some of their money back? After all, it seems only fair.

If you’re not helping to make things better, it’s more likely than not that you’re making things worse.

What’s a “caring profession” anyway?

I’ve come to define a caring profession as one that:
a) Involves people AND/OR
b) Impacts people

Why? Because caring is key to creating a positive customer experience. Caring also inspires us to improve at our craft in order to serve others better. All this results in more value for everyone to enjoy.

Based on my definition, most of us work in the caring profession.

What if you were to blame a little less and care a little more? How could you change the world around you?

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

A Flash from the Past

Years ago when I was back at school, I had two very different English teachers.

The first was Ms. H, a quiet, unassuming and knowledgeable young teacher. She was my favourite teacher because she encouraged me to improve my writing through my assignments. For a long time, I wondered if she wanted to become a writer herself and just before I left school, I found out that she was writing a novel in her spare time. I remember feeling pleased upon discovering this information and secretly wished her well.

The second was Mrs. W, a very knowledgeable and exceptionally opinionated teacher. In many ways, teachers with strong views can be an inspiration and Mrs. W was exactly that to me. Mrs. W was a retired journalist who had worked at a number of the famous newspapers in London. She seemed the most worldly-wise among all the teachers at my school.

Death Sentence?

At the tender age of 15, I figured that whatever Mrs. W said was worth listening to. This rule worked well until the day I mentioned I’d like to be a writer and she replied, “Forget about becoming a writer, you’ll never be good enough.”

The rule of listening to Mrs. W had been hardcoded into my brain and what had been heard could not be unheard. At first I felt shocked then angry at the certainty with which she uttered her judgment. And when the shock and anger fizzled out, I decided I would have to find my own way. She may be right in her conviction, but I had to at least try to do my dream justice.

And so I dabbled with writing short stories for a while and, being a complete novice, quickly got lost. The next baby step I could take was a joint honours degree in English and French to keep my dream of becoming a writer alive.

Dormant Dreams

Eventually, with the distractions of life and reality, I fell asleep, along with my dream of becoming a writer, much like Dorothy did in the poppy field on her way to see the wizard.

When I awoke, I’d become an IT professional, first a developer, then a development manager then a consultant.

In the last 4 years, I’ve made at least 20 attempts to write a book. Fiction or non-fiction, it didn’t really matter. To be a writer, I needed to write. For me, a successful outcome would be a book I wrote.

Back to the Future

Twenty five years later after that fateful conversation with Mrs. W, my dream became a reality.

On Wednesday, 6 June 2012, two days after the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, my first book was born: ‘The Dream Team Nightmare’, a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure aka Fighting Fantasy style game book where you, the protagonist, plays an Agile Coach tasked with helping to get a failing Agile team back on track.

The value of experiments

Thanks to my previous attempts (aka experiments), I’d finally produced a work consisting of elements of fiction AND non-fiction. What’s more, it’s the first ever game book in the Agile Community that I know of. And better still, in writing ‘The Dream Team Nightmare’, I imagined into existence a series close to my own heart called ‘Agile Adventures – When the journey matters as much as the destination’.

Dream BIG, live it little by little

So what’s my biggest take away from my 21 attempts in recent years at living my dream of becoming a writer? That we have everything we need to overcome the challenges we face to live our dreams. The key is to stay faithful to your dream, go easy on yourself and live a bit of the dream every day.

What’s the smallest step you can take right now to help make one of your dreams come true?