Resilience

Lessons learned on a business anniversary

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Fear, Authenticity, Self-worth, growth and not giving up

Facebook reminded me this week that 4 years ago today I graduated from my Yoga Teacher training in Byron Bay – I’ve not taught much yoga since but have done so much else and learned so many lessons which I’ve been reflecting on.

I’d quit my corporatecareer a few months prior and had embarked on a year out to discover my passionsand try and find a new career that aligned with my values – and a new lifereally having just walked away from a seven year relationship too as part of aprocess that resulted in me come out.

This journey took meto places like Bali, the Kingdom of Bhutan, teaching English to novice monks inNorthern Thailand, silent meditation retreats, debuting in public speaking,starting my own business and writing my first book.  A book that was published a year later andcontained much more about the inner journey that had unfolded.

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4 years on I lookback, incidentally on the verge of a holiday back to Byron Bay next month withmy wife to be.  I’m now an author of two books with my ownbusiness and invited to speak at events and conferences across the world.  I’ve discovered my passions and feelcomfortable aligning with my values to be my authentic self – it was a longtime coming and hasn’t always been easy but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Here are some lessons I’d like to share with you following that journey:

Just because you’ve never done it doesn’t mean you can’t do it

When I left my job Ihad no idea what else I could do.  I’dtrained all my life for one career which wasn’t fulfilling me.  I didn’t know what else I wanted to do or ifI’d be capable of anything else, I certainly wasn’t qualified.

When it came torunning my own business I didn’t know where to start.  There’s been a lot of learning over the lastfew years, trial and error and a lot of failing too!  I’ve learned to do things like accounts,marketing, social media and more that I’d never had to consider in my former career. 

It’s also pushed meout of my comfort zone in other ways – networking, building a reputation and abrand as well as being the face of my business (having been someone who prefersto be in the background!)

I used to think – I’venever done this before it’s not in my skill–set, I’ve no experience in this butI’ve learned over the years that just because we’ve not done it doesn’t mean wecan’t, it’s just something we haven’t learned to do yet.

It’s so important that whatever we’re doing we make sure we always learn new things, push ourselves and take on challenges so that we learn and grow.  It also leads me nicely onto my next lesson

Get out of your comfort zone - don’t play it too safe

I avoided risksbecause I didn’t want to fail but taking on my own business, re-inventing mycareer meant I could no longer avoid this. I had to take risks and I became familiar with failure as I battledthrough the trial and error of learning so many new things. 

I faced many fears asI embarked on this journey; leaving the certainty of what I knew, a career Itrained 15 years for and knew well, a regular pay check and company car, animage people had of me – what would they think now?  What if I failed?  What if I’m making the wrong choice?

I had no choice but toget out of my comfort zone but sometimes it seemed tempting to stay there –better the devil you know!  As I steppedout of my comfort zone I faced the fears, uncertainty and risk and at times Ialso failed.

I put on events thatno-one showed up to.  For the firstcouple of years I earned no money from my business.  Most of my speaking was for free and my firstroyalty cheque was worth less than $5.

After each rejectionletter from a publisher I could have decided to give up.  In fact there’s been many times business gothard, I was out of my depth, I wasn’t earning money and it felt like I’dfailed, reached the end of the line, I was tempted to give it up.

One of the things thatalways kept me going was asking “What has this taught me and what can I doabout it?”  This solutions focusedreflection forced me into action, rather than wallowing in the fact it was hardand I’d failed it immediately turned my mind towards – what am I going to doabout it and scanning the options I had.

Failure is how we learn and grow and is often how we learn to succeed, it’s also something that’s unavoidable if you push yourself, take risks and face challenges, I now see how it can be a positive.  But we can see failure as a sign of our lack, a mirror of our self-worth and it encourages us to devalue what we’re capable of.

Don’t under estimate yourself – you’ve earned your place

We often doubt ourabilities, underestimate ourselves or think that our success must have beendown to something other than our ability – luck, a mistake, being liked etc.

Throughout my career Iwould wave away success and down play my achievements almost embarrassed bypraise.  I can’t say I’m there yet but Ihave since learned to respond to praise and recognition with ‘thank you’ whichis a good start!

For many years in myformer career I suffered from Imposter Syndrome.  I didn’t get a degree, I left school at 16and as I progressed into senior roles (where everyone had a degree) I used tofeel like I was less intelligent, not as valuable or worthy – despite myperformance and achievements.

Other people’sopinions seem to carry more weight than our own and it’s only the feedback I’vehad from others over the years that now allows me to believe I can do this andthat people love what I do.

I remember worrying inmy first workshop I’d been asked to do for a big business – am I qualified todo this?  Will they enjoy it?  Will it be good enough?  Who am I to be posing as an expert in thisfield? – all those questions played on my mind despite having written a book onthe subject I was speaking about!

Late last yeararriving at parliament to do the same workshop I finally felt like I belonged,that I’d earned my place and that I had something important to share that wouldbe of value to those who’d asked me to come.

If you’re getting praise you’ve earned it.  The success you achieve is because you’re capable and have worked for it.  It doesn’t have to be perfect to be success and you also don’t need to have all the answers.

You don’t have to have all the answers

For many years I’d putoff leaving the security of my corporate job. I needed a plan first.  If thiswasn’t my career I needed to know what was before I made any changes.  Where I’m at now I could never have foreseenthen.  It’s been a result of the journeyI’ve taken and the things I’ve learned along the way that have helped informedmy next move, developed me and taken me to where I am.

Often we feel we needall the answers, to see the whole stair case before we take the first step andbegin.

There was trial anderror, trying things to know if that worked or not.  Training to teach yoga to see if this couldbe the future me or where else that might take me.  Whilst I had a plan, I had no idea where I’dend up and it was only as I made progress the next steps began to emerge.

Sometimes we have to be comfortable with uncertainty because we don’t know what’s next.  We might have a path set out but end up somewhere different, or sometimes we end up in the same place but take a different path or route to the one we planned, either way it works.  I’m of the opinion now that there are no wrong paths and there are lessons learned and experiences gained even from the tough paths I wish I’d not chosen – I wouldn’t go back and change it.

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Align with your values – be yourself

For many of my formeryears I tried to be who I thought I should be, what the world wanted, to fitin.  I denied my sexuality for many yearsand took the corporate path of success as my own.  It was only when I realised status and salarywere not markers of happiness that I began to look for work that aligned to myvalues – I had to figure out what those were.

As a young leader Ifelt there was a mould to fit.  I had tobe a certain way to pass as a leader and as a result I devalued some of myskills that I didn’t think had a place at work. I used to leave my ‘Jess’ hat at the door to put my ‘Leader’ haton.  I now release these are the samehats and things like kindness, compassion and empathy are major leadershipstrengths rather than character weaknesses – what a relief because we all knowpretending to be something we’re not is exhausting!

Being able to show up as my authentic self both in life and in work makes every day so much more rewarding.  It also allows people to trust us when we’re genuine and relate to us if we’ve walked in their shoes.

Choose your people wisely

I’m lucky to have hadsupport around me, cheerleaders, people who believe in me.  Support from my family even though they hadno idea what I was doing and feared my exit from a corporate well paid job toclean composting toilets in a yoga ashram may not be a great career move!

It’s taught e thevalue of those who surround us.  Thepeople I’ve learned from and aspired to be who inspired me to carry on, evenwhen it got hard.  But equally thosewho’ve challenged me to grow and pushed me.

I used to feel jealouswhen I looked at those who’d succeeded, like they’d done it right and I wasdoing it wrong; “why can’t I be on the stage at this event rather than in theaudience?”  It made me feel like I wasn’tas capable rather than just on an earlier stage of my journey.  It’s important we respect these people, learnfrom them but never compare to them or feel their success threatens our ownlearning.

Find people whosupport you but challenge you positively to grow, respect them and be inspiredby them but don’t compare yourself to them or feel jealous.  Avoid negative people who hold you back –surround yourself with those who’ll nourish you.

It’s also taught methe power of collaboration.  I’ve met somany amazing people doing similar kinds of work and often now when I organizeevents I’ll use it as a platform for other women to inspire my audience too andinvite guest speakers.

I’ve also beenfortunate to join business groups and communities full of supportive peoplewilling to share their knowledge and time with me.

Often we’re taught tocompete, that our success needs to be at the expense of someone elses.  I’ve learned that we are much strongertogether than we are apart.

Find out more aboutJess on her website www.jessstuart.co.nz  and visit the blog at www.inspireyourlife.org/blog

Being a good person isn't always enough

The spotlight is well and truly on violence against women since the recent murder of Grace Millane. And whilst many may question, why the outrage now when so many others have gone before? I was at the vigil last night in Wellington with many others and something resonated. When asked to put up our hands if we’d travelled alone offshore, felt unsafe, had families fear for our safety the majority of the women there did – we could have been Grace, we identified with her story and we can walk in her shoes. Like Grace, at 22 I arrived in Auckland from England on my OE over a decade ago, this is our reality that’s why it resonates.

But regardless of the name on the vigil there are many names that sit alongside, lesser profile perhaps but equally important lives - the statistics speak for themselves. It’s a sad fact that it took a young, white foreign tourist to die in this way on our shores to bring violence against women in NZ into the spotlight and the undeniable fact that in the vast majority of cases this is at the hands of men.

But we all know and love many men who don’t fit into this category, these same men join us in our outrage but is that enough? What are we doing as men (and women) to stop violence against women. To talk to our men and boys about their responsibility in how we treat women and how to balance out the power dynamic when it comes to gender.

Are we calling out the men (and women) who still assume when this happens a woman must be, in some way, to blame – she was out late at night, unaccompanied, using a dating app, wearing the wrong thing, behaving inappropriately. Why should it rest purely on women’s shoulders to try and protect themselves from men or to justify why they didn’t deserve to be victims of violence – don’t we all deserve the right to live safe?

Especially when all the evidence suggests the rules we’ve been taught to follow for so many years still do not protect us, summed up perfectly in this article by Emily Writes. And even if they did is it fair that we should live life differently, more cautious, less privileged and free to our male counterparts because of the threat they pose to our life?

So what is the answer and how do we ensure this is not just another women’s issue that women alone try to resolve because we know that’s only got us so far.

I had the privilege to see Author Clementine Ford speak recently when she was over in NZ. Having written a book with a similar title to mine and spoken a lot about empowering women I was intrigued. One thing she mentioned really stuck with me. She talked about those who we put in the ‘bad’ category – perpetrators of violence against women, those who discriminate or harass/bully females in the work place. Then on the other hand those who are ‘good’ people, obviously we do none of this, in fact we condemn it but is that enough? Clementine talked about the many men (and women) who may be in the ‘good people’ category but still are too passive, we stand by as this stuff goes on and feel because we’re opposed to it and refuse to partake that’s enough, but is it?

You see I’m not the protest type, I’ve never seen myself as a feminist (although I respect those that are and the work they’ve done massively). My mantra is that we focus on ourselves and empower each other to deal with this rather than what happens externally.

However it is apparent that we can’t do this alone and the success of women relies on us bringing our male counterparts along on the journey. The balance of equality and making our country safer for women is something men must help with – we can’t do this alone, we are in this together and we must take action together – all of us.

I’m aware that I prefer to stand in the background, I prefer quiet, subtle action and have always shied away from conflict. I’ve no desire to be the lighting rod for abuse that Clementine Ford admits to having become. But sometimes this is at the risk of me being too passive. I’m a good person but what use is that unless I’m actively doing something to help, speaking out, having the right conversations?

I’ve worked with many good men (and women) and indeed outside of work too but so many of us (myself included) are passive in this space. We think that because we’re not perpetrators of violence against women or believe we would never discriminate based on gender that we put ourselves firmly in the ‘good’ category. However, how much change does simply not being bad create? Is more than that required? Given the statistics 125 years after women won the right to vote in NZ it may suggest that yes, more is required.

Whilst I’m not ready to pick up my placards and hit the streets it has given me food for thought, along with other ‘good’ people. Standing by passively being good people is sometimes not enough. And that’s not to say we need to be protesting or petitioning our governments (although that can help too), it’s thinking about the conversations we have with each other, the small actions we can do and how we can use our privileged positions for greater advantage and change in this space.

Imposter syndrome on-line course out now

To get your early bird discount and download the course click the link below www.jessstuart.co.nz/imposter-syndrome

Imposter syndrome is something I’ve encountered throughout my career and is one of the topics from my latest book that has resonated most with people.

I used to think it was just me but after 15 years working with people in personal development and then running my own training and coaching business, it transpires that many others feel exactly the same.

I spent most of my career doubting my abilities, and getting promotions didn’t seem to help. I still felt like an imposter who’d be found out one day. The reality was I was good at my job and even bigger jobs as the promotions came—but each new job would raise the same fear: I’m not sure I can do this.

It’s called imposter syndrome, and it’s a lot more common than we think. I thought it was only me, but every woman I speak to who confesses they feel it too also believes she is the only one! According to the Journal of Behavioural Science, 70 percent of people suffer from imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome is a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud.” It’s that voice of self-doubt that, despite our successes, keeps us feeling like we might fail, we might not be good enough, and we might get found out.

Those with imposter syndrome have a tendency to attribute their success to external factors—like luck, or the work of the team. It takes courage to take on challenges and pursue dreams that leave you open to the risk of failure, falling short, losing face, and being “found out.”

Over the last week I’ve released the following video blogs on Imposter Syndrome to help you identify it and tips on how to handle it.

What matters most is not whether we fear failing, looking foolish, or not being enough; it’s whether we give those fears the power to keep us from taking the actions needed to achieve our goals.

If you missed the free content that's been coming out this week you can view the short video blogs here for top tips and more information on handling Imposter Syndrome http://youtu.be/ycgVQvg7NvU

http://youtu.be/1nw893bfAY4

http://youtu.be/WSMChcUdO-I

To get your early bird discount and download the course click the link below www.jessstuart.co.nz/imposter-syndrome

Is fear causing you to play small? Learn how to think big!

Do you have big dreams that always seem to be on the back burner?  Are there goals you’ve yet to achieve, a step out of your comfort zone you’ve been terrified to make so far?  Are there people out there you admire yet you’re not sure how you’d ever get to where they are now?

There are many reasons we play it small and sometimes we’re not even aware of what’s guiding our choices as it sits in our subconscious.  Either way the result is the same - the answer is yes, if you play it small you will always miss out on making it big.

One of the main things that stops us is fear!  Fear of what other people will think.  Fear of losing what we have, of leaving what we know.  Fear of being different.  Fear of the unknown.  What if I get it wrong?  What if I lose what I have?  What if I fail?  Fear of rejection means that sometimes we won’t even ask the question.  Our fear of failure means that we often prefer to play it safe to avoid failure - but at what cost?

And is failure really such a bad thing that it brings about such fear in us?  Giving ourselves permission to fail is part of learning to play it big – the opportunity to learn from our mistakes and grow from our failures.  I used to think that if we avoided failure we’d be successful by default but I now believe that failure is actually part of the path to success and each failure can be a step closer to success.

I spent years learning what I don’t know (the art of writing, marketing 101, and the business side of publishing) and still I sometimes fail!  I put on events and no-one turned up, my first royalty cheque was worth less than $5.  It didn’t stop me because if I gave up all the hard work to date would have been for nothing.  It’s taught me to learn to see the success in failure - the lessons learned. 

But as well as fear of failure, it’s worth noting that we may also (ironically) experience a fear of success!  Summed up perfectly by Marianne Williamson who said “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.”

Fear is what happens when we try to take a step outside of our comfort zone.  It’s called that for a reason.  It feels nice, safe and comfortable and that’s why it’s so easy to stay there.  It takes courage to step outside our comfort zone and do things that are different and unfamiliar.  But if we can move outside of our comfort zone it expands, as our comfort zone becomes bigger we learn more.  Things become easier as there are now fewer things outside our comfort zone, therefore less that scares us.  Think of public speaking, a thing that sits outside most people’s comfort zone.  It makes many of us nervous, me included.  But once we’ve done one, we can do another and by the time we’ve done 30 our comfort zone has expanded and now includes public speaking.  So it no longer feels so nerve racking and our confidence improves.  Yes, it’s a challenge, yes they’ll be fear, danger and maybe even failure along the way, but that’s part of the path and unless you travel the path you’ll never grow. 

Our fear of failure can also breed a perfectionism in us that means if we can’t do it 100% right and right now we don’t do it at all.  Well, sometimes done is better than perfect and getting the ball rolling, making a start, taking action is key on the road to making it big.  You are allowed to be both a masterpiece and a work in progress – in fact it is the only way.  We’re always learning, never perfect and continuously developing.

We do struggle with being a work in progress though and many of us (70% according to the journal of behavioural science) suffer from Imposter syndrome which can also be a major contributing factor in our playing it small.  Imposter Syndrome is an inability to internalize accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a "fraud".  Often feeling like you’re not as good as people seem to think therefore not as deserving or capable of the success you’re experiencing.

It impacts both men and women, no-one is immune to the self-doubt this feeds (apart from narcissists).  But what matters most is not whether we fear failing, it’s whether we give those fears the power to keep us from playing it big. 

Imposter Syndrome can also be blamed for us downplaying our achievements and not claiming deserved credit.  It can also be from our need to please, to fit in and be liked.  We may have been brought up not to boast of our achievements and to overplay modesty as a way if being liked.  This can lead us to downplaying our achievements or waving away recognition and simply not valuing our success.  Our cultural expectations can play a role here too; “don’t get above your station” – the tall poppy!  Your success may appear as a threat to others so we downplay it to protect them; older siblings, best friends, male partners.  In many cultures girls are taught to avoid risks whereas boys are encouraged – it can have lasting impacts on us and that decision we take on whether to lean in and go for it or not.  We downplay achievements because no-one likes a big head and we all desperately want to be liked or we step back rather than lean in because we’ve been conditioned to and we want to fit the mould – either way we chose to play small each time.

Whether we’re frozen to the spot due to fear or imposter syndrome or (highly likely) a bit of both, when things scare us we can find so many excuses that prevent us from moving forward.  It’s already been done, I don’t have the time, I need some more experience or money or the time just isn’t right yet.  We worry about leaving our comfortable familiar place to step out into the unknown and most of all we worry about the potential impacts of making that move.  What will people think?  What if I get it wrong?  What if I lose what I have?  What if I fail?  All valid concerns and all potential outcomes we risk when we take a step into the unknown - but there’s no way of getting around it, it’s part of the journey.  Grow is not supposed to be comfortable, it’s supposed to stretch us so that we can learn and grow into the people we’re capable of being.

Don’t forget as well that if we are playing it small it could also mean we don’t want to make it big.  Not taking up a promotion opportunity could be for any of the reasons above but it could also be because we simply don’t want it.  The seniority is not for us, we don’t want the hours and pressure or we may be in the wrong job all together so it pays to be aware of this option as well in order to guide our decisions.  Sometimes playing it big can mean saying no, walking away from something that isn’t right to play it big elsewhere.

Playing it small is easier and safer, it appeals to our aversion to risk taking and desire to stay in the comfortable, familiar place we know.  Playing it big is hard, it’s scary and it takes courage to go there but it pays off – it’s worth it and there’s no way of doing it without the tough side effects we have to navigate.

There’s no short cut and those who’ve got to where you’d like to be haven’t found a certain secret you’ve been missing, nor have they got it right and you’ve got it wrong.  They have just faced their fears, worked hard, learned from the mistakes and decided they want to play big.

6 hacks to handle Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome is something that I’ve suffered from most of my life—and I thought I was the only one.

After 15 years working with people in personal development and then running my own training and coaching business, it transpires that many others feel exactly the same.

I spent most of my career doubting my abilities, and getting promotions didn’t seem to help. I still felt like an imposter who’d be found out one day. The reality was I was good at my job and even bigger jobs as the promotions came—but each new job would raise the same fear: I’m not sure I can do this.

The same voice also told me I’d never be a writer. Who would read it apart from my mum? You’re not good enough, you’re not qualified, you can’t spell, and you don’t even have a degree.

It’s called imposter syndrome, and it’s a lot more common than we think. I thought it was only me, but every woman I speak to who confesses they feel it too also believes she is the only one! According to the Journal of Behavioural Science, 70 percent of people suffer from imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome is a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud.” It’s that voice of self-doubt that, despite our successes, keeps us feeling like we might fail, we might not be good enough, and we might get found out.

Those with imposter syndrome have a tendency to attribute their success to external factors—like luck, or the work of the team. It takes courage to take on challenges and pursue dreams that leave you open to the risk of failure, falling short, losing face, and being “found out.”

So what can we do about it?

It’s something I’ve learned to handle and to live alongside because it’s always there. Sadly, it’s not something we can easily overcome—but we can learn to navigate through and succeed in spite of it. Here’s how:

1. Own your successes.

You didn’t get lucky by chance. We tend to be modest when it comes to our achievements, and have been brought up not to boast about our strengths. We feel uncomfortable accepting praise and our negativity bias in our brain means we’re wired not to think of the positives so much.

I’ve found that keeping an achievement journal helps. I also have a folder on my computer where I file messages of praise and feedback to look back on when I’m having those moments of doubt. Remembering positive feedback from colleagues and friends helps too, as it often carries more weight than when we praise ourselves.

The most important thing to remember is that if we’re getting praise or positive feedback, it’s because we’ve earned it and deserve it. Own it and let it help counter some of those moments of self-doubt.

In fact, let’s start now: write down your top three strengths. Why do people come to you, what do your colleagues at work value in you, and what do people tell you you’re good at?

2. Give it your all and know it’s enough.

Sometimes our imposter syndrome is due to our fear of failure and our perfectionism manifesting all at once to give us this fear of not being good enough. We fail to meet our own unrealistic ideals of perfection—either in the way we look, our abilities in life, or our achievements at work. Perfectionism so often sets us up to fail and feeds these feelings of self-doubt.

Overcoming the imposter syndrome requires self-acceptance: you don’t have to attain perfection to be worthy of the success you’ve achieved. It’s not about lowering the bar, it’s about resetting it to a realistic level. You don’t have to be Einstein to be a valuable asset or worthy of love. Nor do you have to attain perfection to share something with the world.

3. Don’t let your doubt and fear stop you.

We need to continue to take risks and challenges even though we might not think we’re ready—especially women. Too often, we stand back and let the opportunities pass us by because we doubt our capabilities. The best way to see if you’re ready is to dive in and take on the challenge!

There will always be a feeling of fear and the risk of failure—we grow and develop by facing these fears and getting outside of our comfort zone. Don’t let your worries hold you back. I’d often use the “fake it till you make it” technique to overcome these feelings of fear and doubt when I took on new challenges. I’d act and dress confidently so I at least looked the part, and took comfort in the fact no one else could see what was going on in my head.

4. Remember: your thoughts are not common knowledge.

I know how it feels to be gripped by imposter syndrome—we spend all our energy trying to prove our worth to everyone else to make it go away. The funny thing is, only we believe that we’re not capable. For example, we wouldn’t have been offered the job if people didn’t think we were capable. The only person we need to prove anything to is ourselves.

5. Acknowledge it and know it’s not just you.

We need to be mindful that the voice in our head is often swayed. We are wired to see the glass as half empty, to focus on the negative. This comes from evolutionary times when it was helpful for us to always see the worst that could happen in order to survive. In the days of cavemen and women, it was useful for us to be wary of a saber-toothed tiger around the corner because then we’d be prepared to run.

What this can translate to in our modern world is a constant focus on what we’re not good at, things that went wrong, and why we’re not enough—in our jobs, how we look compared to our friends, who we are as a person, or what we’ve achieved in life.

This negativity bias can leave us feeling like we’ll never be good enough. So to counter the bias, we need to focus on what we have, not what we haven’t, to direct our energy toward the things we’re good at rather than on what might go wrong and where we might fail.

Know that it’s not something we experience alone. Some of the most successful people I know who seem to have mastered life admit that underneath, they feel the opposite some days. Even famous people earning millions and excelling at what they do admit to having moments of self-doubt.

6. Stop comparing yourself to others.

It’s the fastest way to feel inferior and feed our self-doubt. Unfortunately there will always be someone more beautiful, clever, talented, or stronger than you. But the reverse is also true: at times, you will be the most talented and successful. So instead of comparing yourself to others, look to see if you’re fulfilling your own potential and celebrate the things you have.

We are all capable of more than we know, and we can do amazing things if we’re not busy doubting our abilities. Next time that negative voice in your head starts to speak, turn down the volume.

What matters most is not whether we fear failing, looking foolish, or not being enough; it’s whether we give those fears the power to keep us from taking the actions needed to achieve our goals.

Digital Detox

It’s not the first time I’ve done digital detox but it’s been a while so I decided on Friday night when I turned off my phone I’d put it away until Monday. Now I tend not to go into my office to be on my laptop over the weekend anyway as that is family time but it’s amazing how much work I can do on my phone! The news feeds, information gathering, social catching up and sometimes just mindless scrolling. Especially on quiet weekends I’ve lost count of the number of times I reach for my phone; for some information, social interaction or validation of some kind.

So what did I miss? Initially it felt like I was missing something as my actions shone a light on the habits I’ve formed with technology. First thing in the morning it is common for me to reach for my phone, it wasn’t there. When I wanted to see when it would stop raining, the weather app was not available even my meditation app made me think twice about having to meditate without my device (ironically). It made ordering a curry difficult and choosing what movie to watch but nothing we could not get around!

What did I gain? More time and a more clear mind not to mention a certain sense of calm that comes from switching off from the outside world for a while and just being. There’s a natural inclination to turn inwards, especially on a quiet weekend at home nursing a cold!

Instead I was able to spend time being present, with those I loved, being aware of my surroundings, reading a book, walking the dog and being 100% present when doing those things not distracted by what photos I could take or what posts I might create and how many likes they’d get.

Now my business relies on social media and having friends and family around the world, so do I but I am aware of the habits it forms and the impacts its use has on our brain. I'm aware of the impacts of information overload and the addictive nature of our devices but it’s less about the device and more about our relationship with them. It’s not something I’d give up completely but I am a fan of the digital detox and it is something I plan to do more often to keep me aware of this and to be mindful of some of those no so healthy habits we form with our devices.

The detox theme has continued and this week I'm trying it with food! Stay tuned for more about my food detox tomorrow

Mindful Leadership

We’ve all heard of mindfulness and in recent years it’s been making its way into the workplace but how does it relate to leadership and can it really impact our effectiveness to the point where it contributes to the bottom line?

Leadership has changed and expectations have changed with it.It less about instruction and more about inspiration, less about managing and more about motivating.We need to meet constant work demands and look after those who work for us too.To deliver on expectations and results but remain balanced and avoid burning out in the process.It’s just as critical to lead ourselves though as well as leading others.We know, as leaders, we’re expected to deliver results.But it’s as much about how we deliver as it is what we deliver and as leaders we cause a ripple effect across our departments and business units.The tone we set, the way we show up and the examples we set ripple throughout our teams and therefore our business.

I’ve been a senior leader and I’ve had the privilege throughout my HR career to work with many others and be involved in Leadership Development in different businesses, various industries across multiple countries.

I’ve noticed some reoccurring themes in terms of what works well and what doesn’t.

I know how leaders engage employees and the impact this has not just on team morale but their performance too.I have also developed a passion for mindfulness through my own journey and personal experience as a leader and how I’ve seen it work when brought into the workplace with my own programmes.

We know that if our employees thrive so do our business results.  They are the ones, after all, responsible for the output. We also know as leaders that if we are to meet our targets and deliver on our expectations we need a good team around us who will support us and go the extra mile.

Understanding others is key as is the ability to motivate, inspire, listen, trust and empathise with them - all skills mindfulness helps us develop.But our ability to lead others really does start with the ability to lead and manage ourselves and where mindfulness can make the difference.

I learned mindfulness many years ago as a way of managing my stress and workload as a busy leader and it did this, but so much more. The more I practiced the more benefits I experienced and this lead to an impact on my productivity I’d never anticipated.

The biggest impact for me has been having a clearer, focused, sharper mind and how this has increased my effectiveness.We know what it feels like trying to wade through paperwork, a never ending to do list and back to back meetings when we’re tired, can’t think straight and our brain feels a bit foggy.We have this multitasking myth that we can do many things simultaneously.In fact we feel it’s a necessary skill in a world where we have to do more things in less time.Yet a Harvard study suggests that rather than multitasking our brains are in fact just switching from one thing to the next very quickly and therefore not really focusing on any one thing properly.Mindfulness is training the brain to focus on one thing at a time and give the present your unwavering attention and concentration.

Sounds slow perhaps?Let me introduce you to the concept of slowing down to speed up.If we focus on one thing at a time it doesn’t take as long to complete and what we produce is likely to be of better quality.If we have decisions to make or problems to solve it is also not likely to take as long when we’re thinking clearly and not trying to focus on other things at the same time, hence saving time.If we get things done right the first time we don’t have to re-do them and if we’re operating at our best it doesn’t take as long.

Many scientific studies now done on mindfulness have found that it alters the brain, the grey matter increases and those who practice experience physical changes in the brain as a result.By improving the brains function we are also improving our effectiveness.But beyond the physical impacts mindfulness has been linked to; improved sleep, lower blood pressure, better memory and less stress there’s much more.

When we practice mindfulness we become more aware, of ourselves and of others.This can have significant impacts if we’re in a meeting room full of people we need to influence and we can tap into skills of empathy and awareness to help better understand our audience and how the meeting is going.But this awareness also equips us with the ability to navigate difficult conversations and conflict resolution whilst tapping into the self-awareness that helps us regulate our own mood and reaction to frustrations.

When we train the mind to focus and be present we’re more alert to what’s going on around us.We can hear the unspoken in a meeting by noticing body language and the feeling in the room.When we are in a meeting and focused we hear what’s being said rather than thinking about our to do list or what’s for tea with only half an ear on what’s actually happening right in front of us.Thus making us better able to learn and respond too.

A clear mind is also a spacious mind.Think of a glass of dirty water, it’s murky and you can’t really see anything in it.Now sit it on the table and watch the sediment sink to the bottom and clear water settle on top.This is like the mind.When we rest it and take time to be still and quiet the busy thoughts subside, the fog clears and we get clarity on top.In this clarity we have space to think, to have ideas, to be creative.This helps us with solving problems but also making sound decisions.

And it doesn’t stop there.Mindfulness has also been linked to Emotional Intelligence (EQ) which we’re also starting to hear a lot more about in the Leadership space. EQ is now considered to be more important than IQ in terms of our success as a leader.Emotional Intelligence is considered to help with better communication and relationship building.It is the ability to manage our self and better understand others.To empathise, motivate, persist in the face of set backs, manage frustrations and regulate our mood.It allows us to think before we act and plays a key role in decision making, self-esteem and resilience.

Mindfulness also trains the brain to be a more positive place which helps with things like Imposter Syndrome and negative self-talk when we’re under pressure at work or settling into a new promotion.Mindfulness is the new must have leadership skill alongside the likes of Emotional intelligence and Executive Stamina.So how can we develop it?

By making the most of the momentary pauses in our day and prioritising time to sit and just be.This can be difficult in a world where we’re conditioned to be doing rather than being.But remembering the concept of slowing down to speed up, these few minutes spent being still and quiet save us more time throughout the day with our energised, sharp, focused mind-set.For me it’s 10 minutes each morning when I get up sat with my eyes closed focusing on my breathing.It’s taking time to notice what’s around us on the walk to work and tuning into how we feel and taking some deep breaths each time we pause to wait for the lift, the bus, the kettle to boil or between meetings.

It’s taking a walk in the park at lunchtime and noticing the sights, sounds and smells or doing a guided meditation before bed.There are so many opportunities to practice mindfulness but in our technological age these pauses are often filled with multitasking on our devices which has the opposite effect on our mind.It’s like training a muscle though, it takes practice, little and often is the key and it won’t happen overnight.We don’t walk into the gym and expect to lift the heaviest weight.

Start small and build up, keep it consistent and you’ll notice a difference.Similar to when we’ve been training at the gym for a while we don’t just feel strong whilst we’re at the gym but all day.Mindfulness is like a mental gym and given our current mental health statistics is something we should all be investing in to help thrive as individuals and help our businesses flourish.

Those in New Zealand can take the first step on this journey and learn from those who’ve brought this into their life and organisations and what it’s done for their business as well as their own personal performance.Check out the first NZ Mindful Leaders Conference in March 2018 and register for tickets here

Jess Stuart is a former HR professional turned Author & Coach with a passion for Mindfulness.  With 15 years working in personal development and leadership development across many industries and countries visit the business page of the website for more www.jessstuart.co.nz

Why Learning to Let Go and Adapt Is a Shortcut to Happiness

No matter what kind of life we live, we all need to learn to adapt, because everything changes. Good and bad come and go in everybody’s life. It’s one of the reasons resilience is so critical.

We plan our lives expecting good to come our way, to get what we want, and for things to work out how we planned. At the same time we’re chasing the good, we try to avoid the bad.

One of the biggest sources of our unhappiness and discontent is not being able to adapt to change; instead, we cling to things we’ve lost or get upset because things don’t unfold as we want them to.  

What we overlook is that this is a fundamental law of life, the ups and downs, ebbs and flows. Things come and go, nothing stays the same, and we can’t control most of the things we’d like to. Accepting this and learning to adapt and go with the flow brings us one step closer to happiness.

I’ve just come back from a meditation retreat. It sounds relaxing, and it was, but it was also difficult in many ways.I had to adapt to a new routine, which meant a 5:30am alarm, sitting for long periods of meditation, and periods of complete silence and solitude.

And there were lots of other changes: Not having my morning cup of tea or evening chocolate—or any caffeine or dairy—and adjusting to a vegan diet. Being without WiFi and my cell phone, and braving the sub zero temperatures up in the mountains of NZ in winter. Having to do karma yoga work—things like cleaning toilets and stacking wood.Not to mention the kind of emotions, thoughts, and feelings we’re confronted with when we start to disconnect from the world and spend time with ourselves.

I was so pleased to be returning home, but then instantly thrown into the chaos of a busy airport with all flights grounded due to fog. I then realized that I would not be going home, and to attempt that tomorrow meant a bus ride to the next airport and finding some overnight accommodation to wait it out with the hope that the weather would be fit for flying in the morning.

Despite my Zen-like state post-meditation, I was frustrated, upset, and I just wanted to get home to see my partner, sleep in my own bed, and not feel so helpless.I had my plan, my expected outcome, and for reasons beyond everyone’s control, this wasn’t possible. I wasn’t going to get what I wanted.Now, a week later, I find myself having to learn the skill of adaptability once again.Many years ago I played soccer. I wasn’t bad, either. I loved it. It was my passion. As a kid, I’d play all day on my own in the garden, and once I found a team I’d never miss a match. However, my career was cut short in my early twenties after a ruptured cruciate ligament that was surgically repaired, re-ruptured.

I had to give up on my passion and for many years didn’t play soccer. It was as a result of this devastation that I found yoga—my new passion and lifesaver for the past seven years, something I do every day.

I’ve just had a further operation on this ailing knee, and while I’d adapted over the years from the injury, I found myself once again having to adapt to changes: Not being able to walk, being housebound, using crutches and the difficulties this brings. Finding a way of sleeping comfortably and seeing through the fog the painkillers seemed to create. Not being able to do my morning yoga routine and struggling to meditate because I couldn’t adopt my usual cross-legged ‘proper’ meditation position.

Sometimes what is, is good enough. Acceptance is key to helping us adapt. If I can breathe, I can meditate, and I’ve enjoyed some of my lying down meditations (the ones where I’ve managed to stay awake!).And now, as I reduce the meds and ease off the crutches, I can see positive change occurring. I can do a few standing yoga asanas and can take short walks with support.The devastation of leaving my beloved sport morphed into another form of exercise I fell in love with that I may never have otherwise discovered. And my recent operation led me to new ways of enjoying this passion.

These recent lessons caused me to reflect on how life has changed for me over the last year or so and how I’ve been adapting along the way (sometimes kicking and screaming).I’ve gone from a nomad traveling the world to settling down in a city I’d said I’d never live in due to the wind and the earthquakes. I’ve experienced some of the worst winds and biggest earthquakes of my life since being here and learned to love it all the same.

I’ve recognized the positives and come to love the bits that make this city (Wellington, NZ) great: the small town feel, the laid back lifestyle, the friendly residents, the ocean, the beach suburbs and beautiful scenery, the wonderful array of cafes and restaurants, not to mention the abundance of yoga, meditation, and wellness related activities.

I’ve gone from being single and happy to living with someone else and having to think about someone else, taking into account more needs than just my own.

I’ve had to learn to love again, take risks, and face fears while navigating a long-term relationship and our different wants and needs. I’ve had to learn to share a home and build a nest, and think about the future in ways I’d never have thought I could, feeling very blessed if also a little apprehensive and scared at the same time.read the rest of the blog and the full article here on Tiny Buddha

10 things you need to know about happiness

Last week was international happiness day and I’ve been celebrating all week by reminding myself of what makes me happy and sharing my advice on happiness with others.  It’s something we’re all in pursuit of yet so often missing the mark.  It’s the question we’re all trying to find the answer to.  What is happiness and how do we get it?  Happiness is not the mere absence of suffering or temporary cessation of unhappiness.  It’s less about elation and perfection more about how we react to challenges, about purpose and fulfilment, being connected to who you are.  To mark the close of my week long celebration of happiness here are 10 things we need to know about happiness

It’s the journey not the destination

We seem to think that happiness is not possible in the here and now.  It’s a struggle now so we can enjoy happiness later (perhaps when we retire?)  We seem to think happiness is always some far off destination we’re aiming for.  A point we eventually reach, a place where everything is perfect. But tomorrow never comes and nor does perfection.  The good and bad will come and go but every day we have a chance to be happy, in how we chose to live, how we react and how we treat ourselves and others.

We spend so much of our time worrying about the future or going over the past that we often miss the here and now and therefore the moments of happiness that exist in the present.  If we are too busy looking for the pot of gold we miss the beauty of the rainbow.

It’s not a thing we search for and find

We see happiness as something outside of ourselves, something external we have to pursue and ‘find’.We fill our lives with the business of searching for many things and all this pursuit is for one reason, our happiness, yet the very pursuit is taking us further away from the goal.  You may want a house, car, job, partner but all you really want is the feeling these things bring; love, status, wealth.  The pursuit of all these things is for the sake of happiness.  I think we’ve all been there, thinking; “If I could just have this then I’ll be happy”, but when you get this it becomes a case of, “I just want that then I’ll be happy”.  It’s a bottomless bucket of constant craving with no fulfilment.

Caught in this pursuit of happiness it is easy to believe the grass is greener on the other side, but even when you get there the future will always seem better.  This leads to permanent dissatisfaction and un-fulfilment.  We know this because the car we drive and the house we live in at one point were new and it was amazing but the novelty eventually wears off and leaves us wanting more, needing to be fulfilled again

It’s the small things

In celebration every day last week I posted a photo of something that made me happy. Generally this was the wonderful food I ate, the sun shining, getting outside in nature, cuddling up on the sofa with my partner, talking to my family, patting the cute dog that we met in the park and being on the beach.  It wasn’t my house, my bank balance, my car (because I don’t have one) or my job title.  It was the small things, often free things that meant the most and brought a smile to my face.  As Brene Brown says, so often we are so busy chasing down the extraordinary moments that we think will bring us happiness that we miss the ordinary moments of joy that already exist in each day.It is in fact the little things that are the big things – like our health, love, the food on our table and the roof over our head.Read the rest of the article here published by elephant journal

How to thrive at work (and life) as a woman

Last week we celebrated International Women’s Day which brought up many conversations, some about progress and some about the inequalities that still exist today despite said progress.  We talked a lot about why there are still so few women in leadership and how we change this.

I’ve worked in leadership and personal development for many years so much of this is close to my heart and being a woman, something I’m passionate about.  Women have faced many challenges over the years and even now many of us seem to do it tough, partly due to the world we’ve grown up in but I believe also partly to do with our own thoughts, views and expectations.

I’ve watched women both in and out of work try to juggle many balls.  To be the career woman and compete with men at the top table.  To come home and be a good mother, make delicious meals for the family, pick the kids up from school, arrange the family social engagements, keep the house clean, ring the parents and try to ensure we don’t forget anyone’s birthday!  All whilst ensuring we wear the latest clothes, go to the gym, make the 6 am yoga class, keep our weight down and always look our best – no wonder it seems so hard.

I’ve never felt as a woman that I’m less capable than a man or less worthy of being at the top table and I grew up with no women role models in business.  I worked mostly in manufacturing and in my first senior HR job when promoted at 25 in a timber factory I was the youngest manager and the only woman.  I knew most of the guys doubted my abilities on both counts but it drove me to prove them wrong and deliver on what I knew I was capable of, even though I knew I was, at times, out of my depth.What followed was the climbing of the ladder progressing in my career but also the development of me as a person which ultimately ended in me realising I was on the wrong ladder!  At the peak of my career I decided to give it all up to follow my passions as a writer.  At the same time I went through my own journey of self-discovery, finding my authenticity, comfort in my own skin and a self-awareness of who I was and what I wanted.  Here are some of the lessons I learned along the way.

I’ve been lucky to work with some great male colleagues and also some not so great over the years and whilst I believe they play a huge role in aiding our success (the majority of leadership roles, and therefore positions of influence, are occupied by men) I also think the buck stops with us.  If we don’t value ourselves or think we’re capable of the job or think we deserve a seat at the table how do we expect anyone else to?  As woman we are responsible for setting the boundaries and the expectations on what is acceptable and expected.  If we go into a room feeling second class or like we don’t belong we put ourselves at a disadvantage and create conditions for this to be accepted by others.Last week I heard many women talking about leadership using the comparison to their male counterparts.  ‘A man would do this’.  So What?  Why do we compare to them?  Being successful is not about being more like men but being more like ourselves.  Sometimes I feel like as women we’re waiting for someone to sign a permission slip for us to succeed, for it to be ok to achieve our potential and be as great as we truly are.  Well in the spirit of my comment above - men don’t ask for permission, why do we?  Why as women do we have a need to feel validated outside of ourselves, to be invited to speak?  A lot of this comes down to self-confidence and belief.  How can we expect others to believe we’re capable if we don’t?

This is easier said than done.  For many years I’d offset my Imposter Syndrome with the ‘fake it till you make it’ technique.  I’d tell myself over and over in my head that I was confident and capable until that message sank in.  I’d remind myself of all the feedback and praise I got and use the words of others to help my own brain understand what I was really capable of despite my own doubts.  I’d keep a list of my achievements in the back of my notebook and add to it each day.  Positive thinking and a positive mind set are key, it’s having a ‘can do’ attitude.  The belief that anything is possible and any set back can be overcome.  As Henry Ford said ‘whether you think you can or you can’t you’re probably right’.

It seems that men find this easier than women.  In my years in HR and Leadership countless times I’ve come across men who consider themselves capable of jobs that outweigh their skill set and women who think the opposite, the jobs they are more than qualified for they still see as a stretch.  Add to that the tendency then for men to ask for more than they are worth and women settle for less - this is surely a contributing factor to the gender pay gap and one we contribute to ourselves because if we ask for less we’ll be paid less.

There are other differences I’ve noticed during my years in the corporate world.  Women seem to want to devote a lot more time and effort into making their work perfect whilst men seem to do ‘just enough’.  Sometimes this is driven by our perfection and the need to do the best job possible but sometimes driven by an unconscious belief that we have to work twice as hard as men to prove our worth.  Many of these women I witness outperform their male counterparts and it’s less about the hours they work and more about the abilities they have.  Sometimes as women we struggle with presence.  Not speaking up, worried an idea is not yet perfect enough to be shared, or that we may not have the authority to challenge the discussion taking place.  I’ve seen women shy away from taking credit for their own good ideas or even letting their male counterparts take that credit on their behalf.  But how do we get noticed beyond letting our work do the talking?

I don’t believe we need to be more aggressive or assertive to break through the glass ceiling.  It’s about being savvy, letting our work do the talking and taking deserved credit for that work.  Others need to know who you are and see what you’re capable of, this implies having a presence, being noticed and taking the opportunities as they arise.  But in a bid to be noticed it can be too easy to try too hard, to be louder, more aggressive, more noticeable.  It’s tempting to fall into the trap of, if you can’t beat them, join them.  But success in leadership is not about being more like a man but being more like yourself and confident that this is enough.  I’ve found if we build good relationships when we talk people listen and it’s less about who is male or female around the table and more about who adds value and contributes.

As women, we have so many natural abilities that make us better leaders.  Emotional Intelligence is now seen to be one of the must have skills for successful leadership and it’s often something women possess naturally.  It helps us with empathy, resilience, people skills, relationship management and communication.  It’s our motivation in the face of set backs, the ability to understand and manage ourselves and others, it’s the awareness we have of both ourselves and others, it’s our passion and it’s our ability to make good decisions.

Our current position may be impacted by history, by the cultures we grew up in and what we’re lead to believe but it’s also within our control and down to us.  Our mind set, our attitude and ultimately our self-belief.  The buck stops with us if we want to change this.  Yes we may have had it hard in the past but there’s never been a better opportunity, it’s never impossible and it shouldn’t be as hard as we make it.  The only person stopping us is ourselves.By being yourself and letting your results do the talking you’re already proving your worth.  We don’t need to act more like men to get noticed to earn our seat at the table.  We don’t need to be more assertive or change ourselves in some way to be seen as a leader, we just have to be good at what we do, embrace our authenticity and believe in our own worth.Top tips for women at work:

  • Know yourself

  • Empower yourself – own this

  • Know what you want

  • Align to your values

  • Have an open mind

  • Learn and reflect

  • Take credit for your work

  • Take your opportunities – platform to be noticed, networks for those who’ll support you

  • Be resilient

  • Take time out for yourself

  • Trust your intuition

  • Find a mentor

  • Leverage your strengths

  • Set goals

  • Dream big – don’t limit yourself

  • Always do your best work and let that do the talking

  • Face your fears, get out of your comfort zone and believe in yourself

Weathering the storms

How many of us have started 2017 thinking; “This year I want life to be less tough”? It may have felt like 2016 was tough, doesn’t every year feel that way by December?We heard a lot in the media about how awful 2016 had been, how many celebrities and top musicians we lost, the US election, the NZ Earthquake. I’m sure like most years 2016 has had its ups and downs for all of us, but in reality it’s less about what happens to us and more about how we react to it.

Toughtimes are always going to come so how do we navigate them better?

This quote sums it up well I think and puts us back in control.Unfortunately we all have a tendency to focus on the bad and remember the negative more so than any positives, it’s how our brains are wired.But how do we break this cycle?Now it’s not about ignoring the bad and being Pollyanna or unreal, but more about remembering to acknowledge the good too.  I found this particularly true reflecting on the end of the year.Like most 2016 had been a long year of hard work, I’d achieved a lot and I’d had some failures too, things had gone wrong and there were goals I’d missed.

I found myself reflecting on a recent failure to deliver on a personal milestone (which admittedly in hindsight was way over ambitious!) and feeling like 2016 had not been a good one as a result.What I wasn’t thinking about was all the wins I’d had along the way, the previous 11 months that had gone well and all the things I’d achieved throughout the year.  There were plenty of wins when I did sit a think about it so why was this one failure (albeit very recent) weighing on my mind?We can be too quick to move on from our successes and too slow to wallow in our failures, giving us the perception that if a few bad things have happened everything is bad, it’s been a bad year and life is hard.What about all the good things, even the little things, especially the little things.

How often do we ever pause to consider all the things that have gone right?Why don’t we take a minute to do that now?

List all the things that went well last year and all the things you’re currently grateful for and lucky to have – it may surprise you how long this list can be and how little time we may have spent celebrating the items on it.It’s never all bad so let’s spend some time remembering the good.

Think of all the things now you’re lucky to have; family, friends, health, money in the bank (even a small amount), food in the fridge and roof over your head and all the things that make life good that so often we take for granted.This came home to me recently when I took my annual trip back to the UK to see family over Christmas and whilst this meant leaving summer behind and a new relationship I was excited to reconnect with loved ones.As sometimes is the case though, things don’t turn out how we expected, bad things happen and things don’t turn out the way we planned. This was one such occasion.

After a 33 hour trip I landed in London to make my way to my parents house. Unbeknownst to me my 90 year old grandmother had a massive stroke the night before and was not expected to live.My first port of call upon landing became a hospital stroke unit, and then for many days after as she struggled to let go of the life that was clearly leaving her.Shortly after arriving I got sick, the kind of respiratory infection you only seem to get after long haul flights or English winters!It left me bedridden with energy for nothing.

I was trying to enjoy being back but really I just wanted to be curled up at home in the sun with my girlfriend. I found myself feeling guilty that I only get this chance once a year and people are looking forward to seeing me and I can’t be happy about it. I also find myself feeling like a failure when I become unhappy, after all it’s what I teach others!

The reality is we are all human and life is always going to be imperfect, rough and smooth.Tough times will always come and sometimes all we can do is feel the pain, grieve a little and then move on.It’s ok not to be ok, but it’s not ok to stay there.

My grandma passed away just after Christmas.I was in bed by 730pm Christmas Eve and again at 5pm on Christmas Day. Yet during the times I was awake I made the best of those moments.

I played with my nephews, had dinner with my parents, walked the dog and spent time with friends.There is always a silver lining in every cloud but just sometimes we have to look real hard. If we are alive then we have something to be grateful for and it’s being grateful for the small things that helps us through the tough times, gives us perspective and strength to weather the storms.

And knowing when the storms hit that this will pass, it always gets better eventually.

As the saying goes, you can’t calm the storm but what you can do is calm yourself and the storm will pass.

Permission to fail; slowing down

I don’t know about you but towards the end of the year I get jaded.  The last few weeks always seem a bit hard and I find myself counting down to a break over Christmas and the lure of the reset a New Year brings.  A chance to regroup and a clean slate to push on into another year.It’s also a point I look at what I’ve achieved over this year, I’d set some lofty goals and being ambitious always want to ensure they’ve all been ticked off the list by the end of the year. Usually I’ll make sure of it, in the past even at the cost of my health, juggling many balls in the air making sure none dropped.These days I try to spend more time being and less time doing, we live in such a busy, driven, over achieving world that it’s all too easy to lose our balance.  This might be why so many of us reach the end of the year longing for a break and limping over the finish line.

As I looked at the things I’d not quite done yet and the time left this year, my over committed schedule and the nice to haves I’d like to fit it (yoga, time with my girlfriend, Christmas shopping) I felt a little overwhelmed.  I also felt so short on energy that I lost all motivation to even want to do things nice to haves. I couldn’t even get excited by Christmas and the impending opportunity to visit my family, even buying them gifts seemed like an effort I didn’t have the time for and for me this is unusual. 

I was so close to launching my online course, my last goal for 2016, and felt pressure to do this to coincide with the New Year and time was quickly running out. I’d had so much else on of late though and a packed travel schedule that I also felt like I didn’t have the energy to even know where to start.I had one free weekend left so I figured I could work 12 hour days to cover some of this off, but then how good would it be, I really ought to be spending more time getting prepared and getting this right I thought.  But that would mean not completing this in 2016 as I had set in my goals – this would mean failure!

This is something that’s not normally an option for me but for the first time I allowed myself to fail and be comfortable with that, knowing I’d made the right choice.  I made peace with not having to get this done now, the fact that I’d overpromised and not allowed myself time for everything I’d wanted to do. I also remembered that without energy, rest and health how was I going to achieve any of my goals?  Self-care and balance really are the foundations for everything we do thereafter.I’d had a lot of travel of late and needed to reground, I also knew I felt very tired and needed some rest.  I’d spent so much time doing that I’d left little time for being and this is so important to my health, not to mention my creativity and focus.  So I didn’t work 12 hour days, I let go of the notion of having to do everything and achieve all the goals I’d ambitiously set.  I allowed my overflowing schedule to relent for the weekend and spent the time on what I needed the most – rest, recharge and balance.  I used that time to go for walks, sleep in, meditate, rest and recharge, read and catch up with friends and family, I also got some Christmas shopping done and post recharge I feel excited about Christmas and am looking forwarding to spending time with my family overseas, I also feel slightly more prepared!Balance is the key and knowing when to reprioritise and ensure we always do the things that matter first. 

Whilst I’ll set more goals for 2017 I’m sure, as is my habit I’ll be over ambitious and need to re-tweak as we go through the year but this is less about failing and more about balance.  Knowing what’s important and ensuring we look after ourselves in the process of achieving our dreams.  Understanding that whilst we can do anything we want we can’t do everything and it doesn’t all have to be done now!I’ve also taken the time to reflect on all the things I have achieved this year, rather than just dwelling on the misses. 

I suggest you do too as we are always inclined to focus on what we missed rather than all of the little wins along the way.We do have a tendency to over estimate all we can achieve, particularly in the 24 hours we get in a day!  I’m learning (slowly) that whilst we can do anything we want, we can’t do everything we want. Realising this helps me reprioritise what’s in my overly ambitious schedule to make it more manageable and realistic.So as we prepare to enter into another new year I have set my goals but I’ll also know my priorities and when things get busy (as they do) I’ll make sure I manage them, even if that means some have to get reprioritised and pushed down the list. 

The good news is the online course will be out next year and it’ll have had the time and effort put in that it so deserves which I hope brings a better product. I certainly feel like I have the energy required to put into the project now and have also learned another valuable lesson for balancing our busy over achieving schedules with what’s most important

.It’s ok to take time out, to say no, to admit something can’t be done and relook at our to do list and reprioritise.  In fact it’s often necessary to us being able to carry on effectively and not burn out, particularly at this time of year.  It’s critical we prioritise the things that matter and that we find time to look after ourselves, otherwise it’s very difficult to get anything done.

Love Trumps Hate

Love Trumps Hate

I’ve never really been one for politics, not even watched much media at all over the past few months. I don’t enjoy the fear mongering, the sensationalism and certainly not the negativity. I found my life and my mind was just much better off without it, and I still found out when important things happened in the world.

The recent American election was one no-one could escape though and certainly one that would touch everyone in some way due to the nature of the world super power and what it meant.

As I watched it unfold I saw a mixture of shock, disappointment, disbelief, anger, sadness and fear. The following day felt flat and a little uncertain as the world held its breath to see what would unfold now, what did it mean and what impacts would be felt from here on in. Not just for America but for the world. The morning after the night that was seemed a little surreal, almost like the world had sunk into a depression. I felt like I was watching a reality TV show unfold or that I was stuck in a bad dream I was about to wake from. But sadly neither was the case, this was real life, it was happening now, in our modern, ‘developed’ world where so much progress has been made, this was a true story and one our world has created.

As people tried to make sense of what had happened I watched different reactions unfold. Those who got angry, shouted, blamed. Those who got upset and shed tears and those who didn’t know what to do such was the shock. I reacted in my usual manner and turned inwards, I went quiet, I internalised all I was seeing and hearing in a bid to make sense of it all and here’s what I came up with.After many years of learning the hard way I believe that getting angry or upset doesn’t change what’s happened it only makes us feel worse inside. Or as Buddhists put it, anger is like holding a hot coal with the intention of throwing it at someone else, you’re the one who gets burned. But then what if we don’t get angry, isn’t the passion behind the anger what evokes change, what makes the world listen, what starts a revolution?

Regardless of what we do next and I think we still have many options all I know I can control right now is how I feel and the only person I can impact or change right now is me, it all starts with me. Rather than running all over the world trying to evoke change in those who do not wish to see it, all I can do is be the change I wish to see. Lighthouses don’t run all over the coast trying to find ships to save, they just stand there shining. This empowers us to be the best version of ourselves. It also allows us to do the many good things that still exist even in a world that seems to be turning sour.I remember all the things I’m grateful to have. I’m heart warmed to see so many other messages from American’s and other world citizens that seem to share my hope, my optimism and those who, despite the situation we find ourselves in, have chosen love over hate.

Things happen that we never believed possible, that we thought we were beyond, knew better, wanted better. Things don’t turn out the way we planned. There’s so much we don’t have control over, this is one of the main sources of our unhappiness, trying to control outcomes, meet our own, or others, expectations. But the one thing we do control, every day is our reaction, who we want to be, what we’re going to do about it? Whilst what’s happened is done, there’s a whole future ahead of us waiting to be shaped and whilst it may seem a little harder now, there are still so many good people in the world, good things happening and things to give us hope and what’s more. We all have a role in shaping that future, what role do we want to play?Whilst we have so much to be angry about and many we could hate, where does that lead us? In fact it may be what got us here in the first place. I’ve decided to choose love, hate is too big a burden to bear.

Don’t confuse my acceptance for apathy, that I don’t care, that this doesn’t hurt me or sadden my feelings about our society. Trust me I’ve considered opting out and going to live on a hilltop in the middle of nowhere. Don’t think that by choosing love I’m giving up, I just don’t think fighting it the answer, in fact I think it’s contributed to the problem. “I am right, you are wrong” we have to put our own views and opinions at the top of the pile – isn’t that how we got here in the first place?I have simply decided for my own sanity to accept the things I can not change, what I do have control over is how I react. How I support myself and those I care about through a sad situation. To retain my inner peace despite the craziness of the world unfolding around me – the skill that is equanimity.

To see compassion for those who are so disillusioned with society and scared for the future that they see this as a way out, see this option as their ticket to a better life. Those who feel that for them to succeed it needs to be at the expense of others. Instead of building a bigger fence, why can’t we build a longer table? We are all human at the end of the day, one race, with one planet to call home in one moment which is now, let’s make the most of that and celebrate all that we are and all that we have.

Without hope we have nothing, without love what’s the point.

Perspective in the face of disaster

My 10th floor CBD apartment following the 7.8 magnitude earthquakeThis week has been particularly unsettling in New Zealand following the recent 7.8 earthquake, one of the largest in NZ in 150 years. It struck in the middle of the night, was followed by damage, loss of life and tsunami evacuations.

We’d gone about the usual Sunday night routine that consisted of thoughts of work Monday and the week ahead.  Things that seemed like issues and problems upon going to sleep suddenly paled into insignificance.  When something like this happens this all changes, you think about only what is important and it’s a stark reminder of what that is.  We went to bed saying we’d rather not have to get up and go to the office tomorrow, the Monday morning feeling, but had not quite imagined this.As what happened sunk in we reflected on lucky escapes – thank god we stayed at yours not my 10th floor apartment (pictured).  Concern for family overseas watching it unfolding on the news and worrying for our safety.  Realising just how much those we love mean to us.  Loved ones headed out of the door to work, with long shifts ahead and without much sleep, like so many who keep the country going in times like this and put the safety of others before their own.

Our Monday morning conversations usually about plans for the evening, what the work day looks like became emergency plans, arranging where to meet should there be a significant aftershock and phones be out.  Events like this truly put perspective about what’s important in life.  How lucky we are, how everything can change in a moment and how important it is that those we care about know and are our priority.

My 10am meeting now doesn’t seem so important, in fact it can’t have been because it won’t be happening now, nor will any other the other ‘important’ events of the day.  The conversations that were ‘what’s for tea?’ ‘have you put the bins out?’ now become ‘stay safe, I love you’ and discussions about how we’ll know each other are safe.

The work to do list that occupied my mind and seemed so important last night is now nothing more than a distant memory so the question is, was it really that important in the scheme of things?  No-one is missing it now, the world still continues to turn and the sun will come up tomorrow.  So often our worries, our concerns, our priorities are not a reflection of what really matters and events like this put perspective around this.  It also highlights all we have to be grateful for, even when that’s no power and no way of leaving the house.  I am unable to return to CBD to check on my apartment but really there’s nothing in there I couldn’t lose, not compared to my life and those I love.

But why does it take a significant event like this to underline the things we already know.  To remind us of what’s important?  Maybe we get too carried away with the busyness of life we lose touch with our perspective.  Beyond life and death there are too many things to worry about these days and it’s this that takes our thoughts, our energy, our significance.  Often at the expense of what really matters.  Maybe it’s the brush with death that brings the realisation of how small we really are and how little we do have control over a life that we try to plan down to the last detail.

The ‘what ifs’ start to circle.  What if this had been in the day time not the middle of the night, the Capital city which was deserted would have been full of people, traffic, life.  But in a few weeks we’ll have forgotten about this, buildings will be fixed up, roads cleared and life will return to normal.  Our to do lists will fill up, life will become busy and the perspective will fade.Each aftershock a stark reminder that life can change in a moments notice and no-one is immune to that.  They are also a reminder of everything this event has brought to mind, everything we should try and remind ourselves at every opportunity not just in the face of disaster.

Material things can be replaced – every single item in every cupboard fell out, the only thing that didn’t smash was one solitary wine glass.  But the things I hold dear, the things that are irreplaceable all survived and they aren’t actually things at all.

Out of tragedy comes kindness.  Seeing the events unfold and the media coverage of the worst hit areas, towns at the epicentre cut off and houses crumbling to the ground.  Out of these stories of devastation came acts of kindness; yoga studios opening with free classes, people welcoming displaced strangers into their homes, volunteers cleaning up and providing food and supplies to those who needed it.  After a few days of walking around shell shocked, on edge, with a lack of sleep and a nervous disposition life began to return to normal, people got on with it.  Buildings were fixed, the CBD cleaned up and we built a little more resilience.  We learned that we may bend but we don’t break, we get knocked down but we get up again and whilst the earth moves often in New Zealand, it always continues to turn as well.As aftershocks continue and those with lucky escapes wonder if they’ll ever be able to live in a high-rise apartment again we allow ourselves to come together. To discuss near misses, our stories and the ‘what ifs’.  Feeling the connection of a shared experience, we comfort each other, reassure and understand that it’s ok not to be ok.  Often the emotional impacts of such an event can be felt long after the structural damage is repaired. The frayed nerves, the sea sick feeling of constantly moving ground, the fear of what’s coming next, the probability of further quakes.  This all adds to the unsettled feeling that comes naturally when the solid ground you live on, your bedrock, your earth becomes so unstable.

It’s all a stark reminder that life is too short, we never know what’s around the corner and we are rarely in control no matter how many plans we have in place.  But like a glimmer of light on the horizon and the dust clears, we have so much to be grateful for.  Being alive for a start, the safety of those we love and a whole life ahead of us and whilst it may be uncertain it’s also ours to live.

6 life lessons learned from writing a book

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It’s on most people’s bucket lists—everyone has a book inside them, waiting to be written.

It’s such a big task though, where do we start? That’s why so many great books just stay inside people’s heads, unwritten.I loved writing poetry as a kid, but these days, my writing skills are utilized more in the form of reports, emails and letters to staff. I was just about to quit my corporate job because I was unhappy, but I wasn’t sure what else I was going to do. I decided to take a year off to fix a life that had recently fallen apart and rebuild it into something that vaguely resembled happiness.I set off around the world to live my dreams, to do all the things that made my heart sing and discover my passion. I trained to be a yoga teacher, visited many countries and experienced different cultures. I studied mindfulness and meditation and I volunteered, teaching English to Buddhist monks. I learned a lot about life and so much about myself and what it takes to create our own happiness.Along the way I wrote—more for my own needs than anything else. I loved what I was learning and took notes as I went. This newly found wisdom, plus my own personal transformation, became a powerful message I wanted to share with others—and by the end of that year I was a blogger.But a full-fledged author? That was another step—maybe one too far. I’d never really thought about it before, but as the notes piled up, I almost felt like there could be a book there. For a few months, I wrote in secret, before I was comfortable telling people about my dream. I’d never considered myself an author before, but here it was an actual book that I had written.I overhauled my life and learned so much in the transformation, I wanted to share my story. What started off as my own personal writing therapy became something that now inspires others on similar journeys of self discovery. But as I wrote a book to share lessons I’d learned, the process itself taught me a host of other lessons too.https://youtu.be/L-nGXE33LesAdvice for life and how to make the best of it from a writer.  Read the full post here

How to live your dreams, even when it's not easy

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We all have an ideal life we dream of, but often there’s such a big gap between where we are and where we want to be it’s hard to know where to start, add to that the challenges of our busy lives and current commitments and that dream can soon seem impossible.

At age 30 I found myself trapped in a long-term relationship I’d outgrown, stuck in a corporate job I hated and trying to fit in and be what I thought the world wanted of me, not who I truly was. In fact I didn’t even know who I truly was and as a result I was unhappy and unfulfilled. But I was lucky enough to put myself on the path to transform my life into one I loved.Fast forward three years and those dreams are a reality. I changed my career from head of HR to author and yoga teacher, I figured out my passions and I walked away from everything that wasn’t working and rebuilt my life around what would. My 9-5 was replaced with world travel, days on the beach filming video blogs, writing in cafés and interviewing people I’d long admired and wanted to learn from.  I trained to be a yoga teacher and lived in ashrams across the world. I volunteered teaching English to Buddhist monks and learned to meditate and I blogged about my story and wrote my first book.But it hasn’t all been a bed of roses and whilst I have never regretted my decision there are times when I miss the familiarity and ease of my former life. It’s strange going from living with a partner of seven years to suddenly being alone, missing the security of a regular income, holiday and sick pay. The familiarity of knowing what each day would hold, even if it wasn’t what I wanted. I was gripped with fear about the unknown: What if I failed? What if I’d made the wrong choice and what were people thinking of me? Many of even my closest friends thought I was crazy for turning my back on what looked like a “successful” life.click here to read the full article

Take the risk, face your fears

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I’ve always had a tendency to play it safe. For many years, there were lots of things I liked the idea of doing, but the effort required go outside my comfort zone stopped me.

When I sat and thought about the risks involved and all the what-ifs associated, I always wimped out.So this left me conforming to the norm, living a life others expected of me and generally putting my dreams on hold so that I could remain safe and comfortable. Except it wasn’t comfortable, I was unhappy and deeply unfulfilled and only when the cost of standing still exceed the cost of change did I finally get more comfortable with the idea of taking the risk and heading into the unknown.I left a long-term relationship that I’d outgrown, I quit my soul-crushing corporate job and I traveled overseas on my own to see the world and learn about facing risks.The risk of leaving a secure relationship and being on my own for the first time in many years filled me with doubt—what if this was as good as it got? What if I end up single forever? I’m getting older now, all my friends have settled down and started families, maybe I’ll get left on the shelf?One of the most difficult things was the risk I took turning my back on an 11-year career, a well-paying job without any qualifications to do anything else. I ran the risk of running out of money, being unemployed and becoming homeless. It had been the security of my 9 to 5 pay check that kept me stuck in a job I didn’t enjoy for many years, scared of exactly these risks.But I took the risk, I spent a year doing what I loved, I trained to be a yoga teacher, travelled, wrote a book and fueled my passions. I created a life I loved and whilst it wasn’t always rosy, I wouldn’t go back and change it.So now, a couple of years down the track, you’d think I’d be used to taking risks, having faced the music, navigated the tough times and still remained happy. Surely risk taking is now within my comfort zone? Not so much.Click here to read the full article and my top tips on how we face our fears and take the risk

Advice for Life

CaptureAdvice for LifeLife seems so hard these days and often like it’s spiraled out of our control.  It shouldn’t be this hard, I’d love more time to do the things I enjoy, there’s so much to worry about and so much other stuff that needs doing.It’s almost as though we’re stuck on a treadmill that someone else controls and we can’t seem to get off.  Does any of this sound familiar?  Many of us leave our homes and families every day to go out and earn a living but how many of us actually make a life as well?I spent the last 3 years of my life rebuilding what I thought I knew about how life worked to find the way to creating a life I love.  Not with a lotto win or a soul mate but in my ordinary day to day, working 9-5, living alone, paying the bills, general ‘real life’ stuff but in a way that felt good, where I had time to do the things that mattered and could live in a way that nourished my soul.Growing up I wished I’d been offered some advice for life but instead I figured this out through my experiences and sought out those who could help me learn.  From my personal journey and the resulting book,  here’s my advice for life:Read my 9 tips on advice for life with the full article here https://www.personalgrowth.com/9-pieces-of-advice-for-life/

Happiness Life Hacks

12661808_965565320158288_1820903136093652989_nLife seems complicated these days.  We’re all busy pursuing happiness, yet how many of us ever reach that goal?Success, money, and busyness are top of our priority list, yet deep in our hearts we’d prefer time, love, and security.It’s the age of making a living, but perhaps at the cost of making a life.  What really makes us happy, and how do we find it?Read the full article; here and watch the video blog here

Why we must fail to learn to succeed

12814655_10156562328785612_2379094204520384236_n“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career, I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.” ~ Michael JordanI am imperfect, I am human, and this is something I am finally comfortable with, because it’s through our vulnerability that we demonstrate our true strength, and this means accepting our imperfections and loving ourselves anyway. We can fall, and we can fail, but it’s about how we learn to get back up, carry on and grow into the people we are capable of being.I’ve learned that succeeding is less about being perfect and avoiding failure, and more about how we embrace it and use it to shape our future and grow into the people we’re capable of being. In the same way that happiness is not about avoiding suffering, it is in fact these things that enable us to succeed and be happy.The turning point for me came when I realised that success wasn’t about avoiding failure, and that in fact, I needed to expect it and embrace it as it was part of the path to success.Realise that failure is always possible—expect it, embrace it, and know that this is how we learn. Every failure takes us a step closer to success. Ask yourself—what is this trying to teach me, what can I learn?Click here to read the full article or watch the video blog click here