Respectfully Sir, I disagree

Not wanting to disrespect an inventor that arguably influenced modern life more than any other but I saw this quote today…

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time – Thomas A Edison

And I found myself saying ‘What do you know Tom! Sometimes you need to recognise a dead horse when you see it and stop flogging it!’

Giving up is not a weakness, sometimes it is exactly the opposite. Finding the strength to say when enough is enough, that no matter how much you try there are certain things you cannot and will not ever change, no matter
how hard you try
how much time you give it
how many different strategies you adopt
how much it hurts to admit you’ve failed
how much you care

Sometimes that takes strength, real strength, more strength than you thought you had.

So (this week) I advocate giving up, throwing in the towel and basically shouting THAT’S IT I’M DONE!

I’m a mother and I need a healthy body and mind (albeit a little muddled), I need to be present and connected, not distracted and preoccupied, my boys deserve nothing less.

And breathe.

If you don’t know, ask!

I actually started this blog 3 days ago and didn’t publish it as I didn’t think it was much of a blog, and maybe it isn’t, but after a really good set of conversations today I decided to ‘tweak’ it and give it a new title…… (back to the original blog)

So this week I have received 2 very different, but equally effective ‘slaps to the face’ which make me realise that however much I try to convince myself otherwise I do not have this ‘adulting’ or parenting lark anywhere near sorted.

Let’s take each ‘slap’ in turn, going with the order in which they were served.

Who are you trying to kid?

I had a bit of a reunion with friends this week (one of my resolutions; make more time for the people that matter, tick, well done me. I will take this pat on the back as it will be short lived!). As you do when you have not seen people for months you go over what’s new (annoyingly very little) and what progress you have made sorting all the stuff you whinged about last time you got together.

Well smug me thought I’ve got this one, I’ve made good progress in the thinking (if not doing) department, I had a plan, I’d written stuff down, I’d even ticked some of it off – get me I’m in control of my life.  Well it would seem when tested with people who know me well (better than I think I know myself sometimes) certain elements of my plan have some flaws or to quote my very straight talking and sensible friend ‘what the f*** are you thinking?!’ Apparently I am ’doing things that distract from the real ‘issues’ and will just prolong those ‘issues’ and make me resent those ‘issues’ even more’. SLAP!  Big fat slap to the right cheek, in fact they were so right I felt like I needed to invite them to slap the left one for good measure.

So, needless to say, back to the drawing board (a bit) and to be fair I must have known deep down my initial plan wasn’t right, why? Because it was still on a piece of paper, I hadn’t yet committed my penciled words to my Passion Planner, or even to the permanency of ink.

Sweat the big stuff

Slap 2 though was even harder because this was a parent/child related reality check. School report time and the very real realisation that I have taken my eye off the most important ball I have and that I am failing to focus enough on my real job.  Now this is not a mummy blog and this isn’t a tactic to get all my mummy friends to come out in my defence (honest), this is about something all parents face A LOT. New s***; new issues, new challenges, new stuff, that no book, coaching from friends or Google search prepares you for.  And not knowing the answers or even where to look for the answers (Google you failed me) is the most frustrating part of it all.

Parenting is bloody hard for so many reasons but, for me, the biggest thing is you are making a person, you are preparing small people for the big world and there are so many ways and times you could get this wrong.  The way I see it, I have the right to mess up my own life up but I don’t have the right to mess up someone else’s, especially not when I made that person, I bought them here, they didn’t ask to come, I invited them and didn’t even wait for their RSVP!

Be consistent

Anyway, as a result this weekend has been full of, even more, personal reflections and confused thinking than even my muddled mind is used to. But two words have been spoken a lot when trying to dissect this current situation – consistency and consequence (I am also a big believer in cause and effect and learned behaviour but that’s probably for another time).

And then it hit me, (slap 3 maybe?) I realised I am not consistent, in so many things, I flit, I change my mind, I don’t commit (and back to blog 1; I have never had a plan).  I can try to dress it up as being creative, an idea’s person, free spirited even but I’m an adult now, a mother, a grownup – I need to commit to stuff, see the difficult stuff through, ‘woman up’.

A big part of that is being brave but also being willing to fail, but then to learn and try again. I don’t do failure, I try not to do difficult, and instead I do avoidance or a lot of blagging. And that got me thinking about a blog I read this week ‘things you should do more of to be successful’, it was a long list but one sticks out – ask more questions. In their list is was because that means you are learning new things and challenging yourself.  In mine because I need to ask the right questions of myself (so I can answer them honestly and make the right plan) and of others who can help me (so I can do my real job better).

To conclude

And then back to today and the realisation that it really is about asking questions.  I haven’t got all the answers yet but I have asked all the right questions (someone even told me so) and they asked even better ones back.  The result? A plan, not a 5 year one, not even 5 months, but a plan to how I get to the answers I need.  A plan doesn’t need to be long, ambitious or complex it can just be step 1, what you need right now and right now I need progress, action and, if not the answers, lets eliminate some of the options.

Ask questions people, it’s the only way you progress, the only way you grow – that one’s mine

 

I have a cleaner!

I know, not the sexiest title for a blog but hopefully the accompanying image more than makes up for it – and as much as I would like to claim that body as my own, that, I am afraid, is not me! (but I am a slave to time)

So this is not revolutionary or possibly even that interesting as a piece of information but let me explain why it is important to me and why I have written a blog about it (a brief one at that).

I’m a good Greek girl

I am a child of a Cypriot mother, we have immaculate houses (typically heavy with gold, marble and ornaments, LOTS of ornaments) which we meticulously clean, daily, in case anyone should come a calling. In fact it is not unheard of for us to cover our furnishings in plastic just to be sure they are in the best condition at all times, god forbid we should actually relax and enjoy the fruits of our labour.  (and please don’t think for a second I don’t love and respect my Greek heritage, I am forever grateful that I have grown up in a multi-cultural family, I am truly a better person for it and will do all I can to ensure my boys experience it too).

So, in part influenced by my heritage, because I am a woman of a generation who seem to think they have to do everything and because I am a bit of a ‘Monica’ (from friends) and actually like to clean, the thought of getting a cleaner, well, was a challenging one for me. I mean, will she even do it right?!

However, my ‘passion’ plan says I need to find more time for the things that really matter and it would seem getting elbow deep in a toilet every weekend is not one of them!

What price can you put on your time?

To pay for this liberation of my time I am forgoing my daily, overpriced, over caloried coffee (which actually ticks off another resolution – to get wired less).

So what is it I am expecting to gain as a result of the lovely Alison coming into my house for 2 hours every Friday?

A sparkly home fit for a visit from my mum (more particular than the queen!)
Time with the boys (to play in the park, do their homework, go places, have fun)
Time for myself (to blog, to study, to catch up with friends, to run)
The list goes on….

Am I asking too much from a cleaner? Possibly. What will I actually get?

A stressful Thursday evening getting the house ready for the cleaner
A sparkly house for all of about 20 minutes (I have 2 boys)
Headaches from the sudden caffeine withdrawal
And as spring is just around the corner and I gave it about an hour of my attention all of last year my Saturday morning cleaning ritual is likely to be replaced by a Saturday morning gardening fest

Am I being overly pessimistic? Will Alison be the answer to all my prayers? Well she starts Friday, so ask me on Monday!

Its not that we have little time, but more that we waste a good deal of it – Seneca

The fringe is back!

OK so my first blog I found surprisingly easy and really enjoyed writing, it took no time really and was a pretty therapeutic process.

Blog 2, this blog, I am really struggling to write. It’s taken ages and I don’t even think it’s that good, in fact this is me starting it all over again.  Which gets me thinking, why am I doing this?  Maybe it’s not for me, maybe I just don’t have anything worth saying right now, or ever! Then I look back at my blog title ‘My Muddled Mind’ and I realise it still is, muddled that is, but I’m feeling a bit upbeat right now having achieved some clarity this week, just some mind, let’s not get too carried away!

Good start to the year

So I have actually had a really good start to this year, I filled out my ‘Passion Planner’ with quite specific things I wanted to tick off – and I did them! Get me, I can stick to a resolution for one whole week!

But joking aside I feel motivated right now off the back of some personal wins in situations I would have bet good money I wouldn’t have been successful with (won’t go into specifics here, mainly cause they are boring, but mostly bit worried who might read it). And wins sounds a bit harsh, like someone lost, which they didn’t. What I did manage, I think, is to get a few people to see me differently and that maybe they need to listen to me more, and more importantly, I’m no push over!

You don’t have to act on all the advice you get

The thing is I have had a tricky couple of years and as a result a few crises of confidence which has meant that I have probably sought out more advice than I needed.  I’ve not had confidence in my own abilities, and specifically my ability to make good decisions, and maybe I should of.  Instead of build me up unfortunately a few, well-meaning people, only served to instil a level of self-doubt in me that meant I stopped making decisions, I was too easily swayed and started to become an alternate version of me.

And so the reason for this blog – authenticity, best told through a working example

I’ve been told, many times, that if I want to get further in my career and be ‘respected’ by more senior management I need to adapt my style, change my approach and reconsider the way I manage people.  See my biggest professional challenge is that I have worked at the same organisation for over 15 years, woman and girl, and I’m liked by a lot of people – some would say that’s a good thing but apparently that doesn’t work in your favour!

Well I listened to this advice, and even believed it for a bit and considered how I might address it; training, mentors, mimicking other management styles but it just wasn’t working for me, it felt wrong, it was stressing me out and fundamentally I was massively underachieving.  The thing is before all this ‘confusion’ and well-meaning advice I was doing alright, I had a well-motivated team and we were delivering really good, creative work. So just because my style wasn’t textbook does that make it wrong?

Have your own identity – get a fringe

I’ve been reading lots about authenticity (have a look on Twitter everyone is talking about it) and some of it really resonated with me; the importance of being honest, first with yourself and then with others (part of the reason for investing so much time in the Passion Planner – it asks some really searching questions). And then I had that lightbulb moment, I realised why I was feeling so challenged – I was letting others convince me that I had to change but in fact what I had to be was more like me. I had lost sight of my identity, lost my ‘self’, my authenticity.

And there lies the relevance of the fringe. I got one over a year ago and it was a striking change, it got loads of comments, it worked for me.  Then, like I always do, I thought ‘time for a change’ because change is good, it’s how we progress.  So I grew it out. But actually it didn’t need to change, it worked, like so many things – so god damn it this week it came back, and, with it, more than a little bit of me!

So what’s the lesson?

For a number of reasons this work year is going to be very different and so I thought, stuff it, in the words of the great song ‘I’ll do it my way’. If I fall on my arse I will have no-one to blame but me, but then I might just pull it off! So what is my way? Well; plain speaking, logical, common sense, which contrary to popular opinion you can do alongside complex strategic thinking (it doesn’t mean I’ve missed the point, in fact it might mean I am the only one that really has seen it).

So I might be kidding myself, we are only a week in, and I  might be getting carried away with a couple of good days (I am sure there will be plenty of bad) but there is something to be said about being ‘authentic’. Especially if you are me, someone who gets stressed out trying to play games and politicking.

Can leopards change their spots?

This doesn’t mean I won’t adapt to situations and maybe think more before I open my mouth to speak but that’s just common sense, not fundamentally changing who I am (it’s like eating out, sometimes you get one set of cutlery and you can eat with your fingers, other times you know to go from the outside in!).  I mean, can you even change your personality? And more fundamentally should you?  (Unless you are some horrible psychopath).

When I first became a mum I read somewhere that a child’s personality, their values, beliefs and moral compass, are established by the time they are 7 (my boys are both older than that now so I hope, if true, I’ve got it right for them!).  If that’s the case, can you change who you are, or if by trying are you just pretending and in which case fooling yourself and other people?

I don’t think you can change your personality, I think instead you need to take time to know yourself, who you are, good and bad and then work with it and don’t let others convince you of how you should change – you can’t, you have to be authentic to you. And if that doesn’t work then you change your environment for one where it does (or you get a fringe!)

 

‘Be yourself, everyone else is already taken’ – Oscar Wilde

 

 

My introduction

So, who has this muddled mind and why a New Year blog?

Well I am a 41 year old married working mother of 2 young boys, (all pretty standard so far) who constantly feels like she is underachieving and that somewhere there is greener grass and ‘success’ – which is yet undefined, hence the muddled mind.

This blog forms part of yet another set of new year’s resolutions, another set of ‘secret goals’ that I am determined to achieve but if 2016 is anything to go by, I will fall disappointingly short.  But don’t panic, I’m not giving up, I’m a Taurus, we are nothing if not stubborn and determined.

So what is ‘success’ and how do I achieve it in 2017?

As a self-professed over-thinker I have done A LOT (yawn) of personal reflection and have reached some conclusions as to why I wasn’t where I had ‘hoped’ I would be as 2016 comes to a close.

The key being ‘where I had hoped’ – I had lots of ideas, that I naively referred to as goals, but they were little more than dreams because there was no real plan. Most of the change I wanted to effect on my life was out of my hands, I put my faith in a bit of good fortune and the cooperation of others, neither of which paid off. Main lesson of 2016? Only you and ACTION can change your life.

To the outsider I end 2016 in much the same place as I entered; same job, same house with the same to do list, same weight (and lack of fitness), same issues, same, same, same. Much has happened, but nothing’s changed (other than I have lost a fringe, which on reflection I should have kept!).

But I refuse to write a whole year off because stuff has happened this year and as a result I have learnt a lot. I have bulleted for brevity and neglected to go over the ground that bought me to these conclusions, you could probably guess at some, they would make excellent blogposts all of their own:

  • Trust – people should earn it, not be handed it to abuse
  • Instincts – mine are good, go with the gut more
  • Ambition – its ok to have some, your kids will benefit and be inspired
  • Fear – do things that challenge you, it’s how you grow
  • Guilt – the undeserved definition of being a mum, lose it
  • Fun – have some daily, embarrass the kids, they’ll remember it fondly as adults

So I’m getting by but how do I ‘get on’?

Through some miracle I have carved out a very nice life for myself without ever once asking ‘what do you want to be?’ Partly because I am a people pleaser of Greek decent who was trained at an early age to choose the path of least resistance and not to do anything that might embarrass ‘the family’.

I hopefully have as much of my life to live again and its time I got serious and challenge myself to be the best I can be, stop coasting and letting others determine what I achieve or who I will be. To quote my favourite film of the season ‘you should be the leading lady in your own life for God’s sake!’

I have observed and listened to some very successful women in recent weeks, some close and personal to me who inspire me daily by their successes of varying scale (you know who you are) and others that I admire from afar who have challenged the glass ceiling or redefined what it is to be a working mum today.

I have also managed to collect quite a number of books, apps and theories for how to be a better you, each as convincing as the one before but I already know most of them won’t resonate with me (inherently lazy, far too practical and have no time to read!). So I have opted to take the best of the things that I have seen and to keep it simple by focusing on the one thing they all have in common – a plan!

Getting from nowhere to somewhere

Goals and ‘hopes’ are nice but are nothing if you haven’t written the roadmap; how are going to get there? You don’t start out on any journey without first consulting a map (or typing into your satnav) so why should life be any different?

So here I am on New Year’s Eve pondering what I want from 2017, what changes do I want to make, what is The Plan? And that my friends is why my mind is muddled.

41 years old and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, let alone how I get there!

So being a practical person I have found a tool to help, a ‘Passion Planner’ (google it, it’s a thing) and I’m trying to roadmap my life, or at least the next year and it’s not easy. First step is being honest about the life I want and the goals I want to achieve (before worrying about the practicalities of getting there).

And that, I think, may be the answer to unravelling this muddled mind – total honesty and a plan, to be shared, so others might help me get there, or at least understand me a little more.

Being authentic, brave and a little more ‘leading lady’ is the order of 2017, check back and see how that plays out for someone who’s uncomfortable just typing it let alone living it!

 ‘Those who matter won’t mind and those that mind don’t matter’ – Bernard M Baruch