I’m Still Standing (better than I ever did)

Have you ever thought if you could go back to your younger self what would you tell yourself?

It’s the 1980’s I can’t remember which year, (1984 maybe) I’d be about 7, I discovered Elton John.  If you’re old enough you’ll remember the televised Montreux pop festival (youtube it for a laugh), it was probably watching that and I would pirouette around the living room in a pair of red shiny hand me down shoes from my sister. In our house we all loved the song ‘I’m Still Standing’ but I was even younger when that was released so I doubt I understood anything about what its message would mean for me many years on. Fast forward to 2019 and I am sitting in the cinema watching Rocketman.  As not to be a spoiler I’ll stop there but as everyone will want a takeaway.. Tip 1- if you have not seen it go see it, the acting is amazing and it is such an amazing film and -with a bit of artistic license no doubt ……. it is based on a true story.

Community Series : How are you? Act 1

I realised through watching the film that I shared a lot with Elton John – you might think that is a grandiose statement to make but I mean in the sense that he spent a long time finding himself and being comfortable with himself; he met his husband when he was older who is his rock and he had some difficult times trying to be/find who he was and gaining the acceptance of those around him.   Thankfully I did not turn to alcohol or drugs – the closest I got to that was chocolate but I have hit rock bottom and importantly I bounced- hence the apt title ‘I’m still standing (better than I ever did’). The 80s had tough female icons -fierce, no nonsense women (Madonna etc….) I have no problem with that but it is not the only way to be and it isn’t me.

This is not a tragic story or an ego lift, I hope it is a source of help. To share my journey I will share 2 ‘me’s – the first is the up to 2013 and the second is me now.  Prior to 2013 my body was telling me to slow down.  I’d developed cluster headaches and I was constantly exhausted; I was motivated by work goals and validated by very little else; I enjoyed family time but I’d often talk about work; I’d be asleep by 9pm; I’d feel anxious on holiday in-case I had not done something- I saw this as conscientiousness.  Whenever I was exhausted i’d just push through it.  I thought I was one of those people who could just do that- keep going on fumes.  Up to the age of 36 I was successful at it so why would I think anything else?

In 2013 the petrol ran out.  I was planning for my wedding, the happiest day of my life in September the following year. I was happy. I was however getting lots of colds and I became obsessed with ridding of any illness (mainly colds) as they made me less productive, more tired.  I was reliant on stimulants, coffee, energy drinks, high sugar etc….sound familiar?

I developed vertigo in August of that year, my balance was gone, I needed to stop working for a while,   there was no quick fix for vertigo that was obvious. It was a waiting game. I did not know how to wait. The vertigo went eventually thankfully but I’d read stories of people with lifelong vertigo on the internet. Tip 2 don’t do that! As the vertigo subsided the fuel in my brain totally ran out……and I had severe anxiety and depression, that’s all I want to say about that because if you’ve had it …you’ll know and if you haven’t I just can’t explain it. There are just no words.

The 2013 me had an enemy…. and that enemy was me.  The first thing now I’d say to my 2013 self is that there were so many signs that I just ignored or made excuses for as they did not fit with the ‘image’ I wanted to present… but this is not a sad story…..  Quite the opposite.

The happy ending came in 2014 I got married (I still am) and I was well again- it was fab and by now I was a little wiser but never ever complacent.  I’d now got a list of things that I enjoyed – my 12 Rs. Without fail if the petrol gets low these become affected and they are precisely the things I need to turn the ship.

Read

Relaxation (mindfulness)

Religion (or spirituality a better description)

Refreshment

Rest (sleep essentially)

Recreation (social)

Recipes (healthy ones)

Rhythm (or music)

Radio (chat)

Restoration (exercise)

Responding (giving something back)

Reflection (but being kind to myself)

All of these things I am sure I or others will talk about in my blog. They all involve being in the present and being mindful.  Tip 3: what’s in your toolkit? Is mindfulness? My mindfulness teacher is Richard Harper mentioned below.

Later I’d started to think about what I needed to avoid or what did not work for me (Tip 4) and 5 years later I still need this (my toolkit) and there are many versions of it because it is individual to you, but if I could tell my 2013 me 3 things I would say (tip 5):

  • Be open minded and tap into the creative and not just rational parts of your brain e.g. creativity could be craft, art, gardening, singing, amateur dramatics, colouring books…. you get the idea.
  • Your energy dips could be your warning light and if you need to write down what is triggering you, you can work out what you can do
  • Reach out to people who can be your support network who can improve your strength and resilience both professionally (a coach/mentor) or personally (those in your camp- they don’t have to think like you but they do need to understand and respect you for who you are)

so back to Elton and the killer line for me

‘And if you need to know while I’m still standing you just fade away’… that is me speaking to my 2013 self.

I hope Leaders and Managers read this because a lot of our self esteem is wrapped up in work. That’s all for now but finally my Tip 6– a few people to follow on twitter as they are just amazing:

The Thrive at Work team lead by @russells70 @publichealthbod

www.wmca.org.uk/what-we-do/thrive/thrive-at-work

Karen Beaven @K_Beaven – (my coach see website karenbeaven.com)

Richard Harper – runs a fantastic 8 week course on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction @MindfulHorizons

You’ll hear more from these I am sure – Hope you stay with me…don’t worry if it’s not your thing and let me know if you intend to see or have seen Rocketman.

Sincerely,

Michelle

Only human after all

The Community Series

I have decided to use my first blog to set out my stall and introduce my first chapter the ‘How are you?’ , part of ‘The Community Series’.  It needed to be a series as I have so much to say! There is so much I want to cover often largely overlooked in organisations and I also wanted to share some recent experiences that I have had with some great colleagues on this journey called life.

Chapter 1 : How are you ?

My main aim is to take a bit of time to encourage people to be self reflective and understand themselves a bit better- something I have been doing a lot- and therefore I hope over the course of the next few weeks to offer some toolkits, tips etc that I have picked up along the way. I recognise as many of you are leaders, understanding people is probably one of the most important things you can do as you are always on view and everyone will form a view of you good or bad from what they see or sometimes just what they perceive or even form based on what other people’s views are. People can be a bit lazy like that and therefore what you can do to ‘humanise’ that relationship quickly I believe is vitally important. Also, as a leader it is your view that matters most – you can have the most amazing, generous kind management team but if the top person is a total dragon… well it kinda counts for nothing.

I’m not going to jump on a bandwagon of criticising leaders as it is a terribly complex job that not many people are prepared for.  I recently tweeted something that really resonated with me by Mac MacDonald. The blog looked at people in senior leadership positions and how it was common for them to struggle to see the context from other peoples’ perspectives all of the time (the larger the organisation the harder the challenge I expect).  It is a tall order to hone our leadership skills to encourage social awareness (that is according to MacDonald- having the emotional intelligence to truly know the triggers, likes, dislikes, worries and aspirations of others alongside the good stuff like what makes them tick). Organisations do try and (often fail) to encourage people within their workplace to feel empowered and authorised to be honest, open, as well as challenge without inhibition. This in my view is because of the lack of continuity-it is often given as someone’s project or an exercise that does not get revisited,  It is going to take a lot more than a one off topic or a standing item at a meeting as this kind of culture change resists every business self-help book I read growing up that encouraged me not to be myself and goes largely against custom and practice. It involves trust and I rarely see outspoken behaviour treated without reprisal in my humble opinion where political sensitivity still has a higher value. I see more often people being encouraged to challenge but then penalised for it.  This is because leaders can sometimes not want the challenge or want the challenge to come in a certain way which kinda defeats the object.

I also see all around me exercises to find commonality like recruiting against values, creating shared values, culture ‘fit’ etc… to me it is all a bit cliché now but probably started with good intentions. I’d drop the need to find ways to recruit and employ a personality type. What I’d love to see more of is examples that would say to me ‘I appreciate you think, talk, act and are different to me but that ok and quite refreshing’. I wonder if the pressure to conform to a type creates as much work- related stress as the work itself? Why not embrace people who are very different from you it may bring a much fresher perspective?

So, my next blog will explore why people who work for you care so much and why leaders should take care as a lot of our self- esteem is wrapped up in work. I’ll also start the journey of self -care as leaders are people too and look at the relationship between ego and its traps and how we can embrace our inner self and use that information to personalise our relationship with others.

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