Thursday, 5 March 2015

What does your brain love?

In the midst of what I thought might be a mid-life crises during October, I met someone who was completely fascinating. Claire seemed quite coy at the networking meeting I was attending and, in typical style, focused more on my business than hers. Being an introvert, I find business networking quite difficult, but I have learned to stretch myself.

We hit it off straight away and in the weeks that followed a few strange co-incidences brought us closer together. She does some amazing work in specifically helping people (and teams) find their flow. I remember asking her if she’d read ‘Flow’ and she said she’d named her business after it! The timing was perfect so I asked for her help in understanding my passions and how to define my path.

The outcome of the test showed that I am primarily a right-brained person, which to be honest, was a shock to me. At school I loved Mathematics (but also languages) and I chose to study a commerce degree with a focus on software. My career matched my studies and the trade I developed was that of Business Analyst in software development. I created detailed specifications with hours spent painstakingly getting the diagrams correct, with proper semantics. I accommodated elicitation of requirements from people in the knowledge that it was a necessary part of the job. I did enjoy the writing part but also the analytical part. I excelled in that job, surprisingly, given my brain and personality profile.

My introversion also came up on the test and the fact that I have some risk-taking or entrepreneurial characteristics. Who would have thought this girl at school who excelled at Mathematics and who chose IT as an industry would turn out to be creative?

It did get me thinking about all the creative pursuits I've leaned towards in my personal life. BC (Before Children), I took classes on making cards, painting plates and decoupage. I spent my weekends creating things. At school I loved piano and dancing but had to give them up since my school was small then and they needed all pupils to do sports, at which I most definitely did not excel.

I wonder how much of following a path in commerce was to please others or to ensure a good income. I wonder what my life would have been like if I had elected to be a choreographer as I’d dreamed of as a kid. I do know myself well enough to know that I’m only recently becoming tolerant of very creative people. I've always viewed them with a little skepticism and have labelled them as ‘scatter-brained’ or ‘disorganised’ in the past. At one of my early employers I was exposed to the advertising industry on an e-commerce team. I instantly navigated towards the ‘database’ guys who were not even that strong technically. For those who are more technically inclined, one of them told me he deleted foreign keys because they ‘got in the way’.

The primary reason I left the corporate world was lack of meaning. I joined the family business with two hopes. Firstly, that I’d learn how to run a business which I have most certainly learned. And secondly, to have the flexibility and lifestyle to enjoy my children. After 18 months into the business, we obtained a credible and supportive shareholder. We finally had a chance but with that, came a lot more formality. I had to learn how to be a proper Managing Director of a company, running board meetings, ensuring all aspects of regulation were covered etc. Although I learned and benefited a lot, I traded flexibility and freedom, for admin and regulation. 

The last job I had in the corporate world was the manager of a large team of Business Analysts. The leader of the division kept telling the management team that we must run our teams like we run a business. I marvelled at the admin that he expected us, the expensive highly skilled people, to do. At the same time the team secretary played solitaire on her computer. I remember having to stamp each invoice at right angles otherwise it was rejected. I used to tell people that every time I use that stamp 'a little piece of me died'. How funny it is to look back now, being a business owner, an entrepreneur and knowing what I know.

I know that doing work you hate breaks your spirit. I know that management is overrated but leadership rocks. I know the stress and panic of not being able to pay the bills. I know the real difficulty of key man dependencies. I know how much time and effort is spent doing things to just remain legal. And I know how important it is to let people focus on what they love. 

We can only be true to ourselves if we know ourselves. I’d highly recommend doing tests and completing questionnaires to discover what makes you tick. Only then can you be sure to focus on the things that you love, not the things that you’re good at. I have learned that there is a big difference.



Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Self Esteem and Nourishment

Self-esteem was not a big focus when I was a child. Parents were metaphorically patting themselves on the back if they provided food, housing, clothing and education. How things have changed in recent times. There appears to have been a strong movement, even beyond the psychology of childhood experiences to positive psychology. The focus these days is more on how to become a happier person. Less dwelling on the past, looking for causes of unhappiness, and more focus on how to nurture yourself. After all, the experiences we have gained, both good and bad, have shaped us into who we are today. Many of the difficult experiences I had as a child have shown me something about myself and what I’m capable of.

My mother always talked about people being ‘insipid’ as if it were the worst thing in the world.  Being an introvert, it was not very natural for me to seek the limelight and I still feel quite uncomfortable being centre of attention. I found my wedding ceremony most difficult with the emotions running high; trying to keep my beautiful make-up from smudging; and all those people looking expectantly at me to do the right thing. The relief of the service being over is blatantly obvious in the photos.


It was probably one of my greatest fears as a teenager and young adult to be boring or insipid. These days I’m certain that I may seem boring to many but also interesting to some. Last year when my highlights either grew out or wore out, I was referred to as a ‘librarian’ at a children’s party by the magician. Not that he’s someone I’m really trying to impress but it tickled that fear of being insipid once again and galvanised me into the salon.

I cut alcohol out of my diet a few years ago. I’m not an alcoholic although it does run in my family. I cut it out because I felt it was not serving me. My health started to deteriorate about three years ago after a traumatic event and has steadily declined. I have a wonderful book called Healing Foods by Margaret Roberts which discusses the links between health problems and the food we eat.

Being individuals, I believe that some foods just don’t sit well with some, but have no effect on another person. My husband can glug back litres of milk which would make me gag. There are, of course, foods that are harmful to everyone. The danger foods in the book for almost all conditions are sugar, fried foods, processed foods, alcohol, caffeine and sometimes refined carbohydrates and dairy. I cut out alcohol because I just didn't feel good and I believed it to be affecting my already fragile health. So that may make me more boring socially but I don’t regret it and I don’t miss it really. Well, apart from a nice port in winter!

My six-year-old is also an introvert although she’s very friendly and confident. I think it was her third birthday and we had a big party at our house. Everyone gathered round and sang a hearty happy birthday. Once she blew out the candles, she asked me quietly if she could please go to her room. She retreated to the safety of her bedroom and emerged about ten minutes later, having recovered from the intense attention.

For years I feel that I’ve been neglecting my needs and prioritising other people’s needs. This is probably rooted in my childhood where we were raised with a strong focus on consideration for other people. I also embed this in my parenting because I think it is a quality that is rare today and endears one to others. However, I will also ensure that my children know when to care for themselves. As mentioned in my previous post, making sure I have some fun in my day is medicine for me, particularly now. I’m starting to say things like “Mommy also needs some time for herself” to make sure they realise I’m not only here to serve them, and also to embed in them the idea that it's OK to care for yourself.

Does your self-esteem need some repair? Some books I've read ask if you’d keep yourself as a friend considering the way you speak about you. It’s something to think about and a worthy exercise to pay attention to what you tell yourself. When I look in the mirror I usually think ‘You look tired’ and I quickly try to add something like ‘but happy’ at the end when I catch myself doing it.  I’m paying attention to what I eat, particularly as my thyroid slows down (yikes!) and to how I am nurturing myself in this recovery period.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

The Antidote

Any mother of young girls would have watched Frozen at least once in the last year. The heroine, Elsa, has a wonderful gift but doesn't know how to control it. Fear makes it more dangerous and she retreats into her ice castle, protected by the snow monster she creates. Well, I wouldn't say my gift is quite that powerful but I did connect with the withdrawing into the ice castle and needing protection. Seeing her finally being herself and the beauty she releases, really resonated with me. Elsa discovers that Love is the antidote to fear and with Love she can learn to use her gift for fun.

For about four and a half years I've struggled with Frustration in the business. Yes, that capital letter is there on purpose. Frustration that we didn't have enough money to modernise the system, frustration trying to inspire people who cannot be inspired, frustration in trying to compete with and be supported by a bank at the same time, frustration that regulations restricted my innovation and frustration that I could never land that big deal that would mean the world to the business. 

Every month I drudged through the accounting, eagerly looking at the bottom line. And each month, the growth was so small. I tried so many tactics to overcome the obstacles and kept persevering thinking that any day now, things will improve. They didn't, and when I did the budgeting exercise in October, I knew it would be foolish to use any data other than historical data to project future revenue.  I had the rude awakening that I would spend more than another year asking for funding and eking out an existence on a salary that hasn't budged for five years.


For so long, my day was filled with admin, forms, completing bank forms with the same information seven times repeated, banking transactions, arguing with the tax authority and the dreaded accounting. I have always been an academic and performed well at school. Accounting at university was the first thing I failed in my life. Once I applied myself I did well in the supplementary exam and it didn't hold me back. But mastering something doesn't make you love it. This week, I’m still doing the accounting for the business. But it is the last time. I have found someone to do it for us and am documenting the process to ease the transition. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

Like Elsa, I have discovered my antidote to Frustration – Creativity! I’m filling my day with things that I love to do. I've bought a piano, I’m making a crochet blanket of my own pattern, knitting teddy bears who each have their own little character, baking and of course, writing. I can’t do all these things in one day since my energy levels are not quite back to normal but I’m purposefully carving out fun in my day. That is my antidote.

I visited my doctor this morning and the great news is that my thyroid levels are normal. I can stop taking medication for the heart and am allowed to exercise again. I will take it on slowly to be sure that I’m not overdoing it, but I’m thrilled! I can’t stop the thyroid medication until the antibody for Graves’ disease is back to normal which we shall check at the end of the month.

I’m so pleased to get feedback from those who are reading my blog. I am simply thrilled to hear that people actually like my writing. With all this good news, I’m floating on a cloud. That ice monster can stay inside today.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Mind Body Connection

I’m amazed at how some of my relatives seem to believe that the mind and body are totally separate. Do they think the brain is just floating around in there, disconnected from the body? I am a strong believer that our thoughts affect our health. For me this is an obvious conclusion, given that I have developed a stress-related condition. After all, stress is just a collection of thoughts that result in physiological symptoms.



One of the things I’m ensuring is that I weed out negative thoughts and negative people in my life. I need to make sure that I have a fertile environment for reducing my stress. From what I've read there seem to be an awful lot of people who don’t like themselves and their thoughts are flooded with self-criticism and negativity. That really doesn't serve anyone. I certainly don’t hate myself at all and I believe life is full of opportunities and joy if you’re willing to do the work to notice and capture it.

Some of that work may be forgiving yourself, or forgiving someone else. The letting go is often a very powerful exercise in releasing the burdens carried by most of us.  This is starting to sound quite esoteric but I don’t believe there’s anything strange about doing some housekeeping in our emotions and thoughts. Clean up and get rid of the clutter. Nip those negative thoughts in the bud before they get rooted.

I love this post from Tiny Buddha about changing your life trajectory: http://tinybuddha.com/blog/changing-trajectory-live-life-purpose/ . For some of my relatives, the fact that I read something with ‘Buddha’ in it, and even referenced it, is tantamount to heresy. “Oh no, she’s abandoning her faith!” Doing yoga is surely to send some of them into cardiac arrest. Yet these are the things that help us connect body and mind.

I’m pretty sure that God wants us to be happy and to live full lives, following our passion. But we do actually have to take some action, other than prayer, to make our lives fulfilling. I’m sure many of you have heard that joke about God sending various forms of rescue to the idiot who is not listening. How many of us are making assumptions about how our prayers will be answered, so much so that we don’t notice that we actually received what we needed, not what we asked for? As far as I’m concerned, prayer and meditation are not mutually exclusive. Let’s be open to trying new things, from which we can learn and perhaps receive something we weren't expecting. 


Saturday, 28 February 2015

Gratitude, Meditation and Mindfulness

On my journey of ensuring my future job is filled with meaning, I’m going to give myself some homework. I’d like to research what other people have done and to investigate things that interest me. It’s hard to learn if you’re not open to discover things you know very little about. It may mean taking some risks and opening myself up to things that have previously been a bit scary.

I think some of the things people have done to be happier and less stressed in their lives, not necessarily in their work, are things like focusing on gratitude, meditation and mindfulness.

Gratitude is a really obvious one to me. I've noticed that grateful people are happy people. I know people who have so very much and have had all the opportunities in the world to be happy, yet their focus is on what they don’t have and what others have instead. I also know people who have very little and are leading lives of contentment. They make do with what they have, and their focus is family and love.

Those of you with small children will know that they are comforted with routine. They feel safe knowing that we do the same steps each night before bedtime. We have started a habit with our three-year-old to say what she calls ‘Thank You For’ every night. Thank You for our family, thank You for our home, thank You for all the fun today. I’m building a culture of gratitude in our home such that they focus on what they have and be glad for it.

Many of you may have seen the 100 Days of Happiness project last year. To focus on even the small things that make us happy, is a commendable initiative and the fact that it was on social media made it spread. I read some scathing article urging people to keep their happiness to themselves. If ever I saw someone who needed to actively focus on happiness!

Meditation has been a tricky one for me. I’m a bit of a fidget and although I love the peace of silence, I do battle to sit or lie for a long time doing ‘nothing’. I may have gotten into bad habits being a mother of small children in that there is always something to do, tidy up or prepare for tomorrow.  I Googled how to meditate and was relieved to hear that I only need to start with two to three minutes each time. So I’m doing that for now and hopefully I’ll get better at it. My condition leads to sleep disturbances, aggravated by the odd nightmare or blankie being lost in the night. Rest is of primary importance at the moment so disturbed sleep is a real issue for me. I have noticed though, on the days I do some solid meditation (albeit for a few minutes), I do tend to sleep better.

What does it mean to be mindful? Wikipedia defines it as “the intentional, accepting and non-judgemental focus of one's attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment", which can be trained by meditational practices derived from Buddhist anapanasati”. Being mindful is so tightly linked with happiness. Let’s stop chasing the next thing, hoping it will lead to happiness. Happiness is enjoying the moment and being grateful for it. Matt Killingsworth investigated how staying in the moment enhances happiness by his interesting research.

Our lives have become so hurried that it is very hard to enjoy the moment. It’s something I’m going to be focussing on in the coming months. Hopefully the meditation and mindfulness go hand in hand. I’m enjoying these amazing years of parenting small children, watching the joy they experience in the small things.My gratitude is mostly around my immediate family 
and the great blessing of being a parent.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Happiness is hard sometimes

I wasn't entirely correct when I said I’m not following any blogs. My cousin, Carly, is documenting her journey with Cancer and I found her blog to be really good and gave me a lot of insight as to what that journey is like. I have found some new blogs to follow on being positive and how to ensure a happy life. I found a good post about finding your passion too. I’d also highly recommend following Project Happiness on Facebook, giving regular updates and positive messages.

Gretchen Rubin has been a big inspiration to me. Seeing other people want to grow and improve themselves is so inspiring for me. But it’s clear that not everyone is at the same point in evolving as a person. Some have elected not to evolve at all and I find that to be tragic. I have always had this expectation that the older people get, the wiser they should be. This is most definitely not true. I had neighbour in a complex I used to live in before I got married. She was in her fifties at the time and would constantly lose her temper with neighbours, would lash out racist remarks and be generally critical of everyone. I remember wondering how she had not mastered herself at her age. She’s not open to growth sadly, relationships, being a key ingredient to a happy life, are a constant source of pain for her. Not everyone wants to be a better sister, friend, parent, wife, father in the next five years than they are now. Weird.

I've noticed lately that some close family members are not comfortable with the changes I’m making. I've been accused of being ‘a bit mad’, ‘ruthless’ and I’m sure a lot of other things. I say it’s a good sign. I say that they’re seeing I’m changing and it’s shaking up their world. Gone is the compliant peace-making mediator of this family. It’s all OK and life will continue, somewhat differently. I now see the world a lot clearer since I've taken a step back. I’m now protecting myself and my family from harm. I’m taking action to ensure those around me are supporting me, not hurting me. Sadly sometimes it's those who you expect the most support from who provide the least.

Just like Taylor Swift, I’m going to ‘Shake it Off’ and continue on my journey to recovery. I haven’t meant to be cryptic about my condition so I’ll just spell it out if anyone’s interested. I have developed Graves’ disease (bad name I know). It is an auto-immune attack on the thyroid, induced by stress. Wikipedia says there is no scientific evidence of environmental factors causing it but in my case it is not hereditary and I've been under a great deal of stress for about five years now. The thyroid is indeed the unsung hero of the body. If it’s working properly no-one gives it a second thought. But if it breaks, the proverbial hits the fan.

My symptoms have been headaches (probably from stress), tremors, irregular heartbeat, sleep disturbance and most notably fatigue. This is the reason I’m not able to work a full day as I get too exhausted. Unfortunately I don't look sick and many people are under the impression that I'm perfectly fine. That might make me have to fight a bit harder for my recovery than if I had red spots or no hair. 

So I need to surround myself in a cozy little cocoon of my immediate family and those friends who love and support me. I’ll be doing very little socialising over the next few months but do have a few important commitments to keep and will do so gladly, for the sake of the relationships that count. 


You certainly have to work for your own happiness. Even if it means putting up boundaries and rules to secure your place, research and testing out techniques. I'm making a concerted effort to get it right and sometimes it's painful and sometimes it's wonderful. The end state is what counts really. 

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Learning the Ropes

To be perfectly honest, I am learning the ropes of blogging. I’m no expert and I don’t even follow other blogs. That is my upfront disclaimer if I happen to break any written or unwritten rule of blogging etiquette.

Those of you who first saw my blog might have noticed that I've refined the layout somewhat. I think it fits my style and for those who need the tip, be sure to take a look at the gadgets on the right that tuck away neatly. I thought I created the capability to follow by email but I’m not sure if I got that right. And yes, the bullets of my last blog post are ugly. I've recently read that learning and growing is a key ingredient to happiness so bring on the learning!

I’m also curious to know what readers think of AdSense. I’m not a big fan of ads, and their assault on the senses – especially anything that throbs. Earning money while writing sounds quite appealing to me though.

I struggle to achieve things without a goal. If I can’t run an ultra-marathon this year, I’ll have to find goals associated with getting better or learning. So I've decided to follow three blogs as my first goal and hopefully I’ll pick up some tips.

Over a year ago I started an electronic journal that I called a ‘God blog’ due to my fear of public humiliation. In writing, identifying the target audience is one of the first important things to decide as it shapes the style substantially. She already knows me and wouldn't judge me too harshly so that’s what I called it. It is lonely being a business owner as you have no-one to talk to about your challenges. You can’t talk to your staff about your worries of being able to pay salaries or whether you’re leading this thing in the right direction. You need to appear confident and calm in knowing what you’re doing. So writing was my outlet and my tool in crystallising my thinking about the future of the business. I continue to use it in the path to my new career trusting that the same enlightenment is on its way.

So I think my journey will go something like this: acceptance then understanding, then healing and finally action. Since my diagnosis three weeks ago, I have most certainly accepted that my life needs to change. I think I’m still trying to understand why, although I’m most of the way through that phase. The next phase of healing will most likely be quite long as I let my body recover from years of going against the flow and suppressing my fatigue. That may take a good few months but I can say that I’m already starting to feel better.

I’m not known for my patience and I do find it very irritating that I can only have one outing a day. More than that and I find I’m pretty tired by the evening. Through regularly testing my patience, I think my children have helped me become more patient. Watching a toddler ram a round peg into a square hole (literally) over and over can be most frustrating. I think I've told them hundreds of times that you don’t need to tip a cup with a straw. I've learned to accept and even marvel at the pure volume of what human beings have to learn. My six-year-old asked me the other day ‘What is a test?’ and my first reaction was ‘Oh boy, does she have a long way to go.’ But seeing how excited she is to learn to read without being overwhelmed by how far she has to go, is inspiring to me. She tackles learning with the same gusto as she does playing.  

Our society really seems to value being busy. When people ask about my well-being I’m not sure I want my response to always be ‘Oh I’m so busy I can barely cope’. Since I've taken a step back from the hamster wheel, I've started to notice the small things around me. Since my condition makes me overheat a lot, the rain is absolutely glorious! I’m a lot less abrupt with my kids now too and I’m taking the time to tickle them; to give them frights and really listen to what they’re saying.  I want a life that contains living on purpose, stopping to enjoy each important moment; and filled with activities that are fulfilling (not just time-consuming).

I've secured myself a four month sabbatical from the business. I’m a very determined person and when I focus on something I can get it right. So now my major commitment is to get kids to school and to recover. Resting on purpose is very weird to me but perhaps it’s one of the lessons I have to learn.

Adequate recovery will mean that I’ll be ready to take action when the time comes. The action will be to ensure that my job is fulfilling, I have enough space to recover from all the things that drain my reserves during the day and I will have time to be a good parent too. As much as I have a need to achieve professionally, I’d rather be remembered for being a good parent because the impact is far more meaningful.

So I’m learning the ropes with blogging, but also with how far I can push myself currently. I am trying to really listen to my body to make sure I’m picking up early cues. It’s not forever but it is an important part of the process to ensure the future is designed right.

Passengers on the journey

Passengers on the journey