Despite my relative youth I have had what used to be called “quite a few different jobs” and is now referred to as a “portfolio career”. In each of my incarnations, I have learned new skills and worked with some wonderful people who have often become friends. During one of my past lives working in corporate communications, I had a fantastic manager (we will call her Angela), who taught me more than most; but the thing that really sticks out when I think about Angela is her fanaticism for alignment.
Whenever one of our team would send a brochure for printing or deliver a presentation to a client, Angela always said, “Check the alignment one last time before you send it, please!” Not only was she polite, Angela was also a stickler for ensuring that text boxes and images lined up nicely and that there were no random extra spaces at the beginning of lines. This thoughtfulness and eye for detail is what made Angela excellent at her job and a great mentor.
Now, as a coach, I think of Angela often as I work with clients on a different kind of alignment: the alignment of their decisions and chosen actions with their values and life goals. In sessions where clients are figuring out who they want to be, what they want to do, and where they want to go, I frequently ask them to check their alignment before moving forward, with questions like, “What values are you honouring with this choice?” and “How does this action serve your ultimate objective?”
However, while it is fairly easy to judge whether a couple of images are in a straight line in a PowerPoint presentation, evaluating the alignment of your goals with your values, or assessing whether your daily activities correspond to your broader aspirations is much more difficult. So how do you check the alignment of your choices before you approve and – metaphorically – send them to print?
There’s no quick-fix list for checking that your choices are coherent with your bigger-picture life plan, but I do have a few techniques that can offer help open up a path towards insight.
Know your value
Before you can decide whether something honours your values, you have to know what your values are! But how do you know what you value? One really effective way of identifying some of your values is to think about what makes you angry. Most times, when something makes your blood boil, it’s because one of your key values is being disrespected. If my husband gets furious when a car overtakes us on a curve at warp speed, it’s not because his masculine pride is wounded. It’s because protecting his family is right at the top of his values list. In films, when the “good” guys don’t triumph (you know those films where, right at the end, in a sly twist, you realise that the chap you’ve been told to root for and that the lawyer managed to get off was actually guilty all along?), my husband is always incandescent with rage. The disrespected value is, of course, his sense of justice.
So ask yourself: what makes me angry and what value is not being honoured in that situation? You can also think about your proudest moments, the moments when you felt most fully alive. What was going on? What value was being celebrated? If getting your degree is in the top five, maybe you value education and learning. If the relay race you lost horribly at school is actually a sparkling memory for you, maybe you cherish the teamwork it took to take part in the first place.
Try on your decision like a coat
This technique is great both for testing alignment and ending indecision. To see whether an action or a choice feels right and “aligned”, image that you have already made your decision. For example, you’re hesitating about leaving the amateur choir you have been singing with for a few years. Decide to leave and draft the email to the choirmaster with your resignation, then go to bed and sleep on it. How do you feel when you wake up? Relieved? Strong? Joyful? Or do you wake up terrified that Gmail has experienced a glitch and sent your draft email out automatically? Try on a decision the way you would a new coat and see how it fits. If you experience discomfort, consider what that tells you. Maybe it simply means that the decision is good but hard to execute, or maybe it means that it’s not the right path for you.
Don’t be afraid to say no
Sometimes honouring your values means saying no or that you’ve changed your mind, or that something no longer works for you. That’s hard, but ultimately liberating. When my daughter started school, in a fit of perfect-mother zeal I joined what us Brits refer to as the PTA (Parent-Teacher Association). Unsurprisingly, some of my top values are my children, education, and making a contribution. I quickly realised that the reality of PTA work in France is very different from what I saw my mother doing when I was at school in the UK and that the activities undertaken – while not harmful or unpleasant – didn’t hit the spot in terms of any of my values. The day I left, I felt rather guilty and embarrassed but I could practically feel the alignment return to my body. Now, the time I could have spent fielding Whatsapp messages (seriously, hundreds per week) and reading meeting minutes is used playing Kapla with my son, reading with my daughter, and doing pro bono coaching work (my children, education, making a contribution – tick, tick, tick).
Beware conflicting values
It’s impossible to honour all of your values all of the time. Maybe you value health and fitness but also security, which to you means having a minimum amount of savings in the bank. Joining a gym honours the first value but does nothing to help with the second. Sometimes you have to choose which value is most important here and now. So perhaps you decide that you can maintain your fitness by jogging in the park while keeping your bank balance healthy too. Perhaps you conclude that supervised weight training and cardio is really what you need to avoid certain issues that run in your family and you splash out on the gym but trim your budget elsewhere. Much heartache can occur when you try to honour conflicting values all at the same time (just ask any working parent!) so be mindful of what your values are and which you are honouring with each decision and why.
If you’re looking to find greater alignment in your life and make day-to-day choices that serve your higher purpose and long-term life plan, supportive and encouraging coaching can help you identify your values and honour them. Contact me for your free introductory coaching session to find out how working together can help you build a life lived with purpose and on purpose.
Of late, my family has been enjoying our first small but successful crop of tulips, grape hyacinths and narcissi. They have provided a joyful burst of colour in some slightly bare patches of the garden and offered a much-needed springtime boost while the rest of our plants take their time unfurling and emerging. Whilst we were taking our morning tea outside recently (yes, I binged on Bridgerton during the latest lockdown and have decided that I no longer drink but “take” my tea), my husband commented that he had no recollection of me planting those bulbs. “Of course not,” I answered, “I did it way back in October just after we pruned everything else back”.
Planting bulbs is a funny thing to do, isn’t it? Just as the rest of the garden is shedding leaves and retreating for the winter, it’s time to plant bulbs that will sit in the frozen ground for months before pushing their way up to the light almost half a year later. It’s actually an incredible metaphor for hope. We put these vulnerable little plants in the ground as the weather – and sometimes our mood – begins to feel bleak, in the hope that, come spring, they will flourish – daffodils trumpeting triumphant over the dark days; the crocus bursting forth to celebrate renewal and rebirth.
All about the now
Our enjoyment of the long-awaited patches of colour provided by spring flowers is particularly relevant today, in a society where instant gratification has become the norm. I recently ordered a coat stand for our entranceway and was shocked – outraged! – appalled! to discover we would have to wait four whole weeks for delivery. Meanwhile, the foot rest I bought for my desk arrived in just 48 hours. Now, that’s more like it, I thought to myself. But that kind of quick fix, no-sooner-thought-than-bought, make the call – get it done result is so rarely how life works. In my experience, more often than not, the real rewards we reap in our lives come from the tiny seeds we planted months, maybe years ago, in the hope that one day they would bear fruit.
Playing the long game
Online shopping notwithstanding, very few of the actions we implement in our lives are immediately rewarding. Not only do most of them require some degree of patience, but many also depend on repetition and consistency. My choice of a salad over a burger this evening will not register on the scales tomorrow morning. But making that choice consistently, day after day, will result in weight loss over time. The same can be said for the efforts of parenting. Taking the time to foster a love of reading in your child, teach them about different religions, or let them help with household chores (even when it actually slows you down) can often feel like a drop in the ocean and you sometimes wonder how much is really going in. But wait a while, and you’ll see that all those choices have planted seeds that will grow into trees of literacy, tolerance, and a sense of responsibility.
Four years ago I spoke at a conference on self-care and wellbeing. I came home and told my husband, “Well, that was fun, but I don’t know if anything with come of it”. Nothing much did, really, until a month ago when a man I met that day contacted me to start coaching sessions as he finally felt ready to start working towards a more fulfilling life. Now, that’s a real example of playing the long game!
You gotta have faith
I have to admit that I had to – as the French characteristically dramatically put it – me faire violence (do violence to myself) when I decided to plant those bulbs last autumn. I really had to force myself. It was cold, I was lockdown-weary, and I wasn’t convinced the on-sale bulbs I’d bought looked that healthy and would actually sprout at all. But now, as I sit in the garden surrounded by flaming red tulips and nodding narcissi, I am so pleased I found some motivation that day, even when I felt the result was uncertain. Looking at them reminds me that often in life, we have to take action and just have faith that – maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow (and maybe not even soon or for the rest of our lives) – but that at some point what we do will pay off. Because the explanation for a successful, fulfilling life is the same as for a colourful, flower-filled garden: it’s blooming because I planted the seeds necessary to make it that way.`
If you’re looking to re-landscape your life, plant the seeds of some life changes, or maybe pull out a few old weeds that are holding you back, coaching can help you target your actions and accelerate change. Contact me for your free introductory coaching session to find out how working together can help you build a life lived with purpose and on purpose.
It’s hard to take a leap of faith and say “yes” to life, but sometimes you have to kiss a few frogs and risk meeting some toads if you are to have a chance of creating the life you want and achieving your heart’s desire. Because it only takes one frog turning into a prince to make you glad you puckered up.
As the mother of a three-year-old boy and a nearly six-year-old girl, my day-to-day conversations are currently dominated by three main things. These are: the different species of dinosaurs and their relative strength (as in, “Mummy, T-Rex verses stegosaurus – who would win?”); how much chocolate it is acceptable to consume in a given 24-hour period; and my efforts to correct the often awful messages fairy tales send to children, girls in particular.
Recently, I was reading The Frog Prince to my daughter when she turned to me and asked a characteristically perceptive question: “Mummy, what would have happened if she hadn’t kissed the frog?” There ensued a discussion about keeping promises and doing the right thing (You’ll recollect that the princess promises to eat and sleep with the prince if he dives into the well to get her ball but then balks at the idea when faced with his green chops puckering up for a goodnight kiss.) nuanced by a child-friendly but extremely clear explanation of the meaning of ongoing consent.
What is it like to kiss a frog?
After I had seized on this very teachable moment, my thoughts naturally turned to other meanings one could infer from the metaphor of kissing a frog. I say naturally because “you have to kiss a lot of frogs to meet a single prince” is advice I often give to my intercultural coaching clients. When you arrive in a new city or country and are looking to make friends and network, I tell them, you have to kiss frogs. By that I mean that you should accept any invitation you receive (within the bounds of safe conduct, of course – meeting in a public place, etc.). You chat to a friendly woman at a book shop, and she suggests you grab coffee the next day. Colleagues from a different part of the company ask you to join them for lunch in the canteen. A neighbour suggests you meet her sister-in-law because she’s an ex-pat from your home country (If you’re British this invariably becomes: “In fact, maybe you know one another – it is a small island after all!”). Back home, these kinds of random meetings are unusual, perhaps even unheard of, but in ex-pat circles, they are gold!
I met two of my best friends this way. The first I met at the Christmas party of a colleague I barely knew. We got chatting, and she mentioned that being new to Paris she had no idea what to do on New Year’s Eve. I invited her to my party. My other closest buddy was the Paris newbie she met the day after we talked – she brought her to my party, and the three of us have been true blue ever since. I tell clients they have to kiss a few frogs because, while perhaps nine times out of 10, you’ll come away from the coffee/drink/party/mother-and-baby group disappointed and glad it’s over, you only need one of those “frogs” to turn into a “prince” and you have yourself a friend, or maybe even the beginnings of – whisper it – a group.
Frogs aren’t just for ex-pats
This wisdom isn’t just applicable to ex-pats seeking to create a life and build a network, however. To me, the bigger idea of kissing a frog is about taking a leap of faith. It’s about doing something that seems unlikely to result in anything useful but, well – you never know! It’s about saying yes to coffee with that nice lady at your yoga class, even if you aren’t sure you have anything in common other than flexibility. It’s about joining the PTA to meet new people, even if you end up leaving after the first year. And, beyond making contacts, it’s also about sending that email to a prospect, even if it is a long shot. Or visiting yet another potential dream house even when the last 10 have turned out to be four dodgy walls and a leaky roof. Or taking a class to learn a new skill, applying for a job that seems way out of your league, offering to volunteer…
When I first had my daughter, I was keen to take her to baby groups. I had her future bilingualism on my mind 24/ 7 and became convinced that a baby rhyme time group was absolutely essential to her English-speaking success. (Madness, I know, but in my defence I had just left my job, had a baby and moved house in the space of a month – I was so sleep deprived I often forgot my husband’s name.) I asked the local librarian if such a thing existed. She told me that nothing did as they had no-one to run it… Do you see where I’m going with this tale? For the next two years I spent one Saturday morning a month singing “The wheels on the bus” and “If you’re happy and you know it” at our local English-language Rhyme Time. I never once regretted kissing the frog that day and replying to the librarian “I could run it!”, and I know she never regretted kissing her own frog and saying “OK, let’s do it!” as, even though I no longer lead the singing, the group exists to this day.
What if you don’t kiss the frog?
Yes, some of the frogs you kiss will turn out to be utter toads. But when that happens, most of the time the only thing you’ll have lost is some time and perhaps the price of a cappuccino. But if you never kiss any frogs, if you never take a chance, you stand to lose a lot more. You’ve got to play the odds, though. The more frogs you kiss, the more likely you are to have one turn into a prince. Some of the best people I have in my life, and some of the best things I’ve done, have come from frog-kissing moments where I had the option to play it safe and instead I chose to say “yes” to invitations, to opportunity, to life.
At a time when connection and contacts are in short supply, I remind myself almost daily of the importance of seizing opportunity when it presents itself and of creating it when it fails to knock. Because, for me, the truly frightening answer to my daughter’s question, “Mummy, what would have happened if she hadn’t kissed the frog?” is not “She wouldn’t have met the prince”. No, in the real world, the answer to “What happens if you never kiss the frog?” is “Nothing ever happens at all”.
One last thing, just for info: of course the T-Rex would win hands-down, every time; and regarding chocolate, I find no better wisdom than a quotation I once read attributed to Miss Piggy: “Never eat more than you can lift”.
If you’re looking to add some magic to your life, encouraging, empowering support from a qualified coach can help you find the courage to kiss that frog and take a leap of faith into a life lived with purpose and on purpose. Contact me for your free introductory coaching session to see how you can upgrade your life.
To resolve or not to resolve, that is the question. It’s the one we ask ourselves each January as the annual invitation to start over rolls around. In the media, there’s the usual flurry of “How to make resolutions that last”-type articles (the kind of stuff I love to read), along with the expected slew of “Why making resolutions is a waste of time” pieces (not my cup of tea). Personally, I feel resolution-making as an expression of the will to self-improvement is never to be discouraged: the simple act of voicing a desire to change and then attempting to do so is a massive step forward. For me, failure to keep a resolution does not indicate that making resolutions is futile; rather it suggests that the resolution was perhaps the wrong one for you, or it was made for the wrong reasons, or – crucially – it was badly worded.
Specific and committed
The way in which we word and specify our intentions is crucial to their longevity. The difference between “I’m going to be healthier in 2015” and “I’m going to jog for 10 minutes twice a week in 2015” is huge. The first is vague and contains no real action, the second is specific and involves a solid commitment. Which is more likely to be kept?
Now, you’d think that, self-improvement info junkie that I am, I’d be able to sidestep these kinds of mental potholes. Think again. This New Year, I caught myself making a whopper of a rookie error as I sat down to set some intentions for 2015. There I was with a nice list of all the things I wanted to find more time for over the year – yoga, new coaching clients, promoting my work as a writer – when I noticed that every item on that list was – mentally – preceded by the words “I will find more time to…” See the fatal flaw? Answers on a postcard to the woman who’s still looking through her chest of drawers to find where she left that bit of spare time she just knows she put somewhere for safekeeping.
Stop searching, start creating
What was I thinking? You don’t find time for anything. Time is not a crumpled fiver you come across down the side of the sofa, nor is it something you discover left over at the end of a long day. Time is finite; no-one gets any more than 24 hours in a day.
The minute I changed the word “find” to “make”, my perspective on my resolutions changed. I am going to have to make time to prospect for clients, clear space in my diary for that extra yoga class, and – whisper it – make the choice between crashing on the sofa like an extra from The Walking Dead and getting out the laptop to write. Finding time is about trying to cram even more into the day, snatching five minutes here and there. Making time is about saying no to activities that aren’t priority, crafting your schedule to work towards your objectives, and making conscious decisions about where you put your energy at any given moment – which sometimes means giving up things that aren’t useful and don’t serve you.
A sense of agency
It all comes down to a feeling of agency, really. Making time puts me firmly in the driver’s seat of my life, relying on myself to make the decisions that get me where I want to be. Finding time – just like finding a forgotten banknote – relies to a large extent on luck and good fortune. And my goals are a little too important to me to leave them in the lap of the gods. Aren’t yours?
Originally published on Running in Heels.
How keeping a one-line diary has changed the way I look at, describe and recall my day… and my life.
On this day in 2013, I was having my first wedding dress fitting. And it’ll be a year ago this weekend that I saw a fantastic production of Sunday in the Park with George, with (and this pleases me no end) my friend George. And around this time last year, I was enjoying reading The Woman in White. Fascinating, I know – but more interesting is how I know and remember all this. Well, in 2013, I started keeping a one-line-a-day, five-year diary. The concept is this: each date has a page, each page is divided into five sections. You write on the same page on the same date each year – and you do so for five years.
I bought my journal for a song. Baby blue and leather-bound with gold-edged paper, it’s a little marvel that consistently makes me reflect on the passage of time – both looking back and thinking forward. I find traditional journaling a chore – the pressure to write regularly, the tendency just to pen a personal monologue of every worried, angry or depressed thought I’ve had. But this diary is different – I only have space to write two sentences, which only take a couple of minutes so there’s no pressure. Even more delightful is my discovery that, far from dragging me into a quagmire of self-analysis and rehashing my doubts and fears, it elevates my thoughts and offers me clarity and positivity.
Since I began the project, having just a few lines in which to sum up my day has made me think very clearly about what I want to be reminded of five years from now. Do I want to write that I had an argument with my boss, got a manicure and had drinks with a friend? Or perhaps I want to express something that I won’t remember unless I write it down. A stunning winter sunset watched from the office window with a couple of fun colleagues as we worked late? The stranger on the metro who handed me a tissue when I was crying with laughter reading David Sedaris? It makes me really choose what shapes my memories and thus my experience of the day.
How was your day?
And by making me consider what I want to remember about this day, the diary also makes me think about what I want to focus on here and now. So, when my husband asks about my day, I can go into details about an endless meeting, a last-minute request for a report, a coaching client who keeps changing her appointment. Or… I can tell him about a great book I read during my commute, the email I got from a friend I haven’t seen in ages, how I got on in my yoga class. What I choose to tell him about my day colours how I view my day even as I see it that very evening.
Now that I’m in my second year of the diary, I also get to look back at what I was doing last year. I have cited just a few examples and every memory makes me smile. When I’m feeling in a rut and look back at what I was doing last year, I’m reminded of how far I’ve come. I’m also noticing potential patterns: for two years running, late January has not been a pleasant time for me. Maybe in 2015 I’ll be able to factor that in and find a way to take the edge off.
Choosing your memories
Journaling, of either the traditional sort or the type I’ve embarked upon, may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but really thinking about how you want to describe your day, week, month or year and what you’d like to remember are great habits to adopt. It’s so easy to get caught up in what went wrong with your day or what you didn’t get done, but those things don’t have to be the sum of your experience. So, the next time you’re having drinks with a friend on a Friday night and she asks, “So, how was your week?” think about what you want your week to have been about and the experience you want to call to mind before you answer.
Originally published on Running in Heels.