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Finding another way

This is a short story that I wrote in a creative meditation session at the start of the new year. It illustrates the challenges I now recog...

Monday, 5 February 2018

Ready to Run

Putting on my running shoes

I've discovered something - some mornings it feels like I'm getting ready for a race. And I need to have my running shoes on, laced up and ready before I get to the starting line.

Some people may be able to eat breakfast on their way to work, or do make-up, or plan their day when they get into the office.

I need to be ready the night before. I need to be ready to run every day, because if I'm not, it feels as if the starter pistol has been fired, and I'm still lacing up my running shoes.

It reminds me of being at school and doing athletics, which was not my favourite activity. At the time I wasn't aware that I was Dyspraxic, and that co-ordination was not my strong point. Perhaps if I had been aware, it might have made it easier to understand why it was so challenging, and I might have been able to stop comparing myself to others, to accept myself.

I might have been able to find an activity I was better suited to, or even been able to help off the track.

I'm learning what it means for me to be ready to run every day.

Being ready to run means I'm ready to start my day in whatever way is necessary; work on a project, train a client or know what needs doing, in case I’m delayed by traffic.

It means if I am delayed in traffic, I can walk into the office, and begin the moment I arrive.

I have to remind myself I am "on stage" the moment I get in - sometimes even before I switch on my laptop, and log in for the day.

It means deciding the night before what I will wear the next day, possibly even 2 or 3 days in advance.

It means knowing everything I need to do or have with me, so I'm "ready to launch" when I leave the house.
I used to find this frustrating; now I know it's what I need to feel like I am put-together, and ready to face the day. It literally gives me a starting point, so that when the starter pistol goes, I am just as ready to run as everyone else.

And if I'm ready to run when the race starts, I have a better chance of finishing along with everyone else.


Tuesday, 1 August 2017

The Fear of Staying the Same

Recently I have begun to actually feel that I am changing, that I have changed.
I suppose others have started to see it, but I have not been ready to believe it. I can see glimpses of the woman I am becoming, and occasionally I look back and can see how far I have come.
Even though it sometimes feels as if time has passed, and I haven't necessarily got proof outwardly I have changed – a new relationship, a child, a house, or even a car – when I meet people from my past or reflect on people I used to spend time with, I can see it.
I have grown. Most of all, I can feel it, like a second skin that I am ready to embrace, because the old one has become old, dried out and restrictive.
I suppose a snake isn't the most flattering image to describe this, but I don't feel that a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis is the right one either. It doesn't feel strong enough, or substantial enough to reflect how I feel about the me that is emerging.
And perhaps I don't want to think about the chrysalis, or of my former self as a caterpillar.
Perhaps this new me was there all along, partially visible to me and people who could see me – see my potential, and now that I've had the time to really get to know myself, inside out, and to understand the challenges unique to me with my Dyspraxia and ADD, I can recognise that old habits and behaviours no longer serve me. And now that I can see that old skin, that old me, I can become willing to let it go, and leave it behind, in whatever way that is.
And I need to trust that the new skin will be more reflective of the woman I am becoming, and visible to everyone, not just a select few.
I need to give that new skin, and me, time to adjust and feel right.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Why Representation Matters

When I was younger and I was growing up, I didn't particularly think there was much difference between men and women. I didn't think much about who was making decisions for me at school or in my home life. I'm the first-born and have a younger brother. I assumed I would be the first to marry and have children, not necessarily because that was what I wanted, but because it was what was expected of me. Whether consciously or unconsciously, I was given to believe there were things I didn't need to learn or understand in any depth, because one day I would get married and my husband would take care of me, of those matters.
Maybe it was my background, and maybe this wasn't the same for my friends, or even my brother. I can't really say.
What I do know, is that for one reason or another, I haven't married or had children of my own until now. I may never do so.
And, ironically, it was being diagnosed with a Learning Difficulty that showed me why representation matters, and why women need to be equally involved in decision making, that impacts them in any way, no matter how minor or indirect.
I thought it was harmless for men to make these decisions, until I became part of a group of 10% of the population, and realised how important it is to be seen, to be heard, to have a voice. To be asked for your input and your opinion, and not be taken for granted that your needs are the same as everyone else.
Imagine booking onto a flight, not being asked about your dietary requirements, and boarding the flight to discover there is only one option available. Now imagine that option is not suitable for your needs, either due to a medical reason, or a religious reason, or even just the fact that you would like a second option.
In the last instance, you could choose to go hungry, but now imagine that you have a serious allergy and physically you are not able to eat the meal. At least if you'd been presented with options up-front, you could request a special meal, or make other arrangements.
I am not aware of any airlines that do not provide an option or state their availability up-front. Whether they do or not, though, we have the right to ask and make requests, and to decide whether to take the flight or make alternative arrangements.
Allowing men to make decisions on behalf of women is not harmless. Allowing people without a Learning Difficulty to make decisions on behalf of those who do, without asking them, is not harmless.
Perhaps a better analogy would be to offer to build a house for someone, without asking beforehand how the house needs to be built. The house may be wonderful and well-built, and generous, but if, say, this person requires a basement with a swimming pool, it's much harder, if not impossible, to add it in afterwards. Much harder to get planning permission after the fact, and more of an upheaval to make the change, and more disruptive. In the meantime, our imaginary person may not even be able to move in, even though the house appeared to be ready.
Much better to ask beforehand if the person needs any specific features to be built into the house, or even to ask if they need a basement with a swimming pool.
Then the architect and builders can request planning permission before starting to build. And even if it is not possible to build a basement with a swimming pool in this instance, let them know you are aware and have looked into the possibility, and discuss alternative options.
This is what I mean by representation – having someone in the room to speak from lived experience. Having been diagnosed with a Learning Difficulty as an adult, and lived with the challenges and characteristics of this for the past five years, I can tell you I do not speak for all people with a Learning Difficulty. However, I now have an idea of what it means not to have a say in some aspects of my life, just as I have come to realise that this is the same as decisions being made by men on behalf of women. They have not walked in those women's shoes, or seen the world through their eyes, and the greatest amount of empathy and sincerity simply cannot replace that fact.
Being diagnosed has taught me to have empathy and understanding for others. My Dyspraxia and ADD are not immediately visible to everyone, the way, for example, someone with a broken arm or eye-patch would be. But unlike a broken arm, my Dyspraxia will not magically be healed one day. It is a part of me, the same as the colour of my eyes, or my height.
I hope that this newfound empathy and curiosity of mine extends to other groups of people in the world, even if I am not a part of those groups, or cultures. I have learned that diversity opens up our horizons, and can make ideas stronger and more enduring. However, we need to give these groups at least a voice, a seat at the table, and when we ask them about their experiences, be willing to step into their world for just a little while.
And who knows, perhaps our ideas and solutions to the world’s challenges, will be the richer for it.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Reach for the sky

A year ago, I returned from my visit to Singapore and India, having taken my knowledge-sharing group global, and it's led me to reflect on the impact the trip has had on me over the past year.

Spring has arrived and I'm noticing the new growth, the blossom and new leaves on the trees, and I'm finding my eyes drawn to the top of the trees, up to the sky.

Observing the trees, and how the tallest trees reach up to the sky, it reminds me of this time last year when I was in India, and somehow it felt as if I was on the roof of the world. A few years ago, I wrote a short story about climbing to the top of the mountain, and looking back a year later, I really do feel as if my trip to Singapore, and especially India, was reaching the top of the mountain for a moment; standing on the top and seeing the sky, and the world around me.

It took some time to return to earth afterwards; in fact, I felt it took my soul a month to catch up with my body after I had returned, and a few months later, a colleague likened my trip to a visit to the moon. Neil Armstrong*, the first man to walk on the moon, is reputed to have had said that after you have been to the moon, you need to find a new goal, because you may not necessarily go back, and you need to find life in the everyday, because what do you do after you've walked on the moon?

Surprisingly, the one thing I have never really found myself wanting to be, is an astronaut, so I am not referring to this literally, but in hindsight, when I remember how much effort, hard work and preparation I put into organising the trip, and myself, it almost may as well have been.

Somehow, India, especially, felt as if I was standing on the roof of the world, and I felt as if I could actually touch the sky, particularly on the day I visited the Taj Mahal in Agra. The day I found myself face-to-face with the kites, and for a moment I knew that everything was right with the world, and I knew what I was here to do. I felt so inspired, and so grateful. I imagine this must be how astronauts feel when they look down at the Earth from their viewpoint in space. It's a moment out of time, and you have to savour that image because it is unique to you, and once you return to ground, it will be a memory in your mind.

One of the reasons I am so grateful I had the opportunity to go, and that I travelled by myself, is that I discovered that I could be on my own, and find my way. I made the trip my own, and whenever I happen to look to the skies and see an aeroplane over the skies over Oxfordshire, I see the vapour trails, and I can see that although lift-off may take a burst of energy, once the journey is mapped out, watching from the ground, we see the aeroplane travel across the sky, leaving behind the vapour trails that merge into the clouds, and the design of the sky, and even though we cannot see where the aeroplane is going, all it has to do is keep moving forward until it reaches its destination, and it can land.

Henry Ford said “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right”. I would add to that, the only way to truly know whether you can, is to test yourself, and get out there and do it.


* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_Armstrong

Monday, 1 May 2017

Begin in the middle

I've spent many years learning and working on time management, and I have read many books on the topic.

"Just begin". "Begin with the end in mind".* Both of these are admirable recommendations, and neither of them really work for me all the time. I cannot begin if I don't know where to begin. It's not always like a race, where everyone lines up at the starting point together, and a shot is fired to tell us when we can begin.

Many times, a task or a goal for me is so many building blocks or puzzle pieces that I need to gather together, before I can decide which part to work on first.

And beginning with the end in mind only works if you know exactly where you are going - if I want to be in Rome by 5pm on Friday afternoon, I know I need to work it backwards to identify what to pack and which method of transportation I will use to reach my destination, so I am able to work out what time I need to leave home to arrive on time. 

Begin with the end in mind is great if you know exactly what you want. And if you are building your dream house, then you probably do want to keep that image in mind, to be sure that when it is built, it is how you wanted it to be. And with any goal, to really achieve it, in some tiny corner of your mind, you do need to believe it is possible; you need to be able to see yourself having achieved it, to be living the results.

Be willing to adapt

Some goals, though, are a little different - we need to see ourselves achieving them, but to be willing to adapt if needed, or to realise that what we imagined is not exactly how it will play out. I remember visualising my trip to Singapore and India last year. For me it was seeing myself in my mind's eye, boarding the plane at Heathrow, and imagining the flight, and then landing in Singapore.

However, no matter how much research I did about Singapore and India, no matter how many colleagues in Singapore and India I spoke to in order to prepare the workshops, and how much I planned the trip, in the end none of that matched exactly my imaginings and my visual image.

What it did do, was to carry me through the time when I was planning and working, and to give me the inner motivation to keep going. And where the original goal was to go to Singapore and India and present the workshops, the more I spoke about my trip to colleagues and friends and relatives, the more real it became, and the more I began to realise it was not just about going, it was about what a successful outcome of the trip would be, and how I could ensure that it was successful.

Crossing the finishing line 

When I was working on my coaching diploma two years ago, there came a point where I was nearly finished, and yet I just had 3000 words left to write to submit my coursework for assessment. By this point I had completed all my practise coaching sessions, I had attended all the on-site training days and I had been assessed on my practical skills. I had completed what felt like about 90% of the course. However, I found myself hesitating to complete the final 3000 words, to submit that final piece, because it was that last bit of work, and handing that in would be the final test. Had I done enough to pass? Had I done enough to pass with a mark that I would find satisfactory? What would happen if I passed?

Then I read a description in "The Now Habit"** about the final stretch of a marathon. It wasn't until I read this description and imagined my course as a race that I was able to put it together and realise that not handing in that final 3000 words, was the equivalent of simply sitting down 100m before the finishing line, of stopping, and not finishing the race.  I could see the finishing line, and my friends cheering me on, but if I didn't cross the finishing line, I could not finish the race. It was then I realised that my friends would congratulate me on finishing no matter how long it took me, and that it really didn't matter how long it took others to finish that race, whether they finished ahead of me, or after me. It was my race, and only I was in charge of myself and my attitude.

Celebrate finishing

I got over this idea by deciding to celebrate when I had handed in my coursework, when I had crossed the finishing line, rather than waiting to find out my results and celebrate my outcome. Whilst I wanted a good outcome, and I'd want a personal best for the race, the most important thing is crossing that finishing line. Because that is the part that I have control over: my efforts and my input.

You may say that it is obvious when to begin if you are running a race, but I would argue that is not necessarily the case. For one person it may be buying their race outfit, for another it may be registering for the race, for another it may be finding a cause to run for, or a friend who will sign up with them. For another it may be signing up to a gym to build up their stamina.

So I say, if you're not totally sure where to start, that's okay. Take the first step.

Begin in the middle.


* "Begin with the end in mind" from The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey, 1989, (Simon & Schuster)
* The Now Habit, Neil Fiore, 1988, (TarcherPerigree)

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Look to the Skies

Anyone who knows me knows that when I am outdoors, I look to the sky – at night I look to the stars and to the moon, during the day to cloud formations, and butterflies on a sunny day, aeroplanes with their vapour trail or even the occasional hot air balloon.
I love watching the different birds, also – from the cheeky magpie, seagulls at sea, which remind me of Jonathan Livingston Seagull – and my absolute favourites – the graceful and majestic red kites that soar in the skies above Oxfordshire.
I don't remember exactly when I first became aware of them; I moved to a business park in the Oxfordshire countryside eight years ago, and noticed these large birds hovering in the air above the park. Their sheer grace drew my eye, and I would find myself observing them during my lunchtime walks, and the sight of one always lifted my spirits.
At one time these birds were endangered, and so it was unlikely that you would see more than one or two at the same time. In fact, I think one of the reasons they caught my attention was because it was usually one lone red kite, circling in the sky, catching the air currents, and adjusting their tail feathers ever so slightly to maintain their balance.
Over the years they have improved in numbers and they are thriving, so that you may  now find a group of them in the Oxfordshire skies.
In spite of this, they tend to fly alongside each other, whilst giving each other plenty of space. And I've come to realise that if I see one kite, there are likely other kites nearby – perhaps on the other side of the park or the neighbouring town.
It tells me that whilst I may see a kite that appears to be on its own, there are others of its kind in the world, whether I can see them in that moment or not.
This was the wonderful surprise awaiting me on my recent trip to India – my first day in New Delhi I happened to glance up to the skies, and spot a kite! I recognised the same familiar outline in the sky, the same flight pattern, and I was delighted to discover during my week in India, that there are many of them – everywhere I went, I was greeted by them, and in a way reminded of home even whilst discovering a new place.
Watching the kites recently I wondered which bird it was that inspired the Wright brothers to invent the aeroplane. I find it fascinating to realise that a bird like the kite may have inspired the invention of the aeroplane, which can fly even higher, and which in turn led to us dreaming of stepping foot on the moon and travelling into space.
And yet the kites aren't envious of the aeroplane, they can fly and they can share the skies with the seagulls, magpies and starlings and all the other birds.
This is how I've come to feel since being diagnosed and meeting other people with similar challenges – we can know that even if we think we are alone we not lonely and all we need to do to keep hope is to look to the skies.



Thursday, 28 July 2016

When we accept our differences, we see our similarities

I really realised the truth of something recently - underneath it all we're the same; we have a heart, stomach, and liver and we all yearn to live a good life and be happy.

Each of us is born and presented with challenges, and obstacles to overcome, to learn, grow and evolve.

Anyone who doesn't see how alike we are, in spite of culture, nationality, race, religion, gender or even sexual orientation, is simply expressing their fear.

What is there to fear? How does someone with a learning difficulty threaten us? Is it simply the fact that they learn differently, so we might have to learn a new way of doing things, to perhaps look at life through someone else's eyes? To adapt our own way of doing things, our comfortable, easy, safe way of doing things?

Where is the harm in opening our hearts, and our minds, in recognising and understanding their challenges, respecting their courage and determination and learning something new?

Just because I visit another country and perhaps even learn the language, does not necessarily mean that I will choose to relocate there, or that I even want to move away from where I live now. I simply want to experience other cultures, environments and perspectives, and to see and understand something new. Some aspects I may choose to adopt, and I may decide that others do not work for me.

I grew up bilingual because my father is German, and this meant I grew up with at least two cultures. I am so grateful I realised at an early age that there are other languages and that I can adapt and choose the *best* of each culture to become the best I can be.

Being diagnosed with Dyspraxia and Attention Deficit Disorder led to a new discovery of my talents and challenges. It has led to meeting new people and new opportunities, including the knowledge-sharing group I started where I work to bring together colleagues far and wide to share best practice, strategies, ideas and resources so we can all save time and improve our working lives.

Looking back 4 years on, this experience more than anything else taught me empathy and to recognise our individuality. I know now that I am a better person for it. I hope that through this I can shine a light for others. 

And I think the more we can recognise, accept and even celebrate our differences, the more we can see how alike we really are.