Saturday, 12 November 2016

It's A Wonderful Life

Last night I watched one of my favourite films of all time It's A Wonderful Life by Frank Capra. Celebrating it's 70th anniversary this year, it still remains one of the most well-loved films of all time.

What I adore about the film is how truly uplifting it is. Protagonist George Bailey spends his entire life giving up his big dreams of travelling the world and building skyscrapers for the good of his town, Bedford Falls, as we see played before us. In the present, on Christmas Eve, he is broken and suicidal after his uncle inadvertently gives $8,000 to Mr Potter, a corrupt man bent on taking over the town. His guardian angel, Clarence, falls to Earth and shows him how his town, family, and friends would have turned out if his wish of never being born were true.

The first very powerful message I took from this masterpiece is that life doesn't always follow the path you intended for it. Things get in your way, or steer you in a different direction. Sacrifices and decisions have to be made that often leave dreams tantalisingly out of reach, achievable only in the false reality played out in front of you as you sleep. Yet, that doesn't mean your life was, or is, any less worthwhile. It is just different.

It is still there to be embraced, and you can still find joy in even the tiniest of things, the way the sunlight and shadows fall on the individual petal of a flower, the intricate pattern on the tiny wings of a honeybee, the little upturn in the corner of a loved one's eyes as you make them smile, the joy your child shows as he runs full speed at the nearest puddle (even if that does mean that you will have to put his muddy clothes through the wash later!).

The second very powerful message I always take from Capra's film is that whilst we may not always recognise this we all make an immeasurable difference to the lives of those around us. If we were not here, the world would be a very different place. Or as Clarence puts it, "Each man's life touches so many other lives, and when he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?".

Then we must not forget his wise words written in the book he gifts George at the end of the film after finally gaining his wings in heaven: "Remember, no man is a failure who has friends."

If you are struggling with that concept, why not journal or ponder upon all of the ways you have changed people's lives? You could even ask them yourself, telling them too about the positive contributions they have made to your own. Now, that doesn't make you worthless if you find yourself in a situation where you are left with no loved ones nor friends around you. Far from it,
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Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Impossible? I'm possible

This weekend someone introduced me to a saying that I had never heard of before by well-loved Hollywood actress and beauty Audrey Hepburn:
Nothing is impossible. The word itself says "I'm possible"

I found myself honing mindfully in to the little apostrophe that makes all the difference, followed by the space. It got me thinking about how perception can make a huge amount of difference in our lives by just taking a little distance, or space, from a situation or from the jumble of confused thoughts in our heads. All it needs is for us to take a slight step back to make a change in our thinking.

It's a question of awareness.

Reflecting further upon Hepburn's sentiment now, I am feeling quite empowered. I've been proving that I'm possible from the very beginning. My mum was 46 years old and on the contraceptive pill when she became pregnant with me. That in a sense makes me somewhat of a miracle. Not the mistake I have in the past labelled myself as.

This realisation has given me a big boost. Recently I've been having rather a tough time and have been feeling like I'm a failure and rather incompetent and incapable. I have been losing awareness of everything in my often tumultuous life that has shown me that I am more than good enough and that I am strong.

It is amazing what you can turn around simply from making the choice to believe and trust in yourself and make the decision to not see the worst in a given situation. You can instead look at the circumstances and think about what good can actually come of them and how they can change you for the better.

I have also learnt that it is important not to let other people's judgement and experiences cloud your own. Just because one person had a certain bad experience in a given set of circumstances does not mean the same will happen to you. Why? Because you have a choice. You can chose how you respond and you can come out of a bad experience having learned something from it.

As I write this, three words that appeared seemingly out of nowhere are stubbornly refusing to leave my head: dare to believe. I'll admit, those words are giving me a little bit of the collywobbles. I'm a little scared about what that might mean in practice. Yet I needn't be.

Is there anything that you have been holding back on because much as you would love for your life to move in that direction it all feels rather impossible?

What if you made a choice to believe in yourself and recognised "I'm possible"? Wow, what a refreshing "what if...?" statement to ask yourself. It sure makes a change from our usual "What if this or that happens?" "What if it doesn't work?" "What if it turns out to be a mistake?".

If it's a question of what seems like a crazy dream, maybe with some self belief it could be realised. In this regard I'd recommend that you do a little exercise in which you question what would be the downside(s) if your dream came true. It's surprising the perspective it can give you over what is holding you back.

Personally, what has often been holding me back is what I like to call my "discomfort zone".

I find myself being more "comfortable" doing what I have always done and experiencing discomfort because it fells an awful lot less scary that way to do the far more courageous thing of stepping out of this zone! But it is likely in the long term to be more painful if I don't take the leap of making the choice to do something different.

For all of us there can come a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud is more painful that the risk it takes to blossom. All it takes to bloom is to turn "impossible" into "I'm possible"
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Monday, 19 September 2016

Redefining success once more

Last month I blogged about redefining success, explaining that true success comes from happiness rather than the health of our bank balance or our career. Elements that I had not considered and can now recognise as a very important aspects of success are relationships and personal goals.

Strayer University is petitioning for changing the dictionary definition of success, namely that of the Merriam-Webster. The dictionary's current definition is as follows:
noun suc·cess \sək-ˈses\ The fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame
As you can see, this is very much about earning money and being esteemed highly by others. The new definition the university is proposing is:
noun suc·cess \sək-ˈses\ Happiness derived from good relationships and achieving personal goals
It is, by this definition, more orientated towards personal fulfillment and a life in which we have positive and healthy relationships with the people with whom we surround ourselves.

It can be easy to consider ourselves a failure for having employment that leaves us in real difficulty to make ends meet month in month out, or for not having that dream job, or perhaps not having a role which sounds impressive to others. Or maybe we deem ourselves unsuccessful because we compare ourselves to others and conclude that we full short of their glory.

However, if success comes from happiness why can it not be about all of the other elements in our lives such as how we are as a parent/partner/sibling and all of the activities we are doing to enrich our lives outside of work? A powerful idea isn't it? That means that success is entirely in our hands, is derived internally and is a perceptive and emotional thing rather than something that is external, requires recognition and has to be strictly measured on a balance scale against everyone else.

If you were to right now without hesitation, rate yourself on a success scale of zero to ten, with one being the most successful you can possibly be and zero being a complete failure, what number would it be?

Now take a look at why you gave yourself that figure, and consider whether it is a true reflection of every aspect of your life. Then perhaps take a further step back and consider what number your loved ones would assign you, and why. The difference between the two may surprise you.

I will leave you with this thought-provoking little video of a social experiment in which people rated their own success, and then their loved ones did the same. It certainly made me reconsider where I fall on the scale. It actually had be in tears because of how hard I have been on myself recently.

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Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Redefining success

As a child dreaming about what I wanted to be when I grew up I desired to be a number of things. Someone like librarian Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a veterinarian, an actress, and later a journalist.

Being successful meant having a house of my own (preferably with a big lake with a weeping willow tree dipping its leaves into it), being married, and being comfortable with money.

As the video I am about to share shows, our definition of success has come to be about money and a career.

Yet, there is a great freedom in acknowledging that success doesn't have to be about the amount of money in our banks, or the total value of our assets.

Motivational philosopher Jay Shetty begins his spoken-word piece describing an experiment in which a primary school teacher asked her pupils to complete an assignment explaining what they wanted to be when they grew up.

As you would expect there were responses like astronaut, actor, singer and scientist.

One astute little boy's response was that he wanted to be happy.

"John, I think you've misunderstood the assignment," the teacher told him.

"Miss, I think you've misunderstood life," he replied.

If only each and every one of us had matured with that idea in mind from a young age!

True success, then, comes from happiness. And happiness is a very subjective thing. In one set of circumstances one person could be overjoyed, yet someone else in the same situation could be filled with dread.

As a good friend often reminds me, perception is reality.

As Shetty says, we run around trying to find happiness but it is an "inside job". It comes from within us and we can chose to be happy with the circumstances that we have.

There are of course times when we want our circumstances to change in order to be happy, and during those times we must devise a plan for steps we can take to overcome the difficulty.

However, we should also look inside ourselves during those times to figure out what we already have that makes us happy.

And whilst material things don't have to be a complete no-no for finding our bliss, it also helps to consider what it is about ourselves, just as we are, that brings us joy. Allowing ourselves to be a human being rather than a human doing.
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Monday, 1 August 2016


In last month's Buddy Box, I was delighted to find some delightful little Post-it notes and an a little explanatory postcard inviting me to take part in a challenge of undertaking daily acts of self-care for the following 365 days.

Using the notepad you simply have to fill in the blank after "Today I will ..." with your chosen activity. I am delighted to take part in the challenge as it is exciting to get inventive about finding ways to nourish myself.

For me personally self-care is doing anything to look after myself without the word "should" being involved. When "should" is in play there is an element of guilt involved, and often judgement. To be fully worthwhile it needs to be something that you want to do for nurturing yourself physically, spiritually or emotionally.

Whilst self-care can involve soaking in a bath or donning a face mask and other pampering activities, there is a diverse range of activities possible. These will vary from person to person.

I have been participating for two weeks now. I will share with you my list of activities from the first seven days to act as inspiration for your own challenge.

1. ... be more mindful of the vocabulary used by my inner voice

I believe that self-care needs to start internally and a good place to start is mindfulness.

This does not mean instantly changing the vocabulary you use, rather it is about having awareness of how you are speaking to yourself before working out a strategy for changing it.

Once you aware of the language and the emotion behind it, you are in a better position to move forward.

2. ... make sure to stay hydrated

I'm terrible for having an intense first on and doing my utmost to ignore it whilst trying fervently to complete a task. At times I let it get so bad that my head starts aching.

This activity had a double benefit, as not only was I drinking more water, I was also being more active by getting up more to refill my glass.

Staying hydrated is essential for our wellbeing, and indeed our survival.

Our brains require adequate hydration for optimal function, maintaining a delicate balance between water and various elements. If you do not drink enough water that balance is disrupted and the cells lose efficiency.

3. ... get some fresh air at lunchtime

Many of us spend the majority of our days glued to a computer screen at work, and in particularly busy periods we often either eat lunch at our desks or skip lunch entirely.

We can be much more productive by taking some daily time out to replenish ourselves with a break.

It was wonderful to get a screen break, enjoy some healthy food and top up on my vitamin D levels.

4. ... continue to have a detox from caffeine

I have been suffering from fatigue for a while now, and quite often I'll try to (futilely) combat it with drinking copious amounts of tea and coffee.

I had already been cutting it out in the two days preceding day four, getting a headache from withdrawal even on day one. I felt it would do me a lot of good to stay off it a little longer.

Studies suggest that it can improve cognitive function in the short term, but it is thought to increases adrenaline levels which can cause irritability and anxiety, as well as temporarily raising blood pressure.

It can also disrupt your sleep as it has around a six hour half-life. If you had 100mg of caffeine (your average cup of instant coffee) at mid-day, you would still have 50mg in your system by around 6pm.

5. ... go about my day having the idea "I love myself because ..." in mind

This was quite a challenging one for me as I indulge in far too much negative self talk and berating. This day was about finding all of the qualities I adore about myself.

One particularly intriguing example was "I love myself for my desire to improve myself". That was not rejecting my present self nor saying that I am not good enough as I am.

The thought actually came with an intense feeling of self-acceptance, saying I love myself how I am but that I am striving for an even better me spiritually and emotionally.

6. ... go for a walk in the park

Just down the road from my house is a beautiful green park that I had not actually stepped foot in since I moved into my own home

I was actually surprised to find that via a road bridge it connected to another section with a lake that I had previously visited!

The walk made for some lovely light exercise and had the added bonus of allowing me to marvel at nature, such as swans gliding across the lake water.

Regular walking can improve your mood, strengthen your heart and lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. According to a Stanford study it even has a positive effect on creative thinking.

7. ... reflect on my positive qualities. " I am..."

This was similar to day 5. However, I found it far easier and more rapid to fill in the blank.

I am creative, kind, caring, beautiful, strong, supportive, a friend, valued, trustworthy, inspiring, courageous, flexible, deserving, important.
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Sunday, 17 July 2016

Labels and uniqueness

Following my previous blog post, a friend linked me to a thought-provoking spoken word poem by Prince Ea.

I suggest that you view it in full before continuing to read on.

Here is how it begins:
I am not Black
I mean, that’s what the world calls me, but it’s not... me
I didn't come out of my mother's womb saying, “Hey everybody, I'm... Black.”
No, I was taught to be black
And you were taught to call me that
Along with whatever you call yourself
It’s just a... label

As you can see, he takes issue with labelling others. You might interpret his piece as a little simplistic, tackling just race and skin colour. However, I do not think he is asking us to limit our perspective to that particular example of labelling.

Labelling can be in terms of gender, type of employment or lack of it, weight or body shape, disability, sexuality, hair colour, intelligence level, height etcetera etcetera.

I would argue that it is not labels in themselves that are problematic, but any negative connotations behind them or negative interpretations of them. Or of course negative labels in themselves.

Labels become a problem when we indulge in stereotyping or refuse to challenge our own preconceived notions or prejudices which arise based upon our experiences and how we react to those experiences. Put simply, our judgement is the issue.

Labels can simply be a means of describing what we see and what makes us different from one another, internally or externally. They can help us to identify when a breakdown in equality occurs.

However, fundamentally, underneath all the categories we give ourselves and others we are all human beings.

I do not think there is any harm in people adopting a label for themselves in order to describe their identity if it is something that they are willing to identify with. However, their identity or indeed one component part of that identity cannot fully be appreciated when narrowed down to a word or short phrase. Every person's experience is unique and varied.

I have been vexed on multiple occasions when asked to fill in an equal opportunities form. I am firstly frustrated because not everyone can comfortably and neatly compartmentalise their race etcetera (even if there is a free text "other" option) and secondly because people should be employed based on their individual merits.

When it is for a medical establishment perhaps it is only frequented by certain groups of people because of its surrounding demographic. Of course there will be companies and facilities which deliberately discriminate, and intervention is necessary in those cases.

Returning to Prince Ea's spoken word piece, his overall message is to embrace our uniqueness. To see ourselves and others as entirely distinct on an internal level.

He uses the metaphor of our bodies being cars that we operate. In other words our bodies are the vehicles of our minds and souls. As he says, who we truly are is found inside.

He also highlights that labels are problematic when we allow them to limit us, when they become a shell that we feel unable or unwilling to break out of:

Please listen, labels only distort our vision
Which is why half of those watching this will dismiss it
Or feel resistance and conflicted
But, just remember...
So did the cater-pillar
Before it broke through its shell and became the magnificent butterfly
Well, these labels are our shells and we must do the same thing

To gain the most fulfilment in our lives we must blossom in our uniqueness and do everything that is in our power to break free from that which we do not wish to be restricted by. Let us do so whilst admiring and appreciating others for what makes them distinct and refrain from using labels divisively.
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Wednesday, 13 July 2016


There has been a tendency to insert extra words around the phrase "black lives matter", such as "only black lives matter" or "black lives matter more". A better alternative for an invisible but implied additional word, perhaps, is "too" - in other words black lives are just as important as other lives.

Throughout history groups and races have been valued lower than others. You could quite easily imagine the hastag #Jewishlivesmatter gaining popularity during the Holocaust had the technology and cultural phenomenons of Facebook and Twitter been around. Perhaps then too there would be a backlash reaction of people exclaiming and proclaiming "all lives matter!".

It is not about putting lives on a set of importance scales. It is about tackling racial injustice, biased perception of threats and the use of excessive force by police. It is about recognising that societal ills do still exist and that we must do our utmost to overcome them.

I do not wish to go into minute detail on this. There are many eloquent writers examining the topic. Instead I wanted to encourage you to do some inner reflection. I propose a different hashtag for your consideration: #yourlifematters.

Throughout secondary school and even more so during my first year of university I had a skewed perception that my life did not matter and that my existence was unimportant. I convinced myself that not a single person would notice if I disappeared. I even tested this theory by physically disappearing from social events and seeing how long it would take for anyone to notice I had gone. Once I stood by a powerfully gushing stream contemplating jumping in and imagining how long it would take before anyone noticed I was missing.

In the passage of time and through experiences I have come to realise that my life makes a huge difference in this world.

There is a concept called the butterfly effect. Meteorologist Edward Lorenz suggested that the flap of a butterfly’s wings might ultimately cause a tornado. He had been surprised by a tiny alteration in a weather simulation drastically transforming the whole pattern his program produced over two months of simulated weather. His suggestion reminds me of the fictional situation of someone going back in time, accidentally killing a tiny creature to find that everything has changed when they return to the present.

The truth is your existence on this planet is exceedingly valuable and you can make an immeasurable difference not only to the lives of people you love but also to strangers.

Smiling at a fellow passenger on the bus might literally save their life by turing even just part of their day around and reminding them that their existence does have value. Your little gesture of love and kindness may not do something as dramatic as encouraging someone to no longer take action in ending their life, but it can have a profound ripple effect just like the fluttering butterfly.

That is not to say that your life would be unimportant if you decided to live in an environment where you never see another human being for the remainder of your days. Your value is innate not earned and who you are as an individual is absolutely enough. Your worth is not dependent on how many lives you can make a difference to. However, what a huge difference a little ripple can make. We are all on this planet together and collectively as individuals we can breed a culture that recognises the importance of each and every person without ignoring or belittling issues that still need to be addressed.
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