Archive for August, 2015

Know your tired signs

shutterstock_60964402I’m doing some copywriting for a client whose business is helping parents teach their babies to self-settle. It’s reminded me of the idea of watching for a baby’s ‘early tired signs’ (things like light grizzling and rubbing their eyes) versus their ‘late tired signs’ (inconsolable screaming etc).

The idea is that if you catch the tired signs early and put them to bed then, they’re more likely to go to sleep quickly on their own, sleep well and be in a better mood when they wake up.

It occurred to me that the same applies to us. We have ‘early tired signs’ and late ones. I met a friend for lunch last week and she was crying before she’d even sat down at the table. She was too overwhelmed to even discuss what was wrong. It was ‘everything’. You know—that point you reach where you can’t even articulate the problem, you’re so exhausted by it all.

My early tired signs are things like:

  • Feeling minor annoyance
  • Yawning
  • Sense that I’ve taken on too much
  • Procrastination

The late ones are:

  • Losing my temper
  • Crying at everything
  • Feeling completely overwhelmed and panicked by all I have to do
  • Forgetting big things (dropping balls)

When we catch ourselves early in the exhaustion wave that’s threatening to build up and dunk us hard, we can adjust in time. We can re-shuffle our priorities, say ‘no’ to things, delegate, ask for help, add in self-care strategies and talk to people.

Spend a few minutes writing a list of your early and late tired signs and make a point of watching out for them. We don’t want to reach a point where it seems too hard, too late or too confusing to know what to do. By then, we’re like an inconsolable baby who doesn’t know how to switch off, and that’s a place that’s much harder to recovery from.

20 seconds of courage

diamondsEvery so often you find yourself in a scenario where you know you have an opportunity to do something, but you’re nervous or apprehensive or unsure about it. It happened to me on Thursday on a flight from Canberra to Sydney.

Two rows behind sat three of the Diamonds—our newly-crowned World Champion netballers—in their green and gold tracksuits. They’d been at Parliament House that day for an official reception with the Prime Minister.

My daughter is in her seventh year of loving netball and had watched nearly all of their games on TV. Her idol, Sharni Layton, was right behind me. I spent the entire flight trying to work out whether or not to say something, or ask for an autograph, congratulate them on their win—or just leave them in peace…

Nobody else had disturbed them by acknowledging who they were during the flight—even the flight attendants serving refreshments, despite their obvious Australian sports uniforms. Was that the right thing to do? I was at war with my inner fangirl!

After the plane landed, while we were queuing in the aisle and they were still seated, I thought, ‘it’s now or never’. I asked if they’d mind signing a piece of paper for Sophie, and their faces lit up.

What was truly beautiful, though, was what happened next. Nearly everyone in the front few rows of the plane—people I hadn’t realised would have known who these athletes were (middle-aged business-men and elderly women)—joined in congratulating the three women on their win, their attitude, the positive sporting role models that they are for our young people amidst a lot of negative publicity currently, about other sportspeople. I clutched the page with their autographs and smiled and enjoyed the moment we were all sharing on the tarmac there together, waiting to disembark.

They assured us that they don’t receive much attention, and were lapping it up. I was so glad I’d decided to speak up, despite feeling nervous about doing so. In a parallel universe they’d have disembarked, clearly dressed in our national sports attire, and would have had no recognition from the people on our flight, including me.

My daughter was in tears when I called her and sent her a photo of their autographs. It made her day, and mine and, while I’m sure the Diamonds had already had their day made with an official reception at Parliament House, I hope they also enjoyed it when the front section of our flight told them what their achievement meant to each of us.

I think that’s what I loved most. Not the excitement of the autograph, but the experience of grasping an opportunity to acknowledge someone for something they’ve done. We have opportunities like this, often, and sometimes we let them pass without saying something.

On this note, I’ve started a personal challenge on Facebook. Every day, for as long as it takes, I’m going to acknowledge one Facebook friend and tell them what they mean to me, remind them of our shared story and share a memory about them. The tweens and teens do this. They call it a ‘TBH’ (to be honest) post.

Would you like to join me? I’m calling it the #TBH Project. Let’s use social media to deepen our friendships and tell people what they really mean to us.

When something’s difficult…

shutterstock_82389571A close friend is weighed down by some emotionally-difficult personal things and is also feeling overwhelmed in a busy role at work. I told her of a time when I was going through something very big (marriage breakdown) and how relieved I was to have a job I could do with my “eyes shut”.

Sometimes, when you’re dealing with a relationship problem or a difficult family situation, or when you’re grieving or when someone close to you is very ill, or even when you’re moving house or changing jobs—there’s a need to simplify other areas.

When something is difficult, make something else easy

  • Do less or get help at home
  • Get take-away or have toast for dinner once in a while
  • Shift into a different role at work or ask about greater flexibility or reduced hours
  • Step down from extra-curricular committees and other volunteer roles
  • Accept help when it’s offered, and ask for help
  • Say ‘no’ to invitations that will genuinely complicate things (and ‘yes’ to nourishing invitations, like time with friends)

We can’t floor the accelerator indefinitely without applying the brake to help us get around obstacles or around tricky corners. We need to create buffer zones and ‘white space’.

If you’re feeling close to the edge or near your limit, it’s time to put in place some ‘First Aid’.

In your diary

  • Find one thing to cancel
  • Find one thing to postpone
  • Find one thing to delegate
  • Add in something special (coffee with friends, relaxation massage, movie night, weekend away)
  • Add in exercise

Look for short cuts. Find the easy way. Ditch some things. Go to bed earlier. Unplug.

If your big ‘YES’ at the moment is your mental health and self-care, say ‘no’ to things that will compromise that.

I watched an amazing speech last week by a school captain who demonstrates just how important it is to be open with others when we’re struggling emotionally or mentally. If you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to watch and share it.

Finally, tell someone. Friend, relative, boss, colleague, GP, stranger on the end of the phone at Lifeline. ANYONE.

You do not have to struggle with this alone.

BE the atmosphere

IMG_4768Sometimes, when we’re sitting in traffic and someone (usually my husband) complains about it, I remind him that we’re not ‘in’ the traffic. We ARE traffic.

On the weekend we went to Sydney for the City 2 Surf. It was my fourteen-year-old’s first time in the race and I’d said to her before we left the hotel, ‘Let’s go and soak up the atmosphere.’

Self-labelled “Traveling Dance Party,” Hot Dub Time Machine was DJing the race start (much to my teens’ delight) and the 14km course is dotted with live bands, swing groups, an Elvis impersonator, the Hari Krishnas, marching bands and balcony parties blaring music and cheering everyone along.

In the less competitive race groupings, people dress up, and we spent the race walking with a group of Wonder Women, some inflatable emus and a heap of bumble bees in yellow tutus.

We were overtaken by men and women from the army wearing military packs weighing 50kg, walking for homeless veterans. We were also overtaken, on “Heartbreak Hill” by three men wheeling themselves up the hill in wheelchairs.

We’d high five the kids on the side of the road. Thank the volunteers. Cheer the spectators.

At one point, I said to my daughter, “You know how we ARE traffic? We’re the atmosphere here, too…”

One of my favourite sayings is to “take responsibility for the energy you bring”. When 80,000 people take responsibility for creating a wonderful event, that’s what unfolds. Every person’s contribution—every smile or wave or encouraging comment to another participant—means something.

This week: BE the atmosphere. BE the energy level. BE the morale.

Take responsibility for the energy you bring.

Take a chance

August 2nd, 2015 | Comments Off on Take a chance

shutterstock_55310137I was having dinner on Friday night with two 14-year-olds before we went to the school musical. I asked my daughter’s friend if she had any idea what she might like to do after school and she said, very decisively, journalism.

By chance, two tables up in the restaurant was my good friend Amanda Whitley, who founded the on-and-offline magazine, HerCanberra. On our way out, I introduced the two of them and, as a result, Amanda is kindly going to host Isabelle in the HerCanberra office for a day, to look behind the scenes at some journalism in action.

It got me thinking about chance opportunities. All the times we say things like:

  • I should go over and speak to her… but I’m shy
  • Perhaps I could apply for that job… but I can only answer five of the six criteria
  • I want to put my hand up and say something… but who would want to hear me
  • Maybe I could reach out to so-and-so… but, but, but

When we were in London for three months in 2011, we lived in an apartment above comedian Alexei Sayle. For most of that time, we didn’t cotton on about the celebrity in our midst—despite his very recognisable face and the fact that “Sayle” was written against the doorbell for their apartment number.

On the morning we left, I remember us milling about on the ground floor, waiting for the cab with all our luggage. For the first time in three months, Alexei did something more than politely nod hello.

Him: “You’re leaving?”
Me: “Yes, time to go home.”
Silence.
Silence.
Silence.
Me: “I just want to say, we love your work!” Him: “Thank you!”

My teenagers are mortified to this day that when I finally got the courage to say something, I went the predictable ‘fan girl’ and said the most un-original thing anyone could articulate. But I was so glad I did. This guy had been in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Doctor Who and The Young Ones. Not saying something would have been weirder than my awkward “yay!”

There are numerous other opportunities that I remember letting go. Times when I might have changed my life, in a little or a big way, had I said or done something in the moment.

The outcomes we hope for need not be off-the-scale spectacular to make a big difference in our lives. One of the best “risks” I’ve taken was to approach my uni professor in a library cafe, twenty years on, and thank him for red-penning a fourth-year South African History essay so extensively. He met with me to explain how to write in plain English—and I credit that meeting with setting my writing career in train.

I haven’t seen the movie, We Bought a Zoo, but I love this quote from it:

“You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.”

I’d edit that a bit. Sometimes nothing will come of it. But often something will, and we’ll never know what, or how, unless we try.