Archive for February, 2016

When you can’t be yourself

shutterstock_64712308I saw an image on the “Millennials of New York” page that had the caption: “”I buy passes for music festivals and post them on Instagram before reselling them so people think I have a social life. I’ve actually never been to one. I had someone ask me why I never post pictures of the actual festival and I said, ‘I leave my camera at home because reality shouldn’t be viewed through a lens.’”

The admission was to a quarter of a million people, so I guess her cover is blown now, but it got me thinking—why does she need a cover in the first place? Why such an insatiable need to impress people? Can’t she just be herself?

I get that this is complex and that it requires a certain amount of confidence to ‘be yourself’—no pretending—particularly online, where there’s pressure to keep up with the Jones’s fabulous renovation or overseas holiday or fitness regime or their toddler’s development. Or, in this woman’s case, to keep up with an expectation of an amazing twenty-something social life.

We all know that what we see online often isn’t real. Pictures might say a thousand words, but often they’re the wrong thousand. There are always further dimensions and layers behind the way things look.

A friend posted an image this week of three books she’d bought on how to raise children. She said she’d felt ‘shame’ whilst buying them, before deciding to publicly embrace the fact that parenting is hard and tell people that she and her husband are getting some help with things they’ve been struggling with for a while. The support she received after this post was of course full of ‘me too’.

I’ve been posting photos in the last few days of 6am sunrise walks with my daughter and her friend. It could look like an exercise brag. In reality, we’re motivated entirely by a need for stronger mental health to get on top of something.

Beside this was a post from another friend, in a gorgeous new dress she’d bought to wear to high tea and the admission that she’s sick of waiting to fit into clothes she has, that don’t suit her anyway. She’d decided to rock this dress, just as she is.

The closer we can become to being same person on and offline and in private, the more at peace we feel. There’s no need to pretend we’re going to music festivals when we don’t want to go. No need to hide the kind of struggles that, once we peek behind the glossy exterior of other people’s lives, we realise everyone else experiences too. No need to postpone life until we’re happier with our situation.

It’s not about trying to be a better person. It’s about learning to embrace exactly who we are.


Edit: A friend pointed out that the initial quote is a parody. The fact that I thought it was true is exactly the problem.

Hang in there

February 21st, 2016 | Comments Off on Hang in there

I was lucky enough to attend a talk by Dr Libby Weaver about ‘Rushing Women’s Syndrome’ last week, and she spoke about anxiety, stress and the link to our perspective. Things are not always as they appear.

Dr Libby said some people fear there’s never enough time, while others, with a similar level of time pressure, know they’ll always get the important things done. It reminded me of one of my favourite quotes, from Brian Andreas: “Everything changed the day she realised there was exactly enough time for the things that matter most.” And there is.

Emma Isaacs, founder of Business Chicks, told Libby once that she receives hundreds of emails daily and, rather than freak out about it, takes the view that “there’s a whole world of opportunity in that inbox”.

There’s a whole world of perspective in looking at it that way too, isn’t there…

Yesterday during my running/walking group, I stopped to take a photo of the gorgeous Carillon on Lake Burley Griffin. The clouds were dark overhead. Not five minutes further along the path, I turned and looked at it again from a different angle. Same day. Same five minutes. Two perspectives, one from just around the corner. Just a little further along the path.

Let’s face it: when things are tough, sometimes they really are tough.

Other times, all that’s really wrong is our perspective. Sometimes all we need to do is move ourselves a little further through a situation, or a little back from it, and look at it again from a fresh angle.

  • Is that inbox really dragging you under, or is there a world of opportunity in it?
  • Is there not enough time, or exactly enough time for what matters most?
  • Are things as gloomy as they appear, or are you standing in the wrong spot?

When a situation feels hopeless, there are 3 choices

713905Last week during a training session with Jennifer Liston-Smith, a work-and-family expert from the UK, we got talking about choices. She reminded us that when a situation feels hopeless, it’s easy to feel trapped. Sometimes we’re unhappy at work. Sometimes we’re unhappy in a relationship, or dissatisfied with our heath. Sometimes we’re in conflict with a family member. Sometimes we have big, true, deep problems that seem insurmountable.

In almost every one of these situations, we still have three choices.

We can change the situation

We can look for a part we can control and do something about it. Even the smallest action can unlock some momentum that shifts a situation for the better. A conversation. An apology. The first workout. One tidy corner in a chaotic room. We often have more ‘agency’ in a situation than we imagine, and it’s easy to fall into a passive pattern where we play victim.

If we can’t change the situation, we can learn to live with it

Acceptance may not (and often doesn’t) happen overnight, but working towards accepting an “unfixable” or irreversible situation is another choice that we have. Stacey Copas, who we interviewed in our “15 Minutes That Changed My Life” series a couple of years ago, chose this option after suffering an injury that meant she permanently lost the ability to walk. Her life isn’t the one she imagined, yet it’s full of other opportunities and now she’s a published author, motivational speaker and athlete. These are paths she was only able to take once she accepted her situation.

If we can’t change or accept a situation, we can walk away

We’re told from a young age that quitting is a bad thing. Sometimes conducting an elegant retreat is a good choice. If you’re stuck in a job or a relationship that you can’t change and can’t live with, there’s a temptation to think that the only option left is to “stay miserable”. That certainly is an option but, in many cases, a better one is walking away. It’s not easy. It’s not something we tend to do without thoroughly thinking the situation through, but there it is.

Next time you’re feeling backed into a corner in your life, take a deep breath and remember there is more flexibility than you think. Life is complicated sometimes, but there’s a way through if you’re open to finding it.

Here we go again (but differently, this time)

It will be great!...It’s a big day here. My daughter starts Year 12 and my son starts Kindy. It’s his first day and her ‘last’ first day. And I’m starting all over again… a decade and a bit older and with a list of things I’m not doing this time around as a “School Parent”:

Going to everything or feeling guilty about not going to everything

Assembly items, certificate-giving in assemblies, athletics carnivals, cross-country carnivals, swimming carnivals, choir performances, band concerts, team sport carnivals, multi-cultural classroom festivals, eisteddfods, discos, socials, meet-and-greet mornings, committee meetings, literacy groups, numeracy groups, journal-writing groups, end-of-school concerts, mid-year concerts, Easter-concerts, Christmas services, school anniversary celebrations, fetes, fundraisers, learning journey’s, parent-teacher interviews, parent information nights, canteen duty, P&C meetings, working bees, excursions, district carnivals, national carnivals, international carnivals, graduation assemblies, graduation dinners, graduation concerts, formals…

Having run myself ragged to get to ‘all the things’ (or as many as possible) when my girls first started school (even if their dad was also there), my husband and I will tell our son at the beginning that it’s not possible to come to everything. We’ll talk about which events mean the most to him, and focus on those. It’s easier to set realistic expectations early on, than to cause disappointment later when it becomes unfeasible to attend everything. Which brings me to Point #2…

Being the parent representative

I don’t mean the elected parent rep for the classroom. I mean the assumed (or self-appointed) parent rep from our household. Thirteen years is a very long time. As it was with my first two kids and their dad, this is our child. Supporting him through his education at school events, parent-teacher meetings, performances and with his homework are shared responsibilities. It’s not just about teaching our son what being a parent of any gender looks like, it’s about parents helping to change workplace culture.

That said, all the pressure doesn’t come externally. It’s also about letting go, allowing the other parent (if there’s one present) or other families to put their hands up, and taking responsibility for your own boundaries. (For all of high school, my daughters’ dad has lived in a different state. I learned through exhaustion that I could still only do the work of one parent and had to say ‘no’ in some cases.)

Getting overly involved in projects

If he comes home in Year 2 with an assignment to build a working axle (to use a particularly torturous example from the past) he’ll be returning to school with an axle that looks like it was made by a seven-year-old—not one that looks like it was whipped up in the industrial workshop by a mechanic. I’ll sit with him, ask questions and help him with tricky bits, but won’t make the thing myself (unlike the children’s book I ‘helped’ my daughter write when she was in Kindergarten which, looking back now, I could pretty much submit to a publisher under my name without any plagiarism concerns. It’s quicker and easier to intervene, and frustrating sometimes to stand back, but necessary for their development).

Having too many extra-curricular activities

Swimming is essential, everything else is optional and doesn’t have to be done all at once. If he comes to loathe something, we’ll talk about what ‘giving up’ means, and about his reasons, but won’t persist doggedly for no good reason. (Flashback to when my parents walked in at the end of my sister’s piano lesson to find her sitting backwards on the piano stool, arms crossed, point blank refusing to participate.) There will be plenty of time to play, chill out on the iPad and ‘do nothing’.

Sarcastically awarding myself ‘Mother of the Year’ whenever I drop something

Maybe when it’s my watch I’ll forget it’s library or lose the permission note or send him to school in uniform on the uniform-free day, or forget book week or leave his lunch in the fridge. There’ll be no holding myself to an impossible standard of perfection for the next thirteen years, and no self flagellation for being ‘human’. Been there, done that, and found out kids benefit from seeing their parent make mistakes, sometimes.

Comparing progress

Doesn’t matter what level reader he’s on, or what level the others are on, as long as he’s moving in the right direction.

Stepping in too early to help with social issues

When something’s amiss in the playground it can be heart-wrenching to stand back and watch your child learn to sort it out themselves, but often that’s exactly what is needed (at least as a first step). It’s how they learn to deal with social challenges and difficult situations, and how they experiment with standing up for themselves and being diplomatic and compassionate. Equally, if something does need to be raised with the teacher, it’s important to do that.

Dreading the teen years

Of all the stages, having teenagers have been my favourite, and that goes for my girls and my two older step-children, who I knew as teens. Of course there are challenges, and there is ALL THE DRIVING, but this is the stage I’ll miss most. I’ll look forward to it this time around.


Somewhere along the way, I experimented with a whole semester of not ironing the school uniforms at all. My daughter’s school report that semester claimed she was ‘always immaculately presented’ and in the intervening years I’ve ironed so little I can barely remember how to use the appliance.

And finally…

Wanting to get off the treadmill

There were so many times I’d stand at the kitchen bench and sigh at the sight of lunch-boxes, or excursion notes or (later) emails with an essay to read through. Now we’re starting a year of ‘lasts’. Last first day. Last carnival. Last time in winter uniform. Last exam. Last day of school…

I’ll blink, and my little boy will be towering over me and talking about his gap year, the way his sister is. The days are long but the years really are short, and I’ll try to hold that thought close.