Friday, 14 November 2014

Well, That'll Teach Me ....

Yesterday, I posted a short blog entry entitled Never Pre-Judge. It provided a link to a Sainsburys advert, which focused on the Christmas Truce of 1914 rather than the standard retail seasonal view of penguins, novelty gifts and Jools Holland.

This year marks the centenary of the start of World War 1, which in 4 agonising years marked the end of the old style of battles, with horses, guns and chivalric images being replaced with trench warfare, tanks and mustard gas. The carnage was unimaginable, whole towns lost their menfolk and the numbers maimed were too much for many to cope with. Eric Bogle's songs, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda and No Man's Land, succinctly says more than I could ever manage on the subject.

Given the subject matter and the time of year, Sainsburys' ad agency could have gone to town on tear-jerking schmaltz, Downton Abbey style. They didn't. The product placement of the single saleable item was more subtle than most BBC dramas; they went out of their way to get the history and the details as accurate as possible given the media constraints. The focus was on the ability of two groups of people to take a chance, trust one another and be welcoming. Something you can't do if you pre-judge people.

Or so I thought.

Then I read the Facebook post of somebody I respect, who also shared the Sainsburys' advert. To him, this was blatant consumerism of the worst sort.
 "... this is a sales campaign designed to prey on your sense of honor and gratitude for those who have paid the ultimate price. ...they're using the The Great War to get your cash. Sick f**ers."
As I read that, my visceral reaction was to hide, to be wary of being myself around someone I counted as a friend. Due to my upbringing and life choices, I don't make friends easily. It has taken a serious effort of will to step away from the paranoiac precipice that reaction pushed me onto.

I actually watched the video again, to make sure we were looking at the same thing. I still couldn't see what he saw.

At a time when all its competitors are encouraging customers who view their adverts to spend more on the material trappings of the Christmas period, Sainsburys eschewed material excess for an advert targeting a £1 chocolate bar, where 50p goes to the Royal British Legion.

By comparison, the individual poppies planted at the Tower of London are being sold at £25 a time and only just over a third of the price is going to the 6 nominated charities. The Royal British Legion is getting the princely sum of £1.46 for every £25 poppy sold.

I appreciate that I am bound to have a different viewpoint to many on this, for reasons that are not immediately obvious.

My relatives fought on opposing sides in both World Wars. As a child, a teenager, an adult, I have never felt completely part of either heritage. And to be honest, my dad could have chosen to live somewhere other than post-war Coventry with his German wife and half-German kids. It might have cut out some of the racial abuse and bullying. I grew up feeling guilty for being both English and German.

So when I see imagery of the Christmas Truce, a tiny island of humanity amongst the trenches at a time when both sides tended to shoot the nutter coming over the wire to make friends from the other side of No Man's Land, I see something different to the rest.

And I'm not going to apologise for that.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Never Pre-Judge

Those who know me, know why the subject matter of this video is important.

Amazing that a Christmas Advert can get a message across like this. Even better that it's helping a great charity do good work.

Go buy some chocolate, maybe share it with someone who you pre-judged?

Alles, was in der Welt erreicht wurde, wurde aus Hoffnung getan. - Martin Luther

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

We Remember. Always.

11 o'clock. 11th November.

This year, Gatwick arrivals area, over 100 people, a British Legion Standard bearer. Last year, my office, alone. The year before that, a Warwickshire street.

It doesn't matter how many or how few congregate together on this date. We all stand still in silence, united through time and space, to honour those who died in war.

We choose to wear what has become the most powerful symbol for peace, a symbol that unites all who wear it, regardless of what they might disagree with otherwise. Honouring the fallen, be they husbands, wives, sons, daughters, grandparents or strangers, is not a warhawk act.

It's a prayer that there will be a day when no new names are added to the lists of those have gone before; that humanity has learnt there are other ways, more collaborative and co-operative ways, to co-exist.

Until then, at the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them. 

Monday, 10 November 2014

Another Door Opens

I'm back in my hotel for another 4 nights, with limited mobile signal, expensive internet and this time, they're charging me £10 per night for the use of the fridge! I'd be tempted to drown my sorrows, but as I can't open the mini-bar (don't ask!) that's not an option either...

This is NOT how I want to live my life.

I can't wait to get home and spend more time on my business, so if for no other reason, this time away is a success. It's amazing how enforced isolation can help you focus on what's important.

Plus, I get to see my new front door - something that could not have happened a year ago. Sometimes the little things are the really big markers in our lives.

All in all, it's a good day.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Got A Degree? That's No Longer Enough

Bad news for new graduates - a quarterly survey shows that 63% of entrepreneurs are sceptical of the value of employing those with a degree, and over 40% think degrees are devalued because they are now commonplace.

So what are those businesses looking for? You guessed it. Experience.

Luckily, network marketing companies offer their distributors the chance to develop a number of skills that are essential to the successful running of a small business. Skills such as basic book-keeping, stock and customer tracking, customer service, cash handling, self-discipline, project management and team management.

All of which you can learn, "on the job", whilst getting your university degree.

Sounds better than a zero hour contract any day.

Monday, 3 November 2014

It's Tough. I Get It.

I'm sat here tonight in a hotel room, 127 miles away from home. I had a wasted day on the client's site, as the entire IT team sat in a meeting for the entire afternoon. I wasn't invited.

This client likes meetings. I'd like their meetings more if they had a pre-distributed agenda, and then stuck to it.

I'm here for two weeks. I get to go home at weekends. My partner returns from his overseas contract halfway through my two week stint. The hotel thinks a reasonable price for a burger is £13.50.

My Kleeneze business is on the back burner again. I have to pay for hotel wifi. There's no mobile signal so I can't tether my smartphone. For somebody hooked into a 21st century way of working, that's difficult to deal with.

You know what? It doesn't bother me. Tonight I get to catch up on sleep after getting up at 5am to get to this client 4.5 hours later. I have a decent book with me. I've made my phone calls (58 days to go to build that habit). I avoided the premiuim burger and got sushi and a salad for half the price outside the hotel.

It's all in the perspective. For once, I'm at peace enough to accept that.

Tomorrow is another excellent day.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Passion? Craftmanship? Why Not Both?

Some say, "Follow Your Passion" - the thought being that to be truly excellent at something, you should focus your life's work on what you love.

Some say, "Be the Best at What You Do" - meaning, take the job you're already in, master it and keep on learning, thus focusing your life's work on loving what you excel at.

But what if that Either-Or choice is just 20th century thinking?

What if, in this 21st century world of increasing part-time work opportunities, where full-time jobs are getting rarer, you can have a life that combines both passion and craftmanship?

Would that be the best of all worlds?

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Toxic Survival Syndrome

I've written before about my black dog moments. It took reading a post about the fear of failure for me to clarify what is my biggest issue in moving forward towards what I really want from life.

Toxic Survival Syndrome.

I've no idea if that's a real thing, but it certainly sums up what I need to overcome on a daily basis, just to get through every single day.

My basic personality is one of those "take charge and make it happen" types. It can best be summed up by the Belbin Shaper team role:

Shapers are people who challenge the team to improve. They are dynamic and usually extroverted people who enjoy stimulating others, questioning norms, and finding the best approaches for solving problems. The Shaper is the one who shakes things up to make sure that all possibilities are considered and that the team does not become complacent.
Shapers often see obstacles as exciting challenges and they tend to have the courage to push on when others feel like quitting.
Their potential weaknesses may be that they're argumentative, and that they may offend people's feelings.
Now, other than the "usually extroverted" element - I'm an ambivert - that's pretty close to my childhood behaviour. Like other "argumentative" types, I tend to stand my ground when it matters, although as I got older, I learnt to back off appropriately at times. I've always done my best, within certain parameters, to not offend others. I've been offended, bullied and discriminated against too often to want to do that to others.

There's a problem though - I am at my best when I can feel sufficiently secure and in control of my life. When that doesn't happen, the adrenaline response kicks in and I gallop towards my Toxic Survival mode.

Due to a really bad life choice in my late twenties, I spent 3 years in a relationship ripe with domestic abuse. No control over my life, my finances, my personal appearance, my parenting. No friends. No security, at home or at work. No support from my family. No hope.

I followed the typical pattern in these cases, leaving and returning several times until I finally realised that either I left, or I died. So I left.

The psychological legacy is something I continue to struggle with. Essentially, PTSD symptoms; I have an exaggerated startle reflex over 20 years after the relationship ended, events can still easily trigger the full gamut of insomnia, poor short-term memory, impaired ability to concentrate, panic attacks (something I've worked really hard to overcome), ongoing anxiety and a return to a hypersensitive and hypervigilant state. Needless to say, the low self-esteem, lack of self-confidence, and tendency to avoid potentially threatening human contact is bubbling along under the surface just waiting for a chance to take over.

Bonfire night is not a good night for me. I don't watch gratuitously violent films, either. Zombie movies are avoided completely.

In the early years after that relationship ended, I survived one day at a time. I repeated the mantra "I'm not a victim, I'm a survivor" until it became part of my psychological armour. I buried myself in motherhood and work. I didn't have much time for a social life, and to be honest, I felt safer without one. I work in a male-dominated environment; it's exhausting trying to keep hypervigilance under control when everybody you meet, male or female, poses a potential threat to your wellbeing, but I feel safer around geeks.

There is still one key behaviour I need to overcome,

I find 'phone calls so threatening, just hearing a phone ring sets my adrenaline response off.

Phones are inextricably linked with physical and emotional pain, fear, panic, betrayal and heartbreak. Whilst I can now face down a violent man with equanimity, I can't cope with a phone call. It's almost impossible to pick up a handset to make calls, let alone deal with receiving them.

That's toxic. And it's stopping me from reclaiming my baseline personality.

So, in an attempt to channel my "take charge" personality, I'm setting myself a target of making one call per day for the next 60 days. Time to dial back on Toxic Survival.