Monday, 16 December 2013

Blooming and Planting

Last weekend I spent some time calling a few friends with whom I had not made contact for some time.  One of the ladies I spoke with – Elaine – was  explaining how frustrated she had become because, although she was grateful to be employed, she felt that she was being forced to forego her dreams in order to focus on less rewarding work. 

During our conversation I learnt that she wanted to start her own business - teaching English to non-native parents of primary school children.  In her current job she provides classroom support for disabled children, enabling them to access the curriculum. Elaine wanted to start her business several years ago but her personal circumstances did not allow and she had to put her plans on hold.

As I listened to Elaine I realised that she was missing an important fact – she has not deviated from her course; in fact she is actively paving her path. She fails to see that by acquiring experience of supporting disabled children she is developing skills that will enable her to work better with her chosen target group.  Not only will she be able to teach English to parents but she will also be able to empower them to proactively contribute to the education of their children – disabled or otherwise.  Elaine is perfectly positioned to develop skills that will widen her repertoire and enable her to offer practical help to parents, particularly those with challenging/challenged children.  She will develop added value and be able to carve out a niche for herself providing a unique service.  There is a Spanish proverb “no por mucho madrugar amanece mas temprano” (rising early won’t make the sun rise any sooner).  Take  your time, be methodical and things will fall into place.

As I thought about her situation it occurred to me that very often we fail to appreciate emerging opportunities because we can only see our ultimate goal.  We think that  if we haven’t achieved it by X time we would have failed and society would judge us harshly.  The fact is, we are the ones who are judging ourselves and demotivating ourselves unduly; people who matter do not spend time watching and judging others – they focus on things that are more important.  It is right to pursue your aspirations but there is no single, tried and tested route to success.  The fact that you desire to go from A to B does not mean that you have to go in a straight line; indeed you may find yourself being diverted to C and D or even to E before you eventually arrive at B.  We can’t always plan how we live our lives – our experiences along the way will dictate the steps we take.  Given the same raw materials different people will embark on different  paths and achieve dissimilar outcomes – that doesn't mean that they are wrong.  Take for example the numbers 3 and 2.  If I were to ask for an equation using those two numbers (in their positive or negative form) what would I get?  Following are some possibilities: 

3 + 2 = 5
3 – 2 = 1
3 x 2 = 6
3 ÷ 2 = 1.5
2 ÷ 3 = 0.66
-3  + 2 = -1
-3  – 2 = -5
-2  + 3 = 1
-2  - 3 = -5
-2 – (-3) = 1
-3 - (-2) = -1
3 ÷ (-2) = -1.5
2  ÷ (-3) =  -0.66
-2  ÷  ( -3) = 0.66
-3 ÷ (+2) = -1.5
-2  x (-3) = 6
 -2 x 3 = -6
-3 x 2 = -6
-3 x (-2) = 6
3 + (-2) = 1
2 + (-3) = -1
3 – (-2) = 5
2 – (-3) = 5
3² = 9  AND  2³ = 8

Until I experimented with these numbers I didn't realise that there were so many possibilities (and there may be others that I have not discovered!) We don’t know everything - there are always other ways, even when we think that our options are exhausted.  It shows that you should never give up - chances are you could discover that important difference that everyone else overlooked and you’ll be able to develop your unique selling proposition and create a niche for yourself.  

Don’t get frustrated because you are not where you want to be today – while there is life, there is hope.  Life is a journey, at times may seem stormy but always remember that cloud lined with silver.  Keep planting, especially when you are not blooming!  Keep giving – to yourself the gift of knowledge and to others whatever they may need, especially when you think that you have nothing to give.  Keep ploughing and you’ll reach deeper depths where you are likely to find dearer treasures.

There is a Jamaican proverb that says – it’s never too late for a shower of rain.  Don’t panic because you are getting older and haven’t yet achieved your dreams.  Look at where you are and see how it can position you to get to where you want to be. Celebrate your achievements - yesterday and today are building blocks for tomorrow but only you can decide whether you will multiply your opportunities, or divide them.  The past helps you prepare for the future; it does not dictate the future and you surely shouldn't dwell on it. As we journey through life we focus on images we can see ahead through our large wind shield, though we glance from time to time in our tiny rear-view mirror.

Many of us are working in areas that are different from the subjects we studied - learning prepares us for life; not just for a career.  You gain transferable skills that can be applied to a range of areas and it boosts your marketability and appeal.  Do not scoff at opportunities presented; indeed see them as building blocks for the future for you never know which block will become your chief cornerstone.  Make the best of your current situation and your future situation will make the best of you.   There will be moments when we are unhappy - take the bitter with the sweet, take a step back and look for the opportunities lurking beneath the shadows.

One key principle in life is the importance of setting goals.  It orientates you, gives you direction and something to aim for; it promotes growth.  I can attest to this: some time ago as a young professional I decided that alongside my work I would earn an average of one certificate (academic or otherwise) per annum.  One year I received a certificate in drawing and painting, another year I received one in poetry writing, and the following year I received a certificate in Portuguese language.  Today my hobbies include oil painting; I have had my poems published and won monetary prizes for poetry; and I have been head-hunted by a top UK university to lecture on a Portuguese Translation programme. Knowledge is never too much and we never know which doors it may open.

How can people in business encourage their employees to bloom where they are planted?  Can we endeavour to inspire creativity and foster a work culture that promotes growth, recognises effort and rewards achievement?  As business owners we too must bloom where we are planted as we strive to maintain and improve our position in the marketplace.  Complacency has no place in business for there will always be someone striving to overtake, replace or obliterate you.  As we build our workforce we should promote learning organisations where employers and employees alike are able to unleash their ingenuity and use their initiative to produce quality and promote excellence.  Do not be afraid to support your employees in their quest for new knowledge; encourage critical thinking, tolerate mistakes, allow autonomy – dare to let your employees fly! Foster a culture that promotes collaborative decision-making; chances are new avenues for business growth will be identified. In his book – Maverick! veteran Brazilian entrepreneur Ricardo Semler advocates this kind of leadership and he empowered some of his employees to become independent suppliers to his company.

Continuously be in pursuit of knowledge, for learning is lifelong and it’s by expanding our horizons that we develop the confidence to reach for greater heights. There is a Chinese proverb that says: Be not afraid of going slowly, be afraid only of standing still. Let’s not therefore lament over our current position; instead let’s use our condition to leverage our future; let’s keep planting and we’ll keep blooming.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Love conquers all

Last week we had a vibrant discussion about ethics at our dinner table.  The family had watched a popular talent contest and saw where judges had suggested to contestants in two groups that they disband as only one singer in each group was deemed talented enough to continue in the contest.  In one case the split took place and in the second the contestant refused to leave her bandmates behind, risking a lucrative and potentially rewarding singing career.

The discussion at the table was particularly effervescent because we had two distinctly opposite positions.  Some of us thought the contestant that split lacked ethics and the rest of us thought that the one that refused to separate and lost the opportunity to progress was silly.  As I reflected on the scenarios it made me think... what would I have done if I were in that situation?

It is human to feel rejected and hurt in such situations but I believe that those who know the true nature of love will suppress their personal pain and experience joy for another.  There is a Chinese proverb that says: Prosperity makes friends and adversity tries themUntil we recognise the meaning of love, and are willing to let others fly on our wings, and until we understand that the benefit to the whole is more significant than the benefit to one, we will not maximise our potential as a people. American professional basketball player Michael Jordan demonstrates this well when he said: “I built my talents on the shoulders of someone else's talent”.  Today Jordan is recognised not only as one of the greatest sportsmen ever but also as a great philanthropist, donating millions to charity including $450 million dollars for Hurricane Katrina reconstruction and assistance.  This is a classic example of the French phrase Tous pour un, un pour tous (all for one, one for all) rendered by Alexandre Dumas in his classic - The Three Musketeers. The rise of one has benefitted the whole.

What would happen if instead of malicing the successful contestant her bandmates were to support and encourage her?  I am happy when my friends excel for I too can share in their success.  What is unfortunate is when successful individuals “forget” their peers as they become caught up with life in the fast lane.  It’s fine to have money but money shouldn’t have you.    Unfortunately some people develop amnesia as it relates to where they come from and only remember when they come crushing down, for nothing and no-one moves in one direction all the time. 

As a people we often make the mistake of trying to climb with others on our backs when in fact what would be better is to climb alone and then reach down and help others up.  Michael Jordan sums it up beautifully when he said: “To be successful you have to be selfish, or else you never achieve. And once you get to your highest level, then you have to be unselfish. Stay reachable. Stay in touch. Don’t isolate”.  Too often we allow ourselves to be blackmailed and sent on guilt trips when it comes to our own success; we find ourselves apologising for achieving excellence.  Could it be that our bandmates/brothers/friends have different talents which they must identify and pursue themselves?  It’s fine to love singing but if you are not talented in that respect could you not support someone who is?  Chances are you would be better off working with animals, children, numbers or trading in the City.  Nobody is void of talent; if we take some time to reflect and develop self awareness we will discover our passion and find out what makes us tick. Sometimes it is staring us in the face but we fail to see it or we don’t acknowledge it – what do you have in your hands?  There is no point trying to live someone else’ dream for it is not ours to live.  Everyone must dream for himself and run his own race and sometimes it’s a lonely road.

I have a friend who tells me that I am not good at accepting compliments.  He says that I tend to brush it off and change the subject.  I thought about it and realised he could be right.  I am not proud of that behaviour for it shows that I am not confident in my ability, I don’t recognise my value and I take no credit for my efforts.  I too must stop trivialising my achievements, stop apologising for excelling and focus instead on developing and showcasing   the talents I have been given.  We have to recognise that it is not a bad thing to succeed.  As far back as I can remember I was never happy with my success if the people I love didn’t succeed as well.  I recall at the age of 11 when I passed the exam to enter high school my parents were over the moon but I was sad because all my friends had failed. I did not understand how to celebrate success in the presence of failure.  Now I know better; now I understand how to experience success and in turn help others to achieve.  Don’t apologise for your successes – make them work for the greater good!

As people who run organisations we need to consider:  do we celebrate the success of others in the workplace?  Do we foster and encourage a culture where people are free to be creative?  Do we grant our workers autonomy - holding them accountable and responsible for their actions?  Business owners must be able to recognise talent and nurture it so that individuals, as well as their businesses, can thrive.  Don’t spend time sweating the small things - micro-managing people, punishing failures.  Focus instead on tapping into your employees’ innate abilities and find ways to discover and appeal to their passions. There is a Ugandan Proverb that says:  A leader's handbag is never completely empty.  What tools do you have in your bag to help you unleash creativity and motivate your staff? Do you compete with or are threatened by your staff’s ability?  Take time to get to know your employees and discover their hidden talents. How many times have we seen organisations hiring new workers when individuals with the required skills sets are already employed within the organisation?

There is a Jamaican proverb that says:  If yuh back monkey im wi fight tiga (literally, if you back a monkey he will fight a tiger) - when people are supported and encouraged they will climb mountains hitherto unimagined. Building a strong support network around you provides a safety net so that if you fall, there is someone strong enough to catch you. One person can’t have a party so why would you want to be alone at the top?   Life is a cycle, indeed a circle – going around and coming around again; we don’t know where we will be tomorrow.  Help people to shine and develop their talents; chances are, the light they emit will bring you warmth and brighten your way.  There is a Greek proverb that states: a society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.  Leave a legacy! Don’t focus on what you as an individual stand to benefit; after all you are being shaded by trees planted by people you have never met.

Love conquers all!

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

There’s no Time like the Present

A few weeks ago a friend Rob asked me to accompany him to see his cousin George, a 50 year old man who was suffering from lung cancer. Although they lived a short distance apart, the cousins had not seen each other for over 20 years.

Last week George had a barbecue and invited his friends and family and according to Rob he ate, drank and smoked all afternoon.  Today George died peacefully in his sleep. Apparently he was well aware of his diagnosis but concealed it from his family who had no idea he was so ill.  He didn’t want to worry anyone; he simply embraced his fate and decided to go out with a bang!    
What I want to focus on is not George’s acceptance and defiance of death but the fact that he and his cousin who apparently were buddies in their early years, lived in such close proximity of each other yet, although both able-bodied, they never made the effort to meet up and hardly communicated over the years.  It makes me wonder about the effect of time and space on human behaviour.  What kept them apart for so long – technology, stresses of life, family demands, economics, time pressures?  Rob has many regrets for now he has realised that he lost 20 years that could have been spent more meaningfully.  Indeed he will spend more time planning his cousin’s funeral than he spent with him over the last 20 years.
I have seen so many people who want to take action – start a business, write a book, pursue higher education...  So often they put off embarking on their aspirations, waiting for the perfect moment.  As far as I am concerned, today is as good as any other day; tomorrow I’ll be older, not necessarily wiser, perhaps weaker.  Haruki Murakami - renowned Japanese writer summed it up nicely when he said “Unfortunately, the clock is ticking, the hours are going by. The past increases, the future recedes. Possibilities decreasing, regrets mounting.”   We all know of people who die prematurely for one reason or another. Procrastination is a thief of our time and we need to recognise its agents – people, places and things that create a lot of noise around and cause us to lose sight of our goals.  I don’t want to leave this world regretting what could have been; I want to think I made the best of the time I had.
Many years ago at my first job I was secretary to a highly educated, skilled and experienced public servant - Mr D. Ever so often he would complain about the monotony of his job, the pittance which was his remuneration, and how unappreciated he felt.  I recall I was 19 years old when I suggested to him that he looked further afield and considered his options.  He responded that he had to wait for his pension, for he couldn’t just walk away after so many years of service.  Mr D retired on full pension some 20 years later, slightly early because of ill-health.  Shortly after his retirement he indicated to me that he was starting a business that would empower many disadvantaged people and he would pay me good money to manage the venture for him.  I assisted in fine-tuning the business plan but explained I was not available to manage the project.  He had identified/developed a great model and I could feel his enthusiasm – he had gotten his mojo back!  He subsequently paid me frequent home visits often unannounced and at times before 7:00 am to discuss the project – he was so excited! Two years after his retirement Mr D died.  Just as he had started to live, he died - dream unrealised.  He had stifled his aspirations for so long, awaiting a pension which was barely enough to cover his bills and remaining in a job that contributed to his illness and eventual demise. 
Apart from the effect of time-wasting agents we are faced with the issue of fear.  Too many of us are afraid of failing but if you think about it, you can fail your way to success - many people do.  There is no one who is truly successful who can say they have never experienced failure – it comes with the territory.  When that happens, just pick yourself up, dust yourself off, let the nine day wonder pass and try again.  Success delayed is not success denied; sometimes we need more time to learn and prepare ourselves to handle success.  Some efforts seem to go in vain but often there are lessons to be learnt. 
Sometimes you have to be bold!  Don’t apologise for your dream and don’t let people make you cry.  If you feel you can do better, chances are – you can; don’t spend your life merely existing in silent agony, bitterness or frustration.  It’s great to be humble but excessive humility and submission will not earn respect for your dream. Understand that you cannot have it all at once; that sacrifice will need to be made but if you are determined enough nothing can stop your dream.  It’s better to die trying than to live wondering what might have been.
For those who have taken the step of setting up business, consider... what could you be doing today that you have kept postponing?  In my case it is market development – taking our services to a wider audience, including overseas markets.  As business leaders we often find ourselves chasing the pennies while the pounds are getting away.  There is a Jamaican proverb that says:  Fry the big fish first, the little ones after.  We have to prioritise so that we do not spend our time engaging in activities that add little value, while more significant opportunities slip away.  Are there activities that you could outsource or employ someone to do, even on a part-time basis?  Can you find a volunteer or a trainee to help?  Too often we run behind our business, allowing it to run us (aground) instead of us running it.  Don’t be like my former boss who allowed other people’s business to run him into the ground, leaving no time to pursue his own dreams.  
Yesterday is history - let’s learn from it; tomorrow is not guaranteed, today is the best we have; there is no time like the present!

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Opportunity Knocks, and not Just Once

Earlier this year I received a call from my friend Helen who had been frantically job-hunting for some time.  She told me that as soon as she had booked and paid for her holiday the ideal job opportunity came up.  She was absolutely distraught, having to choose between losing hundreds of pounds and making herself available for an interview which had no guarantee of success.  Eventually she chose to take her holiday as the fare was already paid and was non-refundable.  Three days after her return she received correspondence from a large corporation about a job.  In fact she was being head-hunted based on work she had done and reference from a former colleague.

Life is full of uncertainties and often things do not go the way we choose.  We cannot package our wishes into a little box and pick them out when convenient; indeed we are faced with many unknowns and we have to make decisions the best way we can.  Helen was disappointed because she thought she had missed the opportunity of a lifetime.  Now she is pleased she did not get that job for the latter opportunity is a new role which carries a more attractive remuneration package and allows her to be creative. The first opportunity doesn't have to be the right opportunity!  Consider the Swahili proverb:  “To run is not necessarily to arrive”.  

Don’t worry about missed opportunities for there will be others; what is important is that we recognise and take them where possible.  Lily Tomlin has an interesting take on this: “Don't be afraid of missing opportunities. Behind every failure is an opportunity somebody wishes they had missed”.  Sometimes we have to create our own opportunities – step out in faith, self belief and determination; that is what many successful entrepreneurs do.  They do not always make the right decisions, in fact they sometimes make very poor, ill-informed decisions but they do not wallow in self pity or regret.  Successful people understand failure for they all experienced it at some time during their journey.  There is no point beating yourself up about decisions you have made; we win some and we lose some.  

Too often we are derailed in our aspirations by detractors who focus on our failures and encourage us to stifle our dreams and lead mediocre lives.  They attempt to extinguish the fire that burn within us, for deep down we always know that we can do better.  We have to take chances and understand that not every decision will be the right one. Don’t believe the voices that highlight your mistakes for there is no perfection in life.  Having self belief, passion and the will to succeed will carry you through. Don’t sit on the sidelines and allow yourself to be washed up because you are focusing on your mistakes or are too scared to take risks.  Your past prepares you for your future; it is not there to deter you from progressing.  Maybe you didn't finish college, or you messed up your relationships, had addictions, squandered your money or got caught up in crime.  Quit focusing on the past for while there is life, there’s hope.  The Spanish puts it like this: nunca es tarde si la dicha es buena (it’s never too late to do well).  You still have an opportunity to make a difference!

Yesterday I was driving to an event and was relying on the satellite navigation system to guide me.  I missed the exit and couldn't turn around instantly.  The GPS system simply recalibrated and allowed me to capitalise on the next opportunity.  I realised that not only did I have another chance to get to my destination in good time but I had also learnt an alternative route.  Missed opportunities can be a source of knowledge; learn the lessons and use them to enrich your repertoire and add value to your life experience.   We all get off the right track at some point, whether literally or figuratively but what is important is that we recalibrate and get back on track.  Wallowing in regret results in wasted, uneventful, unfulfilled lives which, although exist, never truly live. Don’t worry about where you've been; think more about where you are going.

In business too we are faced with missed opportunities.  In our decision making processes we grapple with choices which may come back to haunt us if they turn out to be wrong.  To err is human (Alexander Pope).  Business people must take remedial actions - not dwell on their mistakes but take steps to reduce or eliminate any adverse effect.  Not every opportunity that presents itself will be a great opportunity; for example - business owners have to make decisions on who to partner with, which company to outsource to, which deals to pursue or accept.  We cannot assume that everything that comes our way is for the taking for not everything that glitters is gold.  We have to ensure that our business activities do not clash with our values and that any relationship developed does not bring our organisations into disrepute.

We are here to live our lives abundantly.   Don’t live your life feeling unworthy despite what you did or what has been done to you.  Forgive yourself and forgive others, for nothing that may have happened in the past is so bad that it must deny you your bright future.  Look up and get up! Forget about addictions, vices, embarrassments, trouble with the law - bury them and take the new opportunities that life brings.  Create your own opportunities too.

In Helen’s case the missed opportunity was just that – a missed opportunity. Chances are your earlier opportunities would have enabled you to compete with chickens; in fact you may even have become Mother Hen.  How does that compare with the opportunity to soar with eagles?

If you are feeling broken because of bad decisions, past failures or missed opportunities, turn that mess into a message and remember:  Opportunity knocks and not just once!

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Who dares, wins!

Last week I was speaking to my sister Alicia who runs her own restaurant in a small town.  Alicia completed secondary school but, unlike the rest of us she has not been to college or university.  She is not academically-inclined but she has a lot of skills and a true go-getter attitude. 

During her final year at school Alicia specialised in fashion and design and embarked on a career as a dressmaker.  Later, when cheap clothing from overseas flooded the country she found that she could no longer compete and so she scaled down her business and concentrated on making school uniforms only.  This was a seasonal business and she was often without work. In a bid to enhance her career she enrolled in a tailoring programme and learnt to make men’s clothing.  Before long it was clear that the tailoring industry was also adversely affected and so she turned her attention to baking and selling her products to the school her children attended.  This allowed her to work around her children’s school day and avoid child-care costs.  When her children moved on to high school she retrained as a florist and offered her services to events management companies.  Later she learnt to decorate cakes and supplied birthday and wedding cakes.  When that business slowed she started her own catering business and became a chef, using skills she had learnt from our mother.  She has been engaged in this field for the last 10 years and is perfectly happy with her career choice.

The aim of this article is not to relate the story of Alicia’s career but to explore how we could learn from her in our pursuit of success.  In keeping her head above water Alicia displayed dogged determination, creativity and uniqueness.  Her styles - whether in clothes, cakes, flowers or dinners were always different from those offered by her competitors.  For example, during our conversation she shared with me one of her current strategies:  She researches various edible herbs and vegetables available locally and apprises herself of the ailments they are used to alleviate.  She then shares this information with her customers and offers to supply them with food and drink containing these produce.  This has given her a unique advantage that her competitors have failed to match.  These herbs and vegetables are already widely consumed, for example, cucumber juice is on the menu - different from the usual popular beverages.  Cucumber juice is said to contain a hormone needed by the cells of the pancreas for producing insulin which is beneficial to diabetic patients. It was found that a compound called sterols, in cucumbers may help to reduce cholesterol levels. Cucumbers contain potassium, magnesium and fibre which work effectively for regulating blood pressure; this makes cucumbers good for treating both low and high blood pressure.

This is what we who are trained in business call “create a need and fill it”.  The fact that Alicia never studied business or management or had business advice or a mentor makes me think – is this an innate ability that we all have?  How did she know that she could do that? She kept ahead of the competition by being inventive and creative and coupled these qualities with great people skills.  Because of this quality she has never been broke in her life, a claim that many so called learned people cannot honestly make. She didn’t say that it was easy; in fact many nights she lay thinking what her next move would be.  She had to plan her strategy, taking into consideration changing external factors over which she had no control.  She was often tired at the end of the day but she achieved all she wanted to accomplish – three educated children, a mortgage-free home, food on her table and a bit of money in the bank.  She did this with no help from welfare or from her former husband - the father of her children. She understood clearly what is meant by the French proverb: fais ce qui dois, advienne que pourra (do what you must, come what may). 

What can we learn from Alicia?  Quite a bit, I’d say:  the importance of: 1) being creative  2)  being unique;  3) strategic thinking;  4) continuous professional development;  5) market research;  6) maintaining a great attitude to life;  7) flexibility;  8) the willingness to change;  9) relating well to people;  10) time management;  11) effective communication;  12) focus;  13) maintaining good financial management;  14) asking for help when necessary;  15) hard work;  16) resilience;  17) determination;  18) willpower;  19) confidence;  20) thinking outside the box and 21) self belief.  When the external looked bleak she looked on the internal and saw natural talent and skills, and coupled with sheer determination she made it work, taking a step backwards in order to go forwards.  For it to happen on the outside it needs to happen on the inside first.  What do you have on the inside?

There is a Jamaican proverb that says:  “Turn your hand and make fashion” which simply means “be creative with what you have”.  Sometimes we do not have exactly what we need but if we look at what we do have, chances are we can make it work.  There is no point dwelling and lamenting on situations that we cannot change; “where there is a will, there is  a way”.   What do you have in your hand?  I am sure that in Alicia’s life there were often dark clouds but she chose to focus on the silver lining, the light at the end of the tunnel. She often found herself between a rock and a hard place and sometimes she had her cake and wanted to eat it too.  There is a Spanish proverb:  “A río revuelto, ganancia de Pescadores” - there are those who thrive in difficult, chaotic situations.  Are you that person who looks for the opportunity lurking behind the threats? 

Alicia is not computer literate – the only piece of technology she masters is her mobile phone.  She has not had the benefits of the internet with its vast array of information and opportunities but she thrives nonetheless.    Many of us have round-the-clock access to such media, we have access to help from the State, to free training and advice but we are still struggling.  What does that say about us?  Are we suppressing or sacrificing our innate talents and relying on technology, compromising our creative skills?   What do you have in your head?

Challenges often show up in our lives but they are not here to stay.   Too many of us focus on the problems causing them to appear bigger than they really are.  When Alicia found herself going through in a divorce she did not curl up and die – she reached out for help, took some deep breaths and slowly started to move forwards.  We tend to ignore the solutions often creating our own barriers that prevent us from seeing those solutions.  When you meet upon a difficult situation you may not be able to control it but you can stop it from getting to you; take advice from Maya Angelou – "If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude."  Don’t let the closed doors discourage you; find another way in or create your own door.  You may hurt now and again but you shouldn’t allow yourself to remain wounded. 

Many of us find ourselves on a treadmill and would love to disembark but we are scared to take the plunge.  Sometimes we have to take a step backwards in order to gather momentum to go forwards.  It’s not about keeping up with others; it’s about running your own race and being consistent.  Alicia has never had a job but she has never been unemployed.  Don’t encourage negative voices that tell you that you cannot do it; they will always be there, they are not going anywhere but you are!  Everything is but for a time, everything passes. By leveraging the power of positive thinking you’ll ride the waves and in time you’ll direct the waves.
Who dares, wins.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

A Friend in Need...

Last week I witnessed the desperation of a friend and her husband as they struggled to find a suitable place after having been evicted by their landlords.  They were particularly distraught as they had moved to the house just six months before and did not anticipate this early move.  It turned out that the owners needed the place for purposes they had not previously contemplated and gave their tenants notice, just 3 months after they had moved in.  Most of us would have moved at some time in our lives; it’s fair to say that it’s a stressful event, not one to be entertained with frequency. 

In life we are often faced with situations that upset our equilibrium, due to no fault of our own.  We don’t want to live like nomads for in order for us to grow and thrive we want our basic needs met and we crave stability. We exist within an environment over which we have no control and we have to weather storms that come our way.  It can be difficult and unsettling but bear in mind that though the storms of life may blow away some seeds, it cannot blow away all the seeds. 

The inspiration for this blog is not my friends’ struggle to find a place but the treatment they received from people who all along pretended to care.  Both of them work independently with individuals who are known to be extremely wealthy.  These individuals were well aware of their plight and worries about their potential homelessness and in some cases discussed the situation with them, prayed with them and in a couple of instances offered to provide the required funds to help them secure a place.  My friends struggled to find a suitable place and in their hour of need they were left stranded as all promises dissipated.  People pretended to forget, others gave excuses while others offered more prayers; none of them came forward with the practical help needed, despite their insane level of wealth. My solitary spare room was inadequate but I offered it to them.  Thankfully they have now found a suitable place.

Is this the true nature of man with money?  How many of us reach out to others who are in dire need, not because of carelessness but because of circumstances?  The Jamaican proverb: Rain ah fall but dutty tough (It is raining but the dirt is still tough – some have it hard while others are bathing in prosperity) describes it well. Are you like the “friend” who prays for a blessing when really you should be that blessing?  There is a saying “He who shares the joy in what he’s grown spreads joy abroad and doubles his own”.  Augusta Carter puts it this way:  “You don’t have a garden just for yourself; you have it to share”.  Are you friendly with people only when it is comfortable to do so?  There is another appropriate Jamaican proverb which says “some people know you when ah moonshine but ah dark nite dem shake dem fire tik inna yu feace” (people will associate with you while you are prospering but they pretend they don’t know you during the hard times).  

There is no point offering to pray for someone who says to you, “I am hungry”.  What the person needs is food, not empty gestures.  A place of honour on an “Employee of the Week” board does not help an employee if he/she doesn’t know how the rent will be paid because they can’t make ends meet.  They need a raise, a promotion, training or something that can enable them to earn more.  Be real!  You wouldn’t give your child a stone if he asks you for bread (Holy Bible, St Matthew: 7 & St Luke: 11).  It is great to have things, but never allow things to have you.  We are not meant to be collectors in life, we are better off being channels.  Be a channel for change, a channel for peace, joy, love.

In business too there are those who come like wolf in sheep clothing, offering to help when really all they want to do is help themselves.  I was recently told that a particular business associate was trying to find me in my office and had asked that I return his call.  When I called I quickly uncovered the plot and found that he was offering the same marketing package he had sold us the year before and which he was well aware had yielded no returns on investment.  Would it not have been better if he had said, “since our marketing effort last year was not very fruitful, can we offer you a free package this year, or could we offer you a commission-only package this year”?  There was absolutely no concern about the fact that we paid him several hundred pounds months before; he had simply come for more.  Some of your business associates will try to sell you their products or services to “help” your business even when you tell them you are struggling; yet they will never consider buying your product/service even when it could be useful to them. Business owners often know quite early if a product will benefit their business but too often we allow ourselves to be are conned or blackmailed into buying into a dream that ultimately fails to be realised.

In the workplace, how many of us pay the bare minimum when really we could add a few perks?  How many of us make promises to our employees – if the company achieves this, we will do that... but fail to follow through?  How many of us, like the so called friends in this story, find excuses when it matters most?  None of us is born to win, or lose... we are born to choose. How do we use our power to choose to impact the lives of others?  Too often “the teeth are shining, but is the heart?” (Congolese Proverb). How can I find happiness if only I am able to prosper? What’s the point of climbing to the top if when I get there it’s only me who’s there; how can I alone have a party?  As you take stock of your many possessions just remember - the world out there is bigger than the one in here.  Good intentions don’t bring change; actions do.  By helping someone to rise does not mean that you have to fall.

There are many who will offer no assistance to others unless they can see tangible benefits to themselves.  There is no need to tie getting to your giving; it’s automatic! You’ll get it back when word gets around of how good your business ethics are.  Here’s what I do:  I give discounts, I do some work for free, I involve the client in the process, I work during unsociable hours to complete urgent tasks, I deliver professionally completed work within agreed timescales and I follow up to see if the client is happy with or has benefitted from the work I produced. Where necessary I endeavour to remedy situations within reason.  You don’t have to be the cheapest around town; you just need to treat people well and let them realise that you are not just after their money. 

Let us reflect on our actions and inaction:  Are we responsive to the needs of others?  Are we empowering people to grow and thrive?  Ultimately all of us want the same things in life; a friend in need is a friend indeed. The best place to find a helping hand is at the end of your own arm (Swedish proverb).  Can you help someone, even if they don’t have the courage to ask? There is a French proverb: “à cœur vaillant rien d’impossible” nothing is impossible to a willing heart.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Encouragement Sweetens Labour

This week a young friend of mine lost her battle with cancer.  She was a wonderful person, a great motivator; wise beyond her years.  In moments like these we reflect on our own lives and we are reminded of our humanity and indeed our frailty.  As I focus on her life I cannot help but recall her great attitude to life - a key attribute that many of us could model. 

The attitude we portray determines our altitude in life. Zig Ziglar puts it like this:  “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude”.  Many of us are so caught up in our own sense of what is important that we lose sight of what really matters.  In this materialistic world in which we live we often sacrifice good manners in our endeavour to achieve.  What we fail to realise is that good manners is key to our achievements.  We go round in circles trying to find that elusive ideal, only to  return to the basics. The French novelist Alphonse Karr said: "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose" (the more things change, the more they remain the same). 

The famous Jamaican saying:  “manners tek yuh thru de worl” (manners take you through the world) could never be more true.  As a child I didn’t appreciate its true meaning and often scoffed at it.  It took me some time to comprehend that my parents were referring simply to the importance of maintaining a great attitude.  When you have a good attitude people go out of their way to help you; they go beyond the call of duty and they show you respect.  A great attitude will enable you to make inroads into places which are otherwise inaccessible.

I recall about 20 years ago I was going through Miami airport and was being accompanied by a friend who was not travelling but was simply assisting me with my luggage.  He followed me all the way to the door of the plane, passing all the checkpoints without a ticket or boarding pass – unbelievable!  I accept that that could not happen today, given the changes in air travel but looking back I realise that my friend got through partly because of his great attitude. 

It is important that business people understand the importance of maintaining a good attitude.  Too often we are insensitive to the needs of our employees, partners and other stakeholders, not realising that a positive attitude will help us get what we want.  People remain in your business not because of the salaries they earn but because of how you make them feel.  Basic manners like “Thank you” and “Please” go a far way.  Show gratitude and let people feel valued and respected.  Good business practice is about achieving win-win solutions but it is not a bad idea to let the other person win sometimes; in the game of life no one wins every time.  Earl Nightingale said:  “Our attitude towards others determines their attitude towards us”.

As an employer myself I have come to the conclusion that the greatest characteristic I value in an employee is a great attitude.  I do not need people who are ill-mannered, arrogant or unwilling to learn, irrespective of any skills or qualifications they may possess.  A great attitude does not mean that one has to be subservient, passive or docile.  A great attitude showcases enthusiasm, passion, leadership, teamwork, zeal. Our attitude is also wrapped up in our body language; if your mouth is saying ‘thank you’, your eyes cannot be stone cold, don’t send mixed messages.  Speak with your body, you can’t fool all the people all the time (Bob Marley). 

Start by loving yourself, it’s then easier to show love to others and your attitude will shine through.  We know that life can be stressful, particularly when we are faced with challenges that threaten our comfort.  It may not be easy to smile all the time but we can learn to love ourselves even in the tough times.  Once we are able to do that, we are more likely to maintain a good attitude, despite the odds.  Maya Angelou gives us great advice when she says: “If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude”.  Our attitude is for us to change; we can decide how we handle a situation - we can choose misery or we can choose love. “Being miserable is a habit. Being happy is a habit. The choice is yours.” (Tom Hopkins).

A good attitude is also the ability to know when to keep your mouth shut.  Thumper’s law states: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”.  That doesn’t mean we have to be hypocritical, it just means that we should endeavour to exercise good judgment and use wisdom.  People with bad attitudes are ugly; their presence is annoying, people are uncomfortable around them and their utterances, though may be factually correct, are undermined by their tone and general sour outlook.  They often feel they are superior to others when in fact they are using their arrogance to hide their weaknesses. 

Dr. Robert Schuller says “You are what you think about all day long”. Our attitude impacts heavily on the quality of our lives; according to Marcus Aurelius, “Our life is what our thoughts make it”.  Give more and you’ll get more; encouragement sweetens labour. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.  Develop a great attitude and help make the world a better place; you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.