Century

I like cricket.

There, I’ve admitted it. I can’t take it back. It’s too late now.

Which begs the question, what is it that I like about the game? Well for starters I like the tactical side of it, it’s quite a cerebral game, the ebb and flow of the overs, the miniature battles between batsman and bowler. I like that there are several different formats of the game requiring wildly disparate skills and that it is played in a variety of locations / conditions. I like that whilst it is a team game everyone has individual roles, often bringing quite specialist skills to the game. I like that there are smaller units within the bigger team and that everyone knows what their role is. They say that cricket is played in the head and it is true that pressure really tells. Restrict a side from scoring or and the game can change in minutes. It also has a really clear system of incentives, taking 5 wickets, getting 50 runs or a 100. You can be on the losing side but admired for your part in the game, there is a respect for ability.

article-0-038AC0B0000005DC-166_468x318

Photo credit – Daily Mail Online

This post is my 100th post on the blog. I was encouraged to start it to complement my fledgling business. Not having much of a business plan I was happy to soak up all the advice I could around marketing. However reading back through the posts there doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to what I wrote about. I tend to write about what is important to me in the moment. If it strikes a chord with others then that’s excellent, if not, then that’s fine too.

I’ve also tried to record what I do and more importantly how I do it. Whether it’s making a short film about my work, fundraising for Mind, writing up courses I’ve attended or just talking about what matters to me I’ve tried to be honest and congruent. Of course the biggest single story on my blog has been my own mental health. Ironic then that I used someone else’s blog to first talk about the challenges I’ve faced. I certainly wasn’t ready to bring all that here at first. However when I did it just kept getting easier and easier. It certainly feels right to do so now.

At first I tried to write weekly but in time that stopped and after the initial panic stricken stat checking phase I’ve never taken much notice of the viewing figures. These days I often don’t even publicise my posts. Sometimes my loyal band of followers (some 50 of them in a nice cricketing parallel) tweet or share posts via Linked In but some of my writing disappears without trace.

My business has been going for about two years now. I’m still a one man band but increasingly I’m partnering with excellent people, many of whom have come to know me via social media and this blog. I hope that they’ve found I’m the same “in person” as on the page. The blog has charted my evolution from scared business newbie to relatively busy independent facilitator and coach doing meaningful work. I like the friendships and bonds that the blog has created / nurtured and I’m proud that on the day this is published I will be delivering training which has been co-created with someone I only met a year ago.

However, this isn’t a blog post about the joys of social media. It’s a post about cricket  how writing has helped me.

  • I’ve found team mates to work with, professionals who have shared their wisdom generously.
  • I’ve found answers to some of the demons that afflict me.
  • I’ve found my place in the broader “game”.
  • I’ve been respected for my achievements.
  • I’ve dealt with pressure.
  • I’ve adapted my skills to be competitive in a variety of conditions and formats of the “game”.

Here I am then, 100 not out. Good batsmen say that once you get past 100 the best way is to imagine that you are starting your innings all over again, keep the concentration going and don’t dwell on the achievement. Sound advice I think……..

 

Posted in Coaching, Mental Health, Work | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Stronger together

One of the joys of the world wide web (and in particular social media) is the ease with which you can read widely and get to see articles you wouldn’t ordinarily come across. Last week I read one such article, an interview with a lady called Eli Ingraham. The article described her as “a digital innovator, social strategist and collaborative economy thought leader”. I could write a series of blogs about the contents of the article and what they elicited for me. (Mainly about how I want to conduct business as a sole trader) but for now, one quote really stuck with me.

“Maybe networks are the trade unions of the Digital Era. Through networks we coalesce our voices and values to drive the changes we believe are in our mutual best interest. Maybe social networks are harnessing socialist principles without the scary politics.”

Leaving aside the assertion that socialist principles have scary politics (I’m guessing thats more of a stateside view) this statement just kept niggling away in my mind.

red_flagsRegular readers may know that my last employed role was at London Underground, an organisation with some of the most powerful unions in the UK. Dealing with them was in many ways the dystopian nightmare that the press write about. They were intransigent, protectionist and yes, they still talked about “the brothers” – seemingly unaware how many sisters there are in the union these days.

There’s another view of unions for me. I come from Dorset. As a youngster you grew up with a couple of Dorset staples in your education, Thomas Hardy (unremitting rural poverty in book form), dinosaurs and fossils on the Jurassic Coast (or the coast as we called it before the marketing people got in) and the Tolpuddle Martyrs. For those of you who don’t know the story, in essence a bunch of farm labourers decided to form a “friendly society” to lobby for better conditions, the landowners didn’t like that so they were tried and convicted under laws meant for naval mutiny and they got transported to Australia for their trouble. They remain local heroes in a county where many people still owe the roof over the head to the family up in “The Big House”.

With two such wildly conflicting perspectives on union representation I was fascinated to think that social media could compete with the membership, dynamism and sheer power of organised labour. Yet I only have to cast my mind back to the uprising in Egypt or to the riots in London to see how quickly the technology can be harnessed to organise. There are many instances where social media has been a unifier, the recent #nomakeupselfie or #mentalpatientoutfit activism for example has been a powerful force for good.

Many on social media make wild claims that it is the future, that in time all our lives will be online, all the time. Certainly right now the fact that technology is not freely available to all militates against the idea that networks could become the new unions but in time you could see it happening. Of course social media has many and diverse voices, and with them the attendant cliques and factions that any gathering of humanity brings. The terrible abuse that Caroline Criado-Perez suffered is a case in point. Her offence? To suggest that a banknote had a woman on it. One wonders what twitter would do in response to something more contentious.

I find myself unconvinced that in their current form the networks of social media would be able to offer the same organisation and support as union membership, however I also feel it won’t always be this way. We need to work on the anonymity of social networks, there must be more transparency and a lot more cohesion to achieve this but it is possible. However, I feel the quote at the start poses a great question about what unions currently are, what they stand for and how they organise to face the challenges of a 21st century workforce. (Not forgetting that large chunks of the world’s workforce are working in the conditions of the industrial revolution or worse).

My final thought on the matter is this – since opening up on social media about my mental health I’ve been pleasantly surprised by just how supportive a community I have found. It’s worth noting that I didn’t have to look that hard to find it. I know that many of the resources I have discovered were available in the offline world, they were in leaflets in surgeries, tucked away in support groups or down at the sports centre. Social media offers an immediacy and also a willingness to share ideas, content and advice freely.

Somehow we need to harness that openness and use it in the offline world too.

 

 

Posted in Work | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The H Bomb

This week saw International Happiness Day, cue the rush of people writing a tie in blog post. Normally I ignore these but I was drawn to the one written by Sukh Pabial. In it he muses on the nature of happiness, on the complexity and diversity of definitions. It really is an excellent post and I recommend it with just one caveat. In his final paragraph Sukh says “It is so very attainable and achievable.” Now this is slightly at odds with the rest of the post. It also jarred with me slightly.

Of course it would jar with me, after all I have bipolar disorder. I’ve suffered bouts of debilitating depression, manic highs of elation and quite a lot of the sickening lurching between those two states. Sometimes the mania actually feels pretty good, I feel kind of happy but it’s not a happy that I can trust, one based on reality. When I’m depressed, I can find that quite comforting, released from the cycle for a while.

If I’m completely honest with myself I think I would settle for being content – which sounds a bit insipid, a bit half hearted in this age of mission statements and being “passionate” about the most mundane of tasks. Even allowing for the fact that I have a “severe and enduring”  (its that hyperbolic language again) mental health condition I think that quite a few of us could gain a lot from looking for contentment rather than happiness. For me, having happiness as the goal is a bit daunting. I know we are encouraged to dream big and shoot for the stars but for some of us, smaller, more manageable targets are likely to be more motivating.

When I sat down to write this post I had lots of ideas buzzing around my head, examples I wanted to bring in and share. I wanted to pose counter arguments and philosophies, write a long compelling post. However, by writing these 300 odd words I’ve got it out of my system and I’m content with that.

I’m grateful to Sukh for prompting this line of thinking with his thoughtful considered post.

Mr.Happy

Posted in Mental Health | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

MIA

I was talking to a friend recently. I was saying how hectic my week ahead was going to be. Knowing what I was up to he queried how a 4 day week could possibly be classified as being busy. I gently pointed out that my ongoing recovery still involved therapy and regular bouts of mindfulness study alongside working for myself. He graciously conceded the point but I also felt a little awkward, after all I’ve been lucky enough to work relatively steadily when many are struggling under highly pressured environments or out of work entirely – 4 days, surely that’s easy.

The reason I was so busy this week was because I had 4 days of training delivery. Routinely I wouldn’t book my time like this but I had an existing client to honour and I also wanted to get the new Mental Health First Aid Training off the ground for myself and my friend / colleague Charlotte Walker.

I’m pleased to report that the MHFA went really well. I was concerned about how my own mental health would hold up under delivering a subject so close to home but actually with Charlotte’s support (and a really eager group) I got through both days albeit very very tired afterwards. Unfortunately I still had two days of delivery left in the week.

Having been very aware of the physical and mental toll the week was likely to take I planned plenty of steps towards self care. I watched my diet, kept on with my yoga practice and drank plenty of water. Additionally I took the decision to draw back from social media. I even stopped answering non-urgent emails in the business (something which it pains me to do). Basically I went “missing in action” for several days whilst I concentrated on the important tasks.

By the end of Thursday I was really struggling and had to face up to the reality that I had maybe bitten off more than I could chew. I regrouped and headed out on Friday aware that I didn’t have much left to give. It was a tough day and I resisted the groups request to work through lunch citing that we all needed a “mental health break”. A few hours later my week was over.

As I sit here on Saturday afternoon slowly recharging I’m facing up to a few hard truths about how far along I am in my recovery. When people connect with me on social media, during my sporadic forays in to London or in the course of my limited amount of work they don’t realise the effort it takes for me to be consistent and focussed. I’m doing my best but it occurs to me that after a busy week I’m missing “inaction” and by that I mean the inactivity, the time to reflect and process, to build my strength and resilience. I really need those periods of rest in order to function well in the world.

Next week promises to be a little more relaxed, therapy Monday followed by blood donation Tuesday and a meeting on Wed before two days of training delivery at the end of the week. It’s a more balanced week and hopefully will allow me more space and time to recover. However if you see me out there on social media please feel free to tell me to take a rest.

Posted in Mental Health, Work | 6 Comments

Behind the numbers

I’m a great believer that you can’t manage / inspire / lead a person with a graph. Time and time again I’ve seen people’s eyes glaze over in meetings as charts are analysed, dissected and assessed. However it’s probably a truism to say that what gets measured gets managed.

20140225-112030.jpg

The image above is a graph which reflects my mental health in the last 18 months. I’ve removed the key deliberately as it’s pretty personal stuff. The scale is broadly immaterial for you too. What is important for both me and the Complex Needs team is that it shows an improvement. It’s also worth noting that it is still far above what they would like to see.

I was discussing this with my therapist and she was saying that the figures only tell part of the story. What’s going on inside me is what is more important. The questions remain, am I better? Am I well?

I’m “in the world” more though that exacts a fairly heavy toll. I can’t imagine working a full week, even 4 days will knock me over. I’m managing without medication though recently I’ve been struggling with anxiety disturbing my sleep and waking me early. The graph shows me when I first presented in 2012 through to now – some of the change could reasonably be the ebb and flow of my condition not the therapy but that conclusion does my therapist a disservice. Talking to her has been cathartic and in my heart I know that the conversations have had a healing effect.

In reality I’m unlikely ever to be “cured” and get that graph to zero, that’s not the target here. That graph is merely a guide for my medical notes, a distillation of observations and responses to questionnaires. It doesn’t reflect how I “feel” each day.

Which leads me back to where I started this blog. The hypothesis that you can’t lead people with graphs. You can report and reflect, you can predict and project but they are only a guide, a snapshot, a brief capture of time and they rarely reflect the culture and emotions inside an organisation (& yes I include many “engagement” surveys in that sweeping statement).

I’m not sure what this blog is meant to be, business focussed, an update on my mental health or a fusion of the two. What I would like it to achieve is to encourage you to look behind the figures in your organisation, go out and talk to people about what is going on for them. Get their feedback on the direction of the business, on your policies and perhaps get some ideas from them too.

Posted in Mental Health, Work | 1 Comment

Collusion

I made the call as requested. Spoke to the HR manager with a brief outline of available dates. I was surprised that it was such a rush job, that wasn’t the impression I’d been given by the senior manager who had initially approached me about the work. That conversation had been broad, inclusive and led by the needs of all levels of staff within the organisation. It also seemed to be a conversation about values and empathy, learning and discovering

Conversely, this conversation seemed to be about process, structure and delivering a tick in a box. I was told that the training needed to be split into managers and staff because they needed wildly different things from the training. This rang my alarm bells so I queried the specification and who in the organisation was commissioning me. I was told that this was solely an HR project. I was also told that managers needed to be trained separately so that they could talk openly about their staff without the fear of any comeback. My heart sank.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are plenty of meetings in numerous organisations up and down the land where staff get talked about, where decisions are taken behind closed doors and where good policies go out the window. I guess I had just hoped that HR weren’t encouraging that behaviour.

You see it seems to me that if you invite people on a training course, setting the expectation that they can gossip, engage in making derogatory comments and generally pass the buck then that sort of behaviour filters out in to the wider organisation. By colluding with poor managers you allow that sort of thing to become the norm – thereby creating work for your already overstretched HR team, maybe even condoning the idea that it’s somehow acceptable. We all talk about operations not being prepared to have the difficult conversations but charity starts at home……….

In my studies I’ve come across the idea that you often can’t solve a problem with the same level of action that caused it. So, a problem in behaviour must be approached at the level of capability or perhaps values / beliefs, and if it worked for Gregory Bateson then I for one am not going to argue. I also tend to believe that you get the organisational culture you deserve – a point made beautifully by Gemma Reucroft this week.

So what have I done? I’ve asked what the capability gap is, asked what they value and what they believe to be true within the organisation. It’s not an easy or comfortable conversation right now, which is as it should be when you’re dealing with such precious resources – your people.

Posted in Leadership, Work | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ability + Compassion

So that’s it then, 7 days of pretty detailed and involving training are completed. All that remains is to carry out a couple of courses and then the stabilisers are off.

I’ve blogged after every module of the Mental Health First Aid instructors training. I’ve shared how friendly and supportive my fellow aspirant instructors are, I’ve talked about the deep levels of knowledge in the room that I’ve been able to draw on. Knowledge which has been freely given.

The course is packed full of information and it has been a challenge to assimilate it all to enable us to take our assessments. We’ve had our heads in textbooks, busily researching and learning. If you weren’t careful you could get carried away with all the resources.

Which is why I was grateful when one of our trainers said that to deliver this course you need to combine ability with compassion.  I asked her to elaborate

“I have recently returned from delivering mental fitness training in Africa. I was working with the Ugandan People’s Defence Force on deployment in Somalia. They were approaching the course in a cerebral way. Worried about making a mistake – not least because they are soldiers and used to following orders exactly. I explained to them that to deliver this sort of training you need to engage your heart as much as your head. This sort of training doesn’t work if you don’t connect with compassion.”

Heart shaped splashSpeaking as someone who lives and works with variable mental health I found this perspective empowering. I will have to refer to the textbook, check the slides, ask for help from colleagues – and that’s fine because I will also bring my heart and soul to the delivery. It’s also a good reminder for all the other training courses I deliver.

Our trainer then went on to talk about love in this context but that’s a whole other blog for a different day…………..

Posted in Mental Health, Work | Tagged , , | 1 Comment