Monday, 11 November 2013

To thine own self be true

Being economical with the truth is a necessary part of life. 

“How are you?” you will ask. Do you mean you want to know exactly how I am? Warts and all? Sleeplessness, physical symptoms, family matters, missing out on some work, feeling over-responsible for others, anxious about money... otherwise fine…! Thanks for asking. Do you really want to know? Therefore on occasion, ‘I’ve got plans that day’ is economical - you don’t need to know about my hospital appointment or the support group I might be going to.

© Maggie Sawkins 2013 All rights reserved
My art work on Etsy
I find huge relief in Mark Twain’s reminder: “If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything”. It serves me well. And it’s a blessed relief to tell the truth. Thank God for the people with whom I can be utterly honest. Completely myself, totally candid and fantastically free. I do need to work within boundaries that I learn more about all the time. Someone on the foundation therapy training I undertook, I think described me as, ‘somewhat emotionally incontinent’. Bless me. Spilling it all out all over the place to whoever would listen, often without checking their credentials in any shape or form. Leaving myself vulnerable to the comments of heavy footed and insensitive others. I'm learning to be more discerning as I grow up. 

With honesty, I find there is so much less to fear. I've seen eyes glazing over and slowly register that they are being less than open. That's what sets off the worries about what is not being said. The sinking recognition that honesty is not in fact their best policy. I've found that meeting a man who declared himself 'honest' meant in fact 'I won't be'. Watching the 'Real Housewives'(I have eclectic taste in TV), I see how much they like to declare how authentic they are… how ‘genuine’ equates to ‘not at all’. They protest too much!

I’ve spend a lot of my life not being truly honest.  It’s a strange thing to say but it's a fact. I didn’t know enough about what makes me tick. I was honest in that I shared my true feelings (as far as I knew what they were) in therapy rooms, in workshops or recovery meetings. I would pour out my heart on the phone and with friends who had similar understanding and awareness. If I can't be honest with myself, how can I be truly truthful with you-?

Being with work colleagues in situations where we may be judged, I find much more testing places to be honest and open. What a pity that is. How much better would workplaces be if you felt you could say what your true thoughts were. I recently noticed I was irritated by a committee meeting (from the church next door) happening alongside me in the cafe where I write. It was their lack of personal expression that struck me - nobody said what they were feeling or thinking. Their communication was often about others who weren't present. Not any of my business of course. Yet I want to live amongst people who are open, frank, compassionate and alive and I didn’t hear that in them. I heard them judging others. And here I am doing the same! God love me. 

What is honesty? Being the most natural and open? Telling it like it is? Being open and clear. Declaring how one feels rather than saying what we think is expected. And perhaps even more importantly, telling the truth to oneself. Self-deception has a lot to answer for. And in starting this blog, I aim to share honestly for my own ends. I’ve run out of doing the right thing when it doesn’t also please me. I need to stay honest. To mine own self be true. I think the truth does in fact, alway set us free.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Trust Yourself

Sometimes when I work from home, I watch a TV show from the States with my lunch: Millionaire Matchmaker. I quite like seeing on what basis people had chosen partners, with limited success and are therefore seeking help. One of these young millionaires, had been hurt in love and was hesitant to trust again. He had heard a great message though; ‘don’t look for the love of your life, be ready when they show up’.

This applies to so much of life. Not being ready, means we don’t see stuff that’s available to us or we say ‘no’ when the thing we’re turning down could be a great opportunity. Anyway, this time a few Fridays ago, sitting in this exact spot at my ‘desk’, in the beautifully refurbished Clissold Park cafĂ©, I answered a blocked call. I was friendly and completely honest with the BBC journalist who’d rung, out of the blue, asking me if more brides are speaking at weddings. ‘I'm not the best person to ask – all my clients for wedding speech coaching thus far have been men’. But I chatted about the stuff I know well and how I unprepared I’d been when I spoke at my own wedding. I’ve learnt from experience and teaching others, what a difference getting some coaching can have. ‘I’ll go and chat to the people you’ve suggested, but if we need you, would you be prepared to come up to Media City in Salford for BBC Breakfast tomorrow?’ Then, in giving my answer, ‘Of course!’, I knew I was ready.

And then the fear kicked in. The somersaults the stomach can make…churning away with adrenaline. I returned a call from a friend and stayed focused on listening to his current dilemma. Then I said what was going on at my end; ‘Amazing!’. It made it real.

I had in fact, to wait for two hours, whilst the reporter did her research and came to a decision as to whether they needed me or not. My thoughts repeatedly cycled round the following: ‘…of course I’m up to it, I’ll handle it effortlessly, just like the phone call – I know my stuff’ and ‘Goodness, I hope that this is just a trial run and they don’t need me to come…’ and ‘OK, I want to do this – but I’m terrified – I know what I could say… maybe I’m not quite ready this time…’ I called other friends and fellow creatives – I’m an artist too – and talked about the invitation to be visible and being ready when it comes! Another friend was about to sing at a high profile film event. I rang around & got some good suggestions on being around cameras (ignore them). The right people were there on the end of the phone - with their experience when I needed it.

These calls do come apparently out-of-the-blue after a while of getting ourselves ‘out there’ and we can never know when. I carried on normal life, by getting to the bank and doing the necessary food shop. I washed my hair in any event. I ate some lunch, just. Then the phone rang and I jolted.

‘So yes – we’d like you to do the interview on the sofa – it will be c 8.30am and we’ll organize hotel, train, taxi etc… What time do you need the train to be?’

This story is one I will tell for a time to come. I know that I couldn’t have networked, planned or even elbowed my way to being on the BBC Breakfast sofa. I knew in my bones that I was up to it – and I knew too – that I was utterly and intensely afraid, I obsessed about the things they might ask me and they things I might say. Over and over. On a loop. The cortisol/adrenaline combination was intense. I had a client preparing to speak at his wedding, that evening: I prepared for his session and packed my overnight bag. I knew from much experience of trying too hard, that the best plan was wear clothes I feel relaxed in. I took a couple of options. I got snacks together: I know I need things to crunch on when I’m jittery. It was a case of putting all I know into practice. Prepare yourself. Get your own needs met. I planned the journey to the train and awaited my speaking client… he was late. I prayed to the type of higher power that I can believe might be out there… and put one foot in front of the other.

The groom did a good speaking session: we planned together how he might enhance his telling the story of meeting his soon-to-be wife and include the guests from around the world. I left the house, picked up the train ticket without problem and got the train. All was smooth running till about 3 am when I woke and stayed awake…drank tea, watched TV, this time to distract me from the tape loop in my head and rested using the Alexander technique lying on the floor and meditating, 'Please God give me any kind of a break.'

So how did it go? I woke c 7am… fuzzy headed. I showered and started warming up my voice by saying the Serenity prayer aloud. I wrote some stuff down. I went to collect breakfast and brought it back to my room. I ditched the coffee, which was foul. I took my ‘surviving a scary interview experience kit’ with me and made my way down from the 16th floor of the Holiday Inn, to walk across the piazza to the BBC building. Shaun the Sheep-alympics were being set up by a group of volunteers. All the while – with a slightly surreal sense of myself. Is this really me – about to go on live TV?

I got to reception and chatted to the guy… My best survival scary experiences strategy is to talk to everyone…help to make their day. I was met and taken to make-up. I consulted on my shirt ‘in or out?’ and then we (I was on with a Toastmaster in full regalia) were miked up and given our studio instructions: ‘follow me and sit where I place my hand’. My stomach is turning over now at the memory of it. The thing about ‘there’ and ‘here’ is that there is a very fine line. It can get crossed in a moment. Suddenly, I wasn’t watching the breakfast sofa interviews, I was one. That changes my perception of it from hereon in. The gap between the two is huge yet also insignificant. I passed Jon Amici, a great speaker in his own right, coming from his interview and I chatted to the copper they had on to talk about ‘training police in politeness’, in the green room.

The thing is – I think – that the fear of being seen to fail, the fear of humiliation is the essence behind our adult fear of speaking in public. We all want to be noticed – and heard – yet being truly seen, is very confronting. We feel naked. We will be ‘exposed as a fraud’. It’s so common to hear this fear expressed by people who have achieved some ‘fame’; being known for something they do: just waiting to be spotted as a fraud.

So here I was, with all the terror of being seen to fail, to stuff it up; by family, friends, speaker colleagues – any of whom might say, ‘I wouldn’t have done it that way…’, not to mention the potential millions of strangers. Right now, not in a few minutes or hours… I was going to be asked to speak. I had to draw on the message I have for others: the reason we practice speaking off-the-cuff over and over, is so that when the time comes, we can truly trust ourselves. We learn to trust that our brain, magic computer that it is, to supply us with the right things to say.

To be present, was the best thing I could do. I breathed out, focused on the presenters, I smiled. I knew to listen and react as though I was chatting to any of you. Like I do with friends and clients, time and again. Inside I was the kid age 10, who’d burst into tears after going on stage, to give flowers to a soloist at the end of a concert. I'll always be the shy person who learned to be ‘at the front' as a teacher in inner city schools & a trainer of adults. Somehow becoming visible, coming out of the ‘cave’, is my path. 

Yet as a ‘recovering shy person’ and introvert, it takes much willingness and a lot of courage. (I'm so grateful to Susan Cain for the work she’s done on bringing us introverts some recognition.) It seems that being on TV is just like any other situation: all that is required is that I 'show up' to the best of my ability. Prepared, present and willing to say what I have to say. I even enjoyed it!

I have huge empathy for what it takes to be seen. I feel very grateful to have found simple ways that have encouraged me and many others, to come out of our shells: we all gain from hearing what you have to say. I can help you too. 

And how did Radek, the Groom speaking in English, Polish & Latvian, get on a week later? Well, it seems:

“The speech went so good! I got really good feedback from everyone, I made everyone laugh and made my parents and my new wife cry. Thank you so much for all your help. Your tips and coaching helped me enormously. In the end I went with the index cards and decided to trust myself. It worked brilliantly.”


Wednesday, 10 July 2013

The Penny Dropping


© Maggie Sawkins 2013 All rights reserved
Well, the summer having arrived and a birthday in the offing, seems as good a time as any to note the following: 'I’m beginning to enjoy my life!'

Really. It’s been pretty much a ‘life is a challenge’ agenda till now. I’ve seen my purpose as trying to figure out: what the hell I'm up to, here for, should be doing… you know, an meaning of existence therefore… type tape running in my head, all the time.

Then in a workshop on under-achieving, the speaker got a bit shouty - in a good way - and said this thing that hit me in the gut: ‘This is NOT figuring-it-out anonymous; you’ve got to RESIGN from figuring-it-out anonymous!’. For all of us on similar quests (you know who you are) we can let that agenda go!

This guy's words truly reached me, as despite all best efforts, I’ve mostly been interested in how I can fix, change, be better, show up as expected, (by whom I’m not clear) and the ultimate personal development zenith, fulfill my ‘potential’. I’ve worked hard at the skills I possess (even the ones I don’t really LOVE) so that after all the effort, I may then relax and enjoy my life. And now – the penny is dropping – as in so many wise teachings - that I need to enjoy time, people, experiences in my life NOW! I recall the title of John Gray's book, Get What You Want & Want What You Have. Well 'wanting' or being appreciative, truly valuing what I have, is a great place to start. 

Another way of saying the familiar, ‘count your blessings’, notice what’s in front of you… for goodness sake, with all your 'high-class' problems, be grateful. The penny is dropping, I do have many blessings. And being seduced by much discomfort in some situations that I engaged in, into trying to change myself, to adapt, is NOT the answer! Bless me, I’ve tried SO HARD to fit in, to adapt, to be the teacher, the trainer, the speaker, the artist, the illustrator, whilst all the while – not really having a conversation with myself.  These days it’s gradually different. I’m no longer willing or able to put up with misery and in the literal sense, soul-destroying situations. It doesn't matter if they suit other people - it's important to get honest. If not now, when?

I get that it is about me enjoying my god-given life. Dropping out of the things that don’t make me happy. Stop trying to change myself. Follow my own coaching and show up as I am – get that I am not a ‘failure’ (when did it become a noun?), or a useless-no-skills-drop-out. 

Yes I have been on lots of diversions (I don't have a linear career path), and ALL have helped to bring me to where I am today. I choose to focus on the areas that leave me intact, happy, creatively engaged, well: rewarded by pursuing skills that come naturally. I spent enormous amounts of energy trying to whittle my square pegs into other peoples round holes and convince them and me that it was a good idea, all the while getting more and more unhappy. This is all a very simplistic way of telling the history – which is nuanced with lovely moments, extreme life events (with their own fallout) and many satisfying experiences along the way. And today has it's challenges...but that 'want what you have & enjoy it' is a clear signpost. The penny is slowly dropping. 

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

What is perfect?

What a relief. Don’t try so hard. Let go. Give up. Relax. Let it be easy and effortless. Stop pushing. False urgency is not helpful. Step back. Detach. Watch yourself. Call someone. Get off the wheel. Somehow, somewhere along the line – how it happened is not relevant right now – I learned this: ‘what ever you do, however hard you try, it will never, ever be good enough.’ That’s the bedrock of perfectionism and perfectionism is an insidious ‘killer of joy’ I read some wise person say.

© Maggie Sawkins 2017 My word art on Etsy.

Here is a case in point. The hardest bit as Steven Pressfield says to start his book ‘The War of Art’ is not the writing. It’s the sitting down to write. That which keeps us from sitting down, is resistance. Buried inside resistance are many things maybe and I think one of them must be this horrible habit. 'If it will never be perfect then there is no point trying': it’s a classic catch 22. It’s a relief. There’s no perfect success possible so I’m off the hook...

The art of dealing with perfectionism is staring at its hidden lie that there is such a thing as perfect. Hollywood talent agencies know the ‘perfect’ face will always have some asymmetry, some quirk that sets the star apart. That makes them human. Is there a perfect tree? A perfect dinner? I’m wondering if perfection isn’t a state but an experience. 'That was a perfect evening…' (in a different mood, maybe not). 'It’s the perfect spot…' however imperfect it may be. Seek imperfection a wise mentor suggested. Look for 5 imperfections a day. Practice no more self shaming thoughts but instead…’Ah, bless me, how imperfect am I!’ x

Thursday, 23 May 2013

'You don't have to try, to be yourself'

I don't know who said this one... but it's right up my street. As you can see from the title of this blog, I've got an issue with 'trying harder'. I don't really know what it means...

In this blog I plan to plot my thoughts on this subject, which after a burnout some years ago, and a high sensitivity to any type of urgency... I have done a lot of thinking on this matter.

Who measures 'hard work' or 'trying harder'...? There is no slide rule for effort but that which is internal. And then a lot of us have the inner 'whatever I do, it will never be enough' tape running in our heads.