1

“Anonymous was a Woman”…

…and still is – far too often.

This book was a gift from a friend back in the 80s when I was learning to quilt.

I treasured it and gave copies to a cadre of good friends with whom I shared a passion for ‘antiquing’ – or rather scavenging the markets of Lancaster County.

A quick read of this review on Goodreads reflects my experience of it:

“This book is beautifully illustrated with women’s folk art spanning the late 1700’s to the early 1900’s.

The pages are adorned with lovely poetic journal entries of common-day women and girls who created not for prestige or money (mostly unheard of in those days) but to quench the true thirst of the heart.

I found the book endearing and recommend to anyone interested in women artists, folk art, and women’s studies.”

And then there was this one:  “Silly title, very good book.”

Which made me think the reviewer didn’t appreciate what I and my scavenging friends had often speculated about when considering the relative value of “women’s work”.

 

Exceptional pair of redheads, Shang Wheeler, Stratford, Connecticut. Sold for $27,500 via Guyette & Deeter (November 2015).

Men’s work was far more highly valued.

Case and point: Duck decoys!

We’d marvel at the prices – and the dissimilar numbers reflecting hundreds of hours spent stitching vs. carving.

It may well be related to the anonymity of the craftswomen.

Their works, art, painting, poetry, pottery and crafts are almost always unsigned.

The work of men was usually signed.

Women’s art was more often an outgrowth or consequence of meeting the needs of daily life. Men’s handicrafts were more exceptional – taken on in leisure time in pursuit of a passion or pleasure.

It’s not an observation to be judged – it was once the way of the world.

And some women’s handiwork has garnered well-deserved recognition.

Perhaps that’s best illustrated by this mid-19th century quilt – now at home in the Smithsonian Institution.

Ellen Harding Baker (1847–1886) used the quilt – seven years in the making – to illustrate her astronomy lessons while teaching in rural Iowa.

So let me leave you with a request – tell me about an otherwise anonymous craftswoman you know. Let’s celebrate her – and let’s name her.

And let’s all follow the example of Tara Prendergast founder of The Biscuit Marketplace and become a supportive champion of creatives wherever you live.

#CatalysingConnections, #DontGoItAlone

And thank you to the trailblazing founders & early adopters of the Cooley Connect Well initiative for inspiring this post!

For a fascinating read about Ellen Harding Baker – who was born in the same year as Maria Mitchell,  America’s first professional female astronomer – I highly recommend Cosmic Threads: A Solar System Quilt from 1876

And for more on needlework, stitching & astronomy –

Stitching the Stars: Trailblazing Astronomer Maria Mitchell on the Needle as a Double-Edged Instrument of the Mind and Why Women Are Better Suited for Astronomy Than Men

 

 




What’s in a Name?

It turns out a lot, even if you aren’t unfortunate enough to be “A Boy Named Sue”.

“It’s that name that helped to make
you strong…

And I think about him now and then,
every time I try & every time I win.”

I share that sentiment!

It was a bitterly cold Sunday afternoon in February 1955. Shortly after my birth, the doctors started to take seriously my mother’s complaints of feeling unwell. It turns out she wasn’t ‘just’ a first-time mom not up to the rigours of pregnancy.

It was nothing less than an acute gall bladder, requiring a surgery that was nearly too late – peritonitis had set in. Whether she ever held me, I’ll never know – but it was more than a month before she would have the chance to hold me again. Much that I have come to understand about myself since reflects the loss of that bonding.

That’s a tragic beginning for any infant – the most fundamental experience of being connected to a secure place in the world is lost forever.

Kenneth Allen – near Drumscra, Northern Ireland

But it was accompanied by a gift.

I’m reminded of the dock leaves that grow alongside nettles – pay attention and you will find the cure for the sting close at hand.

That same day the Universe provided a cure – the first of many women who would step in and mother me over the course of my lifetime.

 

My hospital discharge was to come 5 days later, before my mother had become fully conscious.

Infants in those days could not be sent home without a name and this presented a problem.

My father was insistent I be called Margaret Mary after his mother. My maternal grandmother asserted rank and demanded Concettina – which, beyond the decidedly ethnic – in her dialect, was not as lovely sounding as it might appear.

Enter a woman whose name, ironically, I never knew.

She was a nurse, described to me often as a God-fearing Southern Baptist woman recently arrived in New York City from somewhere in the Deep South. She bore a faith-based authority and strength of character that stood her in good stead when dealing with my fierce, 6’5″ Irish father.

She sat with my mother through her intermittent periods of consciousness insisting that she name me. My mother – quite sure she was dying had little interest in entering the fray. She finally relented saying – “Think of the first woman’s name you can think of”.

It was a simple as that – she gave me the first woman’s name. She used my mother’s name in the middle – and that rescue comes to mind whenever someone points out that my initials spell my name.

The power in that name is that it distinguishes me from the needs and wants, expectations and desires of what went on to devolve into a very toxic family. It also bonded me to the woman who bore me – in spite of the wounds that kept us unavailable to each other in life.

I have also learned in the telling and retelling of that story, that sometimes the Divine enters the world in the guise of strangers. Others like her followed – people whose acts of kindness shaped my life and my orientation to the world. I expect it was that first intervention which allowed me to be open to her successors when they appeared.

At age three and a half – long before nursery schools existed – a paediatrician, Mary Pfaff – made it possible for me to enter a convent kindergarten. In those pre-Vatican II days, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Mary were addressed as “Mother”. Mother Catherine – was precisely that for the 9 months of the year I was in her care and through the letters she wrote me in the summertime.

By six, my mother’s best friend’s parents – Rose and Abe Goldstein entered my world – becoming significant in the years after I left the safe confines of Marymount and lived – just a few blocks from them – in Manhattan.

At 13 it was a nurse – at 15 an Aunt who was reintroduced to my life. At 25 no more unlikely an advocate than my father’s first wife, the mother of my two half-sisters who appeared to fill a void at the time of his death. At 27 I met my dearest friend who mothered me through the early days of my marriage and my first pregnancy – arriving at the hospital for the birth of my eldest and triggering a moment of panic when the nurse announced that “my mother” had arrived. The ‘real’ one as it turned out.

And then there was Alice – another God-fearing Southern Baptist woman transplanted from the Deep South. God may not have promised us tomorrow, as she often reminded me – but she witnessed that what we need is delivered if we’re willing to accept it, from unexpected and even unlikely people.

She and a tribe of other mothers helped to rear my children. They shared their wisdom and their experience of having been well-mothered – they modelled and taught what they knew and I did not.

The purpose of this introduction is not to tell you about them – but to ask you to imagine who you might be or what you might bring into the life of another, especially a child – if only for a moment.

None of these people was ever-present. The total time spent with some would hardly amount to a day or with others, a week – but when I stop to consider their impact on the quality of my life and the chances for my future – especially as compared to my brother’s experience – each in their way was life-saving, life-giving and life-affirming.

Each in their way sustained me.

We don’t have to aspire to “be the change you want to see in the world”.

We can easily be the change someone needs in their life today. And that may amount to only a smile or a kind word – something we can all afford.

Special thanks to Sally Murphy for her recent presentation – at her Re-Stór event with Shane Breslin. She inspired the writing of this part of my story – for which I’d never quite had all the words.




Coffee Klatches, Consciousness-Raising & Water Coolers…

So what do they have in common? They remind us that there really is “nothing new under the sun”.

And the sentiment itself is ancient – Ecclesiastes 1:9 – written nearly a thousand years BCE.

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

Coffee klatches, consciousness-raising groups and water coolers were among the favoured gathering places in my lifetime. Humans are social animals, we thrive in community and whither in isolation.

And conversations drive change- whether it’s personal, professional or civic.

The gatherings haven’t changed much – but they have reflected changing times.

In my 1950s and ’60s childhood, there was the ‘Coffee Klatch“. Women gathered around kitchen tables with a comfortable camaraderie that helped them overcome the isolation of suburban lives. And while klatch literally translates into gossip, it was more than that. Problems were solved, wisdom was shared and comfort provided.

And lest you think that the amity of “kitchen table’ gatherings was the sole purview of women, ‘kitchen cabinet‘ was used to describe the informal group advising an American president a century earlier.

In the ’70s, coffee klatches evolved into living room gatherings – and consciousness-raising groups emerged. Those conversations made way for the second wave of feminism.

In the ’80s and ’90s, industrial psychologists described the “water-cooler effect” as though realising the benefits of engaging with colleagues and coworkers was a new phenomenon. By the early 2000s formalising this type of employee engagement was seen as beneficial – and cutting-edge.

Yet an 1850 Melville novel about life on a warship described a place where informal communication and rumour abounded. The “scuttle-butt” was the site of the freshwater pump and casks of ale where sailors of every rank would gather.

The 21st Century gathering places have changed. We’re spoiled for choice. Coffee shops abound along with coworking and other ‘3rd spaces’. The kitchens are gone – but the tables and the intimacy remain.

Our challenge is to imagine a new way of gathering. We’ve toyed with networks and platforms that serve the commercial interests of others. Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter etc – are great for connecting. But they fail when it comes to relationship building.

So what is next?

Well – watch this space – and if you’re interested in joining a dynamic community of changemakers at the next level of cutting-edge – get in touch!

 

 




On Memoir as a Call to Action…

So what’s a memoir? It’s simply a tool – and it’s best described by Julia Cameron – who created it:

“The Memoir is a weekly exercise that builds upon itself. You will divide your life into sections; as a rule of thumb, divide your age by twelve, and this is the number of years you will cover each week…you will trigger vivid memories, discover lost dreams, and find unexpected healing and clarity...

Along the way, you will find dreams you wish to return to, ideas you are ready to discard, wounds you are ready to heal, and most of all, an appreciation for the life you have led.” 

The book – and the exercises are grounded in the author’s experience of developing this version of her Artist’s Way method for people considering, approaching or already enjoying retirement.

One especially heartbreaking sentence I have heard over and over from my newly retired students is, “Oh, my life wasn’t that interesting.”

My own experience includes dozens of conversations with peers who relate stories of the lives of their friends who have retired – lives they can’t even imagine.

  • I hate golf
  • What would I do?
  • I’d be so bored?
  • But my work is who I am!

About the latter – let me assure you – it is not.

In groups over the last three years – men and women between 40 and 70+ have joined me in an exploration of this exercise. “A-Ha” moments abound. Not because they ‘figure out’ or ‘dream up’ new ways of being – but rather because they come back into themselves.

What were those passions you discarded in search of “a proper job”? Where were those places you imagined travelling to or schools you really wanted to attend?  What did you imagine being when you grew up?

And if you became what you always wanted to be-when exactly did you decide what that was?

If you find you’re resisting the idea of remembering – you’re not alone. I worried – as did participants described in the book – that I’d find I’d made a terrible mistake. That I was to blame for every ‘wrong turn’ or outcome I’d experienced.

But a funny thing happened.

The decision made at 25 – considered in week six – was revisited with the knowledge gleaned from my deep dive into ages 1-4, 5-9, 10-14, 15-19, and 20-24. That choice really was the best one I could have made for that young woman at that time.

The process of remembering is a gentle one.

Embrace it. You’ve got nothing to lose.

If you’d like to learn more or see how it works in action – you’re welcome to join our private Facebook Group where I’ve explored my journey through Weeks 1 to 8.

Not yet ready to pick up the book or start the 12-week process?

Try a baby step toward the process.  I encourage you to start gathering photos from your childhood and adolescence – pictures that catapult you back to moments in different places and times.

Who we were, what we imagined, what was encouraged, nurtured or supported – or wasn’t – impacted our trajectories.

This one taught me all I needed to know about who I am now, why I do the work that I do and how I know that whatever one does or says on behalf of a young child – it matters!

When you’re ready to make a change – get in touch!

#DontGoItAlone

For more information on the book, our groups or the process – click here.




Communication, Confusion & Irish-isms

The author, a fellow blow-in, and I have often discussed the challenges of understanding and being understood – even though before my arrival from America and his from England via Israel – we’d thought of English as our first language.

Lest you think we exaggerate – I refer you to this “So You’ve Got an Irish Passport Because of Brexit…” article.  My favourite observation by author, comic and playwright Mary Bourke is-

If you ask an Irish person to do something and they reply, “I will, yeah” with a downward inflection this is their polite way of saying “No”. Irish people never say what they mean because we always need a latex membrane of euphemism between us and the truth. This isn’t lying; it’s called being charming.

IRISH-ISMS

Many Irish people share a powerful belief that they are the world’s best communicators. While foreign visitors are encouraged to kiss the legendary Blarney Stone in Blarney Castle if they wish to become more eloquent, the Irish are reputed to have a natural way with words and a natural gift of the gab.

But do they?

As a veteran 20-year blow-in, I have noticed a distinct gap between what many Irish people say, what they really mean, and what the listener interprets.

For example,

  • if you are told that you are “brutally efficient,” you are not being given a compliment. It is being intimated to you that your efficiency is putting others to shame.
  • if you are told that you are very decisive, do not be tempted into believing that you have just been complimented. You are being told that you are too pushy.
  • if you are told in a meeting that you should feel free to ask further questions, be careful. The real message is that you shouldn’t ask any annoying or embarrassing questions.
  • if someone giving a presentation asks for honest feedback, your honest opinion is the last thing they want to hear. All they are asking is for you to go easy on them. And
  • if someone describes your presentation as “desperate,” it does not mean that the presenter was in despair. It means that the presenter was rubbish.
  • Be careful when someone tells you “I am a little disappointed.” What they mean is that they are mightily disappointed.

You have to learn to interpret what might sound like encouraging feedback.

“I’m interested in your idea,” “Could you please expand on your idea?” and “The jury is still out on this” all indicate that the other person thinks that your idea is rubbish.

When someone says to you, “I didn’t understand”, don’t make the mistake of believing that they did not understand. You are being told categorically that you don’t understand.

You might be tempted to interpret “Don’t get ahead of yourself” as advice to slow down. In truth, you are being told not to be such a big-head.

If someone is being described as “bold”, the intention is not to praise that person’s bravery. It is to indicate that the person is brazen and cheeky.

And do not be confused when someone asks you, “What’s the story?” or “Anything strange?” All they are asking is “How’s things?

If you are told that something is grand, do not expect anything large to appear. It’s the Irish way of saying that “everything is fine”.

And do not expect a technician to come around to check your gas meter when you hear that someone is a “gas man”. It simply means he is funny.

“Oh, stop!” is not, as it sounds, a request to stop talking or to stop what you are doing. It simple means “Don’t go there”.

If a person is described as thick, it is not their physical girth but their (lack of) mental faculties that are being described.

And if you hear someone being described as giving out, do not wait around to receive a free lunch or a free anything else. It means that the person likes to complain.

A person who is described as being on the pig’s back is not participating in a strange race, and a person sucking diesel is not really indulging in this dangerous pastime. Both expressions mean that a person is doing very well.

My examples so far involve possible misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

But there are also plenty of Irish-isms where the visitor has no inkling of what the other person is saying.

It is quite a stretch of the imagination to realise that an eejit is an idiot, that the jacks means the bathroom, that banjaxed means ruined and that ‘a cute hoor‘ is ‘a chancer‘ or someone Americans would say was “unqualified” or “pushing his luck

My favourite impenetrable Irishism has to do with compliments.

Most people in Ireland do not know how to take a compliment. It makes them uncomfortable. Often the body language that follows is to actually push it away.

If you compliment a woman on the dress she is wearing, the stock response you are likely to receive is, “I got it at Penny’s.”

Instead of simply saying thank you.

The wearer will ward off the compliment by claiming that the garment was purchased at discount clothes retailer Penny’s.

What follows is comical – if not sad: A newcomer to Ireland, and to English – anxious to sound like the locals, was told that her hair looked nice. She answered, proudly primping the new do and responded: “Penny’s”.

In addition to authoring business books and articles- Yanky is available for training – for both corporates and individuals new to Ireland in both our nuanced language and our comfort and facility with “Constructive Ambiguity”.

Yanky Fachler is a copywriter, author, corporate trainer. He has written literally millions of words for his clients, thousands of blog posts, ads and articles. He has authored and ghostwritten dozens of books; 200 business book reviews, speeches, articles and newsletters. His way with words also extends to the spoken word: he has made dozens of appearances on TV and radio; he gives motivational talks and keynote speeches; he delivers communications skills training, and he has given over 100 history talks. Yanky’s speaking engagements outside Ireland have taken him to the USA, UK, Poland, Canada, Israel and the Czech Republic. Yanky brings oodles of imagination and his own brand of infectious enthusiasm to everything he does.




Dear Daddy…

I miss you. And Happy Father’s Day.

I miss your sense of humor, your wisdom and the very un-Irish, Talmudic way you drove home your messages, with questions.

And yet, even selfishly, I’m not inclined to “wish you were here”. The world you imagined has not yet materialized.

How lovely it would have been had your story neatly concluded as did Judy Collins’ My Father story in her song.

Remember telling my 5, 6 & 7 year old self all about the natural world?

All about Five Acres and Independence?

You’ll be pleased to know it’s still in print. Good thing too – because while it was meant to teach subsistence living to a post-depression generation – there are a few generations coming who will likely need it.

More on the economics of that why, another time.

mde

Recently, I found a musty old copy of “The Silent Spring” which looks a lot like this one here.

Though a funny thing happened as I re-read it. I heard your voice. Not while reading Rachael Carson’s words – but in remembering all your asides. You know – the ones where you imagined that I’d live in a house with a rainwater cistern built into the plumbing or irrigating the garden. Where the sun and wind would contribute to my energy usage. And where I’d be using grey water from the dishwasher and washer to flush the toilets.

Sadly though, not yet. And likely not even in my lifetime.

Do you remember telling me that the oil embargo in ’73 was a good thing? We were going to drive smaller cars, rely less on fossil fuel and run cars on electricity. Electric cars took another 40 years and they’ve still not caught on. Cars only stayed small until we forgot. Less than a decade on.

We recycle now, as you said we would. Though not universally. Landfills overflow, and the oceans are full of plastic. A dead whale was found in Thailand with 17 lbs. of plastic in its gut. Even fresh water streams are polluted with micro beads of plastic from the synthetic clothes we wash.

And while the bald eagle is back, I’m afraid the last male Northern White Rhino died this year. Few seem to notice that we’re losing about 150 plant, insect, bird and mammal species every day.

I remembered another lesson recently, on encyclicals, labor and social justice.

I was six.

How much did you think I could understand? Did you know we wouldn’t have enough years to talk about these things when I was grown? Or was it just the heady, optimistic times in which we lived?

I can still hear your belly laugh when I came home from First Grade with the campaign rhyme –

Kennedy in the White House talking on the phone, Nixon in the doghouse chewing on a bone.

And then he won. An upstart Catholic in the White House! You were sure that meant there would be attention paid to social justice. Sure wasn’t that why the “Power Elite” fought so hard against “the papist”?

And it was John XXIII’s time. I can still here the passion and faith with which you explained why you’d been an organizer, why labor unions were so important and how it had been the words of Pious XIII’s Rerem Novarum which inspired all that in you. You explained it all in my Communion year. You wanted me to understand the significance of a that year’s Papal Directive on Christianity and Social Progress.

For what it’s worth – the only part that really sunk into my young brain was the point you made about my uncles, your brothers. They were steel workers. You said they worked harder at back breaking work, than you did at a desk. You could do your job to 65 or 70 or beyond – but their bodies wouldn’t last to pension age. That was why a balance between labor and capital – as well as respect for the difference in an earned vs. an unearned dollar – was important.

How did you know that I’d remember enough?

Is that why you went on at great length about social justice, job provision and social safety nets? By then I was 10, 11 and 12. I loved the long drives and the stories you told during our Sunday visits – touring through the reservoirs, parks and forests built by the CCC workers. I remember well your stories that their lives in those camps, bleak though it was, offered the only homes and work available.

I remember all the buildings we visited – most artfully embellished with friezes and sculptures owed to the New Deal’s WPA architects. Pragmatism born of desperate times, enhanced by a respect for the creative.

Often I recall your awe for the power of what the public and private sector could accomplish in the sheer depth and breadth of the infrastructure projects, iconic skyscrapers and the monuments you’d point out in our drives around New York City, upstate New York and New England.

I live in Ireland now.

We visit and I giggle most Saturdays mornings in all but July and August. It’s then that I bring in wood and peat for the stoves. It makes me recall your beleaguered expression and shaking head when you described life in Ireland on return from Grandpa’s funeral here. You always began with – “Kiss the American ground you were born on…” followed by vivid and unattractive descriptions of the third world country Ireland was then.

With each filled basket, I can conjure the look. Your loving eyes are firmly fixed on me from over the top of your glasses. I hear you exclaim, “You silly witch, did your grandfather not see to it that we were born in a world of boilers and indoor plumbing?”

And so he did.

But clearly there was a circle in need of closing.

I returned a century after he left. Nearly 50 years after he died. I wasn’t actually aiming for ‘his Ireland’, though I find myself stuck in it. As penance for some as yet undetermined failing, I work at telling your stories, sharing your wisdom and hoping that as America has abandoned its promise, moving forward, Ireland can adopt it.

The call to ‘my Ireland’ came after years on an annual course. The week-long events were set in Sligo, Cavan, Antrim, Donegal, Down and Mayo studying Jung and archetypal psychology.  Here I met Bridget, Grace and Maeve – in a place where feminine characters and the land dominate in myth. That divine feminine is what called me and where my hope for this place resides.

Here I experience the ancient and natural worlds as you shared them. Living close to the land demands a respect for riotous springs, abundant harvests and the work of just showing up for the hard labor in between.

It invites us to celebrate the seasons.

I closed a circle with that as well. I am at home with an agrarian, eight season calendar. I felt it while rearing your granddaughters in a faith tied to festivals like Imbolc and Lughnasa known to them as Tu Bishvat and Sukkot.

And I live in medial space.

Literally. On the border of Ulster – just beyond the Pale. And not far from Mary Gale Earley’s home place. Her journey informs so much of my understanding here. From Ireland to America, Protestant to Catholic, who could have imagined that a quote from John Henry Newmans faith journey printed on her memorial card, would serve as insight into my struggle to understand this land of them-uns and us-uns?

And figuratively. I live as you did. Devout in your faith, and excommunicated nonetheless. Neither in nor out of Rome’s good graces. I too, live as the other – an American neither Catholic nor Protestant neither in or out of communion with my neighbors.

And always, I carry with me your good humored observation that –

We’ll get there, by degrees. The way an Irishman goes to heaven.

And while ‘we’ll’ not get where you thought we were going in my lifetime, I’ve every confidence that your granddaughters will move the world in the direction of your dreams.

They made those very same road trips, they heard you marveling at those miracles of social and economic progress albeit through my voice, and learned the optimism and sense of possibility that your “Greatest Generation” brought to the world. And I’m reminding them here.

I offer every 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 year old too much information, enthusiastically – knowing that something will come of it. Even if it takes a generation or two.

And because, it’s been 38 of these June Sundays without you – I’m reminded of another song from the sixties, Who knows where the time goes?

So for now –

Good-night; ensured release,
Imperishable peace,
Have these for yours,
While sea abides, and land,
And earth’s foundations stand,
And heaven endures.

When earth’s foundations flee,
Nor sky nor land nor sea
At all is found,
Content you, let them burn:
It is not your concern;
Sleep on, sleep sound.

Reciting Parta Quies comforts me.

And makes me smile remembering another look over the top of your glasses, with a beleaguered expression and shaking head. All while lamenting over your lot to have had a daughter who favored the work of Houseman over Yeats, Joyce and countless other Irish poets.

He was, in your words, “That drunken, gay, Brit”.

Sleep on, Daddy, sleep sound.




“Where will you be five years from today?”

The question is posed by author and creativity consultant, Dan ZadraHis book has the look and feel of a child’s book, which leaves us open, available and curious.

This book celebrates the “want to’s”, the “choose to’s” and the “I can’t wait to’s” in your life”. Whether you’re just finishing school, starting a new venture, celebrating a milestone or envisioning your retirement, you are the hero of this story.

It’s less a work-book than a play-book.

Random list-making exercises invite us to explore what we value.

“Live your life on purpose” is a call to action – and we’re encouraged to write a personal mission statement.

It’s a book of motivation and inspiration. This isn’t a to-do list – it’s a road map.  And a training manual.

“You are the hero of this story”

…and you’re thinking – “Who me? There’s not a heroic bone in my body!”

So, let’s make “hero” a bit less intimidating.

First, throw off the superhero images. Just showing up and being available is Job #1.

Accepting the challenge to live life more purposefully, to imagine a new future and to lay the foundation for a new life stage – is what we in the storytelling business call – “The Hero’s Journey”.

It was described by Joseph Campbell, author of The Power of Myth.

Myths give external explanations and stories for internal strifes. Slaying monsters is slaying the dark things inside of you. If you’re telling yourself “oh no! I couldn’t do that! I couldn’t be a writer!” that’s the dragon inside of you, and you have to slay it.

Simply stated – our heroic journey begins with saving ourselves.

And then:

“Strong people stand up for themselves. Stronger people stand up for others”  Chris Gardner

And #DontGoItAlone – get in touch if you think I can help.

Not familiar with Joseph Campbell’s work?

Hollywood film development director, Christopher Vogler summarises it brilliantly.

 

Here’s what we know about heroes, they-

  • are usually reluctant
  • are often resistant
  • will have to face down fear
  • will survive, wiser for the experience

 

 

For more on the power of storytelling – join me here.




Nothing changes until we do!

In a recent LinkedIn article, Ready for a Change? – I made the case for choosing change. On one level it’s selfish – I work with people and small businesses when they’re ready for a change.

On another level it’s in service to those clients, neighbours and friends who require change in their wider worlds. More on that later.

Navigating change, personally, professionally or systemically, requires safe spaces.

So whether that involves creating a safe space personally – by throwing off old habits, distancing yourself from the crazy-makers in your life or quieting your undermining self-talk (all three?) – the work begins when we make up our minds that the pain of changing outweighs the pain of staying stuck.

Or more eloquently – as pictured, it’s time to blossom.

Change in our work lives is no different, although creating this safe place is somewhat more fraught. It requires us to bring equal parts of self-confidence and humility to the process.

Unsafe at work may look like

  • the boss is mad
  • the workplace is intimidating
  • I’m a payday away from disaster

Let’s accept that every situation is “out of our control” and all we can control is our reaction to it.

What if we agree that-

  • the boss is mad! We might ask ourselves: Am I bringing my best self to each encounter? Am I consciously or unconsciously pushing his/her buttons? Have I even asked what they might be?
  • the workplace is intimidating! Does my demeanour (fear, lack of confidence, reticence) inadvertently contribute to the dynamic? What changes in my response might change my experience of it?
  •  am a payday away from disaster! How can I manage money more mindfully, get out of debt and expand my options?

These questions encourage a kind of archeology. Or as it’s called in 12 step rooms –  a searching and fearless inventory. We’re not judging or chastising, we’re observing our patterns. Not for anyone else’s purposes – just our own.

Because-

  • Every insight is power
  • Every repaired or rejected relationship emboldens us
  • Every safe place we create empowers us

Empowers us personally, professionally and should we choose to widen that sphere of influence – civically.

Back to what I meant by service.

Typically my clients (and often I) am stressed by failures in systems meant to support.

  • Caregivers waste time, energy and resources navigating the social service and health care delivery systems. Should it require a whole day off to take you ageing mother or child to the doctor, or for a scan? Should you have to go on a day that suits the health service or on an appointment day of your choosing?
  • Healthcare professionals are faced with uprooting themselves and their families while retraining or emigrating because working conditions have become too stressful, chaotic and in many cases dangerous.
  • Financial institutions insistent that they “owe no duty of care” to their clients – exacerbate homeowners attempts to renegotiate indebtedness – causing unimaginable pressures on families.
  • A culture of silence renders workplaces and schools inherently unsafe. Our default to, “sure you can’t change that”, “it’s always been that way” – allows for bullying, sexual harassment and exploitation.

Collectively more confident, we would be willing to speak out against systemic ills – without worrying about being labelled bold or cheeky.

Choose change, find your voice and take care to create safe spaces for yourself. Ask for help if you need to – just don’t go it alone!

Finding our voices simply means we willing to tell the truth. For more on what that would look like, I’ve profiled some ordinary citizen-activists doing just that in a blog post On Echoing Irish Voices Congruent with Irish Values.

The systemic abuses I was addressing were unique to the Republic of Ireland. The call to action is equally relevant to my Northern Irish, British and American colleagues where we face different, but equally concerning failures of leadership and governance.

Change is hard, #DontGoItAlone.

If supportive peer groups, workshops to help you gain clarity personally or professionally – learn more.

If you are passionate about driving civic and political change in service of the common good – get in touch.

 




A Collage, A Vision Board & Action…

“It works if you work it”

Simple tried and true – it’s an adage heard often in 12 Step fellowships.

So what is a “Vision Board”? It’s a tool for creating authentic outcomes in our own, ideal life. And yes, they work.

This Huffington Post article got my attention in early 2015: “The Reason Vision Boards Work and How to Make One“.

The term “Vision Board” was new to me. Somehow I’d missed the years of evangelising by Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres, and other celebrities – and I was skeptical.

Yet, I knew they worked, I’d actually been doing them for years.

It Works…

Twenty five years ago, I discovered the book and 12 week The Artist’s Way program.

This was long before ‘vision boards’ existed.

There was a “collage” assigned during Week 7, and it opened the door to a career change and more lucrative work; five years later a second collage inspired a major shift personally. Fifteen years ago, another collage catalysed a move from America to Ireland. 

Twice yearly now, I usher Artist’s Way groups through the process of making their own – and often, I join them.

Updating the images provides an insight into the effectiveness of your efforts. It’s like the infernal voice emanating from a GPS after a wrong turn: “Recalculating“. It’s a call to action. Re-route and get focused on the path of your own choosing.

Clarity about and a focus on your destination, keeps the chaos, distractions and busy-ness of life at bay.

From Seeing is Believing: the power of visualisation:

There’s ample science to support the fact that “Mental practice can get you closer to where you want to be in life, and it can prepare you for success!”

If you work it…

Doing a collage or a vision board just didn’t seem like work, so I was skeptical.

And thankfully it’s not! But occasionally, we need reminding: work isn’t all it’s cracked up to be!

Work is our linear, thinking, logical brain, in action. And our logical brain is our “censor”. In the “Basic Tools” of The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron advises: “Logic brain was and is our survival brain. It works on known principles. Anything unknown is perceived as wrong and possibly dangerous…the brain we usually listen to, especially when we are telling ourselves to be sensible.”

Creativity resides in our “Artist Brain”. It’s our inventor, it’s childlike curious and apt to take chances – collecting images, being present to possibilities while silencing the “censor” is what’s unleashed while we’re creating the boards.

To quote Stephan Spencer’s article –  Vision Boards, Because New Year’s Resolutions Were So Last Year

“Vision boards help make all of the jumbled, abstract feelings in your head into a foreseeable future. If you’re skeptical about making a vision board yourself, ask what you really have to lose by trying it. Not really much. But perhaps it makes you more in tune to the repercussions of your choices and how they align with getting what you want.”

Images are powerful. This photo taken by Riley Robinson  during a 2005 course we attended in Ireland became my screen saver . Three years later I was living in that very village.

Action

Aligning our intention with our values, staying tuned in to the repercussions of our choices, and focus, is what ultimately determines whether we can sustain the changes we “think” we want to make. Let’s get back to that Logical Brain and the Artist Brain. Creating the vision, imagining what is unknown – requires turning off the logical brain and tuning in to the associative and freewheeling nature of our ‘Artist Brain’.

Keep the vision board up – and return to it’s message frequently, because –

“It’s like selling our own ideas to ourselves.”*

Now you have to close the sale. And I advocate doing that with support.

To that end I’ll be delivering a series of Vision Board Workshops. in 2018. They’ll provide a full-day immersive experience during which you can achieve clarity in the company of like-minded people. Groups challenge each other. On the day, you’ll find you dig deeper and are supported. Later, should you find your enthusiasm is waning, your peers are there to reflect back the best of what they’ve heard you commit to.

A goal is a dream with a deadline- let’s get dreaming!

Interested in laying a foundation for your best future? Leave your details to the right.

*Lucinda Cross




Embracing Uncertainty, the space in-between

Navigating the space in between what was, what is, and what will be, can be daunting.

Yet, in those days, weeks, months or years, we conceive and create our future.

“Choose to live in the present moment” is fine advice. Living mindfully, embracing self-care and a sense of prosperity requires skill building and support. But where to begin?

Might I suggest that we take a lesson from the business world. Just for a moment, let’s not think in terms of a therapeutic or spiritual journey. Consider it a “personal change-management” program.

“The Quest for Resilience” (Hamel & Välikangas), got my attention a few years back. Originally published in the Harvard Business Review (2003), the paragraph headed, “Zero Trauma” was captivating. This followed:

“The quest for resilience can’t start with an inventory of best practices. Today’s best practices are manifestly inadequate. Instead, it must begin with an aspiration: zero trauma. The goal is a strategy that is forever morphing, forever conforming itself to emerging opportunities and incipient trends. The goal is an organization that is constantly making its future rather than defending its past… In a truly resilient organization, there is plenty of excitement, but there is no trauma.”

Now try re-reading it. Substitute “individual” for “organization”.

The human condition is unlikely to allow for “no trauma”, but when one frames this process as the “avoidance of pain”, we’re returned to the discipline of living one day at a time, mindfully and to its fullest.

The article continues:

“Sound impossible? A few decades ago, many would have laughed at the notion of “zero defects.” If you were driving a Ford Pinto or a Chevy Vega, or making those sorry automobiles, the very term would have sounded absurd. But today we live in a world where Six Sigma, 3.4 defects per million, is widely viewed as an achievable goal. So why shouldn’t we commit ourselves to zero trauma?” 

And in the business world  the SixSigma process is the gold standard.

What would a “Personal Six Sigma” process look like? Pretty much the same.

Existing interventions and methodologies such as 12-Step Programs, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and self-help programs all employ similar methods.

Which makes a powerful case for skill building in support of well being. Particularly when taken out of the realm of pathology and treatment, while delivered as fitness training and education. To begin –

Define the problem

Consciously or unconsciously we have all adopted rituals and habits in our daily lives that either support or undermine well being.

  • Perhaps there isn’t a problem that is easily named, just a sense of wanting more, a feeling that we’re not “firing on all pistons”.
  • Perhaps we are struggling with a weight problem, issues around drink, gambling or drugs.
  • Perhaps we are in transitional relationship, work or academic situation or a life stage.

Measure

As you map your current processes, ask yourself:

How are you sleeping?

How stressful is everyday life?

Are you living within your means?

Are you satisfied with your career?

Are you passionate about your work or your hobbies?

When was the last time you found yourself “the zone” – entirely immersed in an experience?

Analyse

Choose to identify the cause of the problem. Don’t go it alone!No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it. copy

Ask for help. Join a group, find a coach, a trainer, a therapist or consult your GP – because analysis requires perspective.

Going it alone means you’re working with an often undermining ‘committee in your head‘ .  It repeats and reinforces your doubts and your negative self-talk.

To quote the linked article:

“Like any healthy organizational board, you should consider a term limit and invite new members to the committee.”

Asking for help is not about diagnosing a problem. It is simply about defining and isolating causes and effects.

Begin by asking yourself: What pain am I self-medicating when I’m over (or under) eating, sleeping, exercising, drinking, drugging, spending, etc.?

Improve

Implement and verify the solution in a supportive environment. One process at a time. This does not involve grandiose schemes or major life changes.  Isolate a single sentiment – “I’m miserable, I’m going to quit my job, leave my marriage, or move or whatever”.

Then isolate a small, simple, discrete change. It will make a difference. Choose one – or suggest another.

            • I’ll take to my bed at 9pm with a good book, leave the phone and tablet in the next room and get more rest.
            • I’ll reduce my caffeine, alcohol, drug, and or sugar intake.
            • I’ll monitor, chart or list my eating, drinking, gambling or spending.
            • I’ll keep a mood chart and note my periods of irritability, exhaustion, high energy, sadness or lethargy.
            • I’ll walk for 20 minutes three times a week.

Control

If an intervention or changed behavior works, map it out, monitor it, make it a habit, and embrace a new ritual.
1

Then start again. You’re training for resilience.

Nothing succeeds like success with each incremental change you’ll be energised.

That’s it, simple but not easy, and achievable.

If Personal Change Management seems like a good approach, get in touch.

Introductory sessions, six and twelve week groups are forming to help you navigate the process.