Sunday, 17 December 2017

Another step - Day 18

Day 18 (Monday 18th December 2017)
18% of British Police officers are expected to work on Christmas Day.
In other parts of the world there is a mixed response to police involvement
in the community. There is tension in Catalonia, ever since eleven days prior 
to the 1st October referendum, when the Civil Guard mounted Operation Anubis 
to raid the offices of government ministries and detain officials involved in the referendum, 
which resulted in large protests by independence supporters. The Civil Guard (the Spanish 
non-urban police) positioned 5,000 officers in a large ferry boat decorated with Looney Tunes' 
characters Sylvester , Wile E. Coyote and Tweety Pie. In Catalonia it has been a tradition since the late 
17th century for the nativity scene to include a "Caganer": a small model of a defecating figure 
(originally a peasant wearing the distinctive local hat and rustic clothing). Since the 1940s the model has
increasingly become a caricature of someone famous or a political figure. This year the most
popular figure is proving to be a defecating Tweety Pie, symbolising the Civil Guard/The Police.

For those who celebrate Christmas, you, like me, must feel that you are about to enter the home straight... although I must confess that I am far from prepared, I haven't even got enough wrapping paper.

Today's piece is written by Trevor Black. I had the pleasure of working with Trevor a few years ago - he is very bright and an inspiring and capable colleague. Mind you, he is inspiring and capable regardless of whether he is a colleague or not - gifted academically, with artistic flair and a constantly curious mindset. For two and a half years he stepped off the corporate career ladder (despite having excellent prospects), to spend time reading, engaging, thinking, learning and writing. He wrote a daily blog about his thoughts and experiences on his long-standing site, swartdonkey, (he still blogs now) and deliberately went out of his way to try new things and test his concepts. He remains interested in investment and concerned about the tensions between global and local, the issues of migration and land ownership/exploitation, Universal Basic Income (where he is at the bleeding edge of thinking and application) and community and empowerment. He has recently resumed investing to support his other ventures - some of which are linked to South Africa, where he was born and raised (he is back in South Africa at the moment visiting family and friends). You can find him on Twitter - @trevorblack or, if you are lucky, you might bump into him in the beautiful town of Burford in the Cotswolds, in the UK, where he lives


Detachment isn't the same as not caring. It is the practice of separating who we are from what we are experiencing, but also recognising the part everything plays. Just a little distance. 

Darkness and dawn are not separate. 

Their contrast allows us to think and feel. We know things through their opposites. 

We exist in our opposites. 

Recognising and being aware that I am struggling isn't the same thing as being a weak person. 

Weakness and strength are not separate. They are both part of the same powerful force that pushes us on. That pushes us back. 

That is. 

We pulse with the stuff of life. 

Detachment is the awareness that dawn follows darkness, which follows dawn, which follows darkness. 

We can't be something temporary. We can't be the darkness. We can't be the dawn. 

That little twist to the story allows us to enjoy both. 

With a wry smile. 

With a pervading calm. 

With another step.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Light at end of the tunnel - Day 17

Day 17 (Sunday 17th December 2017)
17th century law, passed in England by Oliver Cromwell, made it
illegal to eat mince pies (a small, crumbly pastry cup filled with spiced currants and fruit and, 
in those days some minced meat) on Christmas day; he also banned Christmas pudding and
anything that could be considered "gluttony". The law has never been rescinded 
so, technically, most of us break the law on Christmas Day.
It is traditional to meet up with family and friends at this time of year and tonight I will be having dinner with my father and his wife. I don't get to see him as often as I would like to, but he has just sold his home in Wales and is moving closer to where we live, so perhaps 2018 might be the year for closer family links. I do hope so. He is a huge part of who and why I am.

Today's piece is written by another influential and caring man, Michael Moran, the Chief Exec and founder of 10Eighty. Michael exudes positive energy but is simultaneously pragmatic and commercial. Michael's career commenced in HR (in the NHS and Financial Services), but for the past two decades he has run business consultancies specialising in career management. He has co-written a good book,The Guide to Everlasting Employability”, which helps individuals understand their skills and the need for personal responsibility to achieve success.  When not steering the business or helping people, Michael relaxes via sport (more a spectator now than a player) or by socialising. He is also active on social media (his Twitter handle is @mdmoran10Eighty).


Due to recent cutbacks the light at the end of the tunnel has been switched off! 

Mail Rail tunnel, London (now disused - ran from Whitechapel to Paddington)
I can track this aphorism back ten years, or so, and we’ve all felt that way sometimes. Problems caused by the difficult economic and political situation, job insecurity, and the rising cost of living can make it hard to see the bright side, particularly in the depths of winter.

It’s time to think about goals for the coming year and that’s an ideal opportunity to recharge your optimism and positivity. We all need clearly articulated targets and goals in both our personal and professional life in order to find fulfilment. Well defined, meaningful goals lead to higher levels of performance than vague or easily realised goals.

The benefit of setting goals:

  • Increased motivation when goals are realistic and attainable.
  • Provides a performance focus.
  • Bolsters the work ethic and fosters perseverance with a goal in sight.
  • Facilitates feedback and benchmarking.

Set targets and measure your progress, if you have a clear view of where you want to be it is easier to evaluate forward momentum and, by setting and taking action toward your goals, you will bolster your self-confidence. If you need to make changes, then bite the bullet and take control - a healthier work-life balance will result in greater productivity and motivation.

Delineate your goals with your real desires and ambitions in mind, then the possibilities that working toward your goal will bring will inspire will give real traction to the efforts you make. Design a clear plan of action, chunk big goals into milestones needed to achieve your overall goal.

Plan smaller objectives into your daily to-do list and create momentum with regular work towards your goal. Each small change paves the way for bigger changes, so every day ask yourself, what can I do today that helps me reach my goal? For every objective accomplished and goal achieved be sure to reward yourself, a pat on the back at the least, and then set on towards the next objective.

Learn as you go

Everything is described as a journey these days, Strictly contestants make constant reference to their journey. "A defined course of traveling; one's path in life," from Old French journee "day's work or travel" is a little too rigid for my liking, we need to be flexible and versatile in dealing with a complex and volatile world.

Key to achieving your goals and attaining whatever you define as success are resilience and the ability to learn along the way. Resilience helps us to adapt when faced with barriers, challenges and setbacks, as we find ways and means to address, overcome or bypass obstacles and deal with uncertainty or unexpected outcomes.

Learning agility helps us find new ways to tackle setbacks and challenges. When it is no longer a question of doing better what you did before – when running harder and faster doesn’t help - what is required are new behaviours and innovative solutions. When dealing with uncertainty and volatility the ability to reframe your reference points in order to develop radical and creative responses is crucial.

Tips for setting effective goals:

  • Express goals positively, focus on what you want to achieve
  • Be specific in terms of timeline and track progress to goals
  • Prioritise as to which goals to focus attention on first
  • Write goals down so they can be reviewed regularly
  • Chunk down goals to small, achievable tasks – this allows frequent      opportunities to accomplish a goal
  • Set realistic goals that are achievable and within your own control

Go, get what you want in 2018!

Friday, 15 December 2017

The Shadow is the Candle’s Son - Day 16

Day 16 (Saturday 16th December 2017)
16 - the average number of Christmas presents a UK child will receive.
Winter gifts were given to family and friends long before the biblical story of Three Wise Men
bringing gold, frankincense and myrrh was told. Pagan in Europe and the Middle East gave gifts 
on a number of occasions over the winter period, including the raucous Saturnalia on the 17th 
December, in honour of the god of agriculture, Saturn. People would drink to excess and give gifts of pottery and
wax figurines, edible treats and candles. During the puritan times of Oliver Cromwell and 
the Pilgrim Fathers in America present giving at Christmas was banned because of its pagan roots.
Christmas celebrations were legalised in the 1680s. People have complained about the increasing 
commercialism of the season over many years, in 1904 Margaret Deland, a journalist in Harper's Bazar,
wrote "Twenty-five years ago, Christmas was not the burden that it is now, there was less haggling 
and weighing, less quid pro quo, less fatigue of body, less wearing of soul; and, most of all,
there was less loading up with trash." This lead to the creation of the Society for the Prevention 
of Useless Giving, whose members included former President Roosevelt and Anne, the daughter of financier J.P. Morgan.

The weekend is here - given the date, I suspect that it will not be a day of calm reflection and relaxation. However, whatever type of day you have ahead, please ensure that you give yourself sufficient time to savour today's thought provoking post. It is written by the brilliant Chris Nichols, a Founding Partner of Gameshift - a consultancy, made up of a collaborative hub of coaches, artists, musicians and business experts that support organisational and individual change. Those of you who have interacted with him at work or via social media (his Twitter handle is sometimes the name of his business @GameSh1ft or else as himself @chrisnicholsT2i) will know that he is highly intelligent, quick-witted and a broad thinker. He works as a coach and is not afraid to speak out to help others learn and grow. Erudite but with a keen sense of the absurd, he is a fan of laughter. This will doubtless prove a delight to both him and his beloved granddaughter in the years to come. He is highly creative, his poetry has been published in Hold this Hand - a collection of poems on loss released by Cruse (the bereavement charity). You can find one of his stories in Knock Twice, a collection of tales for social change published in autumn 2017. Chis is a pleasure to be with and commands considerable respect from clients, contacts and colleagues. He lives in Dartmoor and loves the open space around him; he is a keen long-distance walker. He walked the 1,000km of the south west Coast Path in 2016 following his departure from Ashridge, as an act of recovery from anger and depression. He is currently studying an MA in Buddhist Studies and planning another long walk.


The Shadow is the Candle’s Son

In nature’s heart, a deep silence reigns,
with bird-call, dog-bark,
the sound of rain:
each sits gently, beside the jet engine’s bite,
the sky is unmoved

by the easy-jet flight
As I sit I sense the ease
with which paradox rests among the trees.

Bright light bears shadow on its wings:
a still note spills from the moving string

The brilliance and the black
are one.

The shadow is the candle’s son.

Paradox, Chris Nichols (2007)

We live in a time of so much hashtag hate. So much effort poured into making clear that “we” are not like “them”.

Us and them - Pink Floyd

It’s a time of polarity, when much debate seems simplified into a Punch and Judy show of adversaries. 

There’s only a thin shoreline for understanding to stand on. It’s washed to nothing when the contesting tides deny all space for meeting and curiosity.

Caribbean meets Atlantic in Bahamas
Perhaps there is a lesson this season might gift us, if we step in close enough.

Alongside the marketing and merriment, Advent offers a deeper steadier voice, reminding us that this world is a pattern of brightness and night.  It once marked a time of fasting and abstinence in the move towards the birth of the light. The Christmas festival echoed the earlier solstice paganism of Yule, celebrating the turning of the dark and the return of the sun.

Every one of us is a fractal of this dance. Sometimes we can see only our own light. Sometimes we see only the dark in others. Yet we are all of us both dark and light together.

The ceaseless cycles of one season passing into the next reminds us that binary views mask something deeper, of a greater complexity, woven of richer tones.  We can’t do good work, we cannot live well on this tiny earth, if we assume to ourselves all of the light, and insist that some other is only an agent of darkness.

Perhaps we can pause at this time of the season’s turning to look beyond the identity dance of “self” as “not-other”.   Maybe we can take time to acknowledge that we too have our darkness, that our most brilliant light also casts a shadow.  Maybe we can look at another long enough to see the crack in the wall that keeps us from them, a crack through which their light becomes more visible to us.

Every such act of seeing our connection to another would indeed mark a turning of the season and be a cause for cheer.

Yule 2017

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Darkness to Dawn - Day 15

Day 15 (Friday 15th December 2017)
15 years ago the trend for the UK Christmas Number One Single changed, when the support for 
traditional bands ceased and reality TV started impacting the Chart. In the UK the Christmas 
Number One is the single at the top of the UK Singles Chart in the week in which Christmas
falls. Traditionally Christmas Number Ones were the best selling single of the year. 
Often there was intense rivalry between bands to achieve pole position - most notably i
n 1973 when 2 glam rock bands, Slade and Wizzard, battled it out. Slade won with "Merry Christmas Everybody" 
(which has remained their best selling song of all time and is the most played Christmas tune 
as well as being the festive song that nets the most royalties  - at least £500,000 pa)
I'm on my way to Leeds this morning to visit the people in our branch there and then on to the team in Beverley. It's good to get out of the bubble of London and see how things are in other areas. I suspect it will be a bit chillier than down south, but I know that the welcome will be warm. At the end of the day I'm driving on to Durham to fetch my youngest back from uni - I'm beginning to feel festive - the family will be back together. :-)

The writer of today's piece is not antisocial, but they have asked to remain anonymous. Once you have read their piece I am sure you will understand why. I am sure that you, like me, will want to wish them a better 2018. There have been a number of posts this year where people have shared their challenges and sorrows. One of the things I particularly like about the Advent Blog's reading community is the genuine concern and compassion that is shown by the many to the few. Life isn't always easy but it does help to talk and share. 


2017 can't finish soon enough. It's been an awful year. Illnesses, work, and personal issues all fell on top of each other to create the perfect storm and the storm rained darkness. It's no wonder that earlier in the year the wheels came off.

This darkness has always been there but it's always been in the shadows. It's always been part of the shadow. It's always been talking to you. This year its voice has been loud enough to start to, and then take over, the self talk that you're good enough. Not hearing your positive voice but the voice of anxiety and despair is painful.

Waking up several times a night and dreading waking up in the morning is a hateful feeling, only eased by getting so tired that you sleep because of exhaustion, not tiredness. Hiding that lack of sleep behind stories to avoid admitting it to your family and friends tests your creative side.

You read about the fear of public speaking and how people feel like prey. The fear of speaking at all is what dumbstruck really means. When half a dozen faces are turned at you in a meeting waiting for the next words you'll say. Not knowing what to say because you know what you'll say will be the wrong thing is true creeping death. So you say nothing much and become 'uncommunicative' and less of a 'team player'.

Those times in the day when you can't concentrate because the voice is there, reminding you you can't do this. 

The noises in your head are mixed with the noises in the office so you go to the lavatory and sit there for 10 minutes trying to gather the strength to get by. Even getting by for an hour would help you. 

The paralysis that comes from having so many things which haven't been done that you do none of them because you can't imagine doing one over another. And then dealing with the feelings of despair that you anticipate will come from the tasks not being completed.

Some people talk about you in glowing terms and it's difficult. Your self-esteem doesn't exist, you are panicking about what you said or did to create that perception of you and then have to steel yourself to go again and be better.

On a warm summer day you come home at lunchtime and stand in your lounge. You drop your work bag and weep. Deep and painful sobs that wrack your body for an hour. This is too much. This is wrong somewhere. You've felt like this before and you couldn't deal with it alone. 

You call the Samaritans. They recommend you see your GP. And a crack of light appears. You see your GP and they help you realise that you are unwell. It's the same unwell you had 15 years ago and you dealt with that by talking to people. You are recommended for counselling and you spend time with a person who listens. Another crack of light. They don't just listen though. They empathise, they get you to question those strategies and ways of working that are dysfunctional and energy sapping. It feels better and gets better week by week.

It was dark as night but the sun is coming, the sky is a deep violet now with a hint of orange. The dawn of something else is here.