Tuesday, 12 December 2017

A dawning through the dark - Day 13

Day 13 (Wednesday 13th December 2017)
13 is known as a "Baker's Dozen". 
There is a traditional festive tale, originating in Dutch colonial New York, 
about Van Amsterdam the baker, famous for his honesty and his St Nicholas cookies.
However, he was pedantic - giving customers exactly what they asked for, nothing more and 
nothing less. He is cursed by a crone for declining to give her 13 cookies when she requested
a dozen on St Nicholas' feast day. Over a year his business dwindles and fails. However, after dreaming 
of St Nicholas' generosity and a further visit from the crone, the baker mends his ways and 
from henceforth gives 13 cookies when asked for a dozen. Other bakers emulated him and hence the 
"Baker's Dozen" became a term. The phrase "Baker's Dozen" actually originates from medieval law 
that specified the weight of loaves, to avoid punishment bakers would offer an extra loaf to ensure that t
he required weight was met. Illustration by Wendy Edelson in "The Baker's Dozen: A Saint Nicholas Tale"
I had an amazing day yesterday - a day of personal learning about myself and others followed by chairing a Committee on Quality of Patient Care and patient, community and worker Engagement in London. The evening was humbling, hearing how the staff and medical professionals at two of London's leading hospitals (and the wider Trust of which they are part) are raising standards and rising to the challenges of the current environment - cash is tight, patient numbers are increasing, the pressure on people working at the Trust is immense, and yet they remain constant, focused and dedicated to providing appropriate care for those in need. An example to us all.

Today's blogger is also extraordinarily caring - I should know because I have seen her in action: encouraging desperate children living on the streets in Uganda and supporting the staff trying to help them turn their lives around; doing mad things that she hates doing, in order to raise funds for the charities she supports (Retrak, Team Margot and the Anthony Nolan). I am also privileged to have her as part of my team and to see, on a daily basis, her skill in helping people learn and achieve their potential, and her ability to enhance individual lives. Her name is Donna Hewitson. Following a tough childhood, spending her teenage years in foster care, she came into HR when her talent with people was spotted whilst she was working in an operational role behind a bar. If you want to know more, read the article published in HR Magazine about her this November. Her career success is entirely due her own determination, natural skill and attitude. She is active on social media (her Twitter handle reflects her roots: @PubDonna) and she writes an excellent blog: PubDonna.com


This year has challenged me in ways I never expected. I have had to adapt, change and morph into the next incarnation of me; a bit like the new Doctor Who (I’ve never seen it, but I get the drift).

I have still not yet developed into the next person I need, or want, to be. But, I know what that will look like, and feel like, to me.

How do I see the person who saw out 2016? I see someone who was so focussed on filling the gap in their soul, it became all encompassing. Not “A” gap, “The” gap. It was deep, so deep-rooted, that I’m not sure if I truly knew who I was, or wanted to be. When I found myself in that space, I defaulted to the “it’ll be fine, it’s just a dip, it will get better.” It had to, didn’t it? What were my options otherwise?

September 2016 changed all that and guided me onto a new path, in a totally different direction, a path, on which, I can say I feel truly complete. Even if, at times, it feels like I’m travelling the wrong way up a one-way street.

My brain is odd. It is constantly going at a gazillion miles per hour; do this, sort that, always say yes and work out the “how” after. Always thinking “what next, what can I do bigger, bolder, stronger, better, how can I make my life, our life, better, what difference can I make to the world we live in?” If I got hit by a bus tomorrow, so what? That kind of stuff. It’s fair to say that it’s never a dull moment “up there”. But it weighs. Heavily. I spend so much of my time seeking to understand the troubles and challenges of others, and stretching myself to find a solution, that I forget about me. And then it comes. The dark descends, and it envelops all of me. 

But my face cannot change, I will not allow for others to see the impact of, metaphorically, the rocks I’ve been gifted weighing down the backpack I’m carrying. Then the mask slips and “ta da”, I find myself vulnerable with other people seeing the darker side of me.

I’m OK with that now. It’s important. With the best will in the world, maintaining the expected face all the time is a big old ask. Impossible.

I cried at work today. Twice. That’s OK. It’s also OK for other people to see me showing emotion. The reason for me being so emotional today? Someone showed, quite publicly, appreciation. I find this hard to accept. When I relayed to hubby, he immediately said WTF? You don’t cry. 16yrs we’ve been together, and he’s not seen “that face” often. This face I have suppressed for many years, but a wise and wonderful lady taught me it was, indeed, “cool to cry”.

Friends who know it's #CoolToCry
I am not a machine. I now express my emotions, I do speak freely, and directly (it’s not to everyone’s liking), I operate very efficiently and, for the most part, can keep my shit in check. There are times, however, when I am not able to. I don’t want to. I recognise this and I’m OK with it. It weirds me out, but I’m really thankful, for the first time in my life, I am able to me. Truly me.

I have many faces (thanks to Phil Willcox for educating me on this subject) and it is for me to choose which face I show. I can mask it, or share it. I choose the latter. The response from people who constantly tell me how strong I am, how inspirational my story is, the good I’m doing equal those people, who know me well, who express concern, tell me stop, slow down, take time for me.

What concerns me? I know it will not all be plain sailing and I’m sure that I will get burned sharing so much of me. I am vulnerable, I will be susceptible, and I will get turned over. I have spent years protecting myself and had built a fortress around my heart. 

It will take time to unpick, unlearn, re-learn and build confidence. I am thankful to have the most brilliant people around me, who trust me, believe in me and afford me the space to be me. All of me. The good, the great, the bad and the downright shite. How I respond, and not react, will make the difference of whether I see the start of the darkness descending or the beginning of a new dawn.

Nina Simone singing "Feeling Good"

Monday, 11 December 2017

“Let There Be Light, Sound…………..” - Day 12

Day 12 (Tuesday 12th December 2017)
12 Days of Christmas, also traditionally known as Twelvetide, are the
traditional 12 days of Christian celebration running from December into the New Year.
There is debate as to whether it starts on Christmas Day or Boxing Day and hence ends 
on the night before or the 1st day of Epiphany (the 6th January).
Many people view it as unlucky to keep Christmas decorations up beyond the 12th Day.
Twelfth Night was made famous by Shakespeare, who wrote the play of that name around 1601.
It was performed on 2nd February 1602 (that date being Candlemas, the official end of Christmastide
 at that time) in front of the lawyers of Middle Temple, in their great Hall
Above is a scene from the 400th anniversary performance, performed by actors from The Globe, 
starring Mark Rylance. I am fortunate to have seen it.
How's your week going? My diary is becoming increasingly complicated as the holidays draw nearer. Today I am commencing a two day training course on a psychometric tool that we are utilising at work, followed by chairing an NHS Committee on Quality and Engagement this evening - it will be a busy and interesting day at my end, I hope yours will be too. I will do my best to remain in contact during the day but no promises.

Today's piece is written by Phil Marsland. Phil runs his own HR and Leadership consultancy, based in North Yorkshire, the firm's work is founded on his passion for making a difference through pragmatic solutions. Before starting his own business, Phil worked in HR in a senior capacity for a number of global names. He is a respected and much valued member of the HR community and has done much to give back to the profession, including co-founding Connecting HR York in 2015. Phil has been a regular contributor to the Advent Blog series for a number of years, I'm sure you'd like his piece on shopping written in 2015 which was his second ever blog. He is now a well-known voice. He is a sporadic blogger with a business site - PhilMarsland.net -  and a more social one  - FulfordPhil - 'don't call me HR, call me Phil'.  You can follow him on Twitter - his handle is @FulfordPhil. When not doing people stuff Phil is likely to be commenting on or making music - he has an impressive vinyl collection, he also enjoys football and follows Manchester City.


I may not know much.  I know that!  I'm not an academic or literary or musical or sporting or cultural or religious or societal authority on anything.  In fact, the only thing that I know is what I think.  And I do think, a lot.  Deep and dark at times.  Bright and sparkly and silly and superficial and fun at others.  And I write.  For me.  And to share.  To maybe spark something in you.  To maybe help.  

For me 2016 was a blur of whirling hope.  Sparks and oxygen, lighting me up and helping me to breathe in the suffocation of traditional HR.  Me pushing the edges.  Trying so so hard to light a fire in others, who frankly only wanted the comfort of their traditional HR fixed mindset.  Intent on forcing me back into my box.

So, I jumped off the edge.  Full of hope…………………….and I’ve been falling with(out) style since.

2017 has been filled with Darkness.  In the world.  In my world.   At times things have been horrible. Without out hope.  At times there has been hope, only to be snuffed out.

Tears, loneliness, eating badly, drinking, getting fat…………… descent.......falling from the point where I stepped off.  Falling further than I knew I would.  Not actually losing much (as I’d cushioned my fall so to speak)......not quite losing my mind.......not life and death.  But loss and change.  Small words.  Massive personal impact.

In many ways it's been about discovery and getting over myself.  It's been about letting go and listening.  Listening to the silence and the non silence.  Silence when I have reached out.  Silence from those who were such a part of my world.  Silence from job applications.  Silence that is deafening.  Silence that had stopped me from hearing.

Saying, without saying "You're not useful to me anymore”.  Or "You're not for us"

Silently telling me this.

In the Darkness, life can be very silent.

Eventually, things that I couldn't hear before became a faint whisper.  Something that I couldn't quite make out.  Frequency and volume almost drowned out by the Darkness.  But there nevertheless.  Insistent.  Persistent.  Waiting for me to listen.

"It's over. Move on"

Amplification of the whisper has come from special people.  People who care a lot.  People who I care about.  People who were close by, but who I couldn't hear.  People who helped with Joy and connection, vinyl re-discovery, and our shared love of rock, living on!

But I still needed to quieten. To calm. To focus. To come back. To be able to listen. To turn up the volume on the wordless whisper.

Until I could hear the wordless voice pushing me on

"You're not HR anymore. Let it go"

How hard is that? Letting go of what has been your identity for your entire working life?  Despite me shouting at my profession for years for being rubbish, it was still my profession.  How do I let go of that part of me?!

It was the persistent insistent whispers that helped me let go.  And great people.  In my face.

"You're really good at this (other) stuff.  At really seeing what's going on with people.  With leaders.  With teams.  Within businesses.  At articulating this.  At creating something else.  You've really got something. You inspire people........I need your help"

But the self doubt voice is still strong.  Holding me back.  Me holding me back. Fear and self doubt.   Can I do this?  What if I fail?  What about security?  Do they really mean it?  Need for approval, huh?

And now there is some light in the Dark.

Something new.  Something created.  Not perfectly formed first time.  Self conscious and of stumbling steps.  Failing a few times.  But definitely shafts of light on the horizon.  The Darkness pierced.  

Just a glow at first.  Deep purple, gradually softening gaining more colour more depth, more colours. Being clearer to me, to others, visible.  Light red, yellow, whitish into blue.  Briefly a rainbow in the dark, and now a bright sky blue sky. 

And I stand before it able to say.....

"I'm no longer HR. I have my own Leadership, People and Culture business.  And I’m here to help.”

And I'm smiling, in the light of my new Dawn.   Full of hope once more.  Older, wiser, a bit fatter (don’t worry I’m on it!).  But better, definitely better.  More able to hear, more able to help.

I hope you can hear too.  Hear what you need to hear. 

Because there is always light, sound (and maybe drums and guitars!!) And maybe at Christmas, just this one time, we should all……….Let There Be Rock!

Sunday, 10 December 2017

A Little Less Dark - Day 11

Day 11 (Monday 11th December 2017)
11 characters are the traditional inumber for a static nativity or crib scene 
(namely the infant Jesus, Mary, Joseph, an Ox, an Ass, a shepherd, a sheep, an angel, 3 Magi).
The first creation of a crib scene is credited to Saint Francis of Assisi at Greccio in Italy in 1223.

The start of a new week. I hope it's a good one - mine seems to be filled with festive meetings, whilst still trying to do the day job. 

Today's piece is written by Sarah Storm, who is based in the Breda area of the Netherlands. She is a loving wife and dog lover. She founded her own consulting business three years ago, working as an OD consultant and coach, but also works as an associate, for example for Roffey Park in the UK. Sarah previously worked in HR, most recently as a Business Partner. She has a degree in History and Education from Stirling University and an MSc in Organisational Change from Ashridge Business School, where she works occasionally as a facilitator and OD consultant. Sarah is active on social media - her Twitter handle is @_sarahsto_ and I am sure that she would be pleased to hear from you.


Dawn comes quite late in the Netherlands at this time of year.

Not much of a dawn to speak of today. It just became slightly less dark – an impression which wasn’t helped by the light drizzle which settled on my glasses as I walked our dogs. It was in this semi-light that I reflected on darkness, dawn and what they mean to me at the moment.

Darkness - typically used as a metaphor for evil, ignorance, sadness, depression and fear. As usual I want to be contrary and look for the bright side of darkness. Starlit nights, parties, fireworks, and Christmas lights. A time for romance and passion.

Darkness is important for us and for the environment. This week it was reported that Earth’s artificially lit outdoor area grew by 2 percent a year from 2012 to 2016 and that outdoor artificial light is brighter than ever. Light pollution can impact the quality of the sleep we need to thrive. The migration and reproduction of birds, fish, amphibians, insects and bats can be disrupted. And you can forget about those starlit nights.

Light pollution - photo by Tim Peake
In darkness we’re able to take to our bed, which can be the best place to be in difficult times. Hidden from the world and, with luck, the respite of sleep. A good friend whose husband died suddenly this summer told me that the worst time of day for her was in the morning, when she woke up and realised again what had happened.

And yet I know from bitter experience that lying awake burdened by worry or fear in the darkest, earliest hours of the morning feels desolate and lonely. 

Last winter, when my dad was very ill, it was always dark when we left the hospital after visiting. This was when it seemed most hopeless. 

After my husband’s cycling accident this summer it was the nights which brought the greatest challenges. Once he woke in a panic at the hospital and as visitors weren’t allowed to stay overnight I sat in the empty reception trying to calm him over the ‘phone. In the days after, when he couldn’t sleep from the pain, we drank tea, ate chocolate & watched Netflix for hours until he could relax enough to go back to bed.

As darkness fell last Sunday I was making a proper pudding and a stew cooked slowly in the oven. Dark winter evenings demand comfort food. I lit candles and poured some wine. The fading light felt like an invitation to hunker down. Just then I felt particularly grateful and privileged for being safe, warm and fed after being in London and Brighton last week and seeing so many men sleeping rough, begging, or selling The Big Issue. How they feel about darkness and dawn? Does the darkness only bring cold, discomfort and danger or does it provide some welcome invisibility from the passing public?

It’s possible that there could be some projection going on here. Thinking about how much of my writing sees the light of day and how long it’s taken to send off this to Kate, it’s clear that, under some circumstances, invisibility feels quite comfortable for me!

After being diagnosed with lung cancer Mary Oliver wrote in her poem “The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac”, 
“Do you need a prod? Do you need a little darkness to get you going?”
Sometimes that’s what it takes, no matter how shocking and painful. Redundancy, mental illness, a break up, even a death, can be the trigger needed for change or to appreciate the life we have. Sitting with those moments of darkness, taking a good hard look and wondering what to do with it. In my work I’ve learned to appreciate the moments of darkness and discomfort because they invariably lead to the most significant breakthroughs.

It’s no coincidence that the most soul-stirring times of day are sunrise and sunset. There’s something about the blending of the darkness and light, and we need one to appreciate the other.