Saturday, 31 May 2014

Street Smart

When did you last make meaningful time for yourself?  How often do you take time to get things straight, set time aside to do some important personal thinking, create space to contemplate the things that really matter in your life? I would be the first to admit that all too often I allow myself to be sucked into the maelstrom of modern, urban existence. I work long hours, I juggle tasks and don’t always give the people that matter to me the time that they deserve.

I appreciate that I am blessed in so many ways – people tell me I am creative, intuitive, commercial, compassionate, smart, numerate, articulate, in a senior role in a prestigious organisation with wonderful friends and family. However, I am a slower learner than I care to admit – for years I have worked long hours to afford the life and provide the foundations that I want for my family, and to establish a meaningful career. I have loved watching people around me grow and have gone out of my way to help others succeed, sometimes even when they claim my work and ideas as their own. However, the life I live is demanding and takes its toll and my parents cursed me with a deep sense of duty - I will persevere long after most people have given up and gone home. I will think and think about things, trying to devise solutions and create opportunities for those whom I care about. Regardless of the toll it takes on me, I keep ploughing on.
Ploughing the hard way, 1910
It took me two hours last Friday to realise the error of my ways and also to figure out a better route going forward. That’s not to say that everything I have been doing is wrong or bad, far from it, indeed some things I will be doing much more of – all I have done is realise what’s important to me and how I can better prioritise.

I have come to appreciate that if you can’t care for you and make yourself the best you can be, how can you assume that you can care for or help others? Over this Friday lunchtime I watched two wonderful people give themselves a bit of time and serious thought to help sort out a few things they were troubled by. Last Friday I had a similar experience myself.

Let me explain…

I was told of an event happening in central London, being hosted by a group called Street Wisdom and thought that it sounded interesting. Unsure of quite what to expect, I arrived at Trafalgar Square shortly before noon to meet up with my designated host – an engaging fellow called Matt. I had been told to come armed with an important question that I needed to resolve.  I struggled with this – there are so many things I need to resolve, including, but not limited to how to: 
  • see more of my mother, who is seriously ill and lives a three hour journey from my home;
  • care for my autistic sister when my mother can no longer do so;
  • better support my own children who are at important stages in their lives;
  • stop working round the clock;
  • start being a more effective mentor for the wonderful orphan I support in Kenya;
  • ensure that I give more of my time to being a conscientious Governor at Guy’s & St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust - I really care about the health, wellbeing and future of the community in which I live and the wider global issues concern me;
  • keep earning sufficient money to support my family;
  • have more fun;
  • do more creative stuff;
  • start seeing more of my father, who was once my best friend;
  • learn to relax more;
  • gain deeper appreciation for my team and their contribution at work;
  • spend more time with the birds and the bees (no innuendo intended);
  • enable my employer to achieve, and ideally exceed, the next stage of its envisaged strategy;
  • enjoy time doing things I love with people who inspire me or for whom I can make a difference; and
  • make the world a better place.

All pretty big stuff – well they seem so to me.  How to choose just one, or to narrow the above into a single meaningful question that would help me going forward… It was David who made the obvious comment that what I need to do is to ask how to prioritise, rather than trying to select a single question from my list.  I appreciate that prioritisation is a problem for most of us. I am not proud of the fact that I suddenly found myself trying to juggle so many important things that I felt overwhelmed. But I am only human.

I am not going to explain what happened at Street Wisdom, but I will share the images and thoughts that had an impact on me.  All of the photos were taken in and around the Trafalgar Square area and represent my interpretation of what I saw and how it helped me figure out what I have been doing wrong and how I need to change.

This ship is just inside the entrance of the South African Embassy – for me it symbolised the fact that I am on a journey, full of hope

When considering my life I began to realise that it is dominated by Fortitude



and Humanity 

(I suppose it has to be really, given that I am an HR Director and Governor for one of the UK’s leading NHS Foundation Trusts) – clearly I am not in Edith Cavell’s league – she was a British nurse who aided Allied soldiers trapped in German-occupied Belgium, was caught, tried and executed by firing squad in 1915. All of the above photos come from her memorial, which also states her last words said at dawn to the chaplain before her execution: “Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness for anyone.” A further lesson for me – the only person to sort things out for me is myself, I cannot blame or dislike others for my discomfort or turmoil.

Only I can release myself from the issues that feel to be binding me

I have time (sorry – thyme), but, for change to work, it needs my personal commitment.

On my travels I chatted with the stagehands unloading props for the English National Opera at the Coliseum Stage Door – they told me that they loved their lives, and were too busy to worry about prioritising, they “just got on with what needed to be done”.

I began to appreciate that I over complicate things for myself. I over-intellectualise and think too much. I should learn to go where my path takes me without agonising so much about the destination.

I need to let go, to get rid of undesirable thoughts and stop participating in unpleasant aspects of my life. 

Although I have felt trapped (just like the ball impaled on this pub sign),

Life could be so much worse, 

in fact there is a cornucopia of fun, reward and enjoyment 

if I would just stop worrying and go with the flow

It is possible to change and rebuild

I know that I need strong personal foundations, otherwise I will be unfit to support others.


I simply need to peel off the layers of distraction

I am strong and have great people around me whom I love, especially my family – indeed, with hindsight I am surprised that my priorities were not obvious to me

The key to success lies inside me

The only barriers to a happier and easier future are those I have made for myself – what appeared solid was no more than shadows

To celebrate my newfound clarity of thought I treated myself to an artisan ice cream – Rosemary for remembrance, honey for a sweeter future, full of zest (orange in this instance!)

I found my time with Street Wisdom a powerful and positive experience, so much so that I spontaneously created a mini Street Wisdom session on Friday for two employees at work, whom I do not know well. I was aware that they both were struggling with different issues in their lives.  I felt that they might benefit from time to give themselves space to think things out. It worked brilliantly, all three of us were glowing when we returned to the office and I was delighted to have been able to facilitate the experience for them.

I am committed to doing it again, both in London (once with some of the original team I met on the steps of St Martin’s and once with an open group who want to answer questions and learn about the approach) and in Edinburgh, other locations are also being considered. David and Simon, who attended the first session at the same time as me, will be facilitating the open sessions with me – they too found Street Wisdom a valuable and powerful experience.

Let me know if you are interested in taking part.


  1. A fascinating series of reflections Kate.

  2. Thanks Peter - both Fridays were powerful in the transformations that were achieved in such a swift space of time. Come and join us for the next one if it appeals to you... K