Sunday, 30 November 2014

Happy sad, young old, stupid wise - Day 1

Day 1
Illustration by Simon Heath
Happy 1st December and welcome to the Advent Blogs 2014! The theme this year is Paths and Perceptions

Before I start, I would like to thank and acknowledge the wonderful Alison Chisnell for coming up with the concept of the Advent Blog Series and for curating it with such aplomb and sensitivity since 2011. You can read former years' posts on her blog, TheHRJuggler. For this year, and this year only, she has loaned her wand to me. I have received some wonderful pieces. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have. I will be sharing one per day over Advent and into the holiday period.

It is an honour to curate these writings. From its first year onwards I have been a participant in the Advent Blogs series and have always been astounded and humbled by the experiences and outlooks that individuals have shared. This year is no exception. It is clear that people have trod some very varied routes and have exciting vistas ahead; come join me and we can explore some of their paths and perceptions…

Number 1 - this number is sometimes referred to as "unity", 
which is appropriate, as that is what the Advent Blog series is all about:
A collection of individuals, each with a voice, who collectively produce 
something unique
We are getting off to a hot start. The first post in the series is written by the talented Megan Peppin. Meg is a well known and much loved personality on Twitter - you can follow her via @OD_optimist or else read her thoughtful blog, Halls are Made for Madness, which was listed by People Management magazine as being one of the top 10 HR blogs worth reading. Meg was one of the first members of the Twitter community to welcome me into its ranks. She has been involved in the Advent Blogs series since its inception, so it seems appropriate for her to be the first voice this year. Meg is a specialist in organisational effectiveness. After an initial career in HR and OD, Meg founded her own business, which has gone from strength to strength since 2003. She helps a wide range of organisations and people to achieve their goals.


This is my third contribution to this advent series, and I have undertaken each previous piece of writing without a plan.  Stare at the screen, touch the keyboard, close the laptop, go away, and think.  Think, think, think.  In past years, something good has arrived for me; when I clear space, the writing flows without effort or design.  This time has been harder, but now that the thoughts are flowing in, I’m seeing how our perceptions create our paths in everything.

One of my maturing processes has been an acceptance of “being”.  I see that being with negative emotions increases peace, rather than battling with them which increases angst.   I can be happy sad, old young, wise stupid, they all exist in me.  I am not one thing or another.

Paths open themselves up when I allow myself to “be”, particularly when I feel uncertain or vulnerable.  I accept my uncertainty and my vulnerability, and I walk alongside them.  I feel less desire to know, and more inclination to explore.

This is the path that appeared…...

I’m curious about the need for certainty, where it comes from, how it helps us make sense, and what it offers.   The desire to quantify “human capital” for example is an area in which so much is being invested.  I’m genuinely puzzled at how much proof we need to trust in our judgement. 
  • Don’t we already know that being treated with respect, being expected to be resourceful intelligent and responsible will lead to good things, good relationships, trust and in turn these will very probably lead to high performance? 
  • Don’t we know that arrogance, leader distance and greed distort reality and contaminate purpose?  What more do we need to know?
  • What else do we need to give us certainty?
We can’t quantify potential, love, power, respect – human qualities; much of the work I and many others do are about creating the conditions for our potential to be released.  Creating time, space to think, to be, to connect with no other purpose.    When we are looking for certainty, we look for evidence to support our particular truth – I wonder, in what way are we limiting ourselves when we search to validate our perceptions?

limited perception
Here’s a short story about something that regularly happens, which I think illustrates how powerful our perceptions are and which makes me really curious and sometimes tips me into irritation.  My surname is Peppin.  I’ve never met anyone else called Peppin apart from my own family.  So that might mean it’s an unusual name (my perception?).    It’s not unusual enough though; there is a familiarity about it I think which results in a perception filter kicking into action, and what happens is that my name regularly gets remade into Pippin.  This doesn’t happen occasionally, it is a frequent occurrence;   I might write an email as Peppin, but documentation gets addressed Pippin; I’m asked what my name is, I spell out the E but it gets remade into an I; name badges, invitations…. I could go on.  (I did once get called Meggy Poppins by one organisation, but that’s another story!).

I’m torn between mild irritation and as I progress through life – curiosity, you see, I also haven’t met anyone else called Pippin. But in the lexicon there’s an apple and a character from the Hobbit that are Pippin.  So the perception filter makes sense and remakes my name.  Somehow whilst uncommon - Pippin is more familiar.

I wonder what this means; it appears to be unconscious reconfiguring of the letters to fit some sense making need. 

A redesign of a name – it’s easy to see what’s happened.  I can correct it.

This is making me very curious about all the other reconfiguring we do that is outside our consciousness; reorganising, relabeling – people, situations, experiences, to fit our perceptual expectations.  We can’t correct those.

What are our perception filters protecting us from?

What is buried in us that we don’t know informs how we perceive each other, what truth we see and a flood of other questions?

What are we making in organisations when we talk about leadership, when we talk about talent, when we talk about management?

Where is this leading?  I don’t know.  But I’m curious, and I learn that the more we seek certainty, the more we are somehow rejecting important truths.   There are things we can never know; but there is something at play that substitutes an I for an E to make sense, or a you for a me to feel safe.

(with thanks to Japanfanzz for image)
I was telling a friend how much this irritated me, when I’d recently been to a large event where everywhere I was a Pippin for a day, and a life for those who met me once.  We had fortune cookies – know what mine said?

“Write your name on your heart, not on marble”.

Oh what a lovely coincidence.

What you call me doesn’t matter.  It’s what I know about me that matters.  That was my interpretation. 

But I’m still left with an I for an E and wondering what it means.

Old postcard from 1904


  1. I have for the live of me been asking people to call me by my given name and its liberating to live that other name sometimes although sometimes I wonder why cant you just get my name - its written down, I've said it others have said yet you call me this other name. This advent piece made me smile

  2. Always great to start the month with a smile - thanks for sharing your enjoyment (and the fact that you, like both Meg and me, are a fellow sufferer).

  3. I'm fascinated by this brilliant analysis of what we lose when we try to use a limited short-hand vocabulary in our perception of the world. For some reason it reminds me of the wonderful children's animation "Sarah and Duck" where the stories are as unexpected as they are delightful; I think children are perhaps better at taking the world at face value and I wonder at what age we lose that ability to see things as they really are, and start seing things the way we expect them to be.
    PS One of my sisters is called Keren, and she is always furious when people spell it Karen or Kieran. She was once even "corrected" by her class teacher at school who thought it was Karen!

  4. Something in all this about our identity perhaps? I remember at school a teacher who I adored who also infuriated me - she insisted in calling me Meegan as opposed to Megan - I was a little girl proud of her welsh heritage indignant at the mispronunciation.

    (This is Meg as I had problems with my URL for some reason)

    So many people have responded to this recognising my experience as their own. I am resolved to ensure I do not fall into this trap myself.