Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Taming Your Adversity - Day 35

Day 35 (Thursday 4th January 2018)
35 years on top of a tall pillar in an old temple sited near Aleppo in Syria - the
chosen abode of Saint  Simeon the Stylite (it is his feast day today). 
 He lived on
a platform 1 meter square (surrounded by a baluster) on the pillar that was 
fifty foot
from the ground until 459AD.
 The Saint had spent the previous two years on a 9 foot
pillar but found the general public intrusive. He was consulted by emperors and
leading theologians. His was provided with food by local boys who would climb the pillar
with parcels of flat bread and goats milk or else he raised up food, drink and messages via a rope.
Today is my wedding anniversary - 26 years!! We are going to out celebrate with our sons at a smart restaurant in central London. It is amazing how time flies. I can remember as though it was yesterday making my way on my father's arm through Middle Temple on our way to the Temple Round Church - it was drizzling and I had a long cream train to my dress, so keeping it out of the damp was a challenge. My bridesmaids were dressed in dark green velvet and we all had garlands of holly, ivy and winter berries. My shoes were heeled with the same ornate cream silk that formed part of my dress.

Today's post is by Mike Shaw. It is nearly a celebration day for him too - it's his birthday in a few days. Happy early birthday Mike! Mike says more about his background below (it has had some significant ups and downs), but you might be interested to know that he studied Sociology and Psychology at Liverpool, before completing an MA in Sociology at Leeds. He is also a qualified coach. 

Mike lives in Manchester and, after commencing his career in Education, crossed into the commercial world in 2011, commencing as a Learning Consultant. Over the years he has built on his skills and he undertook further personal development and training, before accepting a permanent role eight months ago as an L&D Advisor for Mitie Plc. He believes in fairness, diversity and inclusion at the heart of the workplace and espouses the use of learning and development to enhance performance and achieve strategic aims. Mike writes a blog, Shaw Things and is active on social media - you can find him on Twitter under @MikeShawLD or on Snapchat as MikeShawLD.

Running in the cold and wet isn’t exactly my idea of fun. Yet there I was in my shorts and t-shirt trying to avoid the puddles and dodge the car splashes, and I was beginning to wonder if I’d made a mistake going running in this weather. Strangely, though, I felt a kind of exhilaration. I felt a resolve, that despite the abysmal weather and the burning cold sensation, I would keep going. Somehow, the adverse conditions seemed to conspire to speed me up and build my determination.

As I ran, it hit me that this experience, right now, was a useful metaphor for my past couple of years and, indeed, beyond. To be honest, at that exact moment I was surprised I was able to think at all, but somehow despite the adverse conditions, or maybe because of them, I had clarity of purpose in what I was doing and, critically, a vision for what I wanted to achieve. In this case it was not only to finish this run but also to set myself a target of running a half-marathon.

Earlier in the year I wrote about the importance of creating my own sunshine, and now I realise that this goes alongside navigating the cold and rain. As 2017 comes to an end it’s naturally got me reflecting on the past two years. The beginning of 2016 was a time of change for me. I wasn’t sure what my future held, where I’d be working, or even what I wanted from my future career. Nevertheless, I embarked upon a new professional life. However unknown or scary it might have been, in my eyes, I only had one choice - grab life and make the most of it.

In the words of Friedrich Nietzsche and Kelly Clarkson, “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger!” It might sound glib, especially in a pop song, but if I look back at my past 30 years, that is how I have tried to live, and like many, I have had my own modest set of hurdles to clear. At 16 I failed my O’ levels. At 19 I barely passed my A’ levels.  At 33, as a married man, I came out as gay and split from my wife.  At 40 I had a relationship break-up. At 44 I found myself in a toxic and stressful work environment. And at 49 I had a ‘career crisis’, followed by a ten-month journey to establish a new one.  

As I look at each of these written in front of me, some of them having considerably faded, although they have been incredibly impactful on me and on others, with the lapse of time their magnitude has lessened and they seem like part and parcel of life. I know that people experience vastly more challenging events in their lives, and I am in awe of how they often emerge with an even greater capacity for achievement. I feel I’ve been exceptionally fortunate in life so far, but you deal with what’s in front of you, or as they say in snooker, you play the balls.

Without sounding grandiose, with each life event, I have attempted to use it and grow from it. Rather than get knocked down, I guess today we’d say that I demonstrated resilience.

Though I'm sure they did, I don’t recall people talking much about resilience years ago. When reading about psychological resilience, I like Brad Water’s description of it as, “riding the waves of adversity, rather than being pulled under by the torrent”.  I think this nicely describes the, sometimes, fine line of adversity. That said, I don’t want to misrepresent myself as someone who was close to ‘going under’ and, somehow, managed to embrace the positivity in a moment of challenge. That’s not really me, or at least that’s not my self-perception. Without doubt, there have been times of darkness but I'm a pragmatist. I'm an optimistic cynic and I'm conscious that I don’t want to set myself as an example of how to deal with life’s stuff.

I don’t particularly want to make this into a ‘top tips’ blog but as I’ve reflected, it has helped me to identify my own strengths and, of course, areas for development. Maybe others will take something from it, maybe they won’t. We all have our ways of approaching and dealing with things. Interestingly, I think my own pragmatism sometimes stops me from considering what I draw upon. But in the midst of my reflections, I have realised these have served me well:

Doing new things! I’ve loved developing new skills, such as making videos and podcasts, doing an Ignite talk, and blogging, to mention just a few. In a non-work context I’ve run my first 10K, been to my first jazz concert, and experienced my first live opera. All these, in very different ways, have been enlightening and invigorating.

Taking a “don’t ask, don’t get” approach. The worse that can happen is that people say no, but they rarely do. So, I’ve asked and, through people’s generosity, I’ve got!

Being creative. I don’t particularly consider myself a creative person, despite my O’ level Art (yes, I did pass that!). However, creativity comes in many forms and, of course, as a designer of learning I am exercising creativity.

Using humour and having fun. I use this a lot. I try to see the funny or lighter side of life. A well-placed joke or a bit of play with your colleagues can do wonders.

Being kind to myself. I try not to place too much pressure on myself to always be doing positive and productive activities. I aim to be good enough in what I do and, sometimes, putting things off until tomorrow is absolutely fine.

Finding good people.  As I have written about before, I have built up my networked and learned so much from people. I’ve gained encouragement, confidence, new skills, and so much more.

Using positive self-talk. Sometimes easier said that done but my inner voice is usually my friend and able to tell me that I will be fine. So far it’s been right!

Although, at first, the challenges in my life knocked me back, I know that each and every one of them acted as a driving force. Without these events, in all likelihood, I would have travelled a very different path and my life would look very different. I haven’t let these events define me but, without doubt, they have shaped me. Out of my adversity, emerged hope, and out of hope came new opportunities and new life. My learning is that, whatever the weather, I need to keep running, because that is how I grow.

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