Change

Two things can be true at the same time. You can feel sad and excited, you can grieve and feel relief, you can love two people, you can wish the best for a person and mourn their leaving, you can feel alone and married, you can be scared and over-the-moon-can’t- wait-excited. Many things can be true, we can doubt and have faith, we can love one flavour but hate the rest, you can be a feminist and love Barbie.

There is little more dangerous than the tendency people have to silo people and feelings into neatly packaged categories, boxes and binaries. This is how we end up in the world of assumptions and stereotypes and that leads to being misunderstood and worse, stigmatized.

But this is not about politics and level playing fields and the importance of open minds and the capacity to think again.  (Although all of these things are essential.) This is about me, at this moment in time when I am straddling two worlds and many opposing feelings all at the same time. This maelstrom of emotion is in my body, my heart and my mind and I wonder how I can feel it all.

In 3 weeks I will walk away from the classroom, after 16 years of teaching. Teaching is a huge part of my identity. It is also a significant part of my life; I am good at it, I am compensated with a decent salary, good benefits and consistent, positive feedback. I am surrounded by collaborative and kind colleagues, all equally passionate and devoted, no two days are the same, and, being institutionalized, I have a pavlovian response to a bell: when I hear one, I turn on my heels and go to the next class on my pre-set timetable. My job as a teacher is vital, creative, time pressured and often fun. It is also exhausting and we often feel like mice scrambling to keep up with a spinning wheel. The texts and topics I teach keep changing and I am kept on my toes, intellectually, reading and learning every day. Staying in this job would be safe, I would know what the next months would look like, it would be the same life as I have now. I would get to teach cool kids and hangout with cool friends and eat cake with them all at break time.

So why leave?

Because I listened and I heard a voice telling me it was time. Because I found something I like more, because I found the courage to leap off a cliff and I made the parachute that will open as I descend into a new world. Unknown, different, scary and quite possibly lonely.

I am feeling sadness and fear. I am also deeply excited, tasting the edge of freedom, hovering on the edge of a new discovery. I am going to miss the classroom so very very much but I am also so relieved that I won’t have to mark another exam or meet another deadline. I am both ready to leap and feel trepidation as I look at the view. I am going to miss those young faces every morning and I am also ready to set my own schedule. I feel guilty about the money and also ready for the challenge to build a business. 

You can feel all the things and then crawl under a blanket to stifle the noise. You can embrace change and feel your heart beating with nerves as you wonder what the days will look like.

Susan Cain writes that “the bittersweet is about the recognition that light and dark, birth and death—bitter and sweet—are forever paired. “Days of honey, days of onion,” as an Arabic proverb puts it.””

These last days are bittersweet and from this place I feel intensely alive, ready to find a sense of communion and belonging with myself at this point in time. It is my turn to discover, seek and try. Not knowing what I will find, might, in fact, be the greatest gift of all.

Let everything happen to you: Beauty and Terror.


Just keep going. No feeling is final. Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.

Rainer Maria Rilke

I did a podcast

It feels very brave to put this out into the world. Courage is a key value of mine and I showed up to this podcast as my authentic self. I ask nothing of my clients that I would not do myself. So here it is, I hope you enjoy it. You will learn a lot about me, about coaching and you will also hear a live coaching demonstration. Many thanks to the extraordinary Saara for the invite and for being an incredible host who created such a safe place for us to be and to go within.

My word of the year

I have just returned from a month off. My heart is filled with gratitude and love that I got to spend quality time with my family in a beautiful place after such a long and painful time apart. I completely switched off. I hardly read, which, after reading 34 books this year, is unusual for me. I didn’t think about work at all, I didn’t strategize or vision the future, instead I was fully present, and I embraced the views, the walks, the light and the air of southern France. I also laughed with and embraced my beautiful, brilliant daughters, the light of my life. At the end of our weeks together I was forced to cancel the last leg of my journey, to London, to see my mother as she caught Covid. My family flew off in different directions and I was left alone, in France, for 4 days of solitude. Not only was I alone but due to the change in plans I didn’t have a confirmed flight home and nothing makes me more unhappy than uncertainty. When my husband drove away, after leaving me at my airbnb, I stood on the pavement and burst into tears. How would I manage all by myself? How would I fill my days? How would I walk the same streets that just days before we had walked, laughing, as a family and not be struck with the kind of nostalgia that grips your heart? My heart. It was both broken and filled with gratitude, at the same time. I had a physical pain in my chest and I knew I had to feel it all, and feel it alone. Over the days, I walked, I wrote, I read, I drank wine, I watched tv, I talked on the phone and I fought the silence with music. Choosing what music to listen to was tricky, it had to be upbeat but not irritating, foot tapping but background, it had to be gentle and familiar. I ended up listening to soft rock from the 80s. Music I listened to in my bedroom on the radio, growing up. I took hot baths and slept in layers of clothes, hugging the spare pillow. I stood and looked out of the window a lot. The tiny, ancient fishing village was so blindingly beautiful, that I gasped each time I turned a corner on my many walks around the looping streets. I carried a camera loaded with film and took photos whenever I felt moved. At first I listened to podcasts, then nothing, as I started to listen to the sounds of my boots on cobbled streets, the waves bringing  the mediterranean sea onto the long beach. Sea air, French voices, warm bread, hot coffee, every sense was magnified. On Day 1 I found it hard to sit still and kept standing up for no reason. Stillness and silence threatened me. I grieved the loss of company but as hours passed I started to listen to ideas that popped into my head. After a month of close knit company, card games, laughter, shared meals, long drives, singing, debates about which movie to watch, deep conversations and re-discovery of our family, I was suddenly alone and quiet with only my own company. And I realized, this might be the very gift that I needed.

I am fully aware of my luck and privilege. Gratitude is a key value of mine and it is front and centre of my conscious thinking. Growing wise comes from knowing myself and knowing how fortunate I am is clear. But I also realize that we have made this luck. We have made choices and turned our life in directions that have often been hard, stressful and very uncertain. Chaos has been present. But these choices, like a climb up a steep hill, have brought me to this point. In all the self help dialogue that seems prevalent everywhere one loud bell keeps ringing: In order to experience growth you need to get really comfortable with being uncomfortable. But who actually wants discomfort? Wouldn’t we rather be comfortable under a warm blanket, by a roaring fire with loved ones? And yet, being totally alone was uncomfortable and in that place I started to hear some hard truths.

 I have been pondering my word of the year. Last year it was courage, because I needed to be brave. Brave to use my voice, to create my coaching business and brave to sit with my own company. Bravery takes many shapes and forms. For some it is speaking in public, or using one’s voice, for some it is changing jobs, for some it is jumping into an ice cold pond and for others it is exploring extreme sports. For me, it is being completely alone and using my voice. I have been married for a long time and I realize that I rarely get to do anything by myself, rarely do I drive, book tickets, face and conquer hurdles, fix challenges. I am wrapped in the security blanket of a comfortable marriage and I live in a safe country. Rarely do I do hard things. For me, being alone is a hard thing. And I won’t apologize for that. Everyone has their own hard thing. 

My word for 2022 is LESS. Walking alone in France I started to think about what I want this year. Not more scrambling and climbing, not more content and noise. No. I needed more of this: quiet.

Less listening to the message that is louder than ever in January: You need a new you! Less believing that message. Less doubt.

Less striving for other people’s kind of brave, less of the things we don’t need, less complications, less stuff, less hassle, less shallow talk, less of what doesn’t matter. Less of seeing things from a perspective of scarcity, less hiding, less fear, less worrying about how I am perceived, less concern for people who don’t concern me.

More contentment, silence, listening, awareness, beauty, connection. More belief that I am just perfect the way I am. 

The last months of 2021 were very hard for me and I felt the familiar and terrifying grip of depression returning. Now I face a new year more whole, restored, connected and loved. I am comfortable. I have more clarity, the kind of clarity that comes from being around people who are your tribe and spending time listening to them. The kind of clarity that comes from being comfortable with your own company. Stepping into hard things with a conviction that I have everything I need. It is a journey, and I have not arrived. But with less noise I might be closer to where I want to be and what I want.

What is your word for the year?

Please get in touch if you want a no obligation chat to see if coaching is for you. I work with anyone who wants to take some time to pause and listen. Coaching can take you from where you are to where you want to be. Coaching starts with the belief that you are just fine as you are. Now it is time to ask for what you deserve.

Lessons from photography

All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassment, all is given to us as raw material, as clay so that we may shape our art.

Jorge Luis Borges

It is with my camera that I see and capture the world. With my camera I beat time, freeze the present, preserve the past. I can halt the race, stop the moment, revel in the magic in front of me. Photography is like poetry, it goes to the heart of the matter.

I recently did a photo project taking multiple exposures on film. Film photography is unique, hard, and depends on a dose of magic. It is not the exact science of digital photography and you only get one chance to get your shot right. It is also expensive, and you won’t see the photo you just took for weeks afterwards. On the other hand, digital photography offers instant gratification. That and the chance to add another layer of creativity with the virtual darkroom that is lightroom. The editing is a good part of the process. With film I generally leave the photos untouched, save for a few light and contrast adjustments, if necessary. So why do I love film so much? And why am I now adding another layer with multiple exposures?

I think it is both the magic and the risk. It is a place to commit and carefully, mindfully compose the shot with intention. The risk is that it might fail. The magic is that it might not. It is playful, uncertain and when it works, the best feeling ever. And with multiple exposures more magic is invited in. I attempt to control the outcome by noting down the shots I have taken, before rewinding the film and starting again. I think of a theme, I know what I want to happen. But magic takes care of the rest. And when it works it is simply the best.

There is a philosophical layer to this.

Tennessee Williams said “Has it ever struck you that life is all memory, except for the one present moment that goes by you so quick you hardly catch it going?”

The paradox is that while I am trying to cheat time and snatch that fleeting moment, it is disappearing before my eyes.  With multiple exposures I am trying to double the attempt, freeze two moments, find two perspectives and widen my gaze. The glory is in the futility and the failure.

Inquiry question:

What risks have you taken recently?

Can you recommend a book please?

Often people ask me for my ‘must read ‘list of books. This is by no means exhaustive and I might add or delete titles as I read throughout the year, but this is a good list for today. And a fine place to start.

The Goldfinch and A secret History by Donna Tartt

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

Normal People by Sally Rooney

All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Heartburn by Nora Ephron

Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Tender is the Night & The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

 The Windup Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Atonement by Ian McEwan

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

The Corrections by Jonathon Franzen

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

I know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Happy Reading! Love Sam x

Currently reading: Luster by Raven Leilani

Words from the wise:

“She read books as one would breathe air, to fill up and live.”

Annie Dillard

Motivation

I am goal orientated. I love to stand at the bottom of the mountain, look up and start to climb. It is hard to get going and I might procrastinate for weeks or even months until I take the first step, knowing that when I do so I won’t stop until I am done. And generally, it is going to be hard work and probably hurt.

Four years ago I did the Nike app: Couch to 5K. It is an amazing audio program that literally takes you from zero to a 5k runner in 8 weeks. The 3x a week runs are cleverly constructed to incrementally build endurance and at least 3 times during a run a friendly voice tells you that ‘you’re awesome.’ It works. I am not a runner, I hate exercise and I would rather lie on my sofa, read a book and eat cheesecake than pretty much anything else. But this app works. Four years ago I ran 5K and it was one of the proudest moments of my life, especially because it was so hard and so out of character for me.  But I loved it and I felt fantastic.

And then I stopped.

Now four years later I am doing it again. I am on week 7 and it is starting to get hard. Some days I doubt I will make it, yet I still pull on my trainers, plug in my airpods and go. I am being ‘awesome.’  My worry, this time, is what will happen when I am done? I should hit week 8 around July 1st and I am already thinking about how to keep motivated. Once I am at the top of this particular mountain, enjoy the view and the sense of achievement, how will I maintain? Maintenance is not sexy. Maintenance does not give me the ‘awesome’ thrills. And no, I have no interest in finding a new mountain, a 10K is off the table and running faster does not appeal to me. I will never run with people, join a race or want a ribbon. So how does motivation work?

Steven Kotler, author of The Art of the Impossible, states that we are all hard wired for peak performance and peak performance comes from the experience of flow: An optimal state of consciousness when we perform and feel our best. So how do we get into a state of flow? Motivation is key.

Motivation can be divided into two kinds:  Motivation that is driven by inbuilt human attributes in order to pursue virtuousness, and extrinsic motivation that means pursuing an activity for an alternative, often a people pleasing outcome. Basically, are you doing it for internal or external reasons?

Extrinsic motivation is to get things we want in the world, for example: money, sex, fame, a great body. On the other hand intrinsic motivation is driven by curiosity, passion, purpose, autonomy and mastery. If you are driven by those things then you have flow. And you will keep going.

Are you doing it to avoid guilt? Because of pressure or anxiety? Fear? Vanity? Or are you doing it because the actions align with your life goals and core values? Finding your own autonomous reasons and your own intrinsic motivation will make it much easier to stick with things.

Start with making a list of reasons why you do something. How many of these reasons are extrinsic? Reflect on whether you can strive for an intrinsic reason. If you can find a reason why doing it will be just for you, you are more likely to keep it going.

I am running because it makes me feel strong, young and powerful. My hope is that I remember that after week 8 comes and goes.

Inquiry question: What do you want but haven’t found?

Reading: The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown

Words from the wise:

 “All highly competent people continually search for ways to keep learning, growing and improving. They do that by asking ‘why.’ After all, the person who knows ‘how’ will always have a job, but the person who knows ‘why’ will always be the boss.”

Benjamin Franklin

Celebrating

On May 26th I found out that I passed my certification exam and in that moment 18 months of training was complete. I am now a CPCC, a certified, qualified, fresh and excited new coach.

This journey has been profound. In November 2019 curiosity led me to the first CTI course and I was immediately intrigued. I had little idea about what coaching was, but I had always felt pulled in the direction of a helping profession. Many moons ago I had planned to become an Art Therapist, then a Drama Therapist and despite taking classes and reading voraciously around the subject, life had other plans. I had two children. I taught Drama and then English, we moved…a lot. I raised a family, taught in 10 schools and in the past 15 years have taught and mentored hundreds of young adults. When I look back, it seems it was all leading me here, right here, where I am meant to be.

It has been a lot of work, both in the coaching and being coached, the study and the intense courses but also the work of growing as a person. I grew me. I got to know me. In order to do the work for my clients I had to do the work first. I’ve met so many extraordinary people. I cried in front of strangers, got vulnerable in public, met my tribe. I coached people in person, over zoom, in four continents, of all ages.  I had to set aside the negative and self-limiting beliefs that said  ‘who was I to think I could do this?”. Now I feel like I have walked in these shoes for long enough that they are beginning to feel comfortable. I wear the coach badge with honour. I can do this. I am good at this. I have the skills, the power and the passion to be a great coach. And I am so honoured and ready to help people find the magic that lives inside of them.

Wise words:

Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.

Laurie Buchanan.

Catching curve balls

Life has a funny way of throwing curve balls at you when you are sitting in the outfield making daisy chains. Life was looking up here in Singapore. More and more people were vaccinated, proudly clutching their upper arms and smiling through the ‘slight headache’ knowing they are doing their part to get out of this stifling time warp. The COVID numbers were down, people were excitedly talking about travel bubbles and daydreaming about a quarantine that would ‘surely be only 3 days at home, no?’ And then it all turned pear shaped within a day or two. We went from smiling to shock in a matter of hours. Suddenly we were down to groups of only 2, schools were closing and people were back to working from home. Fantasies of travel fast dissolved. And then more doors began to close, things long longed for got cancelled, personal hopes of purchasing a property were crushed, a relationship was suddenly on tenterhooks. All at once I was feeling blue.

I started to think a lot about resilience. What is it? How do we get it and why is it the most important tool in our box when we are struggling to either catch or dodge that curve ball.

You can google it. There is a whole industry built around telling people to be resilient. There are the Ken Ginsburg’s 7Cs of resilience, the Driven’s 6 Domains of resilience, there is  even an app to trace and track how resilient you are.

But I think it boils down to one very simple truth: Faith. Faith that “This too shall pass.” Faith that while we might feel stuck, life and time continues to move forward and eventually, with patience and faith, things will turn.

It helps to have faith in your own sense of who you are. And to treat yourself as you would a friend. It certainly helps to have a community to turn to and things to do with others that can remind you that we are all connected.

You are not the only one, somewhere someone is also having a hard time.

I think a brilliant way of finding resilience and coping in a hard time is through self-compassion.

 Dr.Kristin Neff is the mind behind the self-compassion movement and she has spent over 20 years studying the importance of turning compassion inward. She clearly lays out three tools to adopt:

  1. Self-kindness vs. Self-judgment.

Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.”

Dr Kristin Neff
  • Common humanity vs. Isolation.

“Self-compassion involves recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience –”

Dr Kristin Neff
  • Mindfulness vs. Over-identification.

“Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time.”

Dr Kristin Neff

When times are hard and life throws you a series of balls, too fast to catch or juggle, when you feel you are holding your breath, holding tightly onto the littlest things you can control, when you feel if you let go you will collapse…. Take a minute to breathe. Know it will pass. Find the faith. Be kind and feel whatever you need to feel.

Inquiry question: What does resilience look like for you?

Reading: House of Glass by Hadley Freeman/Think Again by Adam Grant

Words from the Wise:

In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.


Albert Camus

Slaying the shame

I took a risk. I have always wanted an exhibition of my photography and to see my photos line a wall would make public the secret dream. But I was scared to put myself ‘out there’ into the world and ask to be seen. Recently I took a huge scary risk and tossed my dream upwards and outwards. And today, I am installing my first exhibition.

We are raised to believe many complex and interesting things. We move through life doing everything, hard things, expected things but all the while there is a voice that says “should and should not.” That is the limiting belief that tells us, sometimes with just a gentle whisper, so quiet you think it is coming from your own voice, that you cannot do something. That you aren’t smart enough, talented enough, rich enough, brave enough, worthy enough. And that voice often tells us to look over there and see what so and so is doing. Compared to them, there is no way you can do it. There is the fear of being judged, of everyone saying, “who does she think she is?” This is the voice of the inner critic, judge, saboteur, whose job it is, is to make you fear change. Stay small. Just stay as you are, and you will be safe, and no one will laugh. Or judge. And everyone hears this voice, everyone has that special unique inner critic and everyone believes it. But this voice is not actually you. It is the culmination of thousands of messages we have absorbed, and we have a choice whether or not to listen to it. Not an easy choice, but a choice. The greatest hurdle in life is to get beyond those limiting beliefs.

We are conditioned to believe we are less.

Brené Brown calls that inner critic the shame gremlin. Some of my clients have identified it as a grumpy old man, a high school mean girl, a cartoon character, a judge, a nasty berating woman with a clip board. Whatever it is, meeting your powerful inner critic, visualizing it and really seeing and hearing it can magically reduce its power. When you know that you are not your thoughts, that your inner critic is separate from you, you have the choice to turn down the volume on that voice.

Believe me, it will never disappear completely but when you have control over it rather than the other way around… imagine what is possible!

As a coach it is my mission to open your eyes to the magic that lives underneath that critical voice. To make you see that what you think isn’t possible, is, in fact, absolutely possible, if you want it.

It is scary to take what you create and show people. While I had shared my photography in blogs or on Instagram and on my website, I had never printed them out and put them  on a wall , in a public space, for people to see! Today I have had to quieten that voice that says I can’t. I shouldn’t, I don’t deserve to. Today I am hanging my photos on a public wall.

Inquiry question:

If you had no fear, what would you do?

What makes you uncomfortable?

Dr Susan David says that “Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.”

She speaks and writes about the dangers of ‘toxic positivity and says that this tendency to avoid hard feelings and difficult conversations can only lead to trouble in the long run. She is not telling us to be indulgent and mope, but she is offering an interesting perspective that we can both thrive and be challenged at the same time. It has got me thinking about how we have been raised to avoid hard feelings and how admitting we feel bad is tantamount to shame. As I teacher I see it in the classroom: students who are scared to raise their hand and ask questions in the fear they may be wrong. Students who feel such enormous shame at what they deem is failure, when it is, in fact, a first draft. I see it in people who brush off hard feelings by saying “oh it’s not that bad, come on, chin up.” I see it when friends try and console each other by saying “it could be worse.” I see it when, after a miscarriage, a woman is told, “well, it is probably for the best.” Since when was it considered a bad thing to just be with your feelings, have a good cry, process whatever you are feeling? Why are we meant to cheer up before we are ready? Why is coping considered so brave when actually saying you are falling apart is the bravest thing of all?

Brené Brown discusses how we use numbing to distract us from hard feelings. Tv, food, alcohol become mechanisms of avoidance and in the long run actually end up also numbing us from the potential high points of life and most importantly from developing resilience.

Listening to Dr David talk, I hear common sense and yet I also hear what we all need to hear. That growth only comes from discomfort, that avoidance is (in her words)  ‘dead people’s goals.’ The only people who are not stressed are dead people. Life is stressful, we all have to navigate full plates.

In coaching I have learnt that the greatest learning and awareness comes from those moments of discomfort. In the beginning I was scared of being uncomfortable and I tried to fill the silence with questions, even observations. But coaching is about creating space for people to be in the moment with discomfort and to know that it is safe to stay there. Coaching is a mirror where you can meet yourself, see and hear what you want, and don’t want, and get uncomfortable. I think it would be extraordinary if there were more places where that could happen. Where vulnerability could be the start of a conversation and that conversation could lead to places as yet undiscovered.

Inquiry question:

What are you scared of facing?