Monthly Archives: March 2015

It’s Never Too Late to Make Change

I’m writing this morning in a state of mind that I don’t think I’ve experienced before. Indeed, I can gauge this by the difficulty I’m having in finding the words to describe that feeling. Probably because it’s all somewhat new to me. Still, I need to find the words to start but as I can’t, I’m going to write anyway and hope that, as my Aunt Doreen used to say, “It’ll all come out in the wash”.

I start by saying that, like most of my others talks, I don’t remember much of the detail (or even the feedback I had) so I’m working largely on feeling. Well, it was certainly well received. Yet, like most speakers, I want to know what I have to do to improve and one of my compatriots, Michael Dodd, did just that in the bar long after the event. For which, many thanks. Still, I’m told that I was fabulous (thanks, Nicci) and that’s the bit I find difficult. So, perhaps this morning’s problem is not my, occasional, bragging how good I am but actually feeling good inside. As I said, it’s a feeling I’m not exactly used to in terms of my abilities. It feels strange but it’s also something that I need to get my head around in my efforts to become a more rounded person. So, I think I’ll start by taking the advice I give to others. Believe in yourself and, if that’s what I’m starting to do, it’s a nice feeling and that can’t be a bad thing. It’s just as well that the topic of my talk was, “It’s never too late to make a change”.


Facing Up to Your Demons Again

It’s 6.30 pm and I’ve had a busy week preparing for a Professional Speaking Association meeting tomorrow in which I have a 5 minute speaking slot. In front of people who book speakers. Next week, I’m talking at my old Grammar School and later on in the summer at the BBC and a regional PSA group. Why am I telling you this?

Well, it’s because, in preparing for the first of these, I’ve faced up to one of my demons and, in writing this, I’m facing up to another. This latter is about never counting your chickens. The original demon is speaking without prompts. I wrote the prompts and did dry runs at home. No problem. Unfortunately, the moment I put the prompts to one side, I didn’t exactly dry up; rather my mind went a blank and I forgot everything. No matter how hard I tried (and I did for two days) I had no joy. As you can imagine, I got worried. In the end, I thought “Sod it” I’m just going to do it anyway.

Now, fortunately I see a therapist every so often and I went to see Stevie on Thursday. To cut a long story short during the session, she asked me what my talk was about and I said “Me” before describing it in detail. At the end, she smiled, as did I, her ruse had worked. Not, however, before taking me into a real dark place in my childhood. It left me shaking in fear until I felt my way out. The cause of my anxiety came into my mind and, with that, it largely faded away. A weight has been lifted me and, although I feel apprehensive about tomorrow, it is the normal apprehension that anyone in those circumstances might feel.

“Fingers crossed” he said, not wanting to count his chickens!



As much as anything else, life is about change. The process takes place all the time and is unstoppable. I, for example, am already 20 seconds older that when I started this blog. In fact, now that I’ve made a cup of tea and started again, some four minutes has now gone by. Doesn’t time fly when you’re enjoying yourself? So what has prompted these thoughts about the way individuals react to change?

Now, as someone, whose life has been full of change, I tend to get bored if things stay the same. Hence, I look for change and relish the challenge it can bring, with two important provisos. Which are that I have some say in the result and exert some control over the process. The more of both of these I have, the happier I feel about the situation. I also, I like to think, take a broader view and ask why not.

Well, I’ve been watching TV programmes about the suffragette movement recently and find myself shouting at the screen (again). The resistance to the idea of women having the vote was reflected in statements that would have been laughable if they hadn’t been so serious. If I had any hair left, I would have been tearing it out. Yet, after many years of struggle, most people now have the vote. So, what was all that waste of effort in aid of? In reality, precisely nothing. It merely delayed the inevitable.

You could say the same in regard to judgments (about gender) to justify discrimination on the grounds of skin colour, sexual orientation or disability. They would, in my view, have the same validity, ie, none. To give one example, the epidermis, which gives the skin its colour, is only 0.5 to 1.5mm thick. The former is the same as a sheet of writing paper! It signifies nothing about the personal qualities that the individual possesses. The same could be said when discussing whether or not you have external genitalia.

So, what is such opposition about? Well, for a start, I think it tells us more about the prejudices of those who oppose such change than it does about the change itself.  Also, unfortunately for them, it diminishes those making such statements. Excuses (not reasons) are put forward which are irrelevant at the time and seem like music hall jokes in the light of history. Neither are things I want to be remembered for after I’m gone. So, join the side of the angels, embrace such change and know that you did the right thing. History will thank you.

Getting There

Still plodding away breaking through those glass ceilings and freeing myself from my inhibitions. And getting there. One of these, interestingly, was never using the word “and” at the start of a sentence. Note the use of the past tense. I now find it quite effective and enjoyable. Like many other issues, I now realise that many of my ceilings are self imposed, largely created by fear of punishment. Don’t ask, it’s too long a story, although those who’ve read my autobiography will already be aware of the circumstances.

Well, I’m finally getting to the bottom of another one of these. That of needing props, in the form of slides or prompt cards, when I speak to an audience for a talk I can do entirely in my head (and better) when I’m out running. I knew many of the reasons but knowing and relating them to your behaviour aren’t necessarily the same thing. So, fingers crossed as I have a 5 minute session at the meeting of the London Professional Speaking Association next week, followed by 40 minutes in front of my old grammar, the following week. I start the latter, of course with the story of me getting the cane on the first day for talking while having our lunch which, we’d been told by the headmaster at assembly, was prohibited. After he’d administered the punishment, he gave me a short lecture telling me that I wouldn’t make a living out of talking. That should go down well.

I also can’t let today pass without mentioning the death of Terry Pratchett. Now I’ve not read any of his books, however, The Guardian featured a few quotes which prompt me to think that maybe I will.  Two are worth passing on. The first is “So much universe and so little time” and the other, even more priceless, “Goodness is what you do, not who you pray to”. He certainly knew what he was talking about.


Challenging Yourself

My wife calls it “my insatiable quest for knowledge”. I call it just needing to know. It is one of the things that drives me. Now I can be as irrational as anyone else (after all, I support Spurs, a team that, according to Roy Keane, “will always let you down”); however, I do like to find out how and why. Hence most of my reading is nonfiction as is much of my radio and TV input. I just find it considerably more interesting that the usual drivel that is served up. I am also, I like to think, someone who aims for the highest common factor and not the lowest common denominator in life.

Interestingly, the more I get to know my wife (and, after 25 years, I’m still learning), the more I see, below the surface, what makes ours such a strong relationship. We have a great deal in common, grounded in a belief in the inherent goodness of the vast majority of  humanity and the need for a caring and sharing society that helps people to develop their talents and contribute to the greater good. It is not a coincidence, therefore, that we’ve taken the paths that we have; it even helped to create the circumstances through which we met in the first place. Along the way, I, the noisy one, have learnt a great deal from this quieter one. I’ve done this, often with some reluctance, by listening to and, more importantly, hearing what she has to say. It’s funny how, the more I do this, the better at it I become. It has also, of greater significance, helped me to see some things differently and made me a more rounded person. It’s also, of course, made for a better relationship.

Which leads me to my point. The more vociferous and opinionated among us may be just that. We don’t necessarily have a monopoly on experience or wisdom. What is also interesting is that, in much of my career in the voluntary sector, among my roles at consultation and other meetings, was to give those who were less confident or able to express their views, the chance to do so. That often meant shutting the likes of me up. There have been many demonstrations of the success of this but I will quote just one.

When I first became self employed, my first job was helping a group of residents in Luton to put together a presentation to bid £48m of,  what was then, the government’s New Deal for Communities funding in competition with other similar groups in the area. Among those chosen, from among the group, to make a presentation was Jackie, who I remember as a young mother. On the day of the presentation, she stood up to speak. She was so nervous that I could see her shaking from yards away. Yet she kept going. The result was that, along with the contribution from the other speakers and their presentations, Marsh Farm was selected as the successful applicant.

So, all you politicians and masters of the universe, listen and take heed of what the rest of us think. You may find that there are better ways of doing things if you overcome your preconceptions. After all, you could hardly call the current situation a success story.

Further News and Thoughts

Today looks like the beginning of spring; bright sunshine but what the English, with their customary understatedness, call fresh. It’s weather I like as it signals the end of winter and the herald of new life.  It’s one reason why I’m feeling happier and looking forward again. Over and above my usual optimism, that is. Another, of course, is that the weekend starts in about six hours when Gaynor gets home from school and we relax with a couple of glasses of wine.

More importantly, I have taken my own advice and done what I should have done ages ago. That is that I have redrafted my public speaking brochure and, so far, sent it, with a nice covering letter, to nearly 150 secondary schools in London. I’ve followed this up by doing something similar to Rotary Clubs and the like. Now I know it’s early days, but I’ve already had some positive responses. Finally, I’ve just been told that, subject to confirmation, I’ve managed to help a small charity to raise the money to help pay for my work with them over the next few months. We’ve even started looking at holiday destinations for the summer. So, fingers crossed.

This all goes to show that you do have to have a bit of faith in yourself and keep going. Better, of course, than not having faith in yourself and stopping. Again, using a technique that I recommend to those I work with; that of using the exact opposite of whatever it is that you want to demonstrate the strength and validity of what you do want.

“Quod erat demonstrandum” as my old Maths master used to write at the end of the solution to a theorem.

Being at Ease with Yourself Part 2

I wasn’t planning on writing on this subject today. After all, hadn’t I done just that last week? Well, yes. I had. What I hadn’t envisaged (and should have) is that things would happen this week that would demonstrate, even more, the value of making those changes for yourself. There has been no magic wand but, what I have long seen as, a four stage process.

For me, the first of these is recognising that there is a problem and that, whatever the cause, dealing with it is something that no one else can do for you. Such acknowledgement may be difficult as it may challenge how you perceive yourself to be. In the past, it has been for me. However, having seen the results, it is something I now quite enjoy.

The second is actually talking to someone to, either, try to identify the cause(s) or help you to take that first step. The latter of which may well involve things that are actually quite reasonable but that you have been putting off. Procrastination, I find, often has underlying causes. While the third is actually facing up to the change by breaking it down into a series of small tasks and taking these on, one at a time, consistently. The last, of course, is reaping the rewards.

I did this last week in two areas of my life. Now I’m not saying that the problems have been completely solved or that I don’t have a road ahead of me. I have. However, I’ve at least identified what was causing me not to start the journey and, as importantly, feel that I’m on the right road. If past experience is anything to go by, I have made some sort of breakthrough. Watch this blog for further news.