Sunday, November 28, 2010

Resilience under pressure

Watching as last week's Pike's River mining tragedy unfolded, I felt deeply saddened for so many of the people involved. The lost miners themselves and their families in particular, and also for those in charge of the rescue effort.

The urging to send in a rescue team was extreme, and came from many angles, including the eyes of the world through the media. Those responsible believed it wasn't safe, and stood by their decision not to send rescuers in despite significant pressure to do so and criticism when they wouldn't. When the second blast occurred, their decision was vindicated.

Start today

Most of us, from time to time, are subjected to pressure from others about how best to do our jobs. Sometimes, the other person is right and we can learn something from their wisdom.

Other times, we are right, and we know it. Standing firm in the face of criticism or opposition isn't easy, but sometimes it's essential.

When you know your job well, it becomes easier to tell when advice from others is warranted - and when it is unnecessary, unhelpful or, in the Pike's River example, dangerous. Invest as much time and effort as you can into becoming your own 'subject matter expert' you'll instinctively know the difference.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Living the E-life

I was on my couch with the laptop the other evening when I received an email that read, 'Tuck me in now.' It was sent by my ten-year-old, from bed.

My other daughter, who's twelve, sometimes Skypes me from the other end of the house to ask what's for dinner and whether I can buy her a mobile phone for Christmas. If I do, we'll open another avenue for electronic communication - which is, of course, both a blessing and a curse.

While it's a bit of fun for the kids, many of us have fallen into a habit of reverting to electronic communication by default. We have lost the art of assessing the best way to get our points across.

Sometimes a conversation on the phone or a face-to-face meeting is far preferable to sending an SMS, email, facebook message or tweet - yet we've lapsed into a mentality where we hit 'send' first and ask questions later - like 'why haven't they replied yet?' (two minutes after we sent the message).

Communicating electronically has revolutionised the way we work and socialise, and I love it. That said, it's important not to let it overtake opportunities for old-fashioned, techno-free personal interaction.

Start today

Before hitting that 'send' button, pause and ask yourself if there's a better way to make your point. Are you hiding behind a screen to avoid a phone or face-to-face conversation? Are you missing an opportunity to build rapport with someone, to re-establish an old connection or to brainstorm solutions to a problem in person?

Is your reliance on e-communication eating up time you would otherwise spend laughing in person over shared experiences, being outside in the 'real world' and 'having a life'?

Re-assess and, if necessary, broaden your communication styles for more balanced interactions with others.

Say 'no' boldly

The first of the Christmas party invitations arrived this week and I said 'no'. When I dropped my daughter at her ballet rehearsal and asked if I could be a back-stage helper for the concert I said 'no'. Sales people and market researchers keep phoning (despite our 'do not call' registration) and I say 'no'.

I've got a good excuse, of course, with a newborn baby in the house, but I haven't been using it. I've just been saying 'no' firmly because I know I can't do everything, and finding it easy and empowering. People aren't batting an eyelid, even without knowledge of my reasons and it gets easier every time.

I've learnt that there's nearly always no need to explain yourself when you turn people down - just to be certain in your approach.

Start today

With the 'silly season' almost upon us, we have an opportunity to shape how we experience the last few weeks of this year.

Do you want to reach 2011 wrung out and gasping for oxygen, or relaxed and optimistic?

Decide now what you will and won't take on, what you'll accept, how much running around you'll do, and what corners you can cut and make a plan to enjoy the end of this year.

Say 'no' with no excuses and carve yourself some time.

Asking for help

My three best friends came over on the weekend, armed with spinach pie, chocolate cheesecake and a non-pushy approach to breastfeeding.

Where midwives, lactation consultants and nurses had all failed, my school friends and I eventually lured Sebastian on properly with a mix of hilarity, patience and Lindt chocolate (for us, not him).

It may be the third time I've done this, but Seb is a first-time baby, and I'm all for asking for help instead of battling on for appearances.

Start today

We often face situations where we assume we ought to be able to manage a task because we're experienced or qualified, and expectations are high. We choose to flounder, because we're afraid of how it will look to ask for advice when we 'ought to know how to do this'.

Life is too short to struggle on behind the scenes, and most people are happy to help when they're approached.

The senior managers I have most admired in my career are the ones who openly ask questions and seek clarification when they don't understand something, no matter how it looks. Asking for assistance is a common trait amongst people who do their jobs very well. It saves a lot of time and leads to earlier proficiency in difficult tasks.

It takes strength to show your vulnerability. Ask for help and you'll fly over hurdles rather than tripping over them.

Il dolce far niente - 'the sweetness of doing nothing'

While I haven't read the book, I saw the movie adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert's 'Eat, Pray, Love' this week.

I loved the advice given to the frantic and unhappy American by her new Italian friends - who advocate and appreciate 'the sweetness of doing nothing'.

This is a learned art for many of us, who rarely sit still and just 'be'.

I took my daughters to a fete yesterday and decided that - for once - I didn't care how long we stayed. We ambled around, tasted different foods, then sat on the ground and watched a friend's little one queue for 45 minutes for her first pony ride, while we just talked, and picked blades of grass off the oval. I didn't look at my watch and, in the end, we were at the fete for nearly four hours - far longer than I would usually stay, when thoughts would race through my mind of 'everything I need to do at home'.

The result? A wonderful sense of relaxation and another happy memory to chalk up together, rather than a car-ride home with complaints of 'Why couldn't we stay longer? Why are we always in a rush?'

Start today

If you're in the habit of always being busy - if you 'can't relax' and you are constantly armed with a 'to do' list a mile long - give 'the sweetness of doing nothing' a go. It might feel uncomfortable at first to be still with your own thoughts, but it's an effective and inexpensive 'treatment' for the stress of modern life.

Get creative

With a week and a bit to go before Baby Bliss arrives, I've reached the point where it's difficult to focus on anything but the impending task of safely delivering this baby (and cleaning out cupboards). I'm boring myself and everyone around me, but during this 'waiting' phase - where every twinge might 'be the start of something' (but nine times out of ten, isn't) - it's hard to think of other things.

I had great intentions of using this time to work on my almost finished novel (a 'vampire-free' teen sci-fi romance). I got as far as opening the file the other day, and adding page numbers ... before I drifted onto another pregnancy website searching for ways to induce your own labour, poured another cup of raspberry tea, ate some fresh pineapple and de-cluttered the DVDs.

While I've loved sharing my body with the little person I can't wait to meet, part of me can't wait to get 'me' back - and that goes for my body and mind.

I met a mum-of-three this week who has moved through this pregnancy-obsessed phase and re-immersed herself in her creativity. Juliette, of Parer Photography, is the great niece of the famous World-War Two photographer, Damien Parer. Her uncle is a natural history film producer, and she is launching her exhibition, called 'Home' at the end of this month. She was a great reminder to me that there is 'life after baby' - with personal goals to meet and dreams to fulfill.

Start today

In the frantic dash between work and family, it's easy to lose sight of who you are as an individual.

Is there a creative part of you that you long to nurture? Is it your health and fitness that you'd like to focus on? Do you just crave some space?

This week, make a point of picking up a 'piece' of you that has been pushed to the side because of 'more important' priorities. Dust it off and enjoy the feeling of being 'you' again.

Be decisive

I hosted a 'shoe party' today, at which guests could select from a multitude of colours, styles, fabrics and trims to design their own pair of shoes.

I'm Libran and, whether there's anything in astrology or not, Librans are renowned for being able to balance both sides of any argument. This is great when it comes to diplomacy and not so great when it comes to making a decision.

The shoe choices seemed totally overwhelming. In the end, I let two of my friends design my shoes for me.

It got me thinking how often I use the excuse that 'I'm Libran' to avoid making a decision. I'll often choose the same dish over and over again at our favourite restaurant, just to avoid having to choose from the menu. I'll toss up between two items, then go home with nothing because it's easier.

What else am I missing out on by being indecisive? Worse, what messages are my two Libran daughters picking up?

Start today

We all make excuses that hold us back. 'I'm blonde', 'I'm not good at maths', 'I'm not coordinated', 'I'm not a people person', 'I can't speak in public'...

After a while, if we tell ourselves often enough (or if we hear this a lot in our family) the excuse becomes part of our identity and an easy way out of situations that challenge us.

It probably would have been fun to design my own shoes today. Next time I'll just jump in.