The A Word: “London Calling”

I’m absolutely amazed at the speed of our vaccination programme; Jamie and I have our 2nd jabs scheduled so when that time comes, we’ll be raring to go.  The biggest lesson I’ve learned from lockdown is to be grateful for the small things but I’m sure I’ll forget that when we’re free 😊.

During this latest period of staying at home, my granddaughter had to select one member of her family and write their biography for a school project.  I loved working with her on her assignment and as my story is somewhat interesting in its entirety, I’ve decided to share some snippets in this month’s blog. 

Looking back, a move to London in the late 80’s saved me from myself.  I was adopted at 3 months old and brought up in a very small village in West Cumbria where everyone knew everyone else’s business.  At the height of the 1960s, more than 16,000 British babies were adopted, and it was a very different process from that of today.  My parents owned the village shop and post office and I found out I was adopted in the school playground from children whose parents knew my circumstances.  I grew up with the “adopted girl” label and my school years went from bad to worse. My behaviour wasn’t great, and the more the villagers gossiped about me, the more I rebelled.  Whilst my parents were good to me, they didn’t talk about my adoption nor did they provide me with the information on my background.  I grew up wondering who I was – I had no identity.

Moving to London in 1989 was the opportunity I needed.  I absolutely loved the anonymity; my label had gone.  However, I did have my 7-year-old daughter to think about and I wanted her with me every step of the way; after what happened to me there was no way I was going to leave her in Cumbria until I was settled as had been suggested.  Anyway, after some very difficult decisions (which in hindsight weren’t great) we made it through the first 6 months and our London life improved with time.

I secured a great job in the City and had an absolute blast through the 1990’s.  London had been a leading global financial centre since the 1960s. But on October 27th 1986, it became “the” global financial centre. It was the day of the Big Bang – when, in one fell swoop, the City of London was deregulated, revolutionising its fortunes, and turning it into a financial capital to rival New York.  London’s switch from traditional face-to-face share dealing to electronic trading helped it outpace its European competitors and become a magnet for international banks. London in the 90’s was hugely optimistic, there was much more social cohesion than there is today, much less divisive politics and a wonderful atmosphere of harmony.

The wine bars were packed, and City workers spilled out onto the streets after work.  Whilst open outcry in and around the trading pits was disappearing there were still a lot of “trading jackets”, a blazer worn by brokers who executed the trades. They were intentionally brightly coloured so individual traders and the financial firm they worked for could be easily identified. I loved being in among this exciting, colourful new world and whilst I studied hard to improve my knowledge of the financial markets, the lifestyle I led was very much work hard, play hard.

I drank champagne and cocktails and went to some of the best venues London had to offer.  Jamie and I used to go to a bar on Thursday nights in Bow Lane.  It was full on Latino and by 10pm everyone was dancing outside in the street to the upbeat music.  Some of us were dressed in full on business attire mixed in with the traders in their brightly coloured jackets. The bar staff stood on bar top pouring shots into open mouths below!

I’ve missed London during the pandemic and I’m looking forward to returning once lockdown is over.  I do hope people return to the office with some home working mixed in; social interaction is so important to our well-being.  It’s been a hard slog for home workers, we all need to get out of our elasticated-waist sweatpants and off Zoom.  Its unnatural to see ourselves in a square on a screen, especially with our new look hairstyles.  I don’t know whose it worse, mine or Boris’s!  I also appreciate there’s another side to London and in my next blog I will share the not so glamourous side coupled with my experience volunteering for the homeless charity Crisis.

As everyone knows, I write my story to raise awareness of autoimmune disease.  Loads of people write to me after a blog goes live and many of you raise the same concern about time to diagnosis. People on average see 6 doctors over a period of 4 years before they get a diagnosis. This isn’t right but I do understand why.  In general, autoimmune diseases tend to arrive unpredictably, disguised as other conditions, offering only confusing clues as to what they are, and it takes a lot of working out to untangle all the pieces.  Being adopted, I had no family medical history, and my diagnosis took over 20 years.  If I’d been diagnosed sooner its possible my sacroiliac joints wouldn’t be completely fused and the level of pain I tolerate may have been reduced.

It’s really important to me to continue to raise awareness for these conditions; please keep your questions coming as if I can offer any help and advice about my diagnosis that will help you, every minute I spend on my blog will be worth it.

When lockdown ends, I definitely won’t miss deciding what to make for dinner on day 499 😊.  See you in the pub xx

Delightfully Difficult

Thankfully, we made it through the year of January and we’re edging closer to Spring. I’m already smiling at the snowdrops we see on our walks and soon the bright yellow daffodils and the colourful crocuses will poke their heads through the soaking ground. I’m booked in for my COVID vaccination next week and feeling much more optimistic about our path out of lockdown.

Yoga is going well; I’m practicing around 45 minutes a day and loving the online classes. I might look like a sack of potatoes attempting some of the poses but its great as no one can see me!  I do laugh at myself sometimes which I guess is also good.  I always thought getting strong meant throwing heavy weights around in the gym, but yoga has taught me some valuable lessons and I feel the strongest I’ve ever felt.  I’m also noticing improvements in my flexibility and less pain in my back and neck.  I’ve really struggled with pain levels at times, especially in my neck, so anything I can do to alleviate it that doesn’t involve more medication is superb. 

As my readers know, I tend to focus on one main subject in my blog and this week its dealing with difficult people.  We deal with difficult individuals in all walks of life and it’s important to learn how to manage them.

In the workplace I strongly believe the people who are the most difficult to manage are often the most talented.  As a “leader” you need to be able to manage difficult people to be successful. It’s the same in football; I often see a football manager fail because he can’t manage the strong characters in the dressing room.  They are often the best players, but you can’t let them disrupt the rest of the team.  Some are blissfully unaware of the impact they have on those around them, and others seem to derive satisfaction from creating chaos and pushing other people’s buttons. Either way, they can create unnecessary complexity and worst of all stress if not managed well.

The most successful salesperson in my team was also the most difficult to manage.  I don’t know if he reads my blogs, but he’ll know who he is if he does 😊.  He was superb at sales and greatly contributed to my success.   However, the challenges were many – fights in the office, other people’s ties being cut off in the pub and I didn’t have a clue where he was most of the time!  The expense account was also an interesting read when it landed on my desk for sign off.

That said, you do need to be careful as “challenging personalities” are different to the complainers and negaholics who are definitely bad news. These are the ones that you need to eek out before they take up too much of your time and sap your energy.

In recent years I’ve taken on consultancy assignments to review a company’s sales process to recommend improvements.  I always start a new project meeting the senior management team to discuss their main issues and challenges.  The most common issue raised is how to manage underperforming individuals.   In my experience, that’s the easy bit.  It’s not difficult to provide underperforming individuals with the coaching they need to bridge those gaps and if they don’t improve, they’re moved on.   

The toughest people to manage are those with the greatest talents and these are the people that business leaders often don’t get the best out of.  Like my sales guy, talented individuals play critical roles in a company’s growth or a football team’s success and both can miss out if they don’t have the right leadership in place to manage them. 

In everyday life we also need to know how to deal with difficult or challenging people as there are a lot around 😊. When faced with such people, having a clear understanding of how you react and what tools you can employ to attempt to keep things productive can make such a difference. I’ve found distraction technique works well, I’ve mastered the art of changing the subject if someone is being difficult, aggressive, or trying to intimidate me, it works a treat, even on social media!

Finally, I want to talk about mental health.  Dr Alex George has recently been appointed as youth mental health ambassador which I think is brilliant.  I’m so pleased mental health awareness is starting to get the attention it deserves.  I grew up very aware of the affect mental health can have and until recently it was a “taboo” subject.  There are many studies suggesting that mental health is significantly affected in those people with AS, including an increased risk of depression and anxiety.  When you tolerate pain daily it does take its toll which is why I write my story sharing my tips on keeping fit and healthy.  Without getting too technical, during an AS flare, signals to and from pain receptors interfere with normal brain function meaning these pain signals literally “fog” up your brain like television static. 

There’s also belief that when in pain, sleep is not restorative, and I can certainly vouch for that; my Fitbit is the proof as my sleep can be terrible when I’m in pain.  The brain and body are supposed to repair themselves during sleep and put memories into long term storage overnight. When in pain, rest is not rejuvenating and events in short term memory are lost.  Perhaps that’s why I find things I’ve lost in the strangest of places (quite often the fridge or the bin 😊).

On a brighter note, I do wonder how easy its going to be integrate ourselves back into society once we’re out and about again.  I’m pretty sure we can all agree that if anyone had asked us in 2015/2016 the boring old interview question “where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time”, we’d all have been wrong! 

Until next time xxxxxx

The A Word: Faking It

Supta Virasana

Here we are in our 3rd national lockdown and I think it may be a while before it comes to an end.  During the 1st lockdown (which seems like a very long time ago) I started on-line classes to teach myself to dance.  I’m still learning and pleased to report that I’m looking forward to showing off my new skills.  I’ve recently progressed to rock and roll while blasting out Elvis Presley’s Jailhouse Rock!  As well as working, I’m still doing my daily workouts, walking around 15,000 steps a day, and continuing to practice yoga.  I have to say that out of everything I do to help my Ankylosing Spondylitis, Yoga is by far the most enjoyable.

I write my blog to raise awareness of autoimmune diseases and it’s a well-known fact that exercise can help with the challenges we encounter in everyday life.  If you’ve been struggling to get your exercise regime kick started, I thought I’d share a really good piece of advice I picked up during my sales training that will help if you can’t get motivated.  It only takes 30 days of perseverance to create a new habit and, more importantly, 66 days for a new behaviour to become automatic.  There’s lots of research to be found on this subject but a good study published in 2009 by the European Journal of Social Psychology provides information to support this.

So, when I decided to practice Yoga, I started with a 30-day programme to learn the basics.  Wow, I’ve progressed so quickly and surprised myself at how much I’ve come to enjoy this daily ritual.  I do some relatively advanced sessions now, usually for about 40 minutes a day, and whilst I can’t do all the yoga poses yet, I see improvement every time I take to the mat.  I appreciate I’ve good reason for trying everything I can to keep well, but there are many benefits associated with Yoga and if you take anything away from my blogs, I ask you to take a look at an online beginner’s yoga video on YouTube, it will change your life in only 30 days! 

Moving on, the main subject of this blog is “Faking It”.  You’re probably thinking, “OMG, what’s she going to say now”!

During my early career I often felt like a “fake” and I’ve since learned it’s a very common feeling.  There are many skilled, accomplished executives who fear that they’re not good enough—impostors who are bound to be found out. In many walks of life there are high achievers who believe that they are complete fakes. To the outside observer, they appear to be remarkably accomplished; often they’re extremely successful leaders. Despite their achievements, however, these people sense that they are frauds. This neurotic imposture, as psychologists call it, is not a false humility. It is the flip side of giftedness and causes many talented, hardworking, and capable leaders—men and women who have achieved great things—to believe that they don’t deserve their success.

In my situation, not having a University degree probably contributed to feeling like a fake as I worked with some incredibly clever, talented people.  I often had the feeling that I only scraped by because of luck or by fooling others into believing in me.  I felt a deep insecurity about my work and accomplishments, often anxious that I’d be exposed as a fraud.

This did get better by the way 😊.  I started to keep a spreadsheet of the deals I’d closed to remind myself I was doing OK.   In the later stages of my career just before Jamie and I founded our successful business, my confidence continued to improve.  I remember driving across London in a chauffeur driven car with the CEO of a very large, well known American technology organisation.  They were buying the company I worked for and, as Head of Sales, I was taking him out to meet some of our clients (complete with his bodyguard!).  It only took one complement from him on the relationship I had with one of our largest clients for me to think I wasn’t too bad after all!  So, if you’re a senior executive reading my blog always take time to praise people for good work as I can assure you it really makes a difference.

This “fake” feeling isn’t just the case in business as we all play roles on the stage of life, presenting a public image that sometimes differs from the private person we actually are.   The studies of the famous Canadian sociologist Erving Groffman are interesting as he provides a detailed account of this in his book “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.”   

Groffman argues that as humans come in contact with each other they adopt and play roles in order to fulfil their goals, establishing the relationship between the actor and audience. Using this metaphor, he explains that we strive to convince those around us of what we are trying to portray. Just like a good actor in a movie, the degree to which people believe us all play a role in our ultimate success. He goes on to explain the “front stage” as being where we perform or conform to what people expect and the “backstage” is where we can forget the script and behave without the fear of disapproval.  An interesting concept and a good read for lockdown boredom 😊..

Finally, I want to finish on the current situation we find ourselves in here in the UK.  Like many of you, Jamie and I have such a full life and I’m really missing normality; my attitude to lockdown is better on some days than on others!  I do appreciate we’re not “stuck” at home we’re “safe” at home and, more importantly, helping to keep others safe.  I think its fair to say we have to try to make the most of this time, rather than just play a waiting game, until things get easier and better.  Life will always be complicated.  We have to learn to be happy right now, otherwise we’ll run out of time.  Easier said than done but perhaps worth a try.

Until next time, keep safe and try Yoga xxxx

The A Word: When fairytales go wrong!

After a three-month break, I’m back writing my blog to help raise awareness of autoimmune disease and I’ve an update on my Ankylosing Spondylitis which I’ll talk about shortly.  I also want to say a big thank you for all the wonderful messages, you’ve inspired me to continue to write.

Since July I’ve taken up yoga which I’ve been meaning to do for ages and I’m loving it.  I can’t do classes due to the lockdown, but my daughter sent me a link to an online class and it’s amazing.  I didn’t think online would work for me, but I’ve really surprised myself and I’m hoping it will help with my AS too. In addition to my normal working week, I’ve started to write my book and still do a daily workout so I’m reducing my blog to one a month to make sure I keep up with everything and don’t bore the pants of everyone.

So, here we go, let’s start with a rant about this bonkers world we find ourselves in.  Not only are we intent on eliminating history, but my favourite Christmas song, Fairytale of New York, will no longer to be played in its original form.  The wonderful lyrics have been the focus of much debate in recent years, as they include so called “derogatory” terms for gender and sexuality.

For goodness sake, it’s a dark song about two poor, probably doomed Irish immigrants in New York; they are drunkenly arguing, and the lyrics reflect that. It’s a masterpiece!  It’s not about snow or sleigh rides or mistletoe or miracles, but lost youth and ruined dreams. A song in which Christmas is the problem.  It’s also a great reminder of the lovely Kirsty McColl who sadly died in December 2000 in a tragic accident Mexico.  I always find myself singing along loudly, especially to the bit below, where I inevitability jumble up all the words in a very loud, tuneless rendition 😊….

You were handsome
You were pretty
Queen of New York City
When the band finished playing
They howled out for more
Sinatra was swinging
All the drunks they were singing
We kissed on a corner
Then danced through the night

The boys of the NYPD choir
Were singing Galway Bay
And the bells were ringing out
For Christmas day

You’re a bum
You’re a punk
You’re an old slut on junk
Lying there almost dead on a drip in that bed
You scumbag, you maggot
You cheap lousy faggot
Happy Christmas your arse
I pray God it’s our last

Leading into the subject Christmas we’re so hoping to have our family together.  There are 11 of us now and it will be our new grandson’s first Christmas where he will meet his cousins.  I’m certainly hopeful life will start to return to some sort of normality in 2021 given the good news about the progress of the vaccinations.  We’ve already booked our trip to South of France in July and I can’t wait to board that EasyJet flight 😊…  I never thought I would miss an airline so much!

Another subject making the headlines this week is one I feel very strongly about – bullying.  Bullying in the workplace has come to our attention as the Home Secretary, Priti Patel had to issue an apology as a recent report found that her behaviour towards staff did break the ministerial code.  I dislike politics (especially at the moment), so I don’t want to make this a political blog, but I do think bullying needs to be addressed as it comes in lots of different forms. 

Even now in 2020, it still remains taboo for women to speak out about woman-on-woman bullying at work. The Workplace Bullying Institute found women bully other women up to 80% of the time which I think is totally unacceptable.   Women have fought and continue to fight for a seat at the table and to be seen as an equal to their male counterparts; we should be supporting each other big time not bringing our female colleagues down. 

During my career I’ve mostly worked in male dominated environments and I’ve certainly had some spats 😊.  Most of the women I’ve had the pleasure of working with have been kind, inspirational and, like me, often lacking in confidence.  However, on the flip side, I’ve also felt more intimated by other women. For me it often came as a snide remark after a success.  Perhaps I’d won a deal or been asked to take on more responsibility and, of course, it always had the desired effect – me losing my confidence!  Personally, I think it’s so important that we make a conscious effort to be kind and thoughtful, but I do appreciate it’s not always easy.

Finally, this week I wanted to share an update on my AS.  Working with my Rheumatologist we’re investigating some new symptoms that have materialised over the last few months.  I’ve developed a tremor in both my hands along with some really odd muscle spasms in my fingers and nerve pains in my arms (and no, I haven’t started drinking copious amounts of spirits 😊).  I had an MRI scan of the Cervical spine and whilst the Ankylosing Spondylitis is continuing to cause damage, there was no impingement to explain the nerve pain. There’s lots of simple explanations for these new visitors and I’m resisting the temptation to visit my good friend Dr Google for a self-diagnosis.  I suspect it may take a while to get the answers as we go through a process of elimination and I just need to be patient and go with the flow.  I’ll keep everyone updated throughout my journey.

My finale this week is a suggested change for the lyrics for Fairytale of New York.  Not only is it funny, it also removes offence but maintains an 80’s kind of vibe!

You scumbag you maggot, you’ve taped over Taggert!

Bye for now and thank you for reading and sharing my story xx

The A Word: Goodbye for Now

We’ve had the most incredible Summer in Cornwall and now that the meteorological Autumn has arrived, we’re going to be very busy.  It is noticeably quieter in Cornwall this week so we’re off down to Poldhu beach tonight for a sing along with a very popular Cornish band who describe themselves as “proper Cornish singers”.  We’ve pre-ordered pizza and beer from the beach café so it should be a good evening. Jamie has three games of cricket left for St Agnes and I have to say it’s been a real hoot! We’ve met so many local people through the cricket and they all seem to love the same things as we do – drinking and having a laugh!

As you will have guessed from the title of this week’s blog Part 1 of my story is coming to an end.  I’ve loved writing it and it’s far exceeded my expectations in terms of the number of readers, making the top 10% of visitors to a WordPress blog which is amazing. 

I started to write my story as I wanted to raise awareness of autoimmune disease and it’s been extremely rewarding reading the weekly messages from people who have enjoyed my tales.  I’ve talked openly and honestly about my diagnosis and the effect it had on my life.  I’ve covered the challenges I had taking the medication, my allergic reaction to a new biological drug and my visits to A&E.  I’ve also shared some of the tips that help me to manage all the nasty visitors that accompany autoimmune conditions.

My career has also been very important to me and I’ve enjoyed every minute.  Through my blog I’ve shared some of the lessons I’ve learned.  The most comments received in any one week was when I talked about the difference between positive and negative motivation and second was when I criticised full time home working 😊. Throughout lockdown writing my blog was a real saviour for me as our work had dried up and we were unable to see family and friends.

Once of the reasons I’m taking a break is that September is going to an incredibly busy month for us.  We’ve seen an increase in our work which is great, our Hampshire project is underway, and our beautiful cottage in St Agnes is having a makeover.   An added challenge is that my elderly parents are both in poor health, so we’re visiting Cumbria in the next few weeks too.  It’s an 800-mile round trip which is exhausting.  As an only child, I wanted them to move closer, but they chose not to, and I did understand their reasons for staying put.  That said, it’s certainly made life more challenging for all us, especially at the moment.  I’m also planning to write a book and whilst I’ll restart my blog again in October, I may move to bi-weekly or monthly.

Finally, and before I sign off, I wanted to say a big thank you to all my readers for your lovely words throughout these 10 months and leave you with one final thought.

Life is short.  There are so many surprises, obstacles, ups and downs but we are all captains of our own destinies and we need to abandon the fear to live life to the full. I don’t know what our next chapter is going to look like, but I know for sure it won’t be boring 😊. 

Goodbye for now, see you soon and at the end of each day let there be no excuses, no explanations and no regrets xxx

The A Word: A Beginners Guide to Arguing

We’ve finally exchanged on our Hampshire property with completion on 7th September so it’s going to be a busy time.  We can’t move in right away as the house was a complete rebuild of an older property so there’s no curtains or carpets and the delivery on these is around 3 weeks.  It’s  taken longer than we expected and given that my packing for Cornwall was completely inappropriate for anything other than hot weather, I’m pleased we’re nearly there.   For reference, my bag included 3 pairs of sunglasses, sun cream, a sunhat, 2 handbags, 2 dresses, spray tan for legs and 2 pairs of sandals, who knows where I thought I was heading off to!

I now have all my investigative appointments booked for bloods, MRI scans and US scans at the Royal Surrey following my Rheumatology consultation.  They have come through quickly and are also in the calendar for September so that’s good.  Since I started writing my blog at the end of 2019 to raise awareness for autoimmune disease, I’ve received lots of messages, a large proportion of which relate to the time it takes to diagnose these conditions.  The most common autoimmune diseases include Multiple Sclerosis, Type 1 Diabetes, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus and Vasculitis and all are debilitating in their own way.  My AS comes under a term called “Spondyloarthritis”, an umbrella term for inflammatory diseases that can affect the  back, pelvis, neck, and some larger joints, as well as internal organs and the eyes and the average diagnosis takes 10 years.

I think the medical profession are making good progress securing earlier diagnosis and hopefully it will mean that people like myself won’t suffer for years in pain thinking they are going mad!

This week I wanted to talk about arguing.  I hate it and don’t like confrontation as it upsets me.  Some people love arguing and are very good at it.  Fortunately Jamie and I both dislike it which is great but I’ve needed to stand up for myself during my career so I thought I would provide my tips to help those of you who, like me, find it difficult.

In the heat of the moment and desperate to get our own point across we often don’t to listen to other opinions and I’m certainly guilty of that.  By listening you’re gaining knowledge and insight, as well as refining and improving your own position. Often disagreements escalate because of a misunderstanding but what can help is to repeat what you think the other person just said which can help to avoid misunderstandings.  I used to practice this in work situations, and it did help.

In today’s world, often arguments happen on social media.  If you’re faced with a Twitter troll, or a Facebook friend who lures you into a heated debate there are a number of techniques you can use to push your point of view.

Using ‘calm’ language to make a point is more effective than swearing or using aggressive terms.  Personally, I think people who get aggressive are suffering from a deficiency of facts during an argument. I think it’s fair to say you can’t win an argument with insults. The moment you do that, you’ve already lost. You can only win an argument by being factual and if you have insufficient information you can always keep quiet and end the argument; there’s no shame in that.

In a face to face argument, people often use both verbal and facial expressions.  Verbal expressions can include a cold or constant stare, a false or exaggerated smile, or a raised eyebrow, all of which make me more nervous.  Another technique I was taught, especially when I found myself getting upset was to try and use humour which can take the heat out of a situation.

A great example was the American actress Ilka Chase who wrote a number of novels. One day, an another actress told her: “I enjoyed reading your book. Who wrote it for you?” To which Chase replied: “Darling, I’m so glad that you liked it. Who read it to you?”  I’m not sure my own wit is up to that standard though!

I know it’s difficult to remember techniques when your angry and fired up. However, I do try hard to remind myself to stay calm, use facts as evidence to back up my position and ask questions.  I know they say that you shouldn’t preach what you don’t practice but I’ll say it anyway, my final tip is always be prepared to concede a good point 😊

Finally, I want to finish with a little ode I saw in the pub the other night which made me smile and also might help all of us to feel less guilty about our alcohol consumption.

The Horse and Mare live 30 years

And do not know of wines and beers

The Goat and Sheep at 20 die

And never taste the scotch or rye

The Cow drinks water by ton

At 15, their life is almost done

The Dog at 14 normally gives in

Without the aid of rum or gin

The modest sober bone-dry Hen

Lays eggs for years and dies at 10

But sinful, ginfull rum soaked men

Survive till 3 score years and 10

And some of us the mighty few

Say pickled till we are 92!

92 it is then, until next time, stay strong, 2020 is almost over 😊

xxxx

The A Word: Don’t doubt your “Gut Instinct”, it’s your Superpower

We still haven’t exchanged on our new house in Hampshire, it’s so slow! As the property is a complete rebuild of an old house there’s one outstanding point on the planning document to be resolved which we hope will be early next week.

We’re also having some work done on Beech cottage here in Cornwall. When we bought our little gem last year, we had a detailed survey carried out which recommended a new roof.  As we had a leak during one of the storms last Winter we decided to get it done sooner rather than later so that project will kick off in the next week followed by a full repaint of the outside so our little cottage will look lovely after its makeover.  We’re also stocking up on firewood and logs for the Autumn and had the chimney swept so we’ll be fully prepared.

We’ve settled really well into the village and we love our nights sat outside the pub chatting to everyone.  Jamie is playing cricket for the local team now and this Sunday players and supporters are being transported in the St Agnes mini buses so we can have a drink or two and stop at a few pubs on the way home!

As my readers know, I write my blog to raise awareness of autoimmune disease and this week I wanted to talk about “gut instinct” as it played a big part in my diagnosis of Ankylosing Spondylitis and personally, when it comes to health, I trust mine implicitly.

Gut instinct is a deep feeling that you’re right, there’s no need to think it over or get another opinion—you just know. I knew there was something wrong with my body before my diagnosis.  I also know that there are other things brewing that haven’t yet being diagnosed, it’s just a “feeling”.

Interestingly, Richard Branson once said, “I rely far more on gut instinct than researching huge amounts of statistics.”  However, “gut instinct” does tend to get a bad reputation as something that’s flaky and based on no evidence. Would a careful analysis of all the options be more likely to give us the right answer? Not necessarily. Our gut instincts are not always as random as they seem. They can be based on a rapid appraisal of the situation. We might not always realise it, but the brain is constantly comparing our current situation with our memories of previous situations. So, when a decision feels intuitive, it might in fact be based on years of experience.

During my career I have often trusted my “gut instinct” ahead of other factors but relying on it totally goes against all the sales training and coaching I’ve ever had.  It’s a discussion I still have today when we’re working with smaller organisations who are just starting out and building their sales teams for the first time.  

There are many small companies who make their decisions without putting enough thought into it, especially around their sales and marketing strategies.  The necessary research that’s required to determine whether or not a new strategy will be successful is often completely discarded for a much quicker, less structured approach using “gut instinct”.  This means that the new salespeople they hire often fail as they don’t have the right strategies in place to support them.

So how can you combine your “gut instinct” but still do the important analysis in a short a time as possible?

Personally, I think technology plays a big part.  We all now have access to powerful decision-support tools that can help us quickly sort through vast amounts of information.  These tools don’t just apply to making business decisions either.  They can apply to buying a new house, a new car, a holiday, and many other aspects of our daily life.  When combined our own experience and insight, these analytical tools can offer both companies and individuals consistently sound and rational choices even in the face of complexity—a capability that our “gut instinct” will never match on its own.

So yes, in summary I think gut feel can be really useful and we should trust it implicitly in highly uncertain circumstances where further data gathering, and analysis won’t sway you one way or another. Trusting your gut also allows you the freedom to move forward quickly too, instead of procrastinating.  However, if data and analysis are available and applicable, then use those tools too.  Our overall objective is to assess the probability of any outcome with reasonable confidence so we can make better decisions and life choices.

Finally, this week I want to talk about tourism as Cornwall is really busy at the moment.  Here in St Agnes and all over Cornwall the local people say it’s a lot busier than normal and its wonderful for all the businesses who rely on these busy months during the Summer.  In fact, a third of Cornish households depend on income from tourism so its extremely important all round.

However, I’ve also seen lots of reports on social media that fed up locals are unhappy about the influx of visitors and I think it has something to do with the fact that it had been really quiet for a long time beforehand whereas usually in March, April, May and June tourism would have gradually ramped up, but because of lockdown Cornwall went from zero to thousands of people very quickly!

Being brought up in the Lake District I’m used to living my Summers with an influx of tourists and have always seen the positive side, but I do have one real gripe!  Jamie and I see so much litter when out on our walks – discarded picnic rubbish, cans, coffee cups, tissues, face masks, it’s just terrible.  The coastal path and the beaches are left in an awful state.

I saw one sign in a beach coffee bar offering a free coffee if you collected a bucket of rubbish off the beach and buckets were supplied! 

Every litter bit hurts, until next time, stay safe xxxx

The A Word: I Would Walk 500 Miles

and I would walk 500 more

It’s been a wonderful week spending time with our family. Our grandchildren give us so much pleasure and laughter and our new grandson is growing so quickly he’s nearly out of his Moses basket.  It was also incredibly hot and now we’re back in Cornwall it’s noticeably cooler but more humid which isn’t great for my hair! 😊. 

I also had my first Rheumatology appointment since before lockdown.  It worked OK by telephone and I’d prepared my notes beforehand.  We agreed that I’d have some investigative MRI scans of the cervical spine and an ultrasound scan of my arms, hands, and fingers due to some new symptoms I’ve experienced.  I guess these will go on a while, so I won’t have any updates in the short term.

We’ve had the most amazing Summer in Cornwall and the walking has been superb.  Since the start of the UK lockdown on 16th March until today, our FitBit shows we have walked over 3,000 kilometres.  To put that into perspective Moscow is 2,500k from London and Cairo 3,500k.  Norway is about the right distance, at 3025k from London!  Not surprising, the soles of our walking shoes have worn away 😊.

We’ve loved living in our cottage right in the middle of a bustling village.  The pavement is opposite our house,  but people still walk on our side of the road and look into the window whilst we’re sitting in the evening.  I can’t complain though as I do it too, especially at Christmas.  I love looking at all the beautiful Christmas trees on display. It’s like those Christmas scenes you see on cards with houses all lit up and families inside and its definitely my favourite time to peer in.  Jamie and I could always close our curtains, but we chose not to as we love to see the activity outside our window.

My blogs are mostly about living the best life you can with chronic pain.  Last week I talked about positive and negative motivation and the difference between the two.  This week I wanted to talk about negativity in general as it really can really hamper our ability to be happy.

Negativity is a tendency to be downbeat, disagreeable, and sceptical. It’s a pessimistic attitude that always expects the worst. It’s important to mention that depression and/or sadness are not the same as having a general negative disposition.  

Negative people tend to moan a lot, convinced that the whole world is against them. They are usually the victim of “something” whether it’s a difficult boss, a bad relationship, bad luck, or their upbringing. They rarely step back to look at other factors – such as hard work.  Apparently, there’s also a neurological explanation as to why some people end up being so negative. It has to do with the part of the brain called the amygdala, which functions as an alarm and is constantly on the lookout for danger, fear and bad news.

For many people, being negative is just a part of life, however, it is something that you can train yourself out of with a little bit of practice.  I love the Ant Middleton books; they are easy to read and focus on embracing positivity and a positive attitude into your everyday life. 

I often see articles suggesting that you remove negative people from your social media or your friendship groups.  I definitely agree and during my career, I’ve found that the most successful people have made it a rule to avoid negative people. This is because negative people can affect your attitude.  For example, when I thought about writing my blog my friends and family were brilliant, encouraging me and being really supportive of my goals.  My husband Jamie continues to complement me on my blogs and encourages me every week. Acquaintances are sometimes different.  Before I started to share my story, I had someone say I’d find it impossible as bloggers were mostly much younger than me!   If I’d chosen to listen to that negative person or believed in what they said, it would have affected my confidence and possibly even stopped me from writing.  My blog has been really successful and I’m in the top 10% of traffic for WordPress blogs which is amazing.

I’ve also experienced negative people during my working career; they’re always the ones who make you doubt yourself.   I’ve noticed that when I’m around positive people who are enthusiastic, they raise my energy levels. Negative people do the opposite; they tend to drain my energy and I just want them to go away.

As I said earlier, whatever life throws at us, we need to try and live “our best life” as we only get one shot.  When you struggle with illness and chronic pain, positive people help and give positive reinforcement when doubts and worries creep in.  Negative people make you believe your doubts.  Negative people generally have a problem for every solution and positive people have a solution for every problem.  Don’t waste you time trying to accommodate them, do what I do and remove them from your life, starting with social media.

Finally, I want to talk about the ice-cream manufacturer Ben and Jerry’s who made headlines this week when the company’s social media team published a Tweet about migrants and refugees directed at the home secretary.   Whilst a lot of people agreed with their position, a large proportion didn’t and personally I don’t think the Corporate world should get involved in politics.  Ben and Jerry’s are part of a massive global conglomerate called Unilever and perhaps if they paid the taxes HMRC thinks they should pay we could spend more money helping the people who need it most. 

Until next time, stay safe #stayalert and remember positive thoughts in the morning can change your whole day xxxxx

The A Word: A Cause for Celebration (or not!)

The answer my friend is blowing in the wind!

Everyone who sees my social media photos must think we have sunshine 24×7 in Cornwall so I thought I would post a blog picture in the rain for a change.  Jamie and I have full waterproofs and I love to walk in the rain; I really appreciate the smell of the earth as it has a natural calming effect on my overactive mind.  We’re so close to nature here it really is beautiful in all weather conditions.

I’m also happy to report I finally have my first Rheumatology appointment since the COVID-19 lockdown and it’s next Monday on my birthday!  I’m not changing it as I’ve waited too long so hopefully all will be well as I’ll get the results of the MRI scans and blood tests from February. We’re off out for dinner after the appointment and up early the following day to drive “up country” to see our family and grandchildren so a lovely week to look forward to.  We also hope to exchange contacts on the house so a busy time all round.

Like me, many people with an autoimmune disease go through periods of feeling relatively normal and then have the sudden onset of severe symptoms called “flares” making it difficult to find the motivation and energy to be active.  Self-motivation has always played a big part in my working life and private life and I thought it would be useful to write about my experience of both.

There are two types of motivation, positive and negative.  Positively motivated people will achieve something because of their own enthusiasm or interest, without needing pressure from others.  For example, being a star performer at work, living a fit and healthy lifestyle or even saving for a deposit on a house.  It’s when a person knows where they’re going, how they are going to get there and adopting that positive attitude towards achieving their goals.   

Motivation is our internal energy force that determines all aspects of our behaviour; it also impacts on how we think, feel and interact with others. Sport is a great example as high motivation is widely accepted as an essential prerequisite in getting athletes to fulfil their potential.  My daughter is a triathlete, mostly focused on the Half Ironman (70.3 distance) and her self-motivation to train never ceases to amaze me.

Negative motivation can best be described as wanting to get away from an existing condition.  Although it tends to display the same characteristics, the results achieved are markedly different from those of positive motivation.  Negative motivation is rooted on fear.  Fear means you are acting on the pressure of losing something – your current job, your money, or your lifestyle. 

The main difference between the two is that positively motivated actions will most likely have a positive outcome.   If someone is negatively motivated, their actions may have an undesirable negative outcome   A film I watched called Deep Water is great example of negative motivation.  It’s a documentary film based on the true story of Donald Crowhurst and the 1969 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race round the world alone in a yacht and it doesn’t end well.

Positive and negative motivation also applies in the workplace.  We’ve all had a boss who uses negative motivation to get their employees to work harder or perform better (yes, the stick rather than the carrot).  These are the people who focus on giving their team negative feedback, threats, or disciplinary action.

I certainly prefer carrots and I would like to think that during my career I always tried to be a positive motivator (and still do).  Positive motivational leaders are visionaries and tend to build a shared vision, rallying their team.  I’ve been very lucky to work for some outstanding people, who, whilst results oriented, they were able to motivate and develop their team to adopt their shared vision.  They pursue information to reduce uncertainty and find ways to do things better, and often cut through red tape and bend the rules when necessary to get the job done.  More importantly, they persist in seeking to achieve goals despite obstacles and setbacks.  They see setbacks as manageable circumstances and don’t take anything personally.   I’ve only worked for a “negative motivator” once and I hated it and made a mental note never to repeat that kind of behaviour.

Finally, I wanted to chat about Gin.  I know Jamie and I are late to the party, but what has happened to Gin, its amazing!  A few months ago, in one of my blogs I said I don’t drink spirits, but all has changed since we found the gin “tinnies” in Sainsbury’s. 

From “mothers ruin” to the “hipster” drink gin has now become, it’s a real success story.  There are now pink gins, gin in beautiful artisan bottles and those flavoured with honey, rhubarb, mangoes and strawberries, the list is endless. Flavoured gin has increased in abundance but it’s not just gin. Flavoured tonic is expanding in every direction, providing us gin drinkers with exciting new ways to serve their favourite gins

In 2018 it was revealed that UK gin sales had soared by 254 per cent over the past decade. The spirit was officially named Britain’s favourite drink when a record 47 million bottles were sold in one year! To keep up with demand, the number of UK gin distilleries has more than doubled, from 152 in 2013 to 315 today.  Gin has become so popular in Britain that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) added it back to the basket of goods it uses to measure inflation after a 13-year absence.

Gym?  I thought you said “Gin”, yes please 😊.  Until next time, stay safe #stayalert and enjoy the Gin xxxxx

The A Word: Behind the Mask

Chapel Porth, Cornwall

Life is St Agnes is great.  The weather has been amazing, and our work has started to pick up too which is really good news.  Our Hampshire house is nearing exchange and we’re just waiting for the searches to come back which have taken longer than normal due to the backlog from lockdown.  We’re anticipating completion during August, but Jamie and I admit it will be very difficult to tear ourselves away from Beech cottage.

We do miss our family though and will probably head back “up country” before we complete on the house to see our family and grandchildren.  We were back two weeks ago to welcome our new grandson; we now have three which is wonderful, a girl and two boys.   The journey from Cornwall takes just over 4 hours which isn’t too bad, especially with a few good podcasts.

Like everyone else, I’m wearing my face mask for shopping.  The evidence seems pretty clear to me that masks can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and that the more people wearing masks for indoor activities will help.  I also understand this is not about “me”, as there is strong evidence to say that the best benefit of wearing a mask is for people who have COVID-19 to protect them from giving COVID-19 to other people.

However, masks and makeup don’t mix 😊.  I don’t wear a lot of make-up, but I do wear some and its now covering the inside of my mask.  There are many YouTube videos advising us to emphasize the eyes; it’s definitely all about the eyes and not about my red lipstick! Obviously, I appreciate that looking good is not the point of wearing a face mask however, it’s just possible there’s just something attractive about a little mystery, a little obscured identity. Apparently, the masks draw attention to two of our hottest and most controllable features, our eyes and hair and thankfully I’ve now had a haircut!

Whilst the mask is not my favourite accessory, it did make me roll my eyes to see hundreds of demonstrators gathered in London to protest against wearing them days before it became mandatory. Ultimately, I think wearing a mask suggests that you actually care about the people you interact with and whether they live or die”, it’s that simple.

Moving on I mentioned earlier that our work has started to pick up and throughout my career one of my strengths has been to identify the best salespeople and hire them.  My theory was always to employ people better than me.  Some people are afraid to do this, worried that their new hire will be so good they’ll make them look bad.  I don’t agree – everyone needs really smart people in their team.  They bring a fresh perspective; they see things that you might not have seen by yourself.  Good leaders recognise their own weaknesses and limitations as I did.  Why would you recognise a weakness, and then not hire someone smarter than you who can plug this gap? It’s not only the best outcome for the team, and ultimately the business, but for your own personal development too.

So that’s why Jamie set up our search and recruitment company 12 years ago to find these top performers for our clients.  Many people ask us why we are different from the hundreds of other recruiters and that’s a great question.  We both worked in the financial technology industry and have a much better understanding than most of our competitors about the roles we are recruiting for, but there’s another, more important reason.

It’s a fact that most sales professionals perform well at interview, but research shows that 50% of sales hires underperform against expectations, a figure that is constantly on the rise in our new world.  We know that top sales performers are alike in one crucial way: they all have a high degree of emotional intelligence which they can’t “fake” during an interview.  Whilst a candidate’s skills are important, salespeople are very good at enhancing these and covering up their flaws.  Characteristics such as emotional intelligence are vital in identifying high achievers.  We’ve spent years comparing the profiles of top performers with average ones in sales roles, and nearly 90% of the difference in their profiles was attributable to emotional intelligence factors rather than cognitive abilities.   Hopefully, our business will continue to improve over the coming months as we enjoy what we do.  We would like to continue working for the next 3-5 years but we’ll see how it goes and, if not, find other ways of making some money and keeping our brains active.

Finally, I’ve had lots of messages asking me if the antibiotics worked.  Well, yes and no.  They cleared my chest infection so I can now walk uphill again without my chest frantically whistling at me and whilst my sinusitis is a little better, it hasn’t gone completely, so mixed results.

I’m also patiently awaiting my next Rheumatology appointment.  Most hospital departments were reallocated to the frontline during the lockdown, which was understandable, but as they have restarted, I’m hopeful I’ll be seen soon.  I was due to start on new medication before the lockdown and I also had a number of MRI scans and blood tests for which I’m waiting the results. I find it reassuring to know that my treatment is working properly and to go through the physical assessments to assess how my AS is progressing.  Without these appointments I get nervous and worry about the future.  I’m definitely the kind of person who needs to know the full picture so I can deal with it in the best way possible.

Thank you for reading and sharing my blog to raise awareness for autoimmune disease.  I doubt any of us could ever have imagined we would be living in a world where its normal to walk into a bank wearing a face mask and ask for money?

Until next time, keep safe, and #stayalert!

xx