Category Archives: Self-confidence & Growing

On self-confidence and growing as a person

Good advice from wise people

IMG_0367_editOne nice thing about breaking up with your partner is that you instantly receive compassion and support from everyone around you, including some unsuspected places.

In the last few weeks I’ve relied heavily on my mum, my best mates, and supportive family members. But I’ve also received immense kindness from strangers, colleagues I don’t know that well, friends I hadn’t seen in years, and random articles from the Internet.

Breakup advice is pretty much the same everywhere: focus on yourself, take it one day at a time, don’t think of the past, don’t get obsessed, take up a new hobby. Most of it is common sense, really. But some of those powerful tips have really become helpful mantras.

“Breathe” said a friend who knows me well. In those first terrible days when I felt like the floor had disappeared under my feet and I just wanted to cry non-stop, that advice was salutary. Because it’s a fact that if you focus really hard on the feeling of your breath going in and out of your nostrils, your belly inflating and deflating, all sense of worry disappears. At least for a few minutes.

“Put your own mask first”, advised one Internet blogger, in reference of what you’re supposed to do on a plane the unlikely event of loss of cabin pressure. If ever there’s a time to focus on yourself and be a little selfish, until you feel like a “normal” human being again, it is now.

“Don’t shrink”, said another wise friend, and I found this a powerful reminder. Because it’s true that in any situation, we always have a choice between shrinking with fear, regret and self-loathing; or expanding and relaxing to fill our lives with love – even (and especially) in the places that hurt. So if shrinking leads to self-pity, fear and more hurt, I’m happy to do anything to actively avoid that.

A word of hope came from the interim guy at work, who I’d barely spoken to since he joined, even though he sat next to me. He was the first person I saw on the morning after the breakup, and I opened my heart to him like you only can to stranger. It turns out a few years back he’d been through a horrendous breakup himself. “Focus on yourself”, he said. And also: “Other doors will open”.

Last week I went for coffee in a place that sold pretty gifts and home furnishings. I spotted some light-hearted little fabric signs.

“Be Brave”, said the first one. “Be Bold”, said the second. “Be Kind”, said the third.

I couldn’t have decided on just one to buy, although if they made it into bunting with all three, I would certainly have bought one.

Letting go & moving on

There will come a time_6It’s been a funny old month.

I’d been planning for some time to leave my old job (with which I’ve had a love-hate relationship for years), and that all came to a head a few weeks ago, when I resigned without having a new one lined up.

Finally admitting that all the joy had gone (I wish I’d known where), I took the plunge and I checked out:

I needed to see what life was like outside the old office, and it felt as though it was now or never. It felt bittersweet and scary, but mostly it felt good.

Then, just as I was getting used to the idea of leaving my job, I got a lot more freedom than I bargained for:

In a rather spooky twist of symmetry, or coincidence, just as I was getting ready to move on, my partner of seven years – who unlike my work, I loved wholeheartedly – decided to call it quits on our relationship, without prior warning.

(Or to be fair, there was prior warning, I just didn’t want to see it).

Anyway, as anyone who’s had their heart broken knows, it really, really sucks. And it’s terrifying. Especially as I just let go of another major part of my life, it felt like pretty bad timing.

For the first few days it felt like in a film, like I was going to wake up and it would all be gone.

Then after a few days, and a lot of support from my friends, I was able to breathe again. I started to see beyond the fear, and getting excited at the idea of a blank new page.

So right now I’m taking it one day at a time, but I have a feeling that somehow, everything is exactly how it should be. They say life doesn’t give us what we want, it gives us what we need.

I figure so long as I focus on the excitement, the fear will take care of itself.

Life goes on.

Write like no one is reading

It had been a bit of a wonder to me, really, why I gave up blogging about a year ago.

I didn’t really stop straight away then, but definitely by this time last year, my heart already wasn’t in it. It had felt like I spent too little time doing what I loved – writing – and too much of what were blog “chores”, like posting links to Facebook and looking at site analytics (I’m a marketing person by trade… so yes if you are wondering, Big Brother is definitely watching you. Google knows how much time you spend reading each page, where you click next, and most probably whether you are picking your nose right now. Just in case, I wouldn’t.).

Anyhow, fiddling with my WordPress password yesterday I came across a different blog I’d written in 2012/13 before I started this one. I’d forgotten all about it, I only got there by chance by entering the wrong WordPress email/password combination. I read it quite curiously, not really remembering any of those entries, so it was like reading someone else. What hit me is that although it was pretty clumsy, there was something fresh about it, and a few entries were downright funny.

See, when I started Greater Than You Know, I was depressed, and I think somehow that’s why it’s ended up with a pretty serious feel, when anyone who knows me will tell you I’m not very serious in real life. The old blog hadn’t started to take itself too seriously yet, which is what was good about it.

But also, at this time last year I’d been hanging out too long with the “online entrepreneur” brigade, guys like Marie Forleo or Leonie Dawson and whatnot, who sell you the fail-proof formula for creating a thriving 6-figure business from a humble blog. And don’t get me wrong, they’re awesome, if you want to run a 6-figure business. But if I look in the mirror long enough to be truly honest with myself, I want an online business like I want a hole in my head.

I didn’t ditch the blogging for no reason. It was time to move on.

Going through my old posts what came across was that I’m a marginally good writer, but mostly I’m a bit neurotic and self-obsessed, either super-motivated or mildly depressed, and often funny in a self-deprecating way.

I recognised that tone of writing very well, because it’s the one I’ve been using every morning as I wake up, before I have breakfast and before work, in my “morning pages” diary. (Today’s a particularly early one, I got up at 5.30 after Camille’s alarm blasted at the wrong time, or whatever else happened because he’d fallen asleep with his head on his tablet). It’s the tone I have when I know nobody else will read it.

So, I’ve decided for the time being to leave Facebook alone and not monitor how many people will read this (you’re off the hook if you want to scratch your bum); rather I will use the time to get on with my day, away from the computer.

I wish you a good day, and if you’re curious and/ or bored, you can catch my old blog on goingfreerange.wordpress.com. Enjoy.

Don’t be afraid of being a wanker

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Swearing like a trooper is one of my guilty pleasures, and since it’s now scientifically proven that people who swear are more honest than average, I can see no reason to stop.

You might think that swearing is a lack of manners but what I like about it (ok, apart that it’s funny) is that it allows you to cut the crap when you need to get an important point across, and be heard in a way you might not otherwise. A little rudeness can go a long way.

That’s why you come across sensible people who run F*ck It retreats (best-selling author John C Parkin and his wife), or write articles about the Elegant Art of Not Giving a Shit (David Cain on Raptitude).

So it should be no surprise that a great piece of advice I received recently includes rude content. I was talking to someone obviously wiser about work, and voicing concern about the impossibility of being a full-time writer:

“Your problem she said, it that you’re afraid of being a wanker.”

By which she meant: “You’re so worried that calling yourself a writer might turn you into a pretentious twat, that you’re not even trying. Instead you pretend you don’t really want it, to make sure no one ever calls you that (because let’s face it, it’s not nice).”

The problem is that by playing it nice and safe all the time, you can manage to fool people that you’re not even there. (With time you might even fool yourself).

Which isn’t good. You can’t succeed at anything by being invisible.

If you’ve ever fallen prey to thinking “Ooh I could do this, but… who am I to try? why should anyone be interested? people will think this or that…” then you’re probably afraid of being a wanker too (great by the way, there is no reason why it should just be me!).

You shouldn’t worry too much – wankers are so busy being great, talking down at others and believing their own spin, that they’re unlikely to care what other people think.

So you being worried about being a wanker almost definitely means you’re not.

I’ll also let you in on a little secret: one of the people I respect most professionally is on occasions a bit of a wanker. It’s not pretty to look at (and not nice for those around), but there can be a thin line between having enough self-belief to not compromise your vision, and coming across as an idiot.

On the plus side: some might call you an idiot, but you have enough self-belief to see your vision through.

So go on, do your thing! You have the world’s blessing to do whatever makes you heart sing, and tell us about it until the cows come home.

Because hey, you matter.

Minimalist March: Almost epic fail

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You might have guessed from the fact that I’m reporting in May on my March “everyday challenge” that something went a bit wrong. Here is what happened:

The plan:

I keep accumulating stuff, but I hate tidying and house cleaning. So when I came across the Becoming Minimalist website earlier this year, what it said made a lot of sense. I’d also been listening with envy as some friends embarked on “100 things” challenges (giving or selling their belongings until they only had 100), and kept thinking how much nicer life would be if only I didn’t have so much clutter.

I had somewhat of an epiphany, the same kind Liz Gilbert has in her bathroom when she prays for an answer to her life dilemmas and a calm voice in her head tells her to “Go back to bed”. Well, the voice in my head said “Tidy your room”.

So I started doing just that around February, giving a few unused things away (how good that felt!) and when March came I though I’d keep the momentum going with a three-pronged approach:

  1. Give stuff away: Unworn clothes, unloved gifts, uncomfortable shoes, uninspiring books, and all sorts that fill 75% of my cupboards
  2. Use what I’ve already bought: apart from the bedroom there’s also clutter in the kitchen (8 jams, 4 soy sauces, uncounted near-empty pasta bags); in the bathroom (cosmetics abandoned after I bought shinier ones); on every shelf where books gather dust while I buy more
  3. Buy only what I need: Only buy stuff that I haven’t already got (see above), and that I either really need, or will makes me really, really happy

What actually happened:

Folks, I’m sorry to say but life took over (at least some kind of life). I had a humongous project at work which meant head-down on the computer all day and many evenings, thus guaranteeing more untidy mess, unsorted cupboards and dust gathering on my belongings.

But the actual worst was the constant buying of take-away cappuccinos, crisps, biscuits and whatever junk snacks would see me through the day : the ultimate unnecessary purchase, which not only empties your wallet and but actually makes you feel sick.

Of course I didn’t get round to donating anything, not even sorting piles of stuff to donate.

On the upside, I didn’t have time to buy anything much other than comfort foods, and the odd Kindle book (which is also cheating, but at least they don’t take much space).

What I’ve learnt:

I DID realise exactly how much stuff I own that I don’t need: that I bought for the wrong reasons, or was given and kept for the wrong reasons; including items no-one remembers buying but just somehow got itself into the house.

As I considered what to part with and what to keep “later when I have time”, I became increasingly uncomfortable with not only how much space, but ultimately time, money, and worry all these redundant things accumulated to.

It also became increasingly clear while accumulating stuff doesn’t make me happy, some things in particular do. Some of my belongings actually make me smile or feel comforted and using them feel indulgent and luxurious every single time – a stylish handbag, a pretty cup, a lovely hand-cream. T

So while I will be happy to have fewer things, I will also be more mindful in the future of buying only the sort of things that tickle me with happiness every time I look at them.

I was also interested to notice that the reasons I keep clutter in my house reflect, in some sort of annoying metaphor, those that account for the “emotional clutter” in my life:

  • Analysis Paralysis (do I keep this? do I not?)
  • Imaginary obligations (towards keeping gifts, or expensive purchases)
  • Fear (of letting go, of not having enough)
  • Procrastination (I’ll take that pile to the charity shop… tomorrow)

So, in fact, getting rid of house clutter may open a whole new life for me. In fact maybe a failed monthly challenge will be a first step towards my new “less is more” life…

Top tip for those who might give it a go:

De-cluttering is ultimately about honesty with yourself and learning to distinguish what you really need from what you’re holding on to for the wrong reasons.

As you clear the physical mess in your house you get to reflect on your choices and values, what you want to leave behind, and what more of in the future.

A chance to go off auto-pilot, and take responsibility for own your choices.

February: No Imaginary Conversations

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I tend to live in my head a lot (you don’t say!) so in February I picked a challenge that I felt would make a big difference in terms of stress and general wellbeing/sanity: limiting imaginary conversations.

If that sounds crazy, let me clarify that I don’t hear voices or anything – I just daydream lots.

In fact, I go by entire hours paying only remote attention to what is going on around me, because I’m too busy fantasizing about things that have happened, may happen, or I wish would happen, and as I’m not a visual-type person, I get a lot of internal dialogue.

While some are pleasantly entertaining, others are downright toxic.

Remembering a good moment or planning future holidays probably doesn’t do much harm, but unproductive conversations typically include:

  • decision making: arguing my case endlessly about a real life decision
  • doubt: going over past or future situations wondering if I could have done it better
  • venting anger: usually things I would never dare say in real life to whoever annoys me
  • justification: if I feel guilty about something that happened; entirely pointless and usually unnecessary
  • worst case scenarios: need I explain? I bet you get them too

The Buddhist tradition calls our endless train of thought the “monkey mind” – it goes from one thing  to the next without concentrating on anything, being at best distracting, at worst unproductive and frustrating. I tend to think of it as a washing machine, because whatever the idea, it never comes just once – it just goes round and round, over and over again.

The plan:

The rules for February were simple: if I caught myself having an imaginary conversation of any sort, I was to snap out of it immediately and focus on the present moment.
This was never going to be an easy one…

What actually happened:

I mentioned this challenge to my colleague William, who is also bit of a dreamer, and I loved his candid response:

“Why would you ever want to do that? it’d be 90% of my life gone!”

Indeed.

While refocusing on the present wasn’t actually hard in itself (in fact, it was surprisingly easy) I found that the present wasn’t necessarily always as appealing as it sounds. There is nothing glamorous about being stuck in a public transport, or in line at the post, or in a dreary conversation.

What I’ve learnt:

I’ve learnt several things

  1. It is tremendously helpful to be able to stop toxic worrying, panic attacks and guilt trips when you spot them. Not only does it dissolve the nasty thought literally into thin air, but also it helps you realise HOW MUCH unnecessary anger/ guilt/ worry you have in a day – and how much time you could save by avoiding them altogether.
  2. On the other hand, I would agree with my colleague that daydreaming actually DOES improve your life. As any dreamer knows, thinking about something is pretty much tricking your brain into feeling you’re actually there – so between packed public transport and Benedict Cumberbatch…
  3. Lastly, this is something I keep finding over and over again:We all have, as we say in French, “the flaws of our virtues” – what makes us great most of the time is also what makes us not so great in other respects (the way self confident people might sometimes be too proud, or caring people too overbearing). And so I strongly suspect that the time I spend in my head, while allowing for needless worry/ doubt, is also where I get all my creative ideas; in fact, some of my happiest moments when I actually ENJOY life to the full are moment spent thinking and daydreaming. Eventually, like it or not, I might have to accept that I need to spend a lot time up there, even if it makes me a little neurotic. 

    Perhaps it’s just about training my monkey to behave.

Top tip for those who might give it a go:

Go for it – you may not be able to stop over thinking, but you’re guaranteed to learn a lot about yourself. Good luck & let me know how you get on!

 

The Office Yogi

P1020537 low resI read somewhere that there is no point practicing yoga until you can do headstand while chanting Sanskrit and tossing salad with your toes, if you’re still going to get angry in traffic jams.*

Quite.

I’ve been doing yoga (on and off) for years, and it’s always struck me how easy it is, after a blissful session, to get annoyed by petty grievances as soon as you step into the “real” world.

Yet in my view the whole point of yoga – or meditation, or any transformative practice – is to be approached holistically.  If you don’t try to extend the calm and balance you learn from your practice in other areas of your life, you’re missing out big time on opportunities for change (unless you’re just after a hobby, and that’s cool too).

People refer to yoga as their “path” to enlightenment, or awakening, of self-improvement. Others also refer to their marriages, or their businesses, in the same way. They chose to bring mindfulness to these particular areas of their lives, and gain an opportunity to grow, to become kinder, more open – to be their “higher” selves.

It ocurred to me that our 9-to-5 jobs, whether we like them or not, can be a pretty good path to transformation too.

Our day jobs are the place where we spend most of our time, yet also where we are most likely to experience frustration and disempowerment. Even if we like what we do, we still have to face stressful deadlines, people or situations.

Yet can’t we use all the hours the spend there – the fact that we turn up every day, now matter what, even if we don’t want to – to a higher end than paying our bills, or building our CVs?

Rather than thinking of our jobs as separate from our intimate, personal or spiritual lives, we could see them as way to learn a little every day about…

  • Patience and Perseverence – When things are so slow they seem to go backwards, when the task is so huge we never seem make a dent, when we’re up against everything and everyone, we learn how to keep at it.

  • Calm and Balance – If our jobs are really stressful, we are forced to look after our own wellbeing so that we can remain efficient and not burnout (I learnt that the hard way last year, when I did burn out). We can learn what relaxes us and what keeps us going, without going crazy.
  • Kindness and Compassion – A smile doesn’t cost us anything, and when we come to the office with a positive attitude we can not only brighten our day, but create a nice atmosphere for others too. It makes for a nicer all-round life to treat people like people, not commodities.

  • Humility and Service – Because we can’t always have things our way and we sometimes have to admit that others might know better. And because ultimately we’re in our jobs to serve, not just look after our own interests.
  • Boldness and the Courage to take risks – our jobs can teach us to push ourselves further, accept more responsibilities, get out of our comfort zones. They make us face our errors, but also teach us to stand for ourselves and speak up when we have to.
  • Love and Respect – It’s easy to get lost in daily complaints, but you first picked that job for a reason. Did you love the industry, follow your calling, feel part of something bigger? Do you look up to your bosses, your team, or the people you serve? Was it a first step to your big dream? When the going gets tough it’s easy to forget about the love – remind yourself often.
  • Humour and laughing at ourselves – taking ourselves too seriously doesn’t get us anywhere; and sometimes when things go wrong, the only thing to do is laugh about it.

Most of all, our 9 to 5 challenges us to be ourselves – Our job tells us what we’re good at, and not so good at. It gives us opportunities to shine. It challenges us to not only be open and fair to others, but also to become our own best supporter.

Our job helps us find out what we want from life – even if what we want is to get the hell out of there.

There will always be people (I used to be one of them) who job-hop from one “hellish” job to the next, only to find more of the same, or worse – the way others always end up with the wrong boyfriends. 

Yet if we open ourselves to be taught, even when it feels like hell, we can discover so much about our expectations, our limitations, our fears, the way we interact with others, and the ways we can shine.

If we have the courage to face what we don’t like, and act on it, we have a powerful tool for growth. And we can learn where to go from there.

And if the time comes for us to move on from that job, we know that we’ve not wasted the time we spent there.

We learnt all that we could.

We have grown.

 

* In Tosha Silver Outrageous Openness, the chapter about ‘The Zen of traffic’ (don’t let the dodgy cover put you off, the content’s quite nice)

Behind every blade of grass

tiny grass“Behind every blade of grass, there is an angel whispering: Grow, grow” – The Talmud

I’m not much of a Talmud reader (my loss, perhaps I should start now), but how I LOVE this one quote!

Firstly, because it tells us that if there is an angel behind lives so small and so humble as tiny blades of grass, there is almost certainly one rooting for us as well. One behind you, and one behind me, whispering to us through tough times and cheering our every success. This, in itself, is very comforting.

But I also love that in that one sentence, we can almost feel the excitement of the angel, attentively and tirelessly whispering encouragement to this tiny life – for what in the world could be more exciting that encouraging life to grow?

This might be a bit rich from someone like me who is A/ not a parent and B/ a lousy gardener.  But it always struck me that, given the right conditions people will grow into themselves, like beautiful colourful plants.

Last year I was lucky enough to witness friends and relatives finally coming into their own, finding their missions in life and a sense of purpose and joy that was previously missing in their lives. Which was not only heartwarming but hugely inspiring.

I’ve also been blessed with incredible encouragement at work and in my writing projects, and that made me realise how a little encouragement can go a really long way in giving us strength and energy, especially when we feel vulnerable.

This made me simultaneously realise that, through laziness or lack of thoughtfulness, or sometimes even a bit of jealousy, I’ve perhaps failed to encourage my loved ones as best as I could in their projects. I might have judged them too hastily or made comments that weren’t helpful at times they already felt insecure. Which really sucks.

So, since 2014 is a Year of Living with an Open Heart, I’m going to try teaming with the angels (if they’ll let me), and give a little more encouragement those around me to grow into their own beautiful selves.

Care to join me? We could grow a whole garden.

With love,
Cecile

2014 – A Year of Living with an Open Heart

P1020734 low resThis January, as we receive wishes for health and happiness from our nearest and dearest, we will be encouraged to wonder what 2014 might have in store for us – what events, challenges or successes will greet us as part of the journey?

As we look at a new year ahead, it is also a perfect time to decide what WE want to bring to 2014.

Some of us may have made resolutions to improve our lives in various small or large ways (my boyfriend decided to actually have a lunch break every workday, which seems very small but think what he could do with an extra 5 hours a week? I’m excited!). 

I’m a big fan of setting new goals for a new year – after all, what better time to reset the counter and start afresh than when we contemplate a new full set of 365 days?

Of course, it’s always easy to let our good intentions slip after a few weeks, so I have found one powerful way to sustain change and action throughout the year, which is popular with life coaches, is to decide on an INTENTION, or one word that represents what you want to do this year. It should encapsulate everything you want to feel or be or achieve this year, and more importantly it should make you feel super-excited about it.

For example a friend of mine has just completed a Year of Magic and is now starting a Year of SunshineSounds more exciting than saying ‘I will eat less carbs’, non?

2013 was my Year of Creativity, which meant that I would try and keep a creative practice and dare to share things – this is how I started this blog; I also did a creative writing course, took lots of photos and wrote poetry. Creativity also represented an intention to do things my way, rather than follow instructions. And I loved it.

2014 builds on what I learnt last year and will be dedicated to Living with an Open Heart. For me it means various things like daring to say what I think, doing more of what I like and less of what I don’t like, taking a bit more risks, being more kind and patient with those around me and generally living in openness and positivity.

Cheesy for sure, but as a French woman I would argue that you can’t have too much cheese! I’m excited at this new intention that will hopefully sustain me throughout the year.

One of my first projects will be to “tweet from the heart” and find my voice on social media. Second is to spend less time worrying about work, when I am not at work.

What will your year be?

If you need inspiration you might want to try Selina Barker’s “Goodbye 2013, Hello 2014” free PDF. For more detailed planning, I’ll be buying Leonie Dawson’s “Create your amazing year 2014”.

Wishing you a wonderful 2014 full of beautiful intentions – and of course health and happiness and all that…

With love,
Cecile

You’ve come a long way

P1050214 low resAfter months of complaining I’ve got too much work in the office, I’ve finally been allocated my ‘own’ intern. Which is amazing – not only because he’s a rather good looking, well-educated young man (which doesn’t spoil things) – but because working alongside him has helped me realise quite how much I know about my job.

“Well, that’s reassuring” my boyfriend said, “because you’ve been there five years. You’d have to be pretty stupid not to know how to do it”.

I take his point. But I’m not the most confident person, and I don’t go around patting myself on the back after completing a project. I think how to do the next one better, and look to learn new skills from my talented colleagues.

Besides, I work in a team of one (well, one and a half now with the intern) so it’s not easy to monitor progress. It’s only through working with someone who’s new on the job that I’ve come to know how much I’ve learnt since I started on the job myself.

The thing is, days come and go and we don’t always notice change as it happens; like you might not notice you’re putting on weight because you see yourself everyday, until someday you get a reality check because you can’t close your jeans. Anyway, weeks, months might go by without us feeling we’ve changed much. And if we fail to celebrate our own achievements, we might be the last ones to notice how much we’ve grown.

I remember the first symphonic concert I attended when I first moved to London. Working with musicians was only a distant dream back then, and as I sat in the cheap seats at the back of the hall, I remember how impossible that dream had seemed. Then a few years later, I found myself in that same hall, sitting in the front stalls as a guest of one of the performing soloists, and that felt wonderful. I’ll never forget the first time I went backstage to greet the artists; even now, as I come back to the hall in a professional capacity as part of what are almost routine projects, I have to pinch myself when I see I’m the one who prepared the concert programme.

I think back to that first night of longing for a far fetched future, and think what a long way I have come – little by little, and almost without noticing it.

If you remember your first day at your job, or running a project you’re currently working on, I bet you’ll also realise what a wizz you’ve become at it. There’s so much you know that nobody else does, and so much you’d have to teach to someone who was doing it for the first time.

If you remember the very first time you dared dream the impossible – to get that dream job, to go on that round the world trip, to date that perfect guy, to start a family …

It all started with a longing for something you thought you’d never have. Then everyday you held on to it, and you worked hard, and you learnt, and it was tough. Sometimes you might have hated it, and others you felt like giving up.

But you didn’t, and look at you now.

You’ve come a long way.

 

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