Tag Archives: Self-development

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.

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.*


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)

Releasing your inner rockstar: how to make the most of personality tests

P1050520_low resAlong with reading self-help books, one of my favourite guilty pleasures is taking personality tests.

Why guilty, you might think? Because, on some level, I can’t help but feel a little embarrassed for liking them so much – I mean, what sort of a loser needs a questionnaire to tell them who they are? (ahem, my sort it would seem.)

On the other hand, I find they are a good tool for self development, and so far each of them has brought its small dose of enlightement – and as we know, every little helps.

When I say personality test, I don’t mean the type of tests you find in girly magazines, the ones that tell you whether your husband is cheating on you, or if you need a haircut (ok, these can be fun too). I mean the more serious profiling tools used by people like psychologists or human resources, and others like me (perhaps you) who would be keen to make the most of their talents, if only they knew which they are. 

So having already done a few well-known test like Myers-Briggs, Strengths Finder, Eneagram or Wealth Dynamics, I was more than a little excited to hear marketing guru Marie Forleo recommend a new one called the “Fascination Advantage Assessment”. What was exciting about it (apart from the glamorous title) was that, unlike other tests, if focused not on how you see the world, but on how the world see you, on how you “fascinate” others.

I thought it would be useful personal branding, for both self awareness and career prospects, so I gladly paid the not-so-cheap fee of $37 to see what my profile was. I found a quiet 15 minutes to complete it, eagerly awaited the verdict among completion… and ended up sorely disappointed by the results.

You see, I usually think of myself as a quiet, calm, borderline boring character. I typically enjoy writing, reading, and drinking herbal tea; I dislike like loud music and loud people even more. So I did feel a little cheated when the profile that came up was “the rockstar”, with primary trigger: rebellion.

My first response was “I need to get a refund”. My second response was to tell my boyfriend about it, who found it so funny he is probably still laughing as your read.

Then I remembered what coach Marianne Cantwell (of Free Range Humans fame) wisely says to her clients: our main challenge is often to accept the results of our personality tests, and act upon them, even if – especially if – we think they are wrong.

It is very easy not to take those tests seriously. No matter how good they are, it is virtually impossible for them to describe us accurately. Most of us will usually think that we fit SOME of our profile results, not all; or that different profiles would describe us at different times. Or we just don’t like the type of person it says we are. So we dismiss the results with a shrug (or if you are French like me, a shrug and a “pfff”), and move on to something else. After all, why did we expect a stupid questionnaire to know who we were in the first place.

And that’s where we are wrong. Of course, no questionnaire will ever being to capture accurately the entirety of our character, our uniqueness, our quirks. But that’s missing the point, because what those tests DO aim to tell us is roughly what sort of person we are, particularly in relation to other people, and where we fit in the incredibly wide spectrum of human personality. What we are mostly like, a lot of the time.

Our challenge is to reflect on these key points, and see how we can use them to our advantage.

So mercifully, my scoring as “rockstar” doesn’t mean I should trade my office job for an electric guitar. But perhaps it means I should be proud to think a little differently from others, rather than try to hide it?

When I think about it, I do enjoy being bold and saying things as they are – especially if it includes swearwords. I also love people who are daring and eccentric, and tend to find traditional characters a bit bland. I always assumed it was a bit of a problem because it means I don’t “fit in” so well in some situations, especially at work. But thinking about it now, perhaps it’s all ok?

That’s one more thing personality tests do: they give you permission to be who you are.

If the only way to be truly great is to play to your strengths, you don’t have to waste your time trying to be someone else. And that in itself can be a huge relief.

Do you know what your super-strengths are? Perhaps they are not what you think? Whatever you are great at, make it a real asset. Take it as a challenge to focus on it instead of hiding it and you will truly fascinate the world.

Going round in circles

P1050155 low resDo you ever feel as though you keep being confronted with the exact same issues, faced with the same problems every once in a while? I don’t mean every 3 minutes/ hours/ days (though that can happen too if you get into overthinking mode, or what I call “washing machine” mode), but rather every few months, or years. The same issues which you thought you had resolved creep up again to your surprise and annoyance, and just when you thought you’d moved on you find yourself back to square one.

I,  for one, have a few recurrent themes. Having lived as an expat for years, I go through terrible bouts of homesickness. Although I generally like my life abroad, if some important event hapens in my family I start questionning my entire life choices in a very painful way. Usually the discomfort vanishes after a few weeks and I let go. Life goes back to normal… until the next time. Or I have periods of feeling extremely unhappy with otherwise okay my job; or periods when I feel temporarily disconnected with myself. Naturally we all have our own personal themes, and I’ve heard this cycle of coming back to the same problems over and over described in two different ways that are equally helpful: going along a spiral, or walking a labyrinth.

Going along a spiral refers to the fact that although you may feel as though you are going round in a circle, you are actually circling up, moving in increments to a higher lever each time. Each time you come to the same problem from a higher position, because you have all the knowledge you accummulated since previous time you were there. The only reason you may not notice the climb is that it happens slowly but constantly.

Walking a labyrinth is a meditation technique that consists of pacing very slowly within a circular structure marked on the floor until you reach its centre. Unlike a maze, you can go out at any time. In one of her recent newsletters, life coach Martha Beck shared how, while walking a labyrinth she got really annoyed – what was the point of walking, to seemingly get nowhere? She then realised that in the labyrinth, as in life, walking straight to the centre was perhaps not the point. Sometimes, the detours that we take are what takes us to the core. As we keep walking we slowly reach our destination, but the meanderings are what get us there.

Just because we feel we are going round in circles with those issues that keep coming up, doesn’t mean we are not making progress. These very circles are necessary to our growth. You just have to trust that as you are going through them, you are moving to higher grounds, getting closer to your core.

Peeling onions, flying airplanes

Just after I started working in London a few years ago, I got stuck in a job I didn’t particularly like, and around that time I bought my first “self help” book. It wasn’t technically a book*, it was an audio CD called “Finding Work That Matters”, by someone called Mark Albion. The recording was full of good advice, some of which is still with me today, but of all the images the one that remained with me most is this:

When a plane wants to fly from A to B, it never goes in a straight line. This may be counterintuituive at first, after all, what reason could it have not to fly straight across the sky? As it turns out, lots of reasons – winds, stormy weather, other planes, approved flight paths etc. So the pilot will start in the right direction, and constantly monitor progress and correct the course of the aircarft during the flight to ensure arrival hopefully on time, at the right airport.

This illustrates so well how to we should go about getting the things we want in life. We often focus so hard on our final destinations, get so hung up on the desired path (“quickest and easiest please!”) that we forget it’s probably not so bad to get sidetracked – in some cases, it might even be vital. So it seems we would do well to let go and follow the natural flow momentarily, so long as we don’t forget what our end goal is. If it’s good enough for well qualified pilots, who are we to disagree? After all, planes rarely get lost.

The other self-development methaphor that has stuck with me over time came from an unlikely advisor, in the person of Lady Gaga. Not that I was ever a fan (my loss, no doubt), but the woman’s cleverer than me by miles and she can certainly teach us a thing or two about doing what you like and not caring a fig about criticism. In an interview with Vanity Fair, she was quoted saying that it’s important to strive to be yourself, but it won’t happen at once and it’s a bit like peeling an onion – you need to shed several successive layers, to keep reinventing yourself and with each layer get closer to the real “core” you inside. I have heard this onion metaphor many times since, in fact, someone was kind enough to remind me of it yesterday, so I couldn’t find out who first came up with the concept but it makes perfect sense. We humans like our fellow onions have multiple complex layers, which make it impossible to shed all of them at once. You couldn’t if you tried, if anything because when looking at the outside of the onion there’s no telling for sure what the inside will be like.

Whether flying a plane or peeling an onion, the results are not instant, and what my friend was kind enough to remind me is that the process not only takes time, but it demands courage, and that it is painful. I am not the type of writer who would stretch a cheesy metaphor to say that maybe that is why airplane passengers get travel sick, and why onions make us cry. Suffice to say, next time you find yourself stuck and wondering whether you’re there yet, or even headed in the right direction, take stock, and know that while you may not have arrived, you are following a necessary process that is most certainly taking you where you need to go.

(*this was at the time when I still thought reading self-help books would be embarrassing. How wrong could one be!)