But I think I have got the hang of figuring out what is for all, what is for friends and what to not even tell myself twice. So, after a gap of over a year, I am back.
I was asked the other day why I hadn't blogged for so long. The truth is that some stuff - even for an over-sharer such as myself - is too personal for the internet. It just needs to be experienced, understood and let go of - not kept forever to be re-read.
But I think I have got the hang of figuring out what is for all, what is for friends and what to not even tell myself twice. So, after a gap of over a year, I am back.
I am a PR girl. That means I am deeply committed to making people happy. People pleasing is a bit of an occupational hazard to us PR chicks – as this blog post demonstrates. Look at point number 7 rather strangely titled ‘we are genuine”.
“We never give up on something and will fight until the end to make other people happy. We know how important it is to please our clients, and that is ultimately our goal for the guys in our lives. PR girls are always the ones to put other people’s needs before their own…”
Makes me want to weep… because in my case it’s true. I spend an inordinate amount of time and energy on making sure other people are okay. I have been known to cook three dinners in an evening. THREE! My daughter won’t eat pasta, my son doesn’t want sausages and my husband doesn’t want to eat at 6… Do I put my foot down, make one meal and say eat when, how and what as you like?
No. I go about resentfully making food and loudly banging pots to make sure everyone knows that this particular act of people pleasing is under duress.
That’s the problem with people pleasing. The people being pleased don’t generally notice and the pleaser ends up feeling resentful and used.
The trap is one of my own making and it’s really hard to stop. If I take responsibility for making someone happy and then I stop AND inexplicably, they remain happy… Well?!?
A few weeks ago, after close to 39 years of dedicated (and may I say thankless!) people pleasing I have decided to stop.
It was after a really BIG conversation with a good friend about my unhappiness at work. She pulled no punches and said my people pleasing was getting in the way of my ability to think creatively and effectively about my work. I could try and please my bosses, continue to do unremarkable work and become more miserable or I could please myself, do awesome shit or get fired trying.
After some tears, self flagellation (how did it get this bad, why did I not see what I was becoming… lash, whip, blah, blah, lash etc. etc.) and finally a great bottle of wine I was determined. Frightened! But determined.
And so far, nothing too awful has happened. My family and friends are laughing and smiling just as much as they used to and miraculously, I am doing better in and at my work.
It appears that worrying too much about other people seriously gets in the way of my making good, creative and strategic decisions. Once I stopped factoring in my bosses’ reactions and how these did or didn’t reflect on me I was freed up to make better choices, to not take criticism (too) personally and to generally get on with getting stuff done.
I was expecting there to be a bit of a backlash. I have been taking full responsibility for emotional state of almost all the people around me for some time and thought that this might mean that, in fact, I had been making some small impact. As it turns out, not so much… (Slightly disappointed, I won’t lie…)
The world continues, regardless of me – so best I do what makes me happy and find people who enjoy what I do so that we can wend our way, happily, through this chaotic life together.
This article is for you. So you can learn from my mistakes and go on to make some of your very own. My sense is that if we can start to share our business mistakes without fear, we can learn faster, fail with more flair, and generally get better at running businesses, managing people and making a difference.
I shut down my PR agency in November last year. It’s taken some time to get my ego out of way so that I could unravel exactly where I went wrong. So here, just for you, at the six-months-after-shutdown mark are the five most critical mistakes – and their lessons.
Imagine your demise
Even when we get married, which let’s face it is the most optimistic thing human beings probably do, we have the end in mind. We know before the ‘I do’ what it will take to hit the escape key. It’s not taboo to consider a relationship ending.
Not so with a business.
The result was that I didn’t know how to think about shutting down the agency. It was so unthinkable that I was almost unable to imagine how to do it. And this meant even when the end was in sight, I continued to make business decisions based on the endless longevity of my business.
Lesson one: Nothing is Forever. Not even PR Companies. (I know! Who Knew right?!?)
Believe with optimism, plan with pessimism
Optimism is the fuel of business ownership. It's almost impossible to run a business if you don’t truly, honestly believe that what you do matters, and that it’s going to work brilliantly (forever).
For me optimism also meant that I made financial decisions based on a firmly held belief that it was always going to get better, a lot better, more better than I could ever imagine. I mainlined optimism!
With hindsight i realise that optimism is not a good driver of fiscal business strategy. Never structure your business around a ‘better tomorrow’ because sometimes it doesn’t come and then….
Lesson two: Optimism is great for people. It is not great for cash flow.
Resources do not need to meet needs 100%
I made incredible assumptions about what resources were needed for my team to operate. One expensive choice was to upgrade our PBX. My assumption – everyone one of my team NEEDED a phone and a dedicated open line on their desks to do their jobs.
A five-year lease, R150k and many redundant phone lines, phones and jacks later I realised that this wasn’t true. I made a similarly expensive choice when it came to a new email server, larger offices and more parking bays. (Did I mention that these were EXPENSIVE mistakes?)
Lesson three: The work will continue at a high standard if you are only meeting needs at 80%. Once it drops to 70%, then invest.
It’s hard to be brave
My PR agency was a service-based operation. I bought time from my team and on-sold it to our clients. There should have never been any need for an overdraft because if the hours I was buying weren’t being sold then my business was failing. But instead of being brave and admitting what was going on (see lesson 2) I planned for a better tomorrow. I didn’t want to make the tough choices, hurt my team’s feelings or feel like a failure so I just muddled on right into a very deep overdraft. The result is that I still carry that debt, and the labour of love that is paying it back will take another three years.
Lesson 4: Be brave. Face up to the first signs of failure and act quickly
Money is the heartbeat of your business
I thought that if I loved what I did, did it well and was a nice person that the money would come. Instead of seeing money as a kind of karmic force, I should have seen it as the feedback mechanism of my business’s success or failure.
Lesson 5: Use your financial statement as a report card and make monthly decisions based on what you see
Not a lesson, more of a statement: Money is the heartbeat. But it’s not the heart
Balancing how a business respects money and people is important. While the financial statement is the report card, the corporate culture and how I as a boss managed and motivated my staff was the school, its teachers, the fields and the libraries. Great businesses balance the sustainability of a solid balance sheet with the resilience of an awesome culture.
I loved running Sentient Communications. I would not give up working with all the people that travelled through it for anything. It was tough and, like most difficult things, undeniably worthwhile.
I miss it. And I am looking forward to running another business and taking all of these incredible lessons and applying them. I am sure that I won’t do it perfectly, but at least what I do wrong will be completely different and I can learn from those mistakes too.
Now that mainlining optimism is not prerequisite and failure is actually an option I will most likely learn in the moment, which means each day will find me doing small things differently and better.
Once failure is an option you can turn it in to a game. But that discussion will have to wait for another time.
Since I have been working at my new job I have been exposed to a kind of man and this post is a celebration of this new (to me) masculine.
I am feeling a bit self-conscious about writing it but there is so little celebration of the beautiful masculine at the moment I have decided to just stand on my vulnerability like a surfboard.
Here I go.
Some context. I am 38 and most of the people in my social circle are 35 – 45 so the men I am most aware of fit into this broad age group.
I have been working at a tech start up since January and most of the men I work with are under 32.
And they are different - eyebrow raising, head tilting, frowning different.
There is an emotional connectedness and a fearless vulnerability that has me very confused some days. These men share. And I mean really share, not the point scoring debating I am used to, but proper stuff. Beyond new music and car tips they offer their stories, their humour and their care.
It's a new definition of what it means to be masculine where sensitivity is not weakness, emotion is not death and the ability to share is rewarded by tribal support rather than ridicule.
I have just read my last few sentences and my inner judger (with clip board and checklist pen) is reminding me that there is a certain level of privilege that is required to come into your 20s as such a person. And I agree. Sometimes our life path does not allow vulnerability as an option. But the fact that in spite of all these obstacles, there are a lot of these new men out there is so delightful to me.
This new kind of man is worth celebrating. He can talk about how his wearing skinny jeans for the first time is making him feel awkward, share a hilarious but totally wish-this-was-my-relationship-with-my-father BBM discussion with his dad about cars or skype chat about BDSM erotica and marginalised subgroups. And all in a way where the connection happens in the conversation and in the moment.
I am having the kind of discussions with these men I normally only have with my girl friends. And it’s wonderful. It gives me the sense that this battle of the sexes has the possibility of finally being put aside as this new generation battles it out for humanity.
I don't have any killer conclusions to this post. All I can offer is my hope that my son becomes one of this new generation of men that my daughter has the love of one of these men in her life.
And to all the men I know who are a bit older - you deserve celebration too. But for different reasons.
I have finished reading Bringing Nothing to the Party: True confessions of a new media whore by Paul Carr, American Gods by Neil Gaiman and a rather terrifyingly violent science fiction erotic novel called Fade to Midnight by Shannon McKenna I am currently reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. (As you can tell I am on holiday…)
All this reading has got me to thinking: Where did these books come from?
Paul’s book (trust me, you too will feel comfortable enough to call him Paul once you have read his book…) is based on his life so it's a bit more obvious. Except that it isn’t. What makes his experience a good book? Or more to the point – would my life make a good book? And which bits? And how much detail?
There is an effortless, crazy, twirling, narcissistic hedonism that carrys Paul’s book. I loved every word of that book. Every. Word.
The magical realism of Morgenstern and Gaiman is more baffling to me. I really like magical realism (and its leather clad sister ‘urban fiction’.) The bringing together of the everyday with the whimsical is just so heart stoppingly delightful. Neil Gaiman, Suzanna Clarke and Lauren Beukes are just some of my favourites. I defy anyone to find a more artful love letter to Johannesburg than Beukes’ Zoo City.
When I read these books I feel like my brain is being slowly peeled open like an orange. I see the skill in the writing; I marvel at the extreme detail and am so excited by the otherness I want to suck the story right into my bones. I am left giddy and unsure of where my fantasies end and my mothering, working, school-lifting reality begins.
And, these books also leave me with a desire that scares the pants of me.
I want to write a book like that. I want to write something that makes a reader stop and say “Ha!” to no one in particular when the story takes an unexpected turn. I want my books to become a best friend and for a reader to feel slightly bereft when the final chapter is finished.
But do I have it in me? Am I brave enough to even try? What if its shit? What if the best I can produce is a piece of derivative crap?
I am certainly too frightened to begin that journey today.
For now I am going to go back to Googling Paul Carr, reading The Night Circus and waiting patiently for Lauren’s next book.
When Lauren? When?
One of the cover stories in this month’s Fair Lady is on how to STOP BEING A WAGE SLAVE NOW!
Just in case we thought it was something we could sleep on there is the exclamation mark, red underlining and even yellow highlighting ensuring that we understand that time is of the essence. Moving out of a salaried position is not something to consider. No! It’s something that must be done. NOW!
The subtext is powerful. It whispers, “You don’t want to get left behind now do you? All the cool kids are doing it…”
There is a subtle suggestion that it’s slightly embarrassing to be an employee. People with ambition, passion and a sense of self don’t hang around waiting for payday. What are you? A mouse? Or an entrepreneur? Choose! NOW!
I used to be a business owner. A few months ago I shut down the PR agency I had spent close on nine years growing.
For the last four of those nine years I was a wage slave. But it wasn’t to my wage – it was to the wages of my employees.
I was enslaved by the payroll, tethered to the VAT bill and shackled to the shame of my overdraft.
During the good times it was really good. The blessings of business ownership are immense. And they deserve to be. It’s hard, its lonely and it takes sacrifice and stamina to run a business - small or large.
But that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. And it doesn’t mean that it’s forever.
I am just finishing my second month of full time employment and I love it. I have cut loose the burden of responsibility and faced my fear of failure.
I can feel my creativity sinking back into my soul. My sense of humour has moved from the dark (lank dark!) sarcasm I had begun to think of as my normal wit to something less likely to end in tears. I have joined a gym and I am re-learning how to completely relax.
So you can call me a wage slave and I will smile and agree because it’s true. But less true than its been for a while.
Freud said a couple of things.
Some meaningful “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”
Some random “Time spent with cats is never wasted.”
Some wise “Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.”
And some, downright mean. Like this little gem I happened upon: “The goal of psychoanalysis is to convert neurotic misery into ordinary unhappiness.”
And here I thought the objective of all this therapy was my eventual happiness…
Nope. It is, in fact, to take my Technicolor drama of a life and transform it into the everyday.
I have been cheated. I don’t want to be unhappy in ‘the normal way’. If I must be unhappy I want it to be the tragic suffering of a heroine, the melancholy only a Queen can feel or the exquisite despair reserved exclusively for saints.
I don’t want to be just a little bit down like Mrs. Marshall across the road. Good lord. Why bother with 4 years of drama school if all I am up to, is feeling blue, a bit sad or off colour... Where’s the poetry in that?
So I am off to read some Jung. I am sure he has something more uplifting and insightful to say about my brand of super special, extra deep – think abyss – depression.
This isn’t everyday stuff Mr. Freud. I am special. A princess. I know its true - my dad told me so.
I got this from friend yesterday. As I read it I felt my world shift on its axis.
Everything I know about love is wrong.
My experience, or rather, my interpretation of my experience, is based on a soft, pasty, and marshmallow expectation of love.
Today, I awake, fully conscious to the fact that the love I seek has many more sharp edges, dark deep places and dangerous paths than I have been willing to admit.
PLAYBOY: Where, would you say, should romantic love fit into the life of a rational person whose single driving passion is work?
RAND: It is his greatest reward. The only man capable of experiencing a profound romantic love is the man driven by passion for his work -- because love is an expression of self-esteem, of the deepest values in a man's or a woman's character. One falls in love with the person who shares these values. If a man has no clearly defined values, and no moral character, he is not able to appreciate another person. In this respect, I would like to quote from The Fountainhead, in which the hero utters a line that has often been quoted by readers: "To say 'I love you' one must know first know how to say the 'I.''
PLAYBOY: You hold that one's own happiness is the highest end, and that self-sacrifice is immoral. Does this apply to love as well as work?
RAND: To love, more than to anything else. When you are in love, it means that the person you love is of great personal, selfish importance to you and to your life. If you were selfless, it would have to mean that you derive no personal pleasure or happiness from the company and the existence of the person you love, and that you are motivated only by self-sacrificial pity for that person's need of you. I don't have to point out to you that no one would be flattered by, nor would accept, a concept of that kind. Love is not self-sacrifice, but the most profound assertion of your own needs and values. It is for your own happiness that you need the person you love, and that is the greatest compliment, the greatest tribute you can pay to that person.
http://www.ellensplace.net/ar_pboy.html - go here for the whole interview.
My wonderful friend Anel wrote a post detailing her year in its own words. And I love it. It got me thinking about what kind of year I am in relationship with and what is was asking me to do, not do, thinking about or leave behind.
So here is my response to Anel’s This year (in its own words)
My year – in the words of a play
Scene opens with Me standing centre stage. A tall cocktail table beside Me, upon which is a keyboard and computer mouse. A game of Tetris is being played slowly on a large screen behind Me. So far the game is going well.
(Scuffling, banging and chains rattling heard to stage left and the occasional angry screech of a woman)
Year enters stage right: You had better let her out you know. Eventually she will break out and when she does she will destroy everything.
Me: I am a little busy right now. Way too busy to let Creativity out. And the last time I let her anywhere near the game it was a bloody disaster. Took me a whole weekend to get Me back.
(Woman screams. More rattling and banging.)
Tetris games speeds up. Me frantically bangs the key board and clicks the mouse. It’s getting too much.
Me: You see how disruptive She is? Can you see? And She is still trapped in the dungeon. Imagine the damage if I let Her out? No.
Scene opens with Me on a treadmill facing the audience. It’s going slowly and it all looks pleasantly under control.
Year enters stage right: Where’s Creativity?
Me: I let her out for a walk
Me: And what?
Year: And why are you here on the treadmill and not walking with her?
Me: What? You want me to walking with Creativity out there. No. This is good. (Pause.) I like this. I am really happy. (Forced smile.)
Almost the end
Scene opens with Year reading a note from Me.
Year: Me says that she is really glad you all felt so interested in seeing the end. She too really hopes to make the end. But right now, its not the end and she has no idea how and when it will end. So she has taken her kids and Creativity to Barrydale fora few days.
Me hopes to see you soon but suggested to set up a Google Alert on her rather than actually wait here. She believes the end will take a long time to arrive, because although it appears that we may be close, Me thinks there is another Year coming.
I fear she may be right.
I am the glass that must be melted completely before it can be reformed in the shape of its future. I am the iron repeatedly heated and beaten into the shape of its becoming. I am the stew that must boil, simmer and suck into the flavours of the bouquet garni before its succulence is ready to nourish.
It’s bloody hot, it’s mostly uncomfortable and it’s most certainly my path. Once I am shaped I will emerge from this fire. I will be changed – still glass or iron or food – but transformed into the shape that will be my carriage through the next phase of my life.
On another note: It’s officially a midlife crisis when you have a CD of poetry in your car and find yourself occasional nodding in agreement at red robots. For those of you interested in claiming the poetry of a midlife moment, I highly recommend David Whyte’s works.
I am currently listening to Midlife and the Great Unknown. It's a miraculous and compassionate investigation of how lost and found we are in midlife.