Dear Younger Self, You Need To Know This

  youngerme Dear Younger Self, I've been thinking about you, and it strikes me there are a few things you need to know. So, I'm taking the liberty of sharing with you a few of the things that I wish a sympathetic adult had shared with me when I was 16, in the hope that they will what lies ahead easier for you. It’s tough being 16, it really is.  You already know you have to do this thing called Life, but you don’t know how.  People tell you you should do Life their way;– and that doesn’t make things better - because you are not them.  It’s your life. You’re determined to do it your way. But that’s a big ask when you don’t yet know who you are.  Most of your ideas about the How come straight from Hollywood:  just find the love of your life, and Everything will fall into place. Your well-being matters hugely to me.  So, here are a few pointers that might help you. Useful pointers for the younger self
  • Life is a journey, not a series of boxes you have to tick. You already have all the resources you’ll ever need to make that journey rich, meaning, and enjoyable. You just don’t know that you have them – yet.
  • Living is the process whereby you discover and share all the amazing gifts you hope – and secretly believe - you might have. Only to discover you had even more gifts than you previously thought!
  • Comparing yourself to others is pointless. The fact is, you are unique and wonderful just as you are (even if you don’t believe that, yet).  Your job is to allow those qualities to shine.  This may take a while, but oak trees don’t spring up overnight, either.
  • Don’t waste energy believing people who tell you what you cannot be, or do, or have. They can’t read your future –although they may think they can.  Don’t let their negativity blight your precious life.
  • Commit to working on your personal development. You’ve spent 11 years at school learning a ton of stuff you’ll never use.  But nobody has taught you how to master your moods, feel at peace with your emotions, or love yourself.  That’s like being let loose on the motorway without learning how to drive.  You are the one person in your life who you cannot avoid. The way you treat yourself is the way the world will treat you.
  • Try not to control Life. Life doesn’t have a downer on you; it isn’t out to get you. It just places hurdles along your way.  How you get over them and what help you enlist is up to you.
  • Trust your intuition; it’s your inner Sat Nav - or wisdom, if you prefer. You may not always like what it says but treat it with respect and it will keep you safe, happy, and loved.
  • Making mistakes is part of the deal, don’t be afraid of them, and don’t waste time regretting them. Simply learn from them. Always ask yourself: “What is the gift in this situation?” until you find it.
  • Learn to love yourself sooner rather than later . You learn to love yourself so you can love others – and be loved – better.  Don’t worry about becoming selfish. You care too much about other people for that ever to happen.
Dear Younger Self, dark times will come and go – that’s part of Life.  Take, as my gift to you, the knowledge that you are – and always will be – immensely loved, and loveable.   Love,


Do you need a wake-up call? Please understand, I’m not suggesting that you might need a wake-up call because your life is awful and you hadn’t noticed it.  If your life was awful, chances are, you would have noticed it – although you might not know what to do about it. It’s the grey areas we’re talking about; the Things-Aren’t-Perfect-But-I’ve-Known-Worse-and-They’re-Liveable areas.  One phrase that I really love is this: “Just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should.” Just because you can put up with a degree of discomfort and dissatisfaction in your life that doesn’t mean you should. I’m not talking about the mid-life crisis thing where somebody, all of a sudden turns round and says: “To hell with you.  I’m off looking for my own personal gratification.” What I’m talking about is something that came up in one of my very first experiences of coaching: tolerations.  Tolerations, in coach-speak, are the things you put up with that you don’t like and feel subtly diminished by. Most lives are filled with a mass of tolerations: we tolerate behaviour from various people that makes us feel worth less.  We tolerate a lack of respect in our lives.  We tolerate a lack of consideration.  We tolerate working conditions that leave us feeling diminished.  We tolerate being less than we can be.  We tolerate short-changing ourselves and letting other people short-change us. Why do we do that? Because we feed ourselves a line about not being ready yet, or not being quite good enough, or having to serve an even longer apprenticeship – even if that ‘apprenticeship’ that we’re serving has NOTHING to do with our perceived vocation, or mission. Most people are surprisingly good at living with a moderate to high level of frustration and dissatisfaction. We cling, like barnacles, to our uncomfortable Comfort Zone. Chances are, we never chose that Comfort Zone for ourselves: someone else parked us there. And there we remain… Waiting for a wake-up call that’s loud enough and long enough to focus our attention. But here’s the thing: wake-up calls come in a variety of forms.  Some are like the proverbial slap in the face, others are barely a pin-prick. It’s not about the force of the wake-up call. It’s about your readiness to hear and respond to it. There are always wake-up calls all around.  But you do have to listen to them. And you have to believe in your power to make your dreams a reality. What special gifts do you need to make those dreams a reality? None, actually. Unless you call persistence, and consistency gifts. Whether you decide they are or aren’t gifts, is your call. Besides, it doesn’t really matter.  You already show consistency and persistence.  We all do. The question is, are you using that consistency and persistence to do the things that really serve you – or the things that really serve other people?  At your expense. Only asking! Wakey, wakey!

lightbulb moment



womanpullinghairoutsmallPicture this: a woman who is - almost literally - tearing her hair out, with desperation.  One relationship in her life has been traumatic, and painful.  She defines herself, solely, in terms of that flawed  and damaging relationship. A little gentle ‘probing' from me reveals that overall the balance sheet is pretty positive: Other intimate relationships?  Excellent Work situation?  Very good Finances? Comfortable Friendships? Excellent Health? Good Extended family? Loving and supportive Still, she defines herself - and her entire adult life - in the light of this one unhappy relationship. That’s a choice, you see.  Not that she saw it that way.  But she’s someone who lives a very dramatic life. Now, I’m not saying that her life is - objectively speaking - dramatic.  On the whole, it’s quite the reverse.  She, actually, has a stable, comfortable life, in every respect; barring this one - regrettably stable - bad relationship. I’ve been coaching women who have experienced a LOT of trauma and difficulty in their lives for over 10 years now and, ultimately, who hasn’t?  In that time, I’ve discovered something quite counter-intuitive: it’s not so much the degree of hurt and trauma you undergo that shapes your life, as how you relate to it. Years ago, I was introduced to the concept of the Drama Queen by the wonderful Catherine Behan.  For years and years I’d wondered why there were people whose crises always trumped anything I was going through…  Whatever I happened to be going to, these people always could - and would  - point out, more or less openly: “Yes, but it’s so much worse for me.  Listen to what I’m going through…” (Frankly, that’s poor listening and, not uncommonly, downright rude.  What people go through shouldn’t be a competition.) The term  Drama Queen is not intended to be gender specific, by the way;  I’ve come across some  phenomenal male Drama Queens in my time.  But until Catherine introduced me to the term, I’d never understood what was going on.  I’d just understood that 90% of any interchange would be about them, and that incidents in my life could only ever be monochrome, while their life was played out in full Technicolor. Drama Queens, like this woman with the failed relationship, feed on the drama in their lives.  That is how they define themselves. When you define yourself in terms of the bad stuff in your life, there’s a problem, isn’t there? You end up needing the bad stuff in your life to know who you are. You worry that, if you didn’t have that bad stuff, you wouldn’t know who you were, or how to be… well, you. The difference between Drama Queens  and the rest of us is this: those of us who are spared the Drama Queen Gene just get on with things, relatively stoically. And this is where it gets interesting.  You see, over the years I’ve worked with hundreds of women who’ve been through extraordinary difficulties.  The ones who’ve soldiered on - without telling themselves a Drama Queen story - are always the ones who find it far easier to make massive changes, address their difficulties, and come out the other side, stronger, wiser, and way happier. Why so? Because they have a quiet heroism they aren’t even aware of.  But, sooner or later, it will serve them well. Because transformation really does not have to be difficult - unless you become transfixed by your own catastrophizing story. Of course, if you do this, there is a problem: because everything you experienced becomes fodder for that story, and will be immediately processed for incorporation into that story. Those of us who have the Soldiering On Gene, on the other hand, have this way of ploughing on through whatever we lemonadesmallencounter.  When Life hands us lemons, we may mutter that we wouldn’t have complained at strawberries,  or chocolate, or caviar.  But then we get on and process those lemons. You can make a lot of good things from lemon.  It’s not just lemonade. The fact that you’re reading this means, pretty much, that you’re a lemonade maker.  If you weren’t, you wouldn’t be wasting your time reading something by someone who couldn’t possibly understand what you’ve been through.  Instead you’d be visiting the catalogue of your life’s injustices on a ‘Soldier’. That capacity to produce something good even from Life’s less sweet gifts will serve you  well.  What it means is that you can process whatever change you need to process.  Even if you don’t believe you can. Only, until now, you’ve been selling yourself short. That’s what people with the Soldiering On Gene do. STOP IT RIGHT NOW!! Lemonade is good as far as it goes.  But you’re free to make anything you want with the lemons that Life sends your way. What do you really, really want to make? Because you can.      


Are you having enough fun? How did you respond to the question? Did you give yourself a quick pat on the back and smile because you are having a load of fun, daily? Was it more of a snarl because Life is a serious business, and there just aren’t enough hours in the day to have fun, for Chrissakes!!! Or did you mutter something extremely rude about the kind of person who imagines that an adult has nothing better to do than have fun?!!  Audrey Hepburn famously said: “I love people who make me laugh.  I honestly think it’s the thing I like most, to laugh.  It cures a multitude of ills.  It’s probably the most important thing in a person.” Laughter, in case you hadn’t thought about it, is in intimate long-term relationship with fun. Truly!  Laughter has this wonderful knack of cutting troubles down to size. Laughing at anything means taking it lightly - even if that’s only for a moment. It means seeing the ridiculous side of things, and getting playful in your vision. It can even mean (Shock! Horror!!!) getting playful in your behaviour, also.  And playfulness has this funny way of triggering your creativity. Which is terrible, isn’t it? Fun and creativity actually create a sort of virtuous circle. Who’s ever going to object to enjoying a virtuous circle? If you’re getting bogged down in your life, chances are it’s because you’re taking Things too seriously. Now, I’m just emerging from a period in my life when an awful lot of awfully serious things were happening.  What saved my sanity was being able to break the stranglehold of awfulness by having fun. Fun always creates a precious time-out. Had you been a fly on the wall in my house, you wouldn’t have caught me sliding down banisters, or running through the streets in an ape costume, or kitted out as a cheerleader.  But you would have been witness to all sorts of silliness, wisecracking, and general playfulness. Fun rocks! You’ve doubtless heard the refrain of the disapproving po-faced cohorts of a certain age, who say: “When we were young, we used to have to make our own fun…” Yes, and???  Why aren’t they doing that now?  Truth is, age does not exempt us from our (not so solemn) duty to have fun. Fun won’t kill you, truly (it’s an entirely different breed of animal to recklessness).  It won’t make you fat, or ill.  It won’t make you miserable.  What’s more, the only human beings it will ever make you less attractive to are the Confirmed Miseries of the World – those rare individuals who don’t even want to be happy.   Admittedly, it would be a crime against the self-appointed miseries of the world to undermine their devotion toMisery, but… Would you really want to indulge them in their darkest feelings, anyway? If you’re not having enough fun it’s worth getting playful, and seeing how much more fun you can incorporate into your life. To add a little sanity to Wallis Simpson’s dubious pronouncement: “You can never be too rich, or too thin…”– Or have too much fun.” After all, fun is fun-damental to optimal functioning. How will you go about bringing more fun into your day?

Do you underestimate Mars and Venus?

Have you ever had one of those moments when you are talking with a man and it feels like you've hit a wall?    

Because you have hit a wall.  It’s that Mars and Venus stuff.  You could almost be from different planets. Suddenly, you're not talking the same language.  

And the way that you know - or could know that you're not talking the same language is this: the other person isn't hearing you; he's not making sense of what you're saying. 

That happened to me very recently.  Not with my lovely partner, but with another man that I really needed to communicate with effectively.  We were communicating by email.

I said to him pretty much the same thing that I say to a lot of people and I got a pretty sharp reply back.  He told me that my terminology was cringe-worthy.  

Actually, he wasn't wrong. 

For the purposes of communication, I was just using the kind of cliches that a lot of women use – because we women instantly understand them.  

This man didn't understand them.  He wasn’t even going to try: they offended him.  End of. 

If I wanted to communicate with him, I was going to have to speak his language.  My communication could have to be short, sharp, and  concrete. 

I understood that.  And I didn't take his directness  personally. 

The problem was: how do I communicate more effectively about matters touchy-feely in the language of a rather direct, Alpha male? 

I'd love to say that I simply flicked a linguistic switch in my head and instantly translated what I had to say into Alpha Male language.  But I didn't.  I’m not fluent in Alpha Male. 

Instead, because there was a lot riding on the effectiveness of my communication, I started second-guessing myself.  And then what happened? 

I found a thousand other touchy-feely, cringe-worthy ways of expressing the same thing, as I cudgelled my poor brain to do better – and my poor brain refused. 

Then I remembered the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire option, and phoned a friend: an Alpha male Russian friend.  I told him the problem, and within a few minutes he helped me arrive at the solution.  

Of course, he pitched it absolutely right, man to man. 

Now, I understand that in personal relationships, taking time out to phone a friend may not always work.  Not least because you don't have the luxury of time, and distance that you have with email. 

I also know that there are times when I realise that my lovely partner and I are not communicating in quite the same language.  

We all know what can happen next: voices are raised – purely to aid comprehension – frustration sets in very fast, tempers and blood pressure rise, and the Finger of Blame can be pointed.  

Not good. 

It's hard to stop an argument once it's started.  So, if possible, it makes sense not to go there, in the first place. 

With my lovely partner, I've reached the stage of registering when the communication is not getting through.  

That's a great signal that I'm not speaking to him in the right language.  (Sure, I could argue that he's not speaking to me in my language, but that would only open the way up to blame, and powerlessness.) 

When communication is not getting through it’s a sign to abort the line of argument right there. 

That's not about giving in, or silencing your own voice.  

It's about accepting the pointlessness of listening to the sound of your own voice when the other person won't. 

Much better to abandon the point then and there, but keep the connection.  After all, that is the important thing.  Isn't it? 

Further down the line, when you are calm, and have thought how to put whatever you want to say in terms that Mr (Alpha) Male can understand, you can use mention whatever it is you wanted to talk about. ( In between times, you can always use the Phone A Friend option, provided you don't select an inflammatory friend to speak with.)   

I'm not saying men are like pets – perish the thought!  However you are more likely to have their relaxed attention when your voice is calm, and reassuring, and what you say connects with the way they think.  





Can People Really Change?

burningquestioncropA question I hear all the time is: 

Can people change?” 

Theoretically, the asker is appealing to my professional wisdom for the answer to the burning question they cannot answer for themselves. 

In reality, something quite different is going on, and they are asking The Hopium Addiction Question. 

Needless to say, the Hopium Addiction Question has a whole back story, which goes like this: “I've been hurt and disappointed by someone in my life. I feel badly let down, and part of me is telling me that I need to let go. But I really don't want to do that. See, I'm still hoping that if I hold on long enough, they will change, and behave towards me the way I want them to the way I need them to. Is there hope of that happening?” 

Years and years ago, when I was caught up in a cycle of neediness and emotional dependence, I ploughed through most of Doris Lessing's output. One observation still sticks with me. She wrote, approximately:

“People do things, in their own good time, for their own good reasons.” 

At the time, I was struggling with a tough emotional scenario, and that was the most useful piece of wisdom that was on offer. I took it to mean that, when it comes to the important things 

a) people don't do what you want them to do for your reasons

b) getting on with their own lives, and focusing on their own needs and wants tends to be their priority – even though it may not be yours. 

Which brings us back to the question, can people change? 

My guess is that most people are capable of change, provided the concept of change does not strike them as unduly dangerous. If, for whatever reason, they believe that change will herald the end of their life as they know it then, of course, they will resist change tooth and nail. 

But, even if they are capable of change, that doesn't mean they are going to get on and do it. 

You have to ask yourself: “What's in it for them?” From their point of view. Sure, from your point of view, their change would Improve suis-jebovveredsmallThings so that they, too, would reap benefits. But to quote the inimitable Catherine Tate: “Are they bovvered?” Are they really losing out with the way things are now? Or are things working perfectly well for them, thank you very much. 

Besides, chances are, if they've been causing you a bit of emotional grief, they have a marked talent for digging their heels in. People who have a habit of digging their heels in tend to resent you making what they perceive as 'demands'. So, of course, when you persist, they resist – and keep on resisting. 

By now, “Can people change?” should be beginning to look like a Wrong Question. Wrong Questions are nasty little critters because they tend to lead you – by the road more travelled – straight up the nearest blind alley. 

The worst thing about The Hopium Addiction Question is that it leaves you disempowered. It means that the thing you want lies beyond your control. Your only hope of getting it is by getting control of another person, who has no intention of changing the existing balance of power between the two of you. (Why would they? It works to their advantage, doesn't it?) 

In other words, it's a hiding to nothing. 

So, if what is key is NOT the other's person's ability to change, what's left? 

What's left is your ability to switch your focus back to you, so you can say to yourself: “Yes, that other person is important to me. But my long-term happiness and well-being are even more important to me. After all, I'm the one person who is going to be my constant companion from now until I shuffle off this mortal coil. That being the case, where and how do I need to change, so I can enjoy the lasting feelings of belonging, self-worth, and happiness that I deserve?”