Cars give us confidence

April 28, 2010

I am not confrontational.  Aggression, swearing, shouting and rudeness drain me.  When I really need to, I’ll stand up for myself but I am never irrationally rude and abusive.  I always try to be as firm, diplomatic and respectful as possible.

Except when I’m in my car.

It gives me courage.  If a car drives in the emergency lane, pushes in front of me or doesn’t show gratitude if I’ve let it in a queue, I hoot, shout, shake my fist and fire off some expletives.  I generally don’t show any respect for gender, age or size of the driver – if you’ve wronged me, I’ll let you know it on impulse.  This hooting, fist-waving, foul-mouthed person is not the real me and I would never behave this way if there wasn’t a box of metal around me and I couldn’t make a quick getaway on my four wheels.

Why is it that our cars give us such courage?


Success at work is mostly about perception

April 25, 2010

I am now into my 9th year of work.  I have learned that those who slide up the corporate ladder are masters of the fine art of perception.  They strategically (and often subconsciously) manage people’s perceptions of who they are and what they do. Based on my experience, success at work is less really about what you actually do everyday but what people think you do every day.  You also don’t necessarily have to be good at your job.  You must make people think you are good at your job.  Success at work is about mastering the art of business bullshit.  Obviously there are exceptions to this rule.  A useless doctor won’t last long but remember, I am talking about the business world where the equivalent of a bad doctor can rise through the ranks and stay there.

Columnist David Bullard is on the mark when he writes: ‘I think the real reason so many of these manage to screw a salary out of a company is that they have mastered the art of business bullshit.  Substitute activities have been developed by canny employees to disguise the fact that they are incapable of doing anything productive.’

I’ll give you two examples from my own experience (and there are many).  When I was in accountancy articles, I worked on many jobs with a guy called Peter* who was one year above me.  When partners arrived at the client, they were always highly impressed with what he had achieved.  He was one of the most esteemed and respected clerks.  When he left and I was in my final year, I took charge of many of his old jobs.  I used the work he had done in the prior year as my guide and template.  Why reinvent the wheel when it has been done so well the year before?  When the partners visited me at the client, they were less impressed.  I was often hauled over the coals doing less work on one important area and too much on others.  I couldn’t understand why it had been acceptable last year but wasn’t this year.  That’s when I realized that Peter could talk the talk.  He was an expert bullshitter and I was not.

Then there was Charlotte*, a scary senior manager who was permanently what she called ‘snowed’ with work.  She could never take on new responsibilities because of her grueling schedule.  Her bosses promoted her and reassigned tasks when she was overburdened.  One day, she moved divisions and never handed over her responsibilities.  No one missed her.  Why was I the only one who noticed that the Emperor was wearing no clothes?

*Names have been changed to protect the guilty


What fills your cup? More thoughts on work life balance

April 23, 2010

In my last post, I said work life balance is like a mirage – desirable but unattainable.  If balance is your aim, you’ll probably constantly feel like you are chasing the wind because it’s the wrong target.  Achieving balance is no guarantee of fulfilment anyway.

Think of what balance means.  If you stand on one leg, you are balancing.  You are at a standstill and can’t go anywhere because you’ll lose your precarious equilibrium.  Are you stable?  Are you secure?  No!  A slight movement can topple you over.

Marcus Buckingham says that if you study the happiest, most successful people, they don’t have balance.  They have FULLNESS.  Ignore balance and get moving.  Do more of the activities that strengthen you.  He says, ‘You have one life,  One mind.  One heart.  One cup, if you will.  Your challenge is not to separate one cup from another, erect boundaries between each, and then somehow balance them all.  Your challenge is to move your life, tilt your life, intentionally imbalance your life towards those few specific moments that will fill your one cup.’

What fills your cup?


Divert, Withdraw and Abandon

April 21, 2010

Work life balance is an impossible challenge in our 24/7, hyper connected, globalized world.  Total balance is a myth.  It is impossible to control your life in such a way that you can divide it into perfect, neat slices. Enduringly successful people such as Mother Theresa, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Warren Buffett and Nelson Mandela did not have work life balance nor did they appear to desire it.  Their work enthralled them and gave them so much meaning that it was impossible for them to distinguish between their work and their life.  We should strive for ‘work life integration’ and create a place in our lives for everything that is meaningful to us.

Bill Hybels has some advice on how people can maintain a semblance of sanity in the go go go culture of the 21st century.  He says we must do 3 things:

  • Divert daily
  • Withdraw weekly
  • Abandon annually

My daily diversion is every morning between 6:50 and 7:55 to be precise.  If I don’t do this in the mornings, I feel as if something is missing and I get easily drained by the end of the day.  During this precious hour, I follow a rigid routine that starts with me preparing my muesli and a hot cup of tea.  I turn on my computer, open Safari and click Ctrl-T 10 times to open ten, separate internet abs.  Then, I open 10 of my favourite websites.  They include Facebook, BBC news, a few blogs, the Daily Mail celebrity gossip page, my Google email, my Yahoo email, YouTube and Twitter.  As soon as I finish scanning a site, I close it. When I have no websites left open, I dress for work. I don’t leave myself much time and on average I get ready in 45 seconds, which explains why I always look like such a train wreck.

I can’t think how I withdraw weekly.  I think it’s the extended time I spend on the internet (a longer version of my daily routine) or the quality time I spend with Alastair on a Friday evening when we make burgers and watch DVD boxsets.

I struggle with the abandon annually bit because whenever I go on a long holiday, I find it difficult to return to the routine of normal life.  I always develop an acute case of the Sunday night blues and it takes me at least a week to adjust.  It is easier when I abandon annually to a place where we have no family (not South Africa or Canada) because there are no soul-corroding goodbyes.  In 3 weeks time, I am ‘abandoning’ to Thailand with Alastair so I’ll let you know if it’s a success.


What is it that I love about the UK?

April 17, 2010

I am naturally melancholic and prone to navel gazing.  I quite enjoy wallowing in self-pity, like a hippo wallows in a watering hole.  In an attempt to recover from my disease called Learned Helpnessness, I have written a list of the things I love about the UK.  I keep thinking the grass is greener on the other side (South Africa or Canada) but maybe the grass is just greenest where you water it.

  • I love the connectivity.  I love it that I can pore over the internet, watch video clips, read articles and not worry about bandwidth and the costs.
  • I love it that I can order books on Amazon and, three days later, they fall through the hole in the door.  In South Africa, it takes about 3 weeks for Amazon orders to arrive, you must collect them from the post office and pay customs duties.
  • I love it that a book costs the same price as a coffee.
  • I love it that you can take the train at 8am and be more or less guaranteed to get to work in 45minutes.
  • I love it that I can zone out during my morning commute.  This gives me the opportunity to read more and stimulate my brain – it’s like killing 2 birds with one stone.
  • I love it that cable tv and broadband are so cheap.
  • I love it that you can submit your passport for renewal and a week later the postman pops in through the door.
  • I love cycling around Richmond Park or Peaslake.
  • I love feeling safe.
  • I love it that I can walk to the shop and be back 10 minutes later.
  • I love it that the train station is a 2-minute walk away.
  • I love long evenings in summer.
  • I love HTB.  I have enjoyed the fellowship, the meaty sermons and the opportunities for personal growth.
  • I love it that by living in London I have easy access to Europe (although we never go there but maybe if we had more money, I would.)
  • I love the NHS
  • I love the opportunities that I get by living in London – seeing Jessica Lange and Kim Cattrall in a play, going to a Daniel Pink book talk and being one of the spectators at the Sex and the City premiere.

Purpose evolves over time

April 17, 2010

The subtitle of my blog is ‘searching for purpose and passion.’  To start me off on my new writing mission, I will be analyzing what purpose and passion means to me and why I am so hungry to find and use these special things.

HTB ran a conference recently and one of the seminars was titled ‘The Purpose Driven Life – Is it ruinous for mental health?’  This triggered a firing of the cylinders in my brain and I started to think.  During the past 2 years (and longer, in fact), I have been on a quest to find purpose, meaning and contentment, especially in my career.  I have been looking for it like a man with his head on fire will look for water.  It has been a tormenting, all-consuming mission.

Maybe the search for purpose can destroy your mental health?  I thought the point of purpose was to restore your mental health.  I realise that my frustration and anxiety is because I am trying to find an elusive box that contains my fully-defined purpose, all wrapped up with a bow around it.  As the years go by, and I don’t find that ‘box’, I get more panicked and despondent and I feel as if my life, with all my talents and gifts and everything I have to give the world, is wasting away.  That’s how the purpose driven life batters your mental health.

The education systems and job markets of the 21st century say life is like building a puzzle.  The picture of what its supposed to look like is on the box from the very beginning.  If it’s not there, it should be your quest to find it because purpose is the activation energy for life.  The journey of life is about arranging the pieces to look like the picture on the box.  You literally begin with the end in mind.  That’s what causes me such teeth grinding stress – how many of us know the picture on the box from the start?

In reality, life is like developing an old-fashioned photograph.  Your journey is to soak the blank sheet of paper in photographic solution until the picture gradually appears.  It’s a journey of waiting, faith, hope and anticipation as the first faint blur of colours appears and slowly you see the details of the picture.  Writer Ken Robinson describes how Michaelangelo said he didn’t create the David.  He said he chipped away every bit of stone that was not the David and eventually his masterpiece was revealed to him.

Once final thought – if you study enduringly successful people and ask them how they did it, they will always say, ‘it’s a long story’.  At the start, they didn’t picture their final purpose all fully-formed.  Why do we put so much pressure on ourselves to find our calling so early on? We should let it evolve and then enjoy the journey.


Good advice from Liz

April 15, 2010

Morning World!  (I could almost hear the echoing)

Yesterday I mentioned that this blog is a catharsis for me and it will be a way of making sense of my thoughts.  I read an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert and she said writing does for her what I am hoping it will do for me.

This is what she said:  ‘I can’t imagine that I would’ve had half the revelations I did on this journey if I hadn’t been writing about it as I went along.  Writing has always been my particular way of translating life, of taking experiences out of the ephemeral and digesting them, making them real.’