Monday, January 31, 2011

Have you got busy-ness disease?

We have had our year-end break and it’s a long haul till the next one with the only respite being the month of Public Holidays - April – which creates a backlog that we spend May and June chasing. It’s not yet February and already I am surrounded by stressed and sick people. It looks like the busy-ness disease of business is still with us.

I am not convinced that in all cases the stress is real and that many of us create our own busy-ness so that we can compete in the ‘Stress Stakes’. If you are foolish enough to be caught up in the competition to see who lives the most hectic life - beware - the prize is an early heart attack, stroke, premature death or worse still, an old age full of regrets awaits. Quite a sobering thought - if you give yourself time to think - that is!
Sadly we seem to be forming a society that values its members not for their personal values such as honesty, kindness and loyalty, but one which values others for the speed at which we dash from activity to activity wearing a stressed and harried look like a medal of honour. If you risk telling others that you are well and happy then they assume that you have no work and you become an object of pity!
Last year I decided that I would manage my energy, say no when I was asked to do something with an impossible deadline or something that involved over committing myself, and that I would live my life more deliberately.
I confess that I have spent a morning or two in my pyjamas and that I have turned down social engagements that were more about duty than they were about adding value to me or my life. I haven’t lost any friends or business income and I am feeling energetic and optimistic. Taking responsibility for your health and well being is a powerful feeling and managing your activities and your commitments is at the centre of it.
The same applies to our children – if we are going to encourage activity from the moment they open their eyes to the moment they go to bed. If they are over scheduled with extra curriculum interests and if you – their role models – are seeking approval through your stress levels – what are the chances that they will?


Ease the pounding of my heart by the quieting of my mind.
Steady my hurried pace.
Give me, amidst the day's confusion, the calmness of the everlasting hills.
Break the tensions of my nerves and muscles with the soothing music of singing streams
that live in my memory.
Help me to know the magical, restoring power of sleep.
Teach me the art of taking "minute vacations"...slowing down to look at a flower,
to chat with a friend, to read a few lines from a good book.
Remind me of the fable of the hare and the tortoise; that the race is not always to the swift;
that there is more to life than measuring its speed.
Let me look up at the branches of the towering oak and know that it grew slowly and well.
Inspire me to send my own roots down deep into the soil of life's endearing values
..that I may grow toward the stars of my greater destiny.
Slow me down, Lord.       ~~Wilferd Arlan Peterson~~

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Fine-Hair Things of Life.

I was blessed in many ways when I came into the world. I had one of everything down the side and one of everything up the middle as my mom used to say when she expressed her relief of us being born healthy. I was born into a pretty normal family with sound values and good sense and British passports – what more could a girl want? However much I was blessed with the finer things in life - I was not bestowed with a glorious crown in fact my crowning glory is the curse of my life - for all my other blessing I was made to pay..... by being born with fine hair!

This was all very well when I was gurgling in my pram – those cute golden curly wisps were much cooed over and admired. My mother, a staunch believer in Amami setting lotion and a style icon of note - fashioned them into rigid perfection with a single kiss curl that stood erect until warm water washed it away. The only problem was that as I grew older they were no longer cute or stylish and my wispy baby locks never changed – I still have a head full of baby fine hair.
I attended school with the hairstyle of the day – side parting with the fringe clipped to one side and a bow attached to a hairclip. This was pretty Ok when I was 4 or 5 but when my age went into double figures and all my peers had shoulder length tresses or high ponies – my hair grip lost its  er...grip!
My teen years were spent trying out products that promised to add volume but which only deminished it  and in an attempt to tame the now permanent wave cause by amami, my fringe was selotaped and the curls were put under the iron - all this produced was a sticky forehead and a cheeky scar from the iron!

Once I started work I saved up to consult a reputable hairdresser, Bernhard newly arrived from the continent to our little town – his salon boasted a huge plate glass window – I prayed for a seat at the back. He studied my problematic down and gushed, “I veel make you beautiful Susannne’. “We don’t have that long – I am in my lunch hour” I replied. “My darling - you musta go with what nature gaven to you and become ‘elfin’ lika your hair.” “I am five foot eight and have size seven feet – I don’t think I can do elfin.” I pleaded. Too late the scissors had snipped and Monsieur Bernhard had started to crop my mop. A crowd gathered outside the plate glass window – too scared to look in the mirror I watched their expression of horror as my prominent ears were revealed – they blushed at their debut and stayed crimson. As did my face as I emerged from the shop – the first elfin giant in my home town – a freak!
Africa called and I found myself in the windy city - a great excuse to have terrible hair but no – everyone here seemed to have a sleek, straight bob. When summer arrived I had humidity and wind to contend with and resigned myself to living in velcro rollers and a headscarf! The struggle continued and straighteners, body building mousse and directional gel became my daily fix!

A few years ago, the first grey hairs arrived – not grey – WHITE! A flashback to my childhood and the memory of a chance encounter with my father as he emerged from the bathroom – his wispy white locks shining like the coat of a Maltese poodle. I had only ever seen him sleek and brillecremed and I stared in awe at the shimmering white fluff. The penny dropped and I saw my future .... I am resigned to my dotage sporting a ‘short back and sides’ – does anyone know where I can buy Brillcreme these days??

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Letting go of your child’s hand

I don’t think there is a mother alive who has not dreaded the moment when we have to let go of our children. We may joke about us looking forward to the day they start school especially when they are boisterous five year olds full of energy from dawn till dusk, but the reality is the moment you let go of their hand outside the school gate and walk away – the feeling of loss is overwhelming. I for one walked away with a brave face but cried buckets full with my first two boys – with my third and fourth I was in tears just buying their school uniforms!
Until that moment you have been the main influence on their lives, the centre of their universe and now you have to move over on your pedestal to make room for Miss Archibald or Auntie Sylvia or some other female who they will listen to and learn from and whose name they will often call you in the first few months. It’s the hardest lesson in sharing that I think we learn but it’s part of motherhood and all good moms have to learn to let go trusting that their young will return and holding them in their hearts till you can hold their hands again.
This Christmas we have watched a wagtail build a nest in our stoep among some artificial ivy. She took such care with the building of the nest using only the finest of materials and, as it was Christmas, there are a few strands of glittery tinsel in there to make it prettier. She laid 3 eggs and patiently waited for them to hatch and has been rewarded with three baby birds who she has fed diligently and lovingly. This weekend she has been teaching them to fly and horror of horrors one flew into our lounge – the mother’s distress was awful to witness – she knew it wasn’t time to let go – that the baby still needed her. Last night we watched her protect them from a savage shrike that was dive-bombing them in the garden – she fearlessly ran him off. Again she knows they are not ready to stand on their own two feet. When the time is right though and they can fend for themselves, she will watch them fly away as we must do.
The school gate is only the start, as your children get older you have to let go of them time and time again, school camps, sports tours, gap years and work and travel opportunities , and each time that same feeling is there as you see them walk away confident and ready for the world. Teach them to let go - remember the harder it is for you the harder you make it for them –release their hand first.

I reminded myself as my boys set off to conquer the world that it’s only the optimistic and confident that have the ability to do that and that I contributed to those attributes in my children and that is evidence that I have done a good job as a parent – a mother. I have taught them to stand on their own two feet and fly well – just like that mother bird.
The most wonderful thing is that they always find their way home too and that the human heart has the capacity to love many - as their mother you will always be their first love - the one who gave them wings. As for being on a pedestal, even though it’s very comfortable viewing platform it’s as much a prison as any small, confined space and motherhood is all consuming giving you little time to be you.
As you let go of your child’s hand this week be reassured that they will return. Be sure to fill the space that they leave with ‘me time’ – it’s your reward for a job well done.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Back To Work!

It seems that most of us are back at work this week - Goodbye Christmas, Goodbye Beach, Goodbye Holidays for another year. Hello office and hello again to all the crazies we work with. A lot of the stress around work comes from the fact that we cant choose the people we work with. In my work in HRD, many people have commented to me, "I love my job BUT the people I encounter everyday drive me mad!"  Here are some of them:-

The Martyr (aka The hardest working Woman in the World)

How to identify: Tends to be large. Wears flowing garments in man made fabric and sweats a lot. Usually has a pained expression on her face as she has had a headache for the last 10 years. Takes work home every night and weekends (we all know it stays in the boot of the car). Sighs a lot.!
Location: Sedentary - usually found in finance department or admin.
Lunchtime: Brings packed lunch of chips, biscuits, chocolate eaten at desk during the morning and then sends out for toasted sandwich at actual lunchtime. Snacks all afternoon but often has piece of fruit on desk.
Sick Leave: Comes to work when chronically sick, infects everyone and then criticizes them when they are off sick.
Annual Leave: Can’t possibly take more than a day’s leave at a time or the whole place will come to a grinding halt.
Currently reading: You must be joking – I have no time to read. Finds time to watch soaps, reality shows and hones in on depressing news stories.
Hobbies: You must be joking – I have no time for hobbies. Finds time to watch soaps, reality shows and hones in on depressing news stories.
Starts every conversation with……:” I’m exhausted” or “I don’t know why I am this size, I hardly eat anything. – I live on fruit”
The phone: Is too busy to answer it – if it’s a business call – finds time for personal calls though!

Dolly Bird

How to identify: Shoulder length, carefully ironed hair – usually blond or unconvincing shade of maroon. Wears make up every day – lots of it. Has a permanent smile. French manicure, square cut Gel nails. Skirt hem and neckline often meet. Accessories - Killer heels, Big bag and lots of bling.
Location: Reception, boutiques or anywhere where the nails won’t get damaged or broken.
Lunchtime: Survives on coffee and cigarettes and occasional tomato.
Sick Leave: Exhausted – often calls in sick on Monday and/or Friday.
Annual Leave: Spent in shopping malls or on beach
Currently reading: “Hello” or anything from Mags and Fags
Hobbies: Shopping, Face booking, Clubbing, Shopping
Starts every conversation with……: “Is it nearly home time?” “What did you do last night?” ends conversations with “You are joking!”
The phone: Attached to the ear at all times – often texting at the same time.

Miss Efficient

How to identify: Wears blazers in navy, grey or red with coordinated check, pleated skirts, often in uniform, wears name badge. Short spiky hair and spectacles on chain
Location: The library, doctor’s reception rooms, accounts department
Lunchtime: Nutritiously balanced packed lunch eaten on the go.
Sick leave record: Hasn’t had a day off work sick in 20 years. Competes with the martyr to hold this record.
Annual Leave: 3 weeks per year in annual shutdown period spent on computer or other training course.
Currently reading: The Basic Conditions of Service, Labour Relations Act or Company policy manual.
Hobbies: Reading the above.
Starts every sentence with……: “That’s against company policy “or “We have always done it this way.”
The phone: Answers on the first ring but speaks so quickly no one can understand her - repeats herself often

The Gossip

How to identify: This one can take many guises. Non stop talking is main identifying feature. Usually found around the copier machine, water cooler, fax machine or in the ladies.
Location: They are everywhere – every office has one.
Lunchtime: Doesn’t draw breath - eats earlier in the day so that lunchtime can be used to natter. Wanders around with a coffee cup at lunchtime trying to establish eye contact with unsuspecting victims.
Sick leave record: Very rarely off sick - can’t bear to miss out on anything
Annual Leave: Spent having lunch and coffee dates with colleagues to get information on what is going on.
Currently reading: The company newsletter, the intranet, the local newspaper and any other source of news.
Hobbies: Socialising, Movies, Bookclub, Belongs to several business and social organizations – often serves on the committee.
Starts every conversation with……:” Have you heard?” or “You’ll never guess?” often ends conversations with ”I swear that I won’t tell a soul”
The phone: One in each hand - Can have 2 conversations at once.

The Corporate Climber

How to identify: Sharp trouser suits, often black, pinstripes, sleek, groomed hair, Shoulder-pads, Stilettos, Laptop case, Blackberry, Mans watch: Accessories: Gold, Black and Armani .
Location: The upper floors – whether their office is there or not. They like spending time there.
Lunchtime: Skinny cappuccino to go or often DOES lunch to network in coffee shops with laptop open and 3G
Sick leave record: Hasn’t got one – replaced with study leave
Annual Leave: Spent with the boss.
Currently reading: The one minute MBA or latest Business Bible
Hobbies: Spending time with the boss, the boss’s wife and anyone else who can be useful.
Starts every sentence with……: a business quote. Speaks in ACRONYMS and jargon and uses the “absolutely” a lot. Often ends conversations with “Yes sir.”
The phone: Checks their mobile phone constantly – occasionally embarrassed when it rings while they are pretending to speak on it.

The Recent Graduate

How to identify: Either has long hair, worn loose or sometimes braided and beaded or has shaved head. Occasional dreadlocks. Wears Indian style outfits in natural fibres, crochet waistcoats and small hats with flowers on. Wears boots in winter, pumps or thongs in summer. Accessories wooden, chunky beads, long windchime earrings.
Location: NGOs, Academic institutions, Advertising but currently infiltrating into corporate environments.
Lunchtime: Beansprouts, green tea – soya products in recyclable containers.
Sick leave: Knows their entitlement and uses it responsibly.
Annual Leave: Knows their entitlement, takes family responsibility leave and never accrues leaves.
Currently reading: In Praise of Slow or The Complete Guide to Office Ergonomics
Hobbies: Runs marathons, Grows vegetables, Conservation – supports Green Peace.
Starts every sentence with……: “Do you know that….” Or “That is so toxic.”
The phone: Switches it off when having lunch, after hours and weekends

You may think they only work where you work ......don't kid yourself - they are everywhere!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Watch this Space!

Well I warned you that I get all moody and reflective at this time of year and so I have been - reflecting that is!

As I was walking this morning I was thinking about the year that lies ahead and what it will bring. I have learned not to make New Year Resolutions as I have usually broken them all by February – rather I ‘tune’ into the universe and each year I am given a word and use that as my focus. Don’t ask me where the word comes from – it’s a mystery and even more mysterious is my acceptance of it!

A couple of years ago I was given the word ‘Surrender’ and had the least stressful year of my life by surrendering to what was happening rather than trying to control it and I learned to accept people, relationships and situations for what they were instead of fixing them for whatever purpose. Try it - It’s more difficult than you think but with practice it’s amazing how simple life becomes.

I spent last year with the word ‘Deliberate’ and used it to make conscious decisions about where, what and who I wanted to spend my time with and was rewarded with the liberation that choice brings and an understanding of the responsibility of exercising deliberate choices. This also proved to be easy to think about but harder to implement but the result is a year of creative fulfilment.

This week as I‘ve been walking (when I do all my best thinking now that the water restrictions have taken away the long relaxing baths that were my think-tank) the word that keeps popping into my mind is ‘Space.’ So it seems that this year I may be using my space better – clearing space, creating space or filling space – maybe I am going to travel in space!  I am not sure yet......thats another mystery!

Watch this Space!