Phenomenal Woman – speaking up and standing out

Phenomenal Woman – speaking up and standing out

A few days ago I embarked on an adventure in a lovely little place in the heart of Cheshire, on a course called ‘Phenomenal Woman’. This was ‘take two’ as I had been too unwell to go in March, when I had originally booked. I wasn’t even sure until a couple of days before if I’d be able to make it this time. However, I was determined, and I’m so glad I did!

In this blog I will share the magic of what happened when this unique group of women came together with Catherine Sandland from White Hart Training. It was a course in public speaking and the stories of resilience I heard will stay with me for a long time.

The start of the story

I have a variety of experience in public speaking and it’s something I enjoy very much, especially since I found that when I share my story it encourages other people to do the same. And storytelling is so natural to humans, it has connected us through the ages.

My main reason for going was to gain expertise in crafting a talk that would have even more impact, and also to deal with the emotions that I see in the audience in-the-moment, which happens every time when I tell the full story of my life.

We gathered in a bright, welcoming, and stylish venue called the Joshua Tree. It’s a centre built and run by an amazing charity who support families affected by children’s cancers. Talk about a sense of perspective – and what a friendly and supportive team.

We each took our seats to get started, and Catherine started to tell us stories to give context for what we were about to experience. Suddenly I had one of those moments when I just knew I was in exactly the right place at the right time, as if it was already laid out on a path for me.

What I learned

I could write a whole blog about the valuable things I learned and experienced. For now, I want to focus on a couple of things which were significant for me.

1. Structure

I’m fairly experienced and confident speaking to groups. But I realised that I have mostly developed what I do and how I do it by trial and error. I have also watched and listened to people who are great at public speaking. However, there’s nothing like immersing yourself with an expert. I gained huge insights from the guidance on structuring a talk. The icing on the cake was the specific feedback from the trainers and from each other.

It was helpful to learn engaging ways of hooking the audience into the story. Then structuring what follows helps to focus on valuable messages and flow. Most importantly, these techniques are tried-and-tested, and are based on the quality of talks like you see in TEDx events. I now feel I can stand up alongside accomplished speakers, as well as continuing to develop and polish my skills.

2. Settling the audience and bringing them with you

I mentioned that I have found it a challenge (until now) noticing people’s emotions when I talk about a devastating moment in my life. My husband Alan was diagnosed with MS (Multiple Sclerosis) just 3 days before we got married. I’m sure you can imagine that an audience will have a range of reactions. Some of them are pretty emotional.

I learned that I had been dropping that bombshell (my words for it!) too early in the talk. People had barely settled in and then I gave them something significant to process! Instead, I enjoyed telling a sensory-rich story about when I arrived at Linlithgow Palace. I spoke about my long bridal gown with the velvet bodice. I felt like Mary Queen of Scots as she swished along the ancient flagstones hundreds of years before. Then I spoke about the two nights of celebrations we had planned – and boy did we celebrate!

And when it got to the moment of explaining the diagnosis and the effect it had, I was ready.

I took my time.

I paused and breathed to give the audience time to process what I had said.

What difference did it make?

The difference was remarkable. I really got into my stride, and enjoyed delivering the talk even more than usual. And the applause, tears, and hugs afterwards helped me to confidently integrate my new skills and experiences. It meant a lot that a few of the women in the group told me what had been going on for them at the point that they were emotional, which was a deeply moving combination of their experiences and them relating to mine. This sharing was a precious gift.

I’m now excited about developing more opportunities to speak at events, conferences, and webinars. I have a transferable way of crafting and delivering a variety of talks. It’s a great platform for sharing my messages around resilience, mindfulness, and NLP. It will be useful in my role as an ambassador for Women’s Enterprise Scotland, as well as being a great complement to being an author.

I learned loads from listening to each phenomenal woman telling their stories of resilience, wisdom, passion, and purpose. We are all connected in our willingness to stand up and speak out. And I feel there will be a lasting bond between us after what we have shared.

A phenomenal ending

Catherine closed the event with a beautiful reading of the poem Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou. I thought it was a perfect choice as we each prepared to embark on the new beginnings this will bring. The emotion in the room was palpable and we agreed to stay in touch.

Thank you to Catherine Sandland, Ashley Costello, and Sue France for this incredible experience and the feedback, support, and encouragement. You were all phenomenal too!

PS – the next course is in March if you are interested to find out more!

What happened in the silence in between

What happened in the silence in between

I began this year with great gusto, buzzing with a sense of adventure and with all sorts of things planned. The kind of self development I found was quite different from what I’d been seeking, but probably even more valuable.

Planting Seeds in the New Year

January lived up to all my expectations with an uplifting workshop on ‘Planting Seeds’ with a group of wonderful women who I’m also fortunate to call friends. We talked about setting intentions, set them down on paper in a variety of creative ways, and coached and encouraged each other to bring it to life.

I like to join in with these things too, when we are working in a small group, so I drew a big globe and plotted on the map where I was planning to go this year, with playful illustrations of what I would do when I got there. First up was India at the end of January, which was a fantastic experience once again and I wrote about it in my blog about Feeling at home wherever you are.

Things changed

And then I caught another virus straight after I got home and was stopped in my tracks again. Little did I know that I would still have chronic fatigue months later. I haven’t even been able to write, as I can’t seem to find the words.

It can be hard to stay connected and motivated when my mind and body is running on empty, and I have often felt frustrated at ‘sitting around doing nothing’.

And yet, that’s not really true. It’s a story I’ve been telling myself at times, being naturally fed up as it’s been 3 years now, on and off, since I first became ill. When I read this quote from Mozart recently, I felt a warmth spreading from my core…

“The music is not in the notes, but the silence in between.” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Inwardly I said a big “YES” and breathed a sigh of relief.

In the time that it has been necessary to rest and apparently ‘do very little’ I have also been doing profound inner work, as I feel a deeper layer of myself has begun to emerge. Despite not being at my best at times (nowhere near it!), I hold a solid belief that this is part of my path which will fundamentally influence the way I live and the type of work I do in future. And that is important to take my time over.

Here are some examples of what’s been happening in the ‘silence in between’…

Personal Reflection

I have taken time to notice how I think, and what patterns and words I use relating to my health, becoming aware of what helps and what holds me back, consciously accepting and letting go of how I wish things were. For example I have been very aware of my tendency to focus on others over my self, and my habit of finding a silver lining in everything, which I now understand can be detrimental over the long term. I have invested in coaching and holistic therapies which have been a lifeline when I have felt adrift at times. I have had lots of lovely messages and offers of support from friends too, but I have just not been well enough to make plans, far less meeting up.

Self Development: Learning how the mind, body, and nervous system works

Studying the science has greatly helped me to understand why I have been so unwell and not hold blame or shame, or feeling I ‘should’ be better by now. I have also read incredibly insightful books including ‘The Body Keeps the Score’ by Bessel Van der Kolk and ‘No Bad Parts’ by Richard Schwartz on the fascinating topic of Internal Family Systems (IFS). I have done some deep work to embrace difficult emotions and welcomed aspects of myself which have long been buried or ‘exiled’ as Schwartz calls it.

Reading about nature, flowing with the seasons, ancient traditions, and modern philosophy has been a mind-opening adventure. And I’m certainly not done yet.

Modelling how other people have recovered

Online and in a variety of books, there are accounts of people who have recovered fully from chronic fatigue and post-viral symptoms. These publications highlight how they think, what they believe, and what they do to make progress. I am taking small steps forward from what I have learned, and although it will take time, I am feeling a renewed sense of hope.

Seeing clients again

I have loved opening up my diary to see clients, just a few at a time and I am very careful about giving the experience and quality of attention they have come to expect, as well as managing my health and energy levels.

Other opportunities for learning and self development

As well as being one of the most challenging periods in my life, this has been (and still is) an opportunity to re-evaluate and open up to a new level of awareness. I have invested in self development. I have enjoyed getting to know myself in my 50th year, and although it has not been at all what I expected it has been so enriching and enlightening.

So, there you go… I seem to have gone from being stuck for words to pouring out several hundred of them in one go! It feels good to connect in this way again, although now I am ready for a long rest!

I will be opening up for another couple of one-to-one clients in August, either for Executive Coaching or Personal Development coaching, so please feel free to book a discovery call if you think you’d like to snap up one of the slots.

In the meantime, I am wondering what this blog has opened up for you? Are you curious about your own development and the ‘silence in between’?

Au revoir for now, and I hope it won’t be too long til I am back posting again!

How to feel at home wherever you are

How to feel at home wherever you are

Adventures in India

I stopped in my tracks as I reached the top step of the open-air restaurant.

I was captivated by the view of the warm terracotta roof tiles and palm trees framing the pale blue sky and the vast Arabian Sea, where fishermen worked for hours every day to bring in their catch.

We had just finished yoga on the beach at sunrise (Cherai Beach in Kerala, India), and I was feeling invigorated by the grace and flow from moving my body , the sounds within and around me as we chanted, and how present I felt in my body and mind. My heart was also pumping from the ride home on the bikes which Carolyn and I hired to get us back and forth from yoga.

A-ha moments

This was how we started each day on the 8-day NLP Intensive run by Sue Knight and Ramesh Prasad, and I found that I had many a-ha moments outside the training room as well as within it.

I’ve found it fascinating how moving, stretching, and focusing on my body in this way reinforced and enhanced the changes in my mind, and how at home I felt from the moment I arrived.

Some of this was because I have been there before, but it’s more than that…

There was a moment last time when I squeezed a juicy piece of lemon into my tea, and I later anchored* that moment. Right then, I realised that I can feel at home wherever I am. And I smiled and re-connected with that when I had my first cup of tea this time in the garden at Blue Waters hotel, where we had the course.

If you’ve ever read The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho, you’ll be familiar with the concept of seeking and travelling a long way to then discover that what you were looking for was right under your nose! It was a bit like that, AND I was glad I had such an adventure far away from home to discover it (and re-discover it this time).

Stretching my comfort zone

‘Comfort’ was a theme that came up quite a bit before and during this programme, in how I acted and how I spoke about my learning outcomes. Sue challenged me on it – and I’m glad she did – because it had become a blind spot for me in various aspects of life. Perhaps (at least partly) because of living in limbo with the pandemic, and especially having long-covid on-and-off for over two years, I found ways to just accept things as they were at the time (settle, maybe?).

It feels important to challenge and update my beliefs around my health, as well as what I’m capable of as a professional. I have become a little too comfortable with my natural style which is soft and gentle. It does work well and my clients find they can go deep with exploring and understanding themselves… However, I can flex my coaching muscles and benefit clients by being more provocative and challenging, at times!

I believe that where there is discomfort, there is learning, and I have felt the benefit through this training programme, once again.

“I am STRONG”

One of the a-ha moments was when I noticed a tangible, visceral shift from believing “I am resilient” to “I am STRONG”. This feels so different for me, because resilience implies that there are things to be resilient against. Being strong is about a way of being in the world, from the inside-out, and is not dependent on a set of external conditions. It’s about getting myself – and any stories I might be telling myself – out of the way.

This has been a revelation for me, and I am now exploring what that means in my life as it is now. And the more I pay attention to it and say it to myself, the stronger I feel.

That’s the beauty of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming): it’s about studying subjective experience, learning and doing ‘what works’… and sustaining it, too. Through almost 100 days of training (so far!) I have gained a treasure trove of skills and techniques.

And, most of all, I have found a way home to myself.

“Wherever you go, there you are.” Jon Kabat-Zinn

How to feel at home wherever you are

I couldn’t possibly do justice to this in a short paragraph, however here are the key components I have discovered which help me to feel at home, wherever I am in the world…

Be curious about people you meet, customs, food, and culture. Ask questions – most people love talking about themselves and where they come from, and enjoy welcoming people from other places, especially when they can learn from each other and form a bond in the process.

Notice what you have in common. The first time I was in India I noticed very quickly that the people I was with had all travelled a distance to be there too. So we were all fellow travellers! I find that a useful metaphor for life in general.

Tune in to your senses. You are probably starting to notice that I say this a lot. And it works! Right now I’m imagining the sand under my feet, the rustling of the palms above my head, and the vibrant flowers which seem to inspire a colourful palette for everything from clothes to buses to road signs! It can be very grounding and calming, and brings you to the present moment when you go through the senses one by one. When you are connecting with people, notice their expressions, what makes them laugh, and tune in to that (in a very genuine way).

Talking about humour, it’s a wonderful way to break the ice and get rid of any tension or formality. I can think of many examples of potentially daunting experiences which ended up being highlights because of the laughter and banter in the room!

Most of all, trust your instincts and remember the people who are great at this. If I ever feel like a fish out of water, for example in a state of confusion when travelling, I think about intrepid explorers who have far less information and resources than I do. And I also think “What would they do?” and “How would they be?”

*Anchoring is a technique where we can bring about a desired state – or way of being – by choice. For example you might want to bring about calmness, playfulness, or confidence, by choosing and activating a signal to ‘switch it on’. It really works!

Our regular driver Baiju who patiently drove us all over the place
Dancing, dog walks, and a diagnosis

Dancing, dog walks, and a diagnosis

​You may have read my post about celebrating 7 years in business – this past year has been such a highlight with various new developments including my podcast, branching out into different work, and most recently designing a deck of inspirational cards.

​The​re is​​ an​other side ​t​o the story​ too. If you know me, you will be aware that I am whole-hearted in sharing my experiences and openly share when there are challenging times too. To me, that’s real life… the yin and yang, the light and shade, and a healthy dose of honesty that goes with it all. 

In the same period as I was enjoying and celebrating highlights in home life and through work, I have had some occasional dips in energy levels due to prolonged effects of having covid. In October, I found out I have arthritis too. It remains uncertain whether it is wear-and-tear (osteo) or inflammatory (rheumatoid), although at the moment it’s looking like the former.

I was a bit upset initially as it has come on very suddenly, and possibly a little resistant to the doctor telling me I’m ‘in the age range’ for arthritis. I’m not even 50, for goodness’ sake!! 🙂 

After a couple of days to take stock, with the healthy perspective that many people live well with arthritis and mine is relatively mild at the moment, I consciously changed the way I was framing the experience.

Instead of talking about pain and not being able to grip things properly, I now say: “I’m learning… getting to know what this is like, and finding ways to work round it”, adopting an attitude of curiosity and noticing my thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they come and go. 

Through studying mindfulness I understand that it’s the relationship to the thoughts that makes a difference to the level of discomfort, or even suffering in extreme circumstances. 

We always have a choice.

As a result, the pain has faded a little and I am finding ways to open cans, lift pots, and squeeze cloths (who knew how often you have to do THAT day-to-day!), and I have a renewed appreciation for what I CAN do.

By coincidence, I started having acupuncture to help balance hormonal changes and I believe that has helped too. I have found my zest in the mornings again (mostly!) and in the past four days I have been out walking my dog at sunrise, on a longer route than has been typical for a while. What a treat for the mind and body to start the day like that.

Yesterday I was waiting for the doctor to call to follow up on some blood tests. I was hoping for a definite diagnosis, but it’s not possible to say yet. I thought of what I would like to do… something which I appreciate and which reminds me of my resilience no matter what the outcome is. I immediately thought about my salsa dancing shoes shoved somewhere in the back of the wardrobe.

I pulled them out, dusted them off, and set them neatly down beside me, resolved to ‘have a wee dance’ no matter what the doctor said. I squeezed my feet into the tight silvery straps. 

I can’t say I was anything like as coordinated as before, and my feet were killing me after just 5 minutes, but I am so glad I did it anyway! 

Now I feel a renewed flow of creativity and a sense of fun, very much being in the present. It’s like a few pieces of the puzzle have come together, almost with a life of their own, and something is settling within me.

If I hadn’t taken time to sit with it, and gently notice and explore what was happening, I could have ended up having an unhelpful frame around my health. 

It’s important to me to ‘walk the talk’ and live by the values and resourceful ways of thinking which I share with my clients. I do this because it works.

And​ now…​​there will be much more dancing – as if no one is watching​ – ​and I don’t care ​if they are​ 🙂

Treasure hunting – X marks the spot

Treasure hunting – X marks the spot

​I’m 7 years old, on holiday in Newquay, Cornwall. We’re leaning on a wall looking out over one of the lovely sandy beaches as the warm, golden sun sets over the Atlantic. Tummy full of sausage, egg, and chips, I’m a happy girl.

Something catches my eye, bobbing about on the water below. It’s a bottle… and it looks like it has a rolled-up piece of paper in it! My twin sister and I scramble down the steps as fast as our little legs will carry us, closely followed by my Mum and Dad.

We soon establish that it’s a map – of this very beach – with footprints and an ‘X’ to mark the spot in a cave just a short distance from where we are. We go exploring and find a couple of old broken spades and a stick to dig with.

Clunk!

Oh my goodness… what’s that?! We continue digging and scooping in a frenzy of flying sand and there it is: a treasure chest. And it’s heavy.

We prise it open to find it’s full to the brim with coins and colourful jewellery, which to a 7-year-old looks like the crown jewels! Scooping around in the silvery coins, I realise that this could belong to someone. My Mum and Dad always taught me that it’s honest to hand money in to a police station if you find it, so we proceed up to the town to make a call.

Standing at a public call box in the flashing lights and sounds of an amusement arcade, I can hardly breathe, I’m so excited. Very soon, my Dad establishes that it was an old pirate who had hidden it, and since died, so it’s ours to keep. My sister and I jump up and down with joy, and we are ecstatic to have this unexpected delight to treasure forever!

Of course, the map was put there by my Dad, and the call was pretend so they could keep the magic alive for us. And what magic it was, to believe this exotic story of pirates and loot! I imagine there was a mix of horror and pride when I suggested contacting the police 🙂

I have since watched this unfold once again when my Dad did it for my son David when he was little, and I saw the awe and wonder in his eyes as he discovered and dug up the pirate treasure. My Dad even used the same treasure chest, pictured in this post.

Needless to say, there was a note this time saying that anyone who found it, after a certain period of time had passed, could keep it!

Sitting here typing, I have a big lump in my throat and a happy grin on my face connecting with this happy story again, feeling really present with the excitement and gratitude of a very special gesture. And I am going to thank my Dad again when I speak to him this weekend 🙂

What are your special memories which you will treasure forever? What do these mean to you?

I help clients connect with their stories and happy memories through coaching, training, and workshops. You can also dive into more stories and insights by reading my book Roots for Growth or my Mindful Living e-book.

Life lessons 25 years on

Life lessons 25 years on

This is me at 23 years old, arriving at Linlithgow Palace to get married. I didn’t know what the future held, other than the fact that Alan was just getting to grips with a diagnosis of MS (Multiple Sclerosis) 3 days earlier. And as his wife-to-be, I had a lot to adjust to as well.

I’ve written and spoken about these experiences many times, and it feels even more significant now, as we are celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary. I am finding that it’s a mix of emotions… huge gratitude, happiness, and celebrations for the life we have lived, and some sadness because of how Alan’s health has declined, and how that has affected our lives over time.

I look at this photo of me as a young woman, and I feel proud… having always been a sensitive soul I had no idea what strength I would find within myself. Much of this has come from the love and support of family and friends, and from new friendships formed, especially in recent years as I have followed a fulfilling, enlightening, and unexpected path into deep personal and professional development. I have often found courage and a willingness to be vulnerable and true to myself, and it has been so worth it.

Having been through some of the experiences I have, for as long as I have, when a path unfolds that feels right, I take the next step however daunting it may seem. With a lot of learning, and twists and turns along the way, I now have a whole-hearted approach to life and to the people around me. This means embracing the highs and lows and being present with each experience that comes along, as best I can. This helps me to hold space for my clients too, as I believe there’s a quality of listening that comes from having lived experience and to come through the other side all the stronger for it.

What would I tell my 23-year-old self, based on the life lessons of the past 25 years?

You’re stronger than you think. Being willing to ‘feel the feelings’ and deal with emotions as they come up will help you to live a life of truth and purpose, learning a lot along the way.

You don’t need to have all the answers. Trust that you will handle whatever comes along, even if it’s not clear or easy at first. You will always find a way through.

Trust your instincts and intuition. What you will learn in the years to come will take you on a spiritual path of discovery, and you will become attuned to energy, within and around you, and become much more aware of embodied signals and instincts that will help to guide you in all aspects of life.

You will have the most wonderful, heart-bursting, fun and joyful adventures beyond anything you can imagine, and you will delight in celebrating the everyday moments as well as the big things.

You will love and be loved beyond measure.

You will find your voice to speak from the heart in a way that helps other people to deepen their awareness of what’s important in their lives, by writing (including a book… yes, really!!), giving talks, and sharing the truth of your experiences in-the-moment.

You will have a career beyond anything you expected or wanted for yourself, and you will light the way for others too, by helping them to connect with all they’re capable of.

You will have two amazing kids who are now grown up and tower over you. And they will be the greatest joy of your life.

Here’s to living life to the full, whatever it brings. I’d like to leave you with a quote from Maya Angelou…

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour, and some style.”