I am 5 – vulnerability in the workplace

pexels-photo-333850.jpeg

Its 5 years (23rd June) since I suffered a heart-attack. Described on my medical records as a ‘significant episode followed by a series of major complications’ over a 4 hour period my heart had to be restarted 3 times. My wife was told that as it was unlikely that I would survive, she had best call in the family.

Even if I did come through they didn’t know what quality of life I would have. My heart had suffered severe damage and my brain deprived of adequate oxygen for a prolonged period of time.

Early attempts to withdraw life support proved unsuccessful but eventually I was stable enough to survive without it.

Yet, that was all the easy part, At least it was for me.

We were warned about the risk of Post Traumatic Stress and depression but not prepared for it. The loneliness, the loss of connection. Doubt, fear. The loss of social standing. Complete helplessness.

The brain responds to your sense of standing within your social hierarchy (your tribe). Mess with a person’s standing within their tribe and they are lost, worthless. It is a threat that has been used throughout history to bring down many powerful leaders. Its why some of history’s great leaders have died alone, ostracised by their followers. Why we fear dying alone and pity people who do.

Our tribe extends beyond just our family. It always has. Our tribe includes everyone that we have connection with each day. Those who provide us with protection, a sense of self-worth or purpose. People in our community and those we work with.

Our societies have changed, we have less to do with our neighbours, even less to do with our extended families, we are less likely to belong to clubs and our social lives are less likely to involve other people at all. Those who we work with have gained a greater relevance in our lives. We can come to feel a lot more connected to our workmates than at any other time in history.

In the weeks after my heart attack I felt a driving need a need to get back to work, to reconnect with my tribe.

When I lost my sense of connection, I lost my standing within my tribe. I lost my team, my position and my autonomy. I had been banished.

It seemed that no one truly understood what I was going through.

You know what?  During this time I was being encouraged to emotionally disengage from the workplace. ‘It would be better for my health and my happiness’. Thank goodness that I know when someone is talking shit, that they are making stuff up just to make themselves seem smarter. I now know the exact opposite to be true. Emotional connection leads to a greater sense of community, creativity and innovation which in turn lead to happiness and a sense of fulfilment (that sense that you get at the end of your day that tells you that you have done a great job, that what you did mattered and that you made a change in some else’s life). And then gives you the courage to try again.

Some people when they go through depressive episodes choose to hide away. They stay away from the work place. For me it was important that I didn’t.

At times it has been incredibly lonely and often frightening. I needed the support of those around me, I needed them to understand and I needed their connection. I needed them to allow me to bring my whole self into the workplace. Warts, farts and all.

That’s the point of this story. We can’t always have our family around us. When we would love to be with them we have to come to work instead and that’s way too long a time to have to shut ourselves down. To cope.  To hold our feelings, our emotions and our fears inside of us. And its damaging when we try to do that.

That is what tribes are all about. They can’t replace our families but they can be the next best thing.

Having faced up to my own struggles and refused to just turn my back on them, I look around me and see that we are all struggling with something. And I know that what people need is not my scorn or contempt. Not my criticism or selfish anger, blame or shame. They don’t need me to turn away when I see their struggle.  

From the top down and the bottom up, we all have a right to feel safe, to be listened to and to know that we matter. The freedom to make mistakes and to learn from them. The right to have our bad days and our sad days. And we have the right to fart in the workplace, if that’s what we need to do.

To my tribe, to everyone that stood beside and behind me over the last 5 years, those who have sat next to me and the customers, thank you from the bottom of my (broken) heart.

For those who haven’t been able to show up for me, there’s still time. Show me the authentic you and I will show up alongside you.

 

Photo by Elti Meshau on Pexels.com

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Sticky Boogers

Booger

My wife asked me, “why is it that families can treat each other so poorly?”

I began my answer by reminding her that:
– ‘you don’t have to like someone in order to love them’… and, that
– ‘friends will tell you what you want to hear. Family will tell you what you need to hear’.

Then after giving it some more thought I offered this explanation:

We have fun together, play together, and laugh together but it’s not our friends that we like, we like the way that our friends make us feel. Friends make us feel good about ourselves, that’s why they are our friends.

And our friends make us feel good about ourselves when we are doing things that we shouldn’t do, that we know are wrong. Engaging in negative talk, gossiping, drinking excessively or too often. Friends allow us to take foolish risks, to act out violently and to be reckless with what we have. Neglect our own children and cheat on our partners. Our friends engage in all of that stuff alongside us, they normalise it for us so that we don’t have feel bad about it.

Then when we stop feeling good about ourselves when we are around a friend we can simply flick them off and pick a new one.

Family are different. Sure we can have all the fun that we have with our friends but our family can also remind us of all the things that we don’t like about ourselves.

We grow up with shared values and beliefs. The same sense of what is right and what is wrong. Family remind us of these things and remind us that those, not so good things that our friends allow us to do, are wrong and that we shouldn’t be doing them. And that doesn’t make us feel so good.

When we look at our family it can be like looking at a reflection of ourselves and we may not like what we see. While our friends make us feel good about ourselves, families can remind us of those things that we don’t like about ourselves.

Family know our darkest secrets, our faults, our weaknesses and our vulnerabilities. They share much of our shame. But perhaps what frightens us the most is that our families know and remind us of our unfulfilled potential.

Growing up they shared our wishes and dreams. Knew about our goals and aspirations. Our family remind us of better times, happier times, simpler times, easier times when we had no worries and life was just all about exploring and having fun. They remind us how our lives are not so much fun these days. Of the daily struggles we face and of how we have fallen short.

If we can make peace with ourselves, learn to like ourselves, forgive ourselves, learn to not be so scared of our own reflection, then maybe we can learn to treat ourselves and our families better.

One final thought on the difference between friends and family …

Friends are like when you pick your nose and you get a dry booger. You can have fun playing with it for a while and then when you are done, you can just flick it off and pick a new one.

But families are like those sticky boogers that you often get. The ones that stick to your finger and no matter how hard you try to flick it off  you simply can’t flick off a sticky booger.

I love my sticky boogers!

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The Art of Conversation

talking

What I enjoy more than anything else these days, is conversation.

“I know you don’t like when people tell you you are quiet, but when you talk, everyone listens…”

I have just had a wonderful weekend, full of conversations. Sometimes I did most of the talking, others I listened and yet others were more well balanced.

I conversed with friends, sons and all the time with my beautiful wife.

I am still working on the listening side of conversation, on being ‘present’ in a conversation to hear what others are saying and trying to understand their perspective without always having to relate it to myself.

(Be patient, this may take a while, but I am working on it).

I haven’t come this far to only come this far

I also have to know when the right time is for me to dominate a conversation and accept that responsibility without fear. I have to understand that in those times people will listen to what I have to say.

Learning to be present in a conversation (not just listening) is a beautiful, extremely power gift that we all owe ourselves.

Listen with your eyes
Speak with your heart
(Love with your time)

You don’t always need to have an answer. In fact you should respond only if you need to. None of that frivolous nonsense that makes it look as if you are the most caring person in the world.

I will always have my voice. I will take pride in commanding a room and having everyone listen to me. I have words, thoughts, and opinions that I can share with people. This is my power. This is everyone’s power, and it can never be taken away from us. Use it.

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My Hypocrisy

I didn_t come this far

This morning I was thinking how I want to be acknowledged and rewarded for speaking. I want to be a professional speaker.

I know what I need to do to make it happen. I tell people this stuff almost daily:

  • you cant just sit back and wait to be noticed. No one will see you
  • you have to be willing to declare what you want. Do your 5 wants
  • the 5 second rule to deal with procrastination
  • motivation is a fomr of procrastination
  • you can change the world, one conversation at a time
  • starting your day off in the way that you want it to continue works.

All of this is great advice, it really is, and it has helped several friends in the past 12 months.

Then I realised that I was thinking about all of this while I was still lying in bed at 10:30 am in the morning.

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Sam Elliott

Sam ElliotActor Sam Elliott was so cool and so damn tough. He had a certain look; a full head of dark hair, bushy, strong eyebrows and a big moustache. Tanned, slightly leathered skin. The characters he played were cowboys or bikers.

A man of few words, when he did speak it was with a voice as dark and as rich as a fine single malt whiskey.

He was a dark, solitary and mysterious man who would ride into town to deal to the men who couldn’t deal with it themselves and then ride back out again. Sam Elliott was so cool and so tough that he made Clint Eastwood look like a hormonal teenager.

I wanted to be just like Sam Elliott.

A few weeks back Sam Elliott reappeared on my TV screen. The same full head of hair, strong bushy eyebrows and big moustache. His skin still leathery and his voice just as dark and as rich as ever.

But these days the hair and the moustache are white and instead of dealing to the guys that cant deal themselves, today Sam Elliott was dealing with himself.

Far more introspective, questioning his own value and self worth,  dealing to his insecurities and self doubt, reconciling past relationships and trying to reconcile his past, worried about his virility.

And I realise now that I am just like Sam Elliot.

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My letter to myself

love letter

Hey dude,

I’ve been watching you, the way that you watch people and I gotta say that I worry about you.

Yeah, you’re trying hard to get your life sorted. Trying hard to do things a whole lot better than how you have been doing them, but I worry that maybe you’re putting too much pressure on yourself, setting unrealistic expectations of yourself. I worry that all of this is making you miserable or at least not as happy as you could be.

I know that you know how all of this stuff works. You tell others how to do it all the time and you have seen that it works but you just can’t do it for yourself.

You are great at finding excuses and reasons why none of it will work for you. You label yourself as undeserving, introverted, as a procrastinator. All of these labels simply excuse you from taking your own advise, from taking a risk.

Being an introvert offers you an excuse to sit back and wait for someone to notice you rather than getting out there, demanding attention and doing it yourself.

Procrastination stops you from stepping up and taking responsibility for yourself.

This pursuit of the new vulnerable you is more about allowing yourself to be a victim than it is about you wanting to be a kinder, more empathetic, better liked person.

Discovering your vulnerability is not about finding ways to hurt yourself, its about accepting it and moving ahead because of it.

When you look at yourself and you don’t like what see, how it feels, that doesn’t make you unworthy, that’s your reason for doing something. That’s your ‘why’.

Dammit dude, stop holding yourself back!

What the hell are you really waiting for?

Lots of love,

You

PS: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 ….

 

 

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You don’t have to be special to change the world

I watch as people begin to introduce themselves and tell us how they are going to help to change our lives for us after the upcoming election. These are ‘special’ people. They tell us how educated, how clever they are. Some have faced great tragedy in their lives and they tell us how this has helped them to become much better, wiser people today.

It is perhaps no surprise that the ‘average’ kiwi disengages from politics. They just aren’t clever enough, wise enough or special enough to be able to make a difference.

I have had a good life, in many ways a privileged life. I have had my ups and downs, many that I would not wish on any person and I continue to face my own struggles, but none of that makes me special.

If I was highly educated, if I was young and attractive, if I had traveled more, if I was a millionaire or a top athlete. If I was part of an oppressed minority. If I had overcome some create trauma, or tragedy in my life, then perhaps I would be more confident in my own ability to make a difference.  But I am none of those things.

I am more streetwise than I am worldly, and even then not so wise. If statistics are to be believed, I was once among the top 5% of wage and salary earners in New Zealand but now earn barely above the average.

I am a short, fat balding, middle aged man with healthy issues. Like most people (perhaps all people if we were to be truthful) I have mental health issues.

And all of this makes me wonder how worthy, how capable, how relevant I still am in this world.

But none of this should stop me trying to change the world, my world.  Being average or less than average does not make me, or you, matter any the less.

If the average or below average people in this world didn’t matter, then why are so many clever people so determined to help them? Everyone matters.

Think about it and if you care, even if you care only about yourself, you simply need to say out loud “I Want”.

Saying out loud “I want” is the beginning of a conversation. A conversation with your self, a conversation with family, with friends, workmates, your community and suddenly you are changing the world.

Anyone, not just the clever ones, the wealthy or the brave can say “I want” and can start changing the world.

Try it now. What do you want? Say it out loud.

 

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You don’t have to be special to change the world

I watch as people begin to introduce themselves and tell us how they are going to help to change our lives for us after the upcoming election. These are ‘special’ people. They tell us how educated, how clever they are. Some have faced great tragedy in their lives and they tell us how this has helped them to become much better, wiser people today.

It is perhaps no surprise that the ‘average’ kiwi disengages from politics. They just aren’t clever enough, wise enough or special enough to be able to make a difference.I have had a good life, in many ways a privileged life. I have had my ups and downs, many that I would not wish on any person and I continue to face my own struggles, but none of that makes me special.

If I was highly educated, if I was young and attractive, if I had traveled more, if I was a millionaire or a top athlete. If I was part of an oppressed minority. If I had overcome some create trauma, or tragedy in my life, then perhaps I would be more confident in my own ability to make a difference.  But I am none of those things.

I am more streetwise than I am worldly, and even then not so wise. If statistics are to be believed, I was once among the top 5% of wage and salary earners in New Zealand but now earn barely above the average.

I am a short, fat balding, middle aged man with health issues. Like most people (perhaps all people if we were to be truthful) I have mental health issues.And all of this makes me wonder how worthy, how capable, how relevant I still am in this world.

But none of this should stop me trying to change the world, my world.  Being average or less than average does not make me, or you, matter any the less.

If the average or below average people in this world didn’t matter, then why are so many clever people so determined to help them? Everyone matters.

Think about it and if you care, even if you care only about yourself, you simply need to say out loud “I Want”.Saying out loud “I want” is the beginning of a conversation. A conversation with your self, a conversation with family, with friends, workmates, your community and suddenly you are changing the world.Anyone, not just the clever ones, the wealthy or the brave can say “I want” and can start changing the world.

Try it now. What do you want?

Say it out loud.

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For Johnny and Jack

gunners
The following is a speech that I proudly presented on Anzac Day.  It is a message that should be shared.

Soldier, soldier

At the outbreak of World War 2, Great Britain was still treating 120,000 World War 1 veterans for mental illness.

The casualty rate in wars since 1945 has fallen to just 30% of the levels experienced in World War 2. In the same time the rate of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has tripled.

When they returned to America the Vietnam veterans returned to a home divided by its own internal conflicts.

The Vietnam veterans were the most hate veterans of all time.

They were also the most traumatised.

In Afghanistan and Iraq only 10% of American soldiers actually see active combat, yet on returning home 50% of them suffer some form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

On average 22 American veterans die by suicide each and every day.

We don’t have the figures for New Zealand.

For many soldiers going off to war is the straight forward part, it’s in coming home that their real battles begin.

For my Grandfather these were the 8 further invasive operations that he had to endure to treat his wounds.

It was the near 10 year long battle with bureaucracy before he was finally awarded his full pension and was finally able to give up having to go to work every day.

It was his ongoing battles with alcoholism and depression.

 

This speech was originally written for my grandfather but on Thursday I received this letter from a woman who I do not know. Who I have never met. In it she tells her father’s story detailing his experiences in World War 2 and the battles he faced when he came home. Jacqueline has asked that I also tell his story.

As it turns out Jack Freeman was, like my Grandfather, a gunner. Like my Grandfather he fought in Egypt and Italy. They may have even stood a long side each other at some time.

And like my Grandfather, on returning home, Jack also fought his battles against alcoholism and mental illness.

My Grandfather managed to eventually win through in most of his battles, but in a wardrobe, in his room in a veteran’s hospital in Dunedin, at the age of 72, Jack Freeman took his own life.

So this speech is dedicated to my Grandfather and to Gunner Jack Freeman.

 

Huia Percy known as Johnny stood just 5 foot 2. Married at the age of 24, by the time he was 28 he had lost his father, baby daughter and his pregnant wife.

Perhaps then understandable that when World War 2 came around Johnny was the first in the queue, leaving behind his infant son and aging , widowed mother.

If it wasn’t for illness Johnny would have been on the first boat out but by God he wasn’t going to miss the second one.

They took him to Egypt and trained him as a gunner.

He fought at Tobruk and El Alamein and was injured in both battles.

Driving his truck through the desert Johnny saw a plane coming directly at them. He stopped the truck and yelled to his mates to ‘Get out. Take Cover!’

Direct hit.

His body riddled with shrapnel, Johnny was the only one to survive.

They picked him up, brushed him off and sent him off to Italy to do it all again.

 

My Grandfather went to war, was critically wounded but he survived.

In those days they just stitched them up and sent them straight back out there again.

He had the scars to prove it.

When he came home he brought his scars with him.

People thought it amusing to make loud noises around him and watch him dive for cover.

If you saw a soldier cowering neath your kitchen table, would you feel pride
or shame?

Scared and broken man
here in a place where no one can understand

This was once home but now it’s changed
he has changed
normal has changed
and it no longer feels like his

Back home, he sees familiar faces
but they no longer see him
They tell him that he’s okay, that he must get back to work
but he can’t because these scars that he bears
hurt him so much, every single day

He drinks to numb the pain in his body and his head
and people look at him and
all he sees is disgust in their eyes
because no one trusts an old drunk
and he can’t trust them

Over there he knew who he could trust
he trusted his mates and they trusted him

Over there his mates had his back
because he had theirs

Over there he was a part of something, he mattered
and it mattered that he was over there

Over there he had purpose and self worth

Over there he needed to stay alive
to ensure that they did too

But his mates died over there and
he should have died with them
died for them.

 

But back here, back at home, he wishes only
that he was dead!

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Take Control of Yourself

people-will-talk-about-you-when-they-envy-you-and-the-life-you-lead-let-them-you-affected-their-life

One of the most powerful things that I have learned in this journey that I have been on, is that I am in control of only one thing, my self.

This sounds kind of obvious and almost defeatist, but its not. In fact it is incredibly liberating.

People do what they do and some people can really get under our skins. Those who are closest to us can naturally have the biggest impact on us and this causes us to question whether or not they love us. If they don’t love us, why don’t they? What is wrong with us?

We can make ourselves absolutely miserable trying to please them, trying to win their love, because they matter to us. Or we can try to change them, to stop them from hurting us, because we love them so much and they make it hard for us to do so.

We can only control ourselves, and we shouldn’t expect them to change just to suit us, any more than we would be willing to change for them. All we can do is take control of and responsibility for how we react to them.

If someone criticises the way that we live our lives and needs to tell us that we ought to live our lives more like them we need to stop and think: if that’s how they live their life, how do they know what it is like to life like I do?

How would someone who has lived their life in a completely tidy and orderly fashion know what it is like to live in a slightly chaotic less regimented manner?

How would they know about the creative stimulation that can come from a little bit of mess? How would they know what it is to not be stressed all the time about how clean everything needs to be around them?

If they haven’t lived life the way that you live it, how could they possibly know that their way is the best way to live?

Quite simply, that can’t possibly know and therefore they cannot be in a position whereby they can judge you for the way that you live your life and unless you have lived your live like them, neither can you judge them.

In fact in most cases when someone feels compelled to make comment about us or our lives, it is them comparing themselves with us. They are actually questioning and evaluating their own life and values, not ours. They are wondering whether your way of life may be better, less stressful or more fun than theirs. But it is difficult for anyone to accept any criticism of the values by which they live, so they will instead look to criticise yours, to make them feel better about themselves.

All you can do is control the way you react to them and their expectations. In this case its best to understand that they are welcome to their opinions and they can express them as much as they like, but ultimately it means nothing.

What really matters, is what matters to you.

Thank them for caring enough to share their opinions with you and carry living your life the way that you want to live it.

 

 

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