SNIPPETS OF INSPIRATION
I’ve been talking a lot about joy recently. Why? Well mainly because when I talk to my clients at the moment what I’m hearing is the absence of joy.
Life is a slog.
Filled with hard work.
I’m so busy.
I’m so exhausted.
I am barely holding it together.
I can’t spend another moment in this house with my husband.
My kids are driving me nuts.
Conflict. Fear. Frustration. Irritation. Shame. Anger.
And I get it. Life can be tough.
And as a purpose led entrepreneur, there are moments when we feel overwhelmed; when the difference we are here to make feels too huge; when the demands on us feel too great and we just want to pull the duvet back over our heads and pretend that our purpose in life is actually to sleep. Not to create change.
There’s a quote by Henri Nouwen that I’ve been thinking about a lot: “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing joy every day.”
There is so much I love about this quote and so much to unpick and learn.
Above all, joy is not a passive experience. It is an active choice.
So many of us see joy as something we ‘receive’; something that is caused by external factors. The reality is that we are in control of how much joy we feel and no matter what the circumstances of our lives may be – we all have the power to choose joy and to experience joy in each moment.
If it is true – and I believe that it is – that we get more of what we focus on in our lives: then a relentless focus on how hard things are, how difficult and stressful and irritating life can be…will surely just attract more difficulty, stress and irritation.
If that’s too esoteric for you, let me put it a different way. When you get home at the end of the day – even if that’s just walking from your ‘home office’ to the living room – do you walk in the door and think ‘Wow, how lovely and warm it is here; this rug is so soft under my feet; and that photograph of my beautiful family makes me smile every time I see it.’
OR do you see the mess of this morning’s breakfast dishes in the kitchen and the newspapers scattered across the coffee table and the kids shoes piled up willy nilly by the front door and feel irritation and annoyance.
In both cases you’ve walked into the same house. But in the first example, you focus on the things in your home that bring you joy. And as a result, I imagine, you will have a much more pleasant evening with your family. In the second example, you focus on the things that cause you to be irritated and upset. Can you guess what kind of evening you are going to have as a result?
Is there a part of you that’s saying ‘You can’t choose joy. Joy happens to you.’ or ‘But I don’t have a rug…or a family.’ or ‘Life is just too hard right now to find joy and why DOESN’T someone else wash up the breakfast dishes.’?
I get it.
Let me share a story with you.
I hope it helps.
I used to work for UNICEF. I spent time in West Africa – in Ghana – visiting UNICEF’s projects in the huge slums of Accra. I met a young boy there. He said his name was Bob. I’m not convinced that was his name, but let’s go with it!
Bob was 12 years old. An orphan. He had been living on the streets and in the slum since he was about 6 or 7. And he was reliant on UNICEF for clothing, food and the chance of an education. Bob quite literally had nothing except the clothes on his back. And the biggest smile I have ever seen on a human being. He beamed with joy.
When I asked him what made him so happy, he said: ‘Why choose to be sad?’
I share this story not to shame you for questioning whether you can choose joy. But to demonstrate that even in the most dire of circumstances, joy is possible. It is a choice.
I got to know Bob a little during the time I was in Accra. Here are some of the things he taught me about how to be more joyful.
- Start your day with the clear intention to focus on and choose joy. Instead of racing to start your day and stepping immediately into the hustle bustle of getting up, getting ready, getting the kids up…or whatever…take a moment to breathe and set the intention to focus on joy.
- Throughout the day watch your meanings. In every moment we create meaning. And that meaning determines not only how we feel about the moment but also how we experience the next moment in our lives. The fact that you dropped your coffee cup this morning could mean that you are a clumsy numpty with poor hand eye co-ordination. OR it could mean that you have an excuse to pop into your favourite shop at the weekend and buy a new mug. Both meanings are possible. Which one brings you most joy?
- It was Darwin who first proposed that facial expressions don’t only reflect emotions, but also cause them. Since then countless researchers have tested this hypothesis and found it to be true. For those of you who like to check out the science, take a look at the work of Robert Zajonc who published one of the most significant studies on the emotional effect of producing a smile back in 1989. In essence, if you want to experience joy, smile.
- Give joy to others. We have all heard the expression that it is better to give than to receive. But the ‘donor’ can get just as much from the gift as the recipient especially when that gift is joy. Take a moment to offer someone a sincere compliment; see their joy and experience the glow of their smile. I guarantee that you will feel more joyful for having brought joy to someone else.
- If you want a short-cut to joy there is one daily practice that carries a guarantee: gratitude. Start your day with a focus on joy and end your day with a focus on gratitude. Take a moment before you go to sleep to consider what you are grateful for. Write a list of at least three things. I have a beautiful notebook next to my bed for this purpose. And sometimes, in the moments when joy feels hard, I take a look at my notebook and remind myself how much I have found to be grateful for in my life. You don’t have to take my word for it though. My s-hero Brene Brown once said: “In 12 years, I’ve never interviewed a single person who would describe their lives as joyful, who would describe themselves as joyous, who was not actively practicing gratitude.”
As Marianne Williamson said “Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognise how good things really are.” So allow yourself a moment of recognition. Revel in the unique joy of being YOU. Of being alive. Choose joy. And remember every day that it is a choice.
The essence of this blog is that joy is a mindset issue. If you’re struggling with mindset and you think it might be holding you back – not only from experiencing joy but also from growing your business and your impact, then you might be interested in the Actually mindset coaching programme I am developing, specifically for purpose-led entrepreneurs, coaches and consultants. The programme will launch in October and there will be very limited places available. If you want to join the waiting list, please email email@example.com with the subject heading ‘COACHING WAITLIST’.
Let’s ACTUALLY make a difference!
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week I wrote a newsletter that caused more people to unsubscribe from my list than almost anything I have ever written before. I'm not concerned - clearly they are not my people - but I thought I'd share it here so you can tell me: would this cause YOU to unsubscribe?
"Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in high heels."
I remember the first time I heard that quote.
I was in my teens. I laughed.
Then as I began to think seriously about my career, my Mum explained to me that to be a successful career woman meant working twice as hard as a man to be considered half as good (and paid half as much).
I was in my early twenties. I thought she was exaggerating.
After I burnt out for the second time, I went to a conference and listened to a passionate and eloquent woman - who has subsequently become a great friend - explain something that should have been utterly obvious to me: that our entire cultural paradigm is based on structures set up by men and for men.
I was in my forties. And I cried.
Because it is exhausting having to don your Superwoman cape every day to ‘compete’ in the workplace.
As a single woman, I didn’t have to juggle work with family.
As a white, middle-class, cis-gendered, heterosexual and mainly able-bodied woman, I wasn’t dealing with the raft of intersectional prejudices beyond your average, everyday sexism.
But I was still exhausted.
And it wasn’t just because the systems that we work within weren’t designed for women but for men who had stay-at-home wives doing all of the work in the home.
It’s because for me - as for so many women - every day was and is a balancing act.
Every day is a tightrope walk between safety and danger; between being listened to and dismissed; between familiarity and harassment; between authenticity and playing the game.
Every day is a fight to be seen, to be heard, to be respected, to be autonomous, to be considered, to be valued, to be safe.
In the workplace, in our social spaces, in our homes, in our politics, in our media.
This week my friend and client Harriet Waley-Cohen shared a post about this on LinkedIn. I’m going to share a section of her post here because she has put this so much more eloquently than I could:
"Sometimes it amazes me that there isn't a massive uprising.
Women are fed up of being objectified and judged on our looks, and only respected by how fu*&able we are deemed to be.
We are exhausted by feeling unsafe everywhere we go and watching our backs.
We are exasperated with not being paid the same, of our careers, choices and finances being marginalised because of caring expectations.
We are in despair about our allegations against powerful men being ignored because these men are too valuable to be held to account.
We are done with being told our tone of voice is the bloody problem, that we are too emotional.
We have had enough of not being able to trust the police or the legal system, and of people saying 'innocent until proven guilty' when the stats for prosecutions are laughably low and we all know most rapists never face any real consequences.
We are fed up of being told that it's not all men, because we never said it was, and it hurts to see so few men actively working towards making things better."
There has been an outpouring of grief, support and righteous anger in the comments on Harriet’s post. Of course there has. Because this is nearly every woman’s lived experience. And it is not OK.
I have written about these issues before in this newsletter. In the wake of the Sarah Everard murder and after the US Supreme Court struck down Roe v Wade. And there’s a part of me that didn’t want to write about this again. A part of me was concerned that you - my wonderful community - would grow bored of me ‘ranting on’ about this issue. A part of me that feared being judged or dismissed.
And that’s exhausting too, right?
The constant self-censorship. The constant voice in my head telling me that I can’t say this, shouldn’t write about that, mustn’t be too emotional, too strident, too ‘shouty’.
Well, in the nicest possible sense: f*&k that.
I am in my fifties now and as tired as some people may be of hearing me talk about these things, trust me I am WAY more tired of still having to talk about them. But until there is equity, it is up to every one of us to keep ‘banging on’.
And we need to do more than rant, we need to ACT.
Because here’s the thing, whatever your gender, you can either be an ally or you can be complicit in the problem. Please choose to be an ally. Here are three things you can do:
- Support people like Harriet when they share publicly about these issues. This kind of content often attracts trolls and the ‘not all men’ brigade - and it can be overwhelming to have to do all the rebuttal yourself. Another friend and client - the fabulous Stephanie Aitken, also did a post this week on a related topic and spent many hours having to deal with trolls in the comments. Help them.
- Call out misogyny, sexism, harassment, prejudice and bigotry when you see it - and when you feel safe to do so. I’m not advocating that you intervene when doing so would put you in real physical danger. But if a colleague makes an off-colour remark; if a family member behaves in a way that is inappropriate; if a friend displays ignorance, aggression or bias: name it. Don’t just smile and secretly roll your eyes. Don’t dismiss it. Don’t be afraid to be ‘awkward’. Have the conversation.
- Engage the next generation. Several of the commenters on Harriet’s post talked about children watching violent porn. They shared stories of how boys’ attitudes to girls are in some cases worse now than they were when I was a teen. The murder of Elianne Andam this week makes it clear just how important it is to speak to our children about these issues. Talk to the young people in your life. Find out about their experiences. Give them a safe space to explore these issues. And educate them about respect and equity. If we are going to break this cycle, this is VITAL work. Don’t shy away from it.
There is so much more that we could all be doing but this would be an amazing start!
OK. Rant over, for today.
I’m not promising I won’t come back to this again.
My most fervent wish is that there will come a day when it won’t be necessary.
I hope to see that day in my lifetime.
My biggest fear is that I will not.
I think that will do for now - I do hope it has been helpful!