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Choosing from the Menu of Life

A long, long time ago in a previous life I was a doormat. I know it’s hard to believe. But I was raised to be polite, respectful and helpful and put the needs of others before mine. Somehow I muddled up those messages and mistook them for a need to say ‘yes’; to please and comply.

Things have changed somewhat over the last 25 years or so. First I got comfortable with the fact that it was ok to look after my needs, I started standing up for myself, and then I got comfortable to say ‘no’. Like, very comfortable.

For those of you who know me well and read my blog, you’ll know that I found it tough leaving an established coaching practice in South Africa & starting up all over again in Singapore. Ok, tough is a euphemism. But of course, I have been coached to within an inch of my life. So I really know what drives me. I’m incredibly conscious of my beliefs, values, goals and strategies. And I do my best to make sure my personal and professional behaviour reflect that. In fact I’m so conscious of who I am and what I want that over the past few months, I found myself desperately wanting to say ‘yes’ – just for a change.

Hence I’ve turned down 3 job offers this year. One of which would be my dream job if I ever wanted to move back into permanent corporate employment. Excuse me whilst I shudder  ….  Which is why I said no. The other two ? Well let’s just say that the growth/value/freedom/innovation /remuneration equation didn’t quite balance the way I would have liked it to. There were bits missing. And I just don’t do missing bits anymore.

Just like I don’t coach someone with whom I don’t have rapport. Just like I have also turned down work this year that was cleverly disguised as coaching, but in reality was probably counselling dressed in a beautiful Armani suit.

So, I really, really wanted to say ‘yes’ for a change. I wanted more business. I wanted the right business.  I also really wanted to say ‘yes’ to a few organizations in particular. It happened one Friday afternoon a couple of weeks ago – I got to say ‘yes’ five times in one afternoon.

Looking back, what did I learn ? Sure, it reinforced the principle that sometimes you have to say no to say yes.

But … there was something else …

I know that when something is completely aligned to my values and goals, it’s easy for me to say yes. It just slips out. No analytical thought, discussion or consideration is necessary. I just know !

Here’s something else I know – I’m going to have to keep saying ‘no’ to say ‘yes’, because I love saying yes. It’s no longer even a shadow from my past. It is the result of having done so much self-awareness work, and so much professional work that acting out of integrity and courageous authenticity is the only way I can make decisions.

So, if you find yourself vacillating , going round and round with decisions, not knowing if you really want something, my advice would be to return to your core. Figure out who you are, what is meaningful for you and what you really, really want. Then start practicing how to say ‘no’ to the iffy things life offers you – so that one day you can say ‘yes’ to the items on the menu of life that really matter to you.

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The work I do is about change. I help facilitate internal change for people and then watch with delight as their external world changes. People who work with me want to change. And I personally embrace change as it leads to my growth and development. So I’ve often pondered the process of change.  Does it happen slowly – or in a heartbeat ?

My personal view is that it’s a combination of the two.

A couple of weeks ago two things happened to make me sit up and take notice. As I was parking my car for my first appointment of the day, I became aware of a woman whose (very new, very big) car was parked next to mine. She watched me reverse-park like a hawk (no front-first parking in Singapore), and my immediate thought was that she was so concerned I might scratch her car that she stood there protecting her precious property. Imagine my shock when she actually came over to me, did the ‘wind-the-window-down’ motion, and apologised profusely for parking so badly – and then offered to re-park her car as she had inconvenienced me. Excuse me ????

Later that same day … One of my boys was at soccer practice, and my other son had suggested we go for a walk in the Botanic Gardens. After our walk, we sat down to chat, and were deep in conversation when I heard footsteps approaching. Now, if you’ve lived in South Africa all your life, you know about listening with all your senses. And if you’re a mum, you protect with all your senses too. So, for the second time that day, I readied myself to do battle. And as I turned to see who was clearly watching us, an old man wearing a straw sunhat, smiled out from one of the kindest faces I’ve ever seen (clearly quite moved at the mother-son tableau he had witnessed), nodded his head at me – and walked on.

Message hit home. Yip. Time to revise that old frame of aggression.  Got it.

And I see this process happen in my work on a weekly basis. Clients who have been grappling for weeks with roadblocks, sabotage patterns or limiting beliefs do the hard work; they are aware, reflect, and look for patterns – and then boom – they get it.

Change may occur in a flash, but the process leading to it often takes some time, usually time that we’re not aware of. But it is in that instant when recognition comes, that we have the choice to move on and grow, or stay locked in a cycle of repetition. It is in that moment that we have the choice, and the chance to change our world.

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