The three short years of my son’s troubled life were torture. I thought the bad days would never end. His deformed heart would suddenly cause his blood pressure to drop and he’d pass out. He was in and out of hospital all the time.
Various medicines had to be taken several times a day to keep him alive. When we went out as a family we took a whole pharmacy with us wherever we went.
After he died, shortly before his third birthday, I entered a dark place of not coping that, thirty years later, is only just coming to an end.
When you are going through something frightening or unpleasant, it sometimes feels that this bad period of your life will never be over. Often it feels like the good times play out too fast and the bad times play in slow motion. Life doesn’t have a fast forward button.
Sometimes it feels like our ship has sunk and we are cast adrift, swimming in an endless ocean with no sight of dry land. How long can we go on? But I have learned to look for seagulls.
We may not see the dry land of hope yet, but seagulls never fly too far from the shore. Even a lone seagull can give us hope. Then a few more appear in the sky. Land must be near. Our trial will soon be over and we will stand on solid ground once more.
I don’t know what trials you may be facing today. But don’t give up. Look for the seagulls. Look for a small sign that something is changing for the better.
You may not yet have what you hope for but the seagull means you’re not far off. Hang in there. Dry land is coming soon.
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A quick glance at nature now and then will tell us that living things are always growing and changing. The world changes. Society changes. Our lives change from one season to the next.
When I left school (years ago!) someone advised me to get a job with a big successful company and work for them for life. That was the route to security apparently. But since that conversation those jobs have all evaporated. Big companies have downsized and reduced employees to a bare minimum.
Wiser advice today would be to work out what your gifts and skills are, develop them, and then see who is willing to pay you to do those things. And it may be several people or jobs rather than just one these days.
One danger with success is that it feels so good we don’t want that season to change. But it will, so get ready.
Kodak dominated the photographic world for over one hundred years. It had a 90% market share of photographic film sales in America. Almost everyone used the brand.
What followed was a colossal story of failure and missed opportunities. Kodak was a gigantic casualty in the wake of digital photography – a technology that Kodak invented!
Kodak engineer Steve Sasson invented the first digital camera in 1975. But it was filmless photography, so management’s reaction was, ‘That’s cute, but don’t tell anyone about it.’
As a result the company entered into decades of decline, unable to perceive and respond to the advancing digital revolution.
In 2012 Kodak filed for bankruptcy.
Simple steps to avoiding your Kodak moment:
Understand your passion
Kodak’s leaders thought they were in the film business – instead of the image business. They misunderstood the essence of who they were. When you boil it right down, what is your passion in life? Write it down. Stick it on your fridge.
Kodak thought their success was fixed. Life and technology are changing all the time. They made a lot of money from selling film so it was hard for them to think of a world where no one used film.
How is your world changing? What trends are happening in society? True, we don’t always want to be following the crowd but, if a sea-change is going on that affects you, shouldn’t you try and understand it?
Don’t be paralysed by fear
Kodak was so afraid of losing their lucrative film sales they buried their head in the sand. Don’t cling to the past when the past way of doing things is already passing away. Find someone who knows about the new way and learn from them.
Take some risks and experiment
In 1994, in my spare time, I set up a charity to develop my work in Africa and the UK. I wanted to see lives transformed and people rescued from poverty. Four years later, in 1998, my job contract came to an end. I was about to lose my home, which went with the job, and my monthly income.
I decided to try and go full time with the charity I had founded. I’m glad I experimented and set up the charity four years previously. I didn’t have to start from scratch. Although it was a big risk and a scary time, it worked. We now employ three people and are not only still viable but also still growing, these seventeen years later.
As we start 2015, is it time to do an audit of where you are going in life?
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There’s a big problem with email. It constantly distracts us from what we were doing. It wastes thousands of hours of productivity by interrupting our train of thought.
Many people allow email to act like an untrained puppy – yapping and jumping up any time it likes. It poops all over the place and leaves us to clear up the mess.
If you don’t take control of your email, your email will take control of you.
I know there are some jobs out there where people are employed to reply to emails as quickly as possible, perhaps they are the exception. But even so this simple step will help most people take control of unruly email.
Here are a few simple steps I use for email:
1. Switch off automatic email delivery
Some email programs are set to check for email every five minutes! That means every five minutes you could be interrupted by emails that could easily wait.
Our paper mail comes in one bundle every morning around the same time. It gives one interruption. If we are not in it sits and waits on the mat. We open it when it’s convenient.
Now imagine that the mailman brought each letter separately and knocked on the door ten times a day. I would find that really irritating. But that is exactly what most people’s email does!
So here’s the thing. I have switched my email to manual delivery. That means the app only checks for email when I ask it to.
And I only ask it to check for mail once or twice a day – normally first thing in the morning and late afternoon.
It is hard to think of any email being so important that it can’t wait half a day to be read.
That’s my personal email. My office email only gets checked once a day on the three days I am in the office, and normally around 10:30am.
2. Set up an auto-responder if you have to
Set an auto response that says something like, ‘Thanks for your email. To increase productivity email is only read early morning and late afternoon. If your message is extremely urgent and really can’t wait a few hours to be read, please text my cell phone 000-0000-0000.’
Most people won’t text you because 99.99999% of all email is never that urgent.
So instead of your email beeping and putting little read badges on its app icon, distracting you from what you are really working on, just check it once or twice a day.
If you had a puppy that was being disruptive you would quickly train it and put some real boundaries on it. Soon the dog would know to only poop outside, not to jump up all the time, and to stay on its bed when told to. It would know there was a set time for walks.
It is time to put a leash on your email and give it a strict routine so that you are in control, rather than it controlling you.
What about you? How do you control your email?
Do you ever feel guilty just by being you? Do others express impatience with you when you are just trying to be you?
Let me explain. I’ve loved writing since I was fourteen years old and my Dad brought home an old fashioned black typewriter. I loved the clackety-clack sound of the keys as I typed. I loved the black and red inked ribbon. I wrote bad poetry and poorly written stories. But I wrote because I like to write.
When I grew up I had to go out to work. I had to do things that earned money to pay the bills. I worked in a factory, in a shop, in a community center, in a church and finally I started a charity to help some of the poorest people in the world. All those things earned me just enough money to keep my head above water. But no one paid me to write. I had to fit my writing in around other things. I wrote some booklets and finally published my first book.
All my life, other things have pushed my writing onto the sidelines. Sometimes I was busy trying to save the whole of Africa but really was just building an orphanage or a school or starting a feeding program for street kids. All those things take time and, once you start them, you have to see them through.
From time to time we all have to face the difficulties life throws at us – relationships, the end of an era, moving house, losing a job, trying to start something from scratch and so on.
It must have been during one of those times when I was feeling a bit overwhelmed and a little low. Walking and chatting with a friend of mine, the situation looked impossible. Then he said something that changed my life.
‘Keep being you and keep doing what you love.’
I found that a very profound statement because the more I thought about it the more it made sense. When we are just being ourselves and doing what we love, it brings energy to our whole being. A photographer spending a day taking photos will find energy and joy in what they are doing. A painter likewise will come alive if they can spend a few days painting.
My best days are days like today, when I have marked a day in my diary to just be alone and write. It refreshes me. I used to have to take a day off to do this. But now I manage my own time, it’s not a day off, it’s a day ‘on’. It has taken me years to reach this point.
I’m not sure I have ever made any money from writing but writing leads to other things. Money is not the whole point. If we only focus on money, it will crush our creativity. But if we keep being who we are and keep doing what we love, we’ll get better at it and one day, maybe, we’ll become someone who makes money from what we do. But either way, we will be more alive, happier in ourselves, and more at peace with the world.
Having written a dozen or more books and having a few more in the pipeline, I am happy in my little writing corner. Some people ask ‘How are you able to write a whole book?’ Simple tip: write one page a day – between 500 and 1,000 words. Do that for 30 or 40 days and you have a book. (More writing tips on my other blog How to Publish Your Book.)
So who are you? What do you like to do?
Let me say to you what my friend said to me:
‘Keep being you. Keep doing what you love.’
Last night I dreamt about being back at high school. That could have been a nightmare – I hated high school. There was a brutality about it that really disturbed me. Whenever I watch the movie The Shawshank Redemption about a brutal prison in America, I am reminded of high school – though in reality, it wasn’t quite that bad!
In the dream, I was the age I am now but back at the old school. Some of the old faces were there. Some were not. There were strangers of all ages sat in a really large class all in our uniforms. We chatted with the teacher and even sang a song together.
Maybe it was something I ate before bed. I don’t know.
But I woke up thinking about it. And the phrase ‘never stop leaning.’
The day we think we know it all is the day we die inside.
The late Steve Jobs, Co-Founder of Apple Computers, gave a speech at Stanford university commencement in 2002. He closed by quoting something he’d seen on the back of The Whole Earth Catalogue.
‘They put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: ‘Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.’ It was their farewell message as they signed off.
Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.
And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.
Stay hungry, stay foolish.’
Stay hungry – always keep wanting something more, something new. Stay foolish – always keep an open mind, never think that you know everything.
This is a simple step that will improve your life.
The Principal of my old college used to always ask students, ‘What are you reading?’ He expected us to always be reading some book or other. It didn’t really matter what it was. Reading involves learning. Even if we read a novel it may teach us something about a place, a group or community, or simply how to write a novel.
One of the plotlines in The Shawshank Redemption is one of the characters trying to get books for the run down prison library. It takes years but eventually he transforms the library because he believes books will enrich the lives of the inmates.
At the time of writing, I’ve just finished reading The Old Man And The Sea by Ernest Hemmingway. I read that because someone said that if you want to be a writer you should read that book, because it will help you understand more about writing. And it did.
Whatever you want to be in life, read a book by someone who excelled in that area, or a biography of such a person. Once you get in the flow new books almost suggest themselves.
So my question to you is: What are you reading this week?
What other ways do you learn? Do you read books and articles by people who have a different outlook to you?
My recommendation: ‘Stay hungry, stay foolish.’