Saturday, 21 November 2009

Sugar-coated dreams

I went to a seminar the other evening where a bastion of our business establishment was speaking. People came up with the usual questions: "how can I be a successful entrepreneur?"; "what's your advice about investing in property?"; "do you think we're out of the recession yet?"; "what is the best piece of business advice you've ever been given?" - and the less usual: "how can I resolve the fact that I've under-priced my product?"; "I'm setting up a company at 50..."; "I sell solar panels but all my retail partners have pulled out"...

Nothing new under the sun, really. And the answers given to most of these questions were also pretty much what you'd expect: nothing new under the sun. Including the one about solar panels (tip: we're in the UK. Along the lines of : certain 'trendy' trends just don't work as expected!...)

Until I asked a question which would seem to be a pretty bog-standard-business-school-essential-information-gathering-cum-personal-curiosity-one: "Have you had mentors in your career?"

The answer was surprising. When starting out, he'd has his Uncle who'd had a shop. And other people he'd looked up to. But the people he most looked up to were those who had "contentment" and they, he said, are people "you in the audience will have never heard of", nor will ever hear of. People, therefore, who are contented in their everyday lives despite not having achieved either fame or fortune. He envied them, said the moghul businessman. He said: "I've amassed more money than anyone can spend in a lifetime...than even my wife [audience chuckles!] or family can spend." Then he talked about it being "a disease", not being able to stop, never being contented. So, his greatest 'mentors' are those who have the luxury of contentment in life. Who are able to reach a point where they are contented. Contented with life and what they have - but most probably and most importantly, also with what they don't have.

Forget all the business talk. As this multi-millionaire success story told us: "It's not Rocket Science!" Almost every answer he gave to every business question was based on pure common sense. They should have called the seminar: "Business Success De-mystified!"

But the one thing I came away with was his answer to MY question. That's what I learned that evening. Don't wish for what others have, unless you are fully aware of what's involved. Unless you are fully aware of the consequences. Of the road you'll have to travel to move in the same, or a similar, direction. And sometimes, even if you do end up getting there: you may not be happy. Even if you're the type of person who can't but help taking the journey in the first place, because you're born with the urge to travel (by the way, entrepreneurs are born, not made, and if you don't get it, you aren't one - apparently. Lord Alan Sugar was showing the Mayor of Hackney around his local school at the age of 11...)

Oh. Did I forget to mention? The name of the seminar was: "In Conversation with Lord Alan Sugar..."

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Self-promotion - and a bit of life...

I'd like today to give you folks an excerpt from my forthcoming book, "THINK SLIM - 52 steps to losing weight and feeling great! (...The no-diet weight-loss revolution!)" (hopefully out by the beginning of 2010, website too). Before you sigh (because you have no need to lose those pounds) or you're a bloke and think this kind of thing is purely for women, do me a favour and read on! I don't do things conventionally - most entrepreneurial-minded people don' may - no, WILL! - be surprised.

Anyway, THIS is what I am getting up a 5am for every day...for those with goals, remember that "Your Actions are your Goals and Your Goals are your Actions" (note I'm trademarking that one!)

Here we go:
You have only one life. Sounds clich├ęd, doesn’t it? But we forget, in our Western world of abundance, that many people who share our universe don’t have life. They don’t have life expectancy, they don’t have quality of life, they don’t have the basics to live a life of dignity or even to survive. Here we are, fretting about physical confidence, body weight, fitness... while some people don’t have the luxury of worrying about their physical confidence! It’s barely enough for them to get through the day alive with a belly full. Others spend their so-called lives suffering horrendous physical and emotional restrictions. Their only aspiration would be to be free from pain or suffering, let alone to lose weight! And, what to tell the mother whose children are slowly starving to death? Shouldn’t we be rather ashamed that our material excesses have brought us to this excess of paranoia?
In this context, worrying about one’s physical appearance is totally trite, when in this world there are those who have real cause for anxiety: not being able to see fully, move fully, speak fully, or being fully healthy; or the life and death of their loved ones. Some people are just grateful to have life at all. Others are put through such horrendous emotional suffering by losing loved-ones or seeing loved-ones suffer. We all know of people becoming painfully thin after bereavement. Who’d envy them their body shape now?

So why am I writing this book, you may ask? Well, partly because this irony hasn’t escaped me, and I’d like to show that there’s a healthier and more balanced way of approaching the problem of overweight and obesity in the West today. And because I understand that the more happy and balanced we are as individuals -the more liberated of insecurity and self-obsession we are - the freer we are as a society to look outside our little world and help others.

This book simply puts forward techniques you can use to help yourself to make the most of yourself physically, and thereby increase your self-confidence – hopefully boosting your mood and general happiness at the same time! But, there should be a warning attached to any book which promises that weight reduction will automatically guarantee happiness. I am sure that we have all realised by now that thinness does not equal happiness, and richness doesn’t equal happiness either, and if you don’t believe me just take a look at some of the super-rich and super-thin celebrities out there who despite having the trappings of an ‘enviable’ life appear to be suffering from a lack of the basics which truly do make for a happy life: a harmonious family, close friends who love you for what you are, a peaceful life without interference, the ability to get on and make decisions without being constantly judged – and that's just for starters! Now, that’s not to say that this is the case with every rich and thin celebrity, as there are some very well-balanced famous people out there (and I take my hat off to them!) – however, it cannot be denied that some celebrities renowned for their wealth and physical beauty still find it necessary to resort to drugs and drink: not the behaviour of someone who’s balanced and content.

We all need to take a few moments out of our busy schedule each day to reflect on how our limited perspectives on life can be so restrictive, misery-making – and, indeed, dangerous. Why, just this week I read about a bride-to-be who died of heart failure: after being on a restrictive diet of under 600 calories a day to lose weight for her wedding. That’s a real lesson in perspective.

So, just get on and LIVE LIFE and appreciate what you have got and what gives richness to your life, rather than what you haven’t got! Instead of feeling that you can never measure up, remember that other people have their own problems too, and that’s everyone, rich or poor, skinny or not so skinny (why do you think papers sell well when they dissect the life problems of celebrities, reminding ordinary people that they’re not so different to us after all?) Until you are happy in yourself and with your own life, then losing weight will never make a difference. You’ll just be a miserable thin person instead of a miserable plumper person!

If you exude happiness from every pore and sing along to your everyday tasks, you will find you don’t need that chocolate fix anymore, and along the way you’ll find that you become as fit as you’ve ever wanted to! Sing along to the washing-up, whistle to work, chat happily to your friends and neighbours, and live life with enthusiasm: you’ll be so busy being active you’ll find you don’t need that glass or wine, choc bar or cookie to perk you up. Just being busy you can burn up energy to become fitter too!

Why don’t you imagine yourself, right now, being the happy, confident and energetic person we all have the potential to be? If your problems seem too great, remember that they’re nothing compared to the mother whose young and only son is dying from a rare form of juvenile cancer (and that’s another true story, and someone I know). You can picture yourself and your good fortune every day in your mind, and if you find this hard just try picturing yourself living in Afghanistan or Gaza or any of the world’s other trouble spots instead – and you’ll realise just how much you DO have. We in the Western world are overcome with bounty and opportunity: why would you need a chocolate bar on top of all that to make you cheerful?

(Note! Slimy sticky and oily calories do NOT make us cheerful, happier, or blow our problems out the window. All they do is increase the size of our problems – by increasing the size of our hips and thighs and tummies, and clogging our brains and our ability to feel happy and carefree, as well as clogging our arteries at the same time!)

Key Points to Remember:
Live with a sense of perspective. Our problems are minute compared to those of many. Instead of dwelling on your worries and bad fortune, be aware of your good fortune every day, give thanks for it and be grateful. Vow to give back to the world the happiness and joy it has given you – whenever and however that may have been, and even if you don’t quite feel it now. Remember that appearance is important superficially, but self-esteem is deeper. Being thin or being rich will never make anyone happy if that’s all you aim for in life. Stop to smell the roses and remember you are healthy and wealthy already in so many ways. As a general rule, Happy people are slimmer, but slimmer people are not necessarily happier!

So be happy: and you’ll be slimmer on it!


P.S. On the subject of perspective, here's a girl I went to school with. Actually, watch this one too: check out the video, especially: WATCH IT! Your problems will fade into irrelevance, I guarantee you... and you'll also realise that YOU have so much potential to realise: which no doubt you may not be fully, what are you waiting for?!

Monday, 2 November 2009

Tomorrow - again

Well, the immune systems of my family and myself having survived the onslaught which is India for over two weeks, have succumbed almost immediately once on British soil. We are all laid low with cold-like viruses, rasping, hacking, trumpeting and passing out on pillows piled high. My husband - who never misses work - stayed in bed today. My son - who never misses school - ditto. My daughter went: but is suffering a delayed reaction this evening. I - stoic mother, with that get-up-and-go-even-if-you're-ready-to-drop which women seem to be born with, am getting on with the washing and tidying and unpacking, but manage a couple of naps regardless and dreamt of doctors telling us we're to be isolated as we've all got swine 'flu (we haven't).
So my posting on Indian entrepreneurship's again relegated to tomorrow. And I'm off to hit the sack, leaving you with my favourite Will Shakespeare of all time, Macbeth's 'tomorrow' soliloquy (and a thanks to all of you who support my creative endeavours day after day: I'm reminding myself not to forget to thank people in my life...):

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Macbeth Act 5, scene 5, 19–28

P.S. Don't get me wrong, I don't do brooding nihilism. However I spend so much time labouring on self-worth and achievement, and when you're just struck down with what is essentially an elaborate version of the common cold you realise how easy it is to retreat into what Maslow, in his hierarchy of needs theory, called “pre-potency”: meaning that you are not going to be motivated by any higher-level needs (like ambition, self-esteem, etc) until your lower-level ones have been satisfied: like hunger, basic comfort, freedom from illness or exhaustion, and so on. I'm feeling struck down with feeling, basically, rather grotty and under-par. So I'm going to bed to try to redress the balance! (by the way check out Herzberg in the link for all those managers out there, if any of you reading my blog are such). Good night!

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Excuses, excuses

It's the longest ever since I've posted - the longest since I started this blog.

Now, one of my fellow parents on the school run mentioned a while ago that he (in this case, a father being the stay-at-home half) wondered why people read blogs. "They must be pretty bored or have plenty of time to waste!", he quipped.
I replied to him, to the implicit question contained in his question (the subject of the conversation being my blog) - for me, it's not about boredom ("and I cannot speak for my readers" I added, diplomatically!). Myself, I'm aware that it's human nature to read and be interested in lives, stories, emotions, information. And has been since the storytellers of the street squares and tents of yore started to ply their trade (even then there was an element of commercialism about it - pennies in a hat, or a bowl of rice). And, writing a blog, for me, is about discipline. About plying my trade as a wordsmith every day, or at least regularly. Don't believe that there's an inborn skill in existance that doesn't need nurturing and won't require practise to maintain a certain standard, and then, to increase proficiency. There isn't.

So, I am pretty ashamed that I haven't posted for, what, 3 weeks? Well, folks, I have once excuse, paltry as it may be. I've been in India for just over two of those weeks. But, then again, only 10 of those days were involved in travelling or living without internet access (but, not without a notebook, note). I could offer up the feeble excuse that I find it easier to type my thoughts than write freehand, true as it may be - but then that's like saying Tiger Woods would only ever practise in perfect conditions (not that I'm comparing my skills to his - god forbid. God forbid! Genius sadly escapes me.)

I have to add here, on the self-flagellation session I've embarked upon, that my five-year-old did take his violin to India. And practised more than I wrote. He only missed a week and that was due to the impracticality of taking a minature musical instrument (one-tenth of a fully-sized violin, for those curious) to an indian country village: which bar the randomly-strung bare bulbs and a couple of butane-gas-bottle-powered-stoves, is still stuck in the middle ages. A home-built-raftered-barn, 100 years old, with one side reserved for the water buffalos and wandering chicks, rogue dogs and meandering cats, and opposite, space for my husband's extended family (the farmers whose house this is) and us to sleep on charpoys - stretcher type beds. Or sit on the bare stone, and eat in a circle. Hand-milled rice. Curry fashioned from beans harvested from their fields. Oven-baked gritty flat breads hardened 'mongst the flickering flames of a chimney. Peanut and chili seasoning (ground in an immense granite hand-hewn mortar, larger than my son, as large as a small well, with a wooden mortar of a couple of metres long). And, the family's only meat meal in six months: an unfortunate rooster from their yard, conveniently killed just down the road by Muslims in the Halal fashion, "so as to pass the blame on, so Hinduism remains unsullied" my husband remarked, with ironic crook of the mouth.

Anyway. I wanted to write a post on what entrepreneurial lessons one can learn from the sullied, chaotic and quite exhausting mess that is India (we all need a holiday now, the whole household is sick with colds and fever on our return!) - the India of the supposedly 'developing' cities, I must add, as the villages I mention were a refreshing and inspiring break for all of us, especially memorable my son sitting on the floor with a slate and chalk, taking part in a lesson in the open-air country school. To my credit, I've already written it - scribbling a lone page of notebook on our very last night in India. In a tiny sand-beige airless apartment in Bangalore, to which my in-laws have happily migrated, leaving their large million-dollar mansion in Sydney (you could take them from their birthplace, 30 years ago, but not their birthplace from the hearts and souls of my in-laws, as it's turned out) and where they live in a space proportionate to their former entrance hall, in absolute frugality - and peace.

But that post will be for next time - for tommorow. For now, I reflect on what home means. And for me, to some extent, it means the freedom to sit at my desk at my pre-determined hours (I'm a creature of habit, when it comes to production) with my favourite mug of steaming soy milk and raw cocoa, and write. And look at my wallpaper which has trees stretching out to infinity. And wonder why I prefer it to the dust-stained real-life trees of India. Maybe I'm not that different at all from my in-laws, in some ways.

And, Oh, P.S. To all those experiencing marital disharmony. If you get on with your parents-in-law, if you have that warm glow of affection for the family of your spouse: it could very well save your marriage. Good night!