About Me

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I still feel like a teenager on the inside, unfortunately my children do remind me how old I am!! I have lived for 20+ years as an Irish expat in The Netherlands. My favourite city here has to be Amsterdam.

Writing, reading, authentic living. It's all here at The Writing Process

Welcome to my blog. Let me start by telling you that I love writing. I love the sense of vitality it gives me. I love that it helps me to make sense of the world and to the people in it. I love that it helps me become wiser, more intuitive, empathic, and most of all autonomous.

All aspects - reading, writing and observing - are what make the process complete. The essence is storytelling, and learning about
life and yourself.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Speed dating for the small businessperson, in my hometown!

If anyone were to ask me to name one good thing to come of the current economic crisis, my answer would be, that it ´encouraged´ many of us to take matters into our own hands career wise. Company after company has been forced to downsize, declare bankruptcy or restart, sending many talented people home, jobless, and with little prospect of finding another position.

What do you do in an economy with limited opportunity and where, if you manage to find a job, in a buyer’s market, you never quite feel comfortable and at ease? You are, after all, only one of countless potential employees and if you do not meet the mark there’s a queue of people out there, some younger, some cheaper, some, though less experienced are more flexible ready to take your place, so be eternally grateful that you were chosen. Well, it’s hard to be grateful, spontaneous, and productive when you are constantly looking over your shoulder. It’s hard to be up beat when you are riddled with insecurity.

Take matters into your own hands. Create your own opportunities. Take the time to evaluate your skills, experience, personality, and just what it is that makes you unique and special. Think about your inherent strengths, too. List all the things you do and that make you feel good about yourself. And when you’ve done that, take the plunge, and set up a business.

And that’s what countless people have done. It’s the trend, the way of the future. Offering your services as a ‘freelancer’ or independent entrepreneur is good for you: as long as you deliver the service you promise, you are free to complete the project in a way that best suits you. It is also good for the client/company who hires your services: no extra ballast on the payroll, and no contract of employment, just billing for services rendered.

Easy, you say. And it is, once you have acquired the knack of finding and keeping a steady flow of clients, have learned to maintain a simple bookkeeping system, have learned how to deal with overdue invoices, tax returns and time management, to name but a few issues that might arise.

Yesterday in Alphen aan den Rijn a group of experts in the field offered their services to newly established small businesses to discuss just such issues, and offer information on how to deal with them.

Organized and sponsored by BuildaSite, Patoir vd Vlugt & Verkade, Primo Boekhouden, Stichting Ondernemersklankbord, Kamer van Koophandel (C of C) and Communicatiebureau Vet-Gedrukt, this team of professionals made time to support the up and coming ZZP (Independent Sole Proprietors) community in Alphen aan den Rijn, free of charge, I might add!

It is a rare thing these days, to receive and invitation to an event of this type, free of charge. When I mentioned it to a colleague ZZPer, she, not unexpectedly said, ‘what’s the catch?’ And who can blame her? Phrases like, ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’ come to mind. But, I was there, and I can honestly say, I didn’t pay a cent. But more than that, I was given a top quality evening, with an opportunity to talk to more experienced business people, to exchange ideas with other up and coming independents.

And the meal was great, too!

After an introduction by each sponsor, the ZZPers split up into groups. In a period of ten minutes, each group member had to introduce himself, his company and the services he offered. There was also opportunity to talk about the difficulties encountered; the group could then offer solutions, or where appropriate suggest the expertise available in that particular area. Short, to the point and very useful.

Ten minutes later, a sort of musical chairs took place, and the ZZPers shuffled about and formed new groups and again each was given the opportunity to introduce him or herself and talk about their business and services.

One ZZPer might have difficulty setting up and maintaining a simple bookkeeping system, another, like me, may be less able to sell themselves or network efficiently. One ZZPer might just offer a service another needs. And so, like with speed dating matches were made and meetings set up.

Basically, what happened was exactly the principle Marcus Buckingham and others describe in their textbooks on developing strengths and minimising weaknesses. By pairing up with others, we are able to ‘delegate’ our weakness to someone else, whose strength it is, and thus minimise stress and make time free to perform the tasks we are good at, and that we offer through our businesses.

As a business graduate, I don’t have a problem maintaining a simple bookkeeping system: I do not have a shoebox full of receipts and my invoicing system is no more complicated than it needs to be. As a writer and designer, I communicate through my blog and my website. But, when it comes to physically ‘being there’ and presenting my business, it’s another story. But thanks to the generosity of the group who organized last evening’s event, even I am learning to network and be proud of what I do.

They lowered the bar a little and showed me that, should I need it, I have a group of experts to fall back on, should I need their support.

Thanks for their generosity.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Widow for one Year

It took a while to get through this one! But I didn't want to give up. It's like that with John Iriving, he is, unfortunately, long winded. However, his wonderful prose make this forgivable. I think the story really came to life for me when Ruth, the main character, hit the streets of Amsterdam. John Irving said in a lecture that his research kept him in Amsterdam for a while, and it was obvious by the revitalised prose, that the visit did him good. The writing and the story stepped up a notch and where I had trouble keeping going for the first half of the book, I found myself staying in bed on saturday and sunday mornings, just so I could read some more! However, where Ruth's story had me captivated, the other story line built around Eddie was harder to believe.
Clearly John Irving and Ruth were one and the same, though writing himself as a woman kept the prose light. Also, where he usually has a wrestler in his storied, Ruth was a strong squash player. Being Ruth, and yet not being Ruth gave Irving permission to push the envelop on female sexuality, and other feminine preconceptions, and reevaluate them.
Fascinating piece of work!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Awareness - Strongest life, why not?

I had a wonderful meeting with Manon, from UMAI centre in Alphen where I live. We both feel driven and inspired to create workshops for women to rediscover their strengths, desires and dare I say it, calling in life.

The key word is AWARENESS. Becoming aware, and choosing to face every day with an openness and willingness to truly absorb and experience each situation to its fullest is one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself.

AWARENESS implies having the courage to see your dark side, to integrate that, and thus allow it to become another bridge to your authentic self and a fulfilling life.

Being aware will help us tranform painful experiences into learning experiences. AWARENESS makes the pain endurable.

What follows is an article I wrote last year, but one I feel merits republishing in light of my meeting this morning.

Strongest life

In the spring, I heard I was being made redundant. My company was downsizing and I was superfluous to needs. At that time I did the Marcus Buckingham workshop on line, and filled in the questionnaire on Strengthsfinder.com. An eye opener, a turning point, a revelation. It led to my reading the articles on Work-life balance on Business Exchange and even to contributing my tuppence ha’penny’s worth of commentary.

Later, when I had thought more seriously about the subject, in particular in relation to the premise that women at mid life, though seemingly more successful are sadder and sicker than ever, I was prompted to write my own article on the subject, ‘Let’s Get Personal’. I published it on my blog, found Marcus Buckingham on twitter just to keep up.

All the while I’m thinking, there’s a book in here somewhere.
And of course, there was. Marcus Buckingham has just written it. Find Your Strongest Life is all about the choices women make and how and why we make them. His motivation for writing it stemmed from the Oprah workshop and the subsequent response on the discussion boards.

He is a great analyst, an intuitive observer, and intelligent enough to step aside and process all the information impartially. But he is not a woman.
In the last couple of months I have been working on these issues myself and getting excited about my life all over again. And excited about my friends’ lives too. Since learning to live to my strengths and being manifestly happier I am also a better friend.

The biggest wake up call for me was realising that I had always instinctively known what my strengths were and that using them would be to my and possibly everyone else’s advantage. Unfortunately my working environment was not conducive to employing these strengths. In fact, though it is hard to believe, what were in fact my strengths were the very traits that my bosses wanted me to minimise and hide. As a Creator and a Pioneer I was always coming up with new ideas, new ways of doing things. But when I voiced these in meetings, I was repeatedly overruled more or less told to get back into my box/ Frustration grew. I became resentful, recalcitrant and de-motivated. But before Marcus Buckingham and learning to live to your strengths I spent a lot of time feeling weakened and uninspired at work. Why not go for another job? You might ask. Because somewhere deep down, I almost believed the bosses were right. I believed they knew better than I. I believed that I was a difficult, dissatisfied employee, and that there was no point in moving on because I would antagonise the next boss just as much.

When the redundancy notice came, and I coincidentally came across the Oprah workshop, my life turned around. Learning to respect who I am, and learning to nurture my natural talents has given me a new lease of life. I have more energy than ever. My ability to learn new things, and my curiosity and determination to learn them, has returned in abundance. My mind is again filled with new ideas and despite still being ‘officially’ unemployed I am more contented than I have been in a decade. It is also much easier to be around me.

But, I want to get away from only discussing my own evolution because there is much more to this subject than that. In my previous strengths article ‘Let’s Get Personal’ I investigated the reasons why I turned out the way I did. I asked myself why it was so hard for me to find and live to my strengths, why I would I take on a bosses view of me above my own view of who I am.

Now, a couple of months later it is not just about me reading a book, and applying what I learn to myself. Everywhere I go, whomever I meet, friends, acquaintances, online contacts via social networks, I am walking the walk, and talking the talk. And that is what I want to go into here. I want to discuss what it is to share this with friends, to learn from them and more importantly to give back to them a little of what I am experiencing.

It is amazing.

I know a woman, a mother and career woman. She likes to achieve. Lately she and I have been talking a lot about character, and strengths and stumbling blocks. She is at a crossroads career wise and has been doing some self study and getting advice from others too. Yet she said something to me recently that made my jaw drop. Ok, she said. So I’ve been shown who I am, what my characteristics are. I am being given new insight into my personality. But, where are my strengths? Tell me more about my strengths. More importantly, what are my weaknesses, so that I can work on them?

And that’s the thing. Aren’t our strengths related to who we are? Marcus Buckingham tells us that our strengths are those talents that were always present and that they are inherent to who we are. Unfortunately we have been programmed to think that strengths and weaknesses lie outside of our core, and that we can learn new strengths and that we should focus on weaknesses, work on minimising them, or if we are lucky, turn them into strengths. That just isn’t true. Core strengths and weaknesses will always be just that.
We might say that our strength might be that we are quick to learn, but it will only be a strength if it is applied to learning things that fit us. If we put our energies into learning skills that we don’t like performing then our strength becomes a weakness. So, let’s define the strength more accurately and in Marcus’ own terms. I feel strong when I apply myself to learning new skills in areas that stimulate and please me. I know in my case, being a quick learner soon became a noose around my neck, and actually made it harder to find my real strengths, those activities that thrilled me, that made time stand still. Now, when I puzzle over new ways of designing a web page, or when I am writing an essay for my film studies, or thinking up the plot of my next book, then being a quick learner is a strength.

So during my talks with the mother and career woman, I said that her greatest gifts lie in those character traits that were defined in the test. The fact that she is searching and feeling weakened is because she may be utilising them wrongly, and so turning her strengths into weaknesses. Is the job she is doing the right one for her? Does the company ethic suit her own high standards? She has a need for excellence and always produces top quality work. She is good at taking on new projects, especially in areas where structure and clarity is needed. When she achieves that, she is happy. However, if others do not share her need for excellence, and she is drawn into dead end discussions, she feels weakened. In summary, she feels strong when she takes on a new project and brings structure and clarity. She feels weak when she is unable to convince others to do it her way. So, instead of thinking she can work on that weakness and be more accepting of less than top quality input from others, which in turn will eat away at her strength – producing excellence, maybe she needs to look for a company that operates to the same standards as she. I feel honoured that I can go through this process with her. I already see how great she is. I will be there to celebrate when she is ready to see it herself.

Other women in my circle of friends struggle with other issues. But the essence is the same for all of us. We have all been forcing ourselves to perform tasks that don’t build on our natural strengths. We think that all we have to do is put our minds to a task or activity and just get on with it.
One woman in my circle, a painter and wonderfully creative woman, spent twelve years as an administrative assistant. She told me time and again that she just didn’t understand why she was so tired all the time. She didn’t understand why her output was so below standard and why she was constantly being put under pressure to work harder, and make better results. The simple truth is that she was spending all day in her weak moments. There were weeks when she honestly couldn’t remember one moment when she felt strong, and energised. There were whole months when she was so drained she didn’t have the energy to paint. Now, she too is unemployed, and all she knows is what she doesn’t ever want to do again. She has spent many hours writing and painting, and rediscovering who she really is. We talk about authenticity; we are ready to talk about our darker sides. Our friendship allows us to be honest with each other. We trust each other.

That is the whole point of Marcus Buckingham’s Strongest Life book. To finally get us to wake up and see that we don’t have to do anything and everything. The successful amongst us, and by successful I also mean, happy and contented, are the women who at some stage listened to what the inner voice was telling them. These women, whether consciously or unconsciously, decided to build on those moments that made them feel good and fulfilled instead of ‘working on’ those areas that left them feeling bad.

I have a friend, someone I have always admired. Her mother and father raised her and her siblings to believe in their talents. All of them were gifted musicians, and no one was telling them that music was not the way to make a living. No one told them to learn a trade, or study engineering just because they were clever enough to do so. No, in their family you could be who you wanted to be, who you were born to be. Their mother in particular encouraged them to follow those strong moments. She knew all too well what could happen if you didn’t listen to your own inner voice. She had been an actor and was passionate about theatre and literature and the stage. But for reasons she never spoke about she abandoned her dreams and spends a lot of her life in clinical depression.

What was first, the chicken or the egg? Who knows? What I do know is that my friend never doubted for a moment that her life belonged to music and music belonged in her life. Money or lack of it never stopped her pursuing excellence in her chosen field, never drove her to a career or a job that would have taken away that passion. Initially her music earned her very little, money wise. But she continued to improve and refine her skills. Today she is a vocal director for musical societies for youth theatre groups. Her choirs have won international and national prizes. She has raised three boys through university. Her passion for music has carried her through many hard and difficult moments over the years. But the thread that has run through everything, for her and her siblings, is the truth and authenticity they have. Both her brothers are well known composers, arrangers and orchestra leaders. Her sister teaches at the Royal Academy. All are highly respected, as musicians and human beings. Money and status were never their motivators.
I count myself blessed that I know her. She is the proof I need that living to your strengths will enrich your life. She found it early, I didn’t. But I know I am not too late. You can never be too late. If I ever start to think I am too old, or that I’ve gone past the sell-by-date, then I remind myself of how it was, how I was, and I know I will never lie to myself again. I ask the question Robin Sharma asks of us “Who will cry when I die?” and I know for sure it won’t be me. I won’t cry for a wasted life or chances not taken.

According to the strong life test, my core characteristics are Creator and Pioneer. I always knew it, deep down. They popped up in so many ways. Over the years I have written several novels, even published one. For the last twenty years I have read a vast amount of literature on self realisation. Everything from The Artist’s Way to Now, Discover your strengths and numerous others in between. I have taken courses in Body Work, Transactional Analysis and others. I have been a member of several writing groups. Yet, when it came to earning a living, I locked all of that away in a box and hid it in some dark place.