Posted in bloggers, Careers, Lifestyle

Learning to be more comfortable with criticism

Everyone’s a critic.

One of my greatest fears has always been that of being tried and convicted in the court of public opinion without being given an opportunity to defend myself. I have had unpleasant experiences of this nature before and it was so traumatic that its instilled a deep-seated fear in me of people talking about me behind my back, twisting my words and misinterpreting my actions to use them against me.

I don’t think you’ll ever find anyone who could honestly say they were comfortable with being criticised, especially when the basis for it is founded on false or incomplete information, in which case it becomes a judgment. There are people who are better able to cope with judgment than others, but anyone who claims that they don’t get just the teensy bit upset when they hear other people saying untrue and unfair things about themselves or their work is a liar.

I feel like this is a blog entry that I’ve done before. I feel like I’m singing a remixed version of the same chorus and I seem to be singing it over and over again. For someone so afraid of criticism and judgement you’d think I’d learn by now to keep more of a low profile. After all, the less you do something, or the less you’re seen to do something, the less material people have to talk about you.

Well, sorry, I’m just not a low profile kind of girl.

I’m the kind of girl who wears my heart on my sleeve. I am an open book. I am so transparent I make Casper look corporeal in comparison. I am passionate about the things that I love and I won’t hesitate to talk about them in front of anyone who will listen. This makes me a target for the cynics and the naysayers who have nothing better to do than to bring people down because they think they can do so much better. Spoiler alert: they probably can’t.

I am not going to rehash things that I’ve probably already written about in a previous blog about how hurtful it is to be the object of petty gossip. I will instead focus on affirming my beliefs and setting my intentions for how I am going to cope with criticism, unfair or otherwise, because the nature of what I do guarantees that I will experience this from time to time. So here’s what I know.

  1. Take anything you hear from other people with a pinch of salt. Being somewhat of a gossip myself, I know that the teller will always put his or her own spin on the tale. The version that reaches your ears is vastly different from the original message and some things get lost and added in the retelling.
  2. Amidst the negativity, find something helpful that you can work on. Consider it an extreme form of feedback. After all, everyone’s feelings and opinions are valid and worth listening to. Who knows, office gossip and catty comments might even be a catalyst for positive change. Although, at present, I am not in the mood to be quite as magnanimous as to thank the haters for their hurtful comments. Can I please be allowed to be petty for five more minutes? Thank you.
  3. Resist the temptation to do damage control. Its so so tempting to explain yourself, to justify your actions, to clear your name. I’ve had enough life experiences to know that this will not make the situation any better. All you’ll be doing is adding fuel to the fire. Besides, if they don’t already appreciate your hard work and effort, chances are they never will, so efforts to change their mind is an exercise in futility.
  4. Filter what you let in to your life, choose whose opinions you opt to listen to. Honestly, the thing to ask yourself is whether you should even give credence to the opinions you hear in the first place. Is it coming from people you respect? Is there any truth to the criticisms (if so, see number 2)? Do you really care? Will it matter six months down the line when we’re all running from our lives because there’s been an outbreak of war? Which leads me to point number five.
  5. Life is too short to be pissed off all the time. Honestly, the amount of energy needed to sustain a bad mood is infinitely higher than the energy it takes to just smile, and, in the words of one Taylor Swift, shake it off. And if you can’t shake it off just yet, do what I’m doing now, which is –
  6. Channel all that negative energy into something good. I happen to write better when I’m upset about something. Some of my best work is borne out of my darkest moods. Maybe because when I’m writing about them I open up and make myself vulnerable, and in doing so I’m at my most authentic. Upset? Post a blog, write a song, or better yet, sing your heart out and keep your neighbours up by screaming the bridge of Welcome to The Black Parade at the top of your lungs. I can almost guarantee you’ll feel better.

Let’s be honest here. I will probably spend the next twenty four hours dwelling on the situation and nursing my hurts, but I can promise you that I will have mostly gotten over it by tomorrow. And if you’re in a similar situation or if any of the tips above have resonated with you or if you have other strategies to share that might help others, please comment. I’d love to hear and learn from you.

Cheers.

Posted in Careers, Health and Well-Being, Lifestyle, Writing

How You Get Your Groove Back

Over the weekend my sister and I finally had the chance to watch the London production of Hamilton. I have to say that although its general knowledge by now that this show is a cultural phenomenon, its a different thing altogether to actually experience it yourself.

This isn’t a blog about how great the show it was though because I wouldn’t be telling you all anything you didn’t already know. It would be redundant for me to say that Lin Manuel Miranda is a genius, and as strange a concept as hip-hop musical theatre may be, he somehow made it work, and as a result he gave the Broadway and West End industry a badly-needed face lift and brought a new generation of theatre goers to the fold. We already know all that.

I suppose I wanted to talk about what watching Hamilton and listening to its music meant to me personally. For the past 6 months now I’ve slowly been resigning myself to the fact that this was it. This was all that’s going to become of my life. I would spend the rest of my days working for the NHS, doing a job that at best barely satisfies me, counting down the days until I collect my salary at the end of the month, breaking up the mind-numbing pattern by having sporadic dinners and catch-up sessions with friends every once in a while. Eat, Sleep, Rinse, Repeat.

It got to the point where I couldn’t even muster enough interest to pick up a book, I was sleeping longer, eating more – which is always indicative of my state of mind as I am a self-confessed stress eater. I could barely be bothered to put on make-up. I lost the will to even open a dating app. I spent most nights hunched over a 500-piece Disney Jigsaw Puzzle in a feeble attempt to find something that stimulates my brain. I start watching random shows on Netflix only to lose interest halfway through because I just could not be bothered.

Looking back I think I probably had the beginnings of – if not depression, something close to it. It’s like I lost some vital part of myself, the part that always enabled me to look forward to tomorrow, the part of me that believed that something exciting was always waiting to happen around the corner. I sometimes found myself in the middle of doing something and I would suddenly stop to think, what’s the point?

Anyway. That totally went to a darker place than I thought this blog would go. Funny what introspection can dig up, huh? I haven’t given myself the chance to reflect on the past year because I didn’t know if I would like what I saw when I did. But happily I’m the kind of person that doesn’t have it in within herself to be down in the dumps for so long. I’m genetically engineered to be bubbly and happy and for the most part that is my default setting. It was very eye-opening for me to realise that even the most seemingly well-adjusted and happiest of individuals could also go through mental health issues, mild as they may be.

You’ll all be happy to know that I reached a turning point last week leading to a series of activities culminating in the Hamilton show this weekend. First of all, I started reading again. I have always had an avaricious appetite for knowledge and stories. I went on a shopping spree on both Amazon Kindle and Waterstones, diversifying my bookshelves with an equal mix of fiction and non-fiction. Among my most recent purchases include two feminist books, Julie Andrews’ memoir, a book on the Lost Princes of the Tower and two of Yuval Harris’ books Sapiens and 21 lessons for the 21st Century. Plus the usual romance novels of course.

I’ve started a workout regimen that challenges me but also allows for, shall we say, my physical shortcomings. I think I’ve finally accepted the fact that I will never be an athlete, and that I will never be skinny, but I can still be active and healthy in my own way. My sister bought me a new pair of Nike’s over Christmas, which to be honest was probably the main catalyst for my renewed interest in training. Personally I think the right pair of shoes has enough power to change a person’s life. Quote me.

2019 was a struggle for me financially. I was still reaping the repercussions of having made questionable decisions in 2018. I probably should have limited my purchases to those that were strictly necessary, or perhaps travelled less, but I can’t really bring myself to regret the experiences I’ve had. So I worked a lot of extra shifts between September and December to make up for it. That probably contributed greatly to the feeling that my life was all about, and only about, work. I was spending too much time doing it, getting caught up in office politics and the drama of working in a slowly-dying NHS, plus working extra shifts that were both physically and mentally taxing.

I’m not sure how to express my feelings about this matter without sounding ungrateful. I’m lucky to have a job that on occasion still brings me something that might resemble joy, and my career trajectory is something that I’m really proud of. But. Part of me wishes I had the courage to give all that up to finally focus on something I’ve been wanting to do all my life: write a book.

I made several attempts to last year to write a story. Any story. I told myself that it doesn’t have to be good, the point is simply to finish. I bought books on everything from creative writing to grammar (and wished like hell that I paid more attention to subject-verb agreement in high school). I made a list of things that inspired me, tried to find a genre that suited me and filled notebook after notebook with ideas. I was determined to at least have a draft by the end of the year.

Yeah, that didn’t happen.

Every time I wrote something and reread it a week later it just felt shallow and superficial, and I didn’t think it measured up to a real writer’s work. I couldn’t find my voice, and I wasn’t sure what message I wanted to send to the world with my book. Basically, just finishing a story doesn’t and will never work for me. It didn’t inspire me. If I was going to tell a story, it needed to be a story worth telling, even if I’m the only person that thought so. I needed to be able to believe in my own creation.

In addition, “real life” got in the way. I work 37.5 hours a week, sometimes more. Each time I move up the career ladder I take on more responsibilities, which meant it was difficult to switch off from work even when I wasn’t at work. It was difficult to change gears, to put myself in the mindset of being a writer when part of my brain is still dwelling on whether we had enough bed capacity to operate on all our patients tomorrow.

So I lost the will to write. I gave up on that dream and told myself it’s never going to happen. I need to be content with what I have, be grateful to have stability and to be alive. But I was wrong.

This is the first time I’ve used my laptop for writing in a long while, and the first time I’ve had any interest in sharing my thoughts and feelings in a blog. It’s very therapeutic and it’s made me feel more like myself. I love being a nurse educator, I really do, but I think I realise I need both it and writing in my life. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t use my words to communicate, just like Alexander Hamilton.

Just two days ago I bought a notebook and a pen, sat down in a cafe and wrote a story that really meant something to me because it was my story, with a little bit of embellishment. I don’t know if I’m ever going to finish it, I really hope I do. I think I’ve found a way to tell the story I want to tell from a unique perspective, everything I need to complete it is within me, I just have to find the strength and the perseverance to keep at it even when it starts to feel like a pipe dream.

I think that’s why Hamilton resonated so much with me, and it will probably continue to do so in the months to come. Its a story about a revolution that founded a nation, sure, but at the core of it, it’s a story about having a dream AND having the drive to make that dream a reality. Its not enough to make castles in the clouds, if you want to achieve something you have to work for it, be willing to fight for it even if the odds are stacked against you.

I can only hope that if I ever put something out there, it can be as inspiring and life-changing for one person as Hamilton has been for so many others. Kudos, Lin Manuel Miranda.

Posted in Careers, relationships, Self-Discovery

Growing A Thicker Skin

On the heels of the latest Taylor Swift news, I thought I’d take the time to reflect on my own penchant for perhaps playing the victim and not taking responsibility for my own actions

(Disclaimer: I fully support Taylor in her quest to buy the rights to her music but even a huge fan such as myself can’t help but look askance at the number of feuds she’s had in a relatively short period of time. Love her though!).

I’ve never been a quitter and I can actually tolerate more bullshit than the average person. But I’ve had moments these past few months where I felt like throwing in the towel altogether and saying, that’s it, I’m done. I can’t take this anymore.

You know how they say you can never really run away from your problems? I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard a version of that advice from people I respect, and it took a while for it to sink in but thankfully, sink in it did.

One of my mentors told me something that I found both profound and sad. He told me that wherever you go in life you will always encounter bullies; the kind that will do anything to hold on to power, who will want to bring you down in order to lift themselves up, who are self-serving, deceitful and just downright malicious.

He told me I had to choose my battles. I found this to be a bit passive-aggressive, probably because I grew up with the notion that I always have to win, I always have to be right. But actually winning and being right are both a relative state and a matter of perception.

Needless to say, its a truth universally acknowledged by all that just because you think you’re right doesn’t mean the other person necessarily agrees with you.

He then told me, in a succinct way that brooked no argument, that I just have to grow a thicker skin, especially if I want to go far in life. You can’t go crying home every time someone was a bit mean to you, or if you don’t get your way. You either decide its worth it and do something about it or you shake it off.

I have a really hard time shaking things off. I’m a dweller, you just have to accept this about me.

But what I have learned this week is that I’m at that age where I just have to put on my big-girl underpants and stand my ground if what I’m fighting for really means that much to me. The ensuing conversation may be singularly unpleasant, but I’ll be able to sleep better at night knowing I’ve finally said my piece.

Basically what I’m trying to say is that you create your own narrative, and you paint the picture of how other people will see you. And I for one would rather be remembered as the one who stayed and fought and gave it a shot rather than someone who got going when the going got tough.

Posted in bloggers, Careers, Self-Discovery

The Illusion of Power

I’ve heard it said that power rests best in the hands of people who never sought to gain it in the first place.

When you move up to a position where you have authority over people, its easy to forget that with that authority and power comes the responsibility to always look out for the well-being of those under your care.

Its very easy to succumb to the mentality that people are there to follow your every order, to bow to your whims, and to be subordinate in every way short of fetching you tea and biscuits.

When you feed this mentality, it gives you a false sense of pride – and we all know this cometh before the fall.

Part of that is because pride gets in the way of you being able to listen to people around you. Pride also makes it difficult for you to accept feedback, and to accept the fact that you don’t know everything and you’re not always right.

The knee-jerk reaction to being questioned is to become defensive. But actually, having your decisions questioned should not feel like an attack. I’ve actually come to look at it as like a safety net, because I know someone is there to check my actions and to make sure I don’t make the mistake of implementing things that could go horribly wrong.

I guess its hard finding that balance between asserting your authority to make sure people know to respect you, and not overly elevating yourself above the people whose respect you seek.

Respect comes from people knowing you’re there for them, that you’ll be fair and compromise when the situation calls for it but that you also have the balls to make the tough decisions when the going gets rough.

I think having the respect of your team is where your true source of power lies, and its something so precious and something that takes ages to cultivate that you never want to do anything to jeopardise that.

I suppose I just need to remind myself that being in power doesn’t give anyone license to be an autocratic bitch. The idea that authority gives you power which then means you can do whatever you want is an illusion that you should nip in the bud lest it comes back to haunt you.

A little humility goes a long way.

Stay grounded. Stay humble.

Posted in bloggers, Careers, Lifestyle, london

A Moment To Reflect

This week, the sun’s finally shining over London after what felt like an endless winter. I went for a run around my favourite route near the river Thames, with no goal in mind except to enjoy the beautiful spring day. Although physically I’m not as fit as I used to be, and though I was huffing and puffing after one kilometre, it felt like the first easy breath I’ve taken in ages.

There’s plenty of reasons to be happy and content. This week I finally got my British citizenship approved, after six years of hard work, struggle, achievements and so much joy that I hardly know how to put it all into words. It felt like the culmination of a lifetime of dreams, and despite Brexit and the looming uncertainty surrounding the country’s future, I still find myself incredibly grateful to have made it this far.

That’s not to say its all been sunshine and roses these past couple of weeks. Parts of it were downright maddening, in fact. It’s funny how some things are magnified in your mind if you continue to dwell on them over and over, until a seemingly manageable molehill now feels like an immoveable mountain.

I am a champion dweller.

I really should rid myself of this habit of being unable to let go of things. I tend to obsess about certain issues or concerns to the point where it is the. only. thing. I. see. I get a kind of tunnel vision where I’m unable to move on until I’ve picked the problem apart in a hundred different ways trying to come up with a solution.

I need to learn to accept that there are problems that can only be solved by acceptance and compromise.

I need to learn that not everyone will see things the way I do, and that the choices we make are a product of past experiences and influences. There is no point in judging others according to the standards that you set for yourself. You will only drive yourself mad.

I think the only thing that will keep you sane is to continue to do you, and not to mind so much about what other people are getting up to, difficult as that may be for type A personalities like myself. Be part of the solution, not the problem.

Towards the end of this week, whenever I felt like pulling my hair out in frustration, I reminded myself that – just like everything else – this too shall pass. Life is too short to be pissed all the time, as a wise person once said. There are far too many beautiful things in this earth to appreciate; you can’t let problems that will probably be inconsequential a year down the line get you down.

Most of all, I remembered to breathe, to stay centred, to focus on the things that are important, and to remember that even though other people may let you down, the key thing is to not let yourself down.

Happy start of the week, fellow blabbaholics and bookworms! xx

Posted in bloggers, Careers, Medical, Nursing

Goodbye, Teacher

My whole life, I have always wanted to become a teacher.

When I was younger, I used to help my brother and sister with their schoolwork, in addition to doing my own. I was the go-to person at school for any classmate who would need extra support or tutoring on any subject.

In addition, just for kicks, my uncles would allot an hour each day for me to help my brother learn to read. For some reason we chose to pick up a hardbound edition of Disney’s Pocahontas, which, in hindsight, may not have been the most appropriate choice for encouraging an 8-year-old boy to read.

I went into Nursing because it was my best shot to get out of the country and try and make a better life for myself abroad. Had I been given a choice, and if the financial rewards were taken out of the equation, I probably would have become a History or English teacher or something.

Anyway, its true what they say that life always has a way of sorting itself out. And all you have to do is not get in the way of it while it does. I graduated Nursing and ended up becoming a Clinical Instructors in my alma mater for two years anyway.

I left that post after two years because I had an opportunity to work abroad as a theatre nurse. But after two years of doing that, I then applied for an education post in my trust and here I’ve been ever since.

This week, I lost a person who started out as a mentor and eventually became a colleague and friend. We both worked together as Clinical Instructors in Velez College, and her passing has made me reflect on what it means to be a good teacher, and what it means to be a good person.

I don’t think both are synonymous with each other, but I also think that they’re not mutually exclusive. Being a good person makes you a better teacher, and learning to be a good teacher will help you learn to become a better person.

There are so many qualities that you need to become a teacher that people don’t think about. There’s the easily definable and measurable qualities like time management and organisational skills, writing skills, the ability to speak eloquently and clearly. You also need a really good grasp of what it is you’re meant to be teaching, be subject matter experts so to speak.

But there are the qualities that are more difficult to quantify, the ones beneath the surface that people don’t always see.

Being a teacher takes a lot of patience. There are moments when I lose the will to live when I have to repeat something over and over again because someone just doesn’t get it. But when you manage to get through even one person who’s been struggling for so long, it feels like more of an achievement than when you teach a class of twenty intelligent people.

Being a teacher requires a lot of compassion. We all learn in different ways, some struggle more than others. I have always felt an affinity for those who need more support than the rest of their peers, for those who feel like they’ll always be a failure no matter what they do. As a teacher, I want them to believe in themselves because, even when I’ve hated my students, I’ve always believed in their potential.

Students and learners just need a little push, for someone to tell them to keep going no matter how many times they have to go to the dean’s office to submit a promissory letter because they’ve once again managed to acquire only the bare minimum grade required to pass a subject. It doesn’t matter. What matters is they did pass.

They need someone who won’t give up on them even when they’ve given up on themselves. I don’t know whether I’ve achieved this or not in the course of my career, but its something that I will continue to aim to do as an educator.

Being  teacher requires courage. I don’t know about my colleagues, but I always feel like I’m putting so much of myself on display whenever I have to get up in front of a class or group of people to present something. I feel intensely vulnerable, and I feel like everyone’s cataloguing all my faults and waiting for me to slip up so they can pounce and take advantage of my moment of weakness.

It takes strength and bravery to put yourself out there, and we do it each and every time because we believe in the payoff. We believe that its worth it. 

This week, our hospital is trying to introduce a new system of care planning as part of our new electronic health records system. The NANDA, or nursing diagnoses, is something that we’ve always taught and drilled into our Velez College students from the time they first step into the wards and care for patients. We have them do it every time they’re on shift; they do an extensive one at the beginning of the month as part of their OPTs and again at the end of the month when they have to do a case study.

I am incredibly pleased that the students we’ve taught as a faculty, who are now working in London, will finally be able to apply their training to the care of actual patients (I don’t know if THEY’RE pleased, because most of them hated the NANDA, but I am! lol).

Moreover, I feel so chuffed that something we implemented as part of their curriculum will now actually give them an advantage leading up to the planned change, and they will be able to support their colleagues who may not be as familiar with the system, in the same way that we supported them when they were students.

It is the best sort of validation for a teacher when she sees the actual fruit of her labours, to realise that she’s helped to equip her students with the tools they need to be globally competitive in the nursing field, and to see students that she’s personally taught become great and responsible nurses.

Ma’am Mira, you are everything that is good in a Velezian, and you exemplify some of the best values that the college has always taught us. I can only hope to be as brave and courageous as you have been when life has knocked you on your feet, and I can only pray to have your optimism and faith in difficult times, and even all the way through to the end.

Rest in peace, we will miss you very much, and this blog is for you. 

 

Posted in bloggers, Careers, Self-Discovery

Learning how to ride a bike and other metaphors for life

I remember the very first time I ever got on a bicycle.

I was probably about seven years old and we lived in a village where all the kids used to come out and play in the afternoon and we’d all ride our bikes together, training wheels and all.

I have always been cautious by nature. I think I came out of the womb with a heightened sense of self-preservation. Even as a child, I was never one to take any risks. I was also quite conscious from an early stage of the things that were within my capabilities and those that weren’t.

Needless to say, basketball and other contact sports were not a big part of my formative years. Or anything that involved hand-eye coordination and stamina (I was a fat kid. Lol)

But I was quite happy with riding a bike. The training wheels were like my very own safety net. They ensured that I’d always find my balance, that I would never fall over and hurt myself. I was as happy and as carefree as it was possible to be, pushing pedal to the metal and going around the village without a care in the world.

Of course, the training wheels had to come off at some point. 

I was petrified the first time I ever got on a “real” bike. My uncle had one hand on my seat as he instructed me to take my time and to take it slow. He promised he wouldn’t let go unless he was sure I could do it on my own, and that he’d never let go before I was ready.

I didn’t think I’d ever get to a point where I could convince myself I was ready. I went around the block a couple of times with my uncle supporting me the whole time. He must have been exhausted, but bless him, he believed me when I said I wasn’t ready for him to let go just yet.

Inevitably though, we reached that moment where I had to be pushed, where I had to break through the barriers of fear and just do it. It was a real sink or swim moment. My uncle let go, and I either had to find my balance and pedal or I fall and hurt myself.

Those first few solo rides were shaky, and I fell and scraped my knees too many times to count. But I got back on that bike and tried again until I was cycling around the village without a training wheel in sight.

I needed that final push. 

Would I have been content to carry on riding a kid bike? Maybe. But it would only have taken me so far, and I would have missed out on the experience of being able to do something that I was initially fearful of.

Any new experience comes with fears and doubts, but that shouldn’t be a reason for missing out on them. I think continuously pushing and challenging yourself to do something you never thought you were capable of, especially if its something that scares the shit out of you, will only help you to grow as a person.

I have always been afraid of change. And these past couple of years I’ve attempted to make a big career change twice, and both times I backed out at the point of actually dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.

I suppose part of that was because I always knew that it wasn’t the right time or the right move. But now the right opportunity has come, and it would be remiss of me not to take the chance just because I’m afraid or because I insist on clinging to the comfort of what’s familiar.

I never expected to have to feel this twice in one lifetime; they say once you learn how to ride a bike you’ll never forget how to do it. But at this moment, that is exactly how I feel. I feel like I’m about to learn how to ride a bike for the first time all over again.

The training wheels have come off. I’m as ready as I will ever be. I suppose the only thing left to do is hang tight and pedal.