Friday, April 18, 2014

Rooted to the spot?

I'm sure you've had an experience like this. Your mouth has gone dry, your heart's racing, your palms are sweating, you're in full "fight or flight" mode as the adrenaline is coursing through your body - you're facing something frightening but somehow you're rooted to the spot. Like a rabbit in the headlights you can't move and time seems to have slowed down like a scene from the Matrix.

One summer I found myself climbing across the famous Aonach Eagach ridge in Scotland with two best buddies from University and one of their dads. Now if you know me you'll know that I haven't really got a great head for heights - it's not the heights that particularly bother me but sheer drops! With this in mind you might be wondering what on earth I was doing traversing Aonach Eagach, which has sheer drops aplenty, and to be honest I was wondering that myself but didn't want to be a killjoy to my friends, who were skipping away like mountain goats.

Fortunately for me there was low cloud that day, and while this didn't take away the thousand foot drops either side, it at least meant that I couldn't see them, which sort of helped. Until the clouds parted that is, and I could suddenly see how big a drop was beside me. My heart rate soared and I clung for dear life to the ridge! 

With some steady nerves and calm encouragement I'm pleased to say I made it across the ridge (to everyone's surprise if I'm honest), but it remains one of my most vivid experiences of being rooted to the spot.

Strangely enough, after that introduction, this week's theme is actually trees (and not fear, as you might have been led to believe), and I'm hoping the connection will become clear as you read on.

One of my favourite types of tree is a Plane tree. Here in the UK you tend to find them in cities, lining Victorian boulevards and especially in city centres. I pass at least a dozen of them on the walk to my office each day. What I like about them is their mottled, almost camouflage multi-layered bark. They are well suited to urban situations as they can tolerate higher atmospheric pollution as well as root compaction - something almost guaranteed in our cities!

Trees are great, and public health studies show that we experience lower stress levels and the corresponding health benefits when we are amongst trees. A colleague of mine recently travelled to Doha, and when I spoke to them out there they were looking forward to being home and seeing trees again!

Different varieties of trees have different personalities, they're suited to different places - a willow tree wouldn't last long in a city centre like a Plane tree, since they need to be around water. Pines like acidic soil. In order to thrive and flourish, trees need to be planted in the right places with favourable conditions. The thing is, living in a dynamic environment, conditions have a habit of changing around us, and if we're rooted to the spot we can find ourselves over time in a position that's doing us no good, or in which it's harder for us to flourish.

I heard a Swedish climatologist speaking about potential changing climate scenarios for Sweden over the next hundred years. Sweden's a big place, and average temperatures vary from south to north by about three degrees C over around 500km. A possible future scenario for some parts of Sweden is that temperatures increase by three degrees over the next hundred years, which means that the average temperature line would begin move north by around 0.5m an hour. This is not very fast.. in fact a snail's top speed is (apparently) around 1m an hour, so this pace of change is not even at a snail's pace! However, if you're a tree that's very sensitive to temperature ranges, then within your lifetime you could find yourself in conditions that don't suit you at all.

Sometimes I think that we can be rooted to the spot in our opinions, our behaviours, our relationships - 'stuck in a moment that you can't get out of' to quote U2. We've planted ourselves somewhere, but over the years circumstances have changed around us, perhaps without us being fully aware of the changes! In terms of our 'fight or flight' response, there's an argument that says this developed specifically in response sudden and urgent dangers (like predators) - and that it's not trigged by gentle changes in our environment. The classic story of the frog being slowly boiled comes to mind.

So a question for us to think about this week is whether we might have become rooted to the spot anywhere in our lives. The good news is that unlike trees, we can change. We can re-plant ourselves somewhere else, in a different position or better place. Perhaps in this manner we're more like Tolkien's Ents instead!

I'm writing this during Easter week, and this Easter marks twenty years since I made the decision to plant myself in the best place of all, in relationship with a loving God. I've had my ups and downs in this time, but I passionately believe that my life has been immeasurably changed for the better as the result of a relationship-based faith in God. These past few months I've been reading and re-reading the book of Psalms, and I love the picture painted in the very first psalm about people living in relationship with God:

"They are like trees planted along the riverbank,
bearing fruit each season.
Their leaves never wither,
and they prosper in all they do"
(Ps 1:3, NLT)

Over the last twenty years I've been sinking my roots deeper into this relationship, and I want to encourage you to consider doing so as well. Maybe you feel rooted to the spot, stuck in one place in your relationship with God. How about this weekend you get out amongst the trees? It's good for your physical health, but perhaps if you take that time to listen to God's whisper to you amongst the rustling of the leaves if might do your spiritual health good too. 

As we celebrate Easter how about refreshing yourself with God's story - why not read one of the gospel accounts in the Bible? If you don't feel you know about God's story, let alone God himself then why not look out for an Alpha course near you? This is a simple course which enables you to ask questions and find out for yourself.

Let's not find ourselves rooted to the spot, and lets be willing to make changes in our lives when we realise that our environments have changed. And on this note, I'll bid you a Happy Easter and leave you with a quote from George Bernard Shaw:

"Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything"


Thursday, April 10, 2014

What are you building?

I don't know about you, but there are certain things that happened in my family growing up that have developed legendary status. Events, occasions, mishaps which we've told and re-told over the years, things which we continue to feel deeply about. One of these events happened before I was born, in the mid 1970s, but so strong have been its after effects that I feel like I was there. 

It's the story of when my oldest brother won a Lego building competition. 

Lego was a big part of our childhood. I credit it as the reason I've become a professional engineer. For at least a decade we had 'the heap' in our sitting room. The Heap was a pile of toys which just got pushed into the corner at the end of the day. I remember it mainly being Lego. Another legendary family story was when one day, out of the blue, there was a knock at the door and an older boy gave us his own huge box of Lego (they were emigrating, but we didn't know that, we thought it might be a semi usual occurrence, leading to a life of disappointment when every ring of the doorbell WASN'T a huge box of Lego).

Now, as I wasn't actually there, I'm sketchy on the exact details of the Lego competition win, but suffice to say that my brother's winning entry was displayed in the shop for a while, he probably even won a small amount of Lego (no doubt eventually assimilated into The Heap). The main thing was the kudos he earnt with my other siblings and his peers - kind of superhero status, tempered with grudging jealousy that my other brother and sister's entries weren't deemed prize-winning. We're a fairly competitive family anyway, so from then on, building things with Lego was a serious matter. As a side note, even though I've not ever won any Lego competitions myself, I do think I'm pretty handy when it comes to building Lego spaceships, something I hope I can pass on to my own kids! (We're still at the duplo stage though, which has more limited spaceship building potential).

In a recent post I talked about our 'daily Lego', our lives being the accumulations of individual moments and days lived well (or not), which leads onto this week's question: what are you building? Building things with Lego is a serious subject, but we've all been given lives with which to do something glorious.

I heard a good joke recently (well I thought it was anyway). It goes like this: five frogs are sitting on a log, four decide to jump in, how many frogs are left on the log? Of course, the answer we'd like to say is one, but in this case that's incorrect. The answer in the joke is five, because thinking and doing aren't the same thing. Now you may be groaning, but it's a good point I think - it's all very well having big dreams, and many of us have, but arguably what's the point of having the big dreams if they just stay there and we never build them into something real?

I'm not intending to induce a guilt trip here, and one of the most freeing pieces of advice I was ever given was by a friend and pastor shortly after starting work. As I was beating myself up that I didn't have the same time to do things that I did when was a student, he set me free, telling me not to expect to achieve all the things I felt God had planned for my life in the next five years! Whilst we have a lifetime to achieve our life's work (whatever that may be), at the same time it can be easy for our dreams to become bow-waves, always being pushed further forward into the future and some mythical perfect time. Or for us to start out, get knocked back, lose our confidence, wrap our dreams in tissue paper and put them back into the box under the bed. 

I had a friend at school who had lots of motivational sayings which helped him through his GCSEs and A-Levels, and one in particular has stuck with me ever since: 'inch by inch it's a cinch, yard by yard it's hard'. What I like about this is the honest truth that we need to break big things down into manageable chunks. This is fine with GCSE revision, but we often don't know how to do this when it comes to our big visions, dreams and plans. I certainly don't!

There's clearly no one answer to this. Your dreams are different to mine. All of us have many dreams which are varied and diverse, nearer or further away. Whatever they are, however far off they may seem, it's important for us to continue to take small steps towards them, to build momentum, however slow. Maybe this is just about giving ourselves time to learn skills, to think, to try things out, to put together the little pieces of Lego one at a time, which will slowly accrete into something bigger, more magnificent. 

Seemingly small things often open doors to new things I've found, but so often in our busyness or discouragement we often put off even the small things. I read a book recently where the author took a year off work (sort of forced, but nevertheless), and he commented that we often overestimate what we can do in a year (and maybe give up), but underestimate what we can do in ten years. The middle ground is often hard, but it's here where battles are often won. Our changing seasons of life present different challenges. The time of life I'm in involves small children, deep weariness and difficulties to do all the things I want to do, but it seems to me that the trick is to keep the pilot light going on our dreams and visions whatever the circumstances, and to keep building - however small, however seemingly insignificant. 

As a child the  joy of Lego was that there were no fixed rules and an endless variety of pieces. You could create what you wanted as long as you put the pieces together. And it just took as long as it took, with plenty of iterations and mistakes in between.. And unlike my brother's prize winning creation, most Lego creations weren't perfect, but they were built, and in many ways therein lay the value. A box of disassembled pieces and some plans of what you could build have potential, but that's all.

So what are you building? Embrace those dreams, dust off those plans, and let's focus on bringing them to life.. Small step by seemingly small step.. You never know where it might lead.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Spring Forward

Spring has sprung, as they say, full of budding potential. On our allotment and in our garden there are plenty of green shoots. Leaves unfurling on fruit canes we planted from cuttings over the winter, recently sown seeds germinating in pots all over our house, and all around us many fruit trees are in blossom. Vivid pinks, bright whites, hinting at fruit to come later in the summer.

When we moved to the West Midlands a few years ago we were really struck by all the blossom around the place. It felt like there was so much more blossom in the Midlands than we were used to seeing on the sunny South Coast. Maybe there are more fruit trees here, who knows?

Blossom has a special place in Japanese culture, where it's a sacred thing. I read a fascinating book the other year about a chap making his way across the Japanese islands by bicycle, chasing the cherry blossom as he went. If not quite to the same extent, I also appreciate the coming of spring that the blossom heralds. It's a sign that winter has thawed and warmer weather is on its way.

Spring also brings more light into our lives - we "Spring Forward" when our clocks change to Summer Time (although we lose an hour's sleep.. fine in general but having spent all year trying to get our kids into a good sleeping routine, this really sends their body clocks haywire!). After the short days of winter, and the cold weather, I can finally crack on with my to-do list in my workshop and on the allotment, now they've both thawed out (I really need to think about some heating in my workshop over the winter).

Last Christmas my wife Kate gave me an inspired present which was the complete set of Star Wars films on Blu-Ray (along with over 40 hours of documentaries etc). Needless to say, it's been the perfect opportunity to introduce my daughter to the films, and I'm delighted that she's loved it so much! In 'The Empire Strikes Back' Han Solo gets frozen in carbonite and sent to Jabba the Hutt. When he's finally rescued (in 'Return of the Jedi') he has to be thawed out from his frozen and captive state.

As I've been thinking about Spring, I've wondered if it can sometimes feel that parts of our lives are "on ice". Maybe we've shelved some dreams until circumstances are better. Maybe, through no choice of our own, we've been forced to stop doing things we love through illness or other external factors. For whatever reason, parts of us may be in hibernation mode. Like Han Solo, we may be frozen and in need of thawing out.

I'm reminded again of Narnia, where the ice thawing and Spring returning are a sign that Aslan has returned to free the country from the tyranny of the White Witch. I was speaking to a Finnish colleague once, who said that where he lives there's often snow on the ground for six months of the year!

For those parts of us "on ice", now might be the right time to come out of hibernation. Maybe it's time to allow God to de-thaw some of our dreams or those aspects of our personality that we've hidden away through fear, hurt or circumstance. Maybe it's time to allow these things to blossom!

We love growing things on our allotment. We love the community aspect of it, and we really enjoy eating our home-grown produce - yes, it really does taste better! Personally I like the connection with the seasons that "working the land" brings, and one of the main things I've learnt is that most of the time you've just got to let things grow and keep the weeds down in the meantime. This can be surprisingly hard work, especially in the spring, since this is the time that the weeds seem to grow the fastest!

Weeds seem to get everywhere, but this isn't a reason not to grow things in the first place. If you want to reap a harvest then you've got to plant seeds - it's inevitable that weeds will grow up, but you've just got to manage them, and the end result is worth it.

The reason I mention this is that we can often be discouraged when we step out into new things and allow them to blossom, but the main thing is to manage the inevitable weeds that crop up around us in whatever form, and let our skills, abilities, dreams and relationships grow until they bear fruit.

This can take a while believe me, but just because it's going to take a while doesn't mean we shouldn’t plant the seed in the first place. As the Chinese proverb says, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago - the second best time is now.

I think that my mind is like our allotment in some ways. There's some good stuff that's been planted in there over the years, but I need to be a good mind-gardener to weed out the unhelpful stuff that just keeps cropping up, and instead to nurture those things which I really want to see develop. Those things that really define who I am and who I've been made to be.

It's great to have new ideas, to step out into new areas - I want to encourage us all to do that, but we need to allow ourselves time for these to develop. This is, I think, pretty counter-cultural in the midst of the now, now, now society we find ourselves in. But in many ways, it's often the things that take time that are the most rewarding in the long run - another whole subject in itself.

As I wrap up, maybe ask yourself whether there's anything in your life that needs thawing out so it can blossom and bear fruit. Maybe you just need to do some weeding in your mind, to give all the good things in there more space? Maybe you just need to sit back and give yourself time to grow.


Whatever it is - I pray that this year you Spring Forward rather than fall back.





(This post was written as part of the Blog Buddies group. Other posts on the subject include Nicola'sIf you want to join our blog buddies group contact  nicola@braveheartsolutions.co.uk)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Who Dares Wins?

Today's musings are on the theme of risk, and as I was thinking of a title for the post, the motto of the SAS came to mind: "Who dares wins". Or maybe that should be who risks wins? The very language suggests that the SAS have a mindset where war is a game to be played. A game in which risk-takers (like the SAS) win, and everyone else is on the losing side. I would certainly prefer the SAS to be on my side if I found myself in a war!

For someone known to be a big fan of board games (local Settlers of Catan champion no less - frankly to the surprise of my family), you may be surprised to know that I've never actually played the game Risk. We even own a two player version that we've never quite got around to playing! But this seems to reinforce the stereotype that war is a game, and implicitly that maybe life is as well.

I wonder how competitive you are? Do you take more risks when playing boardgames than you would in real life? How about Monopoly? It's easy to stake plenty of money on an investment when it's only monopoly money.. different when we face tough financial decisions in "real life" though.

As I've been musing on the subject this week, I've been wondering whether it would help us live our lives better if we were more playful when it came to risk. Now I'm not advocating taking unnecessary risks with our health, our families, or our work - but I do think that there are plenty of times in our lives when we are faced with the choice of playing safe or taking a positive risk.

In my line of business I spend a lot of time assessing risk, often flood risk. This can be complicated, as flood risk can have many different sources (I won't bore you by listing them). Many of my clients would like me to say that there is NO risk of flooding, however this is never true. There is always a risk of flooding, however small, as you can never completely manage risk away. There can always be a bigger storm, or some unexpected circumstance which could lead to flooding. Whether or not risk remains is a moot point, the question is really whether the risk is something one can comfortably live with.

Risk takes on a whole new meaning when you have kids. Risks that you normally live with - plug sockets, cups of tea, crockery in cupboards, flights of stairs - all of a sudden these become life threatening issues, as our children don't have the same frame of reference or understanding to comfortably live alongside these risks. We introduce additional mitigation measures - plug socket covers, stair gates, cupboard locks, placing everything increasingly high up - to minimise the likelihood of the risk. But you can never eliminate the risk completely - that cup of tea gets put down within reach, that socket gets left open.. we still have to be on high alert as parents until our children understand some of the consequences of the risks around them.

Sadly, in many ways we live in an increasingly risk-averse and litigious society. Whether implicitly or explicitly, our culture seems to value conformity over diversity - evidenced by the incessant testing, measuring and standardisation imposed on the school system, seemingly to force as many of our children to conform to an arbitrary and increasingly meaningless standard. The truth is that we are all "fearfully and wonderfully made", unique in our potential and diverse in the passions, gifts and temperament we each possess.

There's a famous verse in Saint Paul's letter to the Romans, in the New Testament, in which we are encouraged not to "conform to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind" (Romans 12:2). In a society obsessed with standardisation, the best way to stand out is to embrace who you've been made to be - all the uniqueness and "you-ness" found in the deepest part of your being.

How often have we played safe, held ourselves back, suppressed our passions because we haven't wanted to risk disapproval of friends, family, or colleagues? Perhaps we've entered careers which we know will give us a steady income, but in which we feel we are secretly an imposter, or in which we wear some kind of professional mask to hide who we really are.

And yet, is NOT being the full expression of who you were made to be worth the risk? Is it worth the risk of settling for less, knowing you have more to give, living with regrets that you played it too safe in the big decisions?

There's a strong link between how passionate you feel about something and the risks you're willing to take. After I had been going out with Kate for a little while, the love I felt for her emboldened me to take the huge risk of asking her to marry me.. and I've been delighted ever since that she said yes. I can imagine the regret I would have lived with if I'd never been brave enough to pop the question. Strangely, I was more nervous buying the engagement ring a few weeks before than actually asking the big question itself! Go figure!

I'm a big fan of TED talks, as I love ideas and I love learning new things. As with anything, some are better than others, but I watched one this week (by Richard St John) about passion which was great. He'd interviewed dozens of teenagers, and something like 80% had said their number one goal was to make money.. which in his mind was tragic, as the people that tend to be most successful are the ones who follow their passion - who essentially risk being who they're made to be rather than playing it safe and settling for less. He encourages people to follow the "zing" and not the "ka-ching".. in other words follow your heart and not your paycheck.

Now I know that this is easier said than done, and maybe for many of us it's the ability to pursue our passion in our spare time that energises us to do what we need to do to provide for our families - we're all different (and in case any colleagues are reading, I do genuinely enjoy what I do for a living!). But the message is clear - in the long run it's worth taking those positive risks and embracing the passions that define you. For me, restarting this blog and intentionally spending more time writing, making and being creative has been a deliberate choice to risk putting some of me "out there".. but I have to say that it's been so energising and life-giving that I wish I'd done it sooner. I feel more "me" as a result, and am excited at where it might lead me.

When it comes down to it, I think we should all risk being a little more playful in some of the decisions we face. It's too risky to settle for being anything less than the person God made us (and to fully embrace who we really are we need to fully embrace the God that's made us - sometimes we need a heavenly mirror to see how we're really wired).

Instead, to embrace ourselves, our passions, who we really are, and step into the perfect plans God has for our lives - now that's a risk worth taking!





(This post was written as part of the Blog Buddies group. Here are some other thoughts on the subject by . If you want to join our blog buddies group contact  nicola@braveheartsolutions.co.uk)

Poem: Spilt Milk

A sad walk this morning, from the station to the office.
Grief surrounds me like the morning’s mist
Grief at the injustice in the world (brought on by a sad book).
The people I pass seem gloomy too today, heads down.

Outside a café a drying channel of spilt milk, dripping into the gutter.
Far too many spilt lives dripping onto the streets too these days.
More cries of “spare change” spilling from desperate lips and cold hands.
In the alleyways, on steps, on street corners.

It’s closer than we like to think. 
Only yards from my office.
Another spilt life sleeping in a split sleeping bag.

Leaving my banana won’t clean up the spill,
but I leave it anyway, although my misty sadness remains.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Poem: The first day of Spring

Running home through gentle rain.
Drifting through the creamy light,
the last few minutes before sunset.

Twilight reflecting off rinsed tarmac.
Vivid pink blossoms on lollipop trees.
My muted footfall a signal switch,
as I awake sleeping streetlights.
Metallic pinks and yellows and whites.

Running away from the deskbound day,
the congested train, my crowded brain.
Cars passing me with splashing sighs,
tiny tyre waves breaking on an asphalt beach.

Cresting the hill,
leaving the orange embers of daylight behind.
Returning home,
to grins and giggles, purrs and pasta.


Spring has sprung.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Musings on.. peace

Perhaps you can relate to this. Your baby's been grizzly all day, now it's way past their bedtime, they're overtired, you're under-slept, and after yet another 20 minutes of 'shushing' you've carefully placed them back in their cot, crept out of their room and now you're listening at the door, hardly daring to breathe until you're sure that this time they really have gone to sleep.. A moment's silence, then another, and then.. Peace. You can finally breathe out, collapse in a chair, have a cup of tea..

Do you have to go somewhere to find peace? Maybe peace and quiet? Perhaps climbing a mountain, or finding a remote wilderness.. even just shutting the bathroom door and soaking in a bath?

Or is peace something you're waiting for? When the kids have (finally) gone to sleep, when you can get home from a busy day, or when a difficult situation is over?

Is peace something you encounter on your own - on a cloistered retreat, shut off from the world? Or is it something that occurs on a bigger scale - like countries making declarations of peace after war?

Perhaps peace is something you have to make - making peace with a situation, a person, God?

I've been musing on the subject of peace this week, and when I think of the questions above it seems to me peace is needed in many ways in our lives, communities and world.  In some ways, I think that peace is like carbon. If you can remember chemistry at school (one of my weaker subjects I have to be honest, although having a chemistry teacher called Mr Work probably didn't help!), carbon famously has three forms - allotropes - ranging from diamond: crystal clear and the toughest material on earth; to graphite - black, opaque and soft enough to enable us to use it in our pencils. Peace also takes different forms.

I'm sure that we're all longing for peace in many areas of our lives and in the world we live in. Not a day seems to go by when the news headlines aren't dominated by conflict - on a domestic, political or international scale. We desperately need peace in our relationships, within our families, in our workplaces, in our hearts.

But how do we find it? Is peace a destination, a place we go to, or is it something we have to make? Is it an exterior thing or an interior thing? Personal or corporate?

Maybe it's all of these things at different times - maybe these are all allotropes, and maybe we need all of them.

I know that we have have many demands on our lives, and that life can feel relentless at times - the treadmill of the everyday, the rat race, can grind us down and leave us agitated, depressed, even ill. Perhaps we feel like peace is something we can only find occasionally - perfect peace like a diamond that's precious because it's so rare.

But I wonder whether if we're only looking for diamonds, for perfect peace, we can miss the other more everyday forms of carbon-peace that are all around us. Like carbon, I think peace is there to be found in our daily lives - in fact especially there.

Often on my lunch break I will seek some reflective time in the cathedral near my office. It's usually quiet, muffling the sounds of the busy city outside, and I find it helpful to be able to gather my thoughts and escape the tyranny of my inbox for a few moments. Often I pray, and herein I think lies the secret to discovering this 'everyday' peace - not necessarily in a cathedral - but in the deep knowledge that you are unconditionally loved and accepted by God. Diamond peace, perfect peace may be hard to find, but God wants us to receive his everyday peace in the midst of our turbulent lives.

Amorphous carbon is a third allotrope of carbon, aside from graphite and diamond, and as the name suggests, it is the least 'formed' of the three. In fact, this form of carbon creates more compounds than any other element, and carbon compounds in general form the basis of all known life on our planet. In a similar way, maybe we can allow peace to become a part of all the different elements of our lives.

This ability of carbon to form amazing new materials leads me to a different slant on 'blessed are the peacemakers' - what are we making with the peace available to us? Some carbon compounds are known for their lightness - carbon fibre for example - and in a sense I wonder whether prayerfully allowing 'peace compounds' to form in our lives can bring a lightness to situations and circumstances which normally weigh us down.

I've probably raised more questions than answers in this post, but also think that it's good for our health to be considering how we can engage with God's peace in the midst of our daily grind.

So I'll end with a simple blessing: 

Peace be with you.





(This post was written as part of the Blog Buddies group. Here are some other thoughts on the subject by WendyIf you want to join our blog buddies group contact  nicola@braveheartsolutions.co.uk)



Friday, March 14, 2014

When the going gets tough..

What's the hardest thing you've ever done? And what's your relationship with it? 

The phrase we're musing on this week is "The toughest thing you ever did could well be the best thing you ever did". This has got me thinking on my own achievements: which ones hold the most value to me, and why do I feel that way?

Compared to many people's incredibly tough lives around the world I am aware that life hasn't been too unkind to me on the whole, but we all face challenges whatever cards we are dealt. 

Reflecting back on my life, I can see that things I may have considered tough at the time when much younger I now take for granted - for instance speaking in front of others, singing and playing guitar at the same time, long runs - all of these have felt tough challenges at different times and for different reasons.


In my mind, there is clearly a link between facing (and overcoming) tough circumstances or situations and growing as a person. In some ways it can be a means of developing our inner strength in a similar way that resistance training can build our physical strength.

I'm resisting the urge here to regale to you all the amazing achievements that I have made, as this isn't meant to be that kind of post - and I'm in a more philosophical mood as I write anyway!

I do think we can often take ourselves and our abilities for granted. If you're anything like me then you can overplay the circumstances and situations that trouble you, and underplay your own powers of endurance, imagination and creativity. 

This brings to mind a quote from Dr Mike Stroud who as a doctor has been researching the ability of the human body to endure. He has famously accompanied Sir Ranulph Fiennes on some of his more extreme polar adventures - and more close to home was also attached to the same Dietetics and Nutrition department as my wife when we lived in Southampton! 

In his excellent book 'Survival of the fittest' he talks about the delay between starting exercise and our brains sending out the signals to activate the required energy systems in our bodies. Counter-intuitively, it can feel harder to do a short run than a long run, as we start by accumulating an oxygen debt, and by the time the brain gets round to sorting this out, we've accumulated lactic acid which needs clearing: 

"This takes some time, so the first couple of miles of any run can be rough. It leads to an odd phenomenon. Most people feel less fatigued after running five or six miles than they do when they have run one or two. Some inexperienced runners never realise this, and even quite reasonable athletes may believe that distance running is not for them. they have never run far enough to reach equilibrium and comfort and so have never found the capability that evolution bestowed on nearly all of us".

So thinking about tough things reaping rewards, sometimes we just need to go further to realise that we can actually do it. Enduring will be worth it - perhaps we will gain a new perspective, perhaps facing a tragedy will help us come alongside others in the future, other opportunities will arise as a result, and like resistance training it's all strengthening and shaping our character (perhaps knocking off rough edges!). We may even find that we feel less fatigued after enduring for longer!

I deliberately haven't gone into detail in this post about the difference that a healthy relationship with God can have on our perspective of tough times and on the manner in which we approach and endure them - that could be an entire blog post in itself! Suffice to say that I passionately believe in a loving God who plans the best for us no matter what happens, and helps us to make the best of what we consider to be broken situations, circumstances and lives. God can, and does, help us be the very best representation of who we can be and I do not believe we can reach our full potential without God's help - but that's a topic for another time.

Some years back I had reached the point in my career to undertake my professional review with a venerable engineering institution. I carefully prepared all my documents, submitted them in time, prepared presentations and with some trepidation travelled to London to be interviewed by two reviewers. I felt prepared, I felt I deserved to pass - but it didn't go well. In fact I felt utterly ripped to shreds and in due course I received a letter going into great detail about how I hadn't made the grade. 

Needless to say I was crushed, my colleagues cried foul and family and friends provided much needed support. I slowly picked myself up, took a long hard look in the mirror, tried to take the review comments on the chin, rewrote all my documentation and re-sat the next year.

Except this time, although the day itself went better, I still received a regretful letter identifying how short of the mark I still was! At this second setback I did seriously consider leaving the industry, but while I was picking the pieces of my professional confidence up off the floor a wise old colleague suggested an alternative path with a different institution -  and in hindsight one much more suited to my experience and skills. 

Happily the story ends well, and the more I look back on it the more grateful I am to have gone through the trial I did, since focusing on water and the environment rather than pure civil engineering has actually been much more fulfilling and has opened much more interesting doors for me since! One of my toughest things has proved to be one of the best.. and I'm sure many of you could relate similar stories.

I'll finish with a quote from Sir Ken Robinson's book 'The Element' (a book about finding your passions.. the place where you're in your element, so to speak) in the context of how we can underestimate the potential we have for growth and change: 

"For the most part, people seem to think that life is linear, that our capacities decline as we grow older, and that opportunities we have missed are gone for ever. Many people have not found their element because they don't understand their constant potential for renewal."

So when the going gets tough, as it often does, let's remember that it's often the first few miles that seem hardest, but that we can go much further than we initially think we can..





(This post was written as part of the Blog Buddies group. Here are related posts by Nicola and WendyIf you want to join our blog buddies group contact  nicola@braveheartsolutions.co.uk)