Month: May 2018

Three Reasons To Celebrate

A weekend of celebrating my godson’s graduation from university this past weekend got me thinking about life after college, university.

More than thirty years ago my classmates and I left the world of academia for the real world. Like my godson’s graduation, the moment was marked with celebrations, amongst them the graduation ceremony.

What sort of advice did the commencement speakers offer? Who were they? What were their achievements and so on? Was something said or done that would serve as a guidepost for my career choice, a life decision? Honestly, I can’t say I can remember the specific answers to any of the questions, though Chas’s graduating class is at least likely to remember some of the notable speakers over the weekend including former National Security Advisor Susan Rice and celebrated author Chimamanda Adichie but will they remember any of the words of wisdom told to them?

I hope so but even if they don’t I feel certain that they will remember celebrating – the extravagant cap and gown they wore, the long walk to the podium to receive the degree, the sweet sound of hearing their name said with clarity and certainty, the roar of applause from friends and family and flashes of the moments after the ceremony, the liberating feeling of achievement.

Not quite as clear as yesterday for me, but the hallmarks of celebrating achievement – passing exams, leaving school, getting into college, graduating from university, getting a job, a promotion and so on – has in many ways provided some of the inspiration, the fuel, if you will, for growth and development over the years.

As a teen girl, I likely thought celebration was all about partying and having a bit of fun and so it is on some level, though I didn’t hail from a big party family. Thus our celebrations were short and sweet but in time I have learned that celebrations have long term benefits, too.

First, celebrating life, any success (surviving GCSEs) reiterates the importance of rewarding achievements. It can be as euphoric as completing a marathon and having a medal draped around your neck. The finishing time becomes irrelevant as you cross the line, feeling great about finishing. I should know. Only later, when the feeling wears off does time become relevant, which is a good segue to another reason to celebrate.

You will always have special memories of the celebration. Memories are in the making from the day that we are born to the day that we close are eyes. And when all is said and done, the memories are always with us, even if they become illusive over the years. When I graduated from graduate school, I, for reasons I can’t remember, decided not to participate in the ceremony, not to celebrate with my fellow classmates. A good friend counselled against my decision but I promised her that I knew what I was doing. Years later, though I have my master’s degree, I have no memories of the commencement, no selfies or the shared experiences or photos of what was surely a wonderful day. But I do cherish memories of high school and undergraduate school celebrations.

However, I do remember celebrating with family and friends, another good reason to celebrate. It’s an opportunity to be social, to bond with family and friends, perhaps see people that you haven’t seen in a very long time, have a good conversation with a relative that you otherwise might not have had. Best of all is the feel good factor of being at centre of a fete.

It is in these moments, even if it is a simple meal, a short talk with Auntie Sonja, the displays of encouragement, the offers of hope, the words of inspiration, the expressions of love that you realise that there is something about celebrating that is communal.

And it dawns on you that in all of is complexity, the world is a big community and as and when it doesn’t seem so, all you need to do is remember the benefits of celebrating. Congrats to each and every one of you teen girls for all of your achievements in academics, in sports, in life. Let’s celebrate.

Relaxing During Testing Times

Exams and GCSEs are what’s happening on this side of the pond and lots of end of the year tests are in progress  on the other — some decide whether one passes to the next grade or not! No wonder, so many of you are feeling stressed right about now. That’s intense, no matter how you look at it.

Something’s gotta give, right? I know the feeling, even though it’s been a while since I had to sit an exam for one reason or another, but not so long that I’ve forgotten the pressure. Reading, studying, and cramming incessantly often left me too exhausted to sleep. You too. The hours meant for sleeping, especially the night before, was often spent tossing and turning fitfully.

I can still just about remember the feeling of sweet relief that washed over me when the big day had come and gone. Even if I immediately began to worry about my scores, there was something liberating about having the exam behind me.

Upon reflection, however, I now know taking exams doesn’t have to be that intense. Of course, preparation is key and that is where planning comes in but planning, as helpful and necessary as it is, might not be enough to remove some of the stressors.

There are plenty of wonderful ways to de-stress, such as yoga, meditation and so on, but some techniques take time and money and often when in school, the two can be sparse. That’s why I tend to return to two failsafe ways of relaxing, both take very little time and don’t have to cost a penny.

First things first: learn how to breathe again. Yes, you read it right. Years ago, I tried a technique called transformational breathing and though it is not for everyone, for the two reasons I mention above and others, we could all learn from the basic premise, which amends the mind positively, helping the recipient to relearn to breathe deeply and slowly.

And you didn’t know you had forgotten, right. I didn’t either until suddenly I was asked to take deep breathes rather slowly. Only then did I realise that my breathing had become shallow and it was taking a toll on my overall existence.

And though I don’t practice transformational breathing anymore, I often re-train myself to breathe properly again, anywhere and anytime and it works, to slow the mind down, the body, too and offers respite from whatever pressure is in the air. Works a jewel at night when stress is looming large over sleep, slows the mind right down, making way for sleep, something that we all need plenty of and certainly when facing exams.

Read more about breathing deeply and slowly and transformational breathing in my HuffPost blog Breathing Through The Holidays.

Now about slowing down, why not go for a walk as another simple way to de-stress. I know, I know, you thought running was my thing. It is! Some of my best ideas have come out of a long run and often when I go out for a walk, I find myself revved to run. But lately, I have learned to slow it down and come to appreciate walking for what it is, a very natural way of eradicating the mind of chatter and worry and relaxing the body, too.

First on a retreat where walking was mentioned as a way to stimulate writing, I struggled to keep it slow, but then when my trainer mentioned that walking was less stressful on the body, I put it to the test, trading in a run for a walk at least once per week.

For me, walking is not so much about pulling ideas out of the subconscious mind, the R-mode, but more so about abiding in that right mind, if you will, for as long as I can. And in that mental state, I find myself automatically relaxed.

So much for testing times! Why not relax your way through them?


Six Ways To Handle Peer Pressure

The saying goes that only two things in life are certain—death and taxes. And the latter has become a rather grey area for some. Never mind. But here is the thing: the older I get the more I wonder if there is a third certainty that we all have to reckon with. Yep, you guessed it: peer pressure.

We all experience it throughout life. Ever since I can remember, I’ve known about it. Of course, as a child I might not have known its name or fully understood it, but when one of the kids of my youth encouraged me to hide underneath my great grandparents’ old house, though we had been warned of snakes and other dangers, I couldn’t resist the possibility of an adventure. Others had done it and lived to tell the tale. So did I but not without causing a lot of upset to a whole lot of people.

Fast forward, as a middle-aged woman (gulp) the pressure is still on daily, also known as keeping up with the Joneses, not something that I consciously engage in. While peer pressure can be far more elusive at this age, it’s there. For example, when considering strong encouragement from a peer on what outfit to wear for a celebrated occasion, for example, I find myself tempted to give in to what others are doing or to make comparisons that leave me feeling glum.

Make no mistake about it, I know all talk about grooming isn’t about peer pressure. I receive lots of handy advice with no pressure at all and have been known to give out some too, but when peers, people around us, pressure us to do things that make us uncomfortable that might have negative consequences mentally or physically, it is important to see it for what it is—peer pressure.

My examples are small things, don’t sweat them, but there are bigger ones that can be quite intense during the teen years such as pressure to stay out beyond a curfew, drink, smoke, cheat on an exam, get up to shenanigans online, engage in violence, have sex and so on.

Many of these big topics gain momentum in the name of youth or because they are billed as a rite of passage and/or because everybody else is doing it. And if given in to, the consequences can be life altering.

Thankfully, there’s plenty of wonderful advice out there to manage peer pressure. Hence, I have taken six top tips from UIO’s podcast series:


  • Keep self-confidence in tow – ‘Just like we put on coats and gloves when we go out into inclement weather, we need to put on self-confidence when we step out into the world.’

  • Show yourself some love and take care of yourself – ‘Your body serves you now. It really is your temple. Look after it.’

  • Don’t worry what everybody else is doing – ‘Try to avoid making comparisons, you are unique.’

  • Know yourself, what you really value and hang onto it – ‘The thing that you want to dull because you are not fitting in. That is your bit of uniqueness. Own it. It is your superpower.’

  • Dare to be different – ‘It takes a brave girl or woman to say wait a minute, I think I am worth more. I have infinite worth and value.’

  • Think about who you hang out with; who you choose to trust – ‘Those that matter won’t mind; those that mind won’t matter.’

All good stuff from the ladies of UIO. Now about that adventure; it was a hiding to nothing and hardly worth the admonishment I received from my father. As for bagging the right outfit for a special occasion, now is the time to dare to be different. Feeling less stressed already.

Leading To Influence Positive Change

When I was a teenager, I thought leadership was exclusive–for class officers, students interested in position or people who had some kind of inherent leadership characteristics and the adults in our lives, teachers, principals and all. The rest of us didn’t have to think too much about leading unless we were given a specific role to take the lead on, be it in academics, arts or sports—captain of this or that, right.

Wrong! Now that I reflect, I can see how we all led, by example, even when we had no intention to do so.  And til this day, we all still do. Leadership is inclusive, like it or not.

According to leadership expert, John Maxwell: “The true measure of leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.”

Of course, I am taking Mr Maxwell’s words at face value and out of the context of a corporate environment and why not. They ring true all the same. We all have an influence on someone or something at some point in our life. The leadership expert points out that, according to sociologists, even the most isolated individual will influence 10,000 other people during his or her lifetime!

So there you have it, you might as well be intentional about it and positive, too.

Case in point: As a teen girl, I never knew how much influence I had over my younger sister until I set a foot wrong.  It was like leading her down a dark path. Only after a hair-raising incident, which I dare not repeat here, did I realise that I was a bit of a role model for her.  That was heavy stuff and all I could think then was I didn’t want the influence but like it or not, I had it. Thus, it was responsibility time, not necessarily to become a goodie two shoes, but to remember my values, and stay true to them when faced with peer pressure, for example.

Fast forward forty years later (I know, I know), a cousin of a similar age to my younger sister confessed that she always looked up to me, that I had a huge influence over her. Thankfully, I was a quick learner and realised that I had the power to influence. Even today, I take this simple fact into consideration when faced with choices that are on the fence. And I get a lot of these.

I say this not to put pressure on you or to put you under a microscope but just to offer a gentle reminder that you don’t have to be grown-up and ensconced in a leadership role, whether as a politician, teacher, doctor, etc.. or a budding politician, athlete or academic to be a leader. All you have to do is to be you.

And you don’t need to be defined by your past, a lesson I’ve learned along the way, which was reiterated at the Rocking Ur Teens Conference back in March. On that note, check out the newly released podcast for more inspirational tips and advice to this end.

In the meantime, take the lead for positive change whether you are running for class office or just running for the bus. You never know who you are influencing.