It’s almost April. We’re 1/4 of the way through the year, it’s my birthday month and it’s finally spring. It’s so nice to emerge from the colder months and peel off a few layers. My cottage is filled with spring flowers and the lighter evenings are bringing joy to my soul. Are you feeling it?
The bluebells are pushing through at Bluebell Cottage. So named because we moved in during the month of May and the garden was completely covered in bluebells. And a lot of other undesirable things which needed to be removed. We dug up quite a few of them because they were everywhere and we wanted space for other planting, but they still pop up every year to remind us of the rhythms of the seasons, and the enduring determination of British plants to push up with whatever bizarre weather comes their way.
Next time you see a clump of English Bluebells – have a close look. Their pretty nodding heads are exquisite – painting our hedgerows and parks – making us smile right through the spring. We see nothing of the struggle they face to even get out of the ground, often pushing their way through sub-zero temperatures, ice and snow, wind and rain. It’s a tough old life being a plant.
So in this month of showers and unpredictable weather, it’s got me thinking about how we deal with ups and downs in our lives and in our businesses. So often we force ourselves out of bed, put on our positive pants and slap on our game face. People might see success and positivity but inside we’re taking deep breaths and wondering if we can make it through to the next oat cappuccino.
So I thought I’d tell you what I try to do to stay strong and keep things in perspective.
1 CHERISH YOUR CENTRE
Some days I need to have a good old search for my centre before I can even start to cherish it. Deep down we all have something. Something or someone we call our foundation or our rock. For most of us it’s probably a person – your partner, your children or your parents. It might be your faith, a set of beliefs that carry you through life and give your purpose. When times are tough remember that we work in order to live, we don’t live in order to work. However much you love what you do – it’s a means to an end and allows you to enjoy and spend time with the people and things you call your centre.
2 PLAN YOUR PACE
The pace we go at through life is entirely within our gift. We say we’re rushed off our feet and don’t have a spare minute, but all the time we’re making choices – to do things now, do them later, or not do them at all.
Maybe you might have the opposite problem and wish you had more pace. You spend so much time thinking and planning that you never actually get it done! We’re either careering out of control, or we’re drifting aimlessly.
I’m more of drifter. A procrastinator. How about you?
I started goal planning this year. Every month I fill out a tending list of my monthly, weekly and daily goals. I’m a bit behind but I have to say, it’s really helpful. When you’re self employed there are so many tasks you COULD spend your time doing, so the planning really helps me focus on the things I SHOULD spend my time doing – in order to achieve the goals I have set myself.
It also gives me an invaluable framework that I can cling to when things go a little bit array. Those times when a client complains, says mean and untrue things about you, and you feel rubbish. If you’re anything like me you’ll want to crawl under a pile of cushions and feel very sorry for yourself. And I often do! But then I grab my framework, tick some boxes and move on with more positive things.
3 BATTLE FOR YOUR BALANCE
We used to hear a lot about work/life balance. It was the default seminar at every business conference, it was the subject of self-help books and copious blogs. Not so much these days.
Many of us no longer head to a 9-5 office job and then crawl home to start our domestic life. The lines are blurred. Home-working is more of a normal thing – loading the dishwasher and folding laundry between emails.
So let’s have less beating ourselves up.
Write a list and get ALL the jobs done. Writing your next blog and pegging the washing out in the sunshine are equally important. Getting your month end accounts done and making a pan of soup for lunch, matter just as much. It all needs doing, it all makes up the big colourful picture of our life and should come with a large dose of flexibility. For me that flexibility usually involves dashing out for a nice coffee. I have all my best ideas in coffee shops, that’s my excuse.
4 CLING TO YOUR CONTEXT
We’re all very good at getting a complaint, and wanting to jack in the business. We’re rubbish, we’re useless, and we feel like giving up. Anyone?
That was me last week. So after a few hours of listening to my inner ‘negative nancy’, I had a good talk to myself and thought of all my other lovely customers. I also remembered that this is only about my 3rd complaint of any kind in almost 6 years which isn’t bad going!
I need to learn not to obsess about the tiny thing that just happened, but rather to daily reflect on how well received my work is, and how most people completely love what I do.
If content is king, context is pretty important too!
5 CULTIVATE YOUR COMMUNITY
If you sit down and have a think about how many different communities you belong to – you might be surprised.
My list involves neighbours, friends, business colleagues, networking groups, photographic buddies, church friends as well as the social media community. Even the folk I’ve got to know in my favourite coffee shop are my community. Being a sole trader doesn’t have to be lonely if we learn to value and treasure the people around us.
I’m terrible for bottling things up, internalising my issues and chewing the cud! But when I chat to someone over coffee, or share my story with a business colleague it really helps to get things in perspective and gain some practical help for how to deal with difficult times. We all go through the same stuff in the end, so we might as well share our stories and cultivate a community that will not only give us joy but help build resilience.
6 GENERATE SOME GRATITUDE
It might seem obvious but if we’re too busy to take the time to say thank you, then something is very wrong. We live in a culture that is lightning-quick to complain if something doesn’t quite suit, but tortoise-slow (is that even a thing?) to say thank you when we appreciate something.
I’ve started building gratitude into my customer service with little cards and gifts. The first thing to report is that it makes ME feel better, which I didn’t expect. More positive, more joyful and more appreciative of the great customers and colleagues I have.
I’m not sure how it makes them feel. I only know how pleased I feel when a company or a person takes the time to thank me for my purchase. And how much more likely I am to order something else from them, and recommend their products or services.
We’re all in the business of building relationships, and what relationship ever got built without a good foundation of mutual gratitude. It’s the little things!
7 DON’T FORGET TO BREATHE
If you work, work, work – you’ll be stressed, irritable and tired! Then when something difficult happens you’ll react all wrong. You’ll yell or you’ll cry – or maybe both. And you’ll collapse in a heap for a while.
So put your phone down, close your diary, and have a break. Go and do something that makes you feel alive and happy and lets you breathe deep. Go shopping, go for a run or eat cake. Take yourself for a windswept walk, plan a weekend away, or have lunch out. Visit a friend you haven’t seen for ages, watch a box set and munch popcorn, or take a long snoozy nap.
Do whatever you need to do to clear your head, rest your brain, create an intentional distraction, wind down and breathe deep.
So, here’s my questions to keep you strong without setting foot in the gym.
- Are you centred? Cultivating the things that really matter?
- Is your life in balance? Creating time for your loves.
- Are you keeping things in context? Talking to yourself rather than listening.
- Are you contributing to your community? Building relationships where you can.
- Are you feeling grateful? Saying thank you to the people that matter.
- And breathe ……
Go forth and build strength.