Jack of all trades?

Suppose you had a guy ring you and say one thing like “Let’s meet for dinner tonight. There’s a great place downtown and the food is great and the music they play is really cool,” and when you meet for dinner there everything is as described. At the end of the evening the guy leans over to you and says, “I really had a nice evening” and when he walks you back to you house, he sings your praises and tells you what a lovely person you are and what a great time he had too. And when you probe, “Would you want to go there again?” and he says “I would”, your hopes are high, not because of the place itself, but because it is a way of perhaps saying he is attracted to you and wants to go out again.

Then the next day on Facebook (or some other form of social media, depending on your age – unfortunately my demographic preference is Facebook) you find out that he actually has a string of girlfriends and flings, and has actually a bit of a reputation as a womaniser. Of course, you might have done your research prior to going out with him. But hear me out – let’s suggest he has actually a girlfriend, or someone he is linked to. And when she asks him if he would go out with you again, and she says she actually heard him say “I would” – perhaps an undercover investigator was tailing you – and his response to her is to say, “Actually, I had meant to say ‘I wouldn’t’,” meaning that his message to you was an unfortunate slip of the tongue, then you might think, “This guy is either mentally unstable in some way, or he is a two-timing turncoat who says anything if he thinks he can get away with it.”

The problem with politics is that to appeal to a large voter base you need to be different things to different people. But perhaps here’s where a lesson can be learnt. The classical music composer Muzio Clementi was a composer, performer, piano manufacturer, mentor, publisher – but crucially, never all at the same time. You can read more about this in the Piano Teacher N4 blog.

So when the President of the United States says Russia did not collude to influence the US presidential elections, and then turns around the next day to say he meant to say the contrary, you know what to make of Donald Trump.

How many days until the next vote?

Risk; and thinking out of the box

It is hard not to be affected by World Cup fever at the moment. Every where you look, people are fascinated by the football going on. Even non-football fans are affected. Perhaps it is because everyone is, and it is hard not to feel anti-social about it if you diss it in front of people who are genuinely affected. So everyday I hear about what has been going on, even though I may not necessarily like football very much myself – or not to the extent that others do.

One of the surprises of the tournament may be the fact that champions Germany are out already. Now, as some of my more worldly football friends may tell me, this is not a surprise, and this could have been anticipated already because the signs were there. Germany are in a transitional stage and many of those who were young and experienced in winning the last World Cup have matured and slowed down. Manuel Neuer is not the first choice goalie of his team, and it so proved in the vital game when he was dispossessed and lost the ball way outside his own half. While many question what he was doing there as an outfield player anyway, there was nothing wrong in it; ice-hockey goalies routinely venture out of their goal, and Neuer, rather than making a mistake like many assumed he was, was merely leveraging his skills to pass long balls (he has a strong leg, remember?) into the penalty area. He was using his peripheral skills as a goalie to get an advantage, a football virtuoso, not a music virtuoso looking to create more opportunities for his team. At least he didn’t make the same mistake as music composer and pianist Frederic Chopin did, which was to head for Majorca thinking it would be nice in winter, except that it rained heavily and lodging was hard to fine, leading him to seek refuge in an old abandoned monastery, exacerbating his health symptoms. The football equivalent would have been Neuer injuring himself trying a cross into the penalty area!

Germany’s decline was already in doubt, my football muse tells me. If you look at Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil, he has been struggling all season long and now that he has gained a five year contract, Arsenal manager Unai Emery should just try to extricate him from it, otherwise he will drag the team down like a lead balloon. But that is Arsenal’s problem. Mine is just waiting for the football to be over so life can return to normal, instead of the football circus!

Being two-faced (or more)

Do you have many faces? You might need more makeup.

Seriously though, when I say we have many faces, what I mean is that we have different sides to us. The face we show at home is different to the face we show at work. The face we show at home in front of our kids is different to the face that we show when they are not around. No one person is the same in different situations.

Take for example, this fellow Tom. In the office he is mild-mannered and agreeable, but on Saturdays when he goes to the football stadium he turns into a different person, disagreeing with refereeing decisions against his team, chanting taunts at opposing players, vociferously slagging them off. Tom goes home, kisses his wife and kids hello, reads the little ones the bedtime stories, and after that he goes out with his mates where they take turns badmouthing their other halves and complaining about women.

Stella works as a PA and is pretty much her boss’s runner, meekly taking orders, but after work she goes home and decides to go out with her friends, whereupon she tears up the dance floor.

When the people in various parts of their lives come together, they are surprised that the Tom or Stella they know is different from the other ones people know.

Is it good to have many sides to you? Yes. Your work may require you to be forceful, strong and opinionated, but maybe your children don’t need to see that side of you. Your children may think of you as generally sweet and cuddly, but they should know you can be capable of being forceful if they cross the line. Some sides of us may be less appealing than others, and we may try to suppress them, but there is no advantage in maintaining only one side to ourselves. If we refuse to acknowledge the darker side of us, we may find ourselves taken advantage of by people who bully us for trying to be to nice.

According to a Finsbury Park piano teacher, the composer and pianist Mozart had many sides to him. While he is recognised for being somewhat of an outlandish extrovert, no one saw the depressed side to him, the one he reverted to in private. Did he come under pressure to maintain the happy extrovert face at all times? Perhaps when he was down in the dumps the expectation by others that he should be positive and not feel sad might have even been a bit oppressive.

We all have different sides to ourselves, and the glimpses of others we come across may not represent them as a whole. That’s just how it is.

Get rid of disposable cups? Or the idea?

Is it a case of more being seen to be doing the right thing, than actually doing the right thing?

I’m talking about the ban in coffee cups.

I admit, I’m biased – I love my caffeine fix in the morning, in the mid-morning and in the afternoon. In fact, I have it as a nightcap.

The coffee industry accounts for billions of paper cups being disposed of each year, most of which ends up in landfill.

Currently there are only 5 centres in the whole of the UK where disposable plastic cups can be recycled.

The problem with disposable plastic cups is that they are single-use only, and the plastic coating that lines each cup to stop the liquid leaking through is what causes the cup – despite being made of paper – to end up in landfill instead of in recycling facilities.

The ban on disposable plastic cups is great, despite its inconvenience. Various coffee chains are already incentivising schemes where customers bring their own mugs, by giving them reductions, but this is usually paid for by charging over the odds for products.

The corner cafe where I live charges a pound for a cup of tea. Starbucks tea costs nearly twice that. You have to be amazed at the profits and the difference in price.

But coffee chains have to be seen to be encouraging recycling, because being sustainable is a perceived plus point. So when chains purport to be environmentally-friendly, and have a social conscience either by being Fairtrade or building schools in deprived areas, don’t be hoodwinked into thinking they care, they have to be seen as caring so as to attract customers.

Part of me wonders, shouldn’t we be trying to tackle wastage elsewhere in products where plastic plays a major role? I’m thinking, instead of tackling the coffee cup, tackle the plastic water bottle first. You get a few uses out of it, true, but certainly the amount of plastic in a water bottle is greater than the number of uses you get out of it.

Maybe we should spend more into researching thinly glass-lined cups that are more recycleable? Or design flasks that are more sleek and more easily washable?

The problem with carry-flasks and mugs is they have a hole in the lid – plastic, I may add – to allow the hot air to escape, which means they are not leakproof. Flasks are hard to clean, which is why people don’t use them. Maybe a plastic, folding cup like campers use are better for the environment?

In short, I can’t think that the spotlight on coffee cups is misdirected.

In the early days of film music, people merely used to sit with their food and drinks in the movie theatre to watch a silent movie. What cups did they use then? Everyone merely brought a mug or flask with them in their picnic basket.

If you want to help environment, target the behaviour, not the symptoms. We have to focus on the disposable culture of society, instead of the cups itself.

In other words, if you have poor skin conditions like acne because you eat too much oily food, getting pimple cream is a waste of time; you need to address the consumption of oily food first.

What are they going to do at music festivals? When you are bopping to the dance music or rocking to punk rock music, will you have a mug in your hand instead of paper cups?

The whole strategy seems rather confused.

Dealing with stress

Stress is an unavoidable part of life. Unfortunately, we cannot escape to a situation without any stress and still remain a part of the social fabric of society. Society is full of stimuli, most of which imposes on us and forces us to respond. Being able to respond correctly is a sign of maturity on our part.

We experience stress because we are in new situations that we have not quite known fully yet how to respond. For example, if a work colleague says something unkind to us, whether inadvertently or otherwise, we may not have the experience or the knowledge yet to know whether to speak harshly in return, to ignore it, or have the words to rebuke yet in a manner that does not seem anti-social. And that lack of awareness causes us, when we rethink the events over and over again, a disconnect between what we feel and how we think we should act and it causes stress.

There are some that claim that if we shut ourselves off from society we would be rid of stress and that would allow us to function better. If you think about it, that could only end up being a cause of stress, because we would still need to remain in a social world – unless you had vast plots of land to grow your own food and could survive isolated. But even if you were comfortable with being on your own, you might find yourself going nuts with the silence around you, and it would not be good for your mental health.

What can you do when you are stressed? Investing in a skill is a good idea. You can take up candle-making, knitting, or join a choir. It may be said that the mental loops we run in our minds thinking over situations can be cleared and calmed by doing something physical, to bleed off the stress because any nervous energy is worked out of the system. You may even find it worthwhile to learn the piano or another musical instrument. According to a piano teacher in Crouch End adults learn faster and it is not necessarily the case that if you missed the boat as a child, you will progress at a slower rate. In fact, your experience and maturity will help you grasp concepts quicker, and the confidence and joy it gives you may give you an outlet for your stress.

If you suffer from stress, you don’t necessarily have to sit in silence and wait to burn it off. You can take action to deal with it. Learning a new skill can distract from the worrying situation at hand and give you an outlet for your frustration.

New Beginnings

A new beginning causes disruption to the status quo. It causes change. And sometimes the change is welcome. Sometimes it is not. Sometimes it causes uncertainty and stress because we have not grapsed the situation fully yet and our minds go crazy at the lack of control.

To be human is to want control. While control varies from different people, ultimately control gives us a sense of confidence, of certainty that things are going right and that we are in charge. It is being in charge of our lives that we ultimately seek.

But change is not necessarily bad because it throws control into havoc, however mildly. It pushes us out of our comfort zone so that we find that when we have adapted, we are in greater control because we have adjusted to and assimilated the thing that we were fearing the most.

So while it may be difficult for us to realise this, embracing change and new things is necessary. It opens up new avenues and mindsets. It gives us more awareness of the things around us instead of trapping us in daily routine.

SO let’s embrace change for what it is.

Obsession

“If tomorrow, women woke up and decided they really liked their bodies, just think how many industries would go out of business.”

Ah, women. While the above statement is written tongue in cheek, not many of us can truly accept ourselves as we are, and there is always one thing – at least – about our bodies we don’t like. But that isn’t necessarily a wrong trait to have. Look at it from the bright side. It means we are not content, yes, but it also means we don’t just accept things for the way they are and are always striving to improve them. In other facets of life, that may be perceived as an advantage.

Women have a slight obsession with the way they look. Is that a problem? No, its an evolved trait. Centuries ago women realised that their way to rising social status depended on snagging a high power mate, and by appealing to his inner senses, his drive. And so began the obsession to look good, because the more better looking a woman was, the more opportunities presented themselves, giving her the choice and power to pick, instead of being just submissively chosen by a sole mate.

Now of course in the current modern world, the role of women has changed. Women don’t just stay at home and produce children, they actually go out to work as hard as their male spouses, while continuing to manage the household. The social and economic role of women has changed, but that doesn’t mean you can just change evolutionary traits in a generation.

But don’t just tick women off for being obsessed with their bodies. What about men? They want to have muscles and look good. As with evolution, men with the biggest bodies were deemed to have the most strength and hence seen as able to hunt and provide for their families. Or they would work the field (a bit low status though). Or they could be soldiers, gladiators and knights, or lords. Men nowadays are equally obsessed with their bodies. They lift weights, eat protein, some take so-called legal (not really) steriods. Men are equally obsessed as women about the way they look. A man’s role as sole breadwinner may have changed with time, but his evolutionary bias is still present in some form.

Consider this statement:
“If tomorrow, men woke up and decided they really liked their bodies, just think how many industries would go out of business.”

The gym industry would.
The protein industry would.
The male beauty industry would.

And all those industries, that cater to men and women both wanting to look good, would all collapse.

Don’t begrudge women for their obsession with looks. Men are just as bad.

The power of positive interactions

Encouragement is awesome. Think about it. It has the capacity to lift a man’s or a woman’s shoulders. To breathe fresh air into the fading embers of a smoldering dream. To actually change the course of another human being’s day, week, or life.

Charles Swindoll

How often do you encourage your children? How often do we speak positively to them? Perhaps it might be a good experiment – to note how many times you speak positively to them, and how many times you don’t.

Often we forget that children are little human beings and who respond positively to things, who react better to words of good spirit rather than imperative instructions. “Don’t do this! Don’t touch that! Stop it!” are words we more commonly hear in the interactions with our younger partners in life.

It doesn’t necessarily mean we need to molly-coddle them or baby them. Nor does it mean a lack of discipline. But we can try to make our first interactions or instructions when it comes to a task a more positive one – “Let’s try to do this” – and seek to encourage them to try; to try to do good, to behave well, rather than use the threat of punishment as motivation. Speaking and working positively also encourages a child to try – an important life skill for the future.

Positive and Negative Stress

So I haven’t posted for a long time – but life has been busy and stressful – which leads me to my latest topic.

Stress is a serious problem. And we are the only ones who can solve it. As much as we would like our workplaces to hire more staff, fire all the difficult people, and give us more time off and better pay, it’s not going to happen. Work will always have some element of stress, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We need some level of stress to help us feel motivated and get work done. This is called eustress or “good stress”. We don’t want to eliminate this energizing stress at work because it keeps us engaged. In contrast, we do want to reduce the negative stress that work generates. Often good stress can shift into negative stress when there is too much of it. It’s great to have a project to work on and deadlines to work to, but it’s not so great to have five projects to work on and five impossible deadlines to meet.

Identify what your stress triggers are as well as what gives you energy. I love autonomy, creative work, helping people, and getting things done. These things make me feel energized and engaged. I dislike and am not very good at paperwork, logistics, or anything to do with technology. I can’t avoid those tasks as they are part of my job, but I can minimize how much time I spend on them. I lasted three months in a job as a receptionist because every task that the job required wasn’t a strength of mine. I didn’t enjoy what I was doing or the environment I was working in – everyone else was stressed out too. I quit, went back to school and found a different job. My new job was a better fit for my natural strengths and was far more satisfying.

It can be terrifying to quit but it’s worth it to find a job that is right for you. If you have trouble identifying what your strengths and passions are, an excellent and affordable tool to help you do so is the Gallup Strengthsfinder. It’s based on research, accurate and affordable.

Knowing your strengths and passions, and working with them, can significantly reduce your negative stress and increase your positive eustress. We need to pay more attention to our workloads and notice when our “eustress” starts tipping over into stress. Ideally, we want to pull it back as soon as we notice signs that we are feeling stressed out or anxious. The sooner we become aware of this shift, and seek to balance the situation, the easier it is to manage.

Most of us know our individual signs of a rising stress level – a kink in the neck, impatience, irritability, difficulty falling asleep, feeling cranky, or frequent headaches. Learn your stress signs, and when you start to see them, do everything you can to reduce your stress. Unfortunately, many people let their stress pile up and then they end up burned out and exhausted. There are negative consequences of ignoring your stress, including major health issues, relationship breakdown and job loss.

Working more than 10 hours a day is associated with a 60 percent jump in risk of cardiovascular issues. 10 percent of those working 50 to 60 hours report relationship problems; the rate increases to 30 percent for those working more than 60 hours. Working more than 40 hours a week is associated with increased alcohol and tobacco consumption, as well as unhealthy weight gain in men and depression in women. Little productive work occurs after 50 hours per week.

Nothing is worth compromising our health or our relationships. It’s crucial that we recognise stress and act to reduce it, as soon as we notice that it is impacting us.

Work is only one element of life, and not the most important one. As one of my clients so eloquently put it, you can always find another job but you only have one family.

There are many sources of workplace stress: feeling overwhelmed, feeling disempowered, a lack of clear roles and expectations, an unrealistic workload, workplace politics and interpersonal conflict. It’s unlikely that you are going to eliminate all of these sources of negative stress. That is simply reality. Rather than hoping for some fantasy world where there is no stress, what we need are tools to manage these stressors so they don’t have as much impact on us.

If you find yourself dealing with overwhelming stress, speak to someone. A listening ear is always helpful and can provide advice or an alternative view to things.

Gender inequalities in the workplace are perpetuated from childhood

Women’s careers aren’t just in the ether, they’re on the front pages of newspapers, inside glossy magazines, on the radio, across the internet and they’re being discussed on a daily basis in governments all around the world. It’s amazing that there’s so much buzz around women and careers; people are really talking about women’s rights at work, and attitudes are changing.

Things are getting really exciting for women at work. Sure, if you look at gender-split job statistics, the situation is pretty much as depressing as it’s ever been. But – BIG BUT – the John stat doesn’t account for what’s swirling around the media, and is inside the meeting rooms and minds of career folk (women and men) across the globe. Women have been legally entitled to the same respect, pay and job titles as our male friends and peers for many years and slowly but surely the reality is catching up with the legal framework. We want equality, but we want something more than that too: we want to stay uniquely and wonderfully female. The same pay, yes, opportunities, of course, but we don’t want to have to abandon our femininity at the office revolving door. For us, gender parity does not imply gender uniformity.

While everyone deserves to be received and treated equally at work, women must do it their own way, because being a woman is part of what makes you, you. The side-by-side vision of a naked female and a naked male validates the simple fact of life: we are different versions of the same species. There’s the obvious stuff and then there are the mysterious workings inside our heads. Our brain is arguably the most important thing about us. It makes us human and is the instigator of everything that we think and do. It’s our life control centre, and science tells us that for men and women there are brain wiring variations.

In the past, we’ve been wedded to the notion that men have better connectivity within each hemisphere, whilst women have better connectivity between the hemispheres. In an everyday sense, this explained why men excelled at spatial awareness and women at social cognition and multitasking. Neuroscience is notoriously complex but the latest large-scale research shows that gender brain differences may not be as clear-cut as we were led to believe. While some recent studies suggest no significant difference in crucial parts of the brain at all, the most recent research leads to the centre of the brain – the hippocampus, the part associated with emotion and memory. This is usually larger in men than women, but, without wanting to get too technical, some women have a larger, more male-style hippocampus and some men have one that is smaller and more female in style. This suggests the idea of a continuum of femaleness to maleness for the entire brain. Scientists found that the majority of the brains studied were a mosaic of male and female structures, meaning there is no one type of male or female brain.

I like this because it validates our own stance of overlap. The most successful person in the workplace, research says, is the woman who retains her female brain but who isn’t afraid to borrow some stereotypically male traits when the opportunity requires it. Success isn’t about pitting yourself against a man, it’s about learning to be your best – it’s about finding your place on the continuum and making it rock. Interestingly, brains aren’t fixed organs, they are constantly evolving and changing as we age, depending on how we use them. Neuroplasticity, as it is called, in part explains why little girls end up studying languages and the arts and little boys get filtered into STEM (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects that frequently lead to more lucrative careers. Repetition reinforces the networks within our brains: baby girls and baby boys might start off with exactly the same brain software, but over time, as we unwittingly encourage boys towards Lego and trucks and girls into social situations that require capable communication skills, the map of association in our childhood brains is sculpted so that the function of the hardware is constantly altered by experience. We lead our girls to dolls and our boys to the top of trees, and then we wonder why society ends up treating women and men differently.

Hormones also play a part in this lifelong divide, as does parental nurture. More interestingly, though, this has a much more subtle impact – it defines what we believe about ourselves. We self-stereotype against ourselves as women, and then we live up to these restrictions.

There is a recent study using Asian-American women that perfectly illustrates the point. The group was divided and set a maths test. Just before the test commenced, half of the group were reminded that they were Asian, invoking the stereotype of Asians having a high maths ability. This half did better in the test. However, when they were reminded of being female (which invokes the stereotype of poor maths performance), they scored lower on the test than the control group. The point is that while men do tend to outperform women in assessments of mathematic ability, for example using the test results of American SATs exams, in reality women aren’t actually worse at maths (see here), we’re just stereotyped into thinking that way.

In the workplace, this presents as women not reaching for leadership positions, or being too conservative in their entrepreneurial expectations for the simple reason that we believe that we don’t belong at the top. We aren’t all professors in waiting, but we should all be able to imagine ourselves where we really want to be at work. Not where society or our stereotyped brains expect us to land. Your career brain, the one you rely on to muster confidence, the one that assists you in awkward networking situations, pay negotiations and everything else in between, may not currently be on your side and thats in part due to stereotyping and nurture. When you know the reasoning behind where your brain is at, it allows you to make positive changes to redirect those channels – to change the hardware, so that your brain (your unconscious thinking) is aligned to your reach-for-the-stars career dreams.