Underdog

I’m one of those ‘big tournament’ football fans.  I pay scant attention to the beautiful game most of the time – but come  the Euro’s or World Cup and I become an instant expert.

Underdog1In my youth I was a regular as Barnsley FC, never missed a home or away game, but I felt the soul drained out of the game as the money poured in.  So it’s natural that I still root for the plucky underdog, winning by dint of sheer effort and team spirit.

Yes I’m all for the underdog.  But actually as an impartial observer I prefer a bit of excitement and flair, watching 11 defenders dourly defending a 0-0 scoreline soon bores.

And flair and excitement is all right until I have something invested in the game. Then I want the reliability of steady, assured results. Solid and unremarkable keeps my stress levels down. Once I can rely on the result then a bit of flair is welcome, even encouraged, but get the result first.

Last season saw Leicester City win the Premiership.  A lot was written about team spirit and the lack of ego’s.  They worked as a unit and reaped the success.  But I suppose being owned by a Thai businessman who has invested heavily in the infrastructure can’t have hurt.

At the Euro’s Iceland are confounding the pundits.  A nation with a population the size of Coventry, a ridiculously harsh climate and no professional football clubs may yet get through to the knockout stages.  An Icelandic male has a 1 in 2000 chance of making the team.  Talk about plucky underdogs, proudly representing their nation and playing with heart and soul as a team.  But I suspect that a 15 year long programme of investing in all weather pitches and professional coaching has also had a lot to do with it.

Passion alone is not enough and as some of the more established Nations demonstrate neither is talent. Talent has to apply itself to deliver great results. To be successful you need both, along with a third catalysing ingredient – Leadership.  Football knows this well, which is why managers are so regularly hired and fired.  A change of leader changes the culture which changes the results.  For better or worse.

Yes, you need TLC.  Talent, Leadership and Culture.  Invest in the infrastructure and your people to grow Talent.  Invest in Leadership to create and role model the Culture that engages talent and together delivers great results.

And on that basis you’ve always got to fancy the Germans.

“Underdog”

Kill me if you dare, hold my head up everywhere
Keep myself right on this train
I’m the underdog, live my life on a lullaby
Keep myself riding on this train
Keep myself riding on this train

Love in Technicolor sprayed out on walls
Well, I’ve been pounding at the pavement till there’s nothing at all
I got my cloak and dagger in a bar room brawl
See the local loves a fighter, loves a winner to fall

Feels like I’m lost in a moment
I’m always losing to win
Can’t get away from the moment
Seems like it’s time to begin

Kasabian

 

It’s (hardly) Rock’n’Roll, but I choose to like it

UnknownI often spend months on end working away from home and staying in a budget hotel chain Monday to Friday. This statement alone elicits different responses. Some think that this is quite nice: no household chores; no cooking; no familial responsibilities. A strange new place to explore and the freedom to do exactly as you please. Others think that this is quite unpleasant: dining out at tables for one; not seeing loved ones; spending evenings in a bland room with only a small television set for company. A solitary and lonely existence.

Both viewpoints are of course completely valid. And completely wrong.

As I reflect back I can see that, especially in the early days, there were times when I felt aggrieved that I was obliged to be away, I missed family and friends and as a consequence became quite withdrawn and miserable. I ate alone in anonymous hotel restaurants, watched television in my room and counted the hours down to Friday.

More recently I’ve sought out colleagues to meet in the evening, avoided bland hotels and found family run eateries. I’ve made an effort to be more than a passing visitor and been rewarded with lasting friendships.

Often I use the evenings to run and swim, combating the tendency to gain weight when living this way. The extra time in the pool may not make me a great swimmer but I am undoubtedly improving. My runs let me discover a neighbourhood and help me feel a connection to this new place.

And on those evenings when I am alone with nothing to do I relish the prospect of reading a novel with a beer before an early night. Hardly Rock and Roll but I like it.

The only thing that has really changed is my attitude. I still miss my family, but being miserable makes it worse not better. I still crave company, but sitting alone in a room makes social interaction less likely. I still look forward to Thursday evening when I can pack my bag ready to go home on the Friday, but counting the hours down makes them pass no faster.

It’s all about choice. So much of life is, don’t you think?

I said can’t you see that this old boy has been a lonely?
If I could stick a knife in my heart
Suicide right on stage
Would it be enough for your teenage lust
Would it help to ease the pain? Ease your brain?
If I could dig down deep in my heart
Feelings would flood on the page
Would it satisfy ya, would it slide on by ya
Would ya think the boy’s insane? He’s insane
I said I know it’s only rock ‘n roll but I like it
I said I know it’s only rock’n roll but I like it, like it, yes, I do
Oh, well, I like it, I like it, I like it

It’s only rock’n’roll (but I like it) – Rolling Stones

About Today

imagesI am not great at endings.  I hadn’t really thought much about this until Charlotte Sills at Ashridge raised the topic of managing endings in a coaching or counselling context.

Reflecting on this it would seem that I have some ‘unfinished business’ (see I was paying attention).  It’s no big deal, I have a tendency to avoid  ‘endings’. And, sometimes, thinking about past ‘endings’, I get the feeling that somehow I’ve forgotten something.

I recently finished a spell as an interim HR Director.  Recalling that session at Ashridge I re-read the chapter in Charlotte’s excellent Skills in Gestalt Counselling regarding endings, determined not to repeat past mistakes.

The key is to recognise the ending for what it is.  Sloping off with no marking of the event diminishes it and agreeing that you’ll be back soon (when everyone knows you won’t be) denies it.  Of course it may be appropriate to request or offer ongoing support and leave the door open for future relationships, but often this is simply a form of avoidance.

I decided that I’d make this ending ‘About Today’, not a raking over of the past or crystal ball gazing into the future.  We’d just have a day that was my last and clearly mark it as such.

We had a small team lunch, shared a few stories – nothing too serious.  Then we went back to work and I tidied up a few loose ends before leaving.  Perhaps we’ll keep in touch and maybe I’ll be back.  I’d like that.  But if not we’ll all be fine.

And yes even though it was very low key I’m pretty sure I didn’t forget anything.

Today you were far away
and I didn’t ask you why
What could I say
I was far away
You just walked away
and I just watched you
What could I say

How close am I to losing you

Tonight you just close your eyes
and I just watch you
slip away

About Today – The National

Who’s got a match?

matchIslamic State are sweeping across the Middle East, Ebola rages across parts of Africa, there are signs we are headed for a global economic slowdown, climate change seems unstoppable, UKIP have an elected MP, I think I am getting a bit of a sniffle…I could go on.

Recently I found myself raging at the radio and television as crisis after crisis unfolds and our collective response appears to be inadequate yet again.  I know that anger is a useless emotion and hurling insults at politicians on the television only serves to increase my own stress levels (and make me appear more than slightly unhinged).  I know that simply feeling overcome with sadness for the victims of war, disease and poverty achieves precisely nothing other than upsetting my own emotional well being.

And yet it’s all so complicated and so overwhelming that there is nothing an individual can do, is there?

Thinking about this I was reminded of an old Quaker saying:

“It is better to light one small candle than rage against the darkness”.

Of course, but where is the candle? And who’s got a match?

Again an old favourite came to mind – Stephen Covey, in his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People encourages us to only focus on concerns that we have control over. He outlines the “circle of concerns” as all of the things that worry us – and then a smaller “circle of influence” (within the larger “circle of concerns”) that only contains things that we can actually control.
His point is that we should only spend our energy on stuff that we can do something about. Focus only on problems that lie within your “circle of influence.”

By attempting to address every “concern” your energy becomes dissipated and is wasted as you start to obsess over details and situations that are beyond your control. Ultimately, you achieve nothing.

Does this mean that we should do nothing about these complex global issues and ignore them?  I don’t believe so.  My personal view is that we should stop shouting at the television and instead identify some tangible actions, within our control.  Worried about global warming?  Then lobby your MP, drive less, invest in renewable energy.  Taking small actions is likely to expand your circle of influence, so you can take ever bigger steps.

Identifying and taking tangible actions an individual can take to address these huge issues is not always easy, but it beats impotent raging.

Now, who’s got a match?

Who’s got a match I’ve got the petrol to set it to
I know I shouldn’t have trusted you
It’s making me tense when you’re telling me
It’s just the facts that don’t compute the classic way
I guess I’m wrong again anyway

I’m a fire and I’ll burn burn burn tonight
I’m a fire and I’ll burn burn burn tonight…

Biffy Clyro – Who’s got a match?

Silver Lining

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These days I am spared the daily commute into London.  The occasional trips I now make serve to remind me that life is better without the 7.10 am from Swindon, even when things run smoothly.

Last week I only had to make the one trip. An 11.00 am meeting followed by lunch meant I could avoid the rush and get the first off peak train.   On my way to the station I heard on the car radio that there were problems but at the station I was assured that the 8.59 and 9.11 would be on time and the issues were resolved – they were just clearing up the backlog of trains.  So I cheerfully bought a ticket and presently got on the train which did indeed leave on time.

When we did slowly come to a halt I accepted that this was to be expected and there was little point in raging or stressing.  I had half an hour cushion in any case.

Eventually the train Supervisor made an announcement.

 On behalf of First Great Western I apologise for the slow running of this service.  This is due to congestion caused by an earlier closure of the line because of a fatality.  The line is now open but due to the backlog of trains we can expect a delay.  I’ll keep you updated.

It’s worth pausing to reflect on the cause of the problems – a suicide in Slough.  Not that long ago I might have moaned at how selfish it was to hurl yourself in front of a speeding express train during rush hour.  Now I am genuinely saddened that someone was driven to the point where suicide felt like their best option, to a point where they truly believed that their friends and family would be better off without them.  If you have ever stood close to a passing train you will realise that throwing yourself in front of it must take a huge effort of will, it isn’t a cry for help it’s a desire for oblivion.  I spare a thought too for the driver, powerless yet left with truly horrific memories and often feelings of guilt.

We did move forward very slowly.  My 30 minute cushion had been eroded but my client was understanding and we exchanged emails joking about my OCD tendencies when it comes to timeliness. Then we picked up speed and moved on, to palpable relief in the carriage.

Then we stopped again.   The next announcement came

 …All lines are now open, there is congestion due to a backlog of trains.  All platforms at Paddington are full but as trains are coming out of the station they are freeing up platforms…

Surely that must mean we’d soon be moving on?  Once again there was a flurry of texting, but I sensed a general feeling of acceptance.  The issue was not one created by First Great Western and certainly not by the train crew who were busy helping passengers who had onward connections to make.

However we stayed where we were for a long, long time.

Around an hour after the scheduled arrival time I was reflecting on the stoic way that the passengers were waiting.  I couldn’t hear any angry complaints, most phone calls I overheard made light of it and that traditional British characteristic of smiling in adversity was coming to the fore.  Strangers were even talking, breaking the cardinal rule of public transport in and around London – under no circumstances must eye contact be made with fellow passengers.

A further announcement came

Once again I apologise for the delay to this service due to an earlier fatality. There is congestion getting into Paddington station. All the platforms are full and we are fourth in the queue.  Unfortunately a fire alarm has now been triggered and the station has been evacuated.  Therefore there can be no movement until that is resolved…

I was, I admit, getting a bit stressy.  Being over an hour late for an hour and a half meeting was bad form.  Worse still my client confessed that he had nearly asked to switch the venue but left it in the City as it was easier for me.  However I was deliberately trying to see the positives in the situation and not allow this to ruin my day.  It was important that when I did get to my client I was on good form.  Likewise the rest of the carriage seemed to be bearing up and the good old ‘blitz spirit’ was coming out in force.

Then the next announcement came.

We apologise for the continuing delay to this service.   I am pleased to say that the station has now re-opened.

Unfortunately due to the combination of issues many trains and crews have been displaced and are not where they should be.  Crews are only allowed to work for a given period before taking a break.  Many crews have reached that limit and so there is now a shortage of crews to move trains out of the station.  Therefore we are now waiting for fresh crews to come, or the break period to be over before trains can be moved and free up platforms.

For most people on the train that seemed to be the straw that broke them.  No longer was it ‘one of those things’ it was now ‘a bloody shambles’.  Train crew became ‘jobs worth’s’ in that instant.

I started to smile because it occurred to me I had found the silver lining.  Here was a clear demonstration that in being open and honest in his communication the train Supervisor had initially won the support of most passengers – but the last disclosure was a step too far.  It seems that generally being open pays off and sometimes discretion really is advisable.

The trick seems to be knowing when to fully disclose and when to be more circumspect.

 

PS  I was very late for my meeting but my client worked round it and we still managed a pleasant lunch.

PPS I tried to get to Town today and left very early to avoid a repeat. Arriving at the station there were  obvious problems.  There was a train at the platform and another outside the station.  The board simply said delays and suggested that slightly later trains were on time. I later discovered that due to a broken down freight train all services were in fact suspended.  After 30 minutes of waiting staff did finally advise us that there was little prospect of movement for at least another hour, then there might be slow running ‘due to congestion’.  Being a quick learner I took a refund on my ticket and am sat writing this in my sunny garden, another silver lining.

And it’s hi-ho silver lining
And away you go now, baby
I see your sun is shining
But I won’t make a fuss
Though it’s obvious

Hi Ho Silver Lining – Jeff Beck

Different People

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We’ve recently returned from holiday. As a family one of our favourite things is people watching and a holiday provides the perfect blend of time and interesting people to watch. I say interesting, all people are fascinating of course and all human life was there. Or at least that slim section of life that can both afford and choose to lie by a pool in the Mediterranean.

There was this one guy, big, overweight, bald headed, no neck and tattoos including a crude England (or should that be Engerland?) flag across his distended gut.  He looked like a builder who had done well, you could imagine him on the terraces roaring the team on.  He spent all day from around 8.00 am under an umbrella, head on a pillow.  He was a hard man for sure, no one was going to invade his space. I wondered how he felt about being surrounded by well heeled Germans and Russians.  Not my kind of guy looking like that.

One guy spent most of the day on his laptop. He lay by the pool tapping away on the laptop or yelling at people down the phone while his younger ‘trophy wife’ baked in the sun.  It was clear that he was utterly indispensable (or he had hired a bunch of muppets and/or was unable to delegate). Twice a day he would swim a lap of the pool with his partner before she went and brought him a cocktail and he returned to his laptop. In his Vilebrequin shorts and designer sunnies he was making sure that we all knew who was the alpha male. I wondered how his partner felt about the lack of attention. Again not my kind of guy behaving like that.

Then there was this guy who had the most loving and tender conversation with his daughter.  He was a bit loud and then repeated it all to his partner (presumably not the mother from the way it sounded).  They were arranging to meet up and he sounded like a truly loving father.  More like my kind of guy expressing feelings like that.

As I said all human life.  And these three blokes all came together – in the same body.  Which just goes to show that appearances can be deceptive, first and even second impressions don’t tell the full story.

Different person, different argument
In my shadow, no more compliments
One more person breaking the rules again
I’m still waiting for someone else to join in

Stand where the others stand
We’re alive tonight
Land where the others land
We’re alive tonight

Different People  – Biffy Clyro

Dog new tricks

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

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But you can.  Easily. Without  even meaning to sometimes.  I have the very literal proof.  My geriatric labrador, jake, is, mainly, a well behaved creature.  For thirteen and a half years he has had the same food every day.  He rarely gets fed treats from the table or has doggy treats outside of his meals.   Therefore, unlike many pets, he was  never overweight and rarely showed too much interest in our food (well – for a labrador).

Sadly he has been off his food recently.  So we have been trying to tempt him with all sorts of tidbits.  Suddenly he get’s toast crusts, plates of vegetables, scrambled eggs, cheese – anything to stop his falling weight.  And within the space of a few weeks he now ‘begs’ at the table at every meal.  He pesters for scraps whatever it is we are eating.  And of course we indulge him because, well to be honest we all know where this has to end.

I did wonder what would happen if the vet suddenly found the miracle cure for arthritis, liver disease, and ageing in dogs.  How long would it take to re-establish the ‘no scrounging’ behaviour?  I suspect that given the amount of reinforcement he has had recently (weetabix, followed by toast crusts and milky tea for breakfast today instead of dried dog food for example) it might be quite a task.

Reflecting on this there are a number of lessons:

  • Old dogs readily learn – so what’s my excuse?
  • It’s easy to create new patterns of behaviour – so be very careful with the behaviours you reinforce, or even just tolerate.
  • And, of course, there’s no harm in indulging an old dog.  life really is too short.

I wish I had not woke up today
Everyone mistakes the things you say
Take the simple truth and
Twist it all around
Make it sound important
Make it seem profound

Dog New Tricks – Garbage