Should Versus Could

Isn’t COULD a great word?  I could eat some ice-cream, I could change career, I could find a rule of three to hammer home this point comically, but I don’t have to, it’s my choice.

What about SHOULD?  I should be checking my work emails.  I should eat healthier.  I should have started writing this article before 2am… 

COULD is full of possibility, whereas SHOULD is full of responsibility. 

Boss telling Mum to work smarter Mum thinks: I COULD tell him where to stick this job... But I SHOULD probably wait until I've found alternative employment.

We can’t live without SHOULD entirely, because ultimately it is just a more polite version of MUST, and as adults there are things we must do to make our lives, our relationships, and our society work. 

Little boy: I SHOULD wash my hands after using the toilet. Mum: Yes, but DID you?!

However, some of us add in more SHOULDs than are good for us.  Some of us see SHOULDs where COULDs should be. 

1st: I SHOULD have done better. 2nd: I SHOULD be stronger. 3rd in catsuit: I SHOULD be a Kardashian!

Worse, some people like to try and wrongly impose their SHOULDs on others.

Grandad: You SHOULD be more like me. Stop worrying about this Health and Safety nonsense... Grandad is wearing an eye-patch and the door handle is hanging precariously at eye-level

It’s not a problem I’ve suffered from recently, in fact many people who know me would argue that I may have dropped a few more SHOULDs than I should have – but then I take absolutely no notice of other people’s SHOULDs anymore, and I’d recommend you could try doing that too.

Grandad continues: ...but you SHOULD always put the milk in first. Grandson: Nope, it's personal preference. Also let's remove these pointy things from eye-level! (taking down dangerous door handle)

When I was younger I listened to too many SHOULDs.  I thought that I should be the same as everyone else.  I thought that I should fit in, and I thought that I should work on changing the things about me which were different to others.

People who live their lives listening to every SHOULD that they come across aren’t truly free to live their own lives, but that doesn’t mean they should do things differently, it just means that they could do things differently. 

Sad in dressing gown: I SHOULD do some exercise. Happy in jeans and trying out a hula-hoop "I COULD do some exercise".

It is quite normal and understandable to let historic SHOULDs rule your world, everyone does sometimes, but if you want to you could try a new thing too, where sometimes you replace should with could, and live life the way you choose.

Do Something

“Do Something” sounds like an 80s film starring John Cusack, but you’re thinking of Say Anything – which is a great film – but what I want to talk about is how important it is to actually DO something.

Say Anything Parody - Turn that music off and get a job so I don't have to keep explaining you to my Dad!

Despite the film reference and the above picture I’m not saying you must do something meaningful with your life, like get an important job or track down the girl of your dreams; I’m simply saying that the only way forward in life is to take ACTION of some kind, rather than just spend forever planning, and pondering possible outcomes.

Quote - The Journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." - Lao-Tze

This proverb is clearly saying that no matter how long the journey, you’ll never get to your destination if you don’t take that first step. 

To be honest, I always found it uninspiring because I couldn’t think of a journey of a thousand miles that I wanted to take – I’m not much of walker; I usually only get exercise by accident, if at all.

Mum running after bus shouting "Wait!!! ...This isn't my stop!"

I’m a massive hypocrite too because I am the actual QUEEN of prevarication.  I like nothing better than discussing every possible hypothetical component of a task to effectively delay starting it, but that’s why I’m writing this blog, because I want you both to be BETTER at life than me.

I talked about starting this blog for a couple of years before actually doing it – I let little things, like not knowing how the hell to write a blog, or get it hosted, or administer it, put me off, and yet having started it here I am, still barely knowing any of that, but I’m doing it, and doing it has been so much fun and taught me so much.

Mum shouting at screen "New Edit too?! Aw man, the only Guttenburg I know about is Steve!

As Grandad’s DNA is in your genes I should also mention that the best way forward in life is a COMBINATION of planning, pondering outcomes AND action, but without action there can be no progress.  (Though without any planning, and pondering outcomes, that progress might be minimal or dangerous…)

Grandad El Paso driving car towards a rickety bridge over crocodile infested waters "Don't worry, I know a short-cut!"

We all have times in our life where we want to make a change.  Sometimes we don’t even know what that change is, just that we wish things were different.  In most cases we won’t know how to make a change, because, by it’s very nature, a change is different to anything we are familiar with.

Mum looking at ipad "This new job sounds perfect for me! If only I were qualified to do it, or had any experience of whether or not I'd enjoy it..."

For this specific problem Richard Alderson of Careershifters has some great advice in this fabulous article:-  https://www.careershifters.org/expert-advice/how-to-change-career-when-you-have-no-idea-what-youre-doing  Here he explains that the best way to find out more about a career that interests you is networking, prior to taking steps towards it.

This lack of knowledge about what a change may bring can leave us stuck in a frustrated cycle of wishing for change without being able to affect change in any way for fear of causing the wrong kind of change.

We can’t always know what the outcome of making a change will be.  It may well be worse than what we make the change from, so it makes sense not to change too big too soon. 

However, unless we make a change of some kind, NOTHING will change.  So if you’re unhappy, take baby-steps if you need to but, introduce some change.

 

Sledging With Grandad El Paso

As it’s getting close to Christmas I thought it might be nice to tell a seasonal story and, also explain how (in a moment of sleep-deprived insanity) I once let Grandad El Paso take you sledging.  

Since the moment you were born Grandad has been asking to take you to places.  I have resisted on the basis that, as we all know, health and safety is a concept he is wholly unfamiliar with.

Angry Mum holding baby: No, you are not taking him to the zoo to see the mother-loving tigers! Angry Grandad: He's ten weeks old, when are you gonna cut the apron-strings?!

I had finally run out of plausible excuses to stop him and in a moment of weakness I did agree to the seemingly small request to take you sledging. 

Of course before Grandad arrived I grabbed you, Thing 1, by the lapels of your jacket and sinisterly pleaded into your 7 year-old ear:-

Remember, this is GRANDAD! YOU have to be the grown-up for the next hour!

When you recount this part of the story to your therapist later in life I want you to remember that lack of sleep and flu will do funny things to parents, and that I love you both very much.

Amazingly the sledging itself went fabulously and I got both of my children back in one piece afterwards (to be fair, Current-Step-Grandma Liz was on hand to supervise so it wasn’t total insanity to let you go). 

The problem occurred about four months later when Grandad made his next visit (because we’re close like that) and that was when he finally let me know what you had said to him that day.  

Grandad had decided to bring you back early in an effort to look responsible, or possibly because a more urgent appointment came up, and on the way home he questioned you about how it had gone. 

That was good fun wasn't it? Grandad's looked after you well hasn't he? Sleeping step-grandma passed out in the snow behind him.

Unfortunately, it seems you MAY have been listening during a few of my less than complimentary conversations about Grandad…

You did a great job Grandad! ...Not like when Mummy and Auntie Kate were little and you left them watching horror movies whilst you went out to the pub.

An indignant Grandad explained this to me in front of Current-Step-Grandma-Liz; presumably in the hope that I would somehow exonerate him of the accusation.  Unfortunately I was unable to do so because

(a) it was 100% true 

(b) I’m still quite bitter about it and 

(c) it really serves as extra ammunition in my arguments with him over why he can’t usually have unsupervised access to his Grandchildren.

Grandad says Pfft, I don't remember that! I never had horror movies! Mum: To be fair, they weren't your films, you'd hired them especially for us.

I had to remind Grandad that what had actually happened was in a bid to impress a random stranger (as Grandad is prone to want to do) he had hired us two incredibly age-inappropriate horror films.

Grandad: My daughters are about your age, give me something cool 'n' edgy. cos that's how I roll. Video guy: Whatever Dude!

Grandad continued with his own version of reality, which I can only assume is the truth, in the parallel universe he inhabits.

Grandad says Most teenagers would appreciate how cool I was for letting you watch those videos. Angry Mum: We were 12!

Luckily, he changed the subject at that point and hasn’t brought it up since, so hopefully he’s filed it in that large box in his head labelled “We shall never speak of this again”.

So, if you ever look back and wonder why you only ever went sledging with Grandad El Paso the once, now you know.

 

How to Boss Your Boss

Isn’t it annoying when you ask your boss at work for something completely reasonable and they reply with a big fat unnecessary “NO”?

Now to be clear I’m not talking about a reasonable “no”, like that time I asked to take compassionate leave because my favourite character on Game of Thrones died…

But we need today off!  He knew nothing!  NO!

The situation I’m talking about has more of a 9 to 5 “that man is out to get you” kind of a vibe to it.   I used to have a boss who said “no” to everything, simply because he didn’t know enough about the work we did to say “yes” to anything. 

He was a perfect example of someone who had been promoted above his abilities and couldn’t cope – I believe the technical term is “a dumbass”.  

This situation was very frustrating because the workplace had become stuck in the past as a result of his reluctance to agree to make any changes.

This PC looks a little old, where's the screen?  It's a typewriter.  What's a PC?

One day (when I was definitely not moaning about this situation) a lovely wise colleague gave me some very useful advice; she said, TELL him that you are about to make a change, and STOP asking him if you CAN make a change.

Woman dressed as Yoda speaks Never ask your boss if do the thing you CAN, TELL him, going to do the thing, you ARE.

She explained that if I simply announced to him what I was doing, without phrasing it as a question, he literally couldn’t say “no”. 

To stop me doing the thing he would have to protest it, and to do that he’d need to come up with a valid reason for why I shouldn’t do it, which, thanks to his lack of knowledge, he absolutely never could do! 

As a result, with my new Jedi powers, work became a fabulous, progressive place. 

Woman tries to do an Obi-Wan on a security guard "You don't need to see my identification" he replies "I really do - this is a secure building, get your lanyard."

Of course it’s great to learn a new trick, and I loved my new ability to Derren Brown my way through life, but, as we all know, with great power comes great responsibility.  Literally, if you push for an action then you’re responsible if it goes wrong, so choose your moments carefully.

For example, I wouldn’t recommend using it to tell your boss and colleagues that you are taking the day off to watch a Star Trek marathon – I’m not saying I’ve never done it, just that, it’s a bad idea if you would like to keep your job.

I would also caution against using this too widely on family and friends.  Use it to stand up for yourself by all means:-

I am going to take a course in that thing you always refer to as a massive waste of time!

But NOT to put upon them:-

Granma banging in a For Sale sign after daughter demands childcare saying "I'm dropping the kids off with you for two hours cos they are a massive pain in my ass!"

I have had friends (and at least one relative you might know of) who have behaved this way and there is a reason I’m using the past tense here. 

People might find it hard to say “no” to a statement, but that doesn’t mean they won’t eventually find a way.  By the time I’ve fought through the frustration of being told what to do, I give a much firmer and final “no” than if they’d simply asked me nicely.

Remember to use any Jedi powers you master wisely.  If you don’t, then you’re not a Jedi, you’re a Sith (Star Wars bad guys).

So in summary, it’s ok to tell your boss what you’re going to do instead of asking, if you’re happy to take responsibility.  It’s ok to tell your friends and family what you’re going to do without asking, if it only affects you.  It’s NEVER ok to tell other people what they’re going to do FOR you, ever.

Brain Boxes

Ever wondered why it takes me half an hour to get your names right, even though you are my favourite people in the whole world?   Did you know that we keep all the names of our loved ones in one box in our brain?

Unfortunately, when you get to my age you lose the ability to search the box effectively and end up just pulling every name out until you get the right one.

It can be easy to put people in boxes (metaphorically-speaking obviously – physically doing so is actually quite hard, so don’t try it, you’ll put your back out). 

It’s even fairly natural to put people into these metaphorical boxes as it helps us to deal with them psychologically.

Though it is natural to categorise people, and can even be useful, there is an obvious down-side; the problem with putting people in boxes is that they don’t all belong in there. 

Also, in reality there is no such thing as a “type of person”.  I mean seriously, humans are so complex that even a Venn-diagram couldn’t accurately categorise a single Space Cowboy without looking like someone had gone mad with a Spirograph.

One of the reasons that you rarely get people in boxes together in real life is because we really are all so very different and unique (…and tricky to get into boxes, as I pointed out earlier).

Even worse, it seems that recently many people are inclined to do more than put people into boxes in their heads, they put them into bins.  Which is a thing I would strongly recommend you should NEVER do.

The world is currently full of groups that have designated themselves and others as US and THEM, some are political, some religious, some fandoms, some gendered, some racial.  Being alive is not a team sport so this should NOT be happening.

One thing most people can agree on is that the world is a big crazy mess at the moment, but I promise you, the way forward is not to pick teams, it’s to try to understand each other. 

I’m not saying people aren’t stupid; I’m saying calling them stupid won’t educate them.  If you want to change stupid, you need to have a conversation where you truly listen, recognise the stupid on your own side (because there WILL be some) and then try and move forward together.

If you look at history there is only one result of declaring a set of people as THEM, and it’s not a good one.  Before I go on, I need to also clarify that I’m not just talking about one benevolent group of people mis-labelled as THEM, I’m talking about ANYONE labelled as THEM.

Here’s the important bit, that giant box (or bin) of THEM only exists in someone’s head, nowhere else.  I’m not saying there aren’t people out there who might be at home in that box but I am saying that the numbers are wrong, because nowhere is there genuinely a large box of THEM. 

As much as it might pain us to realise this, humans are simply one large, messed up, argumentative, crazy crate of US.

The Greatest Love of All

“Be your own best friend” is great advice, but it does beg the question how would you get along with your best mate if you were to spend every single minute, of every single day with them?  No toilet breaks.  Every.  Waking.  Second.  With.  Them.

Spending an entire lifetime with anyone, from the minute you are born to the very last breath you take is never going to be a bump-free journey, there will be fights along the way, but if you make that person a firm friend it will go a lot smoother.

It is after all a unique situation; you are the only person that you have to spend your WHOLE life with.  Everyone else can ultimately be escaped from, even those that require a Sleeping-With-The-Enemy-style fake-your-own-death level of effort (but let’s not talk about Grandad again this week).

Fair’s fair, everybody already knows they SHOULD “love themselves”, SHOULD feel they’re “worth it” and SHOULD “be their own best friend” which can make you feel even more of a failure during those times when you find yourself difficult to be around.  With that in mind my aim here is to impart as many helpful tips as I can.

You might wonder what qualifies me to give this advice, and the simple answer is absolutely nothing, but equally there is NOTHING stopping me either. 

I don’t know if it just comes naturally to me, or if I watched too many episodes of the A-Team as a child, but I’m so supportive of myself that I would more accurately be described as “my own best-enabler”.

This is how most people’s inner critic sounds if they eat a biscuit when they should be on a diet:-

Whereas I’m more like:-

First tip, be gentle with yourself, start out slow by looking out for opportunities to either compliment or support yourself with kindness. 

If you wouldn’t say it to a friend, don’t say it to yourself.  Easy right?  Wrong.   It is actually easier to be critical than it is to be constructive so you’re going to have to put some effort in.  Look at the judges on any reality TV show, who looks like they’re working hardest Simon Cowell or Alesha Dixon?

Sometimes an easier way to deal with internal criticism is to think of it the other way around – what would you do if your best friend had just said that to you? 

I’ll level with you, I used to have a vicious inner critic but I didn’t like her so I stopped listening to her, not by ignoring what she said but by internally screaming “SHUT UP!” before she got her first word out.  It took a while but that b**ch backed the hell down eventually.

Remember that ALL human beings are both fabulous AND flawed, those are not separate groups.  Stop being so hard on yourself, and start defending yourself instead.

You will spend your entire life with YOU, right from the very start to the very end.  The only respite you will get from yourself is sleep, and during your twenties some bouts of alcohol-induced unconsciousness, so my advice is to make good friends with yourself early on if you can, but if you didn’t, it is NEVER too late to start.

Show More Than You Tell

There is a well-known writing mantra “show don’t tell” that applies equally well in life.  What you show people with your actions informs them about you far more than what you tell them about yourself.

Now just to be clear I’m not advocating for less talking, anyone who has met me knows that I will pretty much narrate my entire day to anyone who’ll listen, but what I am saying is people need to SEE who you are, as well as hear it.

Most people who care about each other, friends and relatives alike, show their respect for one another by consulting each other on matters than concern them both. 

It’s not always straightforward, admittedly. 

When arranging to meet up most people stipulate a few available dates.  Naturally, the other person won’t be able to make any of those dates, so they’ll then suggest some alternatives.  You then both get out your diaries and 4 short hours later you’ll have arranged to meet 2 months on Wednesday!

That’s how most people do things.  It is of course not how Grandad El Paso does things.  He likes to start with an angry answer-phone message to suggest he’s not at fault.

Then he makes an offer you can’t refuse, but still might not receive.

Am I being unfair?  I mean, sometimes he rings for a chat …when he’s stuck in traffic.  Also, if he’s stuck on a train, or- no, it’s pretty much only when he’s stuck en-route somewhere.  Nothing says “I love you” like “I had some time on my hands so I might as well”.

Still, when he does eventually turn up for a visit, every three months or so, it is of course the quality of the time we spend together that counts.  When he walks through that door, looks me in the eye, waves his phone at me and says:-

I choose to believe that him doing his phone admin the second he walks through my door is just his way of letting me know he cares, because clearly he’s really inconvenienced himself to come and visit us.

Whilst I maintain that the dog is definitely Grandma’s favourite child, she does tell us and show us she cares, in a variety of ways.  She voluntarily babysits (ha-ha fool!) and she brings us regular food parcels of fruit …although that could just be a comment on our eating habits? 

Also she tells me I don’t open my windows often enough – which tells me that she cares enough to look over and check up on us.  To maintain this beautiful ritual, and to let her know I care, I only open the ones she can’t see from her house.

So, if you want people to know who you really are, or you want them to know how much you care, don’t just tell them, SHOW them.

Relax, Do It

Frankie Goes to Hollywood was wrong when they sang “Relax, don’t do it”, you absolutely should do it (not the thing Frankie was talking about – bad analogy really) I’m talking about the relaxing. 

Life is full of relentless demands over which we have no control: work deadlines, house cleaning, form filling, insurance arranging, meal making, nose-blowing, lawn-mowing and list-making.  If you don’t take a break from those, and find some time for yourself, the minutiae of life can over-run you and bring you down.

“Me Time” sounds like something that involves incense and candles, and maybe some gentle-yet-potentially-crippling stretching; it can, but it can alternatively involve reading a book, watching a film, taking a walk or playing a computer game.  It is anything you do that is just for you.

I heard your giant gasp from the future and yes, I did just say you should play computer games, SOMETIMES. 

In a world where we are encouraged to work “smarter” to fit more in, to “clean whilst you lean” and generally “do more with less” we are missing out on essential downtime to rejuvenate ourselves.

In the olden days, before technology filled our every waking hour by making us infinitely contactable and in touch with the world, people used to have a little thing called “thinking time”. 

Have you ever concentrated on a problem so hard you got a head-ache but not much else?  Then you give up and do something else and the solution appears as if by magic?  Well, it’s not magic it’s a direct result of you taking a break.

I agree that occasionally pressure can be a great motivator; sure, without it I’d never get any exercise.

But to get the best out of ourselves we also need a little bit of downtime to balance things out and allow our brains to recover.

Find some time for yourself, each day if you can, each week if you can’t, and stop berating yourself for times when you feel like you’ve “done nothing”.  Human beings are amazing creatures who are always doing something, even when they appear to be doing little.

Make sure that some of the time that thing you are doing is resting, re-charging your batteries, processing problems sub-consciously and, most importantly, enjoying being alive.

Be Afraid – But Not Very Afraid

It’s Halloween weekend so now seems as good a time as any to discuss fear. 

First of all, the natural wariness we have as humans is actually a helpful built-in safety feature.  If a toddler’s fearless attitude and regular A&E trips prove nothing else, without fear there would be a lot more injury and death in the world.

We need a little bit of fear to make sure we correctly judge a situation for safety.  Also, in small amounts it can even be fun, like a rollercoaster ride or a scary movie.

It can be fun to gently frighten others…

…And be frightened by them.

Being scared can be a good thing; if I’d have stuck to my own comfort-zone I would never have watched the brilliant Haunting of Hill House recently (which I thoroughly recommend  …as long as you’re not alone at the time obviously, and maybe put ALL the lights on after).

One thing that I’m less keen on is when your Dad insists we watch a scary film and then 3 seconds into it he falls fast asleep and leaves me watching it effectively alone.

The problem with wariness is that it can sometimes tip over into a more unhealthy restrictive fear, as any parent of a 7 year-old who won’t go to the toilet alone in case “Metal Sonic” gets him will tell you.

It’s not just children, sometimes grown-ups are afraid of silly stuff that isn’t perhaps as frightening as they immediately think it is.  Failure for example, a lot of grown-ups are unduly afraid of this, myself included.

Failure isn’t a barrel of laughs admittedly but outside of a health and safety setting it’s never actually killed anyone.  The great thing about failure is that it’s only a temporary state, and often it’s actually one of the necessary steps on the road to success.

As Nelson Mandela famously said

Full disclosure, if you previously read my post entitled Wildly Cautious you will already know that I am in fact a massive wuss and scared of lots of things and a big fan of the phrase “just because I’m paranoid, doesn’t mean I’m not being followed.”

All the same, my Halloween message to you is: it’s good to let fear of death stop you doing something stupid, but don’t let fear of failure stop you doing something you love.

 

Marriage

Ok, so there is still time for a late divorce, but your Dad and I have been together for 27 years this December.  No, no applause please – after this length of time Stockholm Syndrome would have set in sooner or later anyway.

Following the recent royal wedding now seems like a good time (from a marketing perspective at least) to impart some tips for a successful (or at any rate, lengthy) marriage, so here goes nothing. 

Firstly, never take each other for granted.  Life as a couple involves a certain amount of shared work and admin; renewing the car insurance, mowing the lawn, pretending to like each other’s friends.  Remember to thank the other person for all that they do.

Secondly, there’s an old saying “compromise means neither side getting what they want” and there is nowhere that applies more than marriage.  However when any two people live together, whether they be room-mates or the love of each other’s lives, compromise has to be involved, otherwise you end up with a relationship like Grandad’s.

Constant compromise doesn’t work either, you can’t go through life painting everything magnolia because you can’t agree on a colour – although we do paint every thing magnolia but that’s because we both like magnolia, and anyway it’s called Antique Cream so shut up.

To avoid the resentment that can build up from day-to-day compromises, make sure you both regularly get your own way over something.  Even if that’s just by eating a whole Toblerone to yourself, whatever floats your boat.

Thirdly, communicate, don’t point score.  You are team mates, not opponents.  Discuss everything, listen, find out details and talk towards resolution of any disputes.  If you find your discussions contain phrases like “Yes, in your face!” or “told you so” then you’re off track. 

If your discussions contain gossip, and irrelevant tangents, it’s probably a good sign that you are friends first, right?  Right?!  Friends with ADHD yeah, but still friends. 

For more detail on communicating see my earlier post Tell Them.

Lastly, and most importantly, ignore everything I just said because there is no magic formula to relationships.  Perfect people don’t exist, it’s how they fit together that counts. 

ALL people will drive each other crazy sometimes, and in their own unique, special, individually awful ways.  You know you’ve found the right one when you realise you can both put up with all that crap, in exchange for keeping the other one around.