Toughen up and be gentle.

We all know how it is, depending on how we feel, we are attracted to (and of course attract to ourselves) people, sayings and situations that reflect or support our mood. Does that one isolated day or emotion depict your whole self or more so, your aspirations for your whole self? Probably not!

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How often do we consciously place ourselves in a situation where the people, sayings and information directly contradict or oppose our mood? Typically we don’t, why? Because it makes us feel un-easy with ourselves. Un-ease with ourselves or a situation can distract us from just getting on with our day, which in itself is annoying. We like to feel at ease with ourselves. Don’t address that unease and eventually everything starts to come away at the seams. We like our comfort zones. But by always placing ourselves around people, information and situations that support our comfort zone, are we hindering ourselves from achieving our aspirations? Constantly feeling that we’ve not quite got what we hoped for in life?

Recently my attention was brought to an Instagram post where the image was of a hashtag on a t-shirt #TTFUBC (Toughen The F*#! Up Buttercup). My immediate reaction was of rejection to it – there are different ways to address and progress things in life rather than the JFDI (Just F*#!ing Do It) approach or the more traditionally British stiff upper lip, just pull your socks up and get on with it approach. I myself prefer a saying by Max Ehrmann ‘Be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars. In the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.’

Yes, that is totally my inner hippy shining through, loud and proud!

Maybe that peace in your soul, is to always make decisions and take actions towards supporting the fruition of your dreams? I also believe that everything happens for a reason – not that we each have a preordained path, but that the Universe presents us with people, information and situations, for a reason – that reason to me, is to simply learn. Learn more about others and life situations (for one day I may find myself in a similar one) and more about myself. To take that learning and see if I want to do anything with it – namely improve me, or to help me deal with a situation better now or apply it to something in the future.

We’ve all sat through maths lessons and wondered when on earth we would need to know that particular equation or formula in the future. Then sometimes, just sometimes, we find a day when that lesson is suddenly looked back on and if the whole reason for that lesson was simply so you can quickly work out how many marbles are in a jar on the end of a bar and win a case of wine, then I consider that WAS the reason for learning volume and multiplication! (I am not the most maths friendly person on the planet, so struggle to find its direct use for me – but know I benefit from other people’s knowledge and application of this knowledge on a daily basis).

Back to Max Ehrmann’s Be gentle with yourself…’ quote, the timing of seeing that quote was impeccable. I first saw it printed on a small white canvas, hanging on a wall in a cafe on the Kapiti Coast in New Zealand where I was convalescing from life saving surgery. My life to that point had been very much (I thought) ‘fearless’, I travelled, I participated in many adrenaline and thrill seeking, even death defying sports and yet I had very little of what I aspired to having in my life. Post accident that required the life saving surgery I was being very brave, smiling, living etc. I was just getting on with life as best I could – as that is what we are meant to do, right? Deep inside I didn’t really know it at the time, but I was incredibly vulnerable and scared.

Ignoring how we feel about things is sometimes beneficial to us, but maybe we need not ignore, just simply acknowledge. In business, you have to acknowledge the risks and make a judgement as to how to proceed, you might need to put a lot of measures in place in order to buffer your decision and help you achieve what you want. In huge multi million pound system implementations – the objective is to transform how a company conducts its business. It may be changing how it manages customer information, or warehouse labelling, it may be changing the entire strategic or cultural direction of a company. With that they (business) could simply very abruptly and toughly say – we’re changing, get on with it, like it or leave it.

Yet, business typically requires human beings for success, us human beings are a mixed bag and we each have all the same functionality inside, just that we use these functionalities and skills in different ways and at different times. This is why businesses, spend a lot of time and money, to engage with and help their employees, suppliers, customers and their shareholders to understand what change is going to take place and how it will impact them. They also recognise that those same people, may have valuable skills to support them in achieving their vision or objecting it and that they can work together to make steps towards success.

It would be naive and poor business sense to not recognise that not everyone or everything in the plan will work out how they wish. Added to the complexities of us mere mortals our functionality and emotions, there are also many external factors that come into play and can upset the apple cart – such as PESTLE (P for Political, E for Economic, S for Social, T for Technological, L for Legal and E for Environmental.) for example you’ve taken two years to ready your business for a new way of working and then a law changes which really impacts your business solution, timelines and budget! In business they consciously and regularly run risk assessments against everything that taking action towards achieving their goal, may present, whilst also considering trends, potential change in policy or law, technology etc. Companies typically assess the level of risks against cost, quality and time, also the damage to their brand reputation (cost). Sometimes the action to the identified risk, might simply be ‘to do nothing’. Acknowledge the risk, accept the risk, in the grand scheme of things the risk is so low, you are willing to take the consequences if this risk should happen. Different risks, require different approaches.

Mark Twain said “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.” That isn’t saying to me to take an all guns blazing approach, surely mastering something means to take time over it. Consider where you can make improvements, be gentle and nurture your evolution, yet be firm to ensure a mastery. The courage is to then take steps to face those fears and acknowledge you may not get results straight away, be willing instead to keep believing and keep mastering and trying. Push your boundaries, be brave. A friend recently said to me that she feels like her fears have developed into a web of fears that motivate or restrict her activity, she’s taking time to master herself a new way around some of those fears – one step at a time.

You can’t run business risk free. Just like yesterday I learnt you can’t play board games with the intention to win – risk free! Yes I lost, and as I lost I commented on how my attempt at strategy and not taking a risk had just dealt me a wonderful life lesson.

We all know from our own childhood experiences that where we were gently introduced to something or it was fun, that we hold that in fonder memories than when we’ve been forced to undertake an activity that we were fearful of not enjoying it or fearful of not being any good or accepted by peers in that situation fearful of being judged. But we also remember sometimes being forced to do something and then really enjoying it. Strange as it may seem, a prominent childhood memory for me in this sphere is physically being dragged back down the stairs to come and eat my dinner. I didn’t want to eat steamed marrow with cheese sauce, categorically did not want it, I didn’t like that it was touching other things on my plate and therefore was refusing point blank to be near it. I was forced to eat it. I loved it. Yes, sometimes we need more than gentle encouragement to come out of our comfort zone. It is the only way we can progress ourselves towards achieving what we aspire to in life.

In its isolated form, Toughen The F*#! Up Buttercup was a rude intrusion into my life, which I rejected. But the text beneath the post was ‘Sometimes the hard truth is that you just need to toughen up to get what you want. It’s not the popular answer, but those who take the easy way will always be dominated by those who are willing to suffer to achieve greatness. So when you’re not where you want to be in life, remember #TTFUBC.’ @TOMBILYEU

As it didn’t sit with me well, rather than ignore it, I broke it down. Read it backwards. I like to analyse!

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What, when you allow yourself to dream, what is your dream or goal for yourself? What does it look and feel like, who do you share your dream or goal with? Go on, dream it. It’s yours, you can have it.

Are you there, have you reached that goal?

Are you making choices that support making your dream goal happen?

No, really, are you? Stop, look at the decisions you’re making. Be honest with yourself, sometimes that is the toughest part. It is you who is in charge of your life, are the decisions you are making – truly supporting your goal, your dream?

That is the tough part. Challenging yourself. Recognising that just because you’ve always done something that way, or dealt with something that way, that perhaps, ‘that way’ is not supporting you in this particular goal. Seeing any repetition of history? It’s time to toughen up, challenge yourself to do something different.

Perhaps your goal is to lose weight, you apply the mind set that you need to be tough on yourself and stop eating burgers and takeaways. Or perhaps, be gentle on yourself. Recognise that you’ve tried losing weight and keeping fit, with a hard approach and you fail. Why not go a step further, be tough on yourself and look deeper – are you ultimately making decisions to realistically support what you want? How about soften up and be more gentle with your mindset and approach? Have you recognised that you want to lose weight and generally become healthier – then this needs to be a sustainable lifestyle change, not a short lived fad diet with no long term effects other than constant disappointment in yourself. Do you want to transform your career? Are you setting achievable goals – so that you can enjoy the other parts of your life and dreams too, rather than develop resentment towards this thing taking over your life? It’s about knowing what is important to you and if it really is important then you’ll make the necessary changes in order to get that.

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Now those changes are going to be difficult, because unfortunately we don’t just have one goal in life. We have multiple factors to juggle – namely our professional and personal lives and within those there are different aspirations too and we despite our best attempts – can’t have everything all of the time – a good assessment of finding priorities is the The Jar of Life – Golf balls, pebbles and sand. But just like in business, it comes down to recognising what is the most important thing and making decisions to support maintaining and evolving that, while also finding a balance when introducing and growing your additional goals. Understanding the risks, the time, the quality of the output and the cost to what your choices may bring. Does it mean you won’t see your friends and family for months? Is this relationship strain a risk you are willing to take? Is the timing right? Are you happy?

My sister reprimanded me recently for keep bringing corporate approaches into my personal space. I immediately thought she had a point – seriously, work is work and life and love are just that. They are separate, different, they are where you let your emotions and yourself be true. But again, I analysed that. Business was built and developed by people, there are many business practices in place because we have recognised that we are human beings, we have a vast array of functionality and emotions, which assist us in achieving what we are both good at and what we desire in life. It is how business has evolved. In some cases business evolved so much into process that it forgot why that documented process existed in the first place, business forgot its roots in people. There are many steps happening in large corporates to re-engage with us human beings at a more grass roots and personal level. To make work environments more supportive of how us humans live and need to live our lives.

That was a tough decision for business to make – they were very happy chugging along not providing employee assistance programmes, or not providing social environments, or not providing on site creche’s and subsidised canteens, not providing mentor and development programmes, not providing safety programmes, not providing lunch breaks, not providing paid holiday. These are all huge overheads. People still came to work. Yet over the years and decades, business has recognised that they weren’t really fulfilled, their staff had low morale, whilst avoiding overheads, they were still losing money through the attrition rates of staff, knowledge loss, through sick pay and insurance payouts.

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Business has and continues to evolve and is becoming a far more openly sensitive environment. Extensive training is put in place, refresher training, updated codes of conduct, awareness campaigns of what helps support the vision and its people. Whilst also sensitive to the fact that everyone is different, that we can each react differently and each have different skills to bring to the game. Business invests in making its vision come to life, they invest time, people and money, for they believe in the quality of what can be achieved. I’ve bolded believe, because no one can be 100% certain of the outcome, no one can be 100% certain that the outcome will ever take the time indicated on the implementation plan, or cost what was in the budget, no one can ever be 100% certain that the risks will arise, or be dealt with as planned, no one can be 100% certain that the outcome will look exactly like the dream. What is certain, is that it is necessary to believe in the vision enough to take the first step,  and keep taking steps and keep making decisions to support making that business plan that vision, that dream come true. Whilst not forgetting to do constant PESTLE and risk anaylsis, because of course the world does not stop, and just as the world evolves, so the vision needs to evolve with it. Yet just because other things are changing, it doesn’t mean business doesn’t take that first and then ongoing steps. It is just the belief in the future that drives the success.

Sometimes, some of us have become so stagnant in our thinking that we forget we are human beings and that the toughest thing to do is recognise we need to go gentle on ourselves. Many years ago my yoga teacher said ‘Let yourself be a human being, not a human doing’ it really struck a chord. There is a need to slow down, allow ourselves to feel, to recognise that we hurt, to recognise that our JFDI (Just F*%!ing Do It), pull up our socks and get on with it approach isn’t necessarily working for us at all times. Sometimes we need to toughen up and sit with that un-ease for a while, work it out in our heads, and hearts, talk it through with friends, go to seminars, do some research, question ourselves are the actions we take, truly supportive of what we want? Just like business invests in developing its people to support the journey to the future vision, so must we.

If we aren’t where we want to be, we need to recognise that we need to progress our thinking and our actions to support achieving our goals. That may well require us to do things in a way that is completely alien to us, but we need to believe that it can assist us, give it time, run a sense check, stop resisting it. Be tough on yourself and gently let things change – Do you want love in your life but you’re scared of getting hurt? Do you make it near on impossible for someone to be in your life? Toughen up butter cup, face that fear. Soften, be gentle on yourself and others, allow yourself to be vulnerable, make space for what you truly want in your life to grow, allow the space for you to explore, to learn, to have what you aspire to most. Allow others into your life, recognise their worth, that you can’t do it all alone. Recognise, just as business does – life is not perfect, there are many parameters that can impact a dream from coming true, but don’t allow fears of change, don’t allow a lack of belief, don’t allow an resistance to change, or you to be the reason why your dreams don’t come true.

So toughen up and be gentle with yourself. Believe.

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