Feeling inspired

Tuesday was International Women’s Day, a day which has been observed since the 1900s but in reality has only grown in popularity and awareness in recent years. Wherever you looked on Tuesday there were stories of inspirational women, quotes to suit the day, events and activities celebrating the achievements of women, and continued campaigning for gender equality.

More often than not, talk of inspirational female figures defaults to celebrities and well-known figures, the Karren Brady and Michelle Obama type of role models. Strong and independent figures such as these two are definitely inspirational and achieving great things in male-dominated industries or surroundings, but in reality we just have to look at people around us for inspiration: our family, friends, colleagues and the local community.

As part of my day job, I have been involved in social media for promoting a Women in Leadership MBA Scholarship competition with the Financial Times and 30% Club (shameless plug, no apologies, take a look, it is a great opportunity). Brainstorming ideas and looking for related content started me thinking about who it is that inspires me, and I found myself with a longer list of people in my everyday life than well-known people. This included, to name but a few:

  • My Mum: Firstly for putting up with our sarcastic and stubborn family. I admire her for going back to work when I was in my teens, after at least 13 years (don’t quote me on that) of being a stay-at-home Mum. She has volunteered for as long as I can remember, helping out at a school library, in the community, for charity and at the local church, and still continues to support numerous causes in her retirement.
  • Carla: Also known for Inkdrops Boxes, Run Away Days, and her love of everything to do with kittens, unicorns and mermaids. She is a friend of many talents who embraces her passions, oozes confidence, and someone I look to for that sparkle of happiness and inspiration.
  • Linda: My mother-in-law-to-be is a cardiac nurse who visits patients in the community and volunteers for related causes in her spare time, including volunteering in a British Heart Foundation shop on Mother’s Day! I She is a great cake-maker, sewer and gardener, and seeing her support her Mum over the last few years shows just how caring a person she is.
  • Jeni: An old work colleague, her wit and sarcasm always makes me chuckle. Despite dealing with the challenges of Fibromyalgia, she has a positive outlook on life and puts everyone else before herself. She has adopted several animals (mostly bunnies!) and her passion for animals and stopping animal cruelty is great to see.
  • Lizzie: My friend of 25 years (yikes!) and a cardiac nurse, she spends hours caring for patients (two days off in two weeks is a hard slog), and I admire that she has dedicated her career to this. Definitely not something I could do!
  • Kez: A friend who took the brave decision to move abroad to teach for 2 years, she took a fantastic opportunity at a challenging time and made the most of it.
  • Dannii: One of the bubbliest people I know (alongside Carla), her passion for her work and charity is clear and she has a definite get-up-and-go attitude – I’ve lost count of the numerous exciting places she’s travelled to since we met just a few years ago.

All of my female friends, family and colleagues, are inspirational in their own ways and collectively encourage me to be a better me, but the above list is just a few of them who I think deserve to know they are inspirational.

Did you do anything to mark International Women’s Day? What female figures in your life inspire you?

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Don’t give up on your resolutions just yet!

It’s that time of year when many of us are desperately trying to stick to our New Year’s resolutions, or even remember what they are, having probably decided them under the influence of alcohol or too much food over the festive period!

This year I have set myself a long list of resolutions, there are several things that I love doing, or should be doing for my own good, that I have neglected recently. I feel the New Year is the perfect time to work out what it is I want to change or enhance in my life. I came up with this list:

  • Read more: I enjoy reading and have always found it a good way to forget about worries and relax before bed, but my pile of books is not getting any smaller.
  • Blog/write more: I’ve always enjoyed writing, but it’s something I keep putting to the bottom of my ‘to do’ list.
  • Get to bed earlier: I am a night owl, so this will be tough!
  • Get up for work at a better time: I am not a morning person, but I need to find a way to get myself up with adequate time for a relaxed, and not rushed, morning routine.
  • Stop snoozing my alarm: Linked to the above, but also because I know it annoys my partner.
  • Embrace mindfulness: Find a way to relax my mind, be more positive and take the plunge with things that scare me a little.
  • Exercise more and look after my health: It felt pretty bad putting “rare” for the frequency of exercise question when I registered at the local Doctors Surgery.
  • Consider my professional development: Think about where I want to take my career, see if there are any courses that might be useful and keep up with what’s going on in the industry.
  • Take up crafting again: I want to get back in to making cards and jewellery, start glass painting again and try candle making.
  • Make our house more ‘ours’: I bought a house with my partner in September, but we haven’t yet put our personal touch on it.
  • Become part of the local community: Linked to the above. Apart from trying to get to know the neighbours, I haven’t made much of an effort to become part of the local community.
  • Be nicer to my partner: We’ve both noticed we’ve been grumpier with each other whilst dealing with the challenge of house buying and sorting out work that needs doing in the house.
  • Wear/use more of my accessories: I have plenty of bags, scarves, shoes and jewellery, but I tend to wear/use the same ones all the time.
  • Organise my life better: I’m normally an organised person, but I’ve let that slip since we bought a house and my “to do” list is far too long at the moment.
  • Drink more water: I made a conscious effort at the start of last year to drink more water, but that didn’t last for long. I really noticed a difference in my skin and alertness, so I want to start doing that again.

I’m doing ok so far in working towards these resolutions: I’m reading more; We’ve booked in appointments with tradesmen to try and get the major tasks sorted in the house so that we can make it our own; I’ve started using the local shops and walking in the lovely woods that are on our doorstep; I’ve worn jewellery and scarves that I haven’t worn in a long time; I’ve started trying to drink at least two bottles of water a day. However there are still some things I need to get moving on, after all it’s taken me seventeen days to write this blog!

A few people have told me that they’ve already given up on their resolutions as they’ve failed them, but I’ve encouraged them not to give up so easily. Resolutions are aspects we want to enhance or change in our lives, but no one said they would be easy to do. We are only human, mistakes and “failures” are allowed, they help us to learn and figure out the right way forward for ourselves.

If you’ve set yourself resolutions and are finding them tough, keep going! It’s only January, and whilst this is a good month to kick start changes, you aren’t restricted to this month. If you’re not doing so well now, you might be the queen or king of success next month!

What New Year’s resolutions have you made? What are you looking forward to in 2016?

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There’s life beyond your smartphone

I was a teenager when mobile phones became a big “thing” in society; I had that horrible brick-like Motorola with the aerial, and then many variations of Nokia. Yet I was one of the ‘late majority’ in moving over to a smartphone; at first I didn’t see the need for internet on a phone and only a few friends were on Facebook in the early days.

Eventually I made the switch and realised just how useful a smartphone could be. I now use it for social media, Googling, texting, WhatsApp, phone calls, you name it, everything! Family have joked several time that I’m physically attached to my phone but I never considered that it was possible to be addicted to smartphones, or that I might use it too much.

Then, during my day job, I came across an article on Tesco Living featuring a Professor from work, ‘How to quit your smartphone habit’. I was reading it to see if it was a good article to share on work’s social media accounts, but as I continued to read I was increasingly saying “I do that!”. I’d never considered that over-use of a phone could have sleep and health consequences, or thought much about the obvious impact on real-world social interactions and relationships. It made me think – maybe there is such a thing as smartphone addiction, and maybe I do use my phone too much.

It’s quite tough to just give up something that you’re so used to using in everyday life, so after contemplating a good time to try and give up smartphone technology, I decided to go cold-turkey during a family holiday. We were going away as a whole family for the first time in over a decade, so an easier time to try and give up modern life technology but you have to start somewhere. My partner was as bad with games on his phone as I was with social media, so we decided to tackle the no-smartphone technology zone together. We picked up phone calls and texts, but everything else was a no-no.

Initially I said I’d go one day without social media, internet or emails, but I ended up sticking it out for another two days (the partner however failed on day two, I win!). This sounds cheesy, but it was incredibly refreshing and relaxing to be free from smartphone technology and I really did enjoy the holiday time more. I read an entire book in a few days (it’s been a while since I’ve done that, it’s normally months now), I socialised more in the real-world and actually had proper conversations with my family and partner, I admired the beautiful surroundings of where we were staying, and made plenty of use of the free pool and spa facilities.

Yes, I took the easy option of going cold-turkey during a lovely holiday, but it was a start and I have since done this again for a weekend, and again felt much better for it.

This post has been in my head to write up for a while (since August 2014, how terrible!), but I am writing this now as I feel I have again become too accustomehttps://wordpress.com/post/42560832/74d to everyday use of the smartphone and I wanted to remind myself of just how good the world outside my smartphone is. I think I might try another weekend without smartphone technology again soon.

Take a look at the article I linked to earlier in the post, it’s definitely worth a read. Does it sound all too familiar to your smartphone use? Perhaps you should try a weekend without smartphone technology too.

The view that made it so easier to forget my smartphone

The view that made it so easy to forget my smartphone

(Side note: Written and posted from my laptop, not my smartphone!)

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Step outside your comfort zone

Stepping outside my comfort zone isn’t something I do very often, I’m risk averse and I like to feel in control of the situation and know what I’m doing. However, about a month ago I found myself doing just that, stepping massively out of my comfort zone and agreeing to hike up Snowdon with my boyfriend Matt.

We had booked a holiday in Caernarfon, a short distance from Snowdonia National Park, and Matt had been mentioning for months that we should take advantage of how close we were and climb Snowdon. I started off hugely against this idea as exercise of any kind is not my kind of idea of fun and I had doubts about my fitness and ability to walk more than a few miles on flat ground, never mind a mountain! As time went by I found myself moving closer to thinking that maybe I should give it a go – I bought hiking boots and walking socks and I spoke to my brother David about whether he thought I could do it and which route would be best. I think Matt was pleasantly surprised when I told him I’d bought hiking boots, and even more so when I finally agreed to walk up Snowdon!

One average Wednesday morning we set out, on what the Met Office described as a day with “risk of sunburn”, to attempt the hike to Snowdon’s summit. I had little faith in my ability to achieve this and was constantly cracking jokes about my fitness and half-jokingly saying “I’m done now, can we go back” every few minutes. For anyone who has walked the Pyg Track, you will know that the first section is tough on the legs – it is more of a climb up giant steps and rocks than a walk and I have to admit I found myself thinking that if the whole walk was like that then I was not going to make it all of the way up.

What kept me going you ask? At the back of my mind was the thought of how disappointed Matt would be if we didn’t make it to the summit, but I also surprised myself as I found I actually wanted to step out of my comfort zone to achieve the challenge that I’d always felt was beyond my physical ability. The views from Snowdon helped a lot too! Well, the views half way up anyway, the cloud descended quickly as we walked up the mountain and there was no view at the top – the “risk of sunburn” weather never did show up.

After 2.5 hours of walking, scrambling up rocks, pleasant chats with other hikers and laughing nervously as Matt took photos a little too close to the edge for my liking, we finally reached the summit. After the obligatory photos to capture the moment, we sat down inside the summit building for some much needing food, drink and rest. I have to admit I was pretty chuffed with myself, even more so when I managed the 2.5 hours back down the mountain as well!

So what have I learnt from my Snowdon adventure? It sounds cliché but I’ve learnt that, although it can be difficult and challenging at times, stepping outside your comfort zone can help you to achieve great things. Although hiking up Snowdon may be a walk in the park for some people, it was a big feat for me and has shown me that with a little determination I can achieve new and exciting things and that I should have more faith in my ability to do so.

Since completing the Snowdon challenge I have found a new belief in myself, that I had lost after I was made redundant in 2012, and I have tried to step outside my comfort zone more often, albeit in small steps – one step at a time, as they say.

When have you stepped outside your comfort zone? How did you feel when you achieved something new?

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There’s always something to be grateful for

There’s a lovely little stationery box company called Ink Drops, that my friend is part of, who drew the subject of gratitude to the forefront of my mind recently. Ink Drops have decided to make February their ‘month of gratitude’ and are posting Instagram photos on social media (#gratitudesnaps) for each day of the month to express something they’re grateful for. This led me to think, gratitude is a wonderful thing and it doesn’t take much effort to express, but do we show it enough?

Oxford Dictionaries defines gratitude as ‘the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness’*, it’s a simple sign of thanks and appreciation but it’s something I feel isn’t expressed often enough. We get tied up in our own busy lives and personal issues and forget to take that step back to notice the good things in our lives.

Inspired by Ink Drops, I decided to think more about the things I am grateful for and join their ‘month of gratitude’. So far, I’ve expressed my gratitude through Instagram photos for:

  • Another day with my cat, who is unwell
  • Lovely parents who are always there to help me out
  • The boyfriend and his hugs
  • Having a job again and the pretty river view that goes with it
  • A warm home and cosy socks
  • Mum’s delicious coriander chicken curry
  • My parents, again, for getting my tyres changed and doing a car swap so I could get to work
  • My little nephew waving me off in the morning
  • Pretty inherited jewellery given to me in memory of my boyfriend’s relative
  • Time to reflect, laugh and be silly at church
  • Happy memories, like my brother’s wedding
  • The brakes on my car being ok in the end and not needing replacing

Some of the things I’m grateful for may seem silly and small, but they’re all important to me and things that I felt I should show gratitude for.

We may think our gratitude goes without saying and that we don’t need to physically express it but how can others know we’re thankful if we don’t say or show it? It’s like telling someone you love them, sometimes it’s nice to hear it said out loud.

I for one will be continuing with the ‘month of gratitude’ and trying to think each day of something I’m grateful for and I encourage you to join in as well. Ink Drops’ instructions are simple:

‘Post a picture every day (I’m using Instagram which will also post to Twitter and Facebook if technology is on my side, but you can put yours anywhere) and tag it with #gratitudesnaps.’** Take a look at their blog post for more details.

What are you grateful for? How often do you show your gratitude?

*Oxford University Press, 2014

**Ink Drops, January 2014

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Packing away the past – New year, new start

I know it’s a bit cliché to write a blog in January about New Year’s resolutions and new starts, but there’s a good reason for that – the New Year marks a new start, fresh thoughts and a fresh outlook for the year ahead.

2013 was an odd and sometimes challenging year for me and those around me for various reasons: I spent most of it unemployed after being made redundant from my job; Matt had his second knee operation in not so many years; one of my Uncle’s passed away suddenly; other family members had unplanned hospital stays; Matt’s Step-Nan passed away; we found out Gizmo (our cat) has cancer. It was a year that seemed ‘unlucky for some’ for quite a few of my friends and family and one that many people seem happy to see fade into the past.

In amongst those challenging times though, there were some good moments. Brother 2 and a good friend of mine got married (not to each other!), we finally had a real Summer weather-wise, Matt’s brother got engaged and I got a job again! It’s just that the bad times seemed to outweigh the good times and, as is human to do, we tend to remember the negativity over the positivity.

I’m trying to consciously pack away the past and focus on the good times and memories and look positively into 2014 – if  negative things happen I’ll just have to deal with them, if positive things happen then I’ll embrace them. I’m going to try and take a leaf out of my friend Carla/Ducking Fabulous’ book, who has surrounded herself with happiness (and cats!), isn’t afraid to try new things, has confidence in herself and does that all whilst having fun.

In the spirit of packing away to the past and looking to the year ahead, I’ve set myself several New Year’s resolutions:

  • Read more – I used to read a lot more and have neglected this hobby in recent years.
  • Blog more – I enjoy writing and started this blog last year but have neglected it since starting work again (1 gold star for me for writing this blog post).
  • Be calmer and remember that worrying doesn’t solve anything – one step at a time can solve a problem.
  • Get to sleep at a better time in the week – I’m a night owl, which doesn’t always go hand in hand with having to be human and function properly in the mornings!
  • Exercise more – When I say ‘more’, I barely do any at the moment…!

I’m sure I’ll add to this list, but these are my starting points for the year ahead and things that I can focus on to kick-start 2014 in the right direction.

Let’s all put 2013 to bed, remember the happy memories and focus on making 2014 a good year!

What New Year’s resolutions have you made? What are you looking forward to in 2014?

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Dyslexia: it’s more than just words

This is my second blog post linked to awareness weeks and although writing about one again may seem repetitive I felt inspired to put something down in words about this particular awareness week. The week I have in mind this time is Dyslexia Awareness Week (DAW), which runs from 14th-20th October this year (dates vary slightly each year).

I am a marketer by trade and a previous role saw me working in the Fundraising & Marketing Team at Dyslexia Action, a national charity that describes itself as one ‘that takes action to change the lives of people with dyslexia and literacy difficulties*.’ Working for this charity really opened by eyes to the subject of specific learning difficulties and just how many people are affected by dyslexia, whether they have dyslexia themselves or have friends and family with the hidden disability; to put it in statistics for you, it is estimated that 1 in 10 people in the UK have dyslexia.**

Dyslexia affects people in many different ways; you will probably already know that it can cause difficulties with spelling and reading but did you also know that it can cause difficulties with phonological awareness (understanding the sound structure of words), memory, time-keeping, organisation, maths and much more? It is because of the misconception that dyslexia is just about spelling and reading that the charities involved in Dyslexia Awareness Week decided that this year’s theme would be ‘Beyond words’.

I am obviously slightly biased towards the charity that I used to work for so I should mention that the week involves other charities and organisations; it involves national charities such as Dyslexia Action and the British Dyslexia Association (BDA) but is also backed by schools, organisations, councils and local dyslexia support organisations. Numerous events are taking place across the country to raise awareness of the specific learning difficulty, including parent awareness sessions and a coffee morning at Dyslexia Action Centres (see here) and the London premier of ‘The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia’, directed by James Redford.

Whether you already know that you/a member of your family have/has dyslexia or you think that you/a member of your family may have dyslexia, the awareness week gives you a great opportunity to ask for advice and support and show society that there is no reason to be ashamed of having dyslexia and that, with some support, everyone has the potential to succeed in life.

If I can just add one more thing to this post, I would ask that next time you see a spelling mistake on social media, watch someone struggle with what you perceive to be simple maths or see someone getting confused when following instructions, don’t get annoyed or mock them, take a moment and think before you act – with 1 in 10 people being affected by dyslexia, you might be knocking the confidence of someone with this specific learning difficulty.

Note: For those who enjoy Twitter, keep an eye on #DAW2013 for news and events about this year’s Dyslexia Awareness Week.

*Dyslexia Action, 2013
**Dyslexia Action, 2013

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