Who gave you permission to be you?

Screenshot 2019-07-21 at 09.27.05What situation do you hate most to find yourself in? Do you cringe at rejection? Do you loathe being ignored? Do you hate it if people look down on you?

I hate to feel stupid. I’m very happy to dance around, be bold, even to look an idiot in various ways … but not to feel stupid.

I’m sure it has a history. When I got a scholarship to a private school, I mixed with girls who came from wealthy families, and my parents used to joke (half-joke) at home that we might be poor but we were clever. I’ve since realised that our idea of cleverness of that time was fairly limited, but still the mantra helped me, back in the day. It became important to feel clever.

The trouble is, some of these feelings still bug me today. My family will tell you that no one gets more grumpy than me when I am filling in a tax form and don’t understand what they are getting at, or when I meet a problem with my laptop and can’t find a solution. I then feel stupid, and being stupid is just not okay.


Such gremlins hold us back. What might you not do if you were willing to look stupid? What might you accomplish if it was fine for people to reject your ideas? Or if other people’s disdain just made you more energised and positive?

I’m constantly amazed at how much negative stuff we carry around with us, convinced that it is a necessary part of who we are, though it does us no good at all. We have shed every last physical cell of the person we were twenty years ago so we’re a completely different person physically, yet we still carry an inflexible historical mental idea of who we are. I’m this sort of person, not that sort of person; I can do this but not that; I believe this to be possible and not that.


New York Times’ best-selling author Meg Wolitzer’s recent book, The Female Persuasion – as indeed her other books too – looks at the impact of small acts of kindness in people’s lives. She gives the example of a teacher in grade school who would write down the stories Meg told her, and who gave her the great gift of starting to take herself seriously. She writes a startling question in that book,

Who gives us all permission to be the person that we walk around the world as?

I think it’s much easier to answer the question, who in your life stopped you from being who you might have been? It’s much easier too, if we are lucky in life, and particularly if we socialise with people similar to ourselves, to acquire the habit of thinking that we arrived where we are solely through our own efforts. It feels good to think, “I did it myself” when we are successful; and to forget supportive parents, inherited money, prestigious school that led to prestigious university that led to perfect qualifications including accent, style etc. for prestigious job, advantageous relationships and so on (or any elements of the above).

But Wolitzer’s question, who gave you permission to be the person that you walk around the world as? That’s much more interesting. Who helped you in your sense of yourself?

If I were to start a list of people randomly now, there would be:

My Mum who introduced me to books with enthusiasm when I was very small.

My Dad who was resourceful in practical things and lent me resourcefulness too.

The girl with Down’s Syndrome who taught me in her singing that confidence is for everyone.

The colleague who in a simple sentence gave me the belief to move on.

As I start to write, I realise that I could continue this list for quite a while. What about you?

Permission is a central concept in my voice work with people. Many difficulties with expression are associated with tension, particularly around the neck, throat and shoulders, which prevents free spontaneous expression. Often it’s chronic tension associated with times when the person was diminished in some way in earlier life. In the present, this tension announces forcefully that expressing oneself is fraught with danger; and so it inhibits communication, and prevents a person from being who they can be. It disallows. Releasing the tension (a physical and mental process) allows the person to find their real voice again.

All the more important to seek out and appreciate people who allow, who give you permission.

Who are the people who, maybe in small acts of kindness, have given you permission to think well of yourself and prosper? It might make you gasp to realise how often other people have helped and still do help you on your way.

The corollary, of course, is that we too are enablers. How many times, in small forgotten acts or minor serendipities, have you given someone else permission? You can’t always know. Maybe you have done that again and again in your life. No one’s given you a gong for it, but you certainly deserve it.


By the way, I must tell you about my Meg Wolitzer serendipity. Checking her quote about permission yesterday in an online article, I idly looked further and discovered that my local library had an available copy of her latest novel. I walked into town to the library. Opposite the entrance as you enter there’s a display stand of books to catch the eye of the visitor in a hurry. There, at the dead centre of the front row of this prominent display, was the very Wolitzer novel I had come to look for. How many novels does the library hold? I love coincidences, don’t you?

Enjoy your summer. Go well,



TEDx Norwich
I had an amazing time in Norwich for TEDx @tedxnorwich last week – “Butterflies and Sweaty Palms” definitely in general evidence before the event! Met some brilliant people. The Talks will be up on TED.com in about 4-5 weeks.

If you’d like to dip into my latest book, you can read an excerpt here. You’ll find the book especially helpful if you want to find ways to be more real in your connection with others. We live in times where “living the image” has become a pandemic, and it chokes off genuine problem solving. This is true for our relations with people close to us just as much as for solving the world’s ills.

Think about those small acts of kindness in your life, those people were being real, weren’t they?

Brene, famous for her TED Talk on Vulnerability, has given a longer talk for Netflix. Here’s the trailer.

Contact me directly at judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk to enquire about possibilities.

Find my books listed here. All available at bookshops and usual online outlets in hardback, electronic and audio.

Are you Waiting for Godot?

Screenshot 2019-06-02 at 15.45.04


Do things happen to you or
do you happen to things?

Are you still waiting for
something to turn up?




You know the Becket play, Waiting for Godot? Two men meet and they’re both waiting for someone called Godot. Two other characters appear and join in sporadic talk for a bit, then leave. A boy enters to say that Godot isn’t coming tonight but will come tomorrow. The two original men decide to leave but don’t actually leave. Curtain fall. Act 2: more or less the same thing happens. The men again decide to leave, but are still there when the curtain falls.

This sounds like it might be an article about the importance of setting goals and going for them. But it isn’t: or at least not quite. It might turn out to be about proactivity….

There’s a folksong refrain that often comes into my head, “I love my love because I know my love loves me.” It’s from “I Love My Love”, set by Gustav Holst. The sentiment used to feel true to me, but now that seems all wrong. Do you love someone because they love you? Do you choose your friends? Mostly, I didn’t. If someone seemed to like me, I saw the possibility of friendship. An attractive man showed an interest in me? I’d then respond and something might blossom.

A friend of mine at university had her eyes focused on the person she wanted to marry from the very first weeks; she did all the running and made it happen. That seemed amazing to me and even, if I’m honest, a flouting of unwritten rules. But it wasn’t that I didn’t want to meet someone to share my life with – I did – but I was waiting for something to happen.

“I’ll do it when such and such happens.” Funny isn’t it that ‘such and such’ never does happen? I’ll change my job when …. I’ll do something about my relationship when …. I’ll take a holiday on my own when …. I’ll speak to my colleague when …. When Godot comes, I’ll ….

Many people say to themselves, “I’ll start to do public speaking when I’m a bit more confident.” “When I’m confident” is a very common precondition. But confidence grows with small acts of doing. You can hear the nonsense when you say, I’ll start to grow my confidence when I’m confident enough to start to grow my confidence which, as I just said, will be when …. Stuckness often comes from insisting on perfection from the word go, making you unwilling to risk performing below par, or to risk rejection, humiliation, criticism, pity or indeed anything at all.

There’s a thoughtless confidence before testing – the child who hasn’t known rejection, the singer whose voice has never yet let him down. But for confidence worth having you have to come through a certain amount of not yet having it to the extent you would like it. Not assaulted beyond reason, by the way: few people these days would throw their 2 year old in the deep end of the pool to teach them to swim. Trauma doesn’t build confidence.

What’s the answer? Godot knows. But making proactivity your friend is good, so here’s an idea or two:

Notice what choices you actually make currently in your life, even the little ones, including what you eat, TV programmes you watch, holidays you plan. Are you currently a bit short on proactivity? You might be amazed at how much in your life is either routine or planned by others.

Remember times of proactivity – those occasions in your life when you made a choice and took a step into the unknown. It doesn’t matter how long ago it was. Recall the time with pleasure, and remind yourself, “I did that.”

Choose or change something small in an area of your life. Any change, if it’s a real change for you, is great practice in proactivity. Choose anything where afterwards it will give you pleasure to say to yourself, “I did that.”

Face the fear. What stops you from being proactive in an area of your life that you really want to change? E.g. as you think, “I’ll take a holiday on my own when …”, wait till you’ve come to the end of excuses, and then ask yourself, “What really stops you?” Is it fear? That’s the most likely reason. Maybe the fear is huge. So what might be a small step towards that holiday? Maybe spending a day away on your own? Then that’s the thing to do. Plan your day with enthusiasm and care, fix the date, and go for it. Afterwards, write down everything that pleased you about how you lived the experience. There will probably be the odd negative as well, but stick for now to what pleased you. And say to yourself with pleasure, “I did that.”

“I did that. And now I will do this.”

You will.

What are we all waiting for? Godot?



The Art of Conversation

Screenshot 2019-02-10 at 14.44.47My latest book is just out – published by Capstone in April.  It explores ways not only to build the skills to converse well but how to reach each other at a level where trust blossoms and new understanding is created between you. The possibility of more fruitful connection and cooperation has deep implications, not only for success in our everyday encounters, but also for our wider world in this century of change. It follows on well from my previous book, The Art of Conversation. Here’s a short excerpt published in Minutehack .

You can quickly get a hard copy or Kindle or audio editions from the world’s largest online publisher, or your local bookshop – e.g. Waterstones.

If you enjoy it as I very much hope you will, I’d greatly appreciate it if you’d write a review on Amazon.

TEDx Norwich Ed

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I’m one of the speakers for this popular TEDx event on 13 July in Norwich. They have just released extra tickets if you want to come.

Sound and Voice Forensics for Coaches: 26 June

I’m running a session for the EMCC (European Mentoring and Coaching Council) in Guildford on 26 June at 7 PM. Non-members are very welcome, and you can register here. Just go to ‘Create a new account’ to book.

As a coach you want to be able to hear in a client’s voice what is going on for them. Each nuance of tone gives clues to particular feelings and states of mind.

Moreover, if you have freedom in your own voice you have the potential to connect better, to influence your client’s state; to invite them subtly to enter a different level of connection. It’s a tool that you can employ in numerous different ways, and essential for a coach.

I’m confident that after the session, you will appreciate the sheer wonder and usefulness of sound, both for hearing information that is not said, and for connecting beyond the actual words you use.

See you there?


The Art of Communication – How to Really Get Through to People When You Speak: 3 July

And I’m giving another talk open to all. 3 July in Surbiton, Surrey at 7 PM . Hosted by CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants). More information here

We all want the skills and confidence to get our message across when we give a presentation. However, there’s a huge gap between people hearing what you say, and their connecting with your communication, let alone acting on what you say or changing their thinking or attitude because of it. Most talk — in meetings, the boardroom, presentations, conferences — doesn’t cross that gap, however fluent your language, firm your voice and confident your physiology. If you want to sell services or an idea, if you want to influence, or even establish good relations, you have to do much more than deliver competently. Find out how in this interactive session.



The Noble Art of Going Backwards

ay_110912281-e1369678833423Did you know that the first Ford car had no reverse gear?

I know of a 95 year old who gave up using reverse on his car, as he had little flexibility to see what was happening behind. Fortunately, the local church that was his Sunday morning destination had a very large turning circle in front and other churchgoers knew when to look scarce.

A fly trying to escape from a room has a single-choice plan – throw yourself forward at the light. As a strategy it sucks – glass windows have been around for over 500 years; but it’s hard to fault the logic: “Why choose reverse when your goal is ahead of you!


Reversibility is a feature of Moshe Feldenkrais’s Feldenkrais Method, one of several 20th Century movements that connect mind and body. His method of teaching self-awareness through movement attributed great importance to the concept of reversibility. It basically meant the capacity to stop a movement at any point and then go in the opposite direction with a minimum of hesitation, and this was a key criterion for determining whether a particular movement was done well. Try it for yourself: slowly lower yourself onto a low sofa and change your mind just as you touch the cushion! Most people just collapse for the last few centimetres!

Feldenkrais was also a practitioner of the martial arts, and I discovered in my own pursuit of Aikido the importance of being sufficiently balanced to reverse a movement in an eye-blink when required. It’s a great feeling, to have charge of your body in this way.

All very good, but most of us, I suspect, think far more about the route forward towards our goals than about possible routes backwards.

And yet, there are advantages to going backwards …

A strange thing happens in yoga connected with reversibility: when I have reached the limit of my stretch in a particular direction, if I imagine slackening off the effort in that direction and coming away from my edge, my body sometimes goes easily beyond that limit in that same direction, even way beyond, when the feeling has been one of giving myself permission to give up altogether! Pushing forwards isn’t always the best strategy for moving forwards.

The story goes that the scientist Marie Curie found the answer to a problem she’d been tussling with for 3 years the night after she let go of it for good. It’s not unusual.

The idea of flexibility, including the ability to reverse at will, has been part of my thinking for quite some time. I mention reversibility only briefly in my latest book, The Art of Communication, but the concept is there in almost every page. Conversation is an impromptu activity. However much you plan what you’re going to say in advance, you’ll be very lucky if it goes that way. Conversation just isn’t like that; you have to be light on your feet, ready to twist in a different direction at any point in the dance. In fact, any real response is always a flexible one.

We all need a reverse gear. And particularly now, when the world is more than ever hunkering down into different camps, each reading only its own material, believing its own half-truths and relating to other groups only in dichotomous terms of us good, you bad; us right, you wrong (“I’m smart; you’re dumb. I’m big; you’re little. I’m right; you’re wrong.” as Matilda’s Dad famously said with similarly suspect erudition).

Pushing rigidly forward is always to miss a trick. When you get into an argument, it’s always useful to change the pace by agreeing with something, however tangential. It’ll certainly change the other person’s rhythm and give you the opportunity to throw something different into the mix. And if you’re relentlessly pushing yourself toward a goal of your own, it’s always helpful to take a day or a week off and turn to something quite different – trekking, cycling, exploring – it clears your head and frees you up again.

My flexibility challenge

My weekly yoga class has come round again. My flexibility challenge for today is to stand on one leg for a minute without holding on. (Try it: good for your bones quite apart from the experiment.) Then ask yourself, “What makes for success in this particular endeavour?” On trying it myself, I think it’s this:

  • infinite micro-adjustments
  • lack of self-consciousness
  • the spirit of fun or at least experiment (i.e. not trying too hard)
  • confidence
  • … and keeping your eyes open!

Well, there’s a “Thought for Life” for today?!



I’m excited about this!


I’ll be one of the speakers for this TEDx event on 13 July  in Norwich – “Europe’s only Full Day TEDxED event”, as the organisers remind me!

Tickets apparently vanish very quickly, so buy yours in the next couple of days if you want to come!

You can meet several of the speakers tonight on Facebook Live- #tedxnorwiched – from 7.30 pm. See you there?


Spirit of Coaching

It’s a while since we held one of these beautiful events in London. Just to remind you, there is no charge, but you need to register.

Screenshot 2019-05-15 at 10.03.41


More details here


Want to read an excerpt from The Art of Communication?

Here’s a short excerpt published in the online magazine, Minutehack  –https://minutehack.com/opinions/more-than-words-the-art-of-communication


The days are getting long; the sun’s shining as I write this :-)
Go well,


Leave the Door to the Unknown Ajar

My book’s out!

Screenshot 2019-02-10 at 14.44.47I was very excited last week to receive the first copies of my new book, The Art of Communication. It explores ways not only to build the skills to converse well but how to reach each other at a level where trust blossoms and new possibilities arise between you. The possibility of more fruitful connection and cooperation has deep implications, not only for success in our everyday encounters, but also for our planet in this century of change.

I do encourage you to buy a copy, and if you enjoy it as I very much hope you will, I’d greatly appreciate it if you’d write a review on Amazon.

(Incidentally, I notice that for a short time, my previous book, The Art of Conversation, is considerably reduced.)


And heres my blog, “Leaving the Door to the Unknown Ajar”

Screenshot 2019-04-03 at 16.38.35A car journey yesterday morning, listening to the radio, and by the time I arrived at the swimming pool two programmes had caught my attention.

The first was Jim Al Khalili interviewing neuroscientist Irene Tracey for The Life Scientific on the subject of pain. In her research she discovered that major factors in the severity of pain are brain related. Fear, anxiety, depression and anticipation of pain all increase the severity; distraction diminishes it. In one experiment Tracey and her team monitored the experience of pain (caused by chilli paste, being one of few legal ways to administer pain!) suffered by subjects while they lay in a scanner. A continuous intravenous dose of an opioid, highly effective at killing pain, was administered to the subjects. The experimenters then pretended to the subjects that they stopped the opioid while in fact continuing to administer it. At this point, the subject’s experience of pain rose sharply, even though the opioid hadn’t been stopped. So expectation overrode even the best pain relief on the market. Our brain can literally turn pain up and down, irrespective of the actual cause of pain.

I then listened to an interview between Alan Rusbridger, ex-editor of the Guardian, and Jonathan Aitken. Aitken is currently a prison chaplain, but back in 1999 he was a highflying cabinet minister who was accused of perjury (it was Alan Rusbridger and the Guardian who called him to account) and convicted in a high profile libel trial. On the day of his trial, he went from being served coffee in bed by his long-standing butler in his beautiful accommodation a stone’s throw from Parliament to spending his first night in a solitary cell in Belmarsh prison to the accompaniment of prisoners chanting about the arrival of a Member of Parliament and what they might do to him the following day. When asked about the positives of prison for him, Aitken replied that he had enjoyed the company of his fellow prisoners “and this was a surprise to me.” “In prison I made one or two real and lasting friendships.” He goes on to describe how his increasing understanding of the lives of others came as a revelation to him.

So two programmes, and in my mood this morning, they said the same thing to me, “Don’t think you know.” I could be certain about an experience of pain and Irene Tracey would prove to me that I was ignorant. Jonathan Aitken, together with many colleagues in the Conservative Party, might think he knew exactly how to deal with policing and prisons, but coming up close he was brought to realise that the whole business of how people come to end up in jail was far more complex than he had thought.

We don’t know. We never know. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio …” Or as a prominent scientist says, quoted in The Art of Communication:

“Nobel Prize winner, physicist Richard Feynman, considered one of the best scientific minds since Albert Einstein, confided in a BBC Horizon interview that he was content to live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. He thought it was more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong, and that it was important for scientists ‘to leave the door to the unknown ajar.’

Why on earth write this at a time when decisions are desperately called for in the Brexit saga? Yes, politicians need to make decisions, but all these violently-strong opinions have been doing us no good. It seems more important in today’s craziness to realise that we don’t know than to know that we know. Like most of the UK, I’m raging about Brexit, absolutely sure that my opinions – the opinions of my particular herd – are the right ones. The more I read, in the carefully filtered posts adapted so assiduously to my views that my social media channels so calculatingly give me, the more my rage builds with a sense of my tribe’s rightness.

But it’s false rage, manufactured by the crowd effect, mischievously stirred by news outlets and social media. If I know only because my crowd knows, what sort of certainty is that? Not knowing is not feeble. Not knowing doesn’t preclude decision and action. We do the research like Irene Tracey, we discover our blind spots like Jonathan Aitken. Above all, we open our minds and pay exquisite attention. We work with that. But it isn’t the witless stance of those who are blithely sure they know. In positions of power these are dangerous fools. It’s up to the rest of us to call them accurately to account, while at the same time leaving the door to the unknown ajar. It leaves sanity in the room.

Just found a nice quote in Osho’s book, Intelligence:

Intelligence is just an openness of being – capacity to see without prejudice, capacity to listen without interference, capacity to be with things without any a priori ideas about them – that’s what intelligence is. Intelligence is an openness of being.

Keeping the door of the mind ajar … whatever our responsibilities. Does any of this apply to the current situation, business and families and relationships and you and me? Maybe it just does. J

Go well,

More news

The psychotherapist Juliet Grayson is a finalist in The People’s Prize for her book, Landscapes of the Heart: the Working World of a Sex and Relationship Therapist. Her work is always interesting and valuable. You can vote for her here.

Want a few tips at home?

Sign up for a free E-course to enjoy at home (I never share your email with anyone). You’re welcome to share this with friends.

10 Secrets for Overcoming Performance Anxiety
How to Speak with More Authority
Understanding NLP
10 Tips for Having a Great Conversation
How to Raise Your Profile

Want some help moving forward?

Whether you already feel successful or are struggling with challenges, coaching can help you make the most of your potential. Email me or call on 01306 886114 if you want an initial conversation about what coaching might do for you. Coaching can take place face-to-face or via Skype/Zoom or phone.

And for voice coaching – it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. Do you realise what an amazing potential resource you have in your voice? How you come across depends on your voice and how you use your body AND your breath. Self consciousness is the grand saboteur. You’ll experience positive results after even a single coaching session. Email me or call me on 01306 886114.

Learning and Unlearning



People have started asking me what my new book The Art of Communication is about, and I flounder: “Well, whatever my last book The Art of Conversation was about, this one’s about … not that.”

Great. That’s clear then. It’s about what your last book isn’t about. Have I got that right?

Uhh, yes. The last book was about how to become better at conversation. This one’s about the next stage after that. The only thing is that the next stage reverses almost everything you learned before, which can feel counter-intuitive at times. For instance:

At first, you learn how to be able to keep up a flow of conversation. Later, you learn that communication is often about keeping silent and just listening, even sometimes through an awkward pause.

At first, you learn how to focus on what’s being said. Later, you learn how to focus on what’s not being said.

At first you pick up new tools that are effective and satisfying. Later, techniques fall away and you just are, transparent you – which is a much more vulnerable place to be.

At first, you learn that body movement and tone of voice make a big difference. Later, you learn that the most important signs and sources of connection are invisible.

At first, you delight in building your confidence and knowing what you are doing. Later, you find out that communication is also about knowing nothing at all.

Counter-intuitive perhaps, but that’s the wonder of it. It shows you how to breathe life into your relationships and produce powerful new thinking. You may even find that new insights, ideas and creative thoughts emerge from your daily conversations.

From Do to Be (doo bee doo bee)

Moreover, this counter-intuitive reversal applies to more than communication. Let’s say you become very good at something – it might be mathematics, medicine, playing the violin, archery or motorcycle maintenance. Then, when you have mastered everything you can, if you are blessed you break through to the next lever, which is something new – an intuition, a “feel for” – where knowledge and ability are no longer primary.

At this point, it becomes difficult to give expression to what has changed. Ask a true expert in anything how they achieve what they achieve, and they’ll struggle to explain beyond the basics. “I don’t know, I just know…” (a nice phrase in itself). Or they explain in riddles: “I just become my instrument.” “The answer reveals itself.”

Often a child has a natural instinct for some activity, and seems to achieve what a master could work a lifetime to achieve. In art for instance, how confusing it is for adults when a child paints a picture that is mistaken for a great master by experts! But that is the journey. We start with a natural instinct; then we lose the instinct as we learn more, and spend the rest of our lives learning how to recapture “the first fine careless rapture” within the wisdom of experience.

Innocence and experience

I mention in my book how struck I was by a short film of the artist Henri Matisse in old age, too frail to paint, cutting shapes to make his famous collages – scissors in one hand, painted paper held precariously mid-air in the other. Regarding his collage work, he wrote that your instinct needs to be kept fresh like a child, but with all the wealth of your experience behind you.

Finally, after a lifetime of learning, we arrive back at the same place we were at as a child but – as described by T S Eliot – now we know what we are doing. The Master and the child both achieve “the first fine careless rapture”, but the Master knows how it is done.

It is true that the odd child’s painting has deceived art experts. But when a controlled experiment was set up pitting the work of established artists against that of preschool children (as well as elephants, chimps etc.), a majority of people could tell the difference between the art of the child and the art of the recognised artist. (One comparison is pictured above.) They might struggle to explain in detail why they rated the artist’s painting higher, but they found a greater sense of intention or purpose in it.

Is any of this relevant for leadership?

Here are three thoughts:

  1. Don’t assume the spontaneous ease of good leadership is easy (music, art, communication and relationship likewise). Flow and sure instinct emerge from much experience.
  2. Until you reach true mastery, the best decisions can sometimes feel counter-intuitive. Always look beyond your first assessment of a situation to the bigger picture with its multiple threads leading backwards and forwards. (Topical tip: if you want to be a leader of nations, at the very least learn to play chess or Go – i.e. study systems).
  3. Don’t be always “out there”. Allow space for silence and not knowing. Find frequent times to come back in stillness to yourself.

By the way, the phrase “first fine careless rapture” comes from Robert Browning’s Home Thoughts From Abroad, and his “wise thrush” knows how it’s done. 

That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!

A quote to herald the spring …

Go well,


The Art of Communication

is available for pre-order here. To be released in the next few days – can’t wait!


In coaching you find a vital thinking space where you come back to yourself. A few simple conversations with a coach can be life changing and worth the investment many times over. Email me or call me on 01306 886114 if you want an initial conversation about what coaching might do for you.

Ease in Public Speaking

As a first step, download my E-course, 10 Secrets for Overcoming Performance Anxiety

The Surrey Earthquake

My colleague Neil Scotton wrote a powerful piece the night of our local earth tremor a couple of weeks ago. Find it here.

Peppa Pig doesn’t do it


     Left-brain: “This picture displays random dots.”  Right-brain: “Ah, I see a Dalmatian dog sniffing amongst the leaves.” Image from Iain McGilchrist: The Master and His Emissary


I love the internet as much as the next person. I don’t want to go backwards, I really don’t. It is interesting how little losses keep popping up though. The spatial and directional awareness of being a good map-reader, for instance. The ability to find a book or a word quickly and easily through familiarity with the alphabet. Problem solving through thinking. Spelling. Memory. Concentration.

I was powerfully struck by a recent example. A teacher attending a talk on the brain in Toronto by Iain McGilchrist commented, “I am a teacher of 7–11 year-olds. My colleagues and I have noticed in the last three or four years that we have started having to teach children how to read the human face.” It turns out that all that time engaging with the mother’s face in the first years of life is vitally important for a child’s ability to understand expression and to empathise. Substitute the distraction and over-stimulation of TV, I-Pad and other technology and a vital development stage is missed. Peppa Pig doesn’t do it. Who knew?

Our brain is divided into two hemispheres, clearly separated, and each hemisphere brings into existence a quite different experience of the world. Technology is a reflection of a world dominated by the left hemisphere of the brain. The left hemisphere is certain, rigid and exclusive – more scientific it would say, as it categorises and processes material with a detached narrow focus – and it has the data and the gift of the gab to promote itself. But the right hemisphere understands relationship, nuance, humour, symbol and metaphor. It rapidly takes into account more and better integrated information over a broader range, though without the voice or statistics to proclaim its rightness.

It’s a bit like our two eyes – each eye sees a different image, but that difference is crucial so that we can understand distance and perspective through processing information from the two different images. Identical images wouldn’t help us at all . So too with the hemispheres of the brain – they perform different jobs: we need their different attention, preferably the right hemisphere as pre-eminent to give us a broader more holistic understanding, and the left hemisphere as its executive to move to action.

The left-hemisphere squabbling over Brexit is an example of the impossibility of resolution when thinking is confined to left-brain certainty, rigidity and exclusivity. The world is full of such examples.

We used to think that a left-hemisphere stroke was a disaster because often sufferers lose the power of speech as well as use of the right hand. But John Cutting, a psychiatrist who spent years with people who had had right hemisphere strokes discovered that they couldn’t understand humour, metaphor or any implicit meaning, nor poetry or tone of voice, nor read faces or body language; and these disabilities in the end represented a much greater loss of their humanity for them and their families.

So back to recognising faces, does it matter? Of course it does, hugely. But the advantages are neither precise, certain nor measurable, so the left-brain doesn’t really care. There’s no easy economic case to be made. The influence on the bottom line is not direct. The effect on exam results and league tables hard to argue. The relationship with IQ indistinct. The connection with delinquency and crime is unproven. As for connection with empathy and kindness, well where’s the proof, and where do empathy and kindness stand in the pecking order anyhow? Meanwhile, the right-brain knows that relationship is pre-eminent.

There’s no doubt that we live in a world that favours the left-brain and ever more so. The left-brain likes to think that it’s the grown up in the room, when experience suggests otherwise. How appropriate this week that it’s the children of the world who stood up and demonstrated against climate destruction, the gravest problem our planet is facing, while the grown ups wittered on about ferry companies with no ferries, expensive preparations for avoidable no deal scenarios widely seen to be disastrous and hero/villain arguments about long dead politicians. If your right-brain is functioning, you’ll appreciate the irony even if, like me, you find yourself speechless.

Let’s nurse our sense of irony; let’s read a poem; let’s use our creativity to find new ways through, round, over or under the current chaos; let’s imagine the world we actually want; let’s value the humanity in each other; let’s be kind.

Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people.
A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough. Franklin D. Roosevelt

The Art of Communication

Left-brain/right-brain is one of the themes of my latest book. I’m very excited about it – it’s been four years in the writing, and comes out in just 3 weeks time – on 8 March. You can pre-order your copy here or from your usual channels.

Here’s a summary – hope it inspires you to buy a copy!

It has become a time of people saying stuff to each other and none of it actually
becoming dialogue.
Ali Smith: Autumn

You can get so far in conversation by becoming articulate, having things to talk about and learning the give and take of two-way discourse and the skills of debate. But that isn’t sufficient to give you a meaningful or wholehearted connection that leads somewhere genuinely new or worthwhile. This requires different abilities, such as intuition, open-heartedness, spontaneity, lightness of touch and ease with uncertainty. Unlike the left-brain patterns and rational themes most often taught as “communication skills”, these abilities depend on the often-neglected attention of the right hemisphere of the brain.

When you take the step change to learn these new, sometimes counter-intuitive, ways of relating, conversation can become the source of extraordinary vitality, capable of generating new insights, breathing life into relationships and even producing powerful new thinking able to transform the world we live in.

I set out to discover what makes such conversations so extraordinary, and what we can learn that will guide us to have them more often.

This is a book for leaders and business people, but also for anyone who suspects that conversation could be something more – more genuine, more energising, more generative, more creative and generally much more productive.

Go well,


Mob Fever

Spy and the TraitorOh my goodness! I’ve just read The Spy and the Traitor, the true spy story of the Cold War by Ben McIntyre. John Le Carré called it the best true spy story he had ever read. It’s certainly a gripping tale.

Reading it, one thing that strikes me forcibly is the amount of misinformation there was in the media and political statements during the Cold War. We the public, let alone most politicians and journalists of the time, didn’t know the half of it. The Russians were even trying to alter the course of our elections, though without success, as far back as 1983. MI6 from time to time deliberately fed misleading information to our politicians and the media, in order to guard their sources and protect our democracy. For me, it’s a strong reminder of how we are unknowingly fed inaccurate information at every turn and can do little about it. Anyone who has worked for the secret services would say it was ever thus.

It’s not just the matter of the odd bit of wrong information. It shows us how, through such strategies, whole nations can be caught up with a mood, a fever, an energy that pushes inexorably in one direction.

In the early 80s, the chairman of the KGB, partly spooked by the gung-ho rhetoric of newly elected US President Reagan, announced to his senior KGB officers that America was planning to launch a nuclear first strike to obliterate the Soviet Union. (They weren’t.) He ordered his officers to bring back as much evidence as they could. And KGB chiefs in various countries around the world brought back evidence simply because not to do so would have been seen as a failure, thus stoking the flames of paranoia. In 1983, unbeknown to most of us, the world drew very close to nuclear conflict, based on a lie.

Fortunately – spoiler alert – a spy feeding information to the British Government at the time was able to alert his British handlers to USSR thinking and the British in turn were able to calm the Americans.

It makes me think, fake news is one thing, and the world is, was and probably always will be prey to it. But getting caught up in crowd fever is another. I’m aware of the forces even in my own life. A month ago it was the inexorable build-up-to-Christmas fever, then the FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) madness of post Christmas sales. And now it’s hype about the countdown to leaving the EU and the shift of power in the US House of Representatives. Negative energy is particularly powerful when augmented by crowd hysteria. You know: “Lock her up!” (Hilary Clinton), the vans with “Go home or face arrest!” emblazoned on the side (illegal – well paperless – immigrants), the conspiracy theories …

I’m not immune – far from it. But I do know that I don’t have to get caught up in crowd madness. I don’t have to get worked up by seasonal promotions and media hype. And regarding manipulation on a wider scale, I don’t have to read the news on line that filters my preferences (prejudices), or listen to it on the radio and watch it on TV seven or eight times a day, which gets me incensed against particular individuals and raises my blood pressure. I don’t have to accept the media’s choice of top news, designed to make me get angry and then succumb to anger addiction.

I can step off.

I like the comment in e e cummings’ poem (the title – “the divine right of majorities, that illegitimate offspring of the divine right of kings” Homer Lea – is almost longer than the poem!):

here are five simple facts no sub

human superstate ever knew
(1 )we sans love equals mob
love being youamiare

“We sans love equals mob” – I like it, don’t you?

So, step off.

Thinking definitely makes a difference. As Hamlet so wisely said, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”. For example, I’m aware that people sort of know when I’m not well disposed towards them however much I hide it, and that alters their behaviour. Not surprising – goodness, even cats and dogs know, even fish, they say.

If ever there were a time to think about good outcomes, it’s now – “love being you-am-I-are”. Thinking differently prevented a nuclear holocaust in 1983. I’m sure it can help us now. Time to step off the evil bandwagon. There’s a new year’s resolution I can subscribe to.

Wishing you all manner of good things – and good thoughts! – in 2019,


The Art of Communication

– “How to be authentic, lead others and create strong relationships.” I’m busy with the final edits for my new book which comes out in March (not to be confused with my last book, The Art of Conversation!). It’s available for preorder on Amazon here.

To give you a sense of it:

You can get so far in conversation by becoming articulate, having things to talk about and learning the give and take of two-way discourse and the skills of debate. But that isn’t sufficient to give you a meaningful or wholehearted connection that leads somewhere genuinely new or worthwhile. As Ali Smith said powerfully in her lovely book, AutumnIt has become a time of people saying stuff to each other and none of it actually becoming dialogue.

This requires different abilities, such as intuition, open-heartedness, spontaneity, lightness of touch and ease with uncertainty. Unlike the left-brain patterns and rational themes most often taught as “communication skills”, these abilities depend on the often-neglected attention of the right hemisphere of the brain.

Go well!


What do you want?

reach for the stars

reach for the stars

“What do you want?” Everyone seems to be asking it at the moment. “What do you want for Christmas? Make a list!” So then I put pen to paper and – with difficulty – try to decide, “What do I want? Mmm …” A contemporary suggested it’s the phrase that parents say to their children all the time these days, “What do you want?” “What do you want to wear?”  “What do you want for supper?” – as opposed to the “Eat what you’re given” attitude in our day.

It’s the perennial coaching question too, “What do you want?” Almost every model of coaching is goal or outcome oriented: “Yes, you’ve described your problem, yes, I understand that life is currently hell … and now, what do you want?”

I’d like to identify two kinds of wants for the moment. One is the choice want. “What do you want for supper? There’s sausages or macaroni cheese.” And even if you’re not particularly partial to either, you run a sort of test inside, this or that? By the way – info here – you are not expected to answer, “Neither. I really fancy an avocado salad.” And mostly you don’t even think of saying that, you understand it’s about choosing. It’s what John Whitmore is chiefly talking about in his GROW coaching model (Goal, Reality, Options, Will). You have a Goal, which does not match your current Reality. You discuss various Options for reaching your goal, and then choose your best option, what you Will do.

There’s another kind of want. Someone asked me once, “How on earth did you manage to write a whole book?” and I was nonplussed for a moment. The truthful answer was, “Because I wanted to,” but that want was a big all-consuming one that had a lot of emotional energy in it. I really wanted to write that book; I desired it.

Such a funny word desire. It’s the devilish tempter in religion, using its power to lead us astray, away from duty, purity and obedience. So it makes a lot of us uneasy. But in its essence it’s what gives our life meaning and moves us to create and accomplish. Desire is a wonderful, passionate, powerful force that takes us over and makes accomplishment effortless. Remember when you’ve had it. You suddenly get a joyful urge to do something, accompanied (temporarily at least) with a confidence that it is possible. You might meet obstacles further on, (you probably will), but desire launches you into creativity an action. “I know!” you think, “I’ll plant tulips in the lawn, and next spring it’ll look amazing!” “I know!” you think, “I’ll invite my new friends to supper, and we’ll have an amazing evening.” “I know!” you think, “I’ll build a boat!” And the powerful feeling of want fills you, warms you and energises you.

When the Magisterium condemns emotion in its determination to save us from temptation and sin, it is trying to cut off a limb. Desire or wanting is vital to our navigation through life. Every creative step is a step into the unknown. Reason or good sense doesn’t provide an adequate compass, but that vibration of desire often does. And it matures when you begin to trust it.

“What do you want?”

“And what do you really want?”

“And, having that, what do you have and what do you really want?”

And eventually, you feel the throbbing joy of knowing, “Yes, that is what I want.”

As part of a major de-cluttering exercise I’ve been up in the loft sorting through old drawings and paintings. It hit me forcibly when I saw paintings I’d completely forgotten about that I’d created in my twenties. I really liked some of them. The energy and desire I’d experienced at the time came flooding right back. What a joy it was to play with paint at that time! I just really wanted to create a picture. I didn’t think about whether a painting was good or not – I threw my everything into it and it just was.

The years pass. You live in the real world now – career, responsibility, children maybe. And doubt creeps in, especially that greyest of all doubts – is this thing really worth doing? Wants become so subsumed into the needs of life and others that it’s hard to know what you want any more.

I want to remember that  “I threw my everything into it and it just was”. Are you tempted too? What might we do this month with that kind of joyful energy?

Or … let’s go for it … what about lending that attitude to whatever we do for a while?   Did you know that the word desire comes from the Latin phrase, de sidere, “from the stars”? Let’s follow our star!

Good month for it! :-)

Here’s wishing you a happy time.



Want a book?

My new book, The Art of Communication, is due out on 22 March. Pre-order for Christmas? You can, here.

The Art of Conversation
What an important topic! Conversational skill isn’t really about being articulate and having a fund of things to talk about – though that’s what most books on the subject would suggest. It’s more about being at ease with who you are and knowing how to connect with others. Only then do you have authentic and satisfying conversations.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms
This is a book about performance anxiety – offering 25 different strategies to perform with confidence. But it’s not just about presenting and performing – you’ll find its ideas useful for eliminating anxiety throughout your life.

Voice and Speaking Skills for Dummies
The perfect resource to discover the power of your voice, understand how it works and use it like a professional, whether in meetings, addressing an audience, or standing in front of a classroom.

Voice of Influence
“The body language of sound”. Like body language, your voice gives you away. Find your authentic voice, speak powerfully and influentially, and reach people on a deeper level.

Want a few tips at home?

Sign up for a free E-course to enjoy at home (I never share your email with anyone):

10 Secrets for Overcoming Performance Anxiety
How to Speak with More Authority
Understanding NLP
10 Tips for Having a Great Conversation
How to Raise Your Profile

Want some help?

Whether you already feel successful or are struggling with challenges, coaching can help you make the most of your potential. Email me or call on 01306 886114 if you want an initial conversation about what coaching might do for you. Coaching can take place face-to-face or via Skype or phone.

And for voice coaching – it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. Do you realise what an amazing potential resource you have in your voice? How you come across depends on your voice and how you use your body AND your breath. Self consciousness is the grand saboteur. You’ll experience positive results after even a single coaching session. Email me or call me on 01306 886114.

“Beliefs are sacrosanct.” … Interesting belief …


kisspng-cadaver-death-clip-art-corpse-5b21603151dc00.4161339415289139693353There’s an old story I first heard from Robert Dilts. A man in a mental institution believes that he’s dead. No one is able to shake him of this belief. The doctor asks him, “Do dead people bleed?” “Of course not!” replies the man. So the therapist pricks the patient (is this allowed?) and shows him the drop of blood. “Well, darn me,” exclaims the patient, “Dead people do bleed!”

Beliefs can be tricksters.

We like to think we can influence and persuade people, but on the whole people don’t give up their beliefs easily. One of the problems with beliefs is their uncertain provenance. We might like to categorise them as items of logic and back them up with more or less rational arguments, but they are actually made up of a curious complex blend of pictures/videos, internal dialogue and sensations/feelings. This foundation is rarely examined, yet provides the basis for beliefs that can be exceedingly strong. Beliefs are seldom changed by any weight of evidence to the contrary, as you may well have found with people you know.

Let me think of a couple of examples:

As a child, I excelled at school though I was very young for my class. I liked to believe that I was cleverer than anyone else, particularly cleverer since I was so young. It certainly gave me a sense of self-worth – oh, okay, superiority. The fact that my father was highly intelligent and that my mother was an early nurturer and natural teacher wasn’t part of my thinking. I believed that I did well because I was clever. My rational “because-s” were all about self-merit.

The “I’m better than you” belief of superiority is common. A friend of mine voted UKIP in the last couple of elections. He believes that we get to where we are through merit, and that if people are poor they are in that situation through their own failings. He has plenty of supportive evidence: look, they’re scroungers; look, they are poor but spend loads on cigarettes and alcohol; look, they waste their free education, and so on. His father was a self-made immigrant who created a successful business from nothing. My friend kept the business running, from his father’s solid financial base and after a secure childhood and splendid private education. But he needs to believe that he too is self-made and got to where he is entirely on his own merits. This isn’t unique — American presidents do the same. The edifice of his belief in merit stands on the shaky foundation of a highly personal belief that feels entirely necessary, but isn’t in fact true.

The generality of beliefs makes them dangerous

Such beliefs are generalisations accumulated from memories consisting of images, sounds and feelings. Once installed, plenty of instances are found to shore it up, creating a sense of infallibility. The foundations of the belief remain unseen and unexamined. If challenged, we find plausible (to us) justifications for any anomalies. Other people’s counter-arguments won’t shake our beliefs, as they’re not based on logical arguments. The core sensory base of beliefs lies in hidden unexamined depths and, remaining hidden, remains immune to examples to the contrary, however many thousands are produced.

The generality of beliefs makes them especially dangerous. This plays out to our cost in many ways.

We stick to our theories, our political parties, our political champions, our beliefs about climate change or abortion, our religions however fundamental or whacky, our faith in legal systems, systems of government, ideas of justice, fairness and on and on. And we do it by alighting on every piece of evidence that supports our beliefs and by selective blindness to anything that challenges them. Even worse, in today’s increased divisiveness we move more and more in a world that supplies that evidence – our favourite TV channels and newspapers, the areas we live in, the schools and religious institutions we attend, the jobs we do, the people we mix with, all heavily supported by social media and advertising that gives us more of that world and hides other information from us.

Changing beliefs

The obvious next question, if that is the case, is how to change beliefs that constrict us or harm others. Many people have found Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) useful as a way of challenging unhelpful thinking. But that logical approach doesn’t as a rule address the hidden core of beliefs. One of the reasons I have always liked NLP is because it examines the concealed parts of our belief system, those illogical, hard to understand parts of our psyche.

We can change beliefs, but seldom through information, not always instantly and not always easily. We change them through personal experiences that shift our view.

An experience of change

I believed for many years that my time at university had been a time of struggle with timidity and loneliness. It fit with my personal autobiography and I had a consistent internal dialogue to go with it.

Then, not so long ago, I met a good friend from university after many years’ gap. He reminded me of some of the bold things I did when I was president of the music club and of late nights of fun and laughter we had with friends. As he recounted these stories, I recognised they were true – his stories resonated with me and prompted more of my own. I suddenly remembered doing mad somersaults on a summer lawn. I’d shut down that whole part of my university life under the generalised belief that the three years had been an emotional struggle. It was wonderfully stimulating to remember there was a different side to it too. Not only that, the freeing of those memories allowed other memories of past joys to surface. I felt lighter and energised… and more me, if I can put it like that.

So my hold on a belief was loosened through connection with an old friend. We can also change beliefs through our own efforts. It’s many years since I read Susan Jeffers’ much imitated Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, which encourages us to step little by little out of our comfort zone. But she was right: it’s in new experiences that we expose our existing beliefs to the light and grow as a person. Every time we talk genuinely to someone different from us, every time we experience at first hand a different culture (not just from a tour bus), every time we walk through a different bit of town or read an author who takes us into a different world, every small new experience of different ways of being rattles our belief system entrapped in its cage.

Does it need to be rattled? Does it matter? Does it matter really? Yes, it matters. It’s life and death to the whole planet. How else are we going to get out of the narrow boxes created by the hotchpotch of human beliefs that separate us from each other, and begin to care enough about the rest of the planet to make the changes that will save all of us?

I mean, how? … !

Go well,

The only source of knowledge is experience. Albert Einstein


A new book!

I’ve just finished The Art of Communication: How to Be Authentic, Lead Others and Create Strong Connections, and it’s published by Capstone on 22 March 2019 – you can already pre-book it on Amazon. Here’s the blurb:

How do you have a conversation that feels deeply worthwhile and satisfying to both parties? The usual communication strategies of being informed and articulate, impressive in debate and persuasive in manner don’t create great conversations.

The Art of Communication shows you how to enjoy conversations that are more genuine, more energising, more creative and generally much more productive. Neuroscience is confirming that creative and meaningful conversation depends on the often-neglected attention of the right hemisphere of the brain as much as the well-practised patterns and certainties of the left-brain.

You’ll learn how to make a step-change, into a world where intuition, open-heartedness, spontaneity, lightness of touch and ease with uncertainty are as important as rational thinking.

Hope you’re tempted!

My other books

The Art of Conversation
What an important topic! Conversational skill isn’t really about being articulate and having a fund of things to talk about – though that’s what most books on the subject would suggest. It’s more about being at ease with who you are and knowing how to connect with others.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms
This is a book about performance anxiety – offering 25 different strategies to perform with confidence. But it’s not just about presenting and performing – you’ll find its ideas useful for eliminating anxiety throughout your life.

Voice and Speaking Skills for Dummies
The perfect resource to discover the power of your voice, understand how it works and use it like a professional, whether in meetings, addressing an audience, or standing in front of a classroom.

Voice of Influence
“The body language of sound”. Like body language, your voice gives you away. Find your authentic voice, speak powerfully and influentially, and reach people on a deeper level.


It is always worthwhile to go to a coach before you give an important presentation or speech. It’s not a matter of just knowing that you’re going to get it right; it’s discovering the frame of mind that transforms how you come across to others. And such a discovery will stand you in good stead for a lifetime …











Experience, huh …?

Just before my blog …

Don’t miss out! We are at a crucial moment in history for right-brain thinking.split brain

Here at the top – so that you see it! – just one week to go for the early bird rate for my Masterclass, Coaching and the HeART of Conversation on 17 October.

Don’t miss out on this event of the year! It’s going to be amazing… You don’t need to be a coach, but you do need to be interested in how we communicate with each other. Booking and more detail here.

The Masterclass will include material from my new book, REAL COMMUNICATION – Conversation That Matters in a World of Small Talk to be published by Capstone.

You will learn:

How to engage the attention of the right hemisphere of your brain to pick up subtleties of communication

How to catch deeper insights within the unpredictability and spontaneity of a coaching (or any) conversation

How to connect with wholehearted empathy without being sucked into the other person’s troubles

and much more.


And now, here’s my blog

Experience, huh?Demo+Sprinter+Image

It was early autumn, hint of chill in the air, a time of restarting, schools back, I was in my late 20’s, and after several years studying singing in Italy, I returned to the UK …

— and no job.

I wanted to be singing, but work in music was not coming. In the end I took a job driving a minibus with a London coach and tour company (I should have called this piece “From Coach to Coach”…). They helped me pass my Public Service Vehicle test as a coach driver, and also supported me in training to become an official Blue Badge London Tour Guide.

I wanted to be singing; I felt frustrated and disappointed. I didn’t want to be a bus driver – or even a tour guide.

However, I wasn’t bored: far from it. Every day was really different. Let me give you a flavour:

  • I drove disabled or excluded children to school, and teams to football matches.
  • I did endless day tours of London, Windsor and Hampton Court, driving and then guiding my visitors around the famous buildings. I did day trips to Stratford-upon-Avon, Oxford and Cambridge, Stonehenge and Canterbury, giving tourists the history of the places. I ran art tours around the British Museum and the National Gallery.
  • I swabbed down my minibus in the early morning with other coach drivers and then went down to the Greasy Spoon for breakfast.
  • I led weeklong holidays to Wales, Yorkshire, Cornwall and other parts of the UK, including a Scottish study-tour with American musicologists featuring harp making and a Presbyterian fire-and-brimstone sermon in Gaelic. At the end of the day, I’d get out my watercolours and find a landscape to paint. I guided a group from the congregation of President George Bush’s church in Midland, Texas on a tour of Ireland.
  • I did Italian language tours everywhere, and once lost (and found) an Italian in Stratford.
  • I drove film entourages to days of filming — John Cleese one day and Cliff Richard another. I ate non-stop for a day from film set catering while a company recorded an advertisement. I went to Phil Collins’ house for a recording day, plus a day of filming, mostly Beetles-like on a pedestrian crossing, with the Kings Singers.
  • I drove foreign diplomats around for the Government’s Central Office of Information to meetings with British companies – and parked my minibus once in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace.
  • I drove architects to look at new towns, businessmen to visit cement works, public servants to look at state-of-the-art rubbish recycling plants.
  • I sat waiting for hours in the minibus and learned my music scores.

At the time, I sometimes felt frustrated that I wasn’t doing what I wanted to be doing. I certainly didn’t see the work as anything useful, and I doubt whether family and friends did either. A friend disparagingly referred to us both as “under-achievers”.


Now, however, I look back and see what a wonderful apprenticeship it was for what I do now. As Steve Jobs famously said – it’s impossible to join up the dots forwards; they only make sense looking backwards. I realise now that those four or so years in my twenties gave me much that I appreciate every day today. It’s as if pieces of the jigsaw have come together and now make sense.

Let me count some of the ways:

  • I met a wide cross-section of people of different ages, cultures and interests, which taught me about connection and broadened my awareness of the world.
  • I had loads of experience in public speaking, and became very good at adlibbing to groups – especially in long traffic jams in central London!
  • I discovered what humour hit its mark with a group. I also learned that people are endlessly hilarious.
  • I learned many facts – that well-educated people are not always intelligent and that manual workers often are; that you can lug heavy cases onto the roof of a minibus and still retain your dignity (just); that the world is full of amazing things, including cement factories and an arsenal of ordnance underneath Salisbury Plain; that the King of Jordan is not tall (I stood next to him) and that Iona has the most beautiful empty beach in the world when you catch it on a sunny evening in May.

So, in this season of new starts, maybe you are setting off to start something new or maybe you’re stuck with what you don’t want to do. I’d say, whatever it is, don’t knock it – there’s gold there somewhere. The aforementioned Steve Jobs told Stanford graduates that it was a random course in calligraphy after he had officially dropped out of university that provided the foundation for Apple computers’ gorgeous graphics later. Joining up the dots …

A woman who does valuable work in psychotherapy told me that her brutal early start in life provided the foundation for the good things she does now. You wouldn’t wish Nelson Mandela 27 years in prison; nor young Malala Yousafzai the assassination attempt; nor Oprah Winfrey her early sexual abuse – but nor can you separate who they became or are becoming from what happened in their past. The corollary is that you suddenly realise that a charmed childhood followed by Eton and Oxford with bed-makers and grand-dinner-providers and a political adviser position and a seat in Parliament isn’t in fact charmed at all. Where’s the breadth in that? Of course, (oh, dear) charmed childhood, high school and university describe me too …

Which is why I want to suggest:

– that single focus and narrow experience is seldom a blessing;

– and that experiences of any sort, good, bad and indifferent, can be valuable and
motivating in later life, if you can integrate them sufficiently to use their gold.

How do you do that?

You work to release blame, not fair and poor me, and ask yourself instead, “Yes, okay, rubbish, boring, brutal, unconscionable, I’d rather it hadn’t happened – any of which may be true – but:

How are these experiences part of my becoming the best of me – now?”

Go well,


PS Did I remind you about the fabulous Masterclass, Coaching and the HeART of Conversation on 17 October – early bird only till this week-end? Oh, I did? Go for it!