Turning Bad things into Good

Why do bad things happen to good people?

I am pretty sure I have written a blog post or two about this topic before, but in the last week I have had an incident that brought it back for me, so I am having another go at the topic.

There isn’t always a reasonable explanation for things that happen. Sometimes good things happen for no reason, and we accept that pretty easily. But sometimes bad things happen to people who don’t deserve them, and that is a bit harder to accept.

For the most part I believe that we attract circumstance into our lives, but there are always still those wild cards, the mishaps (and the lucky breaks) and the unexpected happenings. We don’t live in isolation, and sometimes our lives are affected by the actions of others even if we didn’t attract them.

Sometimes, though, I think bad things happen to good people to remind them that they are loved.

Say Whaaaaaaat?

Let me explain. Sometimes the “bad thing” itself is not what the life lesson is all about. Sometimes the whole focus is on what happens NEXT.

I recently had a break in at my home. I was fortunate enough that it happened while we were not at home, so no-one was hurt. This criminal came into my home and took all of my daughter’s hard earned holiday money, my one or two (slightly) valuable pieces of jewelry, and odd things like my daughter’s USB speaker.

Needless to say I was (and still kind of am) pissed off about it all. How the hell can it be fair? When you have so little and work so hard for what you have got, that someone can just come in and take it? Not to mention feeling afraid, violated and in danger. All highly sucky shit.

What happened NEXT, though, made me feel pretty wow-ed out.

When the people I know started to hear about what happened I started to receive phone calls and messages. At my office I had one co-worker who stepped in and discreetly replaced all of the cash that was taken from my daughter. Then the next day I came in to find an envelope of cash on my desk, which everyone else had rallied together to raise. Some of which has gone towards the stolen piggy bank and some towards new window locks and things where the break in happened. I then also received a call from my employer (who’s away) who wants to assist with upping my security.

The long and short of it is, my people were there for me. They rallied around us in our time of need. Rather than being broken and bummed out about how terrible some people are (I have to not think about it too hard, I’m still in the angry phase), I am instead stuck by how kind, selfless and generous people can be.

So this is the good that came out of a bad situation. Sometimes bad things happen to good people to remind you that others care. Sometimes you have to take a hit in order to give the people in your life the opportunity to show you that you are meaningful them.

To let them rally around you, and to remind you that when the going gets tough, people care enough to lend a hand. Maybe the biggest problem we have is that we wait for a crisis to ask for help, and to give it. Maybe we all need to learn to be more community orientated all the time – so that no-one is ever in this thing called life alone.

If you have suffered a loss or a trauma, try to look beyond what happened, to what happened next. The people who were there for you – they are golden. Just remember – you have to be open to letting people help you, too. This is something I struggle with. I don’t want to appear needy or clingy or like I am trying to grab for myself. I have learned to be strongly independent and fend for myself (and my kids). I don’t easily accept charity. Maybe that is part of why this happened, because I have to learn to accept kindness as easily as I hand it out.

Now I understand that there are some terrible things that happen, that are not turned around so easily. For these incidents I am truly, deeply sorry. But if no-one got hurt, you have to try and find that silver lining.

Sometimes when bad things happen to good people they can turn out to be good things.

 

 

 

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The Gift of Solitude

Be grateful for the time you have alone

If mass media is to be believed, being alone is the worst thing that can possibly happen to a human. We all crave and need companionship, relationships, and other people. We are social creatures and societies have been responsible for our evolution from primitive man to our current state of civilisation.
But….
Spending time alone is important too.
As a single mom who works full time, I get very little REAL alone time. When I do find myself alone by some chance it always feels like a present. Like on a Sunday morning, for example. Not every Sunday, but sometimes, my kids will go off to church with my mom and I will unexpectedly find myself alone for two whole hours. Not the kind of alone that you are when you’re the only person awake in a house with other sleeping bodies, but really alone. And you know what? It feels like a luxury. Like the air itself is softer and somehow charged with sparkles and energy.
Should I exercise? Should I do yoga? Should I have a shower and walk around stark naked for a while after? Maybe I’ll read a book or play guitar (with no one complaining about it) or maybe just do some leisurely work when I can actually think – or maybe just think and let my mind wander – something I used to do a lot as a child and never seem to have the luxury of doing anymore.
I love my family and my friends, but being alone is a treat because I like myself too. Without time alone how can you ever know what you’re thinking?
Time alone is a gift, use it like the present that it is.
If you’re single or lonely you might be thinking “ya, only if you don’t have to be alone is it a gift.” That’s understandable, if you feel starved for companionship the idea of being alone might seem sad and dark to you. It isn’t, and you won’t be alone forever. In fact, the most sure-fire way to make sure that you have people in your life is to learn to enjoy your own company. Because people are drawn to those who are comfortable in their own skin.

We are so accustomed to our media induced self-loathing that the idea of enjoying own company is almost frowned upon. Liking yourself is an act of rebellion. Be rebellious.
You have to spend time alone. Every person should spend a few years single. Every person should spend time alone, finding out what you like, what you don’t like. Learning who you are and loving yourself for it. If you don’t you can never truly be yourself. You won’t know how.Don’t spend all your free time on Social Media. It will only make you feel inadequate.
You are the best friend you will ever have. Fuck being okay with yourself. Learn to love yourself. Laugh at your own jokes. Exercise. Eat things you like. Daydream. Read a book.

This is how we recharge. It’s how we become centred and calm. It’s how you gather strength and motivation to carry on. Never feel badly for being alone. Feel grateful. You’re in good company.
Besides, if we are all alone, we are together in that too.

Inspirational and Aspirational trump attainable.

new-year_fb2Be Inspired – even if it kills you.

NYE – a moment of reflection, projection and wistfulness.

2016 – what a year. I am not going to get started on all the celebrity deaths,  the Syrian crisis or any of the other tremendous and startling things that went down this year. I am sure there are many blogs dedicated to every one of them for you to read, should you wish.

I will observe that it was a tremendous year. A year of endings, some of them great, some of them launching us into new things, and some of them from which I know with absolutely certainty, I will never fully recover. It was a realty check, through and through.

But for all that I carry a wary hopefulness.

I know with more certainty than ever before that I am strong. I know that I can make anything happen, if I set my mind to it – even seemingly impossible things like getting diplomas, publishing first novels (no matter how bad it is) and getting promotions at the day job.

I have written a LOT of content for the internet this year – not nearly as much for this blog as I would have liked to have, but please feel free to look at my online portfolio if you feel lonely and like you need to know what I’m doing.

Through my research for various papers I started to notice a trend. It’s a subtle thing, something so simple that you don’t notice it at first – this is it – the public don’t want to buy your bullshit anymore. People are associating themselves with brands, communities and companies who tell the truth about who they are and who appeal to their higher nature. People need to feel inspired, or they aren’t interested. How do I know this? Well I am people too. I observe people all day every day. What I see is less and less giving a shit about being cool and more caring about real things. Did this product get tested on animals? Is this organic? Forget what does your company do and how do they do it (although these are essential details), we want to know why you do it and who you are.

What I have realized is that no matter who you are or what you do – whether you’re a stay at home mom, a street sweeper, an executive, a big brand or a student at school – you have to stand for something. You have to believe in something. You have to have a higher goal and it has to be the passion that drives every other thing you do.

It doesn’t have to be realistic, it doesn’t have to be achievable – it just has to be inspirational. You may find yourself achieving the un-achievable or even something else that is equally wonderful and unexpected.

You see the thing with having a driving passion – is that it must light a fire inside of you and everyone else who comes close to it. These are things that will keep you going through the bad times.

When Margret Hamilton wrote the code that sent the first men to the moon she was not working to achieve the attainable. She was working to realise a dream. Another lesson we can learn from her is how she dealt with being over shadowed in her achievements by the men who actually landed on the moon. She didn’t kick up a fuss and demand recognition for what was ultimately her achievement – no. She just soldiered on with her next project, started her own company and became incredibly successful through her  paradigm of Development Before the Fact (DBTF) for systems and software design.

In other words – she got an idea in her head and went out, and with passion and determination, she effing designed, developed and created systems and things that were unthinkable, unrealistic, and seemingly unattainable. However, she never let that stand in her way.

Perhaps that is too abstract an example.

Maybe I should be keeping it closer to home, it’s just that I think Margret Hamilton is pretty awesome and somebody should mention her before the year is over.

Remember folks, Martin Luther King didn’t have a five year plan – he had a  dream. He succeeded not because he was the smartest or the bravest, but because he truly believed in that dream and he inspired others to believe in it too.

So for 2017 I wish you a dream. I wish you a passion and an inspiration which is so in your face (and heart) that you just can’t ignore it. I wish you the fire to inspire those around you and I wish you the  strength to hang onto your dream, your “why” through whatever comes your way. May it guide you, may it help you survive the heart ache and the sorrow and the generally mundane. Let it keep you going strong. Happy New Year.

(Special thanks to Simon Sinek who first articulated this concept for me so well)

Trick or Treat & Fireworks

In South Africa, we didn’t grow up celebrating Halloween the way you see them do it in the movies. In fact as South African kids in the 90’s we envied our “overseas” peers for their ritualistic dressing up and candy claiming.

The holiday has started to gain a bit more momentum here, although I think it’s funny to note that the few places that do celebrate Halloween in SA have no qualms about changing the date to suit the community. Last year Knysna’s Leisure Isle community (the one place that peeps can trick or treat, locally), behaved like true South Africans and moved Halloween because of the Rugby.  ( I don’t think you can get more South African than that). We rocked up on actual Halloween night only to be told that we had missed the festivities by 24 hours.

This year I was clever enough to make sure I had my trick or treating dates right. We will be celebrating the holiday tonight (Saturday) instead of Monday (actual Halloween) because it just makes more sense to have it on a Saturday, apparently.

One of the main reasons many South African’s don’t “do” Halloween is because it’s considered to be too secular (okay evil) in what is for the most part still a strongly religious community. Which is why I was very fascinated to discover that it was orginally a Christian Holiday.

According to my (admittedly not that extensive) research, The Holiday was originally marked by Christians who would light candles on the graves of the faithfully departed in order to remember and honor them. Thus the name “the day of the dead” was born. It was also known as “All Saints eve” because the first people to be honored were saints and martyrs. Later all the dearly beloved were remembered.

What’s really interesting, though, is that like many Christian holidays, this one was built on an older festival. The Celtic Harvest Festival was a several day long celebration that pre-dates Christianity. The Gaelic people called it Samhain, The celebration that marked the end of the harvest and the start of Winter, the darker half of the year. Its new mascots are Halloween and Guy Fawkes Day (and you thought that was purely political, didn’t you?!).

It’s a time when nature itself “dies” for a while. This death is essential, though, and part of the great cycle of life. It’s a time to rejuvenate, regroup and grow. Although down here in the Southern Hemisphere, it is, of course, the start of Summer. Maybe that’s why we never really got into the full-blown spirit of Halloween like our Northen counterparts do.

Where ever you are, and whatever your thoughts are on the whole festival, I hope you have a great changing of the seasons. May this next stage of the great cycle bring you good things. I, myself, will be out there snacking on sweet things and celebrating the life and fun that once belonged to my own faithfully departed.

Goodbye Jack

img_8542I’d like to use this little piece of cyber space to say goodbye to a most spectacular man. Jaco Botha, Whaco-Jacko, the friendliest “big bad wolf”.

Without him I may never have started writing. He was my very first mentor, and together with our friend Anje Rautenbach (of Going Somewhere Slowly), he encouraged me to put pen to paper and my fingers to the keyboard and get started.

Jaco was my mentor and my colleague. He was my friend. He gave me writing assignments, constructive criticism, and most importantly, his time. He believed in me before I did.

Jaco was exceptional. Born with only 5% vision he lived a life unlike any of us could imagine. And yet he always saw the most important things, the curve of  a lady’s leg, for example, and the good in people, their potential and their talent. In spite of his disability, he lived a life packed with adventure and he always had a good story to tell, or to sing, with his guitar and his cigarette in hand. He was an accomplished writer and he achieved more in his too-short lifetime than many of us perfectly sighted individuals ever will.

I am not even going to try to give a proper description of him, I don’t think I am up to the job and I fear I wouldn’t do him justice. One thing I will say for him though is that he was kind. He had a soft heart and he always had time for everyone.

For a year or two I drove you to work every morning and home every evening, and in that time you peppered my and my children’s lives with stories, songs and lots of kindness. To say that you will be missed is an understatement. You have left a Jaco shaped hole in the world and we will always remember you smiling, laughing, singing and causing good natured mischief.

I am grateful to have been lucky enough to spend your last sunny Sunday morning on the beach with you. If I had known it would be your last I might have insisted we stay a little longer, maybe had another cup of coffee.

Go well my friend. May you find great new adventures.

Sink or Swim

I was sitting watching my six year old in the pool at swimming lessons the other day, when I had thought.

He is learning how to swim, but not quite there yet. His body is perfectly able to complete all of the moves. His instructors have shown him everything he needs to know to be able glide through the water. He has all of the information, and he has the ability. All he lacks is the knowledge that he can do it. He doesn’t yet have the confidence to trust himself, take a deep breath, and swim.

Just like so many of us. In fact, just like ALL of us, save a remarkable few.

I can’t count how many people I know who have the skills and ability and all the information they need to do anything they want to do. To live the life they dream of. What they lack is the confidence in themselves. It’s all about mind over matter. The child who can’t swim today and suddenly get’s it tomorrow is the same child. He has the same information, the same body and almost the same amount of practice on the day before and the day after he learns to swim alone. But the confidence, the self knowledge, is what makes the difference between swimming and drowning.

I am not saying everyone must quit their day jobs and run after their dreams (well, I am a little bit, but not entirely). You must, of course, make sure that you have gone to the necessary lengths to gain the knowledge and ability you need to move forwards. It’s no good being a formula one racer and crashing an airplane. Sure, you have the same opposable thumbs as a pilot. You are good at working with fast moving modes of transport.But some common sense wouldn’t kill you. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Know thyself

Make sure you know what your skills and abilities are before you set out. Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can. You may be surprised by how much that is.

Anyone who can read and has internet access can learn to do just about anything, or at least learn enough about it to get started in the right direction. Hell, I myself even learned how to curl my hair with a flat iron just through a You Tube tutorial. It was very liberating. I feel I am ready to take on the world now.

(forget what’s true) Believe what’s good for you

Ages and ages ago I read a story about a two people who got lost in the snow. The one guy prayed for help to come. The other mocked him saying there was no God. He wanted to give up and sit down, but the believing man urged him to keep walking. A short while later, out of the blue, a band of indigenous sled type people found them and led them to safety. The first guy says “I told you God would save us!”. The second guy says “God didn’t save us, those people did.”.It was just a matter of perspective. The believing man may not have had the strength to carry on without his faith. It saved him. It helped him. It was good for him.

The second guy’s need to believe what was “right” to his mind rather than what was good for him, may have been the reason he would have been the first to give up, stop walking and freeze to death.  He is also just a pessimistic dipshit, obviously.

Anyway – I digress. The long and short of it is this: What happens in your head can save you or it can destroy you.

You have the same physical, mental and emotional ability as billions of other people out there. IN fact if you are reading this then you also have internet access and have the power of information at your finger tips. All you need now is to believe in yourself. Really believe, have faith. Choose to believe in what is good for you and your soul. Swim.

 

 

(Thank you Tim Marshall for your photo via Stocksnap)

 

 

 

Staying calm while Freaking out

Just because I’m not freaking out, doesn’t mean I’m not freaked out. Or, conversationally, just because I’m freaked out, doesn’t mean I am freaked out. Wait..

Let me explain with a little story. Today I found myself unexpectedly spending the day with one of our company’s US associates. My laptop crashed and was being repaired so I was nominated to take her sight seeing, not that I really mind that, it was great fun visiting my elephant friends again.

Anyway we spent the whole day together and really did a lot of chatting and getting to know each other. Towards the end of the day while we were driving back to Knysna she looked at me and said, “But you don’t looked stressed at all”.

She couldn’t understand how I was calmly answering her questions about my life, describing the realities of being a single mom who works two jobs, studies, exercises and all the rest, without showing signs of extreme stress and fatigue. Why am I not a nervous wreck? How can I be so calm?

So I told her. I do worry. I do stress. I just don’t believe in complaining. It gets you nowhere. I do freak out, but freaking out only serves to get you all upset and doesn’t actually better your situation. So when your laptop crashes and you spend a day gallivanting you don’t freak out about all the work you have to catch up after hours. You just enjoy the trip.

When you find you are the only parent who was sucker enough to volunteer your services backstage at the school play, you don’t feel sorry for yourself. You don’t loose your cool with the rowdy thirteen year olds (all 200 of them). No. You play hang man. You help with their make-up and you appreciate that you are the only parent with an inside scoop on what your children are actually experiencing .

So maybe I can’t buy them new school shoes right now and maybe I get that you can’t possibly understand what that’s like, it doesn’t mean I am going to sit on the pavement and cry (although lord knows sometimes I’m close).

No ways. Instead I am grateful to have two healthy kids who have feet that need shoeing. I am grateful that bringing them up without privellage has made them stronger, more emotionally intelligent people. People with substance, humor,  and colourful intellect. People with compassion.

We have all learned to use humor to survive the hard times and make the most of the good. We take nothing for granted, especially not each other, because sometimes that’s all we have.

I think a lot of wealthy, privileged people would benefit hugely from a bit of healthy perspective. What is the meaning of life? I don’t know. Why are we here, why is life so hard, why bother at all when we are doomed to die anyway? I hope someday I will find out. But right now I can tell you this:

You are not here to suffer.

You are not here to spend your time freaking out.

Sure things get tough, they get hectic. Really REALLY hectic. The kind of hectic that only the poverty stricken can appreciate. But you know what? You can’t let it ruin your life.

So we live by faith and hope and happy thoughts (and a lot of hard work), and somehow through NOT freaking out, even when we are freaking out, everything is okay. Yours will be okay too.

Now take a deep breath and go and have a happy day – because life is beautiful.