Friday, January 23, 2015

In the doldrums

Are you feeling blue this week? Did you feel particularly down on Monday? If so, you're not alone! The third Monday in January is known as "Blue Monday", officially the year's most depressing day - although fairly unscientifically it has to be said. Blue Monday or not, we can all feel down in the dumps and stuck in the doldrums at times.
"Blue Monday or not, we can all feel down in the dumps and stuck in the doldrums at times."
My trusty Brewers Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1894 text) describes the doldrums as:
"The name given to that region of the ocean near the equator noted for calms, squalls and baffling winds, between the north east and south east trade winds."

Stuck in the doldrums..
I like the idea of baffling winds, as opposed to the trade winds. Sometimes life feels both full of squalls and yet bafflingly lacking progress, and like the mariners stuck on board ship in the heat of the doldrums, we can get frustrated and impatient.

I love reading books about explorers and the great age of maritime exploration although sadly I don't have much in common with these pioneers. Blue Monday wasn't invented back then, but many of them literally spent time in the doldrums at times on their great journeys, and metaphorically at least this is something we DO share with them.
"..if you really want to get where you need to go and not just go round in circles, then it's necessary to pick up the next current."
Maybe you can relate to this. Sometimes we set off on great journeys in pursuit of a far off destination. We can make fast progress to begin with, but then inexplicably the wind disappears from our sails and we're becalmed. Drifting in the doldrums. Progress slows to a crawl and for all our direction we seem powerless to get there.

It occurs to me, from my reading of various naval exploration books (and all twenty books of Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander series), that if you really want to get where you need to go and not just go round in circles, then it's necessary to pick up the next current or different set of trade winds. Diagrams of the major Atlantic currents demonstrate their circular or oval nature, and especially around the equator there's a need to cross the doldrums to pick up new currents to take you south.

Keep your sails up..
So as much as it's frustrating feeling stuck in the doldrums, activity isn't always productive if you're on the wrong current.

There comes a point where you need to jump currents otherwise you'll end up going back on yourself. The question is, what can you do when you're becalmed?

Drawing from my deeply unscientific study of naval novels, this is what I think Captain Jack Aubrey (aka Russell Crowe) would recommend.

Firstly - keep your sails up. Sometimes we pack up when our momentum packs in, and miss those baffling winds when they DO blow. Keeping our sails up is about being ready to seize opportunity. And you can't do a daring counter-attack on a pesky French frigate if your sails are furled.
"Sometimes we just need to set our seeds adrift and see where they wash up."
Secondly, stick to a routine of sorts. I'm not advocating eighteenth century naval discipline, but rather using routine as a means to avoid boredom and prevent mutiny! In the novels the sailors use this time to knit warm clothes for the southern latitudes among other things. But routine gives a shape to the time and keeps discipline, making rations go further and keeping an element of familiarity. (Also eat plenty of fruit to avoid scurvy!). Rum is also good for morale. Thirdly, remind yourself where you're heading. Keep taking bearings and being honest where you are. When you pick up your new current and the new trade winds you'll need to trim your sails so that it takes you where you want to go - otherwise it's activity for activity's sake.

You never know where you'll wash up..
Moving back onto land, at different times of the year I see seeds drifting in the wind. I particularly like sycamore seeds, like mini helicopters spinning through the air. They're also heading off on an adventure, looking to take root in new places and find new opportunity. Sometimes we just need to set our seeds adrift and see where they wash up.

In the book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament there's a line "Cast your bread upon the waters, and after many days it will return to you" (Ecc 11:1). This verse has often encouraged me when I've put creative or relational seeds out there, seemingly with no return. Like a message in a bottle, you never know where and when these will return to you, but that's no reason to keep them to yourself. If anything it's an encouragement to share more and do more, to sow and sow and sow.

So don't be blue when you're in the doldrums. Your life isn't a waste and periods of calm or baffling squalls can be a sign that you're edging closer to the next current you need on your journey. Keep your sails up, keep in shape, and be ready to catch that current!

"..periods of calm or baffling squalls can be a sign that you're edging closer to the next current you need."

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Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts on being stuck in the doldrums! If you've enjoyed it why not share it with your friends on social media?

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Identity

You can hear it best when you stop. In the quietness of the night perhaps, or on the seashore. Maybe you hear it on the bus, or at a funeral. That whisper, that nagging question deep down.

Who am I?

I'd hazard a guess that everyone asks this question at different times in their life.

Who am I?

Our identity is important.

I'm hardly an international spy, but one time I managed to get a martial arts DVD from the video store on my friend's account without him being there OR his video card. I was on my way to his house and was trying to save time and afterwards I was pretty pleased with myself that I was able to pull off such an audacious move.

I was banking on the fact that a) I knew his address and b) I knew the films he'd recently rented (we were going through a phase where we were watching lots of martial arts movies). To be honest I think the store assistant was a little dubious but I got away with it, to my relief and pride! Hardly a bank heist (I sort of had my friend's permission to pretend to be him and I'd paid to rent the film!) but in my mind it was right up there with James Bond (or maybe Johnny English).
"Our identity is important"
There was a news story recently about a Canadian guy who'd bought round the world holiday tickets but had subsequently split up with his girlfriend. Unfortunately the tickets were linked to identity and could only be used by someone with the same name. Amazingly he found someone with the same name as his ex-girlfriend to travel with him and the story had a happy ending!

So what's your identity? How do you know what's the real you?

There are so many things out there that try to steal our identity in different ways. It's not just cyber criminals and organised gangs trying to hack your bank account. Our culture is always trying to project on to us what it thinks our identity should be, placing a high value on the type of smartphone you have, or car you drive, or clothes you wear, or places you shop. There's a huge pressure to conform, not to stand out, not to be who we really are.

So often we define our identity by the things that we do, by our work, but our actions don't define who we really are. As any good parent knows, when our children do things wrong it's important to let them know that their behaviour was naughty not that they are inherently bad ("that was a naughty thing to do" vs "you are a naughty boy").
"How do you know what's the real you?"
There's a quote I see flying around the internet "Be who you want to be not what others want to see". And while I don't think that our identity is entirely self-willed, so often we can accept other people's priorities and goals for our lives than those priorities and goals which truly enable us to embrace our identity - who we're made to be.

As Oscar Wilde quipped, "Be yourself, everyone else is taken", or as Shakespeare put it "to thine own self be true".

We're God's workmanship..
From a Christian perspective each of us is made uniquely by an infinitely creative God. We are each God's workmanship, as the book of Ephesians reminds us, his great artwork. And as great masterpieces have a signature, so we too carry the mark of our maker within us - his life-giving breath, his image.

Our purpose in life is rarely revealed to us all at once. Instead my experience is that it's more of a gentle unfolding. Our true identity is something that can take time to explore and find - but I do have confidence that we're each of us uniquely made and loved by God, and I take comfort in that.

I don't know what your big question is. I don't know who you've made to be and what you're made to do. I can't help you find your true identity, but if that's your big question, then I know the place you need to start.

The Alpha Course is all about having space to ask life's big questions. Check it out here and maybe think about finding a course near you..
"as great masterpieces have a signature, so we too carry the mark of our maker within us"

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Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts on identity! If you've enjoyed it why not share it with your friends on social media?

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 

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Friday, January 09, 2015

Cheerful perseverance?

Grit your way through?
For many of us the gloss and optimism of a new year dawning may have faded a little, as life's routines and demands have resumed after the holiday period.

Perhaps with all the new things we want to start it's frustrating that we find ourselves back in situations or circumstances that we wish would go away:

That difficult project at work.
That same amount of debt. 
That health issue.

As much as we want to wipe the slate clean on January 1st, in reality there are many things we are in the midst of that we have to see through. Perhaps we just need to grit our teeth and push through?
"we find ourselves back in situations or circumstances that we wish would go away"
That's certainly one approach, but it speaks to me of stress, tension and a lack of enjoyment. I picture polar explorers bravely gritting their teeth against the cold and forcing themselves on. Being resolutely focused on the destination and blocking everything else out. I had a friend at school whose dentist told him off for grinding his teeth at night. This was apparently wearing them down, and was probably an unfortunate sign of underlying tension and stress!

A favourite explorer and all round adventurer of mine is Bear Grylls. Reading the introduction to a book of his the other day a phrase jumped out at me - "cheerful perseverance". More than most people, Bear could be an authority on gritting teeth, but here he is proposing smiling through our difficulties rather than grimacing.
"More than most people, Bear could be an authority on gritting teeth"
There's no doubt that our circumstances, habits and systems of thinking rarely change overnight. Good habits take time to form, systems take time to change, and destinations take time to get to. So it's a given that we'll need to persevere at some point. Maybe it's already proving hard to keep those New Year's resolutions! We all face the temptation to give up.

I really enjoy running, but have been very tempted to give up in the middle of 10k or half marathon! About two-thirds of the way though there's usually a dip in energy and a spike in pain at which point those thoughts of giving up force their way to the front of my brain.

Once I entered a half marathon off the back of little training, blazed for ten miles then really hit the wall.. reduced to a shuffle! It was a point-to-point race along a canal so there was no option to drop out.  There were no spectators, the other competitors were all strung out, and it was particularly muddy. I had to just plod on to the end - definitely one of those grit your teeth moments.
"Maybe you're dreaming of the Shire whilst stuck in Mordor."
By contrast, when my wife Kate ran the London marathon the other year even just supporting on the sidelines was an emotional experience. The whole atmosphere was much more uplifting, even with runners clearly in pain towards the end. Every time I saw Kate she had a beaming smile, and she was being cheered on by the huge crowds the whole way round. A fantastic example of cheerful perseverance.

Maybe we tend to grit our teeth when we try and do things on our own, whilst cheerful perseverance comes easier when we have others around and allow them to support us.

The road to Mordor..
If you're a fan of The Lord of the Rings then you might agree that one of the real heroes of the story is Sam Gamgee. I think Sam is the perfect example of cheerful perseverance, especially on the road to Mordor. He sacrificially serves the ring bearer Frodo, and seemingly always stays cheerful even in the worst circumstances. We can learn a lot from Sam Gamgee I think!

Winston Churchill said "If you're going through hell, keep going". Maybe this year's not started well. Maybe you're stuck in situations which are taking time to resolve. Maybe you're dreaming of the Shire whilst stuck in Mordor.

By all means grit your teeth to push through, but perhaps there's scope for being cheerfully perseverant instead? Your circumstances may not change, but you will be changed in the midst of them. Perhaps there are those around you who are bearing secret troubles. Maybe you could be that Sam Gamgee to members of your family, colleagues in your office, or neighbours in your community?
"We can learn a lot from Sam Gamgee I think!"
In my Christian faith the central hope is that a day is coming when (in the language of The Lord of the Rings) we'll escape from Mordor and get back to the Shire for ever. God even promises us that we don't have to suffer on our own, his Spirit will be within us to encourage and cheer us - a heavenly Sam Gamgee no less!

So take heart. You're not alone. And there's a way to smile even on the road to Mordor.




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Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts on cheerful perseverance! If you've enjoyed it why not share it with your friends on social media?

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 

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Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Interview with Jonathan Alexander Scott

Hi everyone, it's the time of the year when lots of people set goals for the year ahead, or take a depressing look at their finances and feel trapped by money worries and debt. This week I caught up with Jonathan Alexander Scott, a writer who's recently released book "The 21 Day Debt Revolution" has already been a recent bestseller on Amazon and has been downloaded by thousands of people.

Hi Jonathan, thanks for being willing to be interviewed for The Potting Shed, how would you describe yourself and what you do?

To be honest, Luke, I am just like everyone else.  I am a normal person in a normal job.  I have a wife and children and live in a normal house in a normal city in the south of England.  I know I’ve overused the word “normal” in the last few sentences but I have done that on purpose.  I want to point out that I am not from a privileged background.  I am not overly intelligent and do not have any sort of intellectual advantage or inside knowledge over anyone else on this topic.  My point is that if I can do what I have, then there is no reason why anyone else could not.

Having been in a very large amount of debt (as described in my book) I am now passionate about helping people get out of debt.  It’s not a full time job yet and maybe it never will be, but, as far as I’m concerned, if my book helps even just one person turn their life around then it will have been worth writing.  Our society has arrived at a point where debt is a way of life.  It’s almost as though if we don’t have debt then we are strange and abnormal.  This is what I want to change.
"Our society has arrived at a point where debt is a way of life"
How did you end up writing The 21 Day Debt Revolution and why?

I’ve always dreamed of writing a book.  I’ve started so many but never finished them through a combination of misplaced time management, lack of drive and lack of knowledge on the subject matters I’d chosen.  A few short months ago I sat at my computer and realised that I have learnt so much about how to manage finances, particularly in order to get out of debt, that I should maybe write it down.  People often ask me for advice in relation to their debt, so maybe I could share what I have learnt with others in a wider scale than simply one-to-one conversations.  Because I am quite pragmatic I sat down and learned everything I could about writing a book then sat down to write.  It didn’t take too long to have the first draft done, but the editing (and re-editing!) is what took the time.
     
As I said before, I am passionate about seeing people living a life that is within their means, free from the trappings of debt.  On a personal note, I want people to be free to follow their dreams and one of the big things that stops people is debt.  I want people to be able to choose to move abroad, or give up their job, or take a risk on a new venture, without having to stop and say: “I can’t do that, I need to earn enough to make my debt repayments.”
     "I want people to be free to follow their dreams and one of the big things that stops people is debt"
Imagine being able to live the life of your dreams.  One of the biggest obstacles to that is debt, so that is why I want to be able to help people become debt free.

What would you say to people who feel overwhelmed and trapped by money worries and debt?

There are two things not to do:  

Firstly; do not panic.  Panicking will not help you see the issue clearly.  It is often not as bad as you may think it is and nothing is insurmountable

Secondly; do not hide or ignore it.  Debt will not just go away.  The longer you leave the problem to fester, the bigger the problem will get.

All you need is a clear sensible plan, which is why I wrote the book.  It is very hard for someone to just start spending less, earning more and paying off debt, as this involves breaking spending habits that have formed over the years.  Once you realise that by following a sensible plan results come and pick up momentum quite quickly, it becomes easier to avoid returning to those bad habits.

Your book's reached lots of people, what have been the best bits so far on this journey for you, and have they been what you expected?
  
Jonathan looking serious
In the two weeks since its release, The 21 Day Debt Revolution has been downloaded by over 2500 people around the world.  This showed me that there is a need and that people long for a solution for their debt challenges.  The moment I saw that someone had bought my book was amazing.  I was so excited that someone was actually interested in what I had to say.  I never imagined those figures would hit 100+ downloads a day!  (At this point my wife started getting quite bored of my “book-downloads” updates!).
      
When Amazon listed my book as a no.1 Bestseller, that was also another highpoint, but my greatest high point was when I received a couple of reviews from people who were very grateful for the book.  Someone said: “I wish I’d had this book when I was in $20.000 of debt…”   and another has even started a blog detailing his own personal 21 Day Debt Revolution.  (take a look here: http://www.lookatbooks.com/journey-21-day-debt-revolution/)

It’s these personal stories that make the whole journey worthwhile.  It’s an amazing privilege and an amazing responsibility to be able to have a positive impact on people’s lives.

What inspires you and how do you stay inspired?

Seeing people’s lives change for the better is what inspires me.  Even if no one else buys my book again, I know that through this work I have reached about 2500 people already and that is what matters.    
"Write down your ultimate dream and work out what the first step is towards achieving it"
Apart from your own excellent book, can you recommend any resources to my readers?

There are many great books out there, but if I were to recommend one to you it would be Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover.  My book is a 21 day plan to help people turn their lives around and head in the right direction.  Dave Ramsey’s book covers all the theory behind money management, including what to do after you get out of debt, which my book doesn’t cover.

The other thing I would recommend is this: If you are in so much debt that you can no longer make the repayments, or you are at serious imminent risk of losing your house or facing bankruptcy, please contact a debt advice centre.  

Don’t be sucked in by any agency that asks you for money either upfront or after providing their services.  I would always recommend www.CAPUk.org.  CAP are a christian charity that have helped thousands and thousands of people get out of debt.  They provide support and friendship, along with the financial and legal assistance required to help people with their debt.   

For people looking to take a brave step towards their hopes and dreams, what would your advice be?

Don’t wait for your dream to happen to you.  Make it a reality.  Write down your ultimate dream and work out what the first step is towards achieving it.  Take that step then write down the next one.  Before you know it you’ll have gone from taking one or two small tentative steps to running full tilt towards your goal.
"Do not panic"
Finally, what's next for you as a writer?

I am currently working on my next book, a financial guide for newly-weds.  I would like this book to help newly-weds establish their dreams and financial goals early on in the marriage so that they walk together towards the same goal.  It is so easy to get married and then realise 5, 10, 15 years down the line that you have different ideas about how, and on what, money should be spent.  This then causes tension in a marriage and leads to all sorts of relationship problems.

I would like to help people avoid those later problems by providing a plan that will assist them in setting their financial and family goals together early so they can avoid issues of debt and mismanagement of money later on. 

Thanks so much for your time Jonathan, and every success going forward!

Jonathan's book The 21 Day Debt Revolution is available on Amazon and you can follow his blog here.

Monday, January 05, 2015

A day beginning backwards

A Monday morning journey to work.
Full moon slung low in the sky like textured ivory, 
Shadowy seas like stains on old piano keys.


It's as if the day is beginning backwards,
starting with moonrise not daybreak.

The pre-dawn year is still young, 
lit only by the reflected light of months just gone.
Its own light yet to be revealed.


Meanwhile wispy clouds cross the hanging moon.
I board my train, 
stepping with anticipation into the new day.  


Friday, January 02, 2015

Building the plane as you fly it..

I heard this metaphor recently and it really struck a chord with me: “Building the plane as you fly it”.

Actual planes aside I think it’s a great picture about pursuing our dreams and turning them into reality.

For years I deferred ambitions or ideas until the mythical “perfect time” came, or kidded myself that these ideas needed to be fully formed before I could start them, or that I needed to be fully accomplished in a certain skill before I could do them.
"Our creations or circumstances don’t have to be perfect to begin with"
For many dreams or goals in our lives the most important element is to actually get started. I don’t know about you but I’m an expert in prevarication but there is something gloriously liberating in actually getting started. To-do lists are all well and good, like revision charts and business plans, but until you take ACTION they’re just pieces of paper.

Don't wait for perfect conditions..
“Building the plane as you fly it” speaks to me about the importance of action and momentum. Our creations or circumstances don’t have to be perfect to begin with. 

Any great art or work starts unformed and has to go through a process of taking shape. Great artists/composers/writers (insert profession here) all start as beginners at some point in their lives. As long as you have a destination in mind it’s ok to just start. We need to give ourselves permission to begin.

So here it is. You have permission to take action. You are cleared for take-off.

Perhaps this year could be characterised by courageous action for you? Not just the same old half-hearted resolutions but passionate and positive steps towards a meaningful destination – the Promised Land (whatever that looks like for you).
"Perhaps this year could be characterised by courageous action?"
A few years ago I had an epiphany of sorts which led me to take some action towards some dreams I’d had. I realised I’d been unconsciously waiting for perfect conditions and putting my dreams off. A phrase that helped me to take action was “Go with the strength you have”, something that God says to Gideon in the Bible (Judges 6:14). I can relate to Gideon - he is someone else who had discounted or disqualified himself from his divine mission.

It gets easier the further you go..
Starting can often be the hardest part, but once you’re off it’s surprising how easily you can find your rhythm. According to Dr MikeStroud, an expert on human endurance, when you start running the first couple of miles feel the hardest. This is because it takes time for the various energy systems in the body to kick in, so you feel short of breath and your muscles feel like they are working hard as they generate an oxygen debt. 

After that, however, when the body starts sending the oxygen where it’s needed, the task becomes much easier and we have the capacity to run much further than we think. Ironically, many people give up too soon because they haven’t run far enough.
"You have permission to take action. You are cleared for take-off."
If you’ve ever found New Year’s resolutions hard to keep, you’ll know that there is a gap between starting out toward something and getting there. Weight loss or fitness goals for instance don’t occur overnight. We need to surrender ourselves to the process, and live with the tension between enjoying the journey and keeping the goal in mind. Building the plane (the process) as we fly toward our destination.  

As we enter a new year it’s usual to think about what’s gone well or not so well in the past twelve months. As I’ve been reflecting I realised that I’ve achieved lift-off in a number of areas without anything like a complete plane.
"Many people give up too soon because they haven’t run far enough"
I want to encourage you that you can achieve flight too – it takes courage, focus, direction and persistence but you are officially cleared for take-off. Go with the strength that you have, but GO!

It’s time to start flying whether your plane’s built or not!

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Hey - thanks for reading this post on "Building the plane as you fly it". If you've enjoyed it why not share it with someone you know or post the link on social media? 

I'd love to hear about dreams you're going to take action on this year, leave me a comment below or send me an email at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 

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Saturday, December 27, 2014

Life Space: free!

Just wanted to let you all know that my book Life Space is COMPLETELY FREE this weekend 27th/28th December so download yourself a copy and spread the word to all your friends!

Here's the link

Enjoy!