Monday, 3 August 2009

When life gives you lemons - make lemonade!

I have been thinking about how to attract ‘media attention’ to boost sales of ‘Shared Experiences’. Leaving a ‘post it’ note underneath the windscreen wiper, of Rupert Murdoch’s limo is one option, but I’m actually going to leave all the big PR stuff to our sponsors and stick with my blog. However I did test the water, by sending an email to two local newspapers. A subsequent interview with one reporter, Justin, proved to be quite challenging. I had prepared myself to talk about Reach and the content of Shared Experiences’ but he was more interested in why I wrote it. I tried side swerving his questions several times, before giving in under closer cross examination!

We ended up talking about motivation, adversity and what drives us to take on certain challenges. I reflected on this after he left and I concluded it would been very handy for the sake of brevity, to come up with one single word, or ‘all encompassing’ snappy, media friendly, phrase, but nothing came to mind! Getting to a point where I was ready to write ‘Shared Experiences’ was more of a gradual process, because I had reached a stage in my life, where I was happy enough, with who I am, to be able to do it.

Being OK with yourself - is very important! You have to tell yourself. In fact you have to say it, repeat it often and then believe it. Unfortunately a ‘positive attitude’ towards life doesn’t come in a jar. It would be nice to buy a big jar, open the lid, and let positive mental attitude waft all over you, but it doesn’t work like that. However, if you are open to the possibility and take real ownership of your life; and your thoughts and feelings then you’ve started the journey. Life throws all type of brown sticky stuff at us all. None of us are immune from heartache, worry, anxiety, frustrations, emotional upset. And sometimes low self esteem, poor body image lack of confidence in our abilities, feelings of low self worth can be quite overwhelming. Life can be tough and unforgiving and just as we deal with one crisis another appears on the horizon. Developing a better positive attitude means that we start to recognise negative thoughts and feelings and deal them quicker and in a way that serves us well. Now I’m not an expert, I just know what works for me so that makes me, an expert in me.

Growing up with an obvious limb deficiency is like having the ‘mother of all spots’ on the end of your nose! Now if you have ever had a horrible big, angry, pus filled spot, shining like a beacon on the end of your conk, you will know that you can’t even contemplate leaving the house, until drastic action has been taken. You have one choice either you lance it and cover it with every medicated lotion ever produced (including domestic cleaning products) or you stay in.

Well I can’t do the equivalent of lancing my spot, so I reached a point where I had to learn to live with it and eventually like me, for me. I’m not saying it was easy and others with more obvious deficiencies might see my missing hand as just a spot, but when you’re young, you don’t see other people’s stuff – you just see your own bag of troubles. Starting work for me and mixing with adults was a big turning point and slowly the clouds started to rise. I was a very different person at fifteen, to who I am now, so I feel compelled to share what has helped and inspired me tp take on a challenge like writing Shared Experiences’.

Firstly I’m a great believer in being optimistic. There is a saying that ‘Whether you are an optimist or a pessimist the outcome is the same, but the optimist has a better time’. That’s not to say I’m blindingly optimistic and have a permanent day pass to ‘La La Land' but negative thoughts just breed more negative thoughts. The best advice I was ever given is ‘If you can’t change a situation - change the way you think about it’. So make 'being positive' a lifestyle choice.

We have one life and this is it, right here, right now. Life is fragile and can be so stupidly short and we have a responsibility to ourselves to make the best and most of it. Sometimes just seeing how others live their lives can spur us on. I watched most of the 2008 Paralympics feeling humbled, inspired and also very thankful for everything I have in life. Choose your role models carefully. Pay special attention to those who leads their lives simply, but purposefully. Stay away from anyone who wants to drain your emotionally batteries and take you down, to where they are.

We are at our best when we do things together. Sharing our thoughts, our feelings, our time. Reaching out to our friends our families, our colleagues our communities is where we start to feel that real sense of belonging and it stops us living in bubbles. It stops us from only seeing our own troubles and becoming self obsessed. Dale Carnegie said ‘Let's forget our own unhappiness by trying to create a little happiness for others - when you are good to others, you are best to yourself.’ Last year I did my first sponsored walk (only 6.5miles) but it was a 05.00 start, in the rain, but it felt purposeful and I knew I was doing it for a worthy cause. I would say to anyone who wants to lift their mood or develop more of a positive attitude do things for other people and not just you! Do a sponsored walk, grow a moustache for charity or cut an elderly neighbour’s lawn. Whether it’s a small act of kindness or big sponsored event do something that benefits someone else. Start with small things like phoning an elderly relative, sharing your knowledge by helping a colleague prepare for an interview, giving emotional support and maybe being there for someone when they fall. Be that person.

Stop being angry. There is nothing is more corrosive and damaging to you than being angry with someone else or a situation you can’t change. It draws you down and drags you in. And the longer you carry it around, the more it eats away at your very soul. Forgiveness is never easy, but once you found a way to let go of anger you start to feel better and more positive about your own life. Disposing of a ‘victim’ mentality is very empowering. Let things be. Bringing up 'old battles' keeps you rooted in the past and stops you living today. Stop asking why did this happen to me? Stop believing you were selected for bad things to happen to or were in some way worthy of it. Life is random; good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people.

Forgiveness. Try and forgive others for what you think they have done to you and also learn to forgive yourself. None of us are perfect. We all screw up, make mistakes, say and do the wrong thing. That is part of the human condition. The important thing is to learn from those incidents and move on. Most of us don’t deliberately set out to hurt another human being, but relationships can become messy and complicated, so learn to apologise sincerely for your part and again move on. Keep in mind that we choose how we behave. We might not think that behaving well or badly is a conscious choice, but it is. Become more choice aware.

Acceptance. Accepting that there are some things that we just can’t change is so fundamental to our very being. Acceptance is so important and accepting that some things are outside of our control is an importance concept to grasp. We can’t change the way others think and we can’t make others like us. We just have to accept that some things just are. Although perversely when we stop trying to influence a situation, or bring someone round to our way of thinking, it often makes it possible for change to happen. For example we might throw ourselves at repairing a damaged relationship, but both sides must want to change. We can’t make people change because we want them to, but neither should we assume they never will. Acceptance of how things are in ‘the here and now’ keeps us living in the present and making the most of today.

Making the most of what we have. There is always someone who seems to have more than you or having better time of it, or so you think. But life is simpler if we learn to do the best we can, with the resources we have. There is a saying that 'When life gives you lemons - make lemonade '. It’s a quote you hear every now and again, when someone is talking about developing a positive mental attitude and especially when faced with adversity. It happens to be one of my favourite quotes and has evolved from Dale Carnegie’s original quote ‘When fate hands you a lemon, make lemonade.’ Whether you like the modern version or the original, both boil down to the same wisdom of trying to make the best of what you're given and playing the cards you're dealt etc.

I am now the result of every good piece of advice I have ever read, every fridge magnet that has ever inspired me, but most of all many years of careful soul searching and growing. I still have to remind myself constantly of all of the above and I have much, much more to learn. I’ve learnt that you are enriched by the people you meet on the journey, the experiences you share and recognizing that you can transform lemons if you want to. My next book is going to be entitled 'How to make lemonade'! Good luck.


  1. I first met Charlotte at school and we became firm friends when we were both excluded permanently from art class - me to do a sewing project and Charlotte to knit. The idea was that we sat quietly in the corner and thought about why we were not allowed to join the rest of the class. In fact it gave our little knitting circle a chance to get to know each other and Charlotte was soon regaling us with stories of Grandma in Boston, her family dogs and a wealth of other entertaining tales. 'Shared Experiences' promises to be a good read and entertain you in a way you may not expect of a book on such a sensitive subject. I saw many of the miseries of Charlotte's teenage life. Kids can be so cruel and the taunting she suffered used to upset me incredibly - I can't imagine how Charlotte herself felt.
    I have watched Charlotte blossom into the person she is today and marvel at her engery and enthusiasm for life. I am looking forward to reading 'Shared Experiences' very soon.

  2. Dear Zoe,

    Thank you so much for your comments. I am pleased that so many people are taking the time to read my blog. I am also totally bloody delighted that so many people have pre-ordered copies of Shared Experiences, in fact a little spell-bound by it all.

    Thank you for your observations about school life. I still shudder when I drive past Magna Carta School. Looking back, the school did nothing to support me, during some of the more testing times and I used to think no one noticed what was going on, but schools didn't have bullying policies back in the 1970s and I think some teachers chose to turn a blind eye, rather than intervene.

    But YOU & Angela, Jackie & Ros were there and it's you I am referring to in the 'bullying chapter', when I say 'I did make a few significant friendships with the girls in my year.'

    Thank you Zoe, for 30 plus years of friendship. How lucky am I to still be so close to school friends. Thanks also for pre-selling so many copies. You are now in close competition with Angela for pre-sales!



  3. You've now officially 'arrived' - have just found Shared Experiences on Amazon all ready to pre-order!

    Very proud to be in the 'significant friendship' category.