MY (PRETEND) COMMENCEMENT SPEECH

"Please, God, make this end, right now". 

That's the only memory I have of my response to the Alumni speech from when I graduated.

Our Graduation Dinner was more a ceremonial affair than our actual graduation since we hadn't undertaken our final exams yet.  This timing might have been a nifty strategy to encourage us to succeed, or it was merely a matter of convenient scheduling. Either way, I experienced the year-long pressure tighten just that bit more.

My uniform had been freshly pressed, my socks were pulled up, and my shoes were polished. My long hair was scraped back and wrapped up in a tight ponytail as if to keep all the essential facts, dates and quotes within my brain for the duration of the upcoming examinations.

The speeches from the Principal, Academic Staff and Head Student were rotated with the courses of our meal for the night, all pleasantly light and digestible. It was only when the Alumni took to the stage that things went sour.  

I was keen to hear her inspiring story and learn from her insights. This was meant to be the "Rah, rah, c' mon, you can do it!" motivational speech, or at least I thought it was. Maybe she didn't get the memo to be a little more like Oprah.

Instead, she used the platform to voice her stance on a political issue, that I won’t re-ignite by giving it any air. The contentious topic dominated her speech and drowned the enthusiastic mood of all in attendance.

I've often thought of this disappointing speech and wondered what I would say to a class of Graduates if I were ever invited to impart my words of insight and inspiration. 

As it turns out, nobody's asked. Well, not yet. However, I do believe that we should create our own circumstances when possible, so I'm writing the speech anyway. 

If only one person reads it, or hears it, and takes something positive from it, then that's a win in my books.

But where to start? My words would be from my singular life. My advice would be weighted in value according to my own experiences and perspectives.  I am also not as exciting and as wise as I like to think I am. 

So, I turned to my community. My digital village. I called out to my Facebook friends, asking them to share three universal laws that they wish they'd understood when they were at school.

The response I received was overwhelming. Literally.  I tried to include every submission; however, it ended up reading like a mangled knot of ideas.  Instead, I decided to capture the essence of the many contributions I received, selecting quotes that weaved together shared thoughts.    

This is not intended to be a directive on how to live your life.  It's just a group of friends, who are all on your side, sharing some insights from their own lives, that you can take or leave.  

Here we go:

****************************

YOU are enough! Speak your truth. Live your truth.
@Leah Ivy

A lot of what I'm going to discuss focuses on the 'doing' of living, but if we can't look ourselves in the mirror and believe the words "I am enough, just as I am", then the rest doesn't matter much. 

When you tell yourself that you're inadequate in any way, that something about you is un-loveable, you are depriving yourself of inner peace and happiness, as well as those around you. When in doubt, speak to yourself as you would to a friend that you really care about.  

If you're so caught up in your negative ruminations and you can't break out of it, then be honest about this and talk to someone who you know really cares about you. You might even need to talk to someone you don't know, a qualified therapist who you can share the rawness of your truth with, not having to worry about hurting the feelings of those close to you. 

Whatever your situation:  

Be kind to yourself… and always, always be YOU! Shine away
 @Jodie James-Freeman

When you embrace your uniqueness, in time, you will come to appreciate that:

Being a bit different is an advantage.
@Leonique Swart

Give yourself permission to be the wildflower that grows along the edge of the grey highway. We need your talent, your quirk, your different ability, your unique perspective on the world. The rainbow doesn't leave us in awe because all its stripes are the same colour.

Tell yourself in the mirror, out loud, that you are worthy of the effort and discipline that will be required of you to achieve your goals.

There's never a better time than right now to do the 'thing' you've always wanted to do or be the person you want to be…
@Natalie Borrillo 

To date, most of the choices in your life have been made by other humans, older humans, who care about your welfare. They have called upon the resources that have been available to them to nurture you in body, mind and soul.  

The fact that you are alive today and you are graduating is a testament to the fact they've kept you fed, watered, sheltered, clothed and no doubt, loved. Always be grateful for the time and energy that has been invested in you by others.   Don't forget to say 'thanks'.

To this point, you have done mainly what you were told to do.

  • Learn the alphabet. 

  • Eat your vegetables.

  • Don't stick your knife in the toaster, especially while it's toasting.

  • Look both ways before you cross the road.

  • Wash your hands after going to the loo.

  • Study hard so you can make your way to graduation day.

Well done. Big tick. 

Now move beyond that.

Dive deeper. 

Use your initiative. 

Relieve your guardians of the burden of accountability and authority over your life and take control.   

I'm not saying you should lose touch with them, or no longer loop them into your thoughts, worries, and hopes. Seek out and respect their insights but trust your gut instinct more. The choices you make must be your own. 

When a plan works out, take a moment to pat yourself on the back, then keep going.  When it doesn't work out, take a moment to identify the lesson before you try again, then keep going.  Blame doesn't serve you or anybody else.

Find out what it is that energises you, makes you come alive.

If you have no idea what that is, then look back on previous years, months, weeks and days. 

When did you become so absorbed in an activity that you lost time? Playing a sport, reading a particular genre of writing, painting, watching stars, coding your own app, helping those in need, planting trees? There are no constraints. It might appear to be too frivolous to be taken seriously, but if it is something you keep coming back to and you feel fulfilled when you're in that space, then take note. 

Go on. Take note.  

"Better out than in"
@Erin Taplin

Each time you find yourself in a state of pure flow, not caring what else is going on around you, lost in that moment, make a mental note. Also, stay alert to what drains or upsets you. The more you pull out of your mind and bring into your reality, the greater clarity and purpose you will have.

To quote Mark Twain
"The two most important days in your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why".

It might be challenging to transform your reason for being into an income. That's okay. Don't stress out about it. Just ensure that you keep that activity within your life, energising you, while you bring in coin doing something else to pay for all of life's essentials.  

I've heard a few people say, both literally and metaphorically, that it's much easier to steer a car when it's moving. If you've ever tried to turn your wheels when your car is stationary, you'll appreciate the struggle of trying to get anywhere when you're not in motion.  The same applies to your life.

It is in the doing that the becoming eventuates. 

“Good luck is when preparation meets opportunity”. I can't remember where I picked that line up from, but it has guided me through my life.  If you remain actively engaged with what excites you, the much higher your probability of identifying and securing an opportunity to make it a more significant part of your life.  

"Leap into a major change in your life that scares you at least once every five years.
(Otherwise, you'll wake up old and in the same place you started)"
@Simon Letchford 

It's when you push yourself outside of your comfort zone that growth happens. Learning requires exposure to stuff you haven't experienced before, that's just the way it works. 

Taking risks is essential if you want to make progress towards your goals.  It's quite likely that some of the risks you take, won't work in your favour.  You might also attract criticism and warnings of caution from those around you. 

Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind.
Dr Seuss c/- @Jo Fracas

Listen to those that are important to you. The rest is just noise.
@Kate Gray

What you really want to do might sound absolutely ludicrous to some and totally inspired to others. Everyone comes at life with values and lessons that are informed by their own experiences. 

Some of these will help fast track you to a resolution that sets you on the path to achieving your dreams, while others will just put up barricades based upon their own fears. The trick is to determine which one is which.

 If the advice is coming from somebody who has shown you over the years that they really see you, for who you are and accept you, then take note. Those who are genuinely interested in helping will try to provide insights that will aid, not hinder, your progress.

Seek out people who are already in the space you want to be in, who have reached the pinnacle of the summit you are striving towards. If you can't access them personally, then read books by them, about them or documentaries or anything else you can get your hands on.   

Imagine that you are them, in the space that you dream of being. Now look back and imagine all the challenges and setbacks that could have stopped you from getting there and figure out how you got around them. Next, set in place strategies to lessen the likelihood of tripping over these hurdles as you move closer and closer towards your goal. 

Failure is the most effective form of learning...
@Paul Rogasch

 It seems that the younger we are, the more willing we are to accept failure. We don't even see it as a failure, we're just in a constant state of learning. We need to be to survive. If we let our ego get in the way of learning to walk, we'd still be crawling. 

 However, as we get older, our ego holds us back from giving life a red-hot go. The fear of failing, looking like a tool, being criticised or laughed at can completely demobilise us.

 Always ask 'what is the worst thing that can happen?'  Most of the time, it is not that scary and makes change easier.
@Kate Gray

The writer, Anais Nin, once said that "life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage". The more willing you are to embrace risk, the more productive and fulfilling your life becomes. 

Always one to deliver profound insights, my Dad sent through this advice for us to all consider:

Be more forward.
@Noel Sproles

 Upon receiving this succinct suggestion, I set about writing a list of all the things we could be more forward about. Then I thought I would ask the guru himself.  With a cheeky laugh, he advised that he wasn't being profound at all and was just thinking of all the pretty girls he'd been too shy to talk to when he was a young fella.  Good on ya, Dad!

On that refreshing note, let's shift our focus from our inner world to our outer world.  

So, there's someone you fancy then? 

Have the guts to talk to them, in person, not via the safety of a screen.  

Look them in the eye, smile, take a deep breath and ask them out. They might say yes, they might say no. The chances are they'll be flattered either way.  If their response isn't polite, then great, you just saved yourself a whole load of time fantasising about a person who was, in fact, a total waste of your brain space.

By default, say YES. Never decline an invitation or offer without a seriously good reason. Life's best experiences are the unexpected ones.
@Simon Letchford

There's one thing that drives me harder than F.O.M.O. – The Fear Of Missing Out and that's D.I.M.O. Disappointed, I Missed out. As Simon says, when you find yourself on the receiving end of an opportunity, step into it.  

You don't know what you don't know.

Therefore, I'd rather know that something was rubbish than wonder for years afterwards if it was great; or worse still find out that I had declined an opportunity that would have been phenomenal and the only thing that stopped me from experiencing it was … me.  

Along a similar theme, a clear message that jumped out from my digital village was the transformative power of travel.

Experiences, not "things", will make your life richer. Travel the world as much as possible.
@Becky Evens

 Ride the crest of the wave that is life.
@Dave Cribbin

 Travel, travel, travel.
@Rachel Cross

We are informed by the spaces and people around us. If we stay in the same area, with the same sounds, smells, sights, people, messages, politics, media, food, then our existence will be defined by all these elements.

Travelling has a power to it that cannot be measured. Being exposed to other ways of life opens your mind. Exploring new lands expands your horizons and completely dismantles the limitations you have established for yourself. Adventure can shift your perception of who you are; what you are capable of, and what it is you want to do with your life.

 So far, this has mostly been focused on what you can do for you. It is just as important to consider what you can for others. When you invest your energy into service, improving the lives of your community, you not only bring purpose into your life, but it also makes you feel good about yourself.  

This is best summed up by this Greek proverb:

A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.

If you are short of time, then donate money.  If you are short on funds, then share your time.  If you’re so focused on your studies that you don’t have any hours to spare, you could consider volunteering for projects that will provide you with the experience and skills you need in your career. 

One of the many jobs I have had in my time was with a recruitment company who hired for highly competitive government internships. I tell you with my hand on my heart;  the graduates who had carved out the time to actively engage with volunteer programmes received many more big ticks on their applications than those who scored highly in every subject. 

Not only did it show that they were responsible and empathetic citizens, but they were also better equipped to discuss team dynamics, conflict resolution, goal setting, project planning and other essential skills.

While there are still many more gems of insight, I believe we've captured the core of what I and my digital village wanted to share with you. 

Take the time to find out who you are.

Pay attention to what excites you and what drains you. It is your responsibility to service your truth.

Be curious.  Step outside your comfort zone. 

Be the person that you would want to learn from on the day you graduate.

And finally…

Have fun. Laugh a lot. Life is too short and sweet not to
@Emma Papps

Written by Fiona Sproles (and my village) – August 2019 

I'D RATHER A 'NO' REPLY THAN NO REPLY AT ALL.

People, please help me. I am perplexed. Was I checking my Facebook when the amendment to the rules of polite communications got circulated?

In the last few years, I've noticed an increasing trend of decreasing responses.

Now, I too have ignored an e-mail here and there, primarily SPAM or repeated e-mails sent from businesses with whom I have already communicated my disinterest in their product or service.

I do, however, pride myself on the fact that I will always respond to an e-mail that was clearly composed with me in mind.

Do I like every e-mail that I receive? Not possible.

Do I like every person that's ever sent me an e-mail? Nope, of course not.

Even if I receive an e-mail from someone that leaves my stomach churning, I'll still reply. Sure, it might take me a day or two of festering; consulting with my most trusted human (wifey) and bingeing on Oprah, Brené Brown and all the other "you can do it grrrl, embrace your vulnerability and own that power within" gurus. But I tell you what. I get it done.

I sit. I open up my e-mail and then I write. Delete. Write again. Switch sentence sequences. Write some more and then take the dog for a walk. Then I come back, delete all the copy that distracts from the critical point, then re-compose. Then I walk away again. Come back. Re-read. Deep breathe in. Deep breathe out. Deep breathe innnnn… and "send". Then I re-read and find a bloody typo that had been hiding during all the other checks. Ah well.

I know the recipient may not like my response, but I'm okay with that. So long as I know that I have taken the time to respond in as diplomatic a manner as the situation allows for, then I can sleep at night.

I am also aware that I can occasionally be an over-communicator, but not as flagrantly as I used to be. Once a wild horse who was kicking up words all over the dusty plains; I've slowly acquired the skills to keep my messages (relatively) neat and concise so that my words may gently canter over the screens of clients, colleagues, friends and family with equestrienne-like ability.

We're all swamped, I get that. If the answer to my e-mail is time-critical but not incoming, I'll send a polite reminder and request a time for a phone call if any matters require further discussion.

However, if the delay isn't a show stopper, I'll allow for days or weeks, depending on the message content. But no response at all? That's just rude.

Is this just me? Apparently not. I've discussed my ponderings with others, and the general feedback averaged out to "Oh my Gawd. Shut the gate! I've been thinking about that too! What's worse is when you can see that they've read your message and then ghost you. What's with that?".

Let's press pause here. I'm making it appear as if nobody ever replies to my messages. No. I'd be a blubbering mess if that were the case.

I am happy to confirm that I do in fact, maintain a healthy level of polite and friendly communications with many clients, colleagues, friends and family.

What gets me picking away nervously at the random hairs on my face and staring into my pantry searching out anxiety blocking snacks are the non-responses to e-mails that were very obviously written directly to someone with a request for a response, only to be met with deafening silence.

The consequence of no response, in alignment with my evaporating self-esteem, is an assumption that the reader either doesn't like what I wrote; doesn't feel comfortable with a negative response or (here's the 3am sweat fest), they don't like me. There could be a million other reasons, but where facts aren’t available, doubt and conspiracy thrives.

Do I have the answers to this phenomenon? No. As per my opening sentence, I missed that memo… or the LinkedIn link to that "silence is the best response" TED Talk.

So, If you are prone to muttering a "meh" and swiping right…or left… on e-mails (whatever the reject direction is on Tinder), I’ve ripped off a Beatles tune and re-worked it. May it become an earwig that nudges you towards pressing ‘reply’ instead of ‘delete’.

Yesterday
People used to write back to say "well, hey!"
Now it looks as if they've gone away
I miss those replies from yesterday.

Suddenly
There's not half the responses there used to be
There's a mystery hanging over me
Oh, why don't people reply to me?

Why you can't say "let me think about" … "go away" or even just "no."
You refuse to say
Did I say something wrong?
Now I long for yesterday …ay …ay..ay.

Yesterday
What was in our mind we used to say
Now so many opt to just hideaway
Oh, please just say what you need to say.

Written by Fiona Sproles – July 2019

I NEED TO PEE TOO MUCH TO THINK OF A TITLE

I'm standing here typing this with my legs crossed because I need to pee. But I'm not going to go to the loo.

I have been cheering myself on every day for the last year, saying "You're going to start your blog today. Yes. Today is the day. Today. Yes. It will happen” and then it doesn't.

I start off with great determination, then I switch on my phone and my computer. Twelve hours later and the day has been sucked up by tasks, inconsequential "must do's" that don't really need to done and then... disappointment. Time and time again, I pacify myself by declaring "TOMORROW!". Yes, tomorrow, the land that's always one day further away from achieving anything.

I went to start writing this today then decided it was more important to attend to haemorrhoids via a long soak in the bath and then I had to fix a 'slow close' toilet seat that has been slamming itself shut for months now. My excuses had finally become so sh*tty (pun intended) that I was jolted into the realisation of what I was doing.

What's holding me back? Something to write about. That's what.

What makes this more pathetic is that I am a professional writer. People actually pay me to write about stuff. True story. It's so easy when someone says "Hey, I want to sell this window. Can you write something about it?" or "We've got this stout that we're going to sell over the Winter months. Here are the technical specs. Can you pimp that up for us?" Yeah, sure I can! It’s so easy... when it's for other people.

But, leave me with a blank page and my own thoughts, and I white out. Blankety Blank. Brain blizzard. Suddenly I have nothing to say for myself. Maybe it's because I keep thinking that the first post needs to be a cracker, something that you'll want to share with all your friends and family. Clearly, that's not going to happen. So, let's shift the expectation to a convenient height, one that I can comfortably step over and beyond, instead of the enormous wall that I've been craning my neck to look up at.

I shall just write and go from there, after all, it's easier to steer a car when it's moving.

My encouragement to get started comes from Samuel Beckett's quote:

"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

Okay. The first blog is done. Tick. Yay me. It might not be amazing, but it’s something. At this point, doing nothing has been the fail. So today, I fail better.

I can now attend to my burning need to go to the loo and get the dog off the couch, upon which he's been barking madly at a cat outside for the last five minutes.

I won't be disappointed with myself tonight, in fact, I think I just earned myself a wee dram of whiskey.