In my latest newsletter (read it here ) I talked about regrets and made a statement near the beginning of the article about the choices we have.
"In the rich individualistic world that many of us live in, we have the possibility for many choices."
One of my readers took exception to this statement and started a dialogue with me which I felt to widen to other interested people. This is what he said:
That is a bit smug and elitist, is it not? Many of the people I am concerned about have few choices. Let me give two examples.
My reader has a point. Not all of us have the same freedom of choice. However, as I was writing I had two comparisons in my head:
However I suspect my reader was right too that I am more fortunate than a lot of people, even in my own country - I have made choices which gives me the chance to make mistakes, have regrets and learn from them. And for this challenge I thank him.
Okay I made an assumption just like I keep telling people not to do. But it happened all the same. I assumed that when my friend suggested we go to something at the Edinburgh Fringe that I could trust his judgement to pick something good.
Now, to be fair to him, he did email me a list of possible shows but I was busy working away and never saw the message until after he had gone ahead and booked it, based on the desires of the other people coming too. In fact having been to a few gigs with him in the past, I had assumed that it was just the two of us going to see something and since the last gig had been comedy I also assumed (yes this word is fast becoming over-used) that we were going to something funny.
So on Tuesday I travelled through to Edinburgh to see four different shows. He had sent me a list of what they were but I hadn't done any research to see what they involved. And for some reason was still thinking it was going to be comedy. So four of us fought our way through the crowds from Waverley station to the venue, and took our seats where I discovered that the subject of the 'Julie Madly Deeply' title was in fact Julie Andrews and that the whole 65 minutes was a celebration of her life and music. Now, I'm not anti-musicals but neither would I call myself a huge fan. And my only knowledge of the heroine was a vague picture in my head of having seen the poster advertising the Sound of Music and I could recognise a couple of the tunes from the film. I've never actually watched any of her films though. This was a distinct disadvantage which left me somewhat unentertained for about 64½ minutes. Now don't get me wrong, for the right person it was probably a great show (certainly judging by the gusto with which the singalong was entered into by my fellow ticket-buyers) and Sarah-Louise Young can certainly sing well. But it was not for me. And as a first foray to the Fringe Festival it was somewhat underwhelming.
Now, who to blame? Who to vent my frustration on? One of the guys I was with was really glad he had gone - it had been one of his first choice shows from the original list. Not his fault. My mate had encouraged me to join the group and bought the tickets. Not his fault either. It was obviously my own stupid fault, which I did eventually realise. I made many assumptions beforehand and did nothing to check the truth of any of them. If I had done some homework I could have easily turned up for the start of the second of the shows instead. But no, I assumed that it was a group of like-minded people who would all be going to the sort of event that I would really enjoy, so I only had myself to blame.
How often though do we make assumptions about things that are maybe more important and then when the world turns out to be different we want to blame someone else for misleading us when in fact we need to turn the spotlight on ourselves. Taking a little more care in our thinking and gathering all the relevant information can help us avoid similarly frustrating situations. I teach it to others but maybe sometimes I need to listen to my own counsel.
So I've learned a lesson. And thankfully the last couple of shows were really good (John Gordillo and Craig Campbell for reference)
I've just read Jana Kemp's book, No! How One Simple Word Can Transform Your Life, and thought it might be helpful to mention since a number of people I have talked to recently have mentioned an inability to say No! or even just no.
First of all, its useful to remember that saying no to someone does not need to be you rejecting the person, being deliberately difficult or obstructive or trying to damage what the requester represents, be it a job, charity or friendship situation. Life can carry on after you have said no and people will not hate you for the saying if you do it politely, deliberately and firmly.
However if you say yes and don't mean it, that can ultimately get you into more bother when you don't follow through or your yes turns out to have been maybe at best and you start to lose repsect. Unless of course you manage to achieve everything you promised in a fit of superhuman power. And then collapse and pay the price yourself.
Throughout the book, Kemp talks about the Power of No, and she takes Power to stand for:
Purpose - what actually needs to be done here?
Options and resources - even if say no can I offer anything in return or make other suggestions
When - what is the actual deadline and if I say no now can I propose yes for a different deadline
Emotional Ties - how do you feel with yes or no and other feelings related to the request
Rights and Reponsibilities - what are your rights if you say yes or noe.g. rights to call on others to help, recquisition resources for the project
They are certainly topics worth considering before you unthinkingly say yes again but once you have done that you'll need to be assertive in the way you put across any no answer. Be clear, polite and if possible friendly and stick to your guns. If necessary repeat your bottom line until they get it.
The book goes on to look at the idea of self-defence; sometimes you need to say no to defend yourself, your time, health and position. There is also discussion on the ethics of saying yes or no, especially when you don't actually mean it.
I can imagine if you are really struggling to say no a lot of the time and it causes you stress that there are definitely helpful ideas in this book; you probably want to pick and choose which bits you read though.
At the end of the day I suspect, like all self-help type books, it might only take you so far and having someone external (partner, family member, friend or a coach) dedicated to helping you will reap far greater rewards. Get in touch if you want to know how a coach could help you in your particular situation.
Its all gone now
As I look out of the window this morning, I see hardly any snow at all. The overnight rain has thrown off the white blanket. Its over. For now.
Its a bit like Christmas - for the last few weeks the anticipation of the day has been vying with the snow for column inches but now they're both behind us, what will we talk about?
Last night I was talking to my mate about regrets - with every new day of icy-cold weather I had promised myself some time off to go climbing, particularly on a local gully that was looking good. Each week I was seeing him post new pictures on facebook of where he had been but I was roped only to my desk, or wherever I was working at the time. Now, as I look out, I can see that the local hills have lost their covering of snow and I suspect every last vestige of ice on the climb I was considering has flowed down to the loch.
I was preaching yesterday about regrets and disappointments surrounding Christmas. Did it live up to its own hype? Have your family gatherings fulfilled your dreams? Did Santa bring you everything you had hoped for? If the answer is no to any of these, then what are you going to do about it? Maybe there is a question over what is possible, but once you dig deeper what could you actually change? Often with repeated events we badly want it to be different to the unsuccessful previous occasion but yet we don't change anything or do it differently. Surprise, surprise, we get the same result. I don't subscribe to my friend's view that we should 'forget the past so that it doesn't screw up the present'. There is too much to learn from our past experiences to cast them out regardless - even the painful events have something to teach us. Regrets are not good but they can be useful if they drive us forwards to change something next time around.
As you look back over the recent past, whether it is the snowy spell, Christmas or even 2010, what regrets have you got? What will you change in the way you do things in 2010? Maybe you have no regrets, in which case I would ask what you are going to do to ensure that is the case again next year? What worked well this year that you want to continue with?
In this slack time between Christmas and New Year, take some time to reflect on what you could do differently, and better in 2011.
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Nick has been writing for mass consumption ever since he was sending newsletters home from the Philippines 20+ years ago. He has carried on putting finger to keyboard, branching out into magazines, manuals and recently submitting lots of words for books. He has always aimed to be entertaining but at the same time challenging. If you like something, feel free to pass it on to someone else, but if you are challenged by it then even better - write a comment, start a debate, add to the fun.