This is a story made up of lots of little stories. These little stories are all anecdotes from my life to date. They represent both good and bad experiences. I have learnt from them all in some way.
Emotion affects all areas of memory formation, so on that basis, each of these stories must have invoked a strong emotion in me — both positive and negative.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
I often find myself responding in a childlike manner. Irrationally hurt or disproportionately scared. And you know what, that’s ok.
I often find myself in situations where I have an unreasonable or disproportionate response. And that’s because it has hit a trigger, deeply embedded in my sub-conscious and the response becomes two-dimensional. It relates to the situation at hand plus my previous experience and how it made me feel then. Now if that previous experience happened when my emotions were in a less mature state than they are now (i.e. I was young), I often find myself responding in a childlike manner. Irrationally hurt or disproportionately scared. And you know what, that’s ok. We all have learnt behaviours, handprints left on our souls, tough lessons, and experiences that have moulded us. The thing to do is to learn from them, see them for what they are but as Mark Manson writes about in his essay on the four stages of life ‘don’t get stuck in them’.
For me, I write my stories down. This process somehow gives me space from my emotional attachment and creates a level of objectivity I would not normally have. I guess it’s the same logic as having a mentor, coach or counsellor. Sometimes we need a translator or someone to hold a mirror up to us. Understanding who we are is a complex and lifelong process. There is no end point, that’s a complete ‘red herring’ and always has been, it’s about the journey — learn from one experience in order to move on to the next. Eventually, we (hopefully) become good enough at this to help others. We become the mentor, passing on the lessons, humanity, and compassion that have been given to us.
“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”
So here is my eclectic collection of stories — all of which have moved me on and taught me lessons I have relied on many times in my life to date.
I was a young child, maybe 6 or 7 years old. We were on holiday in Wales. Two guys were arguing by the roadside — about a near miss between them. One of the guys flagged us down. My dad stopped. He wound down his window and one of the guys said to my dad “can you help me please as I’m sure he is going to hit me”. My dad instinctively went to help, my mum held him back. She said, “you can’t get involved, we have 4 young children in the back of the car”. My dad hesitated, torn between doing what he instinctively wanted to do and my mum holding his arm, begging him to drive on. He drove on.
I’m not sure he ever forgave himself for that. I don’t know what happened to the guys and neither do I know whether my parents called the police when we got to our destination. I never raised it as I instinctively knew that it would make my dad feel bad. To this day, I do not know who was wrong and who was right. I just learned that sometimes in life, tough decisions have to be made and they don’t always make you feel good about yourself. That’s it.
I was 10 years old. They were selecting players for the school netball team. I wanted to be on that team. At the trials, I got told that there was only one place left and there were two of us that wanted it. We were told to share the position, playing one half of each match until the teacher decided who was good enough. The first match came, I waited patiently on the sidelines. Halftime came and went, I was not brought on. I spent the whole of the match stood on the sides lines, stifling my sobs of disappointment and hurt.
Afterward, when I told the teacher, tears of disappointment rolling down my cheeks, she said: “well you should have said something”. So after that, I did. I spoke through my actions. I played netball every day and played every match like my life depended on it. I got the place on the netball team and then the hockey team and then the swimming team. But that experience never left me, the realisation of how easily we can be forgotten and how casually our disappointment and hurt dismissed. I learnt to respond with action, competence, and resilience. That stood me in good stead for many years but it cost me my ‘gentleness’ and took away my trust and that was sad.
Learning to trust yourself
I was 13 years old. I had been away for 3 weeks visiting my sister in Gibraltar.
Immediately upon getting home from the airport, I ran to the school gates to greet my friends. I had missed them and I was full of exciting stories to share with them. The ‘ringleader’ of our gang came out of the gates — beautiful, tall and so very popular, we all wanted to be her. I shouted her name and ran over, she ignored me. The rest of the gang walked out, they ignored me too. I ran after them all the way home — asking, pleading, begging to know what I had done, to be ostracized in this way. I was simply met with blank, stony faces. I went home sobbing.
I was ‘sent to Coventry’ for months. I never found out why. I established new relationships with new friends. It was hard work and lonely. The new friends were wary of me at first — after all, I had been in the ‘gang’ who basically took the piss out of them. My heart was broken that day, but it mended. I learnt what true friends looked like and I learnt that the only place of real safety is inside yourself.
Those skills have stood me in good stead my whole life. Look for the authenticity in people and if you can trust in yourself then others will too.
My first taste of feedback
I was 13 years old. I was forced to make new friends as my old ones had deserted me. I tried to hang out with the new group but one boy, in particular, was having none of it. When I asked him why, he simply said: “because you are not very nice to people.” Harsh but probably fair at the time. The group that I had just been ostracized from was the ‘cool’ group, who generally treated others outside of that group with disdain.
That boy set me a challenge. He said, “when you are nice to people, you can hang out with us.” And so I set about being nice and working hard to be accepted by the group. And eventually, I was. That boy became one of my close friends. He was one of the few people at school who truly understood mortality and had an adult perspective on life — his mother was dying.
That boy saved me from being someone I wouldn’t have liked and was not meant to be. I learnt that being able to face and accept honest feedback can be a great enabler to be yourself. I also learnt that living a tough life takes courage and means that you may need an exterior capable of taking the knocks but that doesn’t take away the kindness that lies within.
My first taste of leadership
I was 18 years old. I used to hang out with my mates at a place called ‘Brisbane Court’ on a Friday night. We had nowhere else to go as the Youth Club was closed. One night the police came and told us to move on. The residents had complained, we were too noisy. “But where to?” we asked. The police replied, “just move on.”
So the next Monday night we told the story to our youth leaders. We asked them to open the Youth Club for more nights. They said there was no funding available. But one youth leader thought for a moment and then said: “but there are no rules to stop you running the club as volunteers.” And so we did. We created a committee, we opened our own business account, we went on a team-building weekend, we successfully ran our youth club every Friday night for over a year.
No one else ever did this again. I received a National Youth Award for it.
Looking back I now realise that this was my first taste of being a leader and I loved it. I loved it because I love people — I love being with them, laughing with them, crying with them, seeing them develop and being there for them when I’m needed. And I learnt that being a good leader was really all about two things: loving being with and caring for people.