Tag Archives: inspiration

Interviews with Inspirational Women

If you’ve been following my blog for a while you may recall that I run an irregular series of interviews with women that inspire me. It’s been a while since my last one but given that yesterday was International Women’s Day, what better time (other than yesterday, obviously) to add another interview to the pile?

This one is a bit different because it’s with my own lovely daughter, Frances (Franki) Hackett.

The Intrepid Miss Hackett

She has grown into an exceptional young woman and I am delighted to introduce her to you.

I hope when you read her interview you’ll see why I find her so inspiring.

Who are you and how do you spend your time?

I am Franki, I’m your daughter, and I’m just about to finish my undergrad degree in PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) at Oxford.  Largely I spend my time reading, writing, and obsessing over problems that most people would probably think are largely irrelevant.

What’s your philosophy for life?

A friend of mine has the motto ‘the best things in life leave you feeling a little bit sticky’, which I have to admit appears more apt the more one thinks about it.  However, I guess for myself my main philosophy is to try to make wherever I go a better place when I leave than how I found it, and that the only way to solve a problem is to properly understand it.

As far as I can see the only way we can give meaning to our lives is by affecting the lives of others; I try to make a positive difference.

What shaped that philosophy, and how has it changed over the years?

My philosophy has been shaped in part obviously by my upbringing; I was taught very early on that human beings are of equal worth and that all of our differences should be tolerated, if not celebrated.

I hate seeing people suffer and I have trouble ignoring it or forgetting it if I know it’s happening; in all my studies it has only become more clear to me that we have duties to everyone, regardless of our national or local affiliations, or the distances between people: if human suffering is a bad thing it is bad regardless of where it is, and that means we have a duty to do something about it.

I’ve been lucky enough to have been taught by some of the finest minds in the country, and by people who are very aware of their moral situation. I guess my basic philosophy has always been the same, but they’ve taught me how to act on it, and that not acting on it is not an acceptable alternative.

What’s your definition of what it takes to be a successful woman today?

This is a hard question, in part because the word ‘successful’ is so loaded.  The most basic criterion is, I suppose, to be accepting of oneself.

I think we will have achieved a lot as a society when to be a ‘successful woman’ fits within the same bounds as to be a ‘successful man’, but we’re certainly not there yet.  Similarly I don’t think that to be a successful woman you have to have broken through some glass ceiling, although obviously for some people that is a real success.

Each individual is going to have to define success for herself, and it has to be a definition that fits: if you hate mathematics, there’s very little point in deciding to be the chair of the Bank of England. You are the person who can know you best, if you have worked out your true potential in something you love, are following that potential, and can honestly say that, most of the time, you are happy with the choice you made, regardless of what other people might have expected for you, then you are successful.

I think that definition can apply to men as well as to women, but I think it’s harder for women; we are loaded with more guilt for not living up to what others would like us to be.

Facing up to and moving past that guilt is, I think, a real mark of success.

What do you think have been your greatest achievements so far?

I have a tendency to underrate my achievements, on the basis that I am determined not to get complacent: I’m rarely completely happy with the way I perform on the basis that I could always have done better, that’s what drives me to excellence.

But I think that getting to Oxford was a real achievement, no matter how much help I had along the way I had much less help than many of the students here.

And simply working incredibly hard for such a long time to get my degree has been an achievement, like they say it’s a marathon and not a sprint, and as my mother will tell you I had to work against my natural inclinations to run this marathon, as like her I’m definitely not a completer-finisher.

And finally, learning to stand up for myself has been a real achievement; I used to worry that I talked to much in group settings, particularly academically, and I have been very likely to agree to do things even when I didn’t have time because I hate letting people down.

Learning to say ‘no’ to unreasonable demands, and then to stand by that has been a real achievement (I won’t claim to say I’m perfect, some projects are just too tempting!).

At the same time, when I learnt that in group settings men do something like 85% of the talking, and almost 100% of the interrupting, I decided to change that statistic, even if I had to do it on my own.

If I have a reasonable point to make now I make it, even if I have to interrupt to do so, I won’t be broken off unless I’ve finished my point, and if another woman is having trouble getting heard I’ll stop the conversation to give her a chance.

At first I worried that this would make people think I was rude and obnoxious, but I’ve had nothing but complements: men saying how refreshing they found it to have a voice raising a completely different perspective and engaging with them by their own rules, and women saying how nice it was to feel that someone had taken the lead and given them cover to voice their own opinions without seeming ‘shrill’.  That has been a real eye-opener, and I consider it to be an achievement.

And what do you still have left that you want to achieve?

There are many things I still want to achieve, I feel that at the age of 20 that’s the right way to be.

As I summarised my life plan to a tutor a few days ago when he asked me if I was interested in doctoral study, I intend to do my masters, then go out and ensure that every woman in the world has access to decent maternity care, both post- and ante-natal.

Having achieved this and won my Nobel prize, I will then return to University to do my Dphil.

I also hope to have a family at some point, and I’d like to keep an allotment, since it’s the day-to-day maintenance of something like that which is much more of a challenge for me, and I think that growing vegetables is good for the soul.

What’s been the most important learning experience in your life, and what lessons did you take from it?

I can’t pinpoint one exact moment or experience, but several times during my life I have spoken with someone about something which I felt that I understood, and had them reveal an entirely different view of something that was previously very familiar.

The only example I can think of at the moment is my study of power: as a concept we all feel that we understand power and yet no one can really settle on a decent definition.

Most people define it as person A’s being able to get person B to do something which she would otherwise not do.  After centuries of this kind of definition, Foucault came along and said that power is not something that one person has or does to another, it is a set of structures around us which constrain us even if we don’t realise it, particularly in the form of knowledge.

So, for example, as certain ‘abnormal’ behaviours became defined medically rather than simply as ‘deviance’ in the middle of the 19th century they began to be controlled in new ways simply because people understood them as medical conditions, not simply as differences.

Those moments of paradigm shift are very important I think, and it’s a wonderful feeling, suddenly seeing things from a new angle like that.  It’s taught me to keep looking, from perhaps rather surprising angles, at the things I think I know.  That is the essence of creativity in a way, and it’s the only way we have of moving forward.

We celebrated the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day in 2011. What message would you like to give to the next generation of women?

Define yourself.  This is the only way to really achieve success, and if we insist on our own definitions of ourselves, then we are much less likely to be controlled by other people’s definitions.

What to do when it’s all Too Much

Everyone gets days when it feels like everything you do is doomed to failure and there’s no point in going on.

Anyone who tells you they don’t is telling porkies. Trust me on this.

When you’re feeling that way it can also feel like life is going AMAZINGLY well for the entire rest of the world and that no-one has ever been such a useless heap as you are. It’s a bit like being zoomed straight back into the teenage version of yourself, where everything was sooooooo unfair and no-one had ever suffered like you suffered, and no-one would ever love you and see you for the, like, really amazing person you were….

When that mood strikes there are all sorts of things you can do. You’ll find lots of advice from people telling you to meditate, or go out for a run or buy yourself some flowers or tap or do any number of other worthy things.

But what if you’re having the type of day where you can barely get yourself out of bed? If you’re in that sort of state, all you’re likely to do is to start beating yourself up for not feeling able to motivate yourself to meditate or go out for a run or even get dressed – and that just makes you feel even worse about yourself.

So if your down days really really get you down, here are my top tips for how to cope.

  • Instead of fighting the negative feelings, go with them. Try to trace them back to their source. You don’t have to get out of bed to do this (which is a good start) and the simple process of pinpointing what’s happened to put you in this state can have an immediate galvanising effect.
  • Allow yourself to wallow. I find that if I allow myself time to wallow there comes a point where I get sick of feeling sorry for myself and I am able to kick start myself. Refusing to wallow and trying to plug on regardless tends to backfire and makes things worse for me in the long run.
  • Tell people you trust how you’re feeling. Sometimes all you need is to verbalise the feelings for them to go away. If you’re as lucky as I am you will have people around you who will reassure you of how much you are loved and valued, and that will help enormously.
  • Give yourself a treat – whether it’s time to indulge in your favourite weepy movie, a luxurious bath with lots of candles and bubbles, a box of chocolates when you don’t usually indulge or even a day in bed with a pile of undemanding books, do something to show yourself that “you’re worth it”.
  • Remind yourself that this feeling is temporary, it will pass and you will rise above it when the time is right for you to move on.

Body Issues, what Body Issues?

Last night I went and took all my clothes off in front of a group of total strangers.

And a dog.

For 2 hours I sat completely still (on an electric blanket, surrounded by fan heaters) as 7 people stood at easels and painted/sketched/drew/charcoaled their own versions of me, to a soundtrack of old ska music and the odd surprising interjection of hip-hop (that Biggie Smalls, he was a laugh, eh?!)

Apart from the tutor and one girl who didn’t stay for the entire session, the group was entirely male – including the dog – and two of them appeared to be younger than my son.

It didn’t feel even slightly odd, though. There was no hint that any of this was in any way unusual or unpleasant and apart from the fact that everyone else in the room knew each other and I knew no-one, it was a perfectly ordinary, comfortable evening.

So – it seemed that for me there was no real challenge and no fears to be faced in getting naked.

And then I made the mistake of looking at some of the pictures.

I didn’t know what the etiquette was – does the model express an interest in the work going on around her and chat to the artists, or does she sit in a corner and mind her own business during the tea break?

So I combined the two. I sat in a corner stroking the dog and drinking my tea, and indulged myself with sneaky peaks at the pictures every now and then.

And that’s where the challenge and the fear came in.

Because, notwithstanding the varying degrees of skill of the individual artists, the difficult thing was seeing myself as others see me.

My fist instinct was to recoil at what I saw as ugliness. I’m under no illusions about my shape but I suppose I had expected to see something like this:

Beryl Cooke painting courtesy of the Canterbury Auction Galleries

And instead what I saw looked more like this:

The Venus of Willendorf

But without the hat and with my delicate lady parts far better hidden. Ahem.

Beryl Cooke’s work celebrates the female form, particularly the amply endowed female form, and does it in a way that smooths out the lumps and bumps and shows only curves and smoothness and generosity. Beryl’s work allows perkiness where there would, in reality, have been droop and sag, and satin skin instead of stretch marks and cellulite.

The Venus of Willendorf, in contrast, is much more lifelike, as are the paintings of Rubens which show bodies, male and female, as they really are rather than as we might wish them to be.

So – given that Rubens and that ancient sculptor had it right, what was I actually recoiling from? One of the paintings from last night was clearly made by an artist of real talent – he had captured the musculature under my skin and the fall of light and shade. There was a quote on the wall of the studio that said something about how painting the human body was a combination of architecture and landscape painting – and I think this artist last night had done both.

His work contained no judgement of me – the judgement was entirely in my own head.

And what was my judgement based on?

My external appearance doesn’t make me any less worthy as a human being.

It doesn’t make me any the less capable of doing the work that I love.

It is how it is in part as a result of 2 caesarean sections and breastfeeding 2 babies.

It also is how it is in part because I’ve never exercised regularly and I have a sweet tooth.

It is how it is also in part because of my genetic make-up.

And it is how it is because that’s who I am. If I looked different, I would have had an entirely different life and I wouldn’t be who I am today.

And who I am today is in a really good place, so why would I want to look any different? Do I really want to spend the rest of my life recoiling from The Real Me?

Hell No!

And so I am content. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience last night and I’m told that I made an excellent model because I had no difficulty sitting still. I shall do it again (especially if the dog turns up every time).

And next time I catch sight of a painitng, I will enjoy the artistry that’s gone into creating it and I will celebrate what it shows of the life I’ve lived to become who I am.

I have a couple of questions for you to ask yourself if you feel insecure about your appearance:

  • what POSITIVE impact has your appearance had on creating the person you are today?
  • if you’ve read this blog and thought “I could NEVER do that!” have a conversation with that fear and find out what it is you’re REALLY afraid of – you might be surprised by the answer.

Confronting My Fears

Well, I asked for challenges and you sent them my way, didn’t you!

As I type, I am facing the following LIVE challenges:

  • find an accompanist and sing at an open mic night
  • do a parachute jump
  • make my book the “must read” for anyone about to go to uni
  • work as a life model (ie take all my clothes off and pose naked for artists)

I also have some ideas incubating for later, including

  • coaching somewhere really challenging, like inside a prison
  • rebuilding a very broken relationship

At the moment, the parachute jump feels like the real biggie. I signed up to do it in a rush, knowing full well that if I didn’t do it there and then I’d find all sorts of excuses reasons not to do it.

Then I felt sick and spent the rest of that evening shaking, literally shaking.

And then I decided that, rather than letting the insane spiral of panic keep going round in my head, I’d have a conversation with it. And so I sat down and had a chat with one of my Gremlins, Little Miss Itstoo Scary.

Here’s how it went.

Me: Er, hello? Who’s there?

Little Miss Itstoo Scary: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Me: Ah, hello, I thought you might be here. Could you just stop running around in circles screaming for a minute so we can talk?

LMIS: No-but-how-could-you-do-this-you-can’t-jump-out-of-a-plane-you’ll-die-and-it’s-far-too-dangerous-and-scary-and …………………………….. well- noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!

Me: OK, look, I understand you’re frightened and you’re concerned for my safety, I am too. VERY. But can you tell me EXACTLY what it is about this that frightens you?

LMIS: YOU’RE GOING TO DIE!!!!!

Me: What makes you think that?

LMIS: Because you’re going to JUMP OUT OF AN AEROPLANE!!!!! That’s NOT SAFE!!

Me: Well no, it wouldn’t be safe if that was all I was going to do, jump out of an aeroplane. But I’m jumping WITH a parachute and strapped to an experienced sky-diver, so it’s not like I haven’t mitigated some of the risks involved.

LMIS: Oh. Well, OK, but it’s still a MASSIVE RISK! People die in parachuting accidents every day!

Me: Do they? Every day?

LMIS: Well, maybe not every day…but it does happen.

Me: Yes it does. And people get killed everyday crossing the road or driving their cars but you don’t worry about me doing those things, do you?

LMIS: Er, well…no, I suppose not…

Me: Why is that?

LMIS: Well, because I’m used to you doing them. They’re normal things

Me: Just because I do something regularly doesn’t necessarily make them any less risky – it might even make them riskier because of complacency.

LMIS: Mmmm…I hadn’t thought of it like that. So – you’ll be strapped to an expert and they’ll make sure you’re as safe as you can be?

Me: Yes.

LMIS: OK then. I’m happy.

Me: Sorry?

LMIS: I said, I’m happy. You go off and enjoy yourself. Oh, and you’re doing it for charity, aren’t you? Well done, I hope you get lots of sponsors. Oh, and enjoy the singing and the modelling too. I’ll see you around.

Me: Er..right. So – we’re cool now?

LMIS: Yup, I just wanted to be sure you’d thought about the risks and you clearly have, so that’s fine. Bye!

And that’s REALLY how it was. Once I’d stepped aside from the primal fear mode and thought about relative risks I suddenly stopped being frightened and started to become excited.

And I still am.

Let’s see how long it lasts…

Challenges…

So, yesterday I said I was in need of a challenge and asked for suggestions. I’ve had one so far, from my lovely daughter, and I have accepted her challenge to devise a set-list, find an accompanist and sing at least 3 songs at an open mic event.

I do love to sing but have been very shy of singing in public – partly from being told when I was younger that I had a rotten voice, and partly as a result of getting such a severe attack of nerves when I agreed to perform a solo in a school music competition that I went on stage, opened my voice, and NOTHING came out.

Imagine that – me, making no noise whatsoever!

So – if anyone knows of any open mic venues in the Cheltenham area or wants to recommend an accompanist or volunteer themself to act as one, please email me at cathy@colourinyourthinking.co.uk or tweet me @colourfulcoach

I know some of you are out there plotting on what challenges you’re going to offer me – don’t leave it too long cos I can only hold my breath for so long!!

I’ve also realised that there’s a challenge I had already set mself, and had promptly “forgotten” about, and that’s to do with promoting and selling my book.

So this morning I got to work on that, and you can follow that story on my dedicated blog at Goodreads.com, where you’ll also find a competition to win a free review copy.

The adrenaline is flowing and today has been an enormoudsly productive way for all sorts of things, so onwards and upwards is what I say!!

UPDATE:

as I was writing that, the lovely RedHairedHiker was commenting on yesterday’s post and challenging me to do some kind of really scary sporting activity.

So I’ve just signed up to do a Tandem Skydive in aid of Mind, the mental health charity.

I did it quickly so as not to give myself time to chicken out, so it’s all booked and paid for and I’m waiting for the date. Once I have that I’ll let you know how you can sponsor me – you will sponsor me, won’t you? Please? Cos now that I’ve stopped to think about it, I’m REALLY scared…

More Fear Needed…

I’ve been ruminating on why The Saboteurs and the Resistance have been so active of late and I realised that some of it’s because I’m bored. Not just bored as in “everything’s in other people’s hands now” bored , but bored as in “where’s my next big challenge?” bored.

I’m doing something that stretches me every day, but the stretches are starting to feel too easy and I can feel myself becoming a bit complacent.

So yesterday I decided to follow up on my naked photo shoot experience from last year. That was a REAL challenge and was amazingly empowering. My relationship with my body and how I feel about myself generally has completely changed since then, and I’ve decided to capitalise on that – so next Tuesday evening I’m going to a local art school to pose – in the nude – as a Life Model.

Today it feels exciting but not quite challenging enough – I’ll let you know next week how it feels on the night!!

So I’ve pondering on what other challenges to give myself – and then I thought I’d ask YOU what challenges YOU’D  like me to undertake and then write about…that’s right, from now on, My Fear is in Your Hands!

Here’s what I’m looking for:

  • challenges that will test and stretch me
  • challenges that will allow me to write about my experiences in a way that will be helpful for you to read about
  • challenges that will inspire you to challenge yourself and face some of your fears and gremlins

Here’s what I don’t want:

  • suggestions for things that are going to cost lots of money

Please give me your challenges here – I’ll rate them out of 5 for how much of a challenge they feel to me (where 1 is “I do that sort of thing every day” and 5 is “Holy Shit I could NEVER do THAT!!! Oh…OK then…if I must…”) and then take them one at a time…

Gulp…

I can already feel the adrenaline starting to flow and I haven’t even published this yet – what on EARTH have I let myself in for?!

Why Don’t We Do What’s Good For Us?

As you’ll have been able to tell from my recent posts, there’s been a lot of Sabotage and Resistance going on around here and quite frankly I’m fed up with it.

I know what changes I want to make in my life and I know why I want to make them. I know the benefits they will bring and I know why staying in my old patterns isn’t going to help me.

I know that resistance is a normal and natural part of any change and that it has to be worked through.

I know that the eventual benefits will far outweigh the discomfort I will feel during the time of Resistance.

But it still pisses me off something chronic that, despite knowing all this, I still need to go through the process and I still seem to “come round” and find myself having been resisting like fury without apparently even noticing it happening!

In one way it’s reassuring to know that I’m perfectly normal – everyone goes through this when they want to change, and it allows  me to empathise and understand when my clients talk about their own Resistance.

But it does get very wearing after a while.

However, I do find that there comes a point at which I get so fed up with the Resistance and the effect it’s having that something snaps inside and I say “No More!” I harness my Inner Gandalf and stand square in the face of the Resistance and proclaim “You Shall Not Pass!!!”

And once I’ve done that, I pick up the threads of the changes I want to make and get back on track, knowing that I’m moving ever further along my Journey and ever further towards reaching my true potential.

And that feels good.