Lost in the Fog

fogHave you ever gone for a long drive somewhere down the coast, or through a mountain range and you’ve turned the corner and you have found yourself driving through sea mist or low cloud?
It’s very disorientating, isn’t it?
One minute you have a clear view of where you are and where you are going, and the next minute you can only see a few meters in front of you.

A year ago I could tell you  that depression, anxiety, stress and mental illness was something that was an important subject that people need to talk about.
What I didn’t realise a year ago is how hard it is to talk about such a subject.

Why do I think it’s harder than people realise? Because in many cases people don’t know the depth of the despair they are in. From my experience, life was carrying on a familiar journey. There were the expected bumps on the road and there was some great scenery.
What I didn’t expect was fog. Thinking about it now, maybe I did expect it but maybe I didn’t realise how disorientating it would be. At some point I had turned a corner and I was in the middle of a deep mist. I hadn’t changed direction. I hadn’t changed momentum. Life had just turned a bend.

I have heard it said “Talk to someone when life gets dark or foggy or grey.” In fact the sentiment is all over the internet. The problem with this thinking is you don’t know how deep you’re in until you’re right in the middle of it. The signs that you would usually use to orientate yourself are no longer legible. The fog is too thick.

So how do you tell when life is really getting to a low point? We have all felt tired. We have all felt despair and we have all felt frustrated with life. The difference is most times life is hiding behind the couch and shouts “surprise!” Then life resumes to normal viewing as if some cruel joke, or maybe even a cruel test that we had to go through to discover how weak we really are underneath all the masks and bravado.

That’s the problem with clouds, sometimes they’re just blots on a blue sky and while they may cover the sun you can see it’s only for a short time. Other times the clouds are dark and grey and you may be caught in a heavy shower. It may last days or it may last weeks. That’s a lot of time with no sun, isn’t it?

Someone once said to me “She died suddenly.” I thought this was an unusual saying, after all doesn’t everyone die suddenly? One minute you’re living, and the next minute you’re dead.
Living, living, living, living, living, dead. From experience for A1 type personalities like me, that’s how depression works. Fine, fine, fine, fine, lost.

The crazy thing is that you can’t even really call it ‘depression’ as everyone will feel it differently depending on their personality, but I wonder if there are just not enough words in the English language to explain this. I could do fifty things at once. I could do it all. I was funny and creative. I was adaptable and then all of a sudden… I wasn’t. Well sometimes I could be, but it just felt hard. Was I getting ill? Did my brain’s super computer have too many tabs open? Not having felt this way before for extended periods, how would I know?

Talking is important… absolutely. However I’m not sure it’s as important as having friends connect up and ask questions.                                                                                                                       “Hey, you’re looking tired. Are you okay?”
“You don’t seem your normal self. Is everything alright?”
“I haven’t heard from you for a while, what’s up?”

In a world of social media and personal branding it’s easy to hide behind “Ok” and “I’ll show you my highlight reel” -but the reality is fighting depression, anxiety and other mental illness starts with community.
It starts with whanau (family).
It starts with close friends.
It starts with people being observant  enough to ask the question if something doesn’t look or feel right.
It starts with us being honest enough to admit we’re in need of support if we are starting to struggle.

What we need to remember, is often we don’t know we are lost until we look around.

 

 

 

Is ‘Our Brand’ getting in the way of ‘Our story’

personal-branding-photoI was recently in a meeting where the coordinator said “People judge you by what you look like and how you act. It is YOUR BRAND. It is what they see”.

The phrase took me off guard
.

I’ve heard people talk about ‘Your Brand’ before. It’s not a new concept and if we were to be honest we’ve all been doing something like it (regardless of if we knew we were doing it or not) for centuries. You may have heard phrases that came out of this line of thinking such as “Dress for the job you WANT, not the job you HAVE”.

This thinking is not wrong,
as it’s good to take pride in your work place and even more importantly yourself. The issue I have with this line of thinking is that it starts to get in the way of some important stories of the communities/team’s/families we are in and makes us focus on just the individual.

So let’s unpack this a bit further. Take the example of “Dress for the job you want…” idea (just because I bought it up earlier). The intention is for people to take pride in how they look and how they present themselves, so that when people meet you for the first time there is a good first impression made. Plus the added bonus is that it makes you feel better about yourself because you have taken time and effort in how you are presented.
Unfortunately sometimes it just becomes an ego driven self marketing tool that is all about who looks best and owns the appropriate fashion for a particular role. And it potentially leads to disappointment. It’s far too easy for people to think “I dressed for the role I want and I still didn’t get it, maybe I didn’t market myself well enough?”.
We start to base things on what we think we know and not on what we have actually discovered about someone. It’s almost as if we throw out their CV and reduce them to a kids picture book ‘This is John. See John work’ .  It’s like the old adage about books being made in to movies and puts it into the context of life.

“Is like taking your oxen and seeing it made into an OXO (bouillon)  cube”
– John le Carre’

Has this grown out of our own laziness? Instead of seeing the first impression as an indication of the substance that may be hidden in the pages of the book beneath the cover, are we actually taking time to read the story rather than just the basic synopsis or overview of what the person is about?

A good friend, pastor and musician Malcolm Gordon once said “We pretend we’re people without shadows” and while he was talking about people going to church, I think it’s a much bigger epidemic.

Some of  our greatest world changers – from Lincoln to Edison,  Churchill to Princess Diana – have fought hidden demons. While these world changers were ‘flawed’, their stories made their accomplishments even more impressive. Their hardships/demons/flaws gave them the push and drive to see the world differently. Our ‘self brand’ technique has just become a way to bypass the mundane, to leap frog the pain and to ‘become the people we were destined to be’ with all the fanfare and poise of a well executed marketing campaign.

It’s actually killing our work places. Imagine great self marketers gaining great positions without knowing what the hard times are like and without understanding the pain points that lead to growth and improvement. No wonder society is becoming less engaged, less empathetic and more reactive. Isn’t this just setting people up to fail?

In the age of Facebook and social media saturation are we becoming so trained at hiding our shadows, that we don’t see the bigger story?  We don’t see the story of our community and work place it’s in?  Or even worse don’t see the story of an individual more than just at synopsis level?

New Zealand journalist and news reporter Nadine Chalmers-Ross had that dilemma at a very real level. Making a name for herself under the name Chalmers-Ross she recently got married. Should she remain Chalmers-Ross or become Mrs Higgins? What does she do? Her name was her brand, what she was known as, part of her ‘News identity’ if you will.
I love the conclusion that Nadine came to:

“My name is my brand, sure, but my marriage isn’t about what’s commercially savvy.  It’s about forming a team and a name is the loudest way I can think of saying he’s my person. So, may I introduce you to Mrs Higgins?”

YES!
Nadine has certainly got it. It’s about so much more than ‘my own personal brand’
Our ‘Brand’ affects far more than just ourselves – it affects our families, our teams and our communities.
What if instead we started looking at ‘Our Brand’ as our way to be the superstar of our own story? What if we started to see our stories interweaving with others in our communities? What if we looked at ‘Our Brand’ as something that adds to not just our own story, but the stories of our community like our own entry into a section of the Iliad.

We don’t just have one story. We have our own starring role in a story of our life- the fears, the failures, the wins, the loses and the mountains we have conquered. However we’re also playing a supporting role in many other individual’s stories, many other team’s stories, and many other community’s stories.

In these stories we’re not the superstar, we’re not the white knight, or the cowboy with the white hat. We’re the neighbour who said “Hi” every morning, the guy or girl who took time to notice the lack of smile, and the person who let you into the queue of traffic during rush hour. These stories are the mundane, but these stories are the brands that reverberate throughout the world we live.

So let’s talk brands… but let’s tell our stories.

Music Review: Terrible Sons ‘Neptune’

Christchurch husband and wife duo Lauren (L.A. Mitchell) and Matt Barus come together as the wonderful blend called Terrible sons with their first single ‘Neptune.’ It’s a magical dreamlike single that gently plummets you into the ghostly depths of an underwater world soaked in metaphor.
Neptune showcases the tension that Lauren and Matt demand from each other as creative partners in the songwriting process. Matt is in search of new sounds that would enhance the music in a way that unsettles or brings attention to the song sonically, or as Lauren calls it ‘weird.’ Lauren herself pushes for the beauty in the music and the melody. In a relationship that isn’t as collaborative this tension just wouldn’t work, however for Terrible Sons this is where the magic begins as they each pull and push each other into a new and greater sound.
The simplicity of the song is deceptive as simple piano chords gently crash moments before the melodic lull of the constant loop of an acoustic guitar keep each wave of the song pushing forward… back and forth. The tension of the sea is broken when Matt and Lauren’s vocals float in like a gentle breeze in harmony. It’s the simple touches and the fact that something is only added when it is going to enhance the song that is where the real genius lies. There is a real ‘kiwiness’ to the approach which is both artistic and refreshing, as we are caught up in the wave of the beauty of what we hear and are constantly lured in deeper by the quirkiness of the surrounding sea of sound.

It’s in the listening to such songs that you realise how cinematic music can be and the accompanying music video that sits along side this single is just as magical as you would expect. The video adds an extra visual layer to what Terrible Sons have teased you with musically and lyrically… it’s dark and intriguing, it’s both dark and welcoming.

Welcome to the world Terrible Sons… we look forward with baited breath for the album that will support such a great introduction to the sublime world you have created.