Are We on the Right Path?

Earlier this month I spoke at a poetry open mic event. I’ve attended a few in the past, so it might appear that this was merely the re-kindling of a passion that life had just got in the way of. To me though, it felt like a huge step.
In the past, finding the courage to recite poetry in front of my poetic peers resulted in an immediate buzz. I would experience a massive high as I stood up, soaking in every second of the performance, the applause, the excitement, all fuelled by the passion, heart & considerable time spent crafting the poem. This transferred into a single performance, usually lasting no more than 5 minutes leaving me exhilarated for about 24 hours.

In bitter contrast, the days that followed yielded periods of depression & self-doubt. Within a couple of weeks I would convince myself I was a fraud who didn’t deserve to share a stage with the ‘talented people.’ I told myself my poetry wasn’t good enough. I felt I was just embarrassing myself and others and that I should stop. And then the rabbit hole would open up and I’d disappear right down it.

The truth is, it’s not just poetry this has applied to in my life. Over the years I’ve battled some pretty dark thoughts, inflicted by life’s harshest critic… myself.
My abilities and effectiveness as a father, husband, son, brother, uncle, friend, writer, coach, mentor and finally, but by no means least, Technologist have all been fair game for my own critical mind. Those words, my own critical mind. To most of you who know me this may be the first time you are aware of this, I am told that I have hidden it very well, perhaps too well.
I want to tell you all that I’ve struggled with my mental health over the years. Like so many, until now, I’ve not really spoken about it, certainly not written about it in detail.
There are two reasons for that:

Firstly, I convinced myself there was nothing wrong. Surely, everyone has these kinds of feelings? The alarm goes off at 0630. I switch it off but don’t want to get out of bed. I want to crawl under the covers and remove all possibility of having to face anyone.
Thoughts of being caught out as a fraud taunt me. I hear a little part of my brain telling me that today might be the day that those who haven’t already caught on will see me for what I am. An imposter! This could be the day that my facade as the IT professional and wannabe poet /writer is exposed for what it is. A distraction from the fact that this is a man the world would be better off without.
I think about family and friends, how it might be better if my world just ends.
Yes, I thought this was normal. It is not; it may be common but it is never normal.

Secondly, talking about mental health still feels like a huge risk professionally. Nobody should feel they are putting their livelihood, promotion prospects or suitability for a particular opportunity on the line by talking about mental health.
Lots of great work is being done to raise Mental Health awareness and to promote well-being in many companies; however, a stigma is still attached to Mental Health issues, resulting in people not talking for fear of discrimination.
This needs to be addressed.

I have only now found the courage to speak out. I’ve made a few breakthroughs recently and have taken control of more aspects of my life. I made some changes last year that have helped enormously and I’ve shared my experiences with a few close friends; some of whom talked of similar problems. Taking inspiration from them has helped me open up. As a big boxing fan, hearing Tyson Fury dedicate his recent inspirational comeback to mental health sufferers was perhaps the final catalyst to highlight my plight.

Although my problems have been with me for many years, 2017 was a particularly bad year for my mental health. 2015-16 was a transformative period in my professional career, and self-doubt started to creep in around the end of 2016. By the summer of 2017 I had lost all but a grain of self-confidence. Professionally, I was convinced there were individuals actively trying to demoralise & undermine the value I added to my team. I put myself under an enormous amount of pressure to deliver change in an environment that I would soon realise was no longer in my gift to influence. In my mind, I shouldered the blame, but only a few people saw the full extent of the mental health issues I was facing. My doctor wasted no time in prescribing a course of anti- antidepressants and recommended cognitive based therapy.

My summer holiday couldn’t come quick enough & I relaxed completely whilst abroad. The doctor had also suggested meditation, something I was already keenly interested in following a trip to India in 2009. I thought making this a more routine practise on holiday could help and the added scientific credence from my doctor validated that decision. As the pressure lifted on holiday, it became very clear I had to find a new job. I wouldn’t rush it, but I knew it was time to move on.
The meditation helped me re-focus; therefore, I decided to make that practice a daily one, for as long as I could. I returned to work in August 2017 more content. After considering a number of options I negotiated my resignation by Christmas for Feb 2018.
Around the same time, a few other things happened.
I planned a long walk with a friend for May 2018. The Camino de Santiago, referred to as the Camino, or Way. It had been years in the planning but the planets had eventually aligned. I also started to study Neuroplasticity and the workings of the brain including how to re-wire it. With a meditation practise now a consistent part of my daily routine I undertook Mindfulness practitioner training. I also felt it was the time was right to stop taking the pills. I left my job and after a good period of decompression, my return to the world of Technology conveniently coincided with arriving back from the Camino.

The walk was the Portuguese variant of the Camino de Santiago. Over 9 days, my good friend and I travelled approximately 200 miles from Vila do Conde (a small town about 15 miles north of Porto) to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
We documented the journey on social media and the support we received along the way, from friends, family and fellow pilgrims, kept our spirits high and motivated us to push through some of the mental and physical challenges we faced each day.
Doing my bit to help promote another friend’s fledgling clothing brand, Loft 55 (separate blog here) meant a lot to because of the shared experiences in our journeys.
The walk itself, the wonderful sights, great food & drink, wonderful people, each with their own story, and the camaraderie with my travel companion helped put everything into perspective. The full story of that is for another day.

I returned with some insights and truths about myself which had to be acted upon. I also had to work out a way of just letting some stuff go. The things I learnt about myself were by no means new, but I knew I had never completely addressed them.
I resolved to address (and see through) everything that was important to me. I also realized that it would take time, not all can be changed in one go. These were the four steps I decided to take immediately.

1) Take complete accountability for my life

We have a tendency to blame anyone or anything other than ourselves, it is human nature. Think of all your recent interactions at home, with friends and at work. Whether through virtual interaction such as social media, email etc or face to face interaction, I wager we’ve all shouldered blame on someone or something other than ourselves in the last 24 hours.
“That team are always holding us up, {insert expletive here}”
“If it wasn’t for {enter name of choice here}, everything would be great”
To take ‘complete accountability’ for our lives, then we have to stop ‘blaming others’ right?
It’s easy to blame other people, bad luck or situations but not so easy to own our own shortcomings. Conversely, we shouldn’t be afraid to challenge others when we believe they are wrong and feel they should be looking inward as well. As long as we try to deal with things from a place of compassion, we can’t go too wrong. We may even be thanked, sometimes. We should, however, never look to pick the splinter from another’s eye and fail to see the plank in ours. I feel confident that I have begun the necessary process to take complete accountability for the things I am accountable for in my life.

2) Overcome adversity

As human beings, we are adequately equipped to overcome adversity. I am no different. On the Camino I faced many physical and mental challenges. Pain, like everything in life, is not permanent. The Camino experience helped me wake up & remember a number of professional and personal periods of adversity that I have overcome in my life.
Now, I’ve accepted and seen that I will overcome life’s obstacles. Some I may not be able to deal with immediately but they will not be forever ignored. Striving to move forward is the key factor. There will be more obstacles but there will also be better times. And yes, those obstacles include the thoughts that come into my head. But it is clearer to me now than ever, that I’m bigger than any of the problems I encounter, not the other way round.

3) Be easier on myself

This is the hardest step of all for me.
I am not perfect but every day I learn a little more. On the walk I heard some pretty astonishing things about myself, some from people I had only just met. One person told me they could see a big loving spirit in my eyes.
I was also told I must believe in the powerful love I spread, as it can touch people’s souls.
Pretty powerful I thought.
Believe me when I say I’m not telling you any of this for self-gratification, to be smug or to proclaim “Hey, Look at me, I’m great.”
I hope that my words may echo with you as I have found many of the people I have met in my life have the same self- doubts as I. Unfortunately, my experiences have shown me that we all find this pretty hard to accept.
I now realise that to add value to your own life and help other people, you must start by being capable of ‘loving yourself.’ I never did that through many of the scrapes I’ve had in my life. I set the standards so high for myself that the best of the best would have struggled to hit them. When I failed to achieve perfection I would metaphorically beat myself up. This was rarely in a healthy, reflective manner, rather, it was self-deprecating, negative and ultimately, damaging. I’m finally getting better at accepting who I am and being able to identify and celebrate the small wins along the journey.

4) Spend more time talking

The Camino de Santiago showed me the way of the pilgrim. It also taught me that talking about our troubles is a powerful healer. In the past I fell foul to a vicious circle of retreating into myself when times were tough. Dwelling on things my mind had conjured up would result in me hiding away from the world for long periods of time.
Part of taking accountability has meant identifying a lot of the triggers.
That has been a difficult lesson but I’m beginning to be able to spot the signs more quickly. Acknowledgement and ownership of our problems is crucial, it allows us to avoid going on a downward spiral which ultimately swallows us up into a rabbit hole. As soon as I see the signs, one of the first things I do is talk. Whether it’s picking up the phone or meeting up with people, I talk. I have found the human interaction important and hugely beneficial. It doesn’t have to be about what’s going on in my head although sometimes that helps.
For those that know me well, I must add another little jewel here. Just as important as the talking, has been listening to what others have to say. I mean really listening.
Really being present, concentrating on what they are telling you. Not thinking about where you have to be next or what you’re going to say next, but really showing them how important, what they have to say is to you.
Because that is when you learn you are never alone.

There we go. The Camino made me realise how vulnerable and imperfect we all are.
It also reinforced that we are resilient and can push ourselves further than we believe.
Working together, we can pretty much achieve anything we put our minds to.
For now, I’m confident that I’m on the right path. I might not be entirely sure where the next leg of my journey will take me, but I’ve never been more certain of a few things. As scary as it might be I will not shy away from talking about what is important. Putting this to good effective use is the next step. Being ever mindful!

As far as the poetry is concerned, I’m going to keep going.
Not too many people can say they’ve entered a poetry slam competition on foreign soil that’s not in their native tongue, and somehow finished second. I managed to achieve that a few years ago and if that’s as good as it gets, it’s good enough for me.
For now, there will definitely be new poems, I daresay some oldies reworked, more recitals and who knows what in 2019. A re-issue of my first poetry book ‘FI Blues’? A reflection of the Camino? Anything and everything is possible, really.

Keep talking people!
A very Merry Christmas & Happy New Year

Great to Talk – Better to Listen

A year ago today, I decided to make my meditation practise a daily one. That may not be a huge deal to a lot of people but I’d love to share my milestone with a little article which at it’s core celebrates friendship.

I started investigating mindfulness after a visit to India in 2009. I tried guided meditation podcasts and transcendental meditation. Whilst reading the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu I stumbled onto Zazen, which although the hardest to practise (it involves keeping the eyes open, staring at a wall and thinking of nothing) seemed to reap the biggest rewards. I used it to combat feelings of anxiety amongst other demons flying about in my head. It helped. Over the years that followed, I found I was turning to it more often, although still in a reactionary manner.

In 2014 I found an App called Headspace, which suited me and for the next three years I found myself completing more consecutive periods of meditation. Over this time I found I was able to spot earlier signs of things getting on top of me. I was beginning to realise that the incremental benefits of meditation were greater than I’d imagined. And on the 18 Jun 2017 I decided, “I’m doing to commit to doing this the every day.” 

In my most recent blog posts I’ve worn my heart on my sleeve far more than in previous years. Each time before posting, I still found myself procrastinating though. Should I post this? Is it appropriate on Linked In? Who will be interested in something so personal? If I share it on Linked In, will people tell me it’s more suited to Facebook? If I share it on Facebook will it come across as attention seeking? More generally – What am I actually trying to achieve with it?

There were lots more thoughts, but you get the gist. The overwhelming feeling was of me questioning “Is what I am saying, relevant to anyone else and more specifically what is my target audience.

I was a bit stuck. So I did what I usually do when I’m stuck. I spoke to a few friends.

Then, I promptly decided to post on both Linked In and Facebook. And I’m really glad I did. Here I was, entering another period of change, talking about the importance things in life and it turns out there were quite a few in similar position.

As a result and through a combination of previously scheduled meetings, me reaching out & friends getting in touch, my diary was pretty full. 

Being a huge advocate for mindfulness, I was adamant that, to get the most out of each catch up I would try my absolute hardest to remain completely focussed in the moment. I would try very hard to just listen. Those that know me well know that I can talk, so where possible the first thing I fit in quickly was to let people know how grateful I was for their time. People are busy right. Very very very busy in some cases, so to have some of their time meant a lot to me. Very soon, I spotted a couple of themes unfolding from the conversations I was having. And this is when the magic started to happen.

Everyone was saying the same things. “We should do this more often” “It’s been too long” “When was the last time we caught up properly” you know the kind of things. 

Something else happened. With each interaction I felt happier. It became clear to me that over the last ten years I’ve been particularly guilty of being ‘busy’ to the point of not making enough time for friends. 

As some of the conversations dug below the surface of just why it was so important to have these regular catch ups, another theme emerging was the effect our interactions with friends have on our well being and mental health.

It felt a good time to open up to a number of friends about a couple of ‘wobbles’ I’d had in regards my own mental health over the last couple of years. It felt like the right time and more importantly, it was the first time I’d had the confidence to open up in this way.

Here was me feeling happier than I’d been in years, yet talking with friends openly about experiences of fear, panic, depression, anxiety and stress.

Well, am I glad I did. Many of the experiences were shared by a number of those I was talking with, who, like me had always been taught to talk about these feelings simply wasn’t ‘manly’. By the time conversations got into imposter syndrome, I was blown away by the number of people experiencing the same.

And here’s where my mind started shifting. As difficult as some of these chats were initially, they were helping. The mindfulness aspect, focussing on each moment, listening intently to what my friends had to say, helped me realise completely that I wasn’t alone. Why completely? I’ve heard the words before but my own mental state had never allowed me to consider for a moment that anyone else could be feeling exactly how I was. Really listening, watching and concentrating allowed me to see how genuinely open and honest others were being with me. It was sinking in.

Also, what I was saying to my friends was helping them too. They told me so. Watching their body language as I heard them confirmed it. Opening up wasn’t easy for some of them either.

All this might sound to some like I’ve been asleep for years. Maybe I have! Call it coincidence, circumstance or an alignment of the planets, but since those chats started, the following events have unfurled in front of my eyes and ears, all involving mental health, mindfulness and meditation to some degree or another.

The opportunity to be part of an old friends journey as he embarks on launching his own clothing range (Read the article here)

Connecting with a fellow Scot on his journey from a suicide attempt through cycling the world, now embarking with helping others through his own experiences.

Re-connecting with old colleagues to help with their journeys.

Choosing a new professional direction for myself. Landing my first contract on that journey, the day before I left the country for 10 days.

Walking the Camino Portugues (a 200 mile walk from Portugal to Santiago de Compostela in Spain) with my great pal, meeting great people and sharing the journey on social media.

I feel massively blessed to have had the time to fit all of this in and can’t thank my family enough for their support during my ‘break from work’.

I’ve been inspired, revitalised, energised, shaken, challenged and educated along the way. I’ve had time and been able to give some more thought as to what small changes will bring additional benefit into my life. I’ve questioned myself as well as other people. I’ve received some sage advice and offered some too, adding value to others lives.
That makes me happy!

Look, we’ve all heard this a million times before but you’re about to hear it one more. When you retire, nobody will ever wish they’d spent more time working. You’re going to wish you’d spent more time with the people you love. With your family & friends. One of the little nuggets I read recently, suggested that ‘friends’ you have had for more than ten years are family!

Very true then, when I think of those times in recent years when I have not been in the best of places, and closed friends off and NOT asked for help. That’s been the rabbit hole right there. A downward spiral to worse times.
What I’ve learnt is that those are the times we really need our friends. In my biggest time of need, those that matter most have been there. Truth is they’ve always been there. All I had to do was ask for help.

What I now know is that my ‘family’ is significantly bigger than I ever previously thought.
What I hope, is that anyone that counts me a friend, knows they can talk to me about anything at any time.
What I no longer fear, is being judged. I’ve become increasingly aware of how big a stigma is still attached to issues of mental health in our society. My opinion, is that needs to change.

As I move forward into whatever the next chapter holds, I do so happy in the knowledge that I’ll continue to face change positively. I’ll look for opportunities to raise awareness and reduce that stigma in society. I’ll carry on with my meditation practise and embrace the wonders each new day holds and give thanks for the friends that I have by my side.

We all need friends around us.
We might all benefit from being a little more mindful in whatever form we choose to practise it.
We could all be a little more present and listen a little more intently.
We can all help someone and we will make a difference to many people’s lives.
We are all busy… but we can all choose to stop. One minute might be all it takes!
365 consecutive days meditation…done! Here’s to the next year and beyond.
Thanks for reading friends. God bless every one of you!

LOFT55 – Keeping it Street

You know that way it feels when the planets align at exactly the right time to make great opportunities known to you? Well, this picks up from my last post very aptly. It confirms my thoughts on music, following conversations with an old colleague and good friend who has recently taken the bull by the horns and thrown himself into a new venture. Those conversations resonated with me for a number of reasons, but predominantly the thought that had gone into it and the level of passion & energy he was investing. To the uninitiated Loft55 might seem like any other brand of clothing and accessories range, however, after asking a lot of questions I was heartily impressed with the community value attached to the venture.

 It got me thinking that the thought process behind the idea & influences would appeal to a wide audience. I figured, given how successful his recent Instagram channel had proven that my old chum would have lined up marketing and local media attention to assist with the soft launch. Not so it seemed, too street level for that approach.Well, do you mind if I share your journey so far, I asked. Sure thing he said.
So, here we go. Everyone, meet my old pal Alistair Back.
Below, I speak to Alistair, (hailing from Brighton) charting the Loft55 journey so far.
For people that haven’t heard of Loft55 can you tell us how it came about?
Twelve months ago I began taking time out from a 10 year old dance party I started in Brighton, for a few reasons, but primarily to think about ‘the purpose’ behind it all. I realised that I had shifted my values onto those of providing a party rather than djing at it. I had lost sight of the social aspect and community spirit involved from the party’s early years and that did not sit right with me at all. As I went through this period of reflection two major things happened.
Firstly, I overcame my anxiety condition through becoming more mindful, not only of my state of mind but also taking a bigger pride in my appearance. This lead on to my interest in ‘clothing.’
Secondly, my wife and I travelled to Vietnam. Our experience being one of profound respect for the people of that country that have put past divides behind them. This is important as they do this in their physical communities. Over here we seem to be very devisive in our online communities. My view is we should celebrate what’s immediately around us that impacts our immediate community, whilst also putting efforts into improving and supporting locally. I know this view isn’t what you get to hear about that often but as a politically fluid person I dont have a bias system going on.
So in essence LOFT55 is a message behind a fledgling clothing brand about acceptance in our physical communities. If that view doesnt work for some people then that’s fine. Im travelling on a different bus but I respect those that travel in the opposite direction.

Where did the idea of Loft55 come from? 
Rounding up my musical and social experiences from my teenage years to right now approaching 50. Musically I’ve enjoyed so much great music in the company of others through some cracking periods here in the UK. LOFT55 represents the community that surrounds enjoying music in the non online world. Socially, Ive lived all over the UK in various types of communities and I wanted to express how varied we are depending on our social and economic backgrounds. However we shouldn’t judge people online if we havent walked in their shoes. And of course I want to develop my clothing line but with a message of acceptance in our physical communities firmly behind it. Oh and plenty of anchors too

What kind of merchandise / clothing can people expect?
Now we get to the core of LOFT55 as a platform to present the message around physical community. Here is where I flex some creative muscle around my love of vintage military kit and workwear. Being a huge fan I’m focusing on developing my eye whilst also doing some one off pieces fusing LOFT55 design and original military/ workwear pieces. Outside of this I’ve completed my first run of tote bags, duffle bags and sweatshirts that all have the original LOFT55 stencil anchor on them plus references to New York, Brighton and Vietnam. As this is all new to me I could end up doing anything but for now its all trial and error. Thankfully so far the general response has been a good one to what I’ve come up with.

You mentioned a nod to New York, Brighton & Vietnam. What’s the story?
New York – It’s about The Loft and it’s host David Mancuso. It’s a community and music thing via the medium of a party that appeals to me. I’m a big fan of David. Sadly he passed away and I would encourage anyone to find out more about his legacy. I’m also a big fan of the history of New York’s disco and hiphop scenes from the 70s and 80s. You get a lot of that influence when Im hosting a LOFT55 sesh.
Brighton – I go back to my previous comments about physical community and my earlier parties. In 2008 I set up a series of parties catering for a musical approach that wasnt generally accepted or known about at that time. The parties were very grassroots and outside of clubland in the most part. The sense of community was huge as people were forming friendships through these early parties. The great thing was that at the time social media was only just taking off and people were relying more on physical interaction. This is why the parties worked so well and it formed my stance on physical community and how we act in our own to others being of such importance.
Vietnam – Vietnam blew our (my wife Nic and myself) minds. We were in country and were learning about the countries past. This was done through documentaries and also in regards to modern day Vietnam, our tour guides. The magnitude of how the people of the country have moved on from such a terrible past was inspirational. It was also good to learn about the war through watching documentaries. Being politically fluid gave me a non biased starting point to enable me to look at the human aspect, not the political one, from the years 1955 onwards.
We would do well to look at The Vietnamese and their ability to leave the past in the past more than we do. (myself included)

What are your aspirations with the venture?
You know what. It’s not about the end goal. For me it’s about the journey. LOFT55 could and probably at some point will fizzle away and become something else. Ive done the dj thing, got through that and found a purpose with LOFT55. I’ve already been offered money to extend the output but declined as I’m just pushing my boundaries and learning for now. Ideally I would like see LOFT55 develop as a clothing line where people understand the message that backs it up. Some good parties wouldnt go a miss as I havent just yet lost the appetite for playing music in front of a nice bunch of enthusiasts down the disco.

Where can people find out about what you have going on? Web site, social media?Absolutely no bespoke website. That’s way too impersonal for me. Facebook and Instagram  works at my level quite nicely plus is where I’m planting my swag if people want to wade in and grab a few bits. Here’s some links;
Big Cartel Loft55 shop
Etsy Loft55 store shop
A bit of the musical side of things can be found over at Go Bang Brighton
How can people get involved?
Well, simply put, people need to be positive about the message I’m trying to send about acceptance in our physical communities being more condusive than division in our on line versions. Once that’s all OK and providing my clobber looks ok to the eye then I’d say get some. If asked what LOFT55 means when wearing anything feel free to spread the word far and wide. Tokyo has some LOFT55 swag headed its way so there’s no limits.

Do you have any events?
Only my launch night on Fri 4th May in Brighton. Other than that no plans yet. Just happy to go with the flow. If I feel the need to give things a little musical push then I’m quite experienced at putting a party together myself. Always worked outside the music industry so I’m seasoned in being a self starter when needed.

What’s next for Loft 55?
I’m trying to get aligned to a mental health charity here in Brighton so I can raise funds and awareness for their young persons area through LOFT55 and my charity work. This is really important as this area of giving back locally into my immediate community is what Im trying to do more of. Years of taking great experiences from djing can only last so long before I needed to return something tangable back, hence LOFT55 is also a platform for raising awareness and funds when and where it can. Other than that, just continuing as normal. Keeping an open mind, trial and error with the clothes and keeping the journey not the destination of LOFT55 front and centre.

So, there you have it folks

Loft55 – A clothing line
Anchors vintage military attire
Dedicates positive vibes man
To communities who’ve inspired.

The past, it’s people, resilience
Musical enjoyment, friendships alive
For the journey, not the destination.
More than a clothing line – Loft55

The Power of Music

In my last post, I wrote about how we can all reap the benefits of taking a bit of time to get some perspective and gain clarity on the important things in life. I thought it might be worthwhile to go into a bit more detail on some of those important things and immediately thought ‘friends.’ Then I started thinking…. You know that way a song comes on and it immediately reminds you of a friend?
Well, back when digital music was becoming a big deal I vowed to put together a playlist that contained all of those songs. I remember at the time, peer to peer sites like Napster, Bear Share, Bit Torrent and so on were making online music so readily accessible and free (we’ll gloss over the illegal bit) and like most people at the time, it meant re-living a lot of songs from years gone by.
It seems a while since most peer to peer sites vanished and modern ways of sharing digital music have moved on considerably. Like a lot of things we plan on doing, I never did get round to compiling that playlist.
Recently though, a Facebook thread I was nominated on re-lit a lot of my musical memories.
The idea was simple. In no particular order, list 10 all-time-favourite albums. Those that really made an impact and are still on your rotation list, even if only now and then. Post the cover, no need to explain.
Then nominate someone else to do the same.
Within just a few days of posting my first album cover, my friends were posting and then friends of my friends posting, soon, giving way to a mini-musical explosion of my news feed.
Some of my friends and I chose one or two duplicate entries but most had completely different choices. Some friends named at least a few albums that I really loved but hadn’t quite made my top ten and a few friends named albums that I had never listened to. Some friends missed out on the fun but everyone’s busy right.
I liked more Facebook posts than I had in some time and left a fair amount of comments on the music that was brought to mind throughout but this felt much more than just wasting time on social media.
A lot of the albums brought back some very vivid memories of some very good times from a number of different periods of my life. It turned out the entire experience had a very positive effect on me for a variety of different reasons. Firstly, it really made me smile. As I posted my own choices each day, I found myself playing each album too. Some were streamed and for some, I took the trip up to the loft to dig out the original vinyl album. As I watched my friends posting, I started listening to a lot of their choices too. Smiles became happy memories and once again, I found myself remembering certain songs that I associated with certain friends. It also brought back memories that I’d long associated with the albums or individual songs from the albums. The ranged from the gigs and festival memories throughout the years to experiences no less steeped in music but in much simpler surroundings. In many cases, the memories are as simple as the first listen to a tune. Those memories go all the way back to my first vinyl experiences at home as a child. From there to music listened to in a pals house or room in the block conjures up as many memories. A friend slipping a tape into my car’s cassette player, (or CD or MP3) hearing a song at a party or on the radio, a night in the pub or even just a conversation that led to listening to something new. Suffice to say, way too many stories for the post. But, you know the times. The good times, the sense of being part of something. The feeling of being part of a wider society of like-minded people. Joined together, even on occasion, for the shortest period of time. Whats more important is the feeling that remains, galvanised and etched on the memory, even if for long periods it’s remained dormant. Music refreshes those memories and makes them live again.
In quite a few cases, I saw favourite albums of my friends appear that I remembered them listening to in years gone by. For many of these, I hadn’t actually realised how heavily they had influenced the music I had gone onto listen to throughout the years. So, to everyone who has touched that musical journey, I say thank you.

I think it was at that moment I thought I should do that playlist that I had vowed to do all those years ago. But it was then I also realised it was going to be very difficult to curate such a playlist without missing someone out.
But then the true power of music caused me to give a small giggle to myself. Surely, I thought, the important thing is not in identifying one song per friend but more identifying some key sounds that have influenced my musical journey over the years.
That will be different to most of my friends, but it will almost certainly contain something that we can all relate to. Ah yes! You mean, Graeme, the exercise you and your friends have just enjoyed over the last couple of weeks on Facebook. Oh aye, right!
So, maybe I did spend a little more time than usual on considering the choices I made, commenting on others choices and listening to old favourites, others favourites and old tunes new to me.
But it was time well spent, highlighting what is important and in this case re-emphasising the power music holds.
It has the power to make us smile and to make us cry.
It has the power to energise and to heal.

It’s a massive part of all of our lives, music.
We often chose music to change our mood as well as to enhance our current mood.

We dance, drink, talk and hate to it.
Love, Work and meditate with it
Reminisce and plan with it
So many activities we share with it.
We’ll never ever stop listening to it.
Music breathes life.

So, whatever music it is you are listening to at the moment, remember that a great force lies dormant in the tips of your fingers, awaiting your next tune of choice. Ready, with the opening chords, to trigger an explosion of memories. That, my friends, is the power of music!

What Keeps You Real? (New Ear New Year)

What Keeps you real?

I recently decided to leave a company and job that I absolutely adored. I’d been with them for almost eleven years, 5 different job titles, a couple of periods of near burnout and one extremely humbling moment that will stay with me until the day I die. But even that immensely powerful, life-transforming first trip to India pales in comparison to the one moment that has humbled me more than any other during the last eleven years.
Coincidentally it was also a key contributing catalyst in my decision to leave my beloved Sky.

Let’s start by going back to those 5 different roles I mentioned. The first three came about by way of functional expansion, taking on additional responsibility, more people and ultimately new job titles. It was a good time for learning about new emerging technologies and gave me a good understanding of our key business drivers. I learned about some of the most important factors to consider when leading teams and undertook some big challenges. These involved steps out of my comfort zone but I was hugely supported throughout. The transition from the third to fourth taught me more about myself, and in particular, how, as people, we adapt to change.
Work flowing through our team was viewed as ‘in safe hands’ and we had the highest staff engagement scores in Scotland and amongst the highest in the company. The team always had each other’s back and had become like close family to me. Things were going great.
And I realised the point at which I got comfortable again.
I applied for a new role and got complacent in the interview. I knew everyone on the interview panel well and perhaps subconsciously saw myself as a shoe-in for the role. I prepared for it, but in hindsight, not nearly enough.
I didn’t get the job!
What I did get though was some pretty open, honest, direct feedback, the type that has the effect of feeling like you’ve been hit squarely between the eyes with a sledgehammer.
I’d written down that feedback but wanted to throw it in the bin. I thought better of it though and kept it although initially, a bitterness towards the individuals who had given me it. I thought they had got it wrong. I became unhappy, demotivated and sought counsel from a number of close friends at work. Soon I started to act upon the feedback, more out of curiosity than believing it to be right… but low and behold I started to become happier. Within a number of months, new opportunities seemed to open up. A domino effect ensued, resulting in the biggest opportunity of my time at the company. Another new role, this time a 12-month secondment presented itself. (You can read about it in a separate article entitled Leap of Faith)
It meant an enormous amount of change for me and I learnt more than ever before. I wasn’t just out of my comfort zone at times here, often feeling like I was in way over my head. Funny thing though, the more support I needed, the more it made itself available. I look back on this time fondly. It was transformational. Again, huge support where many colleagues became great friends. When the secondment was over I was left without a role to go into. One did become available though and it meant being interviewed again. I was given a choice of who would accompany the hiring manager on the panel. My previous manager or the person I’d received that feedback from around 18 months previously. It was a no-brainer.
I chose the latter. I prepared like I’d never prepared before. I realised that I was now doing all the things that had been suggested I should think about. I smashed the interview and got the job.
Six months into the new job, the company re-org’d resulting in significant change.
How would I deal with it? Those who had played a key part in my development were pretty clear.
Graeme has become the ‘King of Change’ and he will take it in his stride.
Quite a compliment, best live up to it, I thought. The next year brought much more wide-reaching change.
This time around, better equipped, I spent much of my time helping others deal with change.

And then, following my summer holiday last year something quite inspirational happened.
Probably the most humbling experience of my life laid on a plate for me by a ten year old girl.
Born with a small ear, (a condition known as microtia) my youngest daughter has been seeing medical staff since she was two, to track her progress. The option to reconstruct her small ear involved an eight-hour surgery where cartilage was taken from her rib and used to form a new ear. Incidentally, the technology used to create her new ear is fascinating. This short video explains it. And there’s more on it here.
Anyway, Charlotte spent a week in Edinburgh sick kids hospital recovering, on morphine and in significant pain for days following the operation. Even after coming home, it meant weeks of medication and discomfort.
How many times do you think she complained?
Every moment of every day do you think, perhaps once or twice at the most painful of moments?
Let me tell you….not one single complaint!!!
She just got on with it, battling through, determined to get just a little bit better every day. As did every other child we came across in the hospital. Children with serious, life-affecting conditions, many expected to seriously reduce their life expectancy.
Just getting on with it, positive attitudes and never complaining.

We’ve all seen it.
Change in the workplace can breed uncertainty & frustration, worry & anxiety along with many unsavoury manifestations of those emotions.

Meanwhile here is a ten year old girl, with more than a thing or two to teach us all.
I might have been King of change, but it pales in contrast to Queen Charlotte.

A few people commented that I seemed different after coming back to work after Charlotte’s operation.
They were right.
I’d received an almighty injection of humility. I’d been hit by a different sledgehammer, this time one carrying considerably more force.
It got me thinking about the important things in life. Like happiness! Self-fulfilment. Being myself, staying grounded & true to my core beliefs. About the things that we all take for granted every day, like our jobs, our health or the roof over our head. About the millions on this earth who will never have anything resembling the quality of life we have. And then, about precious moments we share with loved ones and why it’s so important that we give thanks, make the most of what we’ve got & never ever take anything for granted. We are responsible for the lives we build. As part of that, we must identify when we need change. After much thought, it became clear that the time was right for me to bring that part of my professional life to a close. And what a part it has been.
In a world where only one thing is certain, I guess change keeps me real.
And as I move forward into whatever the next chapter holds, I do so happy in the knowledge that I’ll continue to face change positively, embracing the wonders each new day holds.

Fatherson Play Hometown Secret Gig

When two students at Kilmarnock Academy told their Head of Music / Deputy Head Darren Ramsay that they’d really like to put on a gig in the school as an enterprise activity, Mr Ramsay was more than happy to help the pupils out.
So, with the help of their teacher, the two passionate music lovers Regan Kelly & Bryce Campbell set about pulling together an evenings entertainment to be hosted in Kilmarnock Academy on 06 March.
Whilst the boys considered sound requirements, advertising and promoting, ticket sales alongside the all important compliment of bands for the gig, Mr Ramsay wondered how he might be able to surprise the students with a bit of a reward and thanks for the idea and hard work they had committed too.
A couple of phone calls later, to some ex students of the Academy and the wheels of his surprise were set in motion.

Fast forward to Friday 6th March and early evening around 1815, I arrived at the school accompanied by avid music nuts Heather (my daughter) and her pal Kayleigh. Met by Darren and escorted through the school assembly hall, (whilst one of the local brass bands were still rehearsing) later to become our gig venue for the evening.
We chatted in his office a little about how the organisation of the event had gone and looked forward to the evenings entertainment.
Shortly before 1900 and not long before the doors opened to the waiting line of excited music fans outside, Darren led the girls and I back up to the assembly hall where he introduced us to Fatherson lead vocalist Ross and bassist Marc. I chatted with Marc briefly who told me how much the band had enjoyed the recent UK tour supporting Enter Shikari and how much they were looking forward to the evenings event.
It had all come together out of luck really, as the band were shortly heading across the pond to play a gig in New York before making their first appearance at SXSW (South by South West) music festival in Austin Texas later this month. All this amidst sticking to a rigorous university schedule.

With Fatherson having taken their leave to backstage, the doors were opened and the hall filled with what it probably best described as an intimate crowd. Perhaps no more than 50-60 were lucky enough to have a ticket.

The music started with Deficits, the duo consisting drummer and guitarist / vocalist, took to the stage. After only 12 days together as a band, they played a short set comprising original material and few covers by the likes of White Stripes, Black Keys and Royal Blood. A great start to the evening.
Next up was solo artist Liam French, who along with his acoustic guitar, I was told reminded Heather and Kayleigh of a combination of Nirvana, Ed Sheeran and Oasis. High praise indeed for the young man, who then duly covered Oasis’s Live Forever quite beautifully in his set also comprising a couple of his own self penned numbers.
New Frontiers burst onto the stage like seasoned rock n rollers and with the obligatory “Good Evening Kilmarnock” they were off. With front man clearly no stranger to the limelight and a quite outstanding lead guitarist, the bands eclectic blend of rock music hit all the right notes with the small crowd.
With penultimate act New Girls we were promised to be in for a treat. And even although the eccentric front man had to endure some fairly turbulent moments on stage (as his guitar string snapped and he searched for a replacement) the band took us through their reportoir with much aplomb. What better way to finish their set than with a rousing rendition of Seven Nation Army.

And so to the headline act of the night. Kilmarnock’s very own sons, Fatherson took to the stage just before 2230. Clearly excited to have the boys on stage the crowd erupted into what can only be described as a mini mosh pit…. quite quirky given the fact we were standing in a school assembly hall. Even more beautiful was the echoing cries from the front few rows of “Here we, Here we, here f$%&ing go.”
“We’re in a school, we shouldn’t swear really” singer Ross teased the crowd.
“Oh, go on then….BOOBS, he whispered.”
The band were on top form, music levels turned up and sounding particularly tight, vocals, guitar and drums combining to make their melodic, anthemic Scottish rock sound filling the hall quite sublimely.
They seemed right at home, as they told us this was them back to where they played their first ever gig it made the evening all the sweeter. I couldn’t help but think that years from now, the very lucky few in attendance will remember the night, and perhaps the evenings rendition of Hometown, with particular fondness.
It’s only fair that the last word though is that of much thanks and very well done to Regan, Bryce and Darren for putting on a fabulous show. Nice one gents!