The Starfish Story

When I left PE teaching to take up my first counsellor position I was given a gift by a friend and colleague. This gift still sits pride of place in my office as a bit of a nudge and visual pep talk and reminder. It was a starfish in a small flax bag, that also contained a short story. That short story is one about a child on a beach making a difference, one star fish at a time. This is an adapted version of the original by Loren Eiseley.

The Starfish Story 2

This story can be interpreted to put across many different messages. For many daunting tasks and ‘to do’s’ can be put to one side due to procrastination or fear. This simple story illustrates the need and importance to break the seemingly insurmountable down into manageable pieces, and move forward one step at a time.

In counsellor land this may be that such a safe and supportive environment is provided that a client is able to deconstruct the big picture thinking and expectations, into bite size pieces that can be explored without the clutter of the ‘static noise’. This brings clarity which can bring positive movement, as if we get lost in the static noise and own the confusion that it brings we tend to stay put.

What may seem small and insignificant to you can be monumental to others. What may seem too huge and impossible to you, becomes possible if you concentrate on putting just one foot in front of the other, rather than getting caught up in how far away the destination is.

When it comes to the value of reaching out and helping someone, that really depends on the motivation that drives it. I have had the absolute honour of coming into contact with the most passionate and generous ‘helpers’ I can imagine as possible. It is not what or even how much they give and do, but the genuineness behind the action. When we do something because it’s good and we want to, with the only intended benefit being for the people we do it for, then it becomes a real gift with a heck of an impact. Yes, if it then makes you feel good as a byproduct then that can only be mother natures way of saying ‘top job’. Perhaps not so much if you are doing it to make yourself feel good and helping others is a byproduct. I believe this is the difference between presenting a connection, to engaging in an authentic and positive connection with others. You sure as heck can feel the difference, and you can be pretty sure they do to.

Monkey: Return to Sender

When someone told me I could not only read a whole book in an afternoon, but that it would be a professional life changer, I had to see for myself. So, I read it, ‘The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey’ by Ken Blanchard. Awesome, on a number of levels that I’m sure will prove versatile in meeting the needs and expectation of most readers. For me, the principles continue to inform both my personal and professional lives, heck even my parenting.

Now, it wouldn’t take a genius to suggest that referring to your employees or colleagues as monkey’s may well not be the best move you can make. That is not at all the context or positioning of the book. The monkey refers to ‘the next move’, not a personal dig at all. The message is a proudly positive one of empowerment for both you and those around you all.

monkey off back

It is my, your, our task to deal to our own monkeys and not owning the stress, anxiety or pressures of someone elses’.

I was reminded only this morning of a simple example of this in my own parenting. Like many families our morning routine is filled with action, organised chaos and excitement at the prospect we could all leave the house on time with a skip in our step and nothing going amiss. Quite a while ago now we celebrated the proud landmark of our toddler getting himself dressed. With immense pride we would walk him to day care, the shops, well just about anywhere to share this occasion with everyone and anyone. I am aware that from the untrained (slightly judgmental) eye, this may in fact look more like shoddy (even careless) parenting, as his T-shirt would be back to front, shorts inside out and shoes facing outwards. Regardless, he dressed himself and that is awesome, high fives all round. The point; my son’s monkey (next move) was getting himself dressed. This was one less monkey for us which dramatically reduced the number of times we forgot our keys or lunch. So developmental benchmark achieved for our son and some breathing space for his mum and dad.

One morning we found ourselves dressing our son, it had developed over a couple of weeks, but due to our own monkeys, our patience had reduced, therefore it was just quicker for us to get him dressed. When I realised this and set his clothes out, expecting him to simply continue to complete a task he was more than capable of achieving, he didn’t, instead tears and the prone position became the default. And in the blink of an eye I realised that monkey had been masterfully returned to his parents. We had inadvertently not just added a money to our own back unnecessarily, but dis-empowered our young fella from feeling able and competent at dressing himself. To then get frustrated with him for not dressing himself with efficiency and the right way out and colour matched would be completely unfair.

The most powerful step towards changing this momentum was and is to stop, take the stunned monkey off your own shoulders before acknowledging and naming it. In this case, if it’s not your monkey, make sure the right person has it, if it’s yours, then act on it and don’t try to fob it off to some kind-hearted rescuer, or inpatient parent, boss or colleague.

If you take on other people’s monkeys you are disempowering them in the long-term. Reinforcing a dependence on you, which is a bit of a slap in the face to the other persons own resilience and capabilities.If you hand your own monkey onto others then be prepared for short-term gain , long term loss.

The challenge and yet rewarding part can be reorganising the monkeys, so own those that are yours and support others to own their own, the earlier the better. This has always got to be developmentally appropriate and within the competency of those involved in the first place, so getting my young one to day care is my monkey not his for example.

What does this look like for a manager?crazy office monkey

A team meeting where you leave with all the actions needed whilst your team are left twiddling their thumbs until you have actioned their ‘next step’. A lot of work and stress, and it’s not even your own. If each team member leaves with their own monkey then you celebrate their strengths and competence, and therefore their confidence to grow and make energetic strides forward. Everyone is a winner when done appropriately and well. As a manager your time can then be spent on innovation and growth, which is a big deal no matter where you work, whether at a school or as a company CEO.

 

Connecting through Disconnection

Prevalence of mental health problems continues to be a challenge, often beyond the capacity to keep up, especially for most school counsellors. What if, rather than a mental health epidemic we are in the thick of a cultural crisis for adolescents. The challenge being, as adults and professionals, many are blindingly fast to formulate an assessment and diagnosis. Folk aren’t so open to  closing the text books and inquiring further into the why’s as it looks and sounds on the ground.

For each of us, the incredible uniqueness brings a collage of opinions and philosophies on the how’s, when’s and what’s of just about anything. The moment a penny dropped for me was after speaking to a male teenage client of mine. As part of my thesis I conducted a interview reflecting on a programme I had created targeting the reduction of adolescent depression. The quantitative data made for comfort reading as it affirmed, with bells and whistles, the efficacy of the programme I had developed.The qualitative side of things presented a real headache to start off with, and the participants clearly didn’t get the memo. What I had was three different, tried and tested measures for depression symptomatology showing clear improvements pre and post intervention. The participants I had in front of me mirrored through both sight and sound the positive changes the data suggested. It was the absolute commitment to being depressed that rang confusingly loud and clear. No better example was that offered by the client I mentioned. Without skipping a beat he reflected that he ‘did better than he wanted to’. Thank heavens it was a multi tasking head space day, as this statement has stayed with me ever since.

Psychiatrist

After five years and thousands of adolescent clients later my observations and experiences have continued to build around this topic, as both a an issue around barriers to engaging, but primarily around how to both identify risk and support positive change and increase resiliency to prevent escalating challenges in the first place.

Apart from societies eagerness to have a label and the discussion around increased diagnosis vs increase actual growth, I believe we are in the middle of a cultural shift where adolescents are connecting through disconnection. This is nothing new if you consider drugs, alcohol and gangs etc. but technology and social media is new (ish) and it’s impact-or exploration of- is a work in progress.

social-media-technology-teenagers

This topic is too huge to discuss fully within a couple of hundred words and a funky picture. One example of what this looks like is when I reflect on the substantial increase in students that confidently march into my office, outlining with immense energy their newly diagnosed Depression, Anxiety and ADHD, and then ordering the first of six CBT interventions, before looking at me expectantly and my return look of surprise.

We are now seeing social groups developing from the common grounding of having an emotional difficulty, so connecting through disconnection. Social media offers extensive input into what this may look and sound like, and all too often to excess.

When adolescents are embarking on the confusing journey that is identity formation, I feel it is really important to support and introduce as many positive connections as possible, otherwise they will find connections elsewhere, and in this technological age, that tends not to end so well.

This observation refers to an emerging adolescent culture, and certainly not a universal broad brush of all adolescents that visit a Counsellor, Psychologist or Psychotherapist. What it perhaps highlights is the real need for caution in terms of knee jerk diagnosis, to ensure professionals don’t create the very problem we strive to overcome.

Passion Pushing or Sharing the Goodness

Lighting the fire and watching it grow or lighting the fire and pumping it as hard as you can to make it grow big and now, until you smother the spark completely.

Now, this post is close to my heart and one that has entertained me quite a bit in only the last couple of weeks. I am quite competitive and have always competed in a number of sports from bottom to top levels. Wanting to share this goodness with my own boy we entered and took part in the X-Race in Devonport- amazing experience and a heck of an event.

race pic

My intentions were well and truly sharing the goodness, the realty perhaps stepped out of that ‘best intentions’ once or twice. I realised I may have been going at a tangent really only at the end of the event. I should have however really picked up on my passion pushing from when we pulled into the car park. First of all I became anxious, as other families and parents were already there and warming up, not to mention all in matching shirts. So, locking the doors as my mother in law was only half out the car I had managed to get my son out of his car seat, and 200 yards away to secure our position in the queue for our shirts. I was then quite upset that the rest of my family hadn’t also acknowledged the urgency of the situation and significance of the event and continued to WALK! We secured our shirts and began warming up. We were 2 hours from the start, my son is 3 and it was a fun family event.

I was not alone however, when I looked around to size other families up my judging glares were met by other overly passion pushing parents sizing us up. The ridiculousness of the whole situation did not pass me by, but i then joined the masses of other parents who were making their children ‘walk the course’ looking for any short cuts. The fact that the race was 5 mins long and was completed along with your parent didn’t seem to matter, the fact that i was actually talking tactics with my 3 year old who continued to play with his new yo yo should have been a red flag, but it wasn’t. When my boy got on all fours beside me instead of jumping on my back for the horsey station of the race should have been a whimsical magic moment, rather than the astonishment that he would do such a thing and cost us valuable seconds!!! Perhaps it should have been the moment when I realised I was running, holding his hand and his feet weren’t actually touching the ground. Maybe even when i made him sprint finish to secure another position.

Recently we had the WeetBix Tryathlon for the thousands of young children to embrace an active lifestyle. What I got to see were the masses of families in the weeks leading up to the event doing exactly what I had done, and they were racing around with a map in hand and some very unimpressed looking  children. What hit home was two clear groups of people. I am going to describe them as passion pushers and those that were sharing the goodness, one type has a better chance of engaging the child than the other.

The simplest way to describe both the challenge and the solution is through what I saw and now do. The passion and spark is introduced by the parent (or AN Other), it is then supported from behind and not dragged from the front. The biggest smile and therefore evidence of strongest connection to whatever they are doing is on those that are racing off in the front with their parents or loved one desperately trying to keep up. The sure fire way to put our young one’s off something that could be so good for them is when we a dragging them kicking and screaming from the front. You certainly don’t see so many smiles from these young ones.

So, perhaps we introduce, then feed off their energy and there pace rather than settin
g the pace ourselves. Like with any race or activity if the pace is to much too soon we crash. We all need to be mindful of interpreting ‘supportive’ and ‘encouraging’ to meet our own needs and expectations over the needs and wants of our young one’s.

MTB