Saturday, 26 January 2013

For Auld Lang Syne

 "For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet
For auld lang syne!"

I am no good at good byes. And they are fast approaching. Now I concede whatever had happened in my life I may always have found them difficult but I believe that the day nearly 19 years ago I was diagnosed with cancer makes them harder for me. It opened up that vulnerable place and I just was never able to shut it up again.

So with some big goodbyes approaching, a trip to see Les Miserables at the cinema was very  risky but I really wanted to see it. Off I tripped with my colleagues and of course "I dreamed a dream" was my undoing. A scene of a mother dying and not being there to care for her child my nightmare. But it's also such a powerful story of love and redemption that my heart was lifted too. A bit of a cathartic release lets say!

It's the theme that's at the core of my vulnerability: not being there for my children. I was interviewed this week about my time at Breakthrough Breast Cancer and my hopes and plans for the future. Inevitably my own breast cancer story was explored and it was speaking of lost friends and my children that  brought the emotions to the fore. But I do know its what makes me good at what I do. It does touch me deeply, I want things to change for everyone and I may be vulnerable about loss but that just makes me human....not weak. Indeed I suspect it makes me all the more powerful, especially if I don't try  to box it away.

So this is a very long way to say if I am tearful next week as I say my goodbyes....that's ok, it's just my way of acknowledging that I care. And I do care, especially about making things better for all the people affected by breast cancer. As one of the women in our One Day video says "I want all Mums to be there for their children's key milestones"......amen to that. I will continue to do my best ,from the sidelines in the future ,to make that a reality.

My other goodbye this weeks is to my own Mum, who is moving closer to family to get the support she needs now. After 60 years in Scotland she is returning south. It's a huge step for her and absolutely right. To be closer to the heart of family and feel less lonely. I will miss her, but I am so pleased for her and know she won't look back. So this one's also for Mum, go well but aye keep a bit of Scotland in your heart. Auld lang syne.

Reasons to be heartful. The love and support of families, friends and colleagues. And the chance to make a positive step to a new future is always there if you are brave enough and have that love and support to make it happen. So all stand for a toast please! To courage, to the future and to love in all its forms.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

To make us well

I have lived with the experience of cancer for almost 19 years now. Of course at times it has been a background light only and at others it has been omnipresent. So when I stated bravely a couple of weeks ago that's it behind me again now, I should have known that these journeys are complex. That often the moment you believe you have stuffed it back in the Pandora's box, it bares its teeth.

And it's not the cancer as such that has reared it's head ,but the impact of it all. Mostly it's the reminder I have not fully regained my strength. Nor fully embraced my vulnerability....As I picked up the prescription of antibiotics and steroids for worsening asthma, and then returned to work, I did momentarily note the irony. Then got back to being as busy. So I am coughing still but better and in part thankful to my condition for the reminder to allow myself time to recover, in all it's light and shade. I have just listened to "If it be your will" by Leonard Cohen. His songs are always soulful but this one seems to come from a deep truth out of a path from illness that connects with me.

It's his expression of vulnerability that inspires and scares me. His raw ,raw honesty leaves me wondering how can he then get up and sing it. Could I sing mine? But at some level I know I need to. This blog has been a route to that but I'm still struggling to write this down. I know the paradox that I am at my most powerful when I embrace my vulnerability but its hard and my default is to avoid it.

Perhaps you have already seen this TED talk by Brene Brown on vulnerability, if not do watch...if you have , watch it again! Following my Oasis Full Circle action learning set this week when we discussed her latest book "Daring Greatly" I have started to read it and reflect on what would be my daring greatly? This move to self employment feels like a lot like daring greatly and some of the projects I'm keen to explore, like "Heartful Scotland" feel daring too.........but is that really it?

I acknowledged a real risk for me ,as I am poised for my move , because my strategy in tough times has always been to keep busy. Also I love new ways to get involved and make a difference. And it struck me quite forcibly that me doing a portfolio career could be akin to a chocoholic working in a sweet shop.  Inspired by so many different things and finally tipped over by the exotic dark chocolate with ginger!!!

So from this place I recognise that my personal daring greatly is to lean into that vulnerability and not rush around filling time but take some time at least just to be, to understand my truths. And know that from this place of centredness and reflection, I will do my best work. In her book Brene Brown describes vulnerability as the central part of having courage, compassion and connection.......I know she is right.

Reasons to be heartful: it has to be the full circle action learning set in Oasis. The deep learning, the space to reflect, be challenged, be inspired and find doors unlocked for the first time is quite, quite wonderful. And of course it's also enabled deeper connections and new friendships. Perfect. Thanks to all of you.
And finally snow arrived in Edinburgh as the photo shows. The pup was uncertain and confused but playfully brave nonetheless. Playfully brave now that's something to aim for.....

Friday, 11 January 2013

What stops care?

I started my nursing career in Edinburgh, mostly within the historic buildings of the then Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. Its roots were as a charitable hospital and as such was proud and confident of its superiority.The Nightingale wards offered a really great opportunity to monitor patients but little opportunity for patients to sleep. 

The wards were the domain of the Sister (yes sexism was alive and well) and the hospital the nurse managers (even the matron had met her demise-Hattie Jakes had hung up her starched cap). You knew where you stood and frankly as a student nurse that was in a pretty shaky position. You did a lot of learning by doing (yes ,thrown in the deep end ) and team dynamics and local leadership were the things that helped you sink or swim. The good old days? I do recall being reprimanded for talking to patients and sent to clean the trays instead…mmmm. And in other wards my memory even now is the love and compassion shown to others and how proud I was to be part of that. It’s the difference leadership makes ,you see.
Recently this august organisation has come in for some tough criticism. It’s not the environment that’s the challenge now( car parking charges apart)-it’s a state of the art new hospital-it’s the level of care. It’s the milk of human kindness. And we know from reports in other care settings, this is not a challenge peculiar to this hospital. What has caused this shift-if indeed it is a shift?  

Some have suggested that its now that nurses have degrees, the compassion has gone. Do we really believe that people cannot have advanced level education and be compassionate? Now I speak as a former nurse with a master’s degree so of course I am biased. When I did my degree in nursing more than 30 years ago now, we were a rare beast. Patients often asked why we wore a different dress. “Its because I am doing a degree along with my nurse training”, I replied on one memorable occasion. “What degree is it?” he asked. A BSC said I."What does that stand for?" (I had had a particularly trying day) , “Best S**t Cleaner” said I-engaging my mouth before my brain. How we laughed…phew! But what did my degree teach me? It focused on person centredness, it taught me that health is much more than biology; it enhanced my people skills and so much more. It also taught me to question and not to accept anything less than the best. And its why I am still focused on these things now
Maybe we have focused on the wrong outcomes over time. Improving clinical outcomes is of course a priority but perhaps in some settings that has been done at the expense of patient experience? Have we lost the clarity of leadership in the complexity of management systems and in turn the leaders finding themselves focused on targets rather than people? No doubt its complex and no one solution can fix it, but fix it we must.  

In an attempt to redress the balance the Scottish Government have put a key focus on person centred care. And that is  welcome. And there are a number of approaches to help services to get to the heart of the issues. Breakthrough Breast Cancer introduced the service pledge a number of years ago and it does that very thing of getting to the heart of the issue, providing patient feedback and patient support to improve person centred care. Another such tool is emotional touch points giving patients the opportunity to express their feelings and enabling staff to access emotional language through that process. Both mechanisms are empowering to staff and offer patients a way to move on in their recovery. The stuff change is made of. So it can happen, we now need a will to change and also I believe to acknowledge a key role of the third sector too to enable that as partners in the process.

Reasons to be cheerful! I have survived the first week back to work and the plans for my leaving celebrations are underway, I don't want a fuss I have proclaimed. You don't always get what you want in life was my answer.......too true, too true. Oh and cat and dog relations are maybe improving? What do think from this photo?



Thursday, 3 January 2013

To live with joy an a' that....

In some ways as 2013 begins I feel poised on the brink of change more than any other. As my last blog described it feels like a time to leave the cancer experience more firmly in the past. Yes! I say this in the knowledge that life with cancer can aye have twists and turns but it's a milestone none the less.

I start a new career building on the things that I believe I am best at, make the difference I believe in and bring me joy. And that's a few short weeks away now. The excitement sits alongside some fear and yes sadness too for those I will miss from my role in Breakthrough. But ( perhaps this is a sophisticated form of denial...)  I know I will always feel a connection to the cause and its people ,as well as the organisation I set up here in Scotland. It will ever be in my heart because of my complex attachment so it's not goodbye, it's just a different engagement.

As I describe the  areas I want to focus on in the future, I know they are interconnected. But it's been hard to articulate that neatly. My passion to improve health and well being for people and communities is also linked to enabling authentic leadership and healthy and effective organisations. I doubt that one word can capture the complexity of all of that, but there's one word I keep coming back to. It's heartfulness. You will have seen mention of it in earlier blogs perhaps. The word keeps resonating with me and I am keen to explore what that means in my work and those I work with.

In the context of Global, European and UK economic uncertainty there are enormous challenges for those who lead in private, public or third sector organisations. Inspiring quality performance and development needs creative and engaged leaders, with deep knowledge of their craft and who understand the value of their best resource, their people. I believe to be effective that needs to be done with hearts and heads engaged.

In particular here in Scotland we have a time of significant change. The referendum on an independent Scotland approaches, seen by some as a natural and exciting next step and by others as a complete abhorrence. With many in between unsure, part exited, part fearful but with no real sense of what the future would look like. And in spite of calls for a positive discussion just this week, that does seem to be illusive.  My interest is in helping to shape a view of what a positive Scotland would look like. Whatever the outcome at a referendum, the world as we know it here ,will be changed. The one I want to see, whatever its political hue, is a heartful one. Not naïve about it's challenges but seeks the solutions to them through a heartful lens. So what would that look like? That's the question I want to explore.

If you look at the meaning of Heartful, it's both complex and simple. The complexity includes integrity, honesty, self knowledge, being kind to yourself and others, a true generosity and caring for the welfare of others: compassion in action. At its simplest its about love and connection to others and something greater than yourself. So what would that mean for individuals, communities, organisations and even nations?

Change, as always , starts with each of us. So today's question is what would a heartful 2013 look like for you in your life and work. What could make your life more heartful? I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Drop me an email, tweet me or post a comment on my blog.

I have had a "reasons to be cheerful " section in my blog to date but my plan is to make it reasons to be Heartful. But as its the first blog in January I want to describe my one resolution this year. It's to enjoy the adventure I am about to embark on and find joy in life everyday. There I've said it!

Reasons to be Heartful.
Well it's Scotland and its New Year so i have turned to our national bard, Robert Burns. His poem A Mans A Man for A' That is a personal favourite. I leave you with the last verse ( or listen to the link here recorded for the opening of the Scottish parliament) and my best wishes for a happy, healthy and heartful 2013.

"Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a' that,)
That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
It's coming yet for a' that,
That Man to Man, the world o'er,
Shall brothers be for a' that."