There’s this moment at dawn in summer when, instantaneously, the kihikihi (cicadas) start to sing. All of them. In unison. Like someone flicked a switch. They somehow know when to act.
It’s not a swell, like one or two start and the rest follow, it’s just instant.
I’m often awake when that happens, and I find myself wondering, how? How do they know? What happens to signal to every one of them to start, NOW?
What’s the signal?
It can’t be temperature, because some mornings are cool and some nights are warm, but they still do the thing, every summer’s day.
It’s not visual based on when the sun reaches a point in the sky, or even reaches a certain level of illumination. Because for that to be true, every kihikihi would have to be out in the open, and they’re not.
There isn’t one of them signalling to the others: Yo! Time to sing! Tahi, rua, toru, whā…! Because, like I said, it’s instant. Like an on/off switch.
I think it’s a feeling
So there must be something they just feel.
Some built-in instinct, triggered by something environmental.
So, they must be feeling for it. For the change. For the signal.
Yes, I’m sure I could google it and find the scientific explanation. Don’t wanna.
Instead, I find myself thinking of a kupu Māori (a Māori word) that I love: rongo.
Rongo is a sensory word. It can mean hear, smell, taste, feel – basically any of the senses except sight. So to rongo is to sense or feel.
Kei te rongo au – I feel, I sense
A while back I was at home on Aotea Great Barrier and there were police in our bay executing a warrant looking for drugs. As the daughter of a retired police officer, my instincts are to trust the police. I feel safe with them. So, even when six of them walked down my drive with really big weapons in their hands, I only half-arsed putting my hands in the air. I hadn’t done anything wrong, so I knew they couldn’t be coming for me.
I feel safe. Kei te rongo au i te haumaru.
My instincts are that there’s nothing to fear.
When they asked me about the man they were looking for, though, what I thought of him, I said: I don’t trust him.
I’d say your instincts are pretty good, they replied.
Feel, sense, and trust
Listening to and trusting my instincts, gut, heart – whatever you want to call that knowing – has been part of my journey to becoming powerful in myself. Trusting my instincts to move or not move. Act or not act. Speak or not speak. Go left or right. I believe we can learn to trust in those and recognise the difference between our instincts and our fear or anxiety or other drivers.
So I try to listen. When I feel an urge, a caution, a question what if or should I shouldn’t I, I try to listen to it. I try to dig into it to see where it’s coming from and what it’s telling me.
Kei te rongo au. I feel. I listen. I sense.
And I can only assume that those kihikihi are doing the same. They’re feeling for the change. They’re sensing what’s going on in the air pressure, the temperature, the daylight, and when it feels just right, they act.
We all know the deafening power when they do that.
I know the power when I listen, feel, sense, and then act. It’s so much of why I am where I am today.
So, I wonder if you can rongo today.
I wonder if there’s a feeling, an instinct, a something that you’re not paying attention to?
Ok, amazing humans who write shit at work: I have advice. Because one of the things I hear in my trainings, from people who are 100% on board with what I’m teaching them about good clear writing, is this:
They’re worried that their boss won’t let them use #plainlanguage and reader-centric approaches. They’re worried that their reviewer is going to make them pad everything out and add back all the #passivewaffle. Because that’s what they’re used to.
My experience is that if you want to avoid resistance to your choices (at work or in life), the key is managing expectations. Here’s what I mean.
Managing expectations is everything
When I first brought my children home to Aotea (Great Barrier Island), we were camping. I was a single mum at the end of my first year of self-employment, and they were 7, 8, and 15.
One of the things I put a lot of effort into in my life is keeping things manageable. I do this because stress triggers depression for me. And so I very purposefully, very consciously try to make my world manageable.
This trip was no different. We were facing 2 weeks with no cell phone reception, internet, or power. That meant no screens.
For weeks in advance, I started to set the expectations: We’ll go to the library and each of us will borrow our limit of books. We’ll bring our favourite card games. Everyone has to bring at least one other activity to keep them busy. And then of course we have the beach, the waterhole, and everything in between.
As for food, well, I had decided I would not be cooking, and I told them so. I would not be bringing anything to cook on or with, we had no fridge, and so we wouldn’t be able to keep perishables fresh. Here was the deal:
Bread for week one
Wraps for week two
Any sandwich toppings that come in a jar
Cans of fruit
Cans of chicken and tuna
Chips, cookies, etc
And the one cookable thing: 2-minute noodles. These they could eat uncooked (all kids do that, right?), or we had a couple of enamel mugs and a tiny little burner. If they wanted to cook their own noodles, they could go for it.
But I. Would not. Be cooking.
I remember that as a fairly smooth trip apart from getting flooded out of our tent. Was it the same for them? I don’t know, you’d have to ask them. But there was no complaining about the food or the lack of screens.
Now imagine if, in fear of their wrath at the camping conditions, I didn’t tell them until the last minute? The day before the trip, or even on the boat on the way over. Can you imagine the mutiny I’d have on my hands?
Managing their expectations was everything.
How to manage resistance to plain language
Now back to the people asking me how they can manage resistance to plain language at work. They’re worried (and rightly so) that when they hand in their next technical report (written in plain language) to their reviewer (who’s old school), that it won’t be accepted. The reviewer will want them to bulk it out, change the voice, make it feel more formal.
Ideally, the whole organisation should be making a cultural change towards clear communications and documents, but if you’re a lone warrior, at the very least you can reduce resistance by managing expectations.
First of all, give your reviewer (or your manager, or the board secretary, or whoever is the gatekeeper for your document) a heads up BEFORE you start writing:
Hey, I just attended a training with Shelly – the company brought her in, so they’re supportive of what she taught us – and so my next report is going to look and feel a bit different. Easier to read, but that should make the content more powerful. It’ll also probably be shorter. Just wanted to give you a heads up.
Feel out their response. Are they all in? Sweet as? Dismissive? Wary?
This one conversation might be all that’s needed, because as humans we think different equals wrong. If your reviewer expects a certain kind of document and you present something different with no warning, the reviewer will likely think it’s wrong and they need to fix it.
But this one conversation can manage expectations so that reviewer is EXPECTING something different. That changes the way they receive it.
If you think more work is needed to win them over, the next really powerful thing to do is show them an example of what they can expect. “Plain language” as a concept in someone’s mind and as concrete words on a page can be two vastly different things. So you could rewrite one paragraph and flick that through to them so they can see the before and the after, side by side. That’s so powerful I’ve never had anyone say no once they experience plain language as a reader.
Alternatively, you could check out some Before and After examples here or here or here, choose one that’s relevant for your world, and flick those to your reviewer, saying: here’s an example of the kind of change I’m talking about.
Embracing the roller coaster of change
As far as I’m concerned the worst that can happen is that they say no, they won’t accept clear, powerful, fit-for-purpose communication (snark intended), and so you don’t bother putting in the hard yards of making something clear and simple. Instead, you just do the same ol’ same ol’, because #sanity. I think that’s a sad outcome.
But it’s not as bad as the outcome where you put all your time into writing something beautifully reader-friendly and then the reviewer makes you fuck it all up because they’re too stuck in the past.
So there you go – life lessons from Shelly to reduce stress, keep sanity, and win the world over – one plain language document at a time.
Spoiler alert – not mine. Because, whose problem is that? Beeaaatch – that sounds like a you problem and not a me problem.
First of all, credit where it’s due – my friend Tracy Hemingway said these words to me in conversation recently, and I just stole them.
If you want to make your finances not an anyone problem (ie fix them), you should talk to her – she’s the Debt-Free Diva and she’s AMAZING.
But anyway, back to my story.
The weight of others
Most of us spend our lives influenced to a great extent by what others think of us. We can extend that to include their expectations, their judgment, their opinions. We choose (subconsciously) to make all of those things our problem. We take on the weight of their expectations and act accordingly.
In particular, my experience has been that I allow other people’s emotions to be my problem. I feel responsible to make people happy.
Well, let me tell you, that’s a recipe for disaster.
Calling all the people pleasers and the ones with the over-developed responsibility gene. And actually, if I’m honest, calling all humans.
Can you imagine how POWERFUL it would be if you lived the way you want to, not the way others want you to?
Now, there are two things I’m not suggesting:
What I’m not suggesting #1: That you’re all oppressed and living miserable lives
We can be living fairly good happy lives and still be able to live more powerfully. I mean, when you went out last Sunday and didn’t wear that dress you considered wearing – why not? Because of what other people might think? When you got your hair cut yesterday because short back and sides are considered professional and even though you were enjoying it a bit longer you thought you’d better toe the professional line? Yeah, those things.
If I put it simply, you’ll never know how it can feel to stand in your truth, be fully and authentically you, if you don’t try it. And every tiny decision we make based on other people’s opinions is a brick in the wall that stands between us and our most powerful selves.
What I’m not suggesting #2: That you should never care about anyone’s feeling but yours.
If you did that you’d be a psychopath, and the world doesn’t need more of those. There’s a pretty clear line (once you look for it) between giving no fucks and only giving selective fucks. I’m encouraging the latter.
I believe we all have an obligation to move through our lives in ways that don’t cause harm to others. Be a good human. But there’s a difference between being a good human and being a people pleaser.
You want the night off from cooking dinner because you’re tired and you’re not a slave and the other humans in your house are completely capable of having weetbix or toast? Oh, and they’re upset about that? That’s not you causing harm. They own their response to your self-care, not you. Their emotions are a them problem, and not a you problem.
And that’s what I wanted to get to, really.
That sounds like a you problem and not a me problem
These days I try to live my life very aware of the potential consequences of my actions and my words (or my inaction and my silence). I am powerful in my world when I can live my truth, see that others have opinions on that, and choose not to make their opinions my problem.
I recently had a client make a decision about my services that I didn’t agree with. I had a lot of emotions around that decision. I had feelings of failure and fear and embarrassment. Most of all, I disagreed with their decision. I thought they’d got it wrong and they were heading down a path that wouldn’t get them the outcome they wanted.
After taking some time to process my emotions, I created a list of what was mine and what was theirs:
The right to run their business the way they want
The right to change their mind
The right to hire and fire me as they wish
The right to have opinions about the quality of my work
The right to decide they could get more value elsewhere
The obligation to pay me for my services
The obligation to deliver what the client asked
The right to get paid for doing it
The obligation to let them know if professionally, I thought they were creating risk for themselves
The obligation to respect their wishes once I’d said what my professional integrity drove me to say
The right to give NO POWER to any opinion they might now hold about me
The right to give NO POWER to my emotional responses because they were just that – emotional responses, not truth
The right to close a door on the whole situation and just let the rest of it be a them problem and not a me problem
Don’t let the evidence you’re a good parent, slip past unnoticed.
My children know that if I could go back I would not have chosen to be a parent. This is not the same thing as saying I don’t want them. They are (especially currently – keep reading) an absolute joy, and they’ve made me a good person. I would not give them back, NOW.
Instead, I tell them, it means that if I had ANY idea how painful and hard and soul-destroying I’d find parenting, I wouldn’t have done it.
It’s the pain that’s the worst part – their pain.
Empathy and parenting
Lil’ old empath me cannot handle their fucking pain. It’s too much.
I want them to be happy, but alas, it’s not a parent’s job to make their children happy. It’s our job to raise adults who can be functional and resourceful in the world – and by doing so, make their own happy.
And that kind of adult emerges from a child who’s had to tolerate enough times of being unhappy, because you say NO to them and have boundaries and shit like that. That’s the way it goes.
Anyway, I sat down late last year to list the evidence that I am, in spite of all the “evidence” to the contrary that I can find AT THE DROP OF A HAT, a freaking good mum. Not to sit down and write about how in my time machine, I’d be child-free (and a selfish bitch, for the record. But that’s another post).
Because while the “evidence” that I suck as a parent – that I’m a failure in all the worst ways – has legs and wings and stands ten feet tall and bellows at 100 decibels, the evidence that I’ve done not a half-decent but an amazing job, can slip past unnoticed. And I’m completely over that bullshit. So I sat down one day and took stock.
Here’s what I came up with on that day:
I have a 22-year-old son who still calls me as one of his main emotional support people. And when I tell him I love him, he replies with, “Love you too, mate.” He addresses servers and shop assistants by their first name. He has a firm handshake and looks people in the eye. He’s set a career path for himself. He sings like an angel and plays multiple musical instruments. He’s faced his demons and he keeps getting up each day and trying to be a good human and a good dad. I couldn’t be more proud.
My 16-year-old daughter is milking full time. She gets herself up every day and leaves the house just after 4am to drive 40 minutes to the farm where she got herself a job, in a cowshed with mostly other women, milking 800 cows. She comes home, covered in cow shit, with sparkling eyes. She’s living her best life. She does dishes without being asked. She calls me when I’m travelling to liaise about meals and groceries for the household. She always notices when someone in her orbit is struggling. She reports to me every day on the “adulty” things she did, especially when it’s about her relationship. She is self-reflective and articulate. Holy fuck.
My 15-year-old is incredibly pissed that she’s not old enough to get her driver’s licence yet, because she thinks she’s every bit as capable as her sister, and she’s right. She got herself her first job completely on her own and didn’t even tell me when she had an interview. She saves money like her life depends on it. She plans. To go to art school in California. She doesn’t know yet how that’ll happen with the USD$150k/year price tag, but she’s set her mind to it. And I don’t doubt her ability to do that. This year, as an introvert who struggles to articulate her emotions out loud, she worked her way out of an abusive relationship like a BOSS, setting boundaries and then honouring them. Even more, a month or so later she got angry enough to punch the kid in the face. Yes – violence is wrong. And fuck, I was so proud of her.
My 23-year-old chose me. That is actually some of the evidence that I’m a good mum. Because she chose me, and she told me off for saying I’m a bad mum. In fact, she wrote me a list of why I needed to stop saying I’m a bad mum because that was offensive to her – see below. That list rocked my world. That and many years of therapy around parenting and my struggles and guilt and attitudes around it.
So I’ll share it with you.
This list is from the perspective of someone who doesn’t take the simplest things for granted. She gets up each day and keeps herself alive, and is GOOD and KIND and SMART and STRONG even when her life could easily have shaped her so differently.
That was huge for me. It forced me to acknowledge that I had done some things right.
You’re allowed to say it – PARENTING IS FUCKING HARD
And finally, a shout out to Emily Writes and friends, because I had also just finished reading Is it bedtime yet? and it was the most glorious, loving, real, raw, accepting and forgiving thing I’d read in a long, long time. If you’re about to have a baby or if you have babies or someone else in your world does, and they need to hear that PARENTING IS FUCKING HARD and that’s NORMAL, you need to buy them that book. And probably the next book too.
Here’s an idea for you:
What’s the area in your life that you are best at punishing yourself about? What’s that part of your life that you feel literally SURROUNDED with things to beat yourself over the head with, because there is SO MUCH EVIDENCE that you suck at it? That you’ve failed? What’s your shame?
Because how about this…. What if you write a list of every. Tiny. Piece. Of evidence. That you’re NOT failing at that thing?
Instinct check: Is it your gut you’re listening to, or fear and anxiety?
One of the foundations of my last 8 years in life and business has been trusting my gut. My intuition. My instincts. Having faith that if it feels right, it’s at least worth testing to find out.
And it’s absolutely what saved me in an experience I had earlier this year – the weirdest most unexpectedly traumatic experience.
I was shopping for a consultant to help me expand my business in a new direction. I didn’t want to learn that part of my business through trial and error, which is my usual MO. I was ready to invest in the expertise to help me start, and continue, in a strategically planned way.
As with most of my networks, I’m drawn to women who are experts in their field, and someone suggested a 29-year old who seemed to seriously know her shit. Impressive, at her age. Her voice felt authentic and her experience seemed legit. I was excited.
I messaged her and we began chatting and booked a call.
Superpowers and kryptonite
From my perspective, this was a get to know you chat. Test the waters. See how things feel. I didn’t consider that for her this was a sales call. An actual, hard sell, NLP-manipulation, scripted, exquisitely skilled, completely fuck-with-my-mind-to-get-the-sell, sales call.
So I didn’t go in with my eyes wide open. I went in with my heart wide open cos that’s how I roll. Integrity, authenticity, vulnerability. These are my superpowers.
For about 80 minutes on this call, they were my kryptonite.
She took me on a journey that was so exquisitely skilful (and I know, I’m repeating myself, but it feels like the only accurate description) that I got lost in the conversation. I was supposed to go to a meeting with a beautiful young businesswoman I’m mentoring, and I stood her up. Completely. Left her drinking coffee alone in a café. I was so engrossed in the coerced journey I was completely unaware of the time.
I love NeuroLinguistic Programming (NLP). I love how we can use it for good. To open people’s minds. To help people work through resistance. To become more powerful in our own world by changing the languaging we use and the way we talk to ourselves.
But this – this was downright evil.
She had me agreeing to so many things that were reasonable and aligned with my values, so that they were locked in and later, they would become the basis of me agreeing to things I never would have, going in cold.
She used anchoring and double binds and presuppositions and EVERY TRICK IN THE BOOK.
The effect was gaslighting.
I became thoroughly confused.
My gut was telling me things felt wrong but my mind was telling me the logic was sound. After all, I was coming to her as an expert in her field – I was open to learning, to advice, and to having my own beliefs challenged. If I rejected her advice that’s the opposite of what I was there for.
I called her out on the scriptedness of the call.
It was at that point she started to get aggressive: “This script has been designed specifically to weed out those who haven’t got what it takes to be successful.” Again, double-bind: If you hang up on me, you haven’t got what it takes. If you trust me, you have to ignore your intuition.
I haven’t had so much fog in my brain for a long time. This was expertly engineered self-doubt and confusion.
She said, “You know what you store in your gut, right? Trauma.”
Here’s where she made her mistake: when she tried to suggest that my gut isn’t trustworthy. That it would put me wrong.
Because EVERY SINGLE PART OF MY LAST 8 YEARS CONFIRMS TO ME THAT MY GUT IS GOOD. Every single step I’ve taken, every stage of growth and development, every exciting change has been because it felt right, so I did it.
And each time I’ve always paused to look back and see if there was evidence to confirm that my gut had led me well, and there was evidence of that. Every. Single. Time.
I don’t carry trauma in my gut, mother fucker. I CARRY THE VOICE OF TRUTH. My most basic, most trustworthy instincts keep me safe and move me forward.
It was that moment I was able to leave the call.
After 85 minutes of mind-control and manipulation, my gut, my heart, my intuition was more powerful than her weapons. I told her, “Well then your script has worked because I am going to hang up on you. This isn’t how I want to work.”
Trusting my gut
As I pulled the phone away from my ear I could hear her hurling abuse at me: “Well that attitude isn’t going to get you anywhere, is it? You’re never going to be successful if you think like that…”
I shook for 20 minutes after the call.
I reflected for days to unravel what had happened. To understand. To learn from it.
And here’s where I landed: The things that were my kryptonite that day will always have the potential to be my kryptonite: Integrity, authenticity, vulnerability, trust in people as my default position. I’ve known this for years. If you start with a position of trust, you will occasionally get hurt. Absolutely.
On the flipside, 9 times out of 10, my trust is rewarded with trustworthiness. Integrity engenders integrity. Authenticity attracts authenticity. Meaningful connections are very quickly formed. We win, 9 times out of 10. Or maybe 99 times out of 100.
And that 1 other time? Out of 10 or 100? I’m strong enough to handle that. I’m willing to take the risk because the rewards far, far outweigh them.
And what saved me here was my intuition. Trusting my gut.
Believing the good in a stranger got me into a hole. Trusting my tried and true strengths pulled me out.
And I think that’s exactly how it’s supposed to work.
Locking in the learning
If trusting your instincts is something you want to get better at, watch Brene Brown’s TED talk. It’s not about instincts, it’s about vulnerability. Because you have to be vulnerable if you’re going to trust your gut. And vulnerability is STRENGTH. If you don’t know that yet, oh my friend, come on a journey with me. Sooo much joy awaits you.
And then, start listening.
In any given situation, ask – what is my gut telling me? Why? Play it out in your mind: what might happen if I listen to it and act? What might happen if I don’t?
Double-check that it is your gut you’re listening to, not fear and anxiety – they come from a different place.
And then, after you decide and act, pause to reflect: What evidence is there that listening to my gut was the right thing to do? What evidence is there that ignoring my gut put me wrong?
Lock in that learning, so that next time, you can build on it.
Reminding you that the world needs people who bring their whole selves to each moment. The world needs people who are imperfect and can revel in their imperfection. The world needs people who are vulnerable and courageous enough to show up that way so that others feel safer to do the same.
And that means hanging up on people who are #notmytribe!