I woke up this morning, looked at the beautiful man beside me, and thought, it doesn’t get much happier than this.
I’ve been doing the gratitude thing this year and there’s NO DOUBT it’s making me happier, kinder, less sweating the small stuff.
That’s absolutely one big reason I’m feeling so happy.
But a really big reason I’m feeling so happy is that I have a good life. A life I worked damn hard to build myself.
A life I had to be fucking brave to get, over and over again.
I had to be brave enough to leave my first husband when he said he didn’t love me, and brave enough to keep living when he drowned soon after.
I had to be brave enough to leave my second husband and commit to being a single mother for all those years.
I had to be brave enough to be alone.
I had to be brave enough to build a house at home on our island so my children and wider whānau have a place to come home to. And so that while I work so hard on my business all year, I get a summer in paradise recharging, reconnecting, and reprioritising.
I had to be brave enough to walk away from my religion. The only worldview and culture I knew, so I could truly be me. And so I could be loved. And so I could feel the sun on my skin.
I had to be brave enough to admit what I wanted.
I had to be brave enough to resist when carver boy wanted to break things off. Brave enough to persist in our relationship. Brave enough (and patient enough) to wait four years for him to move in. Brave enough to risk another broken heart.
I had to be brave enough to say no to things that were tempting, but not right or good for me.
I had to be brave enough to set boundaries around my time and my contributions to others.
I had to be brave enough to charge what I’m worth.
I had to be brave enough to love and back myself.
It took a while, but I turned 45 this year, and I’m proud to say I’m brave enough to be happy.
Read out loud.
I’m not talking editing here. Your re-writing stage has to be finished. Proofreading is the final step. It’s the polishing – the cleaning up any rough edges.
Reading out loud
Reading out loud is the thing no one wants to do. It’s slower than reading in our heads, so it takes longer. AND THAT’S THE POINT.
To have a strong lens for correctness and quality, we need to slow it down.
Reading out loud sets multiple senses and brain processes into motion simultaneously, and that’s what makes it so efficient for proofreading.
We see the words on the page, and to a point, we know how words are supposed to look.
We send those to our brain to process for our mouths to articulate. Our ears hear the flow of the language – and that’s where most of the magic happens.
So next time, before you hit send or hand that document over to a reviewer, print it out, take it to another room away from your desk, and read it out loud.
(This is also true for non-native speakers of English who are immersed in English speaking environments, by the way. You’re used to the natural flow of the language around you. Let your ears tell you what sounds right.)
Sounds too simple?
I once had a friend staying with me, and she was worried about a small decision my daughter made. She later told me how stressful the visit was, because of that one thing.
Let me explain a bit more (while still respecting the privacy of both my friend and my daughter).
The one thing.
My daughter’s behaviour didn’t harm anyone.
It didn’t inconvenience anyone.
It was not made or carried out in anyone’s presence.
It didn’t impact on my friend’s ability to do anything.
It didn’t create any consequences my friend had to live with.
I was 100% unconcerned with the decision my daughter had made. It didn’t inconvenience or worry me. It was completely fine by me.
So when my friend later told me how stressful it was for her, and how it impacted on her ability to enjoy staying with us, I was blown away!
It wasn’t hers.
She didn’t own it. She CHOSE to be concerned. She CHOSE to be worried about the decision my daughter made. I was incredibly surprised that my friend didn’t have the self-awareness to realise she was feeling stressed about something that she simply didn’t own.
How do I deal?
One of my go-to responses to stress is to write a list – itemise the things on my mind (which is where stress lives, of course).
And then I categorise:
- what’s mine?
- what’s not mine?
I look at the what’s not mine category and often that’s all I need to do – acknowledge I’m carrying stress about things that aren’t mine and that I can’t influence.
That simple awareness (and the fact I’ve written it down and acknowledged it) is usually all it takes for me to let something go.
I basically roll my eyes at myself and go, well duh, that’s not mine. I cross it off the list and it’s gone.
I know. Sometimes it’s not that easy!
If it’s not that easy to do, then I think about what meaning I’m attributing to that thing that’s not mine, and see what I can shift there.
Sometimes it’s just a shift I need to make in my thinking. Other times I might need to act so that I can cope with the things that are not mine, but that are impacting on me nevertheless.
Then I look at the what’s mine category and plan out what I can do about it and when, and what I need so I can action that.
Stress management 101 (according to Shelly).
In all my trainings, with hundreds of professionals each year, this is the thing people ask for above all else: How do I write more clearly?
The answer is so simple it’s almost embarrassing: Write the way you speak.
Write the way you speak. In every document.
I don’t care whether the audience is a CEO or board or minister in government or guys on the street or a scientist. I don’t care whether you’re writing a technical specification or a standard or a policy or an email or a website. Just write the way you speak.
You’ll increase your credibility
Research shows that writing more like the way we speak gives us more credibility. It makes us sound smarter. That’s good for our career development, for our brand, for our business outcomes.
- write using everyday words – use instead of utilise, today instead of on today’s date, we recommend instead of it is recommended
- write the kind of sentence patterns we use for speech – in a nutshell, that’s the active voice over the passive voice (and that’s a whole other article – check out this one while I write mine)
You’ll appear more confident
Confidence sells. It reassures. It stands out. It gets remembered and responded to. Studies support that expressing things confidently gets better outcomes.
- own your statements – say we think, I recommend, you should, not some have observed, it is recommended, should be considered…
- use fewer words – the more words we use, the weaker the message. Think of an EXIT sign. It doesn’t say Consider removing yourself from the building through this orifice in the event of an untimely or unexpected occurrence. It just says EXIT.
You’ll revert to what comes naturally
Imagine how much simpler business communications would be if they were more like conversations? It’s faster to write that way, it’s faster to read that way, and we can all get on with our to-do lists. We know this for a fact. So,
- trust your instincts about how to express an idea – we’re all actually pretty great at communicating verbally
- read what you’ve written out loud – does it sound like you’re actually having a conversation?
You’ll get rid of confusion and misinterpretation
When we write the way we speak we’re more direct. The academic, legal, and traditionally formal corporate voice is a minefield of ambiguity. It’s learned and affected and therefore not natural. That means it’s harder for us to get right. It’s commonly recognised that the active voice is strong from a legal standpoint.
- start your sentences with a who – the client damaged the car, not the car was damaged
- break up long sentences – the more ideas and words in a sentence, the more opportunity for misinterpretation
As I always say in my trainings – just test it out. Just give it a try and see what kind of response you get. If no one mentions anything about the change, that’s a win! It means your writing is working. Even better, people might comment on how easy something was to read, or how quickly you’ve been plowing through the emails. Again, a definite win.
The only caution I have is about expectations.
If you want to dramatically change the way you’re writing documents that others have to approve, give managers/reviewers/end users a heads up.
Get buy-in. A disconnect in expectations is guaranteed to bring out the red pen – and resistance to change.
Other than that, go!
And write the way you speak.
What are you putting energy into resisting?
What might happen if you just roll with it?
I’m what you might call ‘highly strung’ (uggh). Me earlier in life was a basket-case. Control-freak, stressed out, ready to blow up over stupid shit on a regular basis.
I really struggled to get through each day and eventually had some real challenges with depression.
Then my husband died.
If you ever need something to help you reconsider what’s important in life, death will do it.
Of course, the grief and growth since his death has been a long and winding 20-year journey. But ultimately what has happened is this: I’ve learned to roll with things.
I’ve learned that if I want to cope with life, I have to release my death-grip on the reigns.
I have to roll with shit.
I have the most beautiful partner today. While my carver boy gets a good deal of credit for that, cos he’s a good, good man, I also give myself credit for a bunch of things, and learning to roll with stuff is one of those things. It means I don’t try to manage him or control how our life together works. It means I’m accepting of the twists and turns. It means I got more patient (and faaaaark, has that been a ride!).
Most people today consider me fairly chilled (although high-energy). They’re surprised when I say how much of a stressed-out control freak I used to be.
So here’s the thing. Or the things.
There are some things we shouldn’t let go of – some things we do want to manage and influence. Like the fact that my family needs to eat. I’m not going to just roll with them going hungry. Or the fact that we need to be safe while we drive. I’m not going to just roll with breaking the law or risking our lives.
But the timing of that trip in the car? I can roll with when that happens. Who comes in the car and what they wear or what they bring with them? I can roll with that.
What we eat and when? I can roll with that. We can’t all sit down to a meal of meat and 3 veg at 6pm? I can roll with that. Someone wants to eat weetbix instead? Go for your life.
Trying to manage and control things is EXHAUSTING.
And it means that you’re setting yourself up for stress, disappointment, upset, and maybe anger and rage, if things don’t go the way you tried to make them go. The odds of things not going to plan are HUGE.
So I wonder what you’re resisting right now? What’s taking up your energy? What are you giving power to because you’re laser-focused on it happening a certain way?
Choose one small thing.
Now what might it look like if you just rolled with it? What’s the worst that could happen? What might you gain? How much happier might you become? How much lighter might you feel?
Roll with it.
Let those swells bring you safely and gently onto a shore where the sun is shining and you can get some rest.