Podcast: Working for Progress

I was interviewed by social entrepreneur, Dani Trudeau, on Working for Progress, a podcast that connects us all through conversations about how we craft our working lives and make progress for ourselves and others.

In this episode, I talk about my personal struggles and growth in searching for my place in the world over the last 25 years, as I globetrotted and career-hopped under the taunts of a fierce inner critic until I finally started learning how to live in harmony with myself – to like myself, in fact.

We talk about:

  • living and working in alignment with what matters to us
  • anxiety and depression in conforming and performing
  • taking risks and knowing when to quit
  • decoupling self-value from achievement
  • awe, human connection and being yourself
  • stepping out of the fast lane
  • doing our best for others by taking care of ourselves

I felt like I’d leapt off a cliff…It was painful and scary and uncomfortable, which sounds like I’m saying don’t do it. In retrospect though, that was the career path. I started to gleefully leap off, as I realised it wasn’t an abyss.

Have a listen to the 30 minute episode here:

Photo by Weaver Ignrvr on Unsplash

Do What You Love

Know Thy Strengths

It’s not a question of becoming, it’s a question of uncovering what you already are, of letting yourself be yourself. Of letting everything that is not yourself fall away

Zen Buddhist belief

Each of us has a unique portfolio of innate strengths.

These are the things we look forward to, that we feel most ‘ourselves’ doing, that we’re energised by and lose a sense of time in, and that we sometimes find so natural we don’t even recognise them as talents.

Unfortunately, because of an innate negativity bias, our radars are set to notice our weaknesses, often leaving our strengths under-engaged and under-developed.

This bias is embedded everywhere in our culture. For instance, consider why it is that an appraisal at work quite often focuses on what areas we need to improve. Why doesn’t it identify what we do well and explore ways to apply and boost these aptitudes?

You might be thinking, but that makes sense – we need to get better for progress to be made. The problem, though, is that fixing weaknesses is an endless uphill battle. You’re always on the back foot, and the best you can usually hope for is mediocre outcomes.

Enhancing people’s strengths, however, is the path of least resistance to excellence – not just for the individual, but for the organisations and societies we operate in.

Bear in mind that something you struggle with or find a drudgery is someone else’s favourite activity.

When we each operate in alignment with our strengths, everything still gets done but to a higher standard and with less stress and far more enjoyment!

Labelling Strengths

Words have a powerful impact on the way we feel and think. When we label something, we pay it attention which brings it into the foreground of our lives. That’s why we need to identify our strengths. As psychologist Dr Alex Linley says:

Without the capacity to describe them, it is easy for our strengths to fall between the cracks of our existence, becoming lost and forgotten rather than identified, nurtured, celebrated, and fully realised”.

Consider how you feel when you read these words:


How about when you read the following?


Words have an enormous effect on the way we feel, which in turn impacts on our thoughts, beliefs and actions. Despite what your parents and teachers may have told you about playground teasing, words do matter.

Strengths, Flow and Happiness

Choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life” – Confucius.

When we are using our highest capabilities, we often enter a state of ‘flow’. Flow is the experience of being so fully engaged in what we are doing that we don’t notice the world around us or time passing. We are ‘in the zone’.

The experience of flow is strongly linked to wellbeing and life-satisfaction. For the sake of our health and happiness, we need to be using our strengths regularly and experiencing flow.


Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2013) Flow: The Psychology of Happiness. Ebury Publishing: London.

Linley, A. (2008) Average to A+: Realising strengths in yourself and others. CAPP Press: Coventry.

Seligman, P. (2011) Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Wellbeing. Free Press: New York.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

40 things for 40

Written December 2019:

It’s my 40th birthday in January! I’m feeling pretty good about it.

There was a time (not too long ago) when I would’ve lamented all the ways in which my life isn’t the way I’d imagined it would be at 40. I’ve no kids, I’m not married, and I’m not minted.

Younger me knew these were no hardships, that being footloose and fancy-free, with no desire to measure my worth against my bank balance, was essentially living the dream.

Then 30-something me wallowed in the whole compare-and-despair thing, noticing only the gap between the life I live and what ‘everyone else’ is (apparently) doing.

Funnily enough, the more I tried to shrink that gap, the emptier I felt. Probably something to do with the fact I was moving further away from who I really am and what rocks my world.

As a teen, what I wanted to do when I grew up was go everywhere, learn everything, meet all kinds of interesting people, and do everything. I went on to basically do that! I spent years in my element: travelling, learning, trying new work, studying, and being inspired by other non-conformists.

And then I lost it.

Well, not entirely, I guess. That sense of curiosity and adventure remained, and I put it to use in my work and life. But I forgot that in doing so I was living exactly the life I’m meant to live.

And then, 2019. This has been my year of remembering. Nothing’s changed really, but now I recognise how friggin lucky I am.

If I measure success in my terms – Am I growing and experiencing? Am I connecting with people? Are my strengths being harnessed? – then I feel blown away by how good things are.

Forget metrics that aren’t of your making.

I wonder if, in our society, 40 is subconsiously a mini-‘death’. It was, after all, the average life expectancy in the not too distant past, so perhaps there’s even an in-built drive to achieve a lifetime of goals by the big four oh.

Either way, there are a lot of messages out there telling us we’ve got till 40 to do x, y and z. If you can get over that conditioning and see it for the fiction it is, well then, the world’s your oyster really!

And so, as my 40th approaches, I realise how excited I am about what’s ahead. If things have been so interesting in the last 20 years, imagine what might happen in the next 20! Now I’ve got 20 years of skills, relationships and maturity behind me, there are so many new and fascinating directions that could unfurl before me. Growth could be exponential!

For my fortieth then, I’m going to do forty things to honour and celebrate each of the years I’ve been lucky enough to live. I’d like them to be small pleasures, often shared with others, that will allow me to take time to stop and appreciate what’s good in life.

I’ve started today (tried reiki) and will do a couple of things each week till the start of Spring (it’s also a useful way to get through the Scottish winter, eh…!).

I’d LOVE to have your suggestions so I can complete the list, so PLEASE get in touch!

Here are some ideas friends have given me so far (it keeps expanding as I add to it):

  1. Walk the Eilden Hills from Melrose
  2. Cycle the 7 hills of Edinburgh
  3. Iceskating
  4. Escape the room team game
  5. Karaoke
  6. Afternoon chai & Old Fashioned at Dishoom
  7. Host a dinner and try a new recipe
  8. Henna my hair
  9. Somatic experiencing workshop
  10. Try a gong bath
  11. Buddhism introductory course
  12. Skiing in Glencoe
  13. NLP course
  14. Creative writing evening
  15. Visit Drift Café in North Berwick
  16. Play Cards Against Humanity
  17. Brunch at Gardner’s Cottage
  18. Try reiki
  19. Live music at Cloud Café
  20. Get a portrait done of my dog!
  21. Star-gazing at Kielder Observatory, Northumbria
  22. Storytelling workshop with Real Talk
  23. Try an expressive dance class
  24. Non-violent Communication (NVC) course
  25. Silent disco
  26. “Go away for a weekend with some great gal pals, switch off phones, light a fire and drink some wine”????
  27. Beecraigs Festive Forest
  28. Pilates with pygmy goats!
  29. Get fit again
  30. Visit Findhorn
  31. Pole dancing class
  32. Make actual printed photo albums
  33. Turkish baths in Portobello
  34. Artist’s Way
  35. Drink and Draw
  36. ??? Your ideas!


Just an unfocused, entitled millennial?

Millennials get a bad rap. In an interview that went viral on social media, author Simon Sinek gives an unforgiving indictment of millennials, saying managers struggle to manage them because they are unfocused and entitled. He laments their belief that they can do anything in life, saying that they demand work that makes an impact and has purpose but quit as soon as the fire splutters.

Sinek’s sentiments have been echoed again and again in the public discourse: it is not okay to burn strong and fast then stop, you have to stay the distance. Aside from the fact that Sinek probably overstates the ‘millennials problem’ (sounds like the usual young people today hyperbole), he reveals a common prejudice towards a certain section of society. Not millennials. Scanners.

Scanners & divers

A ‘scanner’ is a term coined by author and career coach, Barbara Sher, who categorises people as either scanners or divers. Divers like to get deep into what they do, and they stay the distance because they’re built to. They’re the specialists. Scanners, on the other hand, prefer to alight briefly before moving on to the next project. They love new ideas and challenges, and are driven by a passion for learning, so when they’ve got what they came for they leave. Scanners are generalists (or polymaths, or Renaissance Men and Women).

The problem is, there’s a deep-seated distaste for scanners embedded in the cultural psyche. No less so than in many scanners themselves, who often feel ashamed of their polymathic leanings and try to bury them and conform to diver behaviour. This becomes clear when reading Sher’s list of scanner statements in her 2007 book, Refuse to Choose!:

“I can never stick to anything.”

“I know I should focus on one thing, but which one?”

“I lose interest in things I thought would interest me forever.”

“I get bored as soon as I know how to do something.”

“I can’t stand to do anything twice.”

“I keep changing my mind about what I want to do and end up doing nothing.”

“I work at low-paying jobs because there’s nothing I’m willing to commit to.”

“I won’t choose a career path because it might be the wrong one.”

“I can’t pay attention unless I’m doing many things at once.”

Scanner guilt

Sher says scanners are taught they’re “doing something wrong and must try to change”. In her compelling TED talk, Emilie Wapnick explains how scanners (she calls them multipotentialites) learn to feel flawed because society expects them to choose one path. She argues that ‘destiny’, ‘purpose’ and our ‘one true calling’ are “highly romanticised in our culture”, so that people with multiple interests that wax and wane are left feeling abnormal.

Wapnick points out that the question, ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’, keeps kids up at night worrying about the answer, but “it does not inspire them to dream about all that they could be”. As Sinek’s comments show, imagining you can be anything – or everything – is seen as a problem.

Scanners at work

The thing is, there’s not only room for both divers and scanners, but also the need for both. In the workplace, divers and scanners live symbiotically, balancing each other out and together creating enviable results. Any project needs someone with the fire to start it and someone else with the focus to finish it. That’s the point of team work. And every field benefits from the pairing of someone with a broad overview and multidisciplinary background with someone with specific, expert knowledge. Yet, do a Google search for ‘starters and finishers’ and you’ll get a disproportionate number of articles telling us how to get better at finishing.

Despite the residual prejudice, there is an increasing call for generalists in the workplace. Changes in the economic climate mean that specialist roles are becoming more generalist. In an article published in the Harvard Business Review, Vikram Mansharamani says it’s generalists – with their varied experience – that our global and connected economy requires. He cites robust evidence that generalists are better at predicting outcomes in the face of uncertainty because of their breadth of perspective. “The specialist era is waning”, says Mansharamani.

And with the explosion of AI and machine learning, and, with it, the looming automation of our jobs, who do you think is best adapted to survive the cull?

Martin Ford, futurist and author of Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, in a recent Guardian article says that the safest jobs are those involving considerable creativity and building complex relationships. Two things generalists often do best. What’s more, experts advise us to diversify our careers and deploy multiple talents in order to stay employable. Sounds like a scanner’s dream! “We’ll all have seven or eight jobs, with the average adult working for a number of companies simultaneously”, predicts Futurist Faith Popcorn.

The coming era of scanners

Wapnick says multipotentialites have three strengths: idea synthesis, rapid learning, and adaptability. These are highly desirable in this time of massive economic change and ambiguity. Those who can pivot in the direction of market needs stand the greatest chance of surviving and thriving.

“As a society, we have a vested interest in encouraging multipotentialites to be themselves. We have a lot of complex, multidimensional problems in the world right now, and we need creative, out-of-the-box thinkers to tackle them,” says Wapnick.

So, Simon Sinek, perhaps your unfocused and entitled millennials are, in fact, the newly adapted generation for the future. And maybe all the scanners out there with hang-ups about their allergy to single-minded focus are coming into their own.

Self-esteem – it’s not really about you at all

I was very surprised when a friend recently told me I have the highest self-esteem of anyone she’s ever met.

We get on, so I reckon she means well. But it’s not always a compliment, is it?

We aspire to raise our self-esteem and lament our lack of it. Many hours of therapy are devoted to exploring it – where it went, why, how to nurture it.

So when it’s there, worn on our sleeve for the world to see, why can it make the lip curl?

There’s a cultural component here. Known as ‘tall poppy syndrome’ (and, in Japan, as ‘the nail that sticks out’), there is a strong distaste for the one who stands out. We criticise them as braggarts or show-offs. The tall poppy must be cut down to size.

But just why is it so terrible to stand up and be heard?

There are a lot of people who know what it’s like to be silent and silenced. Women, those in poverty, BAME people, trans folk, the global south… People have given a lot for their voices to be heard.

To speak your truth is to have power.

The nail that stands proud ‘needs to be hammered down’ because the haves need the have nots to conform.

The worst part is we have internalised the message that we are undeserving of power, and so we police each other, cutting down to size anyone who ‘gets above their station’.

When someone outright owns their strengths and talents, we think them arrogant. We disavow their proclamation of self-worth.

What my friend may not realise about me is that I have all the usual self-doubts (this morning, I was in a teary rage for generally not being good enough). But when my ego gives me a break (for that is what such self-judgements are; in its role as mediator between who you really are and what you think the world wants of you, the ego dishes out a lot of abuse), I make a point of celebrating all that I have.

I’m acutely aware that every moment of life is a miracle. It’s also tragically short. I’ve spent years tussling with low mood, heart-racing worry and excruciating loss, so whenever there’s a window of blue sky, I’m out there vocalising my thanks for what I’ve got, what I’ve experienced, and who I am.

They call that self-esteem. I call it recognition of what you’re being briefly loaned from the universe.

It’s not really about you at all.