Skipping her way to the stars – helping our kids to dream BIG

My daughter Mischa is teaching herself to skip. We had weeks of – thump, thump, awwww! as she tried and tried but didn’t get anywhere fast. You could feel her frustration as the rope got tangled in her hair, her ankles, her brother. But she was determined to learn how to do it and so kept on trying. And then something clicked. On Sunday, she skipped 4 in a row, and then 9 the next day and 11 the following.

So being the social researcher that I am, I suggested we draw a graph to record her best score each day so she could see she was improving. When drawing the Y axis I asked her “How many skips do you want to be able to do and we’ll make that your target?” Without hesitation she said 100.

Now I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately about dreaming BIG and not letting anyone tell you can’t do it, etc. And yet I caught myself about to say, “Ooh, that’s quite a lot – how about we start at 50?”

Luckily I stopped those words before they came out of my mouth but it got me thinking about how easy it is to have a dream crush by very well-meaning people. People don’t tend to poo-poo our ideas because they’re rubbish or stupid. They often think, just as I did with Mischa, that they are protecting us from disappointment. So instead of shooting for the stars, we end up aiming for the top of the lamp-post.

But where do you go from there? To the top of the building, the moon perhaps? This kind of thinking suggests that we have to take an incremental approach to getting what we want. You work hard at school and get into a good uni or college, which then gets you a good job, in which you work for X years before getting promoted. However, the people who are really successful in their lives (like how did they do that?!! successful) tend not to think like that. They dream BIG and amazing things happen. It has many names – the law of attraction or The Secret. I call it the “law of putting it out there”. You get back what you put out (both positive and negative). You tell yourself you can’t do it and, surprise, surprise, you can’t. A great example of putting it out there is The Buried Life – four guys who turned knocking items off their bucket list like playing ball with the President and kissing the Stanley Cup into a book and TV show.

By putting out her goal to the world, Mischa has assembled a willing bunch of people to help her reach it. Every morning this week she has had at least one person help her count as she strives to better her score. It will not all be plain sailing. There are risks in taking this approach. For example, she had a complete meltdown last night because she couldn’t repeat her earlier performance. But I personally believe that letting her set herself a seemingly impossible target, she will learn a valuable lesson about dealing with risk, coping with failure and relying on others to help her through those times (and also to celebrate when she succeeds).

And you know what? This morning, after only 6 days, she broke her first milestone and achieved 55 skips in a row. Even as her proud mother, I couldn’t believe it!  Hats off – I was wrong and very happy I was too.  Would she have reached 55 this quick if I’d convinced her to aim for 50?  I’m not so sure.

So, some reflection for you. How often do you gently prompt a friends or relative (or yourself) to aim for the safety of the top of the lamp post? Instead, are there ways you can support that person to reach for the stars instead? Feel free to leave me a note 🙂 


*** Update!!!  She’s done it!  101 skips in a row completed this morning and in under a week. We are all so proud of her but that’s nothing compared to how proud she is of herself. She was beaming all day and almost forgot about the little party I’d promised her when she reached her target. Getting there was reward enough it seems, well for a wee while at least.  Then she recovered and remembered. Need to start organising that party then :)

Tell your Top Dog to shut the hell up


I’ve had lots of conversations lately about finding and acting on creating your own extraordinary reality. People generally buy-in to it being a good thing.  I’ve been struck by how many people have ideas of what they’d love to do (which I’m rather jealous about as I’m still working that out). But scratch the surface a little to explore why they can’t do it and a great big shutter comes right down – BANG!  Of course I can’t do it – I’ve got bills to pay, I’d never get it off the ground, I should be grateful for what I’ve got.

This makes me a little sad, and frustrated if I’m honest.  Think of all that wasted potential and happiness we’re storing up.  And I do it too – big style.  Every day I’m on this mission I get excited by all the possibilities and the amazing people who are sharing their thoughts and knowledge.  And then I get overwhelmed by trying to figure out how I will ever find a way to make my own unique dent in the world when there’s just so much stuff going on out there already.

Sometimes I listen to that annoying voice in my head.  But other days I manage to work through it.  I’ve tried to do this, not by telling myself that “you can do it!” and “think positive!” (ok, well sometimes I do) but by figuring out why we do this to ourselves.  And I’ve learned that we ALL do this, maybe to varying degrees, but we’re all subject to, and limited by, the demons in our heads.

Fritz Perls, father of Gestalt Therapy, describes this as “topdog vs underdog“, the self-torture game that we play within our own heads to avoid the anxiety we encounter when contemplating an action.  The Top Dog demands perfection and adherence to society’s norms and rules i.e. you “should” and “ought” to do X.  The Under Dog is the part of you that tries to resist these external demands by finding excuses for why these can’t be met i.e. I’ll never be able to do that, it never works out for me so why bother trying etc. etc.  And so if you listen to either of these dogs, you’ll never move forward as their prime reason for being is for keeping you safe from the big bad world, in your comfort zone where nothing new ever happens.

Will conforming to the demands of society, your family or your friends help you create an extraordinary reality?  Not if you want it to look any different to what you have now, I’d suspect.  Top Dog is like the caveman dad out of The Croods – “Never not be afraid!” But then the world changed around them, they were forced out of their safe cave and weren’t prepared for what was waiting for them.

The Top Dog is a residual part of our caveman brain that still works in some situations (I’m not advocating a self-centred approach to life here – you really should hold your tongue when dealing with annoying customers and old relatives.  There’s no need to be rude).  But leading your life how you want to live it (without harming anyone obviously) should, in the long run, make you a better parent, partner, friend, daughter etc.  In fact, the world would be a nicer, more productive place if we weren’t forcing ourselves and each other (think about the number of times you say people should do something – again, other than rudeness.  Surely we all agree on that one?) into pre-defined boxes based on what we think the world is like.  But we are at the beginning of an exciting new world of work people, based on our unique talents and interests (more on that later), but to embrace it we first have to be brave and tell our Top Dogs to shut the hell up.

Easier said than done, believe me I know, so I’d love it if anyone have some tips or stories they’d like to share!

What will the world of work look like for our kids?

This is a question I have become super excited about.  The financial crisis really hit while my kids were still in nappies and so I could barely stay awake long enough to realise other things were going on in the world, never mind pay attention to them.  But as it stretched on and youth unemployment became big news, it began to filter into my addled consciousness.  In a moment of fear that came along with the realisation that the responsibility for these two small people really was primarily mine and my husband’s, no one else’s, I blurted out to my husband, “What if this goes on and on and there are no jobs for our kids?!”

Having worked in research about children and families, I knew the long lasting affects unemployment has had on young people who experienced it during the Thatcher era.  Not only did it increase the chances of them being unemployed and earn less later in life, it also had negative effects on their life satisfaction, physical and mental health and job satisfaction, more than two decades later.

This scared the hell out of me, hence my question to my poor, ever-patient husband who told me not to worry.  If this happened, he’d give up his job and start his own joinery business with the kids as his apprentices.  Weirdly, this made me feel better instantly.  The idea of setting up my own business was something as alien to me as Nutella on boiled eggs but I found the idea of taking your livelihood into your own hands very appealing, if a bit scary and out of reach.  Since then, I’ve been trying to find a way to help my kids see this as a viable option for their future.

And so, in true researcher form, I did some research… This is just a flavour of the initial results but a few messages were clear.

There is a growing body of writing that suggests that the financial crisis has affected social change as well as the obvious impacts such as people losing their jobs or not being able to put their life onto their credit cards any longer.  Authors such as John Williams, James Altucher and Markus Albers propose that our trust in big institutes like the banking sector (and I’d add the BBC following a number of high profile sex abuse cases) has been severely rocked to the point that it’s unlikely to be restored to the same extent again.  What were once secure, permanent jobs are now under threat (even those in the public sector) and so, the authors claim, this is the prime time to take your future into your own hands and start a business.  And it’s not as crazy as it might sound.  Some of today’s biggest brands – like Walt Disney Productions, IBM, Microsoft and Apple – were started during periods of recession.

Relating this back to what the future of work might look like for our kids, it’s impossible at this stage to even dream about what these future businesses or jobs might look like.  Research by Karl Fisch, captured within this video, suggests that the ten most sought-after jobs of 2010 didn’t even exist in 2004.  I’d recommend watching it when you’re fully awake (rather than late at night like I did) as it has some big, amazing numbers in it.  We do indeed live in exponential times.  Our jobs as parents therefore can’t be to work out what this all means so we can figure it out for our kids.  We have to equip them with the skills to figure it out for themselves, and also to see the opportunities, not the scariness, of it all.

In anticipation of winter – wrap up, pig out and coory in

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One morning last week, my daughter and I were walking through the park on the way to school.  We noticed that some of the leaves had begun to turn and that got us talking about autumn coming.  I love autumn.  However this year the summer has been so good that a part of me wasn’t ready for it to be over.

But then with an intake of breath, my daughter exclaimed, “That means Christmas is coming!!”  For lots of us, the imminent arrival of autumn immediately makes us think of the struggle through the long, cold, miserable winter ahead but the reality is that there’s nothing we can do about the change in season.  We can however take control of how we frame these external events and this is what my daughter was doing.

So, this got me thinking.  I started asking my friends rather than what they dread about winter coming, what is it that they’re looking forward to?  What I found out is that it really is the small things in life that make us happy:

  • The Winter Wardrobe (especially if it involves buying new clothes) – coloured tights, boots, hats, jumpers, in fact anything knitted.  For one friend, it was being able to wear socks again.
  • Gorgeous cold, clear days – seeing your breath in the air; the first day your cheeks and ears tingle with the cold; blue winter skies; amazing, low sunlight; autumn colours and the smell of wood smoke in the air; kicking through crunchy leaves and puddle jumping with the kids.
  • Velvety black, completely dark nights and seeing the stars on clear nights.
  • Snow – the anticipation that we might get some and then the delight at the first snowfall.  Michael McIntyre is so right when he says that crazy things happen when it snows and that the only excuses for waking a women on a lie-in is if a celebrity dies or it snows overnight 🙂
  • Seasonal food – haggis, neeps and tatties, figs, homemade soup, and German spuds at the Christmas market.  Drinking hot chocolate, red wine, mulled wine, hot toddies… basically anything hot and preferably alcoholic.
  • Festivals and celebrations – Halloween, birthdays and of course… Christmas!  I was glad to see this was on so many people’s lists.
  • Generally, cosying up – coming in from work when it’s already dark, getting into PJs, putting on some candles or twinkly lights and cosying up in front of the fire, with loved ones – be that people, pets or coffee and biscuits.
  • And my favourite quote that deserves a category all of its own – “nosing into people’s houses in the darkness. They have lights on.  It is dark outside.  I am not a stalker!”

These points show that as dwellers of countries with long, dark winters, we’ve built up adaptive behaviours that help us face, even look forward to, its arrival.  I learned from my friend Paul that the Danes have a whole concept for what’s described above – hygge.  You’ll see from this video that the Danes have a hard time describing what it means, and who blames them!  It’s a feeling that you can only really understand once you’ve experienced it.  We should all have a term for this – the closest I came up with for the Scottish winter is to “coory in”, like a hedgehog getting ready to hibernate.  Well, there’s not much chance of hibernation for us so instead we’ve created all these fantastic things to look forward to that make the winter worthwhile.