Birthdays – when do we stop having them?

On Monday morning I woke up to pinging noises from my cellphone informing me of incoming messages. It was early, but I’m an early bird. And so is my sister. We are the only people I know of who can have a full conversation on WhatsApp before 5 o’clock in the morning.

My sister was the first one to wish me happy birthday, and her message was followed in quick succession by a number of other early bird friends I have. Needless to say, I had a lovely Monday without any trace of blueness…

I often hear people say that they dread having birthdays because it reminds them that they are growing older. Decades ago I was warned that a wave of depression would hit me on my 30th birthday. Nothing happened. I’m still waiting. My age matter very little to me. I’m lucky to be strong, fit and healthy, because I have a modest lifestyle filled with love and support from all the people in my life who are important to me.

It was funny that on my birthday, as I was listening to the radio while getting ready for work, the topic under discussion was ‘when did you realise that you are growing old’? Listeners called in with the most amusing anecdotes. One lady said it was the day she fell and people rushed over to help her up. She added that when she was younger, instead of helping her up they would just burst out laughing.

I enjoy celebrating my birthday, however low key it may be. This is after all the one day in the year that I can truly call my own. No-one is going to take that away from me!

Do you still celebrate your special day? I hope so. We should never stop having them, however many candles there are on the cake.

Bad knees and blue eyes…

A friend said to me the other day: ‘Growing old, my dear, is not for sissies…’

Let me explain. We were comparing our aches and pains, as one does when one gets to the wrong side of fifty, and comparing the medication prescribed by our doctors to keep us going for another decade or so.

I have learned recently from a doctor specialising in hips and knees, that my knees have no cartilage left. But there is good news too! I’m too young and active for a knee replacement. Well, I guess everything’s not lost yet.

Sometimes I amuse myself with one of those videos on YouTube where a young woman takes her audience through the routine of applying makeup. It has always intrigued me how much makeup can go onto a face. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been wearing makeup since I was eighteen years old and won’t go out without brightening up the old face.

Now, a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to be really creative with my own makeup routine. You see gentle reader, I had to cover my blue eye. Which produced, over the three weeks that it took to heal, a marvelous array of blue, purple and cerise pink.

The reason for my unfortunate injury can be attributed to my beautiful Belgian shepherd. The two of us have a special game we play and this time she got a fright from one of the other dogs and she head butted me.

I saw a variety of stars and other heavenly bodies, accompanied by a cute little bird. By the time I got my spinning head under control and got to the bathroom mirror, a bright red bump was already visible under my eye.

By the time my husband arrived home that night, I had a beautiful blue eye.

And hence the need for serious makeup. I didn’t know it would take so much of it to cover the blue and purple, but I managed to hide most of it. People still looked at me funny for the next two weeks though.

Below, the culprit…

Hybernating

My sister said to me over a cup of coffee the other day, “So why so quiet? No blog posts, no Instagram pictures, nothing…”

Well, she touched on a bit of a sore point there. You see, we are in the middle of winter down here in southern Africa and this year it seemed to have really hit me hard. It’s dark until almost seven in the morning and the sun disappears already at half past five. The 21st of June is my favourite day of the year, and not just because it is the birthday of one of my dearest friends.

The 21st of June is the winter solstice and after that day the sun starts it slow journey back to us. Something to celebrate indeed.

My hybernation during the winter should not be long though, since the winter in my neck of the woods is barely three months long. I live in the interior of the coutry and our winters are from June to August, with temperatures ranging from around 3 degrees Celcius at night to 24 degrees during the day. No clouds, no rain.

Perfect winter I hear you say. However, dear reader, it gets very dry and dusty here. If your hair is prone to picking up static electricity, you’re in for some electrifying experiences…

But soon summer will be here, with the sun up just after five in the morning and temperatures going in to the thirties during the day.

Because the winters are dry, our summers are filled with glorious thunderstorms which bring the rain. It is one of life’s great preasures to hear the storm coming from far away, rolling closer with thunder and lighting, and then the rain comes lashing down.

Then it slowly moves on and the sun comes out again. Everything is left clean and refreshed.

Well, I’ve managed to pop my head out from under the winter gloom. As the weather gets warmer, things can only get better. There is a long, hot summer lying ahead!

PS: the picture below is of a protea bloom. Just to get in the mood for spring and that glorious summer…

Protea

 

People I admire

It is easy to admire someone you do not know. You watch them from afar and, if it’s someone famous, you see them in films, on television or read about them in newspapaers. Even biographies, if you’re like me.

You often only get to see the best side of the person, or that side which his or her agent would like the public to see, if it’s a famous star. The shock of seeing one’s idol stumble and fall can feel very real and perhaps even personal.

Admiring someone who you know well and intimately, like siblings, spouses or close friends, on the other hand, is not so easy. We know all their faults. As a matter of fact, we may even have pointed a few out to them. We see them at their best, and also at their worst.

So who do I admire?

I prefer not to admire famous people. They are not real to me. My family, both blood and in-law, my close friends, even some colleagues. I know they are not perfect and I also know that they don’t try to pretend to be. It’s the simple fact that even though I know them and their issues personally, that makes me admire them all the more.

Take my sister. She is a career woman who also manages to raise her son most beautifully. Her daily work life is sometimes a circus, if I have to judge from the interesting Whatsapp messages I receive from her during the endless meetings she must endure. And then there is the traffic she has to face every day going to work and back home. Yet she does this with poise and without turning it into a grudge. Working woman, wife, mother.

My sister-in-law is another one of those women who seems to make raising children while working, so easy. She has three children, all of them in the teenage years now and she does not seem to age appropriately while going through it all, looking too young for her biological age. She just ran another marathon! Besides that, she also looks after her elderly mother who lives next door to her. In short, keeping the whole family together around her.

My husband. Where do I start? He left his country as a young man and settled on another continent. Far from family, friends and support networks. Then he built a business from nothing and when that was standing on its own legs, he started another one. The entrepeneurial spirit runs deep within his veins. I think what I most admire is his creative mind and how he can take a concept, which is but a theoretical construct, and turn it into a solid, working product.

The three people I mentioned are just a few I admire, each one for different reasons. There are more, but as I can see for myself today, it seems that I admire the small daily conquests that people close to me make every day, more than the grand heroism that the great and the mighty strive to put on social media and other platforms. I’m sure they do good things, but I’ll stick with my local heroes any time.

Rewinding the past?

Lady-justice-picjumbo-com

Would that we could rewind the past! Or an incident from the past that still haunts us years later.

Many years ago, when I got my first position in management, I was of course very excited and proud of the achievement. I had the opportunity to contribute to the organisation on a different level while learning new skills. At this time I had already been working for the company for 18 years.

During the years I worked in a few positions, from junior entrant into the company, to supervisory positions, to instructor in the training department. In short, I had accumulated a wealth of experience about the company, the industry that we were working in, and the people who populated the various departments that made up the organisation.

To top up the good news that I was successful in my application for promotion to management, I was also informed that I would be in charge of a group of employees who were themselves in supervisory positions. It was, in my opinion, a great day when I heard the news.

The rest of the management team were also mainly new appointees and we were looking forward to working together.

A few days later I was called into the office of a senior manager. He informed me that he had decided to swop me and another manager around so that I would now manage a different, and more junior group of employees, while another new appointee in our management team would manage the people I was originally appointed to manage. He asked me if I had a problem with this and I said no, I did not.

But I did have a problem with it. A very big one.

In hindsight I now wish that I had answered differently and that I had stood my ground and insisted that I stay in the position that I was allocated to at first. At the time I was the one with the most experience and as time passed, I demonstrated that my skills were more advanced than my colleague who was now installed in the position originally given to me.

I decided to make the most of the position I received and two years later I left with much more experience and newly aquired skills. Even though I did not work in the position that I would have preferred, I still had a good time working there and tried to maintain a good relationship with my colleagues and team members.

Why do I still think about this incident after so many years? What is it about that day that keeps coming back to me?

It is the age old problem of not wanting to appear aggressive in the workplace. Of wanting to fit in and not rocking the boat. To be a good girl.

I found that that is a problem with most women at work. We are too scared to be assertive and to insist in getting what we deserve just in case people will consider us to be aggressive, abrasive, not a team player. As a result, our careers suffer years of setbacks.

Forward a number of years into the future and there I was sitting again in the office of the managing director of the company I was working for. This time I was informed that someone had been appointed in the position I had occupied for some years in the company and that I was now downgraded to a more junior position, essentially from management to team leader.

Deja vu. I had been here before. What they were doing was illegal in our country, but they assumed, correctly, that I would put the wellbeing of the company ahead of my own feelings.

It took me less than a year to make my way out of the organisation.

Would I have changed the course of my career if I had given a different answer to my manager in the first incident? Maybe not, but I am sure that it would have given me more confidence in my own abilities and that would have had a more positive outcome on the rest of my career.

Would you go back and rewind or redo someting in your past?

 

Cherished memories

Today I’m thinking of all the cherished memories that I have. We accumulate many memories during our lives, some good, some bad. But some memories stand out because of the impact they made on us, while others just populate the background.

When I moved into my first ever flat, I shared it with a friend. We had just both started working at a new job, far away from family and all that was familiar to us. Like most young people starting out in life, we had only the most essential items in our flat. In short, we lived rather plainly.

We were young and poor, but immensely proud of the fact that we were independent, earning our own money and that we did not have to rely on our parents for support. Today both of us own the houses we live in and we can honestly say that our achievements were due to our determination to succeed.

Why are the memories of that time so important? Well, they still influence how I approach new projects or new phases in my life today. Surely, if I could make things work for me then, I can make them work now too?

A few weeks ago I had the wonderful opportunity to spend a whole weekend with my sister. We stayed on a farm surrounded by mountains. One morning we decided to take an early walk. Everything was fresh after the rain of the day before, the air only slightly warmed by the rising sun.

As we walked along a dirt road, we started sharing memories from our past when we were children growing up. The thing that struck me most was how different we viewed some of the things that happened to both of us and how those memories are still with us and influencing much of our lives today.

I felt very honoured that my sister shared her innermost thoughts with me and I realised afterwards that as the years progressed, we have grown closer to each other. In fact, I consider my sister to be my best friend today, and I hope that in the years to come, we can share many more memories of great adventures that we had together.

Why do we cherish some memories above all others? I think some has to do with the people we share them with and others with the inspiration that they gave us at the time to try new things.

Here’s to making many more memories to remember in the future!

 

The Best Advice I ever Received

When asked recently, ‘What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?’, I got stuck.

It is an odd sensation to look back down the decades of one’s life and decide which piece of advice was the best of all time. After a few decades we have accumulated so much advice, where does one start to choose which piece was the best ever?

If I have to be honest, I most confess that I probably discarded or ignored most of the advice I received when I was young. That is what young people do best, isn’t it? However, if I twist this around and ask the question slightly differently, I might get an answer that is more illuninating. Here goes: ‘What is the piece of advice that you ignored that turned out to be the best thing you ever did?’

After I left high school and college, I decided to also leave the city in which I grew up. At that time I wanted to persue a career that demanded that I moved to a city 1400 km north of my birthplace. A city that was considered rather risky for a young woman on her own without the protection of family and friends.

I was warned, and cautioned, about the dangers of going out into the world all by myself. I was advised not to do it, to wait until I was older, or to find another career that would keep me at home. The advice that I got was that it was a stupid decision, and that I would regret it, sometime in the future.

How brave I was though! I ignored the advice, moved to the other city and started a career that gave me tremendous joy. A career that allowed me to travel, learn, experience new people and ideas, and that turned me into a confident young woman in no time.

Discarding the advice I got at the time was, in hindsight, the best thing I ever did.

I did receive very good advice from someone I trust and admire about two weeks ago. He told me that in order to succeed at what I wanted to do I needed to focus on my product better. To give my clients better solutions. Indeed, to have a product that inspires a desire in them to own the experience. In short, I should demolish the castles in the air that I have been constructing, and build on solid ground.

At this time, in this place where my career has taken me, this is the best advice that I could get.

So, the question ‘What is the best piece of advice that you ever received?’, don’t necessarily have to be a specific piece of advice that holds true across many years, but it could be advice that is needed right now to inspire you for the challenges that you face in the present.

That is my truth today.