You say goodbye

…I say thank you.

On Friday, I sent my last email as an employee of Standard Life Aberdeen. I’ve received many of these goodbye messages over the years, and it’s been a bit odd writing one for myself. However, it’s great to be able to say thank you.

Here’s what I wrote to the folks at work.

Thanks for all the joy – and challenges – of working with each and every one of you!

It’s been 8,344* days since I started working as a direct temp in the claims department for Executive Pensions. I had no idea what it was like to work in an office. Never mind knowing what a pension was. I was meant to be a musician, for goodness sake!

The joys of collecting and filing microfiche and original documents – and checking Guaranteed Minimum Pension calculations were my starting point.

Twenty managers, fifteen role changes and eight buildings later, 31 May is my last working day for Standard Life Aberdeen** – and I leave with a lot to be grateful for.

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” (Douglas Adams)

I have worked with some brilliant, bright and bonkers people over the years. There’s always been the zoomers but we’ll not dwell on them too long… 

Over the years, I’ve had the chance to grow my skills in communication, marketing, digital development and leading teams (I’d agree with those who’d say I have plenty more to learn in each of these areas!).

My family have had a roof over our heads, food to eat and a place to sleep. And a whole lot more too.

There’s been plenty of happy memories as I’ve reflected on all those great days. As you’d expect, there’s a number of things that I’d do differently having learned from it the first time around!

I really have nothing to complain about. It’s all life and it’s all learning.

It wouldn’t be an email from me without a set of bullets, so here’s a few work things that I remember with a smile:

  • Being part of a team trusted to come up with a plan on improve how our department looked after customers and making it happen (“customer’s needs and expectations drive our actions”
  • Those full-on, immersive TCF events and countless strategy meetings and huddles
  • Staff contribution award nights
  • Staff and family barbecues at Silverfield
  • Taking seven weeks off in 2015 to visit New Zealand with Jenny when she was finishing her Midwifery degree (I heartily recommend taking a career break when you can!)
  • Being involved in some of the biggest client Corporate Pensions wins
  • Surviving auto-enrolment and the period from 2011-2014
  • Being part of 56° and working with Capability Scotland
  • Working with developers, writers, designers and content managers to create new components and launch multiple websites over the years (mostly under crazy project names!)
  • And through it all, getting to work with some brilliant people and hopefully shining a little light in the process

I know I‘ll be looking for new things to do in the near future, but for now, there will be a little time to enjoy being Husband and Dad –  then we’ll see what happens next.

Please receive this as a heartfelt *thank you* for being part of the journey.

I pray you know hope, grace and peace and we can keep in touch if that’s something that you’re up for.

“I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.”

All the very best for the future. Life is short, live it well. There’s a lot to look forward to…

Andy Weir

* 5960 working days, give or take a few

** I’ll be available for new work from the middle of August, in case you’d like to know. I don’t know what that will look like but get in touch if you want to chat about that!

Live it well

As I unravel 23 years worth of my employer being integrated into daily life, my thoughts tend towards either: “keep busy and don’t think about it” or “what are you living for?”. No surprise really.

Definitely more time spent in the first category than the second.

When I turned 40, the song “Live it well” by Switchfoot was on repeat in my head. So much so that I sang it at the quiz night we organised for my birthday!

Part of the processing of these strange times has been to return to these words and to sing them again. There’s something wonderful about singing that connects me to the words, their meaning and living in the good of them. That’s one of the ways I think what you listen to really does matter!

For what it’s worth, I share my quick recording of the song with you below. Thanks to Jon and Tim for writing great tunes that have punctuated many stages of my life so far.

When writing about the song, Jon wrote:

“life’s too short to be inauthentic. let’s put down the masks. let’s stop pretending like everything is ok. confess your questions, your doubts, your weakness, your fears. confess your inadequacies. bring your darkness into the light.” 

Our lives are fragile and short. Let’s live them well – by which I don’t mean with us at the centre and accumulating wealth, experience or power. Nope. Let’s give them away for a greater glory.

Who’s with me?

 

Finishing well

A-typical

Another Monday with lots to do, up and at ‘em, everyone fed and the kids off to school. Get the computer on, look at the list of tasks for today you wrote on Friday.

Another non-stop running of minutes into hours – how is it 11:00 already? I need to get some more water to drink. And maybe a snack.

Argh – it’s 13:15 and too late to get out for a cycle at lunchtime before meetings kick in again.

And before you know it, it’s 15:10 and the kids return from school. Better think about that list for tomorrow and what you can close off before the attention turns to homework and dinner.

This is the current variation of life at home.

Looks like a lot of winging and bad planning when I write it down.

Is today just another vanishing act of life and breath?

I’ll be honest and say it’s been really frustrating at times – this rinse and repeat life that I’ve slipped in to. Perhaps you have too.

And all the more frustrating right now because I know in two weeks time I won’t be doing this anymore. The record will change and a new rhythm will be found.

Two weeks to go.

A few people have said “You’re leaving – it doesn’t matter?”. But that’s not true, is it? Each day does matter.

The tasks I’m doing – and getting a little frustrated by – could be done by someone else. But they’ve been given to me. And they will make an impact on the lives of those who remain in the team I leave behind.

And that’s the thing.

Why I am doing these things – caring about them – it’s because I’m doing it for them.  Because it’s really important to finish well.

In cycling parlance, they talk about going “all the way to the line”. You don’t knock off your effort just because you can see the finishing line. You keep going – give it all.

Last week, I listened to “One Wild Life” for the first time in a few years. And this line has been rattling around my head ever since. “these are the days you’ve been given, what will you do with each of them?”

A Jewish Rabbi said “greater love has no-one than this; that they lay their life down for their friends”. He turned out to be on a mission to do just that; and not just for those around Him, but for all who would receive Him.

I have two weeks left at work, the next two weeks matter as much as the previous 1194. I’m no messiah, and the desire to finish well is not about status or glory – it’s about leaving it all out there. Letting the seed fall into the ground and letting it go.

These are the days you’ve been given – what, or who, are you giving them to?

Grace and peace,

Andy

Thanks, Andy

Two months ago, I heard I would likely no longer have a job as my employer reshaped the business. I wrote a few words about it on LinkedIn and was blown away by the kindness of everyone who took time to say so many kind things.

A sincere and heartfelt thank you for all your words on my post.

I am truly blessed and encouraged. 

How do you respond?

Pretty much my immediate thought after the meeting on that Thursday was to pick up my guitar and sing. 

To sing songs of gratitude and of timeless truth. To lift my voice and my heart and acknowledge that I am a created being, and my identity is not found in what I say, do or think. It’s found in Christ alone. 

Then on Friday; well I got back on the work wagon and started to plan, think about ways ahead, people to connect with, areas I wanted to understand more – questions I would like to find answers to. I got into action planning and mind-mapping. 

All natural and at times helpful things. 

Back on the same train?

But here’s the thing – that’s as much about getting back on the train and doing what I’ve always done. And there’s nothing wrong with that, right?

But maybe there is. 

We all hear the cry to “get back to normal” in the post-COVID future. But what if the “normal” we had before is actually not the right road. 

What if we were waaaaay off track and there’s a “reset” where we return to our creator? (We can chat about that if you think we’re random atoms colliding in nothingness).

With millions living in poverty, hundreds of thousands in fear of their safety, maybe our previous understanding of normal needs challenged.

So it is with my consideration of future. What if I’m looking to replace my current employment with something from the same pattern – and maybe that is not the right road. 

I will heed the encouragement to be still. To wait. To consider what lies ahead – what *should* lie ahead is not a return to “normal”. 

Yes, I’ll respond to messages and yes I’ll connect with people and businesses to find out what is out there. 

Thanks Andy

In the intervening period between writing that first post and today, it’s not clear I’ll be leaving my current role in August – a week after I mark 23 years of service. In a few weeks, I’ll send my last email from my work email account and close off, as I often to with “Thanks, Andy” at the end. Because I have a lot to be thankful for.

I think after all that time, experience, joy, angst and, well, life,  I also make time to wait. 

As a man wrote in a book once;

Peace has come

Doing something

Reflection can help focus the mind. In April this year, it was four years since my Grandad passed away. As you’d expect, it was a period of time I remember well.

And made all the more poignant when I crossed the finish line of my first major sports-related fundraising activity two days after his funeral. The emotional release in that moment was something I still feel.

We raised a load cash for Marie Curie and I got to ride my bike around Perthshire for 81 miles.

Then almost 18 months later I did smashed my fundraising target when running a half-marathon. Following that up a month later with 100 mike bike ride.

Another thousand thank you to everyone who gave (money, yes – but also time and encouragement) for each of those adventures. Especially my family who have endured absence and weariness.

Why not?

It’s been over two years since I tackled anything like that. These last two years have been, well, both great and rough at times.

Have I been searching for purpose outside of “testing myself”? Possibly.

Have been trying to “lay down” an addiction to riding my bike or running? Maybe.

Or, have I been giving energy to other things – like being present at home?

Let’s not get into that right now – safe to say that I have wrestled with this for too  long and the time has come for action.

This year, however, I’ve put three bikes up for sale. Two are sold. Gone. And one remains. 

The last one is my original road bike from that first event in 2014 (it’s had almost all non-frame parts changed since then!). You can find out more about it here ;-).

What’s going on?

Back to the reason for this post.

 

I’ve signed up for a new challenge. And it’s in ten weeks time on 22 September. The challenge is to cycle across Scotland in a day. Seems reasonable – at it’s shortest point it’s not that bad.

Except the given route is 245 miles (394km). There’s over 12,000ft of climbing (3,700m). And there’s 80 people taking part – we’re aiming to complete it in under 16 hours.

Which is just a little bonkers.

And the point? Well there’s the challenge of doing the effort. Then there’s the opportunity to raise some money for the STV Children’s Charity and Place2be. And for me there’s the joy and privilege of riding my bike and sharing the journey with 80 people.

And those three letters matter. J-O-Y.

No matter what happens, I want to be salt and light with the energy I have. I’m believing this challenge is one way to do that. To perhaps bring a little focus that can be re-applied in other areas. And a little joy in pushing beyond what “I” can do.

That also explains why I’ve put my road bike up for sale. I need something that’s going to be a little more suitable for such an epic day (but not something with a motor, thanks Dad).

What does it mean?

I’ve got a minimum fundraising target for the challenge of £240. But I’d like to double that. Actually, I’d prefer to quadruple that, but let’s see what happens!

Fancy getting involved?

Donate here: https://aroundtheworldinaday.everydayhero.com/uk/theWeir

And feel free to share!

I’m pretty sure I need a new bike to make the ride easier (ie less painful) so if you know anyone who’d be keen on my current road bike then please share the advert with them.

Fellow riders; any training assistance would be appreciated. I’ve been upping my game over the last few weeks, but as I start to tick over into the 100mile training ride, some company would be awesome. If we can arrange to make something happen the please let me know.

Lastly; if you’re one who prays, then please do – for wisdom, safety and endurance!

Character

Is character important in a story? Or is the plot more important? Does it only matter what happens to the characters, or what they do – or does it matter who they are and what’s happened to them before matter?

I’ve been reading more about story – in particular screenwriting. There’s a part of me would like to try it sometime, but for now it’s a helpful way to consider more about how stories work – and why they matter.

About balancing?

In “Story” Robert McKee makes the point that neither are more important than they other because without each other they don’t function.

Which I think is fair enough. Do you?

This caught my attention when reading yesterday:

True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure - the greater the pressure, the truer the choice [is] to the character’s essential nature - Robert McKee, Story

“True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure – the greater the pressure, the truer the choice [is] to the character’s essential nature”

Doing what needs to be done

 

A storyteller works hard to create a character, building their personality and helping the audience create empathy, sympathy or a connection of some sort. They have the great challenge of making sure we know only the things about them to know what they’re like so that we are invited into the story.

So when telling a story, character matters as much as plot.

Developing their identity doesn’t come at the cost of your story bringing to life their current transformation. Nope it’s part of the mix in why the story matters. The events are crucial to bring about change – and we need to know the context of the change that’s taking place, right?

In our story

Our character develops through time – often unseen to others. And at times unseen by us. And there’s always the risk that without some intentional development, our character might not turn out the way we hope. Or we don’t realise it can be any different.

I sometimes think there’s a tension between “it’s just who I am” and “I can be anything I want to be”.

My story continues

As I’ve been a little quiet on the internet recently, for a number of reasons, I’ve been challenging why I started this work in the first place – what are my motives.

You see, I firmly believe that a person’s character matters. Who they are is as important as what they do (because in my mind they are completely linked). I get a bit pert

So as there’s been some additional pressure in these recent days, there’s also been a little work on my character. Not hours of navel gazing, just an awareness of what’s happening, and the reasons why – and trying some steps to avoid it.

I guess part of that is understanding where I am, who I’m called to be and what the next step is to get there – all starts with a little more being and less always doing. And hopefully for my children – a little more grace and less grump.

Does character matter?

A lot of people say “what happens behind closed doors doesn’t impact their work-life”. If anything the events of the last few months – #metoo and other things mean exactly the opposite. Who you are is inextricably linked to what you do.

What do you think? How do you build your character?

Working with clients – a speech

Once upon a time…

…there was the joy of celebration – mingled with the dread of expectation.

Your brother shares the great news that he’s getting married. And even better; would like you to be his best man. What an honour.

Then it hits you: you’ll need to give a speech.

You don’t *do* public speaking. You immediately start to tighten up; cold sweat on your forehead and the palms of your hands. In your mind, you can already see it going horribly wrong.

And that’s not all. You love your brother and want to do a great job. And you don’t want to let him – or the rest of your family – down.

TheFear takes hold.

You are not alone

Let me introduce you to Alan Campbell. Alan was in exactly the position I’ve just described. Two months later, Alan gave the speech of his life at his brother’s wedding – and the family and friends gathered for the occasion loved it.

Alan Campbell delivering his speech

Here’s how Alan did it:

Starting your speech

We’d exchanged emails over a few days and after an initial chat over the phone, arranged to have a first session. There we spoke about his brother and future sister-in-law. We talked about the kind of speech he wanted to give – and why. And we looked at ways to structure it while considering some ideas for how to make it a speech that would be memorable for the right reasons.

The ebb and flow of the middle

Alan then started thinking about what he wanted to say, and how he might say it. He wrote a first draft, which we tweaked a few times over email until Alan was happy with the content, the humour and the length.

We then started to think about how it would be delivered. We had another session focussed on delivery, giving practical ways that Alan could use to be confident on the day, and make the most of the words and ideas he’d had and we’d developed together.

There was some moments of uncertainty in there, as well as making sure the speech would be Alan’s and not him pretending to be someone else. That striving for authenticity was not difficult – just important to do as we kept a clear focus on the outcomes Alan wanted to achieve.

Finish well

Then it was over to Alan to rehearse. And rehearse. And rehearse. We kept in touch over this time, until it was finally to deliver the speech.

And he smashed it.

Family feedback was great, Alan was both delighted and relieved that it went as much to plan as it could. And crucially, he did his brother and now-sister-in-law proud.

Your turn next?

It was a real privilege to work with Alan and help him overcome his fears with simple, practical tools and a well-worked speech.

I’d be delighted to help you prepare for an important event – or build your skills for communication at work or with potential clients.

Get in touch and let me know how I can help.

Walking Over the Water

That’s the title of a song sung by Mat Kearney on the album Mercyland: Hymns For the Rest of Us (Spotify).

The other day I was driving to church with the kids and this song came on. The weeWeir, having never heard it before, asked what it was about. I was pleased she asked as I’ve always wanted her to think about the words she hears and what they might mean.

Easy to say?

However, explaining this song to my daughter was never going to be easy. But I did – through the tears.  You see, every time I really listen to this song, I am struck by the stages of the story. Often it will stop be in my tracks and I’m forced to think about the characters being sung about. The way their story is told. The questions asked and truths that are wrestled with.

It’s hardly an original thought to suggest that music is a powerful medium for communicating ideas. And when you tell stories set to music you can get an even deeper connection with the audience (sometimes stories told *through* music don’t always need words too).

Of course they do

And stories do that. Stories feed the imagination and help the audience see themselves part of it – good stories help people see how they can be the hero of their own story.

So how does that work when there’s difficult things to be talked about?

That there is a real question. Some songwriters are masters at challenging their listeners with gentleness and grace. Others are a little more blunt.

We will all have songs – or music – that tell us a story we love. But do we have songs that challenge us to stay sharp, to consider our motives – to hold things rightly.

What’s yours? What do you learn from them?

Sing (or say it) like you mean it

It’s really powerful when you guide your audience through your talk (or communication) and help them see why your idea is worth listening to.  I believe everyone who speaks (or sings) to an audience needs to be there to serve them first. From that posture of helping them you build a stronger connection and create the possibility of inspiring them to action.

Will I sing when delivering my next talk? Only if it will create the right impact on the audience… come along and find out.

Even if I don’t sing, I have to believe what I’m saying – as mentioned last week, it’s got to be about authenticity. What can you do to make your next talk the the more authentic?

Here’s the song:

PS – for a bit more of the story behind the song (written with Phil Madiera, who produced the album), I recommend this blog by Phil.

Adapting

Reading

Adrian Plass wrote briefly about his two rules of public speaking. I read them last night in the book “Seriously Funny” and loved their simplicity, here they are:

1) Never adapt

Simply: be yourself. Be who you are confident, well, being.

2) Always adapt

Be willing and ready to adjust what *you* want to say to meet the needs of the audience and where you are in that moment.

Contradiction

Perhaps more juxtaposition. That we deny the need to show ourselves off, and be willing to adapt – and serve – the audience.

I love how gloriously simple those two ideas are.

Doing 1 means you can focus more on 2 (and actually knowing what you’re talking about). If you’re not trying to pretend to be one of your heroes of presenting then you’re more likely to relax. As we’re in the moment, we’re more able to deliver a great talk.

Last year, on a company intranet, I asked people what was memorable about the last talk they heard. 90% of people who replied said it was the authenticity of the speaker that did it for them. A great place to start then – be yourself. Don’t wear a mask!

And the respect you show your audience – in your preparation of content, practicing your delivery and the permission you give yourself to adjust on-the-fly – all helps make your talk more compelling.

One more?

While there’s a few other thoughts I have, there one that I want to add to this couplet right now is “why”. When you have a positive idea of “why” you want to deliver a great talk and why your audience should care about the content then you’ll be focussed on the outcomes that work for both of you.

Be you so that authenticity is the – adapt how you tell your story to your audience, with your “why” as a way to navigate the flexibility. Easy…. ;->

What do you think of Adrian Plass’ two rules? What would be your “one more”?

Let’s explore

I’ll explore these ideas and loads more at my next workshop. 21 February will be a resource-packed day of looking at how stories work, why they matter and how you can tell them really well.

Find out more

Your story matters – enjoy it

In 2017, I realised there was something missing.

My wife and children were well. We had a roof over our head and food in the cupboard. I had good friends around me. But I’d forgotten what it meant to enjoy work. I was desperately sad about that.
For the previous ten years, I’d been working in a number of roles in a Financial Services business – across both online and offline communications. I’d had a fair amount of variety and learned a ton of good things. And a bunch of stuff to try and avoid.
Lots to be grateful for, but for some reason there was a diminishing impact on the people around me. I’d become unfamiliar to myself. I was heading towards a tunnel that said “I don’t care”.
The business didn’t need that. I didn’t want to live like that. It’s nothing new to reflect that we spend a lot of time working, so we should enjoy it!

So what did I care about?

People.

Plain and simple. Helping people develop, learn and grow was what mattered. I enjoy that. The question was; “what did I have that I could help people develop in?”.

Communication*.

Specifically in helping people create and deliver great presentations. Or talks. Or speeches.
Then I got to thinking that good communication is more than public speaking (as much as I’d love to make that particular thing way better for everyone). It’s about being clear about your message, understanding your audience and being able to articulate it so they can hear you.
Which is the same for marketing a business. So I’m up for helping people with that too.

It’s all about your story.

Great ideas – compelling stories – can inspire people to join a movement, make history, take ownership of their future. Or maybe just take the first step towards recovery.
The key elements of story are crucial to bringing your ideas to your audience so they can take action. And then their’s the delivery – getting your self ready is crucial too. I want to help you enjoy it!

How can I help?

Maybe you’ve got a really important talk coming up and you’re sweating it. Or your team needs to up their game to reach more customers with your great services. Or your family member is petrified about a speech they need to give.
I can work with you at one of my workshops, or create a bespoke event for your business. We can work 1:1 on a specific event you’re preparing for. Maybe you need some help to hone your marketing messages and plan.

Get in touch

I’d love to have a chat about what you need and see if I can help.
*Disclaimer: There’s a massive irony here. I can get so caught up in trying to work it all out and not get stuff wrong that communication in my personal life can be pretty crappy. So I’m working on that. And learning a lot from it too.