Retrenchment or Rebirth?

Rebirth

Even after the most destructive fire – life finds a way and transforms the landscape.

On the face of it – being retrenched sounds like a disaster.

But why?

We get accustomed to a way of being. We become settled in our comfort zones. We settle for ‘this is the best we can do’.

We also prefer to listen to all the talk from everyone about ‘how tough it is out there’ and take on everyone else’s fears. And THAT is where we make our biggest mistake.

We listen to other people’s fears.

True – I don’t have kids to worry about and I’m sure that would have an impact on my outlook, but I believe retrenchments are a fantastic opportunity to truly take stock of what we want.

I’m being retrenched. Fact; but now more than ever the phrase ‘we get what we focus on’ is important.

I have a choice: focus on how difficult things could be or choose to believe in the abundance of the universe and do what I need to and allow opportunities to flow.

It’s incredible how people come into your life to help you. I’m already experiencing this. I also love how an idea will suddenly appear in my head. The incredible start to what’s step one in creating a better life.

Thoughts create words

Words create actions

Actions create habits

Habits create character

Character creates destiny

Positivity is my filter I choose to look at everything that happens to me. If your mind is not a fertile breeding ground for positive thoughts to appear then how can you create a positive life?

I’ve been through worse, eight years ago the company I worked for was liquidated. I had no job, limited experience and no vision to create a direction for my life. The world’s economy was in free-fall and my friends in the recruitment industry told me they had no prospects for me. Thankfully, I had tremendous support from my folks to help me through that difficult time.

Jump back three more years and having no idea about who Distell actually were, when recruitment companies asked ‘who are the top 5 companies you’d like to work for’ I listed them every time. Even with a conscious wonder of how I could add value to them.

Enter that loss of my job and I was propelled into a career that enabled me to do just that in a specialised field to not just Distell – but Coca Cola as well.

We can’t see into the future and we have no idea who we’ll meet and what opportunities will present themselves to us.

And therein lies the lesson from that experience: we don’t have to know all the answers; we just have to be open to and believe they will, in fact, happen.

My last day is incredibly on my mother’s birthday – the woman who gave me life.

When I look back to that day in years to come I will see that this was my rebirth.

 

I see my life  like Lego.

Only we don’t have the instructions.

Every experience, work related or otherwise, is another building block added to help create my masterpiece. Each on its own apparently meaningless but truthfully a beautiful opportunity that releases my ability to think creatively on how they fit together; and release the potential to shape my own future.

And together – builds my own unique fun design to play with every day.

I can’t wait for my next block to play with.

 

Confessions of a Writer

Stephen king quote

Every time I post a new article, it’s like asking a woman out on a date.

The groundhog experience of writing that never has the same response. It’s an interesting world to live in: being evaluated and judged on your thoughts and views on topics.

I was recently at the Franschhoek Literary Festival – as a writer, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing other writers speak. Some of the speakers were 30 book veterans; others weekly columnists. I imagined myself up on stage talking about my books; my muses; my processes I have for writing and explaining how it is I became a writer.

And on a more introspective level:

Become honest with myself that I am one.

writer

I read a fascinating article in the Guardian on why we love books and why festivals like the one I just attended are regularly sold out.

“The answer lies in the power of stories.

Stories have been around since time began; they tell us what it is to be human, give us context for the past and insight towards the future. A narrator’s voice replaces stressed, internal monologue and takes us out of our life and into the world of the story. Paradoxically, we think we are escaping ourselves but the best stories take us back deeper into our interior worlds.”

This is a brilliant description of what a reader might experience at the hands of a writer. But what about the latter? This writer would like to let you in on a few of his secrets.

  1. Where it began

I never had any aspirations of being a writer. In fact, I only remember one of my English pieces in creative writing getting an A (ironically it was about being in Cape Town – my new found home).

My writing developed because I was a terrible communicator. Talking about my problems used to make me feel as though I was in a bad dream, where I wanted to speak but had no vocal cords. I’m still not entirely sure whether it was related to all my insecurities or if it was because I didn’t want to burden anyone else with my problems. I felt that I just needed to sort them out myself. Thankfully I’ve worked through that (mostly).

I still have the first ‘Book of Andrew’ – my tributes to, and way of recording, the beauty in my life:

  • Drawings
  • Statements (I suppose what today would be memes)
  • My observations
  • Poems
  • Songs
  • My expression of happiness

It was a way for me to take the constant chatter in my head and turn a blank page into something meaningful. For me, it was far easier than expressing myself in person – especially when I was having, what mom eloquently named, “growing days”.

It was almost as if writing gave me the opportunity to become the ‘communicator’ on paper that I wished I could be in real life.

Writing was, and is, a way I could express myself completely.

  1. My nudge to think of writing more seriously

It’s amazing how the universe works. After swearing I would never move to the UK, low and behold, I ended up there towards the end of the 2003 summer.

These were the days before communication channels like Skype, Whatsapp, Facebook et al. It was either email or phone cards – and emails were the cheaper option for weekly correspondence.

It started innocently. I’m blessed with a family that is not just involved, but invested in my life; and so I’d write an email once a week about my adventures living in London Town. With family back in Johannesburg and some over in Canada, I enjoyed sitting down to collate my experiences of the past week to share with them. And as an extra bonus, I got to relive all of it a second time!

My mom and aunt started writing back to me expressing their admiration for my writing; and even though they are avid readers, I brushed it off as family bias. (Truth be told, I still have to catch myself in awe that people actually read what I write).

Being in London provided me with the unique opportunity to get outside of my comfort zone every day and forced me to think about what was going on in my life and what I was experiencing. I started an unofficial diary but until a few months later, hadn’t dabbled in writing about anything other than my own experiences.

  1. Short stories before my first novel

I met a woman and started writing short stories over email. It never progressed more than that though – maybe because I didn’t believe I could write a full story or that it would be any good. It was almost as if I had ADHD and, after more than a handful of pages, I’d become bored and prefer to start a new story.

Enter someone else to give me a push towards writing a full novel. The deal: she’d give me the title and I’d write her a story; sending her pages once I’d completed them (probably between seven to fifteen at a time). This was the first time I was pushing myself to develop a story and characters; but writing was slow for the first eight months.  And then the universe intervened once again.

The company I was working for at the time was liquidated. I was out of work for four months. There’s only so many new job postings you can look at and apply for in a day. Thankfully I had my writing to keep me occupied – else I’d have gone nuts.

Almost a year to the day I started writing my first novel, I finished it. It is and will always no doubt remain one of my favourite experiences of all time.

What has writing taught me?

The article I mentioned above talks about readers wanting to ‘escape themselves’ only to go deeper within themselves. I think writers have to go even deeper. The evidence is in the blank pages painted with our tears, crinkled with our frustrations and illuminated with our love. Our stories take you on a journey. I consider that a gift and a privilege.

It is why I endeavour to always leave my readers (or as I like to call you – my conscience) with positives. Not JUST positives – tangible concepts that are implementable right now.

And on that note, I’d like to share with you what my writing journey has taught me to date:

  1. Don’t dismiss positive praise. Look at the source. My family had nothing to gain from embellishing their praise. Nor did they have a history of telling me what I wanted to hear. So always consider the source and patterns of where the praise is coming from.
  2. Criticism (good or bad) says more about the other person than you or your writing. I did a video on my Facebook page around ‘being wrong’ and I believe it’s a concept we should really reconsider. All our experiences and viewpoints differ. Not better or worse. Just different. I’ve become more open to creating dialogue rather than simply trying to get across my point of view. Because even though I may have something to share, I’m often the one that ends up learning something new. 99% of people have enjoyed my book but I’ve also had it compared by one person to a Mills and Boon novel. Ouch. But that was their experience and therein lies the beauty of stories – one can be written with an intention, and yet interpreted in so many other ways.
  3. Be yourself. If I try to write what I think people will like, how would I decipher what that is exactly? There are 7 billion people on this planet! People respond to authenticity. I believe it’s something we all aspire to be all the time. Authentic in the absence of judgement. I’m nervous every time I post something new, but what keeps me going is the fact that I’m being true to myself; how I want to live my life. BUT – I know I don’t know everything and I need to be open to comments on my writing which highlight gaps in my thinking or illuminate something to which I’ve never been exposed to before. Again – I never stop learning.
  4. Sometimes it’s easy; sometimes you wonder ‘What the f@#k’. Those four months at home writing day after day gave me a window into what it would be like to write full time. Some days it flows as if you’re plugged into a machine and downloading information with fibre-optic speed; other days it’s a struggle to write one sentence. Isn’t that a great metaphor for life? Some days we feel in the flow; others we feel whatever we do is like wading through mud. Don’t get disheartened – the struggle days are outnumbered by the good ones; and every day you feel is a battle will be followed by one where everything works out.
  5. Value time. If you love something – set aside time to do it as often as possible. I’d even say every day – even if it’s simply ten minutes. I recently read this quote on Tim Ferris’s blog: “You can do so much in 10 minutes’ time. Ten minutes, once gone, are gone for good. Divide your life into 10-minute units and sacrifice as few of them as possible in meaningless activity.” – Ingvar Kamprad, Founder of the furniture brand IKEA
  6. Be bold – it’s worth it. We build things up in our minds and human nature tends to lean us towards focusing on the negatives. ‘Who will read it?’; ‘He won’t want to talk to me’; ‘The world will swallow me whole if I do x’. The rewards I’ve gotten from writing (nothing monetary) have been some of the most uplifting moments of my life. Had I not listened to my family, this would never have been written; you’d be looking at a blank page. Just give whatever it is you’ve been afraid to try a go. I promise you – it’s absolutely exhilarating.
  7. Just Start. Sometimes the hardest part is opening the laptop or grabbing a pen. I can come up with uncountable reasons why now isn’t a good time to write. Most of the time, though, these blogs included, just writing the first few words is the crack in the door I need to open it wide.

How can Adversity lead to Opportunity?

Adversity

Adversity is opportunity dressed in disguise.

It sometimes feels like it follows us around though, doesn’t it?

People who overcome adversity, particularly in a larger sense, are often like inspirational or motivational speakers. Their stories are inspiring but we fail to connect with their accomplishments to incorporate into our daily lives.

I hope we can change that today.

This past Sunday I was due to ride my 8th Cape Town Cycle Tour (formally known as the Argus – I still call it that it’s so much easier) and my 4th year raising money and awareness for *The Sunflower Fund; an organisation formed out of tragedy that now helps so many.

Alas due to extreme wind the race was called off.

The previous day; however,  a fire had ripped through Hout Bay destroying countless homes leaving thousands of people with nothing but the clothes on their back. With the race being called off, food and water from the race’s unused hospitality section was donated to the victims; as was the prize money. That alone meant my heart was happier Monday morning than if I’d raced and gotten medal #8. Example number one.

The Sunflower Fund

Tina Botha lost her son, Chris Collett to Leukaemia at the age of 17 – a month shy of his 18th birthday. Read their story here

I personally can’t imagine too much worse than this. Death is never easy but to lose your child? How incredible then that she took their experience to generate this organisation to tirelessly work to increase the database of donors for people with Leukaemia.

This is one of the reasons I support them the way I do (and became a donor). The strength it took to overcome heartache has now generated something special that helps saves lives.

She wasn’t defined by what happened to her – she’s defined by how she reacted though.

But how does that help you with your daily adversity you face?

The Gray’s story

Brian took some time to chat to me about when their daughter was diagnosed with Leukaemia seven years ago – she was only three.

When they got a phone call like this they suddenly realised how limited their knowledge on the subject was; it just sounded like death.

Living in Pinelands turned out to be a blessing as treatment took place at the Red Cross hospital just five minutes away. The news meant both Brian and Sharon’s thoughts were running away with them. Thankfully the doctor and staff at hand were outstanding.

It was carefully explained that firstly, until the doc says panic there was no reason to. He meticulously went through the protocol of what would happen during the typical two and a half year process for girls this age; what each drug was and what it would do to her system (good and bad). They were also given great advice on how to keep her isolated when her immune system would be at its lowest.

Even in these darkest times they were blessed with being able to do everything in the best possible way to support her recovery.

“If you ask me a question, I will answer it honestly” he warned. “I won’t just tell you things you may not want to hear – like what is the survival rate”

They would still ask him that question.

Somehow just having a plan in place helped Brian in particular, and they had a purpose and short term goals to work towards. All welcome distractions from the worst outcome a parent can imagine.

It may have been over five years ago, but I could feel the emotion of what they went through. Hearing how Brian and Sharon fought through this time and the strain it put on each of them and in their lives, showed that even with a positive outlook it doesn’t change the fact that we are negatively affected by such experiences; physically and emotionally.

Adversity doesn’t keep time and they would sometimes have to rush their daughter to the hospital at 2am when her temperature soared; only to get home at 5am get changed and head to work.

Initially they thought that the staff were uncompromising – but soon realised they were committed to the kids first and foremost; not worrying about the parents feelings. As the treatment progressed they would see ‘new’ parents expressing the same frustrations and finally watch their penny drop that the ‘abruptness’ was because their job was to save these kids – not pander to what the parents were experiencing. The Gray’s would later be grateful for this.

Thankfully, little Ms Gray responded well to treatment and is now a happy ten year old with an added dimension to her very being. She’s a fighter who soldiered through her treatments; what at the time ended up being half of her life. I look forward to seeing how she uses that strength in the rest of her life.

Here’s the twist.

Having registered as potential donors for their daughter (they only start doing searches and comparisons if response to treatment doesn’t go well), Brian was contacted six months later to say he was a match.

Just try imagining this. You are watching your own daughter go through treatment – and you hear you can help someone who didn’t respond to it.

Adversity had inadvertently enabled him to save another human being.

He underwent two more tests to ensure he was a perfect match. Almost a year after his daughter had been diagnosed; he would become a lifeline.

For a week he got two injections a day to stimulate his body into making additional stem cells and pushing them into his blood stream. The day finally arrives and he sits quietly for seven hours as they draw his blood, and use a centrifuge machine to spin the blood and collect the stem cells.

There is no pain

Read that as everyone has no reason not to sign up to the registry and potentially save someone’s life.

In South Africa we have 73 500 people registered (about 0.14% of the population) versus a country like Germany, where being a donor is entrenched in their culture, has 9 million people registered (11% of the population)

To this day his recipient is doing well and now that the five year mandatory waiting period is up; Brian and his donor recipient can meet up. He hopes to meet the person and see them healthy and strong.

The family experienced tremendous hardships through this but learnt some valuable lessons.

  1. Time offers wonderful perspective. And these perspectives will always be revealed to you.
  2. Seek help. Brian openly expresses to me how he tried to be too strong for too long and eventually broke down. Speaking to a professional he was able to process this ordeal and now has a healthy respect for seeking help and often guides people today to seek the same. There is no stigma or shame in doing so.

Adversity means different things to different people.

It can change the course of our lives or just the course of our day. What stands out is no matter what it is – it’s the same mind-set we all need to push through to change it into an opportunity. Even if we don’t know what that opportunity could possibly be. We simply have to have faith that it’s there.

I believe part of getting through adversity is a belief that it’s more than just about us. Believing that we’re all here to help one another – in whatever way – cultivates a mind-set to push through darkness towards light. Look how the Grays overcame everything to help their daughter.

Once we overcome adversity we come out the other side a changed human being and that benefits everyone – not just ourselves. Case in point: Tina & all the Grays.

Some things to think about before adversity strikes:

  1. It takes time. Be kind to yourself and take the time you need to process what happens.
  2. Let go of attachment. Holding on to what we want versus what is reality will drive you mad.
  3. Only deal with what’s in front of you now. Your doctor may have found a lump but until you get the test results back it could just be benign.
  4. Don’t be a pawn, be a player. Decide whether you going to let it stop you, or you going to move forward the way you choose to. Players make the move.
  5. Feel your inner strength. We don’t give ourselves enough credit. Start feeling your inner strength and stop believing others ‘just happen to have it’ more than you do. Just ask Tina and Brian and never be afraid to ask for help. Asking for help is one of the true signs of strength.
  6. Learn from others. We are not meant to do everything alone. Ask for help, get advice, and surround yourself with people who contribute to a positive mind-set rather than constantly berate you.

These can take time to build up so I found a great table with a way to frame questions you’d usually ask yourself to be more positive:

AdversityTable

Courtesy www.rebootauthentic.com

I hope you can find a daily practice that allows you to take the shit you’ve been given and use it as fertilizer to grow something new; something beautiful.

Maybe even a sunflower.

 

*If you’d like to register as a donor visit them at www.sunflowerfund.org.za  and if you’d like to contribute to their cause and help people get type tested – a cost of R2000 per person; their details are as follows:

The Sunflower Fund

 ABSA

 Account No: 405 183 4719

 Branch Code: 632005

 Hope begins with you

Dry Jan’s over – now what?

dry-jan

This year there seemed to be far more people partaking in ‘Dry January’, i.e. taking a month off from alcohol.

Everyone has their own reasons for participating, but most notable is no doubt the fact that December really is the “silly season” and come January many decide to go on a ‘detox’; a word that’s never resonated with me. I see it more as giving your body a break from having to do its usual function of removing toxins from your body.

Immediate positives.

I’ve committed to a booze free January since I started doing the Cape Town Cycle tour eight years ago (formally known as the Argus). It’s the world’s largest timed cycling event that covers 110km around the Cape peninsula and usually attracts around thirty five thousand entrants, many from all over the world.

While the health benefits of abstaining from alcohol and certainly regaining my fitness levels quicker might sound like my main motive, training three times a week and cycling around 200km collectively means you spend a lot of time on the bike. When you spend so many hours on that little seat, the last thing you need is your body to be firing on anything other than 100%

This year I’ve decided to try a slightly different approach. Faced with three important birthdays in January alone, including a 40th and a 30th, these special times (I’m calling them lighthouses!) meant I’d break my abstinence.

This got me thinking; why not just keep going in February and March up until race day? I already have other weekends away and bachelor parties that will act as these ‘lighthouses’ to break up the monotony of no alcohol.

I should point out right now that my Achilles’ heel is wine.

I love it.

A cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc after work watching the sunset in Cape Town is heaven. I really enjoy the taste – it’s got nothing to do with the effect of the alcohol. Truth be told I’m more worried about the sugar content of wine than its alcohol effects – 1g of sugar per 100 ml including 83 meaningless calories. This has contributed to my anti-oxidant scores being so low in the past, as well as poor diet and stress, when I was first scanned on the biophotonic scanner* – it was at a dismal 19 %. This machine measures your score non-invasively and takes a mere 30 seconds. Essentially it’s the world’s best lifestyle lie detector. Thankfully my supplements, LifePak Nano, are world class so my score has improved (doubled without changing any other variables) but alcohol definitely played a part in damaging my antioxidants. The proof will be in my future score.

Finding Balance.

Here’s an interesting question to ask yourself: does taking a holiday from booze for one month make such a difference if you keep drinking the other eleven?

And herein lies my biggest challenge. Balance. Every year I start so well only for April / May to roll around and then the vino begins to flow like the fresh water in Iceland. Maybe it’s the beginning of depression at the onset of winter darkness?

I’ve already made up my mind that when my wife is pregnant I’ll stop drinking with her during her pregnancy that’s nine months. That decision, together with the inspiration of my friend who is not waiting for a baby to dictate stopping for nine months and doing it for herself now, means I’m going to extend my stint this year.

End of August 2017. Sixty six days before I turn 38.

In certain respects I think ‘going cold turkey’ is sometimes where the problem comes in with my balance issue. It never cultivates the right lifestyle. This is where I think these ‘lighthouses’ come in. I think “diets”, “90 day fitness challenges” and “detoxing” are short term strategies and can have really negative connotations for a lot of people and therefore can produce counterproductive results. I think we are treating the symptoms not the causes – which is why most of us default after our ‘challenge’ is over.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking around the habit of drinking – and it is a habit – specifically at night time. And I’ve realised a couple of important aspects:

1. Alcohol is the best friend to an idle hand. When I’m training I really don’t feel like a drink at night, neither with nor after dinner. It’s when my hectic cycling training is over and I have more time in the evenings at home that drinking wine becomes easier.

2. If it’s not fun it’s not sustainable. Whether exercising or drinking you need to find the lifestyle that’s fun in both areas. It can’t feel like you’re punishing yourself.

3. Eating out is a real treat – for your pocket. You more than halve your bill eating out if you leave out the alcohol. That means you have other options. You can eat out more; enjoy more expensive dishes; or, as I’m doing, put that money away for overseas trips instead.

4. You honestly just feel better. Already within the first week you feel the difference physically of not drinking. Will be interesting to see the prolonged effect of drinking far less.

5. You think more. Just like we probably shouldn’t be giving kids phones or iPads for them to learn to be creative and find ways to work through boredom, so too should adults put the alcohol down when they are idle and being lazy. Learn to sit with your thoughts and emotions – you just never know what you may find out.

6 Lifestyle is an infinite mind-set. Diets, detoxes and X –day fitness challenges are all finite terms. Being fit and healthy is an infinite process. No guess as to which strategy matches being fit and healthy.

 

I really enjoyed this article last year showing the visible differences people shared of what they looked like drinking versus no drinking – check it out here: Before and After Sobriety pictures

What is YOUR reason?

Everything in life is about balance. I’m not saying we should all quit alcohol, but finding a healthier way for alcohol to be a part of our lives is probably the smart option. For me it’s about feeling good and this is what’s key. Everyone is different and we all have varying standards of what being healthy and feeling healthy is. Some people want to run marathons; others simply want to walk 5km without being short of breath; others just don’t want tight fitting pants anymore.

As I get older I definitely feel a shift making it harder to lose weight compared to how it fell off when I first started cycling. I’m not interested in becoming a calorie watcher, but just as I know eating chocolates every day is not going to help the waistline, alcohol needs to start being shown the same consideration.

Let’s see how my nine months go… I’ll keep you updated on my progress and let you know how much my scanner score improves too.

The hardest part is always winter. With less daylight hours to hike, go walking or cycle, staying motivated will be a challenge.

Then again – nothing worthwhile is ever easy, is it?

Otherwise everyone would be doing it.

* For those interested in more information on the biophotonic scanner check out this video or contact me to set up your scan

2017 – Building on 2016’s Lessons

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December is an interesting time of year for me. Within a week you have Christmas: a time to take stock and be appreciative of family, friends and your life as it is; and New Year: a time to reflect on another year passed, plan towards what you want and get excited about what lies ahead.

I feel being overseas gave me an advantage over both and to be alone in Iceland allows a rare opportunity to have an inordinate amount of time to think. Surrounded by immeasurable beauty, it’s wonderful to get lost in my own thoughts evaluating my life. Where I’ve come from; how I’ve changed and what my intentions for my future are. I’m struck by the deepest sense of calm and connection in that week and I’m filled with appreciation.

Pure contentment.

Absolute admiration for this life we have and the experiences we can create.

My 2017 begins with this incredible sunrise.

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I was originally going to spend today writing and have a ‘quiet one’. With new information, however, I’m on my way again with another two and a half hours’ drive. Every turn around the next approaching mountain brings a new feast for my eyes. Iceland is like an experienced waiter; constantly bringing a new dish just as your current one is finished, complemented with a fresh glass of wine to create a taste sensation.

My eyes are twinkling with delight.

Just take a look at this terrifyingly beautiful glacier that looks like a sweeping tidal wave cascading over and between the peaks; frozen in time, their rich blue demonstrating their purity. I wish the scale could be truly conveyed in this picture.

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I’ve been blessed with many memorable New Year’s days; such varied and notable experiences like being with my family high in the Swiss Alps (also surrounded by snow) and dancing in the summer heat of Franschoek surrounded by happy smiles, authentic human beings and nature.

Today I get to add to this list: Jökulsárlón – Glacier Bay.

img_5155

I haven’t actually gasped out loud many times in my life. This is one of them. As a result of global warming this glacier has retreated nearly 4 km creating a lagoon filled with docile icebergs. It’s not that wide but its damage is not visible from the shore – it’s 250m deep!

Glaciers, icebergs and fragments of ice keep my soul captivated every second.

A stroll down to the beach (also black), brings a contrast to these sleeping giants: chunks of ice litter the shore as the sea declines its gifts.

Time is the sculptor; the beach is the gallery and the ocean the curator meticulously placing them across the dark sand for our delight. I could spend hours here in summer; but conscious of the time and not wanting to drive in the dark I reluctantly trudge off taking it all in one more time.

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This is the start of my year.

A thought from the beach starts to echo in my mind:

Without emotion and experiences, essentially each day is the same. If we can control how we react to our surroundings we have the power to shape our days so that there are far more good ones than bad. The only reason we say a day (or year for that matter) is “good” or “bad” is because of the lens through which we look at it – a lens which is ultimately created by the experiences we have.

As if the day isn’t to be outdone, I get to drive back and see the stage from the other side with another masterful sunset as my companion.

………………………………………………………………………………

This fortuitous man has the pleasure of being ‘introduced’ by one of my Austrian hosts K to three Icelanders: I, H and S. Incredibly, S had just recently spent three months travelling around South Africa. I consider this a real treat to be able to chat to them about their homeland and get an understanding of their culture, as well as experience their love of their island. Nothing better than feeling the passion that shines through people’s eyes as they talk fondly about their home.

By the end it’s settled: I’m coming back in summer and they are coming to Cape Town in 2018.

I look forward to both.

Slightly apprehensive about the 29 hours journey heading home having never done this length before, I wake up at 03:30am. Not being a morning person I’ve realised certain things are easy to get up early for and travel is definitely one of them.

I needn’t have worried; it was surprisingly breezy (barring an almost faux pas in Copenhagen resulting in me reaching the plane just in time to board). Perhaps it’s because I have twenty one days of experiences to reflect on. The special people I’ve met. The breathtaking beauty of three previously unexplored countries. Or calculating the distances I’ve travelled.. In the end I cover 26 643km by air; 1 832km by road and 84km by foot.

With so much time alone to reflect on my travels together with the varied array of experiences I have had means I get some incredibly valuable insights.

This is what I’ve learnt (or reaffirm in some cases):

  1. Positivity. A simple smile, hello and “how was your day” can kick start some of the great conversations of your life. Don’t be shy to take the first step with this. Small gestures can transform your experiences; you don’t need to make huge changes or seek out the best guru.
  2. Be still. Being completely alone in silence and solitude (no one in sight) is an invigorating feeling. I love this – the other day a friend of mine typed alone as All-one. When we get in touch with our true inner essence we experience our connection to everyone and everything. We are, in fact, never alone because we are All-One.
  3. Road trips. There’s nothing quite like them! Make sure you have a decent soundtrack to match – music can play such a key role in your experiences; especially if you are alone.
  4. Be open to asking, all knowledge is learnt. We’re not supposed to figure everything out on our own. Getting help and asking for it should be normal but most of us don’t do it. Don’t be afraid to ask. We can’t know everything.
  5. Duality of life. Everything can be a double-edged sword depending on your circumstance or view point. Snow is great to ski on but scary as hell when you need to drive on it. Learn to be cognisant of the bad side of the coin; but focus on and appreciate the good.
  6. No excuses. Don’t let ‘oh it’s so expensive’ stop you from exploring your home. You’ll figure it out. I ate 1 meal a day for 4 days in Iceland (maybe that’s why I’m actually 1kg lighter after my holiday). No one ever regrets the experiences they have.
  7. Travel alone at least once in your lifetime. Many may find this vastly outside of their comfort zone, but you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to meet interesting people along the way and experience adventures you might never have had if you were travelling with someone.
  8. Human beings. Culture, language, geographic location actually mean nothing. We truly are all the same. Embrace that. Start thinking of Earth as your home and not just the country you live in.
  9. Real connection. True connection could be the next revolution. Looking people in the eyes; seeing smiles; hearing laughter and different accents; hugging people – this is true connection and what feeds your soul. Technology has its place; creating deep meaningful connections is not one of them.
  10. People watching. Being alone means you have no one to talk to. Avoid your iPad or phone and watch people instead. Learn to sit in your discomfort and that being alone can be really fun. Watch how people interact, recognise your own behaviours in others and get an outside perspective on what you are like. It’s also interesting to see how differently we behave in the presence of beauty: some quietly admire the view; others try find their special pose in pictures to be forever remembered; others methodically try to achieve the perfect scenic shot with no humans in frame.
  11. Appreciation. Iceland could change in no time at all from a wonderland to a harsh intimidating and unforgiving place that I sometimes battled in; when this was the case it made me think of how tough it must be for those with disabilities. Difficult suddenly becomes near impossible. Twenty minutes for you could be an hour for the same task for someone else. Be grateful for the blessings you have.

This was an incredible journey. A real blessing to see old friends and make new ones. My travel bug has definitely grown with the feeding it got in 21 days – I look forward to the next adventure. But the best gift I’ve been given is a running start in 2017 and I’m truly excited about the milestones for this year. Writing two more books and preparing a Ted Talk just to mention a few.

I’d like to take a moment to thank you all for your support and taking time out of your days and lives to read my thoughts and experiences. My wish for all of you is that you find fulfilment in your daily life. Whatever fulfilment means to you; and perhaps that’s something to think deeply about? Learn to experience magic every day. I feel blessed that one of my ways to experience this is taking a blank page and transforming it into pieces like this. I love writing and I’m truly grateful for this gift each day.

Let’s see what richness 2017 brings for us to share.

Live with passion.

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Iceland: A New Year’s to Remember

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“Why on earth do you want to go to Iceland?”

A fairly stock standard response when most heard about my plans.

Iceland – A New Year to remember

Truth be told, I hadn’t done any research on the country. My soul purpose was to see the Northern Lights and continue my dream of visiting new places. I had no idea about all the treasures this island stores with a population of around three hundred thousand that covers 103 000 square kilometres – that’s roughly the size of Ohio in the US.

Listening to my gut was the best thing I’ve ever done. By now you would’ve read my introduction into Iceland and the changes in weather. I had decided that, as I was travelling alone in the country, I wanted to spend New Year’s Eve and the first day of 2017 in a remote part and not be in the capital Reykjavik; even though it’s known as one of the best cities to celebrate NYE.

I spent it in Vik: Population 291.

What to do in a place so remote?

The 31st of December begins with me enjoying sunrise (11am I should add) on Reynisfjara beach – the famous Black Beach. Jet black sand; cylindrical rock formations that make me think of a church organ; sub-zero winds blow snow across the beach and a jagged coastline is battered with angry waves fighting against the wind. What dramatic company I’m in as we welcome the sun into a relatively clear sky. After three days of cloudy weather this feels like a royal treat.

I find a sheltered spot with some rocks that look like a futuristic design using various heights to create a natural seat for me. The sun on my frozen face, I close my eyes and simply smile at being in such a magnificent setting. I feel invigorated by the solitude, not having to speak and simply sitting in the ‘stillness’ thinking about the 14 000 kilometres I’ve travelled to be in this exact spot. What an age we live in to be able to do these distances in such short spaces of time.

I’m also struck with an appreciation of ‘home’. Planet Earth. Our home. How we all benefit from an invention like flight. Or the cure of some disease no matter where we choose to live.

The beach is full of tourists trying to strike unique poses and take their special photo of this memorable place; so I decide to walk further up the beach in the relentless wind towards the arch, Dyrhólaey, on the far side of the bay. It’s wonderful to be the only person on the beach and leave only my tracks on the snow-covered sand. The video below gives you an idea of what it’s like to walk there – as though some crazed explorer discovering new lands.

Having been here almost two hours, I decide to take a drive further south to a place called Kirkjubæjarklaustur; about forty five minutes away. The wind is howling and with snow still on the road, the first fifteen minutes are definitely the hairiest. That overturned car I mentioned in my previous post is a glaring reminder twenty minutes later as I pass by. Reinforces how any lapse in concentration can lead to problems out here.

The drive is incredible with everything looking dazzling in white. Iceland looks like one big present wrapped in snow. I’d later see it in a different light when the snow had been all but blown away.

This village is even smaller than Vik – 120 people – and thoughts of having a late lunch here quickly fade. Nothing’s open. This small town will forever live in my memory though; because it’s unbelievably my first time filling my car with petrol myself (we have petrol attendants in South Africa).

The firsts on my list having turned 37 in November are racking up quickly – loving it!

The village feels eerily abandoned with no signs of life so I stop at another waterfall and enjoy more quiet solitude; just running water to keep me company.

The roads are almost apocalyptically quiet. This gives me an opportunity to stop on a straight stretch to get a picture I’ve always dreamed of taking myself. Seeing no cars for miles in each direction I’m safe in the middle, my car parked in a picnicking section.

I need to have this framed.

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A quiet road is like a quiet mind; rare and perfect for the soul

A phenomenal end to a memorable year

This 136km drive may have been ‘less’ than my previous day, but the sunset driving back is worth its weight in gold. A truly beautiful way to end off 2016.

Back in Vik and safe to take photos I capture the wonderful sight of the first evening star with the thin sliver of the moon as it begins its waxing phase back to full glory. How incredible that as we start a new year, so too is the moon in its beginning phase.

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Finally getting a chance to eat, the waiter gives me the best news ever: “Are you ready to see the Northern Lights tonight?”

As if this trip and day couldn’t get any better.

Aurora Borealis: on New Year’s eve.

You can’t script this stuff.

Yep, it’s been confirmed. I’m definitely the luckiest traveller on the planet. I’m able to ask this same question to J and M when I get back to the hostel. Amazing what smiles it can generate from strangers. A wonderful surprise to end up making two new friends, on a night I expected to spend alone, as we chat and share our Iceland stories with a good few laughs in-between.

I laughed a lot this holiday. That stands out for me as one of the highlights.

Then, before we can even think about where we would go to watch them – they make an unexpected appearance. I pop my head outside and see what looks like a normal white light in the sky. As if low clouds are being lit from the next town. I’m not even sure this is them. Until they turn green and start dancing across the sky. Scrambling for the camera my dear friend had leant me just for this – I start snapping away. Man do I wish I had a tripod but, nonetheless, I succeed in getting some beautiful moments captured to remind me of this night.

We walk up the hill away from the lights of the village, and sit in the snow just staring up; admiring one of earth’s exclusive spectacles. The reason I’d booked my trip is above me, and I can’t be happier. A moment shared with two travellers I now consider friends. Some early fireworks means we get to see the snow covered mountains light up red after the explosions while the Northern Lights silently wave above. Then just as quickly as they arrive they fade into the darkness, just the spattering of stars dancing in the sky.

There are some things you can’t completely comprehend reading about in books or seeing in pictures; you simply have to experience yourself. This is one of them.

The show isn’t over though. Fireworks from what seems like every house in Vik start just before midnight and feel like there’s no end in sight. “The big ones are being banned next year – so I’m sure people are going to go large”. The comment from the car rental guy could not have been more spot on. Actually, looking back now this guy gave me some real pearls! I later hear that Reykjavik’s sky that evening was a war zone for a time. We have no timer so don’t count down midnight – J pops the cork at 00:00 and they generously share their champagne.

What a way to see in 2017.

And this is just the start!

An Austrian Christmas

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I could never have predicted how special this Christmas in Austria was going to be.

Spending Christmas with your family overseas is entirely different to spending Christmas with another family overseas.

I spent a week with dear friends in London first, who generously hosted me in their spare bedroom (naming rights have already begun to call it Andrew’s Room) It was an inspiring week in my old home for two years back in 2013. I challenged myself to find new experiences every day; one of which included Stonehenge on winter Solstice. How’s that for timing!

Now it was time to head to Austria for Christmas. M had ‘hijacked’ my holiday and insisted I join her family for Christmas; this had all been arranged before meeting me let alone get to know me properly. A gesture I will struggle to repay this lifetime.

The magic starts just boarding Austrian airlines as you are greeted with classical music playing over the pa. It may have been 10a.m, but we were on holiday and so nothing but an Austrian Beer on board would do as the three of us winged our way to Vienna.

I had great anticipation for this part of my European vacation, I’ve never been to Wien (Vienna) or Styria (beautiful countryside about ninety minutes south of Vienna in the hills) so to do this with an Austrian family was going to be a treat beyond belief.

It didn’t take long. K collected us and bounced towards us in hello. It was a gloriously happy welcome – my first experience on Austrian soul and I was already smiling.

For those of you who have travelled, you will appreciate how wonderful it feels to be relaxed about not to think where you are going and how you are going to get there (transport wise) — especially when driving. Even more so when you are now driving on the opposite side of the road.

A short trip into Vienna and my next memorable moment was upon me, G2’s head out the flat window waving with her beaming smile I would become fond of. We were at the parents flat where the mother had prepared Wiener Schnitzels for lunch together with potato salad.

They were the best schnitzels I’ve ever eaten.

So I ate five!

The laughter came unexpectedly as each one of the family spoke a Zulu word to me – I was NOT expecting that! C is doing an amazing job of cross-mojinating Austria and South Africa. Essentially, they were warming me up for all the laughs we would share together during the course of my stay. My abs have never been harder.

K’s flat is wonderfully placed about a twenty minute walk from the city centre. The first night I was treated to a Christmas market in the Museum Quarter. Having Swiss heritage, I am no stranger to Glühwein, but my southern hemisphere brain (a cold wine lover), had forgotten that this is not a wine made warm for the fun of it. With the temperature dropping to -4 degrees and my gloves being in my main suitcase I quickly realised why the wine is heated. Switching to beer at one point I could barely hold the cup for three minutes before switching hands to eagerly shove the other deep in a pocket.

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Interestingly, this faux pas on my part meant I noticed an interesting Austrian custom: they take their glove off to shake your hand hello or goodbye. Loved that.

One thing I appreciate about most Europeans is their ability to speak multiple languages. Vienna was no different with most people being able to chat to me in English. I look forward to the day my French and German is good enough to chat to people in their native language.

The next day was spent walking around Vienna sight seeing loads of buildings and monuments steeped in history and culture. Sights from the historic city centre including St Stephan’s cathedral & Hofburg to Belvedere. I was even blindfolded to get a true breath taking moment, enchanted by Schönbrunn Palace (my blog title picture)lit up at night with the Christmas market buzzing below. Centuries have passed since all this was built; humbling to think about what has come and what has gone. You get a true sense of how old Europe is in Vienna. Makes me realise how, in comparison, South Africa is just an early teen sitting with its grandfather.

It wasn’t all walking, we even had a drink in the smallest pub in Vienna.

December in the Northern hemisphere is poles apart

That night we ended up at one of M’s friends’ local pub and I thoroughly enjoyed chatting to him. It highlighted to me the value of travelling and how it opens your mind and broadens your perspective. Makes for deeper richer conversations. My favourite thing about him was that he asked me about South Africa and our challenges – he didn’t just give me his opinion having travelled there three times already. Most people do it the other way around.

Walking back through the city at night you see how many Christmas lights exist. It’s something we don’t get in South Africa. It’s a magical experience to be walking all wrapped up with scarves and jackets; the cold air nipping at the skin on your face and your eyes constantly reflecting Christmas lights. They don’t just feel the Christmas spirit – they embody it.

I’m not sure I went two hours without hearing Christmas carols or songs of some sort either. For the first time in years I was completely overflowing with the festive spirit.

This was all just building me up to two experiences that will live with me forever.

Christmas eve

In Austria, just as it is in Switzerland which I experienced as a child, the main celebration with family is Christmas eve. Usually the tree is only decorated that day by everyone but G2 had already sorted that. A real tree. Incredible ornaments and to top it all off – real candles. Small differences that make a world of difference.

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Before the evening wonder, I was treated to a scenic drive up the hills by G1. The city was not too visible as mist from the Danube slithered its way through Vienna, but I still got a beautiful sense of the city below. There was still some snow on the hills as we stopped for a beer to enjoy the sunset over Schneeberg next to a church, built in honour of King Jan (John) III Sobieski of Poland for his assistance in defeating the Turks. Like I said earlier – history at every turn.

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We even made a quick stop to Klosterneuburg Monastery. The finishing touch to a wonderful afternoon being driven around learning even more about one of the world’s most liveable cities

Thankfully I had been warned so I was prepared for this part; everyone dresses smartly for the occasion. With dinner nearly ready, presents are exchanged before you eat and I was honoured to be able to share in a family’s love and appreciation for one another. The love covered them as though a gift wrapped in shimmering paper under the tree.

This was my Christmas present this year.

True to their generous spirit, I was handed presents too to which I will treasure – especially my beautiful pen and my orthodox prayer bracelet. This was the next best way to spend Christmas without my own family. I honestly felt like I was part of theirs.

My new Austrian family.

The goose was exceptional and had been hand selected from G2s sisters farm in Styria. Í ate so much I’m sure they thought I was pregnant. I felt like what the Roman emperors must have felt like during their feasts.

Happy Head, Happy Heart, Happy Stomach. My physical holy trinity.

Christmas day service

We attended a service in a church over three hundred years old; a truly impressive building with lavish decorations; sculptures and paintings galore – even Christmas trees inside!

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Although the entire service was in German, the choir and orchestra made me feel like I was privileged to be attending a show in one of the oldest theatres. It was a treat with every song that they sang and played.

The standout moment though, was the finale. The very definition of saving the best till last. The hard wooden bench seemed to turn to a lazy boy recliner as Silent Night started.

I have no words.

I was reminded of the prisoners in Shawshank redemption standing mesmerised as Andy Dufresne played an opera song over the pa. Appropriately, that Song is by Mozart – Canzonetta Sull’aria.

At first, two voices alone. Seamlessly joined by everyone in the choir moments later only to sing alone again in an instant; this left my hair standing at attention and my heart overflowing in the moment.

There is no amount of money in the world that can buy that experience.

They say the best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in it. I believe the same is true for culture. Having the opportunity to live as an Austrian for a week has given “once in a lifetime’’ true meaning.

Standouts of this experience

The beauty about travelling is the insights it gives you, here are some of my observations

  1. We really are all the same. Language, culture, geographic location may differ; but everyone connects, has dreams and worries about aspects of life common to all of us.
  2. Subtle differences. While on the surface things may look the same, it’s the small finer details where things change and that can dramatically change an experience; remember that in your own life because you may be looking to make a dramatic change, when all you need is a subtle one
  3. Hospitality. Never underestimate how the power your generosity of spirit will positively impact someone else’s life. What may appear small to you could just make a world of difference to them (being picked up at the airport as an example)
  4. Special ingredient to thrive. The one thing that stood the most for me in a city that’s rated as one of the happiest places to live – is respect. I’m not sure if it’s because as a nation they have experienced countless wars and difficulties that this is so prevalent; almost like an adult in their 40’s that’s been through the highs and lows of relationships appreciates a working relationship more. Respect for one another; for your city; for where you have come from (even the bad parts of your history)
  5. Humour is so important. Even with limited understanding language wise, we can all still laugh together. If you choose to look for humour in moments and can laugh at yourself perhaps you could enjoy yourself even more so than you are right now?

 

When I arrived, it was with two people very special to me.

When I left, I had five I was carrying close.

This is the beauty of life. If you are open to it, you can have experiences that most people only dream about.

This was most certainly one for me. Thank you – my new Austrian Family.

I Don’t Believe you want to be Happy

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“Happiness” is like a fresh cut lawn – it looks fantastic and everyone wants one, but most people don’t want to do the actual work.

It’s a fascinating topic, because happiness is an individual experience which each of us has to figure out. What one person loves, another shudders at.

I feel like we sometimes overcomplicate it, though. How about narrowing happiness down to three questions?

  1. Do you want to be happy?
  2. What are you doing about it?
  3. Are you doing that every day?

Interestingly, the answer to the first question is a decision, while the next two are actions. It’s easy to SAY you want to be happy, but do you ACT like you do? Projecting your “happiness” is easy and what most people do on social media; it’s when you’re home alone and about to go to bed where the true test lies.

I don’t believe you, if you are one of those people that constantly say ‘If only I had ….” Although admittedly that can be useful if you do, in fact, use the insights on why you feel like that.  Did  ‘if only’ propel  you to make a plan on what you need to do today, tomorrow, the next week, next month to  look back in wondrous reflection next time? Great. Otherwise, that statement is a waste of energy. This reflection and positive understanding from good and bad experiences allows you to use that insight to recognise the patterns of future behaviour before you feel one way or another. In my experience, I have felt ‘mistakes’ were only ‘mistakes’ if I didn’t learn from them. For example, dating an emotionally abusive partner over and over.

Stop regretting and start acting on what you want!

I come across so many people who use ‘this happiness thing’ and the fact that they don’t seem to have it as a tool to incite sympathy. “Poor you! You deserve to be happy!” Perhaps people are addicted to attention and being gushed over?

What makes you deserve to be happy? Happiness is another form of currency, it’s earned. But unlike money, it never runs out – it’s infinite. As with most important things in life, we have to learn to value and appreciate it before we start recognising just how much it already is present in our lives. Think about a child that’s just given toys at will versus the poor child with no toys – who works to save his pocket money and buy his favourite. I can guarantee you the latter will recognise and value the joy of his toy far more and for far longer than the former.

I don’t believe you, because you spout forth what’s gone wrong or what isn’t right with your life. But when I ask you what you’re doing about it a blank stare comes over you as if you’re a brussel sprout in the back of the freezer. Saying you deserve happiness is like saying you deserve air. Your body uses air to function and it’s freely available; your body doesn’t think it deserves it. It just gets on with it.

Stop envying others’ success at happiness and proclaiming it as an anomaly or that they ‘landed with their bum in the butter’ or that they’re just luckier than you. Gary Player said that the more he practiced, the luckier he got. Interesting.

This is why I don’t believe you want to be happy, because you think some external influence is dictating your happiness. Au contraire! It’s much closer to home than you think. It lives within you and, just like a sculptor carves layers away to reveal his masterpiece, so too do you have to peel away layer upon layer to discover your true inner happiness. Never stop working at it. Remember, it’s not finite which means there is no end. And this means we are constantly discovering.

Our happiness is ours to build and ours alone. Which means we have a lot more control over it than many think. If your happiness depends on something or someone else, what happens if that thing or that someone is no longer around? Of course, people can enhance our happiness, but they can never create it. Just as 3D glasses didn’t make the movie 3D – they just revealed it to you.

You see why I don’t believe you? Your actions are telling me everything I need to know. So, start working on questions 2 and 3 and watch your life begin to transform. If you aren’t sure where to start then check out my post here on exploring happiness.

The easy part is deciding to be happy. And even though it can take a little time to build your happiness muscle through the next two actions – I can promise, it’s something you will never regret.

So, why not start today?

Relationships: An open letter to Women

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‘Now that I’m with her I feel like I don’t have enough time left on earth with her’ – this is what women want to hear. So where’s it going wrong?

I find it disheartening when great women make, in my eyes, the same mistakes with guys. This post is an honest recounting of these observations I’ve seen over the last twenty years. Hopefully this and my ten points on what to do will assist you to find and stand in your power.

Firstly, my deepest sympathies go out to women with the drivel they have to deal with on a daily basis from ‘so called men’.

Let’s be honest about them though, these are boys – not men.

Time to be real

This needs to be said.

Stop. Trying. So. Hard.

Half of marriages end in divorce in South Africa. So essentially you are running towards a building that could explode. What is the rush? Perhaps it’s time everyone took a time out to think about what they really want and whether what they are doing is working for them; because clearly the standardised framework of relationships is not working for most.

Being with someone because the idea of them feels great is not the same as being with them because it is great.

It’s a very interesting position to write from because I’m 37 and single. Timing just hasn’t been on my side, this year being an example of that when the crème of the crop moved to France three months after we connected. That being said it’s not as though I’m looking to rush into marriage either with the first woman that seems like she could be ‘the one’; something most people close to me felt I embodied in my twenties.

‘No really! THIS is the woman for me’ – fast forward a couple of months… you get the picture.

I get it. When we want something so badly, we focus on all the amazing aspects of a person instead of taking the time to see if they are compatible. Sound selfish? Just ask one of the divorcees what they would have done differently. That’s why we date. It takes time (for most of us) to really get a feeling of whether this person is going to be supportive during tough times and someone we can laugh with every day. Encapsulate all the qualities of human being we can be 100% vulnerable with. It’s easy to be with someone when times are great and laughs abound. Find someone that can hold a safe space for you.

Hollywood has played a part

The worst thing we can do is live our lives based on what movies show us. It’s not real – just like fairy tales don’t share what happens once the prince saves the princess; so too are movies providing false expectations of what love in the real world exemplifies.

Same goes for magazines.

Stop. Reading them. Please.

Especially the parts that say (and I just googled Cosmopolitan right now to see what their latest cover says)

“The Hot secret to love that lasts!!!!!!!!!!! (Yes, they actually had 11 exclamation marks on the cover that you can see and OH BOY how clever of them to unearth the hot secret we never discovered all these years) Next: ‘Boys Toys! How to charm the pants off him” – Why not “How to be authentic to find your gem”

Here’s the thing about both those cover stories. It’s generic. It’s (just as the men’s versions are too by the way) backwards to think that these ‘secrets’ they’re unearthing are actually going to work for you. I’m sure there are exceptions here but for the most part, I highly doubt they do – unless you are looking for a casual hook up, but that’s a separate issue altogether.

As a self-respecting guy who knows his worth here’s a novel idea: why not be exactly who you are and chat to me? Let go of any attachment to the outcome and have fun. I’m sure the rank assholes will turn the conversation to ‘your place or mine’ pretty quickly in which case – hit the eject button. If you ever think ‘but maybe he’ll be different with me’ I can recommend a good island you should probably go live on by yourself.

Why start off playing games and pretending to be something you are not because a magazine said so? Wouldn’t you rather find out in six days that I wasn’t in love with the real you than in six months of the magazine you? Why would you want to waste your time?

I’ve had ten failed relationships. Some ended amicably; some broke my heart; one claimed I ruined her life when I ended it only to meet her, now husband, two weeks later and move in with him two weeks after that. True story. If they were the right ones we’d still be together. I hold no malice for any of them. Just plenty of lessons I learned along the way which helped sculpt me into the man you see today.

A couple years back a close friend gave me some advice “Andrew, your problem is you reveal too much of yourself too soon. You gotta play the game and hold some stuff back bro”

The very fact that the word ‘game’ was in that sentence meant that I ignored everything he told me. I don’t believe that at all or really see how holding stuff back is going to make things better? It’s much easier just playing the role of Andrew Mark Patterson

Where does it go so wrong?

So here are a couple of pointers I’d like to share with women.

This is a very good place to start. Two scenarios with the same outcome you tell me which one you prefer:

  1. You sleep with him and you felt such a deep connection and he said all the right things. You never hear from him again.
  2. You tell him you’re incredibly attracted to him but you want to wait. You never hear from him again.

Yes I can safely say sometimes that initial attraction is insanely strong but trust me – the right guy won’t have a problem waiting. There’s nothing wrong with sleeping with him if you are happy to never hear from him again, but Your self worth does not come from between your legs; it comes from your heart. The right guys know this.

The benefit of just waiting it out and not jumping into bed first chance you get, is that the more time goes on the more you will see the integrity and good qualities are genuine. You can fake that over a weekend but not over a couple of months. If he can’t make plans to see you with his friends he has no intention of dating you. Seeing who someone surrounds themselves with is a big indicator (for men too by the way) of the type of person they are. They say we are the sum total of the five people we spend time with. Perhaps a good start is asking him who those five people are in his life.

A real man will know how to respect you; opening doors, find out how your day was with the genuine intent to hear the answer; arrange a date out at a restaurant (doesn’t have to be fancy as long as it’s not McDonalds), will phone you (not just Whatsapp). They may even ask you subtle questions to understand what your favourite colours are to buy you flowers with that information. See what your favourite food is and perhaps attempt to cook you that meal.

Before you think I’m bashing women go read my post ‘Men – start leading by example’. I genuinely want the best for women and, from a young age I wanted to be an example of what guys could be, somehow I think it will take men longer to change their behaviour than it will women; if I could erase men’s memories and replace them with new ones a la ‘Men in Black’ style I would.

What does your behaviour say?

I often come across woman – friends or otherwise – that find validation from guys by sleeping with them. Or at least that’s how it’s coming across to me. Stop that. It’s never going to make you feel good about yourself. Perhaps the problem is not the guys you are meeting, but the image you project by the way you behave.

You say all the nice guys are married or taken? I say all the nice guys are in places looking for women who know their self-worth. Your looks might attract the right guy – but who you are as a person is what’s going to keep him.

I always get asked the ‘how come you still single’ question as a look of bewilderment comes across their face. I think my wife is playing the world’s most insane game of hide and seek. Seriously though, is it so hard to believe that I haven’t met the right women yet? Or that I have and timing dictates I wait a little longer?

My question is: What makes being involved a case to be happier than being single? Shouldn’t we just enjoy whatever phase we’re in and when you meet that someone won’t it be that much more special? Like being wrapped in caution tape on the dance floor? NOBODY… I feel strongly about this so let me repeat that… NOBODY should complete you. You need to be whole to meet someone.

The worst thing that happened to our society is the age of instant gratification. We’ve lost the art of building meaningful relationships. Take pride in building something over time. Be prepared to put in the work; can you really appreciate anything that just falls in your lap? Maybe if you’ve experienced the bad previously, probably.

For me, the very fact that I am 37 and I haven’t married yet is a blessing, because I know when I feel it, and I did this year, you don’t question anything it’s just ‘there’. One of my best friends lives in the States and he married a wonderful woman from South Dakota and he said to me after waiting about 36 years too – ‘now that I’m with her I feel like I don’t have enough time left on earth with her’

Think about that – how incredibly beautiful the last thirteen words are.

If I perhaps haven’t been clear above let me recap what you should do to find the right guy for you:

  1. Be authentic and don’t play games
  2. Nothing is sexier than a self-assured confident woman (doesn’t mean outgoing – means she knows what she wants)
  3. Your looks might attract in the beginning – but who you are is what will keep us
  4. Forget what beauty magazines tell you. Talk to me and discover what I like and want. I’m not generic.
  5. There is no formula
  6. Know your self worth and don’t settle for less, it comes from your heart.
  7. Be whole before you look for a partner – the whole ‘you complete me’ is rubbish. Complete woman find complete men
  8. Just because you had one bad experience with a guy don’t paint us all with the same brush. Learn from that experience to recognise those behaviours.
  9. Sometimes good people are not good together. If you have to force it walk away.
  10. He should celebrate you and encourage you to be the best you can be – he’s not intimidated by your strength. He’s attracted to it.

If you’d like to discuss this further – I’m more than happy to chat about it in more than 2000 words.

Are most guys assholes? Maybe… Does that mean it’s going to be harder to find the good ones? Probably, but catch the cable car to the top of Table Mountain and then hike up – see which one gives you a greater sense of accomplishment while admiring the view.

Just don’t be in such a hurry. It’s not always going to work with the good ones either. We are going to mess up but we’ll apologise, learn and try to improve. We’ll be a catalyst for change for you too. I can safely say I’ve never been with anyone with the intention to hurt them – but staying with someone you know is not right for you is a longer more cruel punishment than being honest. After all – don’t we want to end up with someone who wants to be with us? Make mistakes, it means you’re at least doing something to discover what you want and love. Sitting behind a wall expecting it to fall out of the sky isn’t the answer.

Enjoy the journey and find a guy where the fairy-tale starts when you meet.

Write your best story.

 

Gratitude for another year Lived

grateful-for-life

Life is so fragile. My original opening line below is now poignant since I heard the news last night. I’d like to dedicate this to a brave soul who fought long and hard – Gabe Thevathasan – your candle may have blown out at age 10, but the rest of the candles you lit still shine bright with your spirit.

courageous

 

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Tomorrow I get to experience something Lady Di and Marilyn Monroe never did.

I turn 37.

This is always a special time of year for me, with a birthday rolling around I get to reflect on a year lived and feel a tremendous amount of gratitude for the new experiences and people that have come into my life – whether briefly or now embedded into the tapestry of my life.

There’ve been great firsts for me this year.

  1. The Opera
  2. Starting my blog
  3. Going for Coaching
  4. Being wrapped in caution tape with an amazing woman on a dance floor
  5. Supporting my brother at the Cape Epic
  6. Winter Vortex
  7. Yoga
  8. Secret Sunrise
  9. Attending a world first launch – the ageLOC ME personalised skin care system

All of which have been complimented by moments of falling in love; experiencing pain; attending a beautiful love ceremony; having endless laughs with friends and dancing for days in the desert. Collectively  I’m reminded of my three pillars that I live by:

  1. Be grateful for what you have;
  2. Be in the service and give to others;
  3. and form meaningful relationships.

Gratitude

I’ve always believed that being grateful for what you have helps you live in joy and happiness. It’s not about being happy when I get something or somewhere (just ask a number of depressed famous people who appear to have it all) It’s about being happy now. When you can find joy in the smallest things, suddenly life becomes much simpler. Simple pleasures begin to elevate your mood to a place you never knew existed. Just because of a smile. Practising this means you will enjoy more days than not.

I had an issue with my engine last month which essentially cost me more than what I spent on my first car. Needless to say my heart almost kicked out the emergency exit and left me stranded. Granted, there are worse calls to get (and I’ve had a few) but that’s an insane amount of money in anyone’s language.

‘Please come in so we can talk about it Mr Patterson’

The garage is about 3km from the office so I decided to take my time rather and stroll in the glorious spring sunshine. The slight breeze made the heat more bearable as I listened to my music. I decided to be absolutely present and feel each step I took; feel each breath lift my chest, and really admire the majestic mountains of Stellenbosch.

At that exact moment everything was perfect. I could walk. I could see. I could hear. I could feel. I had love in my heart from family and friends. Yes there would be a moment later where it would hurt to pay that amount but it wasn’t then.

I brought myself back to the now. And it was beautiful.

The cost was astronomical – but it’s just money. I can make more.  I still have a car and luckily nothing bad physically happened to me up to that point. For the first time in my life I didn’t allow an external bad ‘thing’ to affect my happiness. It wasn’t fun, and I may not have been singing from the rooftops but I was still smiling.

Lesson: Bad things are always going to happen; cultivate a positive mind set BEFORE bad things happen so you can deal with them. It’s too late to try and become positive in a bad moment

Service to others

This is a big one.

I grew up being surrounded by it. Watching my mom and gran working for meals on wheels; my mom carting me and my mates to cricket games all over Joburg or clearing out old clothes to be able to give to those less fortunate than us. It made me think about giving and I remember being incredibly happy buying my family their favourite chocolate with my pocket money or simply being helpful around the house (this was all on my good days!)

Then at my High School, King Edwards, we had something called KESFAM which was about raising money for various charities. One that really sticks out was seeing us sponsoring blind people with guide dogs. Feeling their appreciation changed me forever.

While living in London I had a thought to get involved with something but didn’t know what.

Another life changing moment.

Harrods, I worked in the golfing department, threw a Christmas lunch for terminally ill and disabled children. They needed helpers and I jumped at the chance. I was dressed in a Panda Bear suit and being so nervous (I know – no one could even see me!) danced to the music. I became known as ‘The Dancing Bear’ and if I took too long a break to get clean air in my lungs was immediately summoned. Just for a moment the world was perfect. The joy on every child’s face was a true gift to behold. That would be the start to my life’s pillar of giving back to those who needed it most.

People equate giving with money and I think people believe it has to be hundreds or thousands of Rands – so giving R50 becomes ‘why bother?’. Firstly, imagine 100 people think that same thing? Suddenly R50 becomes R5000. Secondly, it doesn’t have to be money. Giving your time is far greater than giving money and that will tie into my third pillar I’ll talk about in a bit.

Lesson: the more we give the more we receive, just ensure you do it for people that appreciate it. Don’t waste time on vampires. The best feeling is helping others without any expectation whatsoever of it being reciprocated. Try it

Form meaningful relationships

This requires authenticity and vulnerability on your part. Celebrate who you are and you’ll surround yourself with those that matter. They will care enough about you to help you when you do something untoward, help you become the best version of yourself.

I personally have never understood holding on to resentment or anger about past ‘failed’ relationships. I use inverted commas because I don’t believe any relationship is a failure unless you don’t learn from it. You can always learn something even if it’s what you don’t want in your life or how you don’t want to behave. How to connect with people.

Friends are the family we choose. When you find these family members that behave in a manner which, tying back to my previous section about giving, means you’re always working together to build each other up and not just working on yourself.

You strive to build their happiness which inevitably builds yours too. You find people who are genuine and are able to have difficult conversations with you instead of leaving you in a bubble that everything is great. We all have faults and the quicker we set aside our egos and realise growth is for our own good – flying becomes a reality the caterpillar only dreamed of.

Moving to Cape Town where I knew nobody proved that you should never give up. Stick to being who you are and do what you love, the rest will follow. Great things take time and building relationships with people is no different.

Lesson: The greater your vulnerability, capacity to love and authenticity with people; the deeper and more meaningful your relationships will be. If all people want to do is talk superficially, don’t be surprised when they turn their back when you need them most. Hold close the people that listen after they’ve asked you “How are you?”

These are my three pillars. The glue that holds all of them together is love. Hold love in your heart and treat people with this pure intention and you will be amazed how they treat you. Be this person. Be the example to youngsters to look up to. We need role models for them. Twerking and landing on the front page of a Tabloid is not it. It’s a cheesy saying usually reserved for being in love but I think it’s appropriate to end off:

You might feel like just one person to the world; but to one person you might just mean the world.

Go spread your magic