Looking Beyond …

thoughts and deliberations .. a theme is too restrictive


The devil is in the detail

It has struck me this week that I am most comfortable when I am merely scratching the surface of things. The problem is that as soon as I start to see what is beneath this outer layer I see the devil in the detail and I want to run a mile.

Blog Holiday

Take, for example, the business of choosing a family holiday. Now that should be a straight forward and enjoyable exercise engendering family fun, laughter and hilarity and resulting in peace, harmony and joy as we all savour the prospect of our time together. Yes? Not for this family. We have been months in discussion, research, negotiation, denial and submission – all these featuring in varying degrees and from alternating parties. There is nothing like seemingly insurmountable complications combined with differing angles on a common objective to dampen enthusiasm for a project.

Or, consider my interest in photography. I well remember the excitement of receiving my first camera at about twelve years old, which I duly took on our annual sea-side escapade. I cheerfully (well almost) submitted to my father’s instruction on how best to set the aperture and shutter speed to achieve good results. My heart sank deeper, the more complex and detailed the instruction appeared to be. Then, at the end of the holiday, the film was removed carefully from the camera and sent away for processing. Two weeks later (having dutifully selected the economy processing turn-around time) I apprehensively and yet expectantly opened the package of prints that fell through the letterbox. The whole set of 36 exposures had been – well – unexposed. 36 black prints plus two for good measure. Removing the lens cap was the detail omitted at such great cost on this occasion.

Decades later, with my residual interest in photography re-igniting, I took myself off to a week-end photography course to get to grips with my new SLR. Once more overwhelmed, and flustered by the unmastered detail, I reverted to scratching the surface of the art of photography with the automatic setting becoming the safe place from which to practice my now severely constrained artistry.

There is a remarkably similar pattern in all interests, responsibilities, and career directions that I have taken on to date. A desperation to become conversant with the detail and yet being weighed down by the consequent failure to master it. Somehow, the devil in the detail always seems to take a leap out and smother me.

And now, upon investigating the phrase ‘the devil is in the detail’, I discover that it’s precursor was ‘ God is in the detail’. This was a phrase apparently often used by one of my favourite architects – Ludvig Mies Van der Rohe. As a graduate of architecture, I like that. It also provides me with a differing conclusion to this piece than had originally been intended.

My determination is renewed; determination not to yield to the devil’s delight in taking away the pleasure that comes from the innocence of not seeing what is beneath the surface. I will continue to venture deep, knowing that with God in the detail defeat is no longer the stronger party. The detail is not mine to master, but it is there to explore, enjoy, wonder at and delight in, to understand, inform, accumulate and incorporate, fearlessly, as each new aspect is uncovered.

As a family, we overcame indecision and complications. We have booked a break in Rome for September. And I may have fled twice from the technicalities of learning to use my camera, but I am set and ready to try again with further instruction. As for the career direction, there is time enough for detail. For now, I am happy as I scratch the surface of many new things and enjoy the prospect of choosing which to become fearlessly more familiar with.



No cause for hopelessness…

…for tomorrow is another day.

journey to Dominican Republic


Such is my dedication to posting here, that I am writing this as the football world cup final plays out in the room next door.  I am expecting it to be noisy…. the room houses three young men, and one slightly more senior, with beer and pizza in the mix.

The world cup seems to have passed me by.  Apart from half a match spent paying more attention to sorting out baby clothes from the loft than watching the ball’s path around the pitch in hope of England managing to manoeuvre it into the appropriate net, I have seen very little.  This is a shame,  since I have just picked up a request (from one of the organisations I am doing some voluntary work for)  to contribute some thoughts on what conclusions I might draw about what does and doesn’t work in team work, based on the tournament in Brazil.  Oh well,  I guess I know enough to conclude that using one’s teeth to vent frustration is not a good contribution in any team.  Any other ideas?

It has been quite a day.  We have travelled to Heathrow to bid our eldest well as he journeys to Dominican Republic for the next six weeks.  My guess is that as travelling is not his favourite pastime and he has a 12 hour wait at Newark airport before transferring to the Dominican Republic, he would far rather be a fourth young man in our living room right now.  Yet, in just a couple of days, he will be working with the Samaritan Foundation building homes to help those living in desperate circumstances to escape from hopelessness.

I guess the kind of hopelessness that results from living in a hot, unsanitary tiny space with a family income of less than 60 pence a day, bears no comparison to that which I can ever claim to have experienced.  Nevertheless, I have to confess to a predisposition to being easily overtaken by feelings of hopelessness.  Today, I am reminded that no situation is hopeless and it is perfectly possible for people’s lives to be transformed.

As I watched my son disappear through security at the airport I couldn’t help but be reminded of the times when he was a young boy and it seemed unrealistic to hope that he would ever live independently from us.  His medical condition and the associated difficulties of accessing normal schooling, social life and experiences of growing up, left this family feeling, at times, almost hopeless, as to the prospects for his future.  How right we were to hang on to the hope that he would overcome all the obstacles before him.   Today, secure in the knowledge that he has nothing to fear, we walked away to the sound of the security alarm beeping, smiling as we pictured him pulling out his consultant’s letter explaining the extent of metal work in his leg.

Reasonable thinking has also led me to conclude, on many occasions, that there was no hope or prospect of any further enjoyment or quality of life for my mother.  Today, I was stunned at the picture I received from my sister, of my Mum out and about in Tatton Park on a Motability scooter with a glint in her eye and looking like she was having the time of her life.  This is the woman who yesterday was concluding that she would not be able to get out of bed after such a bad night of pain and worry and darkness of spirit. Yet with the help and encouragement of her carer, she was persuaded that it was worth it.  With the persistence and cajoling of her daughters, she was accepting of being taken out in the car.  With the sense of achievement of having been involved and valued as we shopped for clothes, she had the confidence to agree to lunch out.  And today, for this day at least, the world held no obstacles.  Freedom and independence were once again within her reach.

My justification for these deliberations as I plot my journey to work fulfilment, are simply to remind myself, and any others that may also require it, that there is never cause for complete hopelessness.  The situation as seen today, does not determine the situation as it is tomorrow.

Today, it may seem that I have desired more than is attainable. Tomorrow?  Well tomorrow is another day.


Comfort outside the Comfort Zone…

… reflections on the journey so far


Two months ago, I spoke of  “a year ahead of learning, catching up with what has been going on in the rest of the world beyond my little corner in the workplace and exploring new territory,” concluding that I was  “ going to need all the attention span, brain capacity and enthusiasm I can muster.”  That describes quite accurately the path I am taking so far, encapsulating both the excitement and the difficulties that have been my experience to date.

A few reflections then, on the first month of my journey in looking beyond ….

On entering into the blogosphere:

So far, my journal entries have been far less structured and directional than I had anticipated but I have learnt very quickly that the only way for me to write, is honestly; and from the position that I actually find myself in, rather than the one I feel it would be beneficial to present.

I now know about this phenomenon called writer’s block.  There are times when I could happily be writing into the night and all other tasks, duties or disturbances are irritating inconveniences. Conversely, there are times when getting any thoughts presented coherently on the page is about as likely to happen as the completion of our new bathroom project.  I have learned that being a blogger is much more than just writing.  It is interactive, has a whole set of rules of etiquette to be discovered and there are plenty of people blogging their tips on how to achieve this…which makes blogging, like all social media interactions, somewhat mind-boggling.

On being outdoors:

Experiencing the outdoors – even just for a short period each day, is unexpectedly uplifting.  Yes, I know it is summer and things may change, but listening to the bird song, exchanging smiles with passers-by, being aware of the light and reflections as the sun takes its course in the day, stopping to take a photograph, and just observing my surroundings on a daily basis, provides enrichment and a lift to each day.  Apart from riding my bike, I have had a trip to a local vineyard, and two days with a school party at the Heritage Centre on our local Community rail line.  Lots more day trips to follow….after all, you can’t promote something you haven’t experienced for yourself.

On working with Volunteers:

I am meeting a whole new group of kind, committed, gifted, friendly and accepting people.  The extent to which people dedicate such large chunks of their lives to what they see as a worthy cause, for no financial reward is quite humbling.  On a side note though, never once did I imagine that being taken out of my comfort zone would involve learning how to handle unwanted attention of the kind I had completely forgotten existed.  I’ve been taken back to Lily Allen’s ‘Knock ‘em out’.

On not working in the education sector:

Many people are jealous of those working in the Education Sector because of the long holidays.  There is an important lesson here that I already knew to be true, but it has been good to be reminded of.    I remember my biggest, and yet unfounded concern when entering full-time paid employment at age 21, was that I would never have school (or better still university) holidays again.  Giving up a job in a school, so close to the long summer break has not felt like a sacrifice to me because I have been so ready to get going with the next thing.  What I have realised though, is how much energy I had been expending desperately counting down to the holiday time so that I could relax and enjoy life, and then half way through the holidays, getting anxious about that fact that they would soon be over.  I am enjoying living life more in the present.  In fact, today I did something that I can’t remember doing unless away on holiday, since I was a teenager.  The sun was shining, and being in the middle of a gripping novel, I took it out into the garden and read for an hour.  Sometimes the smallest things can be remarkable achievements!

On gaining new skills:

OK, so this one is a bit tricky.  In my marketing and communications role with the Community Development Agency in Bedfordshire, I have a job description with five out of seven responsibilities that I have never had before.  What I have learned is that if people think you are a capable person, they will assume you know what you are doing regardless of your background. Up until now, my focus has been not so much learning new skills but smartening up a few lost skills that haven’t been needed for a while and trying to size up just exactly what it is that I am going to be able to achieve in my six months there.  I need to balance my development needs with the thirst of the charity – without sufficient staffing to meet the desires and enthusiasms of all its projects – for an extra pair of hands.

Getting to grips with the use of social media for marketing in non-profit organisations will be a key learning curve for me over the next few months.  It features as an area for development in three of the four Charities that I have currently undertaken to help.  Delighted to have discovered a webinar on using Twitter for non-profit organisations last week, I enthusiastically signed up to a one o’clock session.  As I was turning off my computer and contemplating a well-earned night of rest, an email reminder pinged into sight, telling me that the webinar would be starting shortly.  As my dedication did not stretch to staying up that late I missed it.  So I will start with lesson number one on Social Media – it doesn’t have a day and a night, it means 24/7 engagement.  Incidentally, a few tentative clicks following this incident, and I have increased my twitter fan club from 3 to 13.  It is quite astonishing how much catching up I have to do in this department.

In complete contrast to the marketing role, I am training with the Citizen’s Advice Bureau as a Gateway Assessor.  The training program is structured, thorough and comprehensive. It will be weeks before I come face to face with an actual member of the public.  In the meanwhile, I am learning once more how to study and how to be comfortable in an office full of strangers, all of whom seem to be going about their business (whether paid or working as volunteers) with a frightening level of competence, efficiency and confidence.

I have taken on three new roles.  Apart from the two already mentioned, I am also now listed as an ‘advisor’ for a charity doing some excellent work with youngsters who are finding the standard school environment inaccessible.  A recent strategy day had me brushing up such terminology as SWAT and PESTLE.  I have never been good with acronyms – I need words that I can make sense of in the context, not visions of running round with a fly swatter and grinding spices with a pestle and mortar.  This doesn’t help the professional image I find myself needing to portray and makes me feel out of my depth even when I am not.


On being outside my comfort zone

Can I say that I am comfortable, and yet outside of my comfort zone at the same time?

Yes, there are plenty of boxes I can tick for being out of my comfort zone over the past few weeks,  and perhaps it is not surprising that my attention span, brain capacity and enthusiasm have been stretched to the full and at times been left wanting. There was a point some days ago, when being introduced to the third whole new set of staff within as many weeks, that I wanted to retreat back into a shell and reclaim an introverted and timid approach to life.  But I am doing what I set out to do, I am enjoying new opportunities, living for the present and looking forward to what is yet to come.


Now I think I will pick up that novel where I left off …….