There's plenty of evidence to show that after a stressful period in our lives, we become addicted to cortisol, the hormone that powers us to 'fight or take flight' when in danger. Being stressed becomes the new normal and we unwittingly put ourselves under unnecessary pressure to maintain what has become our new equilibrium. It's probably why I drink industrial volumes of coffee each day.
In the summer of 2020 I will pass my 65th birthday, and also I hope, have a freshly printed MA in Creative Non-Fiction tucked under my arm. It will be my first experience of university life and will see me make the transition from social entrepreneur to biographer.
But now with just six months before I become a full time student, the pace of my work has shown no sign of slowing. I’ve continued to be hopelessly addicted to solving those enterprise conundrums that get in the way of good people striving to make life better for others. Some have even doubted my ability to make the transition to student, then later, to full time writer.
I too have had my doubts. But over the past week, things have somehow changed. I have lost the urge to jump in to solve other people’s challenges. I have also discovered how easy it is to say no, because pro-bono work was threatening to fill the creative time I’m trying to create. My body and my mind are telling me that the time really has come to make that change.
I’m lucky in that I no longer need to work to earn money. So the problem has I guess been one of confidence. Will my chosen career change will deliver the social impact by which I now measure my success? But now I know that the skills that have made me a successful social entrepreneur will also make me a successful non-fiction author. I’ve written 19 books already, but never given any one of them the time they deserve to truly change the word.
The next 18 months are going to be both interesting and exciting. Watch this space!
Every now and then you meet someone so transparently authentic, it forces you to question your own values. Am I really spending my time being the person I need to be, or I am still sacrificing vision for the comfort of familiar routines?
I visited Canary Wharf this week for a meeting. As usual, it was crowded with people purposefully striding from one place to another. There were none of the dawdling old folk you find in your local high street. Docklands is a young persons world; most were aged under 50.
Last year I was invited to join the business panel of national charity Power to Change. They'd given me a grant at the very beginning of the Norwich Mustard journey, and I really liked their vision, which is to 'create better places through community business.'
Provided with a Big Lottery Fund endowment they've played a leading role in giving profile and support to people striving to set up and grow community busineses. My view has long been that just as the 19th century was the era of the family owned business, the 20th the era of the corporate, this current century will see the rise of the community business.
Mustard making in Norwich is a good example of this trend. Colman's Mustard was a family firm, that became part of Uinlever. 2019 will see production leave the city, with community owned Norwich Mustard filling the void. It means local people will be the shareholders in a new, local mustard company. It means mustard making will remain in the city for ever.
Power to Change business panel members can nominate new community led projects they see for a modest £500 grant. The panel vote on each application, with those supported by the majority, seeing the grant quickly, often within days of applying.
So when I read in the EDP about how villagers at Swanton Abbot are setting about saving their pub from closure, I put them forward for a grant. This was successful and will help them publicise the campaign. But perhaps more important than the money is the fact that they can say to other funders they have been backed by Power to Change. I've also been able to point them towards others able to help them navigate their way ahead.
But perhaps most importantly of all, is that people in the village believe they can succeed, and have stepped forward to make things happen. You see right now in the 21st century, each and every one of us really does have the power to change.
We all know that if we eat more than we need, we will get fat. Eating enough keeps you healthy, whilst consuming more than enough can make you ill.
And so it is the same with work. I have habitually over-worked to the point where I've become addicted to over-achieving. Perhaps you are the same. The trouble is that people come to expect more and more from you, which prompts you to strive for even greater success. It is a vicious, ever tightening circle.
So the word I plan to reflect on as 2019 unfolds, is the word 'enough.' The OED defines enough as 'as much or as many as required.' I plan to make sure I always do enough, plus perhaps a tiny bit more to give margin for error. But I will no longer do much more than enough. Instead I will spend my new-found free time learning, so that I can better understand the world around me. I might then be better able to lead change.
This more balanced approach may make me wiser. It will certainly help me manage my mental health. It might also just make me more effective in the things I set out to do. So as you sit down to make your New Year Resolutions, do yourself a favour, be realistic and only set out to do enough to make your life, and the lives of those you love, better.
No, this is not a comment on Brexit, but more a comment on how our smaller charities seem to be dealing with change. Charity insurance specialist PolicyBee recently commissioned the University of Suffolk to survey attitudes to risk amongst charities with annual income of less than £500k.
Not surprisingly most (74%) were worried about falling income. But how they were dealing with this was more interesting. Most (64%) said they were too busy, or too hard up (52%) to impement risk management practices. This is worrying, as falling income is a very real risk almost all have to confront and challenge!
Seeking help, either from their local CVS or community foundation was not a path taken by many (30%). Neither was management training being sought, with 62% having had no management or goverance training. Lack of cash, time or not knowing where to go for the right training were cited as reasons for this inertia.
Yet you don't have to look far to find affordable, focused, friendly support. Ella Forums exist across the country, and blend informative speakers with valuable peer to peer support. My own organisation, Swarm Apprenticeships can deliver management qualifications to those running smaller charities with the Government picking up 90% of the cost.
Here's a link to the report. It makes sobering reading. If you run a small charity, use it as a prompt for your New Year resolutions. You ca see success in 2019, but only if you do something!
I have just visited the Dexter Street Baptist Church in Montgomery Alabama. It’s where Martin Luther King was first appointed Minister in 1954. Later he returned to Atlanta where he assisted his father alongside his national work campaigning for equal rights for African Americans.
So many organisations have bold strategies that fail to translate into simple actions at the coal face. A visit to the Martin Luther King Centre in Atlanta showed that this is not always the case. I saw a brilliant example of how the King Centre lives by the values that Martin Luther King died for.