What the NHS Constitution means to me

My dad died of cancer 5 years ago. He made the decision to spend his last four months in a familiar place surrounded by those he loved at home. I will be forever grateful to the NHS for supporting his decision and the care they gave him.

One of my best memories from that difficult time was one evening when my sisters and I played our favourite songs from his music collection to him. We drank late into the night listening to Midnight Train to Georgia, La mer and Eternal Flame; although he couldn’t speak much anymore he was still able to smile and even laugh a little before the pain got too much. It wouldn’t have been impossible but very unlikely to happen in a hospital even if we could sing and were less drunk.

Little did we know that this was his right under the NHS Constitution:

You have the right to be involved in planning and making decisions about your health and care with your care provider or providers, including your end of life care, and to be given information and support to enable you to do this. Where appropriate, this right includes your family and carers. This includes being given the chance to manage your own care and treatment.

The NHS Constitution for England – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

The care he received was a great interpretation and implementation of the spirit of the constitution. He was provided with a proper bed and had nurses visit regularly, his last days were as good as they could have been. The Trust he was seen under had the inclination and resources to support his final wishes.

Ultimately he donated his body to medical science and I now work for the Trust that took his body. I am not sure that these outcomes are directly related to his care but they are not unrelated. It is difficult measure the value of patient centred care in anything other than emotional human terms. For our family it was priceless and we will do our best to give back to the NHS for the rest of our lives.

Prior to this my feeling about medical care was that it was something that was done to me rather than something I participated in. I have spent much time with ageing relatives in various hospitals and the quote below is a thoughtful reflection from a doctor about the patient experience that made me cry:

To be made helpless before my time, to be made ignorant when I want to know, to be made to sit when I wish to stand, to be alone when I need to hold my wife’s hand, to eat what I do not wish to eat, to be named what I do not wish to be named, to be told when I wish to be asked, to be awoken when I wish to sleep.

Donald M. Berwick (What ‘Patient-Centered’ Should Mean: Confessions Of An Extremist)

That there is a framework that enables doctors and nurses to be human rather than efficient but ineffective automatons gives me hope. Long live the constitution let’s protect, evolve and disseminate.

Australia’s oddest names

Melbourne is not an odd name it was a named after a British prime minister but at the time there was strong support to call the place Batmania like Tasmania but Batmania after one of the founders of the area called John Batman. It’s a great name it wouldn’t be too out of place in a country that that has places called Yorkey’s Knob and Thirsty Sound. However Batmania didn’t make it (more’s the pity) and this article is about the ones that did the Chinkapooks, the Wonglepongs and the Darawanks. 

What did the aborigines call things?  

Woolloomooloo is one of my favourites and it profoundly confuses Wikipedia as all aborigine names seem to. It says that it could be derived from the word for Black Kangaroo, a place of plenty or even a type of fish that was once caught there. I think it is fair to say they have no idea why it is called what it is. 

The best theory I came across was that the first European explorers were not linguists and aboriginal languages are not the easiest to a European ear. I can imagine that they would have had trouble saying the native names let alone spelling them! Their misheard interpretations of what the aborigines called places have given us some great names. The Warrumbungles and Katoomba sound very exotic to me but names like wongle wongle and humpty doo just sound like they were made up after a couple of drinks around the camp fire for a laugh to see what they could get away with! 

A prime candidate for this would Dr Leichardt who I like to call the lying doctor because he made up his doctorate in order to give him more credibility to raise funds for his 3500 KM walk from Brisbane to Darwin. He wasn’t opposed to telling a porky or two and may have found it funny to make up a few names to make his stories more interesting to his investors. We will probably never know no matter how many anthropologists we throw at it and I like my version of events! 

Are we naming the small hills too?

The next group of names I want to look at are what I call the explorer names things like Thirsty Sound in Queensland where Darwin’s boat pulled in to get water and couldn’t find any. Darwin himself has a city named after him.  

If you go back to the time of the great explorers like Sturt, Burke and Leichardt there where huge amounts of things to be named and after you have named a few things after yourself you have to get a little more imaginative. You can name things after your King like George, after your governor like Macquarie or even after your breakfast like Bacon and Eggs bay in Tassie.

Yorkey’s Knob is a place where a fisherman called Yorkey was buried. A knob is a small hill in geography and things get a whole lot more complicated once you start naming small hills. By the time they got to the Great Sandy Desert they had genuinely run out ideas for names.   

Conclusion

There are lots of others like Come by Chance near Gulgong, Rum Jungle and Long Nose Point these names were obviously made up by people with a sense of humour and whether the aboriginal names that I mentioned earlier were named by who couldn’t spell or were just having a laugh remains lost in mists of time. 

So to conclude in the words of the British Home Secretary Lord Sydney for whom our city was named: We all just have to accept that Wagga Wagga is always Wagga but Woy Woy is never just Woy.  

What in God’s name is Humanism? 

‘Christianity is a bit like a meat pie you know there is something in it, but you are not sure what’ 

Milton Jones

That is how I used to view religion. I was Christian and I am now a Humanist this article is about how and why I moved from Christianity to Humanism and then a little bit about the humanist viewpoint. 

I used to go to church every day at school and sing praises. I liked the stories and the church itself was a testament so to speak to the religion that built. It was beautiful. My parents were not religious, so I made my own rituals at home. 

I called it the 3 Ps, every night before I went to bed first, I said my prayers, did 50 press-ups (healthy body = heathy mind) and then read the Psalms (a few chapters of the Bible). As time went by I stopped the prayers, then stopped the psalms and ultimately the press-ups too and I was left with a gap.  

I got interested in Hinduism which is a pretty uncool thing for a 16-year-old trying to make his way in the world to be into, but reincarnation explains pain and suffering in a way that Christianity never did for me. Basically, pain and suffering exist because you were evil in a past life – neat, but it also has a god with a monkey head.  

So, by the age of 20 I was over it and into the staunchly rational fields of holistic medicine, Homeopathy, crystals and yoga. Unfortunately, just as you never see homeopaths sans frontiers going to a disaster zone, they were also unable to help me with my existential crisis.  

And so, as the joss stick smoke faded, I moved into self-help hell. You know the stuff: the power of Yes, the power of no, the $100 Start up. You can’t spell success without U! I read hundreds of these books. Thank goodness for Star Trek, the Hitch Hikers Guide the Galaxy and Richard Dawkins or my sense of reality would have become seriously twisted. Without them I may have ended up selling herbal Viagra to Tantric Yoga practitioners in a Mayan temple in Guatemala. 

I was becoming a humanist – realising that the universe was not built for us, but we have survived as a species against all the odds by grouping together. Pooling our knowledge so we don’t have re-learn everything ourselves but can stand on the shoulders of those who went before us – Newton’s proverbial giants and that is what separates us from the apes. 

Religion has helped mankind make huge advances in architecture, medicine and the distribution of information. But that comes at a cost (faith) and that cost is now stifling the creativity it once nurtured in established religions. None of the current world issues that matter like climate change, nuclear war, technological disruption are addressed or comforted by religion.  

Humanists believe that humanity has the capability within it to fix the problems it faces we do not need to look to god. After all even the Pope looks both ways before crossing a road. 

Humanists believe that we are good because we want a fair and safe world for those we love and by extension those that they love and so on. We are part of something bigger – the human race. 

I like the humanist view because they are trying to do is create the communities that religions have without the guilt or fear. I was married by a humanist celebrant on the end of a pier (non-consecrated ground heaven forbid), they have naming ceremonies instead of Christenings, Winter solstice instead of Christmas, spring festival instead of Easter and so on.  

Events like this allow people to come together and talk about the things that worry them and band together to get things fixed. The British Humanist Association won their imaginatively named campaign Teach Evolution not Creationism which stopped schools teaching creationism in science classes in 2014. You can still teach creationism just not as a science class.  

The British Humanist Association promotes a positive outlook on life, and I wish I had found them years ago when I was searching for something to sooth my aching soul. Please check out their website and listen to Stephen Fry, Tim Minchin and others explain it all a lot better than me!   

References

https://humanists.uk/humanism/

Does everybody else do things the hard way too?

I love what I do but came to it by chance and wasted a lot of time on things that ultimately I didn’t want. I have lived a thousand lifetimes in my head as an actor, writer, scuba diving instructor, hotel magnate, pilot, croupier, sailor, army hero and humanitarian saviour. I have even made significant steps towards these ends but somehow ended up teaching people how to use databases.

As they say, if you don’t know where you are going any road will take you there but with time getting shorter and more people relying on me I want to make sure I know where I am going even if I don’t know how to get there. Much of the wonky road I took was because I didn’t have a realistic vision of:

  1. What I wanted,
  2. What I had, or
  3. What could stop me

What I want – Journey’s End

Starting with the end in mind is a great idea but I have often been too specific in what I want rather than why I want it. I wanted to be a scuba diving instructor in a tropical location. As I started to train and become involved in the daily work of a scuba instructor I found that what I really wanted was to travel to exotic locations and visit surreal environments. It turned out that becoming a scuba instructor was the wrong strategy for me to do that.

At the time I felt like I had failed as a scuba instructor rather than discontinued an expensive, inefficient strategy for living in an exciting, tropical location with time to explore surreal environments. I achieved that goal by moving to Sydney with a company I was already working with and scuba diving for fun rather than work.

Simon Sinek talks about the importance of starting with ‘why’ which makes you think in a different way to starting with ‘what’ and is much more inspiring when you explain it to people. He uses the golden circle to illustrate it:

Golden Circle Simon Sinek
https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action

Starting with ‘what’:

I will become a scuba diving instructor (what) by studying with the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (how) because I love exploring surreal environments in exotic locations it just blows my mind which makes me happy (why).

Starting with ‘why’:

I like having my mind blown (why) by visiting surreal environments in exotic locations (how) I want to become a scuba instructor (what).

My focus is different ways of having my mind blown rather than different ways I can become a scuba instructor which feels like a better priority.

What I have – If I was going there I wouldn’t start from here

Even if you know where you want to go there is plenty that can stop you particularly a natural human belief in unworthiness or powerlessness. Robert Fritz calls this structural conflict which everybody feels but it also drives creative tension pulling you towards your vision the two forces act like two elastic bands pulling you in different directions:

Peter Senge – the Fifth Discipline

For me recognising it is natural to feel impostor syndrome or powerless against impossible odds helps me through the tough times of self doubt.

What can stop me

When wrestling with self doubt and unworthiness you should use the power of the creative tension pulling you towards your goal however I have often used these misguided strategies that Fritz outlines instead:

1. The Titanic approach – full speed ahead and fxxk the icebergs

This strategy is using the force of your will to achieve things regardless of the consequences. I have wanted to move back to the UK for a couple of years and started the process just before COVID hit. When it did I didn’t let it dissuade me, when I got no replies from job applications I carried on and my wife gave up an excellent job.

We burned through a large chunk of our savings, my kids had behavioural issues as we moved them through several schools and my wife’s sleep and sanity have been severely tested by the stress of the move. Was it worth it for a somewhat arbitrary goal that I wanted to be back in the UK within the next 5 years to be closer to the rest of my ageing family?

I knew it would be hard but thought a little short term pain was worth it for a long term gain. My belief in the goal blinded me from discussing the impact on my family with an open mind. It is really tempting for me to say that the ends justified the means but that belittles the struggle of my family, if in a year’s time I have still achieved my goal but I am divorced and my kids hate me then the goal, the self confidence and the why means nothing.

2. Animal farm approach – all animals are equal but some are more equal than others

Like George Orwell’s pigs in Animal Farm this strategy is about eroding the dream so it is easier to achieve or has already been achieved but not acknowledging that is what you have done. In many ways this is bringing the goal to you rather than reaching the goal.

3. Conflict manipulation

Instead of reaching the goal you are pulling away from the fear of failure. This can be effective for a while but the best that can happen is that you don’t fail rather than succeeding. Not failing is ok but not very inspiring.

Conclusion

In the past, I have overestimated what can be achieved in the short run and underestimated what is possible in the long run by using creative tension to pull me to my goal. I have either catapulted myself at my goal regardless of the consequences, pulled the goal closer to my current reality or pushed hard away from a negative that I didn’t want to happen. Hopefully this reflection will help me move closer to where I want to be in a more direct if not faster way.

References

Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action | TED Talk

The Fifth Discipline – Peter Senge

The path of least resistance https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=trhkNnigc3o

How I started my third career after redundancy

Three months ago, I got made redundant. I decided to start my third career after looking at lots of job sites where the job titles are getting much more imaginative:

  • Canva has a head of vibe
  • WordPress has happiness engineers
  • And Atlassian need someone to manage their Brainery (a craft education platform)

I feel I have led a sheltered life having never worked for a company with a ‘wellness modality facilitator’ and my experience as a ‘ying and yang deficiency class trainer’ is nil (real adverts). After reading some blogs about career changing, a self-proclaimed ‘people scientist’ advised that:

“The best way to predict the future is to create it”

Which makes sense even if it is easier said than done. It got me thinking about first principles; looking at things from that perspective, much of what I strived for in previous careers satisfied my wants and not my needs.

In my twenties I had 15 jobs in 8 years, started my own, successful company and lived in 3 different countries. In my thirties I moved to the other side of the world, got a wife, mortgage, 2 kids, ran 2 marathons and lost a fortune in stocks and shares during the global financial crisis. This is the meta data of my life and represents the things I have done that I value.

I read a great quote about happiness:

“Happiness is not having what you want but wanting what you have”

All humans have basic needs, the psychologist Abraham Maslow in his theory of motivation identifies 3 main types of need:

  1. Basic needs – Eg food, water, shelter, safety
  2. Psychological needs – Eg relationships, respect, self-esteem
  3. Self-actualisation needs – Eg reaching for my full potential

Motivation increases as our basic needs start being met, then, as our psychological needs are met we have capacity to reach our full potential. Conversely if we have all our basic and psychological needs met but we are not striving to reach our full potential then motivation decreases.

Motivation, grit or whatever you want to call it is what drives successful lives (not necessarily careers). There is a lot of talk of pivoting and career changing which I don’t think is the right way to think about it. I am not really pivoting; I am continuing to satisfy my human needs but have changed the method for doing that.

Going forward the relentless pursuit of my needs is going to be the driving force in my life. It sounds very selfish but until you learn to help yourself you cannot help anyone else. I will not be using salary or how much other people have as benchmarks for my life anymore. These are the 3 areas I will focus on:

1. Basic needs

How much do I need each month to cover, housing, food, water, health and education for my family and I?

I now know how long my redundancy payout will last; how will I pay these costs going forward?

How many clients, jobs or side hustles will it take to create that income?

Once I start earning, I need to put 10% of everything aside as savings for retirement or crises (as per the ancient wisdom of “The Richest Man in Babylon”), everything above that can be spent on my other two needs:

2. Strong relationships

My relationships with family, friends and mentors are vital to me and something that I have really neglected in my previous 2 careers.

The Gottman Institute has done extensive research on relationships. Their research revealed a “magic ratio” of 5 to 1. This means that for every negative interaction during conflict, a stable and happy marriage has five (or more) positive interactions.

Whilst counting interactions with your nearest and dearest seems a little weird I am mindful that the ratio is much higher than I thought, and I know I was not achieving it even without counting. I am now showing intentional appreciation for things that I have previously taken for granted. There are lots of good ideas here on the Gottman Institute blog to extend this further:      

The research is aimed at marriages, but we can all be more positive with everybody we deal with. I am also extending my mentorship network by actively seeking out people that can help me and who I can help.

3. Reaching my full potential

Before redundancy I was doing a lot of work that was easy to do and paid well but was not developing me in anyway. My motivation was down, and in some ways, it was lucky I got made redundant because if it had carried on, I would have started doing bad work – perhaps I was already.

For my third career I am trying to reach my full potential, be someone that my kids can be proud of. In the past things that have stretched me and that can be measured fall into these categories:

  1. Creating something new – how many new things did you create today or this month?
  2. Helping someone – how many people did you help today?
  3. Learning something – how many relevant things did you learn today?
  4. Pushing physical limits – is your 10k run time improving?

My first career ended with the Global Financial Crisis. What annoys me most about losing two thirds of my wealth is not that I was given bad advice or that capitalism is broken or the stupidity of the investment bankers.

I regret putting so much money into boring investments, that even if they had been successful would only satisfied part of my human needs as defined above. If I had taken everybody I love away for an expenses paid holiday for a year and then learned how to fly helicopters, I would be in a much better position than I am now. Instead I worked hard and saw my money disappear for no return.

My second career ended with COVID. I was a face to face trainer, by honing that skill I neglected others like eLearning that have since become more relevant.

My third career starts with the knowledge that ‘black swans’ like the GFC and COVID are inevitable but they do pass, life has thus far has always prevailed. The trick is coming out the other side of a crisis with something meaningful.