The Story Of Life
This is a story made up of lots of little stories. These little stories are all anecdotes from my life to date. They represent both good and bad experiences. I have learnt from them all in some way.
Emotion affects all areas of memory formation, so on that basis, each of these stories must have invoked a strong emotion in me — both positive and negative.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou
I often find myself in situations where I have an unreasonable or disproportionate response. And that’s because it has hit a trigger, deeply embedded in my sub-conscious and the response becomes two dimensional. It relates to the situation at hand plus my previous experience and how it made me feel then. Now if that previous experience happened when my emotions were in a less mature state than they are now (i.e. I was young), I often find myself responding in a childlike manner. Irrationally hurt or disproportionately scared. And you know what, that’s ok. We all have learnt behaviours, hand prints left on our souls, tough lessons and experiences that have moulded us. The thing to do is to learn from them, see them for what they are but as Mark Manson writes about in his essay on the four stages of life ‘don’t get stuck in them’.
For me, I write my stories down. This process somehow gives me space from my emotional attachment and creates a level of objectivity I would not normally have. I guess it’s the same logic as having a mentor, coach or counsellor. Sometimes we need a translator or someone to hold a mirror up to us.
Understanding who we are is a complex and life long process. There is no end point, that’s a complete ‘red herring’ and always has been, it’s about the journey — learn from one experience in order to move on to the next. Eventually we (hopefully) become good enough at this to help others. We become the mentor, passing on the lessons, humanity and compassion that have been given to us.
“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants” Isaac Newton
So here is my eclectic collection of stories — all of which have moved me on and taught me lessons I have relied on many times in my life to date.
I was a young child, maybe 6 or 7 years old. We were on holiday in Wales. Two guys were arguing by the roadside — about a near miss between them. One of the guys flagged us down. My dad stopped. He wound down his window and one of the guys said to my dad “can you help me please as I’m sure he is going to hit me”. My dad instinctively went to help, my mum held him back. She said, “you can’t get involved, we have 4 young children in the back of the car”. My dad hesitated, torn between doing what he instinctively wanted to do and my mum holding his arm, begging him to drive on. He drove on.
I’m not sure he ever forgave himself for that. I don’t know what happened to the guys and neither do I know whether my parents called the police when we got to our destination. I never raised it as I instinctively knew that it would make my dad feel bad. To this day, I do not know who was wrong and who was right. I just learned that sometimes in life, tough decisions have to be made and they don’t always make you feel good about yourself. That’s it.
I was 10 years old. They were selecting players for the school netball team. I wanted to be on that team. At the trials I got told that there was only one place left and there were two of us that wanted it. We were told to share the position, playing one half of each match until the teacher decided who was good enough. The first match came, I waited patiently on the side-lines. Half time came and went, I was not brought on. I spent the whole of the match stood on the sides lines, stifling my sobs of disappointment and hurt.
Afterwards when I told the teacher, tears of disappointment rolling down my cheeks, she said “well you should have said something”. So after that I did. I spoke through my actions. I played netball every day and played every match like my life depended on it. I got the place on the netball team and then the hockey team and then the swimming team. But that experience never left me, the realisation of how easily we can be forgotten and how casually our disappointment and hurt dismissed. I learnt to respond with action, competence and resilience. That stood me in good stead for many years but it cost me my ‘gentleness’ and took away my trust and that was sad.
Learning to trust yourself
I was 13 years old. I had been away for 3 weeks visiting my sister in Gibraltar.
Immediately upon getting home from the airport, I ran to the school gates to greet my friends. I had missed them and I was full of exciting stories to share with them. The ‘ring leader’ of our gang came out of the gates — beautiful, tall and so very popular, we all wanted to be her.
I shouted her name and ran over, she ignored me. The rest of the gang walked out, they ignored me too. I ran after them all the way home — asking, pleading, begging to know what I had done, to be ostracized in this way. I was simply met with blank, stony faces. I went home sobbing.
I was ‘sent to Coventry’ for months. I never found out why. I established new relationships with new friends. It was hard work and lonely. The new friends were wary of me at first — after all I had been in the ‘gang’ who basically took the piss out of them.
My heart was broken that day, but it mended. I learnt what true friends looked like and I learnt that the only place of real safety is inside yourself.
Those skills have stood me in good stead my whole life. Look for the authenticity in people and if you can trust in yourself then others will too.
My first taste of feedback
I was 13 years old. I was forced to make new friends as my old ones had deserted me. I tried to hang out with the new group but one boy in particular was having none of it. When I asked him why, he simply said “because you are not very nice to people.”
Harsh but probably fair at the time. The group that I had just been ostracized from was the ‘cool’ group, who generally treated others outside of that group with disdain.
That boy set me a challenge. He said “when you are nice to people, you can hang out with us.” And so I set about being nice and working hard to be accepted by the group.
And eventually I was. That boy became one of my close friends. He was one of the few people at school who truly understood mortality and had an adult perspective on life — his mother was dying.
That boy saved me from being someone I wouldn’t have liked and was not meant to be. I learnt that being able to face and accept honest feedback can be a great enabler to be yourself. I also learnt that living a tough life takes courage and means that you may need an exterior capable of taking the knocks but that doesn’t take away the kindness that lies within.
My first taste of leadership
I was 18 years old. I used to hang out with my mates at a place called ‘Brisbane Court’ on a Friday night. We had nowhere else to go as the Youth Club was closed.
One night the police came and told us to move on. The residents had complained, we were too noisy. “But where to?” we asked. The police replied “just move on.”
So the next Monday night we told the story to our youth leaders. We asked them to open the Youth Club for more nights. They said there was no funding available. But one youth leader thought for a moment and then said “but there are no rules to stop you running the club as volunteers.”
And so we did. We created a committee, we opened our own business account, we went on a team building weekend, we successfully ran our youth club every Friday night for over a year.
No one else ever did this again. I received a National Youth Award for it.
Looking back I now realise that this was my first taste of being a leader and I loved it. I loved it because I love people — I love being with them, laughing with them, crying with them, seeing them develop and being there for them when I’m needed.
And I learnt that being a good leader was really all about two things: loving being with and caring for people.
I was 18 years old. I sailed through my GCSEs so expected the same with my A ‘Levels. Silly me, I virtually failed them. There was no sympathy to be had at home — I’d spent the last 2 years partying, snogging, smoking and drinking. My dad said “well you get out of it what you put in and you have got out of it what you put in”.
Harsh but true.
So, what to do. I was rearing to go, another year to re-sit my A Levels was highly unattractive and not going to University was unthinkable. My dreams of attending Liverpool University and becoming a World Class Barrister were no longer within my grasp. Instead, I got the UCAS hand book and my parents telephone and shut myself in our lounge for 2 solid days. I started at ‘A’ and worked my way through every University in the UK asking for a place on a course — any course, anywhere. I arrived at T when I hit the jackpot. A place on a new degree course at Teesside University — International Business and Information Technology (IBIT). I took it in a flash. I made it to University, I transferred in my final year to Leeds Met and graduated with a 2:1 BA Hons in Business Information Management. Sometimes you just have to play the odds and hope you get lucky once in a while.
Finding my first job
At the tender age of 22 years old I found myself in a crap job, bored senseless and earning a pittance. I saw an advert for a job in Nottingham. It sounded exciting — business consultants required, minimum 5 years’ experience, performance management skills essential, salary tbc. I had no experience and I met none of the requirements listed. But I wanted that job so I applied anyway.
My letter started like this “Dear Sir, I am genuinely excited by the opportunity you are advertising. I do not meet any of the requirements you have specified but I can offer the following…….” The CE was so impressed by my courage he decided to interview me. After the interview he said “you are high risk, inexperienced and not what we were looking for but I love your personality and spirit. You are me 30 years ago”. I got that job, it was the first day of the rest of my life. Within 2 years I was running the largest department within the business. Thank goodness for leaders like this, who are brave enough to take a chance and confident enough to trust their gut instinct.
Making the best of a bad situation
It was my big shot in the city. Working for a boutique consultancy and developing new services. Being part of the leadership team. Selling directly to clients. I had made it.
But it wasn’t to last. The company lost a large client. They tried to replace them but to no avail. Initially we all took a 20% pay cut to weather the storm. Then we all moved to associate roles where you only got paid if you were working on fee earning work.
I was one of those few. But it was too soon for me to be self-employed. I wasn’t ready to go it alone. I was still learning my trade and needed a structure and mentors around me.
I took action and contacted head hunting agencies. Within 2 weeks I had an interview and 24 hours later a job offer.
When I told my boss he was charming despite being in a position where his dreams lay in tatters. He said to me “That organisation will help you see how good you really are and give you the confidence you need to grow”. He was right, my next job was the pivotal phase in my career — they developed and empowered me. Ultimately, they enabled me to become the entrepreneur I was always meant to be.
Sometimes you need to ‘roll with the punches’ and see where it takes you.
It was year-end, performance review time. I had been allocated a new counsellor, he didn’t know me nor did he really want to. He came out of the year-end review process and presented me with an average rating, no bonus and no shot at promotion. This was the first time in my whole career that I had not received a top performance rating. To say I was gutted was an understatement.
Another counsellor took over my career to stop this happening again and to keep me from leaving. The next year I got the top rating, the bonus and a shot at promotion.
But I was bitter with a dented ego. I didn’t get that promotion — not because I wasn’t good enough but because I was arrogant and rude. I felt that I was owed the promotion for the cock-up the previous year. I took my ‘bat and ball’ home and handed in my notice.
All of my bad decisions in life have been driven by 3 things: a sense of entitlement — I have earned this, an over-inflated ego — I am more than good enough for this and a lack of humility — I should have this.
The reality was that I was hurt — my hard work had been ignored and I felt under-valued. Best to be honest with yourself and others about how you really feel or you might end up being arrogant and rude to.
Failure and ego
I used to be an entrepreneur. My business was successful for a number of years. But it sucked every minute from me and left no time for my family.
It was based on ‘rocky’ foundations. I told myself that I started it because of my passion. But the reality was it was all about my ego. I hadn’t got the promotion I wanted at work so I left and decided to set up my own company instead. That ego drove me to employee people rather than stick with a more effective associate model, pay for expensive offices so we ‘looked’ the business and waste precious resources by travelling first class.
The financial crash came, our reserves were depleted. I had to sit down and make people redundant. I had to close the office down and move it back home. I had to swallow my pride, deflate the ego and get real.
I took a career break afterwards — to recoup, review and refresh. I am now back. I can’t help myself, I’m still an entrepreneur, it’s in my blood. But this time it will be different, no ego, no pride, no first-class travel — just pure intellectual stimulation, a genuine passion to make the world a better place and a desire to execute my trade well in a way that fits around my family.
I’m a 46-year-old, menopausal woman who has recently returned to work after being a stay at home mum for the last few years. I’m not done with my career yet, in fact I’m just starting and I’ve learnt a few things along the way:
1. Motherhood does not have to be the end of your career. Taking time out, becoming a mother allowed me to discover parts of me that I did not even know existed. It developed my logistical and multi-tasking skills to a whole new level and allowed me to return to my career more focused, more creative and with a much clearer purpose. You know what, I think that everyone should take time out, it’s critical to make space, to think new thoughts and discover new parts of you
2. The menopause is crap but it makes you focus on your health, create time to rest and set some much-needed boundaries
3. Grief can break you but then you get back up, truly understand your mortality and start to focus on what matters
4. Being a good parent is so hard it’s untrue, no work challenge comes close so everything becomes achievable
5. Age is liberating, you learn not give too many fxck’s (brilliant phrase Mark Manson), finally acquire some wisdom and ditch the ego.
That’s it for now, I hope there are many more to come. The real punchline from all of this — be brave, be honest and be you.
Nik Davis is a mother, wife, homemaker, aspiring writer, vlogger, occasional transformation consultant with a love for fashion and design and life. More of her thoughts and work can be found at:
observing life www.nikdavis.com
organisational transformation www.n2-consulting.org
fashion and design www.lillyisabella.co.uk