Thursday, September 09, 2021

Essentialism - Greg McKeown

 

This book is an invitation to simplify. Greg McKeown outlines three principles that get underneath the tactics of time management: explore, eliminate, and execute. Essentialism is developing our self-awareness and clarity to allow us the disciplined pursuit of less. Using personal stories (the author shares how he interrupted the birth of his child to deal with a client - something had to change) and clear summaries ('Non-Essentialist' and 'Essentialist' approaches are bulleted in each section) each point is carefully made. It is a book that is lean and quickly-read - but also more easily-implemented than most in this genre.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Five-A: Complicating Factors "I could hear him talking to himself. Loudly."

I've never looked at spice pots...in the same way ever again

Welcome to Part Five-A!

Just when I thought life couldn't get more interesting or absurd...this happened.

Reminder:

_Men/ Young Men: seriously - learn to check your testicles regularly please - see here*

_Women: get the gentlemen in your life to check their testicles regularly

(Re)Reading List:

Part Four: Control the Narrative/ It's a Great Feature

Part Three: Ninety-Something Percent Certain

Part Two: Smooth Egg Intact

Part One: I'm Not In Any Pain

---

5a: Complicating Factors "I could hear him talking to himself. Loudly."

Once the surgery was scheduled, it wasn't a case of waiting around.

There was one complicating factor (amongst several really).

Namely - the fertility journey Davina and I are on.

Any man who's having cancer treatment is entitled to have a sample of sperm frozen. This is  because cancer treatment can affect fertility - leaving aside the fact I have testicular cancer, any possible treatments: chemotherapy, radiography, or surgery will affect fertility.

So, whilst getting my diagnosis, and getting scheduled for surgery, I had another conversation/ set of emails with another hospital where they store frozen sperm samples.

Thursday 24 September 2020, Hammersmith Hospital, 12:30 - an appointment for "Sperm Banking" (as it's called).

I found a small innocuous-looking waiting room with plain seats.

In a separate office with big windows that could see into the reception area, An imposing woman sat behind a desk. I walked through, sat down, and after checking my name, handed me a clipboard with at least ten pages of forms. She said that I'd need to fill them in carefully. I took a deep breath and let it all go so I could sit and concentrate. With my own Star Wars pen in hand, I resolved myself not to miss anything.

She went back to re-checking previous forms of men who were in the several smaller rooms down a small corridor off the reception area.

Ah I thought - that's where the sample production would happen.

I went back to the clipboard I was holding. This form was way more detailed than anything I'd encountered before. The circumstances had heightened emotions considerably.

To add to my growing nervousness, another guy walked into the reception area and sat down.

It was only then that I noticed what hung in the air. The Great Unsaid. We were there to produce a semen sample for freezing. Pretty much all due to some kind of cancer.

I handed my form back and then she checked it carefully. She then handed me a back a pot and explained that I needed to put my name, date of birth, and time of production on the label. I was allocated a room.

From my time as part of the Trying To Conceive (TTC) community, these were all things I expected.

The thing about those sample pots - I've never looked at spice pots of cumin or cinnamon sticks in the same way ever again.

What happened next was something I was not expecting.

This might sound like I'm making it up, but I'm not.

I'm really not.

This happened.

As I walked to my allocated room, I heard another man walk in, talking to himself and anyone around. He was loud, but just shy of obnoxious. Saying things like:
"well here we are then"
"I can't believe we're here eh?"

As I entered my sample production room and locked the door, I realised that the walls were pretty thin. I could hear what he was saying.
"not something I expected to be doing"
"she's making me do this"
"yeah well she's left me since ..."
"It's all a bit much to handle"

As I was getting myself ready, I thought "Please don't let him be in the room next to mine."

I heard the door to the room next door open and close.

Then something like:
"Well here I am" [nervous laugh]
"I can't fucking believe this"
"This should be easy"
"Well come on then"
"For fuck's sake" [more nervous laughing]
"Ok come on then"
etc. etc.

"I could hear him talking to himself loudly."

Going through fertility treatment has meant I'm no stranger to performing under pressure - three rounds of IVF, multiple sperm analyses at several locations across London - has done that to me.

I'm used to any combination of things like: faceless windowless rooms, furniture with plastic covering, a magazine rack of pornography, a small tv with a dvd player, the sense of the room being a broom cupboard, the feeling of being an after-thought in the fertility clinic, the Handing Back Of The Pot...and all the range of emotions that go with this.*

It's a whole process that cuts to the core of what it means to be a man, and perhaps what it means to be human.

It's also incomprehensible to those who haven't been in it.

But this time it was different.

Just take a moment and think about what's happening:
I'm in a faceless room...
...with my pants down...
...expected to masturbate into a small pot...
...to produce a sample of my semen for freezing...
...because I was diagnosed with testicular cancer a week ago...
...and I can hear a guy doing the same thing nearby...
...in another room...
...talking loudly to himself.

Nothing could be more off-putting to producing a sample.

And I now apologise for the image you might have in your head.

But really - this all happened.

I'd never felt more nervous and scared.

And somewhat amused at the sheer absurdity of it all.

You know that feeling when you feel your head throbbing and you can sense movement in your temples?
Or when you can hear your heartbeat in your ears and mouth - heightened anyway because you have a mask on?

That.

It took me much longer than I expected to produce my sample.

And I did have beads of sweat on my forehead.

I returned to the office and handed back my labelled (spice) pot. The woman gave it to a man who took it into the lab behind them - which I had no idea was there.

She explained that the sample would be kept frozen for five years and that I would get a copy of the forms in the post.

I asked if I could find out about the quality of the sperm and any possible effects on future fertility.

"No. It's not possible to do that."

"I see." I replied.

My thoughts were along the lines of:
...I've go no way of knowing if my sample is any good
...this makes no difference to whether I can become a dad or not...cancer or not...
...given the 'unexplained fertility' diagnosis I've had...the results of past analyses...the tests I've had...the lifestyle changes I've made...the health improvements I've built...

...this whole thing could be pointless.

As I walked back to the car where Davina was waiting, I noticed my hands were shaking.

--
In writing this post, I got a message from my wonderful smart watch "abnormally high heart rate detected".

Every time I share the next part of my journey, it is like re-living it.

At the same time, it's also like acknowledging it so I can move forward...

...to the day of surgery.

---
*Men's fertility treatment is a big conversation in the TTC community. In nearly a decade of being involved, things are changing slowly. Mostly because men are starting to talk. IMHO men having fertility treatment are at the leading edge of the question "What does it mean to be a man?" We're redefining and re-examining masculinity.

Thursday, August 05, 2021

Jonathan Livingston Seagull - Richard Bach

 


This book is about a seagull who explores what it means to fly - but it's actually a fable about life. Early on in the book Jonathan teaches himself to fly at 214 mph - terminal velocity for a seagull. Learning can be seen as the willingness to explore and go beyond our limits. Jonathan has a relentless willingness to learn and discover what his true nature is. Published in 1970, this novella is a deceptively simple story about who we really are.

Get your copy here - and read it in a day!

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Getting Things Done - David Allen

This is a book for building productivity habits - from the ground up. David Allen outlines five steps:  capture, clarify, organise, reflect, and engage - that detail the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology. The approach defines productivity as owning your attention, being present in the moment, doing exactly what you ought to be doing. Reading the book is like completing a (challenging) coaching session with steps to integrate the principles into your life. Whilst it can feel like a 'business' book, it's applicable for 21st century living and beyond.

Get your copy here.

Thursday, June 03, 2021

Atomic Habits - James Clear


This book is about how to build habits. James Clear outlines the Four Laws of Behaviour Change in straightforward language using stories, personal experiences, and research. The laws are: Cue (make it obvious), Craving (make it attractive), Response (make it easy), and Reward (make it satisfying). From its first sentence, the opening chapter is a salvo of personal experiences creating powerful engagement -which has supported me creating and maintaining an exercise habit for 189 consecutive days (and counting). It is the most effective self-development book of the last decade.

Buy it here now.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Integrity - S01E08 - SAIYSW


Integrity is a powerful and profound concept.

In my opinion - misunderstood and overused.

But what does it *really* mean? And how can be applied to empower us instead of demean our sense of who we are?

In this episode (the season one finale) I cover three definitions of integrity:

1) Integrity is doing the right thing when no-one is watching - a relatively common description

2) Integrity is conforming your reality to your words - from Stephen Covey's book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People*

3) Integrity is the state of being whole and complete - from an interview with Economist Michael Jensen "Integrity: Without it Nothing Works"

*Full disclosure - this is an affiliate link

Ideas you can do today:

_Download and read the interview from point 3 above

_Make a list of the promises you've made to other people. Do a complete inventory. See what you notice about doing this - are there any conversations to be had?

_Make a list of any messes you've made in a relationship this week. From the small ones to the big ones. Get in touch with a smaller one on the list today and clear up the mess.


Listen here on Spotify.

Saturday, May 08, 2021

Four: Control The Narrative/ It's A Great Feature

My first message using a WhatsApp broadcast - It's A Great Feature

Welcome to Part Four!

I experienced an undercurrent of stronger emotions as I wrote this.

I wasn't aware until I snapped at Davina after writing it.

Doing these posts is like re-living the experience - and it helps at the same time.

Writing this part reminded me of how much the story we tell ourselves about ourselves...is well...a story...and we can re-write it at any time.

I was also reminded of the profound nature of the conversations we have with the people in our lives. It's almost as if they create who we are.

Reminder:

_Men/ Young Men: seriously - learn to check your testicles regularly please - see here*

_Women: get the gentlemen in your life to check their testicles regularly

(Re)Reading List:

Part Three: Ninety-Something Percent Certain

Part Two: Smooth Egg Intact

Part One: I'm Not In Any Pain

---

4: Control The Narrative/ It's A Great Feature

As I got into my car, I had the sense that time was moving and standing still.

At. The. Same. Time.

"I have testicular cancer"

I think I might have said it out loud as I sat in the car. To practise. To make it more real.

Even if I didn't, that was the overriding thought.

I tried calling Davina (my wonderful wife). It went to voicemail.

FUCK!

I don't remember if I left her a message. But she needed to go into work that day. No chance of getting through to her.

Is it bad that my next thought was - what about work?

That morning I'd fully expected to be back in school for the afternoon.

Not any more.

So, as I drove around the back streets towards the tube station to pick up my wife, I found myself on the phone to my deputy head at school.

Hi <name>- can you talk?

Yes.

Are you sitting down?

Yes - why?

I've received a diagnosis of testicular cancer.

Oh - I'm so sorry to hear that.

And like that it became real.

My deputy head was the first person in my life that I told.

Of all the people...FFS. 

I wasn't seething with rage. But wasn't numb either.

After I got off the phone I did have one thought:

"I want to control the narrative"

More instinctively than by design, I knew that the way I communicated it with people would have an effect on their reactions.

--

I picked up Davina from the tube station.

So they know what it is.

Oh really?

You should put your seat belt on.

OK.

Are you ready? I have testicular cancer.

Tears - on her part.

Then whydidthishappenwhynowhowcomethesethingshappentousitsnotfairwhatarewegoingtodowhatdoesitallmean

As we drove home I explained the key facts that I was going to be explaining a lot over the next few days:

_testicular cancer is very treatable

_because it's the testicles, the chance of spread is very low

_I'm going back for a CT scan so they can check the spread

_based on that I may need chemotherapy

_they want me to have surgery in the next two weeks

_my CT scan is tomorrow

Everything had slowed down for me. I was only thinking about what was next.

Telling my parents, my sister, my wider family, friends.

"I want to control the narrative"

--

We got home and started calling. That was in fact most of the rest of the day.

I remember telling my parents. My dad was really super-factual about it (he'd spent nearly 30 years as a lab technician at the hospital where I was going to be treated). My mum was scared. I knew this because she kept repeating herself. And saying "oh gawd" (yes she really does sound like that).

Then my sister who said she had been wondering if it was cancerous because she'd looked up my symptoms. She is the most intuitive person I know. She sounded calm and worried at the same time.

I also remember telling my brother-in-law who promptly burst into tears.

And then my mother-in-law, and then selected friends.

And so it went over the next week.

I started to get used to speaking to people and being very factual about it. With the occasional joke. 

I also did one video on Davina's family WhatsApp group.

And quickly discovered that the communication method needed to vary according to who was getting the message.

First time telling: a call (depending on how important the person was to me, and if I wanted to tell them)

Updates: Phone call for close family, WhatsApp for friends that knew*

Everyone else who might ask but I didn't really give a shit about: generic email.

"I want to control the narrative"

--

I remember being clear about the generic email I wanted sent to colleagues. What I didn't want were a bazillion "well-wishing" messages.

I'm not sure a lot of the people who had my number would really give a fuck.

So I intentionally wrote a vague but truthful email to my Deputy Head stating exactly what I wanted communicating.

And then went about speaking to the people I wanted to tell.

I got used to the range of reactions:

"...wait what?"

"...naaaah man!"

"...why do bad things happen to good people?"

"...oh for fuck's sake." (That was my line manager who then said "you don't do things by halves do you?")

"...whoa."

etc.

One of my friends did say that the way I was explaining it made it easier for him to deal with.

That was when I realised how important it was to communicate the facts with everyone. No drama. No speculation.

This was something that helped me deal with it myself - what were the doctors actually saying? What did it mean?

I made my parents in charge of telling our wider family. I joked with them saying they were my "communications team" and drafted them a script.

Looking back, it made it easier for them to deal with - regular phone calls gave them the chance to ask questions (my mum now knows how to put her phone on speaker!)

And now I end every conversation with my parents and my sister by telling them I love them.

*Every* conversation. (Try it out for yourself and see what you notice...)

"I want to control the narrative."

--

Friday 18 September, I was back in the hospital for the CT scan. My mask. The sound of my breathing. More waiting.

A cannula, a warm sensation, a feeling like I'm going to urinate (except I won't).

The facts came in the next few days in a conversation over the phone.

There was no spread. It was Stage One Testicular Cancer. 

No point doing a biopsy - it might spread it - get in there and take it out.

Surgery scheduled for Wednesday 30 September.

Let's go.

---

*WhatsApp allows the creation of a 'broadcast list' where you can select contacts and send them messages all at once. Then when they reply, it appears in the conversations you have with them directly. It prevents the creation of ANOTHER unmanageable WhatsApp group. It's a great feature!

Meditation - S01E07 - SAIYSW



Meditation is frequently discussed in the world of self-development.

But what is it?

When I told someone that I meditate daily, they asked if I sit cross-legged, holding my fingers together saying 'omm'.

That's the stereotype.

Yet there is much more to it because it's a simple tool that can support our mental health by reducing stress.

Thought leader Tim Ferriss was surprised to discover how many (conventionally) successful people meditate.

In this episode I define the basic concept and give three sources to get you started:

1) Headspace - I used this and meditated 365 days in a row...but ultimately found it a little narrow in its focus...although it's had a few updates since. (At the time of writing they have a 30% discount.)

2) Calm - my current favourite because of the range of resources: different types of meditation, music for focus, sleep support...

3) Waking Up - my friend Willem recommends this one. Put together by neuroscientist Sam Harris, this is an exploration of attention and how the mind works.

Full disclosure - no affiliate links with these tools.

Ideas you can do today:

_click one of the links and try out a free version  (obvious right?)

_right now -notice your breathing. Don't try and change it - just notice it

_close your eyes and breathe in fully, then out fully, counting each in breath until you get to 10...harder than you might think

Listen here on Spotify

Saturday, May 01, 2021

Gratitude - S01E06 - SAIYSW

 



Gratitude is popular *everywhere*.

There are inspirational quotes shared across social media saying how powerful it is.

But what is it really?

In this episode I define gratitude and mention a great book about self-development - that's has a scientific basis.

Richard Wiseman wrote 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot in response to a friend asking about self-development practices that actually work.

Expressing gratitude is one of them.

Here are some ideas you can do today:

_start a gratitude journal

_write things you're grateful for and keep them in a jar (AKA 'Jar of Awesome)

_say one thing you're grateful for on some regular occasion: the start of a meeting, over dinner etc.

Listen here on Spotify.

---

PS Affiliate links used

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Habits - S01E05 - SAIYSW

a picture of mountains with some writing

Habits are currently a popular topic in self-development.

Three books and their ideas stand out - and in this episode I summarise their ideas.

They are (in the order in which I read them):

1) The Power of Habit - Charles Duhigg

2) Atomic Habits - James Clear, and

3) Tiny Habits - BJ Fogg

All give a slightly different take on a similar theme.

Ideas you can use right now:

_start a small habit today - after you brush your teeth: smile in the mirror/ do x1 press-up/ take a deep breath

_find a habit/ action you want to stop and identify the cue - see if you can replace the habit/ action with something more positive

Listen here on Spotify.

---

PS Affiliate links used

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Responsibility - S01E04 - SAIYSW


Perhaps responsibility has different meanings.

In this episode I discuss how it can be useful to think of my life as being down to me.

I am 'response-able'.

Books mentioned:

1) The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People - Stephen Covey (This was the book that started my whole self-development journey)

2) Man's Search for Meaning - Viktor Frankl

Listen on Spotify here.

AND - check out the Mind Journal here.

Note that for books, I use affiliate links.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Compassion - S01E03 - SAIYSW


I used to think compassion was weakness. But there is so much more.

I explore the meaning of compassion - and self-compassion. And ways to start practising it - mentioning two sources:

1_A book: "The Charisma Myth" by Olivia Fox Cabane, and

2_An article: from The Guardian "Silence your inner critic: a guide to self-compassion in the toughest times" Listen on Spotify here.

Note that for books, I use affiliate links.

Friday, April 02, 2021

Three: Ninety-Something Percent Certain

What the guy in the ultrasound department gave me on Wednesday 16 September, 2020

Welcome to Part Three!

Somewhat delayed.

Writing this more than six months cancer-free (yay!) is a sobering experience (boo!)

It's also a deeper reminder of:
1) How grateful I am for all the people in my life - from Davina, to my family, through to specific colleagues, and the pupils I teach, and 
2) All those habits I practise: meditation, planning my time, eating well, execising, playing guitar, journaling...etc. really do work.

Reminder:
_Men/ Young Men: please learn to check your testicles regularly - see here*
_Women: get the gentlemen in your life to check their testicles regularly

By the way you can re-read:
Part Two: Smooth Egg Intact
Part One: I'm Not In Any Pain

---

3: Ninety-Something Percent Certain

Thursday 17 September, 2020, 10:45am, I arrived at the urology department of St George's Hospital. With my mask on. I'd got used to breathing through my nose in my mask. As an asthmatic, it wasn't always natural. Nothing like necessity to force change.

I gave my name to the receptionist - who knew my name as if she'd been expecting me. I wasn't sure if that was a good or bad thing.

I was about to become very familiar with that particular reception area.

Because I sat and waited.

And waited.**

Of course waiting for something like this tends to exacerbate one's nerves. I started to meditate. There was one other older guy in the reception area. The television was playing some greatest goals programme. It is a urology department - so why not? Watching old goals from world Cup competitions gone by was strangely compelling.

And I don't like football.

So I went back to meditating. My breathing even louder in my ears because of the mask I was wearing.

A doctor called my name and invited me into a very standard looking examination room. I had another testicular examination from a medical professional. My scrotum has never had two different sets of male hands examine it - apart from my own - in such a short space of time.

As before it was uncomfortable but not painful.

Having your scrotum and testicles checked is an odd sensation. Like most men, I'm used to adjusting myself as I sit down and the feel of them in the shower.

But it's odd when a medical professional is examining.

I found myself feeling glad for the morning's shower.(Doesn't everyone get concerned about their genital area smelling bad?)

I took my seat and the doctor took his.

He asked me to explain what had led up to this point and I explained:
_noticed swelling in July
_went to Doctor
_ultrasound yesterday

I also explained the full version of our fertility journey. Short version:
_x3 failed rounds of IVF
_my low and subsequently improved sperm quality (I was producing weirdly formed sperm [technical term - low morphology] and the DNA quality was also less that normal [technical term - DNA fragmentation] - no explanation for this situation by the way...but that's another related story)
_we were starting the surrogacy process

The next part of the conversation went something like this.

Me (sounding tentative): Do you know what it is?
Urologist: Yes. Given your symptoms, how you're presenting, it's most probably cancerous.

I felt my breathing slow, eyebrows raise, and eyes widen.

Me: So what are the percentage chances it's cancer then?
Urologist: Oh ninety-something percent certain.
Me: Ok.

I took a deep breath. In my head I couldn't quite believe what I was hearing.

He then told me:
Of the percentage of men who have fertility issues, there is a much higher incidence of testicular cancer

Oh for fuck's sake.

Naturally (perhaps) I started to wonder if there was any explanation for this.

Me: It can't get any worse. I mean well it could but really - it can't get any worse.

He then explained that I would need a CT scan to check the spread. Because the testicles are outside the body, the chances of any spread are much lower. Once they knew what stage it was, they would then operate to remove the testicle.

I listened. Nodded. And processed.

In the next two weeks.

Whoa - they weren't fucking about. That's when the seriousness of the situation hit me.

They wanted the CT scan tomorrow and then get me booked in for surgery in two weeks.

I wasn't going back to school any time soon then.

He said they would need to take some blood and that I needed to go and wait in reception.

I went and sat down. And breathed. I could see that I had a choice:
_listen, ask questions, take action based on the facts, or
_freak the fuck out: anger, rage, upset, sadness, despair

Again I went back to my meditation and breathing.

And waiting.

For another 40 minutes as it turned out.

In some ways that wait was useful. I was able to allow my thoughts to flow through my head and dissipate. Which they did. I didn't really think about telling other people. The meditation habit I had built up was very useful.

I was eventually seen by a nurse who sat me down and explained she was going to have to take a few vials.

I told her that I'd just been diagnosed with testicular cancer.

With a strong Irish accent she was sorry. She also seemed shocked.

She also said it's more common. Perhaps becoming more common and speculated that perhaps it's got something to do with carrying a mobile phone in the pocket.

As I pressed the cotton wool into my arm, I started to think about who needed to know, what I would say.

By the time I'd got to the car I knew the first call I had to make was to Davina.

I knew it was one step at a time. One foot in front of the other.

On a bright Thursday in 2020, in the middle of a global pandemic, everything had changed.
---
*For all my frustration with Movember and their lack of action about men's fertility, they have great resources about testicular cancer
**Further on down the line, I asked specific people in my life to make me Spotify playlists. My sister put together an excellent one. It included the Fugazi song 'Waiting Room'. When I first heard it in the context of the playlist - I burst out laughing in the car.


Tuesday, January 05, 2021

The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho


This is a tale about following your dream. Santiago is a shepherd boy only four days away from seeing a girl he thinks he has fallen in love with - except he has a dream. Learning to listen to our own hearts and the wisdom within is a universal human challenge. Santiago's adventures, magically told, invite us to discover our own truth. Paulo Coelho has written a timeless simple fable with depths that reveal themselves upon repeated reading.

Get this book to read here.