Thursday December 05, 2019

Gifts for all Seasons

(And where to find them)

Feet and shopping bags out Xmas shopping

At this time of year, our thoughts turn to gifts.

But I’m not going to be joining the blogging crowds down those seasonal paths of well-worn cliché.

This is about a different category of gifts. The gifts, if we learn to recognise them, that keep on giving.

The gifts we can harness and put to great use when we’re writing about our business, putting together our LI profile or crafting a covering letter. The gifts that leap the electric distance between people. Those that connect us to others who identify with our vision and understand where we’re coming from.

These are the gifts that lie quietly tucked away and are the real driving forces behind our “why” – the purpose, cause, or belief that inspires us to do what we do, be who we are (Simon Sinek “Start with Why”).

Listen to the B-side

Seasonal gifts are relatively easy to find but the gifts within us, our strengths and talents, are often less immediately apparent. To unearth them we have to dive deep, recognise ourselves as others see us and learn to look in unexpected places.

Sometimes it’s the flip-side of our faults, foibles and difficult experiences that holds the key to how we make our most powerful contributions.

A difficult start

From his earliest days, I found my eldest son the most fascinating company – he was endlessly curious, wise beyond his years and I couldn’t wait for him to start school, looking forward to seeing him flourish and learn.

Except it didn’t quite pan out like that. The next few years were challenging. Thankfully he seemed to sail through, high spirits and self-confidence intact, but his mischief making and refusal to conform made me a frequent visitor to the Head’s office.

And then, following one assembly where his class was encouraged to try out wind instruments, we discovered that he had an aptitude for music. From that point on things got better. He’d found an outlet for all that energy. As one of his teachers put it, “that headstrong side to him is what comes with, and is the other, and very necessary, side to his gift.”

“Terrible” gifts

Jeanette Winterson, in her memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? writes:

“What we notice in stories, is the nearness of the wound to the gift.”

Her strict, often cruel, religious upbringing and the loneliness she experienced as a child, unleashed a creative spirit that found its outlet in her wonderful writing.

She’s spoken of it as a gift, “a terrible gift,” but a gift nonetheless.

Looking for silver linings

Throughout my early years, I was the only fluent English speaker in my family. My parents were Polish and, when they arrived on these shores from behind the Iron Curtain, in a time and place when this was still a remarkable occurrence, they both worked in the architects’ department at the Greater London Council. They spent all day among other exclusively Polish-speaking architects and this, along with a social life that revolved around the Polish-Catholic church meant we lived in something of a Polish bubble.

Attending day nursery meant that I quickly learnt English, became bilingual and acted as my parents’ mouthpiece – translating and interpreting the TV news, facilitating Parent/Teacher Evenings and generally learning to speak up.

I soon realised that it wasn’t just two different languages that I had to navigate but, that what I was also dealing with, were two very different groups of people and ways of doing things. I didn’t know then that the word for it was “culture.” Seeing my parents struggle meant that I was also learning a valuable lesson in how vital communication is in conferring identity, a sense of belonging and security.

Although I might have wished to be more like everyone else, it turned out that “representing” my parents was brilliant grounding for my initial choice of PR as a career. And what does a copywriter do if not translate and  interpret their clients’ information in order to persuade people to act?

Gifts that get better over time

Today that faculty for nuanced understanding, for being able to see things from multiple points of view and take dry facts and shape them into something full of meaning, is fuel for my work.

There’s a reason why I love doing what I do – helping people best define themselves and their businesses, and in turn, find and communicate more effectively with their audiences.

Happy Hunting!

So remember, gifts come in many shapes, sizes and forms, and the really good ones, the ones worth having, usually have a flip-side or a fascinating back story.

Do you have any stories about gifts – unexpected, hard come by or easily worn?

Image – Xan Seymour

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