Lovely compliment today: "You're such a relaxed person. I like your vibe. It's like you're happy, really happy, like totally unstressed. I just feel relaxed around you, comfortable. Like I can just be me, without being judged or anything. I'm trying to learn that, so people can feel like that around me," said the gelati shop guy.
My response: "Dude, you sell happiness in cones. You're everyone's buddy without even trying with sprinkles on top. You got nothing to worry about! But seriously, you got all that from this chat?"
"Yeah, you've just got this nice 'thing' about you. I can't work it out - but you're just 'nice'. And genuine. You actually make me feel happy and relaxed. Like nothing phases you. How do you do it?"
"mmm... well... there's always something to smile about. And your gelato is the best," was my off-the-cuff response.
But he was the 6th random person in 2 weeks to give me this random feedback.
Truthfully, I've been agony for 10 days - allergic reaction to a medication I was prescribed has not been a lot of fun getting it out of my system. I've been struggling to keep even tea down. Vomiting is hard work and my body is so sore, walking is a chore, sitting is painful, sleep is broken, and I've got a bucket next to my bed in case I need to bring up in my sleep. I'm weak and very tired. I have a migraine. And packet soup, hydralyte sticks and ginger beer tastes gross. Im eating neurophen 3 times a day. But hey, I'm grateful that I have an appetite - even if it is gelato, and I have the ability to go for a short walk outside for the first time in 2 weeks. I was in a lot of pain while I got my gelato cone. I was surprised that he didn't notice it, but I was trying hard to not waddle like a penguin.
On the flipside I've been called a range of derogative names since COVID19 lockdown was enforced. Why? For following directions of supermarket staff, letting disabled & old people in at the checkout in front of me, not wearing a facemask or gloves in public (neither of which is good safety or hygiene anyway), and "taking up space" (huh, what does that even mean???) etc. I cop flack all the time for not being a vegan, for working with the dairy sector, for working with the red meat sector, for having worked with infant formula when we all know breast is best. Farmers are rich but don't know how to manage their money. Researchers are brainwashed. The food industry is just about money not safety or health. Consumers just listen to bloggers and celebrities. The government is owned by the food industry. And what would I know about infant development and breast milk science since I've not incubated a human in my uterus yet? I'm not saying we have a perfect system, there is a lot of room for improvement. But there is a lot of good, and a lot of good intentions with real follow through.
Covid19 has brought the best AND worst out in people. It's like the annoyance, prejudices and apathy that has been simmering in the background has been given free reign to boil over. I get it, social isolation, being stuck at home, and the supermarket being the only place to hang-out is tough. I've had a breakdown over the phone with my folks - feeling not in control of my life and alone is really tough.
I could retaliate, but I didnt. It's not about "being the bigger person" for me.
"Being the bigger person" implies that I'm better than these sad (opinionated) individuals, and I'm not.
It's about not allowing someone else to control my emotions.
And it is also about not allowing my emotions to control me either.
But it got me thinking what the gelati guy & the 5 other random people have randomly told me recently. But what about the angry, grumpy-bum individuals as well..? They can't both be right?
Mmm... I don't try to be mean, spiteful or hurtful on purpose (apart from psychopaths, do people do that? According to social media, I guess a lot do...). Why are some folks ticked off with me, & others positively impacted by me? What am I doing right, and what can I do better?
Last year, I met two older gentleman - the CEO and the president of a major international organisation.
The CEO said, "I've never met someone so in love with being alive, and with such passion for everything".
The president said, "You make me smile."
If I could blush, I would have (brown people don't blush, folks). How lovely is that, though.
I had the privilege of meeting the EU Ambassador of Agriculture and Trade at speaking gig we were both at. We had a great chat. I asked him one piece of advice he could give me if I were his younger self. He smiled and said, "Nothing. You already do it."
"Really? I do? What do I do?"
"You treat people with respect. It's easy to like you. That's all you need."
Oh. Ok. Thanks. I'll pass that thumbs up to my parents for their upbringing and role modelling. I was expecting something deep and meaningful and in-line with typical world-leader inspo (whatever that is)... but he said to be me - respectful. I can't say I was disappointed, but I didn't know what to do with that. It wasn't the light-bulb moment I was expecting.
I will be honest, I make most people smile because I don't get jokes 85% of the time. I'm so literal, it's entertaining for others. I laugh at myself. I'm not high energy. I'm pretty chill. I'm actually NOT an extrovert, but I'm an introvert. I like people. I ask questions because I genuinely don't know. I'm not aiming to challenge authority. I genuinely want to know. I like standing at the back of a room. I don't like being in the spotlight. I'm cool in my own skin. I wear skinny jeans and oversize shirts. Yeah, nothing amazing really, that would attract the spotlight. I like facts. I like evidence. And I think there is always middle ground that we can work with, and move forward with. Together.
In recent times, COVID19 has really brought real ugly meanness out in people, that you don't usually see. It's like a grotesque black gargoyle that is usually hidden behind the plastic mask of PC, but now pops up and down for all to see. And for some of us, to feel. And feeling the backlash of some pointed nastiness, I've had to reflect on why do other randoms like me?
Back in the day, religion & politics were 2 things you never spoke about with your flatmate or workmates. It's safe to say that food & nutrition can be added to that list too. Food, the thing that human life is based on, the thing that makes the world tick, the reason why we are alive, the one thing solely responsible for the advancement of mankind, has become one of the most polarizing things in the world. We're all pitched against each other: researchers, industry, HCPs, retailers, marketing, government, consumers. In this "Us vs Them" culture that permeates all levels of society, food has moved from being a source of sustenance & enjoyment, to being a status symbol, an ideology & a huge headache. Anything can become a religion - incl. food. The range of zealotry spans from clean eating and organics to free-from, gut health & kombucha. Food and what we eat is a reflection of our values, our deep seated belief system based on research we have done. Anything that differs from that can be perceived negatively and as a personal attack.
So how do we become influencers of impact without blogging about babies, nappies and Kmart hacks? While the word influencer has been hijacked and seems to have lost its value due to wordpress and instagram, we all have the ability to be influential. And if you're aligned with the food sector and health, it's part of what you do whether you want a formal title or not: we influence consumer choice, we're influenced by environmental and health situations. So how can we navigate this world of fragile egos without making enemies out of friends, while making friends out of enemies, and truly be persons of beneficial influence - with impact as evidence?
Somehow I constantly find myself in the tricky middle-ground building bridges and opening dialogues between parties that would normally not talk to each other. Breaking down misnomers and clarifying anomalies. It's a tough gig. I never feel my back is against the wall because I know my science, I know my farmers, I know food technology, I know human physiology, I know about GHGE... I know a lot of stuff actually. But mostly I know the story of the sun and the wind.
My parents bought me a book as a kid filled with fables and parables for children. I still have it. I still read it. The sun and the wind was my favourite story. Is my favourite story. The sun and the wind had a competition with each other of who was the strongest. The aim was to get the shepherd to take off his cloak. Whoever could get him to take his cloak off was the strongest, most powerful, influence. The wind blew hard, it was like a hurricane. Strong, then cold, icy wind. The wind tried everything. Constant steady stream. Violent outbursts. Just wind alone. Or wind with leaves, stones and sticks that could hurt the shepherd. The wind thought he could blow the cloak off with his fierceness. It didn't work. The shepherd wrapped it around himself more tightly. The sun on the other hand shone brightly and quietly. Not intensely to parch, but just to warm. Progressively warming the shepherd up til he eventually took his cloak off. The sun won by not doing a lot, but just shining bright quietly. Moral of the story: you can have a better influence to change with kindness, than with aggression.
But you've got to be intentional about being authentic. It can't be put on, coz we can all smell a try-hard 10km off.
So in response to the question the gelati guy asked, here's my thoughts on how being (un)intentionally likeable, and how to be a real person of influence (minus a baby, a nappy, and a range of Kmart clutter).
- We're human BEINGS. Not human DOINGS. My value is just as much as the unemployed job seeker or stay-at-home-mum or tradie or the gelato guy or the farmer. We're all special for who we are, not what we have or what we do, or what we eat (or don't eat).
- Eat food for pleasure and enjoyment, and health. In that order. Grilled chicken, brown rice & broccoli is boring (unless you like grilled chicken, brown rice and broccoli, but it's nutritionally stifled). And affects your joy and everyone else around you.
- Eat good quality treats as treats. For me it's gelato & dark chocolate. 1 good quality scoop. 1 good quality piece is enjoyable decadence that I have as a treat. Not every single day. There's no guilt. Food should never impart guilt. If food makes you feel guilty, it's not the food that's the problem. It's your lifestyle, habits and insecurity issues that you need to think about.
- Clean eating is more about ego, than actual eating. It implies that everything not part of the movement is filth, and everyone not eating the movement are toxic. Not cool, not cool at all. There's nothing wrong with eating a burger or pizza or pie. Just make sure it fits point 1 and 2 and 3.
- Always remember you don't know everything. There's always someone else who knows something you don't know. Also big words, are big for a reason. And that reason is not for simplicity.
- Don't judge, even the douches. Truthfully we're all going through some battle. Give them slack. You don't know what they're going through right now. Their behaviour is a reflection of what's going on inside them. You're outside. Let it go.
- Smile. For real. Not just with your mouth. But with your eyes too. Real smiles are from the soul, so your eyes smile too. Mouth smiles are really sad. People can tell if you are genuinely happy, and happy for them.
- You're entitled to nothing in this life. So don't take anything or anyone for granted. Give someone a compliment. Because you can. I told the pathology lady how great she was at my blood test. A lot of nurses find it hard to find my veins, because I'm small. But she did a great job, and I didn't need a sling from the pain. I told the radiology assistant how great she did with my pelvic scan (every lady knows how crap these are) without hurting me and making me comfortable.
- Sing. Or whistle if you don't like to sing. But just do it. I mean, for real. It's the best. Thankfully I actually have a good voice, but regardless just do it. You can't be sad when you sing or hum. Or whistle.
- Blow dandelions. Am I the only adult who still does this? I picked a whole bunch of dandelions as I went for a walk the other day. (Real) adults sitting in their cars at the traffic lights looked at me as if I were wearing a fruit basket on my head. Remember how cool that feeling was blowing a dandelion as a kid? It hasn't changed.
- Treat others like you want to be treated. That includes forgiveness. Put yourself in their shoes - even if you'd never do what they did to you - how would you like to be treated? And do it. Be the friend you'd want to have.
- Be assertive but kind. Being a pushover hurts, being a loud mouth stinks. But being kind never goes out of style. When you ask someone how they are, ask them "how are you today?". "How are you today?" is totally different to the generic "how are you?". But only do it because you really mean it and you really want to know. If you really don't care, and don't want to know, then don't ask. Are you going to be okay with the answer you get, even if it may not be a PC or "safe" feel-good answer? If you don't want to know, then don't ask. Stop being fake. You're contributing to the global phenomenon of being fake and wearing a fake mask.
- And leading on from that, wear you. I mean seriously. I'm not a conformist. For me, fashion is a lie to keep us in a permanent state of comparison and insecurity. I wear what I like, what suits me, what I enjoy, what is not polarising. When I speak, I choose outfits that both reflect my personality but also marry with the audience. I do not want to be polarising. As a speaker, I'm already floating in a different circuit. I want people to trust me. I build rapport before I even open my mouth. My clothing is the first hurdle. I choose colours and styles that resonate with the audience. Wear you, your character, your fit, your budget. But be respectful. Also, no one cares that your boots are deer skin and costs $1200. You're a human being, not human wearing.
- Hug. There's something about mum hugs that are just the best. My dad still pats my head like I'm a dog. But hey, small wins. Just hug those who mean the world to you. Endorphins are happy hormones. So release it.
- Forgive yourself. Live a life that you are proud of. You are accountable to yourself for everything you do, or don't do, for everything you say, or don't say. A life you are proud of does not mean that you will not make mistakes. You will, but those are lessons to be learnt. Be okay with making mistakes. The best lessons remembered are the ones that hurt. And release those who make mistakes to you. Forgiveness is so much lighter than carrying the weight of burdens and guilt.
We were all born to die. It's the in-between that counts. You're gonna die one day. And so am I. What do you want others to remember about you at your funeral? That you were the best nutritionist in the world, had 150 000 citations, a shoe collection to rival Kate Middleton, the top 10 business negotiators in the country, the prettiest Christmas lights in your suburb, the most followers on social media, the right answer always, and had some uber exxy toy?
Or that you were a genuinely nice person, that others felt relaxed, accepted and valued in your presence?
You're a human being, not a human doing. Don't lose yourself in the process.
We're all fighting a battle. Be nice. Authentic over fake.
Being, not doing. Smile with your eyes.