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Angelena Boden

Angelena Boden

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GRIT - not a new idea

GRIT – not such a new idea.

 All three of my school prizes were for Grit and Determination. Even back in the sixties, this was seen as a quality to be proud of, but I saw it as an ‘also ran’ prize. I wanted recognition for my skill in French or English Language.  Nowadays, having ‘grit’ is a promoted as a positive trait based on passion and perseverance with schools being offered awards for helping young people to develop these qualities so they can leave school more rounded and equipped to deal with life’s inevitable knocks. There’s a certain commercialisation about it.

 I grew up at a time where central heating was not common place – coal fires provided heating in our home – and frost patterns on the bedroom windows greeted us in the mornings. I remember a mad dash to get dressed for school, sometimes pulling on clothes under the bedding during the Great Freeze of 1963. It made me tough.

Baths were limited to a few inches of water twice a week but we were lucky as many homes in the 1960’s still didn’t  have bathrooms. A tin bath was dragged in front of the fire and filled with water from the kettle.  Chicken was a Sunday treat with the rest of the week’s main meals made up of cheap cuts of meat, potatoes and plenty of vegetables. Most women baked, sewed, knitted and mended, stretching the weekly housekeeping to the best of their ability. I don’t remember going hungry or without school uniform but I do remember being incredibly cold and miserable in our solid walled bungalow.

We didn’t think of it as hardship as my father was always in work and my mother at home. The message I received was ‘Cash only and hard work brings rewards.’

My early training in grit and determination got me through and out of a controlling relationship, helped me build a business and become fiercely independent, survive a breakdown and help others to do the same. It helped develop a strength of character that helped me pursue goals without giving up when times got tough but more importantly to keep pushing through physical and emotional pain without complaining or blaming.

Books, training courses, workshops and presentations on Grit and Resilience seem to be ubiquitous these days and I wonder if it is something that can be taught in a theoretical framework.

 For me, it was something that developed out of necessity although having a strong personality helped. It’s one thing to become hardened to life’s knocks and shocks and blunder through life in a state of numbed disassociation but can we really develop tenacity and stoicism as an applied skill? 

Grit is about stickability and rigor.  We didn’t talk about goals or passion.  We talk about ‘gritty resolve’ to achieve something and trusting in our own ability. It’s about not relying on others to solve problems but figuring it out for ourselves. Sink or swim.

In 2012, the concept of ‘grit’ became more prominent thanks to Paul Tough’s book, ‘How children succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character.’

My Dad would probably be rolling his eyes at all this analysing and labelling of what we took on as a matter of course. I can hear him saying, ‘ You get up and get on with it. What’s to talk about?’ 




If there’s one word I am heartily sick of hearing it’s Brexit. Even the sound of it sets my fillings rattling.  I don’t stand in either camp as I have this unhelpful knack of being able to see things from both sides but as this is not a political commentary,  I’m not engaging in that debate. Plenty of people, much smarter than I, have done the demolition work on the result. As a believer of accept and move on, my eye is on the pile of poo people have been slinging across the divide over the past week and it’s beginning to stink.

I’m not going to describe myself as a specialist but I have spent over thirty years observing and studying behaviour in order to help individuals, couples and organisations resolve conflict. Behaviourists can offer all sorts of theories as to why we do what we do and mediators can use proven methods to encourage compromise and reach win-win solutions. As a trainer I’ve used tried and tested methods to help resolve customer disputes, friction between colleagues and all-out war within families. 

We think we can hurl rocks of vicious and abusive language at people who don’t share our views and cry, ‘you’re too sensitive’ or trot out the ‘sticks and stones’ adage to prove that it’s their problem. No. It’s ours.

Words hurt. They can cut so deeply and become entrenched in the mind’s pathways that some people can tip over into depression and worse.  We’ve seen the effect that overt bigotry has had on individuals and groups who are going about their everyday business. We’ve watched with open mouths the insults spewed out by both sides of the political divide, burning with acrimony and blame. Screaming ‘it’s democracy, get over it on comment sections of serious politic debate cuts no ice in the end. It gets boring.

When we start to accuse professors and people who have spent their life’s work studying economics, politics and social behaviour of being incompetent and resorting to four letter words to express rage, powerlessness and frustration we need to heed the words of Robbie Burns. In paraphrase he said, ‘the greatest gift we have is to see ourselves as others see us,’ and the picture isn’t always pretty. *

No matter how deep and raw emotions might be, we are civilised enough to express our viewpoints in a calm, rational and above all caring manner. We don’t have to agree with another’s perspective on a situation but we do have a choice as to how we debate, argue, disagree. Understanding behaviour as everything we do and everything we say and accepting that it has an impact on those on the receiving end, even if they put up a protest, is the start of healthy communication and moving things forward.

What right to I have to insult, criticise, blame or spew hatred at another?  If I come across somebody who is negative and in a state of permanent rage I talk to them. Calmly, softly, kindly. It’s surprising how quickly the emotion dies down and they are willing to tell you their story. Then it’s down to you and me to listen and try to understand.

*To A Louse – Robbie Burns.

O wad some Power the giftie gie us

To see oursels as ithers see us!


Sense of Self

A sense of self

Until I hit sixty this year I hadn’t given much thought to who I am. Most of my time was spent in explaining what I do and how I do it but nobody has ever really asked me the question, ‘Who are you?’  I suspect it verges on being too personal and intrusive and leaves us floundering for an answer.

Here’s a little exercise for you. We know about the elevator/lift pitch when we’re trying to sell an idea or ourselves for a job, but try it in answer to the question, ‘Who are you?’ Switch it round and ask, ‘Who am I?’  You have 1 minute!

We can claim to be many things; kind, tolerant, helpful or grumpy, impatient, clever, but isn’t this just another list of labels and does it answer the question, ‘Who am I?’ Maybe in part.

I was asked this question recently and my mouth opened and shut like a goldfish as I struggled to find something to say that didn’t sound boastful or in my case self-deprecating. In the end I said, ‘I don’t really know.’ The truth is I lost myself somewhere along the way by way of too many mergers with the identity of others.

 Like anyone who has reached a milestone age, I’ve gone through so many transitions – sometimes I feel like a caterpillar with one leg still stuck in the pupa – that any sense of identity has become watered down. Many women talk about being invisible after a certain age. Often it’s mid-life that brings the crisis leading to the question of Who am I? In counselling we find ourselves being asked the question, ‘Well who do you want to be? We sit staring at the pattern on the carpet as we try to translate the question into something meaningful. We then reply in a small voice,’ I don’t really know.’

These days, I hear a lot of talk about being ‘authentic’ which has become another bit of meaningless jargon.

 Many people live fictional lives which they post on social media, hating their real selves in some cases. Being authentic means digging deep into your core and finding the rich talents and qualities that have been buried because someone else has written your script and you’re reading the words which at some deep level doesn’t resonate with you. Whatever is unique about you has been overlaid with opinion, prejudice, media exhortations about who and what you should be to become acceptable. This might appeal to the ego but it puts the real self in a permanent shadow.  Who has the right to judge your uniqueness and say it’s not good enough? Your worst enemy, though, is often yourself.  

It’s easier to fulfil the roles of parent, child, sister, colleague, fund raiser or whatever category you fall into because it means you don’t have to answer the question about you. It means you don’t have to think and that in turn means you live with your fictional self and a hole in your soul – a feeling of incompleteness.

Why put your faith in someone else to write your script when you deserve to write it for yourself.

There’s a great quote which sticks with me: Worry about your character and not your reputation. Your character is who you are and your reputation is only what people think of you.



Angelena is a graduate of Birmingham University and is a passionate defender of a city which she believes is misunderstood. Originally from the Peak District, she made the city her home for over 30 years from where she ran her very successful international training consultancy specialising in interpersonal skills and conflict resolution.

One of her claims to fame was the Bouncer’s Charm School in the late 80’s which attracted global media attention. She spent 3 years working on the Shankill Road in Belfast training former paramilitaries to acquire new skills for the burgeoning tourism market in Northern Ireland.

Angelena trained as a journalist in British Columbia before returning to the UK to study modern languages. She is the author of 3 business books published by Management Pocketbooks and has a business column with the Isle of Man newspapers.
Angelena has been a chorister since the age of 7 and in midlife was awarded the Archbishop’s Certificate in Church Music.

Now living in Malvern she indulges her love of Elgar.


Her debut novel, The Cruelty of Lambs, will be published in autumn 2016 by Urbane Publications.

Dr. Iain Millar is a professional cellist and music teacher. Falsely accused of improper behaviour, Iain finds himself unable to get another job. Exhibiting ever more worrying behaviour, people begin to worry for Iain's health...but what's the real reason behind his terrifying deterioration?

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