Thoughts on resilience/overcoming obstacles


It is inevitable that no matter who we are or what we have accomplished, we will face challenges, obstacles, set-backs or even catastrophes at some point.

I am fortunate enough that I’m not currently experiencing these circumstances to any great degree. This is possibly down to my age, experience and lessons previously learned the hard way, but it is also at least partly down to luck – circumstances beyond my control.

I am fully aware that these tricky situations are bound to appear at some point in my future and when they do, I hope to be able to deal with them gracefully. I came across an African proverb last year that expressed very well the attitude I try and take towards obstacles:

“Smooth seas do not make skilful sailors.”

The attitude I try to take is that each challenge we face contains within it the chance to improve ourselves, to learn and to grow. In finding solutions to the problems we face we often stretch beyond our comfort zones and develop ourselves in the process.

I have learned many useful lessons over the years by reading about Buddhism and Stoicism. One of the key lessons that I try to incorporate into my day to day life is this:

We have more control over our responses to the world than we do over the world itself.

Put simply – focus on what you can control.

Stephen Covey touches on this in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People when he describes the circle of influence and the circle of concern. Covey urges the reader to be proactive, to recognise what he or she can control and to take action. In time we may find that our circle of influence expands, but time spent talking about or worrying about things beyond our control is time wasted.

For those who want to learn more about this attitude, there are some great classic texts. Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic and Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations are both highly recommended.

I have also created an “in case of emergency” reading list for myself drawing on some more modern (and perhaps more accessible) texts:

And finally this youtube clip of former Navy Seal Jocko Willink, which depending on my mood either makes me nod in agreement, smile or laugh out loud. Check it out!


Striving for Excellence



My day-to-day work is focused on music education. At a recent meeting with other local arts and culture organisations, we discussed how we might use the Arts Council’s quality principles to help us evaluate and improve what we do in our work with children & young people.

The seven quality principles are:

  1. Striving for excellence and innovation
  2. Being authentic
  3. Being exciting, inspiring and engaging
  4. Ensuring a positive and inclusive experience
  5. Actively involving children and young people
  6. Enabling personal progression
  7. Developing belonging and ownership

In considering which of these resonated with me personally, I was drawn overwhelmingly to number one – striving for excellence and innovation. It seems to me that attempting to do the other six to the best of your abilities would mean that you were indeed striving for excellence and innovation. Conversely, I’m not sure you could claim to be striving for excellence and innovation without covering the other six.

Success is a choice

Why not strive for excellence in everything you do? Is there a better option? Do any of us truly wish and hope to one day be okay, or mediocre, or average?

I firmly believe that excellence, innovation and success are a choice. The day you commit to excellence, your entire world changes. Your philosophy is a guidance system which informs your decisions and actions, and therefore the results that you bring about. In addition, if you choose to aim for excellence, you will be far more motivated to continue in spite of obstacles because you have a clear vision of what could be possible.

How you do anything is how you do everything

We are creatures who are ruled by our habits, and our habits are formed and strengthened through repetition. It is a mistake to think that we can cut corners in preparation, and then excel in performance. The good thing about this is that any time you try do anything to the best of your abilities, it has the potential to affect all other areas of your life.

To distil this all down to it’s core I think the key questions we need to continually ask ourselves, and then act on, are:

  • How good do I want this to be?
  • Is my current attitude/activity going to achieve this?

For those interested, here are a couple of suggestions for further reading:

Success is a Choice – Rick Pitino

The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg

As ever, tweet me your thoughts @dfrancisdrums. Use the hashtag #excellence

12 books to read, read and read again


Reading has always been a huge source of pleasure and learning for me. I was an avid reader as a child and in the last 10 years, the books I’ve read have made a huge impact on my life. I can confidently say that I would be a completely different person were it not for the books I’ve read and the lessons I have learned and applied in this time.

Some books contain so much wisdom that it is impossible to absorb everything with just one reading. I have made a pact with myself to continually re-read certain books, in order to keep reinforcing the learning and really absorb and apply the lessons within.

Here are my 12 suggestions, for continued reading and growth, in no particular order:

Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court – John Wooden

This is a wonderful book. I have zero knowledge or interest in college basketball, but this is really a book about being a better person, a better family member and a better teacher. I have long been a collector of quotes, and often make a note in a notebook/journal when I come across something interesting in a book. I tried doing this with Wooden and soon realised I was copying out the entire book! I have since given this book to numerous people and studiously copy Wooden’s guidelines for life into every notebook I buy, so I always have them to hand. I will say it one more time – this is a wonderful book.

Meditations – Marcus Aurelius

Please don’t let the title, or the fact that this was written thousands of years ago put you off. The Gregory Hays translation is very readable and contains a huge amount of wisdom that is applicable to 21st Century life. This is a collection of journal entries from the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius and contains wisdom on all aspects of life. The fact that each entry is fairly short allows a reader to dip in and out, rather than just read from cover to cover. Reading a few entries each morning is a great way to start your day.

Focal Point – Brian Tracy

I’ve read a number of Brian Tracy’s books, but this was the one that had the greatest impact on my own life. One of the concepts that I have used and re-used is this: If you are currently doing something that you wouldn’t willingly take on knowing what you know now, you should stop doing that thing as soon as possible. This is a great way to remain focused on activities that bring you happiness and success, and eliminate things that draw you away from what is truly important.

Leading an inspired life – Jim Rohn

I have read all of Jim Rohn’s books and listened to hundreds of hours of his audio recordings. This is my favourite. It contains all of Rohn’s key lessons and is a joy to read. Highly recommended.

How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life – Alan Lakein

This is a book that was recommended by Jim Rohn on the subject of time management. It is actually about something deeper than this. It is an excellent method for ensuring that your activity matches your deepest values and aspirations. It is fairly short, and a quick read, but many of the ideas are potentially life-changing. The section on overcoming procrastination is very practical and has helped me a great deal. Bill Clinton also recommends this book and regardless of your opinions of him, there’s no denying that he has achieved a great deal more than most!

The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success and Happiness

This book is all about the power of incremental change and the fact that a few small disciplines, practised daily, can have a huge impact over time. I read it a couple of years ago, and in the application of these ideas I ran a half-marathon, achieved my goal weight, got a new job, and reclaimed thousands of pounds of money from high street banks. Well worth the investment of time and money spent reading the book.

The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results – Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

This book expresses a very powerful idea extremely well. It is a great way to make sure you are aligning your daily activities with your core purpose and values. The One Thing is a very easy read and is great for applying in your own life but it is also invaluable for anyone who finds themselves in a teaching, coaching or mentoring role – either at work, in your family, or in your friendships.

How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie

This is one of those books that everyone has heard of and few people seem to have actually read. We interact with other people, all the time, in family, friendships and work settings. Reading and absorbing the lessons in this book will definitely help you to deal more effectively with other people and enjoy these personal interactions more. If everyone read this book, I am convinced that the world would be a much better place!

The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage – Ryan Holiday

This is an excellent companion to Mediations by Marcus Aurelius. It builds on a central principle from Stoic philosophy and Buddhist teaching – that we don’t control what happens to us, but we can choose how we respond to it. A terrific book, and like many on this list, the lessons within are applicable to all kinds of situations, for all kinds of people.

Change Your Life In Seven Days – Paul McKenna

Those of you who remember McKenna as a television and stage hypnotist may be slightly sceptical about this choice. I picked it up out of curiosity as I felt that the title might be over-selling the content a little. In reading it, I found that many concepts I had seen elsewhere were taught in a much more accessible way, that made sense to me. When I picked this book up again last year, an index card fell out. I had used the card four or five years previously to do one of the exercises in the book, setting some goals for my life. The card very accurately described my current life and every goal had been achieved. I am convinced that this book was at least partly responsible.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen R Covey

This book took me a while! I had heard this recommended over and over and had tried to read it many times, but found it hard work and gave up. Eventually I bought an abridged audio version and, having listened to this, I found myself reading the actual text (and numerous other books by Covey) several times over. If you can cope with the style of writing, the lessons in this book are powerful and timeless.

The Magic of Thinking Big – David J Schwartz

This is one of my all time favourite personal development books. It is full of very use-able concepts and exercises, illustrated with stories about real-life applications. It is a fun read, but contains many powerful ideas.

Who has time to read 12 books? 

…pretty much everybody, but if you want the edited highlights, consider this:

If I were able to choose three books to give to every student, on leaving school they would be Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court by John Wooden, The Magic of Thinking Big by David J Schwartz and How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

Over to you…

I’m curious to hear from others – If you had to choose 12 books to re-read over and over throughout your life, what would they be? Why not tweet me a “shelfie” photo of your 12 books? Mine is at the top of this blog. Find me on twitter @dfrancisdrums