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Steps to Success: Growing from the outside, in

Written, this week, from a sleepy, little village in the heart of the English countryside. I say sleepy but not these past five days during Chulmleigh Old Fair week, an annual tradition that's gone on here for the past 750 years! I liken it to the atmosphere of Cup Match, only with more sheep.

I've been coming here sporadically over the past thirty-five years. It's interesting to see how it's changed, but more how much it's stayed the same.

Despite being so familiar with the goings-on, as I stood on the street corner awaiting the Saturday parade, I felt extremely self-conscious. Most of the kids I'd known from my childhood summer visits had grown up and moved away, others had escaped on holiday to avoid the hubbub. I was surrounded by people, locals, but felt so incredibly alone and awkward. I guess it was clear that I “wasn't from around these parts”.

As they presented the trophies I tried making small-talk with the chap next to me, “I was in that parade 30 years ago,” I said. “But I didn't win a prize.”

“Nope, they don't like outsiders around here,” was his response.

Yup, as much as I love this place I was feeling pretty unwanted, my allegiance and contribution here thoroughly unappreciated. I thought of home and its parallels.

Just then I recognised someone — looking just the same as he had the last time I saw him, when I was 11. His family owned the next door cottage.

He could have chosen to forget we knew each other. I see that a lot. But he didn't. We remembered old times: rainy summer days playing cards, village life. I joked about still feeling like a sore thumb here … Then he changed all that. “Why don't you come along?” he asked.

Off to his sister's, up the street, where they invited me in, introduced me to their friends, and she cooked me a meal.

She later admitted she'd felt reluctant at first, feared I'd judge her or her house. Meanwhile I was just thinking how lucky I felt for their kindness, being included in such great company. We chatted and found we had far more in common than we might have guessed, sharing stories and life experiences, many with similar threads. From our far-flung corners we were able to offer different perspectives, life-lessons and understandings. The conversations ran deep and even in that short time, shifts and bonds were made.

I believe that people come into our lives for a reason — perhaps only for a day, sometimes for a decade, but we will never know if we keep them as strangers. It takes courage to extend an invitation and sometimes equal bravery to accept an offer. Here's what I took home from the fair:

• Inviting “strangers” into our lives, saying yes and being receptive literally opens new doors and expands our horizons.

• You never know where you will find a kindred spirit.

• There is always common ground and shared experience, when we look.

• Erring on the side of openness and graceful hospitality just might save the day.

• Belonging can happen anywhere; someone is only an outsider until you let them in.

•Julia Pitt is a trained success coach and certified NLP practitioner on the team at Benedict Associates. For further information contact Julia on 705-7488, www.juliapittcoaching.com.

Village parade: The annual English tradition of Chulmleigh Old Fair week

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Published August 05, 2015 at 9:00 am (Updated August 05, 2015 at 2:28 am)

Steps to Success: Growing from the outside, in

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