Wanted: answers to my personal job ad

In response to my last, rather heartfelt, blog post a friend recommended a practical little book called ‘How to find fulfilling work’ by Roman Krznaric.  So far it’s proving a gem.  Not great for bedtime reading, as every few pages there is a question to consider or an exercise to complete, but perfect for that almost-back to school twitchiness and the re-emergence of evenings spent doing things other than quaffing wine to recover from full-on days with the kids or being somewhere else (or both).

One of the exercises to help look wider than the obvious is to write your own personal job ad and ask ten people you know from different careers and backgrounds to suggest two or three jobs for you – the more specific the better (so more ‘volunteer project work with street kids in Rio de Janeiro’ than ‘work with children’).

Where better to find a diverse group of people than right here.  Ideas anyone?

 

Personal qualities

Thrive on variety

Optimist

Highly analytical

Quick to pick up new things

Highly goal- and action-oriented

Dislike uncertainty and risk but willing to take them on

Like to be in control

Don’t like to fail

Emotional & expressive

Care a lot about what other people think of me

Determined

WANTED:

A JOB MADE FOR ME

 Annabel Deuchar close up crop

Talents

Communication

Generating ideas

Making connections

Planning, organising & structuring

Researching & analysing

Being a sounding board

Using my imagination

Creative problem solving

Spatial awareness

Staying focused

 

Passions

The great outdoors – hiking, cycling, camping, running, snowboarding, sailing

Experiencing life & the world

Singing my heart out

Writing

Thinking

Reading

My family & friends

Other important info

Career needs the flexibility to fit with family commitments

Causes/values I care about

Education

Gender equality

Being true to oneself

Living healthily and taking care of our planet

Being a good person

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Lost: One sense of purpose and identity

Lost identity and purpose image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know it’s hot, I know it’s nearly the end of term and I know everyone is tired and grumpy.  But underneath all that, I feel a bit lost.

When Master H started nursery last Autumn, I started writing picture book stories.  It felt purposeful, and more simply, I enjoyed the creative process and feeling I created something I was proud of and could enjoy with the kids.  I knew, however, that it probably wouldn’t be a career for me – writing is too solitary.  Starting up a business with a friend in January brought home to me how much I thrive on working with others, and how much I enjoy business stuff.  The process was a delight – often difficult but also completely energising to be purposefully engaging my brain on something outside my domestic enclave, that had potential, and with a good friend to boot.   Sadly it came to an end as my partner had to pull out in May.

But not to worry, that freed my time to focus on training for my first triathlon, which I completed on 30 June and really enjoyed.  So far, so purposeful, albeit in different directions.  But, now what?

Nothing.

Well, not quite nothing.  Organising social engagements, managing the kid’s logistics, keeping on top of the garden/house/allotment, trying to find ways to manage Master H’s belligerence and anger without running to the hills to hide and cry.  Yada, yada, yada.  Same old, same old.  Make a list, cross them off, make a new one.

It’s just not enough.  I don’t have the right balance – I am losing the joy of what I have because I don’t have an ‘other’ to help me appreciate it.

But what ‘other’ should it be?  I’m back, yet again, to the same old question of work / family balance.  With Master H starting big school next term, the challenge looms large.

I feel like I’m on the cusp of turning into someone I don’t want to be.  A kept woman – one of those Stepford wives with perfect hair, perfect home, perhaps doing good work for charities and her local community, lots of hobbies (probably tennis), always baking / making / doing with her kids, always there at school.

AARRRGGGHHHH.  I’m not even 40 for goodness sake.  I have a fantastic education.  I have a decent brain that I feel best when using.  Was it all for this?

No, it wasn’t.  But I am in need of a different perspective to help me see through the morass of options and considerations in a clear and structured way.  I need to tell myself to JFDI, whatever ‘it’ is.

I feel helpless in the face of the school year waxing and waning, the innumerous occasions to be present, the inevitability of the next break in the school term fast approaching and the competing desires to be a present mother and a fulfilled, purposeful person.

After 18 months not working I have come full circle.   I feel a reluctance to give up being the person who takes the kids to and from school, friends, activities and occasions every day and the flexibility that affords us to make the week work whichever way we want to.

So there we are.  I don’t want to give up being a full time mother, although I often think it would improve the time I spend with them and patience I have for it.  I don’t want to do a job just for the sake of it without actually enjoying what I am doing.  I don’t want to be a stereotype of a middle class stay at home mother filling her time with doing good and domestic bliss.

Clearly what I want is best said by Queen.

“I want it all, I want it all”

On the face of it setting up my own business would be the way to go.  I know from watching friends doing it that it has many challenges, and taking on a job around family life puts pressure on everything else.  But I still want to pursue it.

Sounds like I might have answered my own ad.  Except that I need a decent business proposition. I have had one, but at this point it doesn’t look viable.  I haven’t given up on it just yet, but I might have to.

Back to the drawing board.  It feels like the most used drawing board ever over the past year.  Let’s hope it has some life in it yet.

Keeping the connection alive: Relationship 101


tides ebb and flowIt’s interesting, isn’t it, how relationships ebb and flow.  Just over a year ago, Mr H and I split our weekday jobs into diametrically opposed roles: he would keep working, focusing on his career and bringing in the dosh; I would stop working and do everything else.

On the face of it, you could say I have a cushy life.  We live comfortably without me working.  With Littlest H now at pre-school every morning, I have time (in term) to myself I can decide what to do with.  If there’s a snow day at school, a child is ill or there’s something at school I’d like to attend, my life isn’t turned upside down.  Yes, some rejigging is required, and things I planned to do go un-done, but in comparison to the stress created by the nanny calling in sick or figuring out how to be at home to attend a school event without missing meetings I couldn’t really miss, it’s pretty manageable.

And yet, such a stark split of roles is tough.  Especially as a reasonably feisty, independent woman who enjoyed working and having financial parity with my partner, and who also has a pretty highly honed radar for female stereotyping.  It certainly took a while for us to get used to the new arrangement, without me feeling defensive about perceived expectation of ‘little woman’ behaviour, or a lack of understanding about just how much juggling there is in managing the day to day commitments of two kids. (To give an example, after a typical logistically-challenged day early on last year, that ended with tired, awful children, when Mr H arrived home to discover no milk, he questioned how I could not find time to get more.  A rare reaction, I might add, and rarer still since that particular instance and my response…)

Most of the time I can genuinely say I am happy managing the kids and the household by myself Monday to Friday, although I’ll admit I count the hours to Friday nights.   I’m used to it; we have our established routines and they work well nearly all the time.  I love hearing about the kids days first-hand and being the person ferrying them here and there and getting to know their friends.  I love being part of a community of mums who support each other through good and bad days, emergencies, building work, appointments or just the need for time out or a rant.  It’s also easier now I have some time in the day for decent exercise, as that keeps me sane (Mr H’s hours mean I can’t exercise early morning or evenings).

But I can’t pretend it hasn’t felt a bit dull and mundane sometimes too.  I love my children dearly, but the level of conversation is more “Mummy, I have a joke.  What is it Littlest H.  What do you get if you have a farmer?  I don’t know Littlest H, what do you get.  A farm.  Get it, Mummy?  Isn’t it funny, Mummy?” than discussing whether Cameron is right to call a referendum on Europe or even gossiping about the latest workplace drama or thorny issue.

I don’t think I noticed that mundanity last year.  Alongside the novelty of being with the kids, there were plenty of ‘projects’ that kept me occupied – redecorating, the allotment, planning a home-building project, writing this blog and children’s stories.  It’s only struck me since I started setting up a business with a friend this year.  It feels so purposeful, so constructive, so stimulating to be thinking about the world outside my domestic enclave in a pretty tightly circumscribed corner of Surrey.

But it hasn’t really changed anything about the roles Mr H and I have.  It won’t, as the whole point is for me to find fulfilling work that fits with family life.  In a way it’s harder – the volume of time I need to work on the business competes with time to spend with him, so the need to schedule ‘us-time’ is almost more important.

Being brutally honest, our set up has put a big strain on us, and we’ve fallen into lazy habits that haven’t helped.  Mr H is knackered when he’s home, and rightly puts his limited energy into the children first, who clamour for his attention.  Then there are the outings or social engagements, exercise, and sometimes it feels like we come last.  Not by planning or design, just by circumstance.  Us can feel like a mostly practical, sorting-out thing, a managing-our-lives thing.  A co-existence, not a fulfilling, positive relationship.

Last night we went out for dinner.  Just the two of us, to our favourite local haunt. I think it’s the first time we’ve been out by ourselves since mid December.  It’s been too long.  We’ve let our commitment to weekly date nights, or at least weekly ‘cook together and eat/chat without putting the telly on’ nights, slide.  It shows in our snippiness and lack of connection.  It’s easy to get lazy, but that connection is so important – I’ve seen at close hand what the loss of it has done to other relationships.  Without it, all our relationship is is a vessel for the children’s lives and our own separate existences.

Family life with young children, at the age when careers break through or risk being left behind, is tough.  You’ve survived years of sleep-deprivation. The time, money and energy for things you used to love doing are harder to find.  The fun of life requires more effort.  But allowing a lack of effort towards one’s relationship to slide into routine is a big risk.

So in a way I feel thankful we had a row on Thursday that triggered a rearranging of commitments to go for dinner last night.  Because we talked, we re-connected with each other’s lives and each other’s feelings.  We acknowledged the situation we’re in, the risk and the need to do it differently. We discussed ways to achieve regular date nights that don’t get canned by unavoidable work commitments or opting for the easy way out of tv and laptops.  We’ll book in some fun things to do together.  The ebb will return to a flow.

No doubt we will face another ebb at some point, but I am certain we are strong enough, and have open enough communication lines (albeit sometimes at higher volume than we’d like), to turn it around.  It might be relationship 101 to stay connected, but it can be all too easy to forget.  Marriage was never meant to be easy, but it definitely needs to be fun.  Time to bring on some more fun, I think.  Nevermind the Year of the Snake, let’s make 2013 the Year of Fun.

Is it the right time to jump into something new?

When I was commuting and working, work was pretty much life.  Plus as much family stuff as possible and the bare minimum to get by for everything else.  I yearned for more sleep, more exercise, more time with friends, less careering from one must do to the next, and more time to do something with all the ideas and interests that reared back up in my consciousness during holidays or the occasional ‘getting away from it’ weekend.

Last year I stepped off the corporate wheel.  Not for the reasons above, but to make sure one of us at least was able to be present in our children’s daily lives, and to keep our family (or me) from going over the edge.

But one year on, I can’t help noticing how life fills the space you give it quite stupendously well.  I find myself wondering where I will find the time to do all the things I’ve taken on – a triathlon, parent governorship, writing picture book stories, potential business opportunities, let alone the current building work at home.

And all that is to be done in the still small pockets of time when I don’t have the children – if my commitments impose on time with the kids, then what was the point of stopping working?

I’ve talked before on this blog about knowing I would return to work – stopping was for 1 – 2 years until Littlest H started big school. But I wanted, and still want, to find a way of working that fits with family life better than commuting up to London, but also doesn’t require me to do something I don’t really want to do or don’t find fulfilling.  But the reality is that working around family feels even harder than working a regular job.  

I’m looking at a new business venture.  It is a risk – we need to test it for a few months before knowing if it could go somewhere.  It will require a modest financial investment to test it, but modest matters right now.  It will also require a huge time commitment.  And I’m wondering how on earth I can manage that without giving up everything else I’m enjoying finally having some time for.

The thing is, I know I need to work – both financially and for myself. I know I have always wanted to do something more interesting than a straight corporate job.  And I know setting up anything takes risk, money and time, at the very least.  But I don’t want to end up in the same position I was when in the corporate world.  Ambition is all very well, but blind ambition obliterates all else.

What to do.  As usual, I want it all ways.

The fact is, one can’t have everything.  And anything worth doing takes effort. (Answers on a postcard: any other pithy sayings I could add?).  As always in life, it’s about priorities, positive realism and will (one of my own).

I’m sure my doubts are de rigueur for budding business-owners.  It’s a massive move to make.  But if I believe the business is viable and could be a route to fulfilling work that fits with family life and pays what I need to earn, I know I have to take the jump and suck up the whirlwind ride.

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” says Neale Donald Walsch.  So is it time to live?  Hell, yeah (real answer: umm, I think so, but I’m not quite sure).  I just need to decide which comfort zones I’m going to stay in so I don’t do my usual trick of leaving too many of them all at the same time.  Or indeed missing some third way that magically keeps all the balls up in the air.  Oh, oh wait. I know, that’s called winning the lottery.  Damn.

Guest blogging for Little Puggle

Aside

A week of building work issues and Christmas panic have meant I’m off my blogging game – while I crack open a bottle and ruminate, fingers poised, I thought I’d share a couple of guest blogs I’ve written for the wonderful Little Puggle about the fun we’ve had with their fabulous children’s craft boxes.

Roaring through half-term

Ooar me hearties

Happy reading

Ambition: does being a parent help or hinder?

If ambition is striving to better one’s situation (or self), and happiness is satisfaction with where your life is now, where does parenting sit on the spectrum?  A blog post about the trade-off between ambition and happiness got me thinking about this question.

Quite frankly, parenting often feels like it ticks neither box – as a friend put it, it’s more a case of survival.  And never more than after a full-on week of half-term, even if the kids were mostly lovely.  But if I had to choose, I’d say it makes me happy more than it fulfils my ambition.

For me, ambition has always been about whether I am reaching my full potential (a bit of a stretch goal, let’s be honest).  Being a ‘good’ parent, although incredibly important to me, doesn’t feel like it sits in the same box.  I think that’s because striving for good parenting is a given, not a choice – the choice was made when we leapt into parenthood in the first place.

More often being a parent has felt like a brake on ambition.  I know few mothers who haven’t had to readjust their ambitions as they realise parenting is too important to squeeze too hard, and squeezing everything else can be almost as tough. I’m sure many fathers feel the same way, but, for whatever reasons, it seems more often the women who choose to / have to take the career hit.  I certainly felt that way before I stepped off the hamster wheel to find a better way.

And that goal, to find a better way, is where ambition and parenting get interesting.  The handcuff of something you simply cannot ‘not do’ forces an increasing number of women to get creative, look at different avenues, really think about what they could and want to do.  It becomes a driver of ambition, not a brake – almost liberating if it wasn’t so bloomin’ stressful.

How many women do you know who have agonised over how they can continue their career after kids, only to explore completely different and ultimately fulfilling directions to find that elusive fit of fulfilling work and family life?  I know quite a few.  And I find their journeys really uplifting.

Yes, nearly all of those I know have been through a tough transition period, many returning to their pre-children career through one or two kids, others SAHM, but all ultimately coming up with an idea they believe in. They cope with the huge stress and knocks that come with taking a risk and trying something new.  But their successes give me hope.

When I read that blog post, I felt a penny dropped.  All my life I’ve been trying to balance striving to reach my potential and satisfaction with the here and now.  I don’t have the answer, but I know I have it in me to do something different.   Parenting was a brake, but now it is a driver of my ambition – to find a fulfilling job that fits as well as possible with family and (the biggest challenge) pays what we need it to pay.

I am inspired by the amazing women I am watching take risks and push themselves to do brilliant things.  My fave five are linked below.  Help me and my other readers feel inspired: tell me, who are your fave five?

Girls will be girls…or will they?

I’m a rule follower.  I’ve often wanted not to be – it’s far more exciting and cool to be someone who naturally breaks or makes their own rules.  But I think I can accept I’m not one of them, not as my first instinctive reaction anyway.

But today, I heard something in a workshop that got me ready to snap a rule in half.   So much so, I instantly wrote, underlined, boxed and marked with a big A for Action my passionate desire to do so.

The workshop was about getting children’s books published, hosted by Kate Wilson, owner of Nosy Crow, a children’s book publisher.  Kate made the point that following accepted conventions will help get you published.  One aspect of publishing is the indisputable gender divide.  Books are quite clearly signposted in style and content to boys or girls.  The Grunts or Rescue Princesses.  Mr Gum or Rainbow Fairies.  Diggers or magic ponies.

I find this infuriating.  Are we so determined to stereotype our girls and boys so early in their lives?

As an avid early reader, my daughter has virtually no choice but to reach for the vapid and badly written Rainbow Fairies, or a.n.other book about ballet, fairies, jewels, princesses, magic animals, or possibly gymnastics.  Some of these do, to be fair, include adventure, but it’s so proscribed by these core ‘girl’ themes, it’s seriously depressing.

Don’t get me wrong, Little H enjoys many of these books, and at this tender age of first forays into independent reading, the most important thing is that kids find books they  want to read.  But the books that have got her totally immersed in story and suspense are ones like the Famous Five, Swallows and Amazons, The Faraway Tree series, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and other Roald Dahl classics, Mr Gum, Horrid Henry, Pippi Longstocking.

None of those books, old or new, fall into the ‘girl’ category, I don’t believe, and for that I’m eternally grateful.  I know I sound a bit militant – books about princesses, fairies and the like exist because girls like reading about those things.  But how much of that is conditioning?  If shops weren’t full of pink things for girls, blue for boys, would so many choose it that way?

Surely this is a time for rule-breaking.  There MUST be room for girls to enjoy adventure stories, where female characters aren’t princesses, home-makers like the Famous Five’s Anne  or pseudo-boys like George, nor indeed tomboys uncomfortable in dresses like the Amazons.  Can’t they like fairies AND making dens, dressing up AND muddy jeans, fairytales AND riding bikes?  Does it always have to be rescuing poorly animals or using jewels?

Where are these stories?  Please, tell me if you know some.   Kate Wilson also talked about trends.  Quirky is popular right now, space is on the up.  Disney have put out Brave, their first animated film featuring a female lead character.  Perhaps that is a sign of a trend towards strong, feminine female characters and adventure stories for young readers.  Perhaps publishers have a load of books on their lists that will hit that mark (I can only hope – The Rescue Princesses look like they go some of the way at least so I’ll give those a go).    Perhaps I’m in too much of a minority.  Perhaps I’m denying the reality of what girls want to read.  Perhaps I’d better stop writing this and get down to the library to do some proper research and then get my ideas hat on…