Reflections (part 1)

Birthdays are often a good time to reflect. So I did just that on Monday when I turned a year older!

A year ago today, I was equally happy but overwhelmed. I was overwhelmed by what seemed to be the impossible task ahead of me. I had returned to work, at that time, only three weeks before my birthday and I was just finding my feet literally. Trying and succeeding sometimes, but failing in other ways. Looking for the right balance. 

I remember a week or so after I went back to work, I had my first goal setting meeting with my new appraisal manager. He asked me what my career goals for the year was and I told him it was to get promoted by the end of the year. The way he looked at me and his response made me doubt myself momentarily. He tried to manage my expectations saying the team I have just joined is a hard team to work for and I was new to the department as well, which meant the chances were slim. I will however applaud him as he didn’t make me change my goals or try to change my mind, he just told not to be disappointed if it did not happen, but we will work towards my goal. 

I don’t think he ever forgot that conversation because every subsequent appraisal conversation he teased me about it. He told me he wondered who this woman that had just come back to work full time from maternity leave, to a new and highly technical team was, aiming for promotion within a year. It was unheard of, at least for him. Thinking back, I am not sure where I got the ‘balls’ from, but it was my genuine wish. So, I set ahead with this goal at the front of my mind, trying to do my best, praying for strength, favour and wisdom to work effectively and efficiently. As time passed, I started doubting whether this goal would be achievable.

For starters, the team was truly a hard team to break into. I like to say they have trust issues! I didn’t get my first big project until three good months into my new job despite being so eager to get my hands dirty. However, for me to get the project, I had to demonstrate I was there to stay and do my best in the little bits and bobs that was thrown my way. I landed my first project and it was a huge shock from what I was used to. In my previous office, it was not that we did not work on big projects, we did, but I was not involved in a lot of them. Now, here I was, working on FTSE100 clients who demanded over and above what I was used to. For starters, these companies often already have tax managers and directors (and so on), so by the time they come to you for advise, they must have pondered on the issue and realised it was not straightforward, so they pay you to go into the details of legislation and work out any complexity. As such, they did not want you telling them things they already knew, they actually wanted you to be the tax specialists. 

The first shocker was when I prepared my first draft of the report and it went to the senior manager for review. The amount of review points that came back to me made me wonder if I was in the right job! However, I had to teach myself not to take it personal and instead see this as a huge learning opportunity and constructive criticism. So I soaked it all in as much as I could and the report was finally ready to be reviewed by the tax director before we issue it to the client. This, was when I got my second shocker!

This director in particular is a genius, for lack of a better word to describe him and now that I know him better, he has his select few he enjoys working with because they are used to his style of working and know what he wants. Anyway, on this faithful day, I was asked to sit with him during the review and about a couple of pages in, he found one typo and questioned one of the facts. I explained to him the fact was correct as it is a direct quote from the information provided by the client. However, I guess as I was new to the team and an assistant manager, he couldn’t take my word for gospel and pretty much had a huge go at me. He mentioned how it should be the senior manager sitting with him and going through the report and not me and clearly the senior manager had not reviewed the work properly and so he is wondering whether it is worth his time reviewing the work. He went on to say he will go on for a few more pages to decide if the rest of the report was that bad. At this point, I was just speechless! Thankfully, I made a telephone note of the call so I quickly referred back to my notes to check that I was right, I emailed the senior manager to give her heads up and just kept silent for the rest of his review. About 50 pages later, he looks at me and smiles, saying the report wasn’t as bad as he thought, it is actually very good. What do you say in such a situation?

I had various options to approach his display. I could have responded to him in the same note he spoke at me in, I could have kept quiet like I did or I could have taken it personal, sulked and then avoid working with him. I really don’t know how I had the courage to do what I did but it seemed to have been the best course of action at that stage. I eventually discussed this with my people manager and we discussed ways to manage this if it happened again going forward. The point I am trying to highlight is that in my first few weeks at my new job, I came to realise that in my current team, I am working with highly intelligent people who do not have time for mediocrity! This was a huge challenge for me and added the extra pressure to make sure my deliverables were up to par. It was and is stressful but at the same time, the learning curve is steep.

After that experience, and a few others (not as bad as the first) and one equally as bad that I will spare you the details of, I have questioned my ability to do my job, I have questioned my motive and even questioned whether this is for me. However, until I get a clear answer that prompts me otherwise, I have endeavoured to press on. On the really tough days, I have traded tears of frustration for prayers and listening to gospel music, this works for me. This has really kept me going and now that I look back, I realise that those hard days that I thought were the worst days of my life were only but for a moment and now, in the grand scheme of the past, they have helped mould me and build my character. What works for you? 

On reflection, I can truly look back and say I’m grateful for the lessons I learnt in those hard times. 

To be continued…

Being efficient at work

Being efficient leaves more time and room for the things that truly matter. We as women need to endeavour to go about our lives in an efficient and effective manner as we often have long to-do lists, which we never get through.

In an office scenario, too often do people stay behind after their contracted hours to “show face” and keep their chairs warm, and not because they actually have any work to do. Let me state here that I appreciate that there are some jobs that require working late into the night, if this is the case then so be it. However, I have a friend who used to work for a top American investment bank and she confided in me several times that on some occasions, during the day, they do absolutely nothing, either because they have no work to do, or there is work but it has not been filtered down by their bosses, (who eventually pass the work to them at ungodly hours sometimes). However, even when they have nothing to do and it is time to leave for the day, it becomes a game of I don’t want to be seen as the first person to leave or as the unambitious one. This to me makes no sense as if I were their bosses I would rather let them leave on time when they have nothing to do, go home, unwind have fun, so that when they truly have to work into the night, their creative juices would flow better as they are relatively well rested, refreshed and even more motivated.
I am first to put my hand up to say, if there is an urgent piece of work that truly requires me to stay behind and put in the hours, I would. The last couple of weeks have been really stressful for me because I am working on a huge project that closes next week. This means all hands on deck to make sure all the ‘i’s’ are dotted and the ‘t’s’ crossed. Thankfully, such late days are not frequent in my line of work, and so for me it is manageable. I know I would not thrive in an environment that requires me to stay late everyday, regardless of how much they offer me in compensation. However, if you are a kind of person that thrives in such an environment, you will have to study your work pattern and find it how you can make being a mum in such an environment work.
When I started at my new department about a year ago, it was daunting change for me because I was moving from a regional office to our head office and this simply was not a common occurrence when you have only recently started a family. I was asked by a couple of my regional office colleagues (mostly mums) whether I was sure I wanted to do this especially as I planned to come back to work full-time. They mentioned that the London office probably worked longer hours. In as much as I am not afraid of hard work, I knew I was leaving the flexibility I most likely would have had access to in the regional office as I had worked there for just over four years and had built rapport with management and a reasonable reputation as well. However, my long-term goals meant it was the right time for me to move on and so I did, with a lot of faith and prayers.
My reasoning for going back to work full-time was this, I figured that the chances of me going back to work fulltime after a second child was slimmer (I haven’t completely ruled this out though). Although it has been a challenge, I am more likely to give my career a boost with one child, before the second arrives. I keep telling myself that, once the second child arrives, I won’t have as much time to worry about my career and in as much I have chosen this path to work and raise my family at the same time, I am not silly enough to think I can have it all. My aim was therefore to work as hard as possible in a short space of time (say two years) enough to get promoted and settle into my new role so that when I leave for my next maternity leave and come back, I will be coming back into a higher position and people will remember who I am! This of course equates to getting more income during my maternity leave if you get promoted before you leave.
To help me get off to a good start, I negotiated new working hours with the head office prior to resuming, which means I am contracted to resume at 8:30am and finish at 4:30pm. This has been helpful as when I have nothing urgent to do or absolutely need to leave for childcare reasons, I leave at 4:30pm but if I have a deadline or urgent work to do, I stay a bit longer. I have to confess that the firm I work for do their best to accommodate flexible working. This has helped a great deal with me combining my career and raising my family.
To this end, I leave you with another list of 6 things you can try to become more effective and make efficient use of your time as career mums.

  • Analyse your current working arrangement. Do you see yourself doing the same job effectively once a baby comes around? Is it feasible to change jobs before you start trying for a baby to an organisation that is more baby friendly? Will it be relatively easier to start looking for a new job after you have had your baby? The truth is there is no right or wrong answer to any of these questions as each person is different and work in different industries. Just keep these at the back of your mind if you are planning for a baby and intend to continue working.
  • Work hard and be efficient.As a lady without a child, you work hard, but as mums, we should work even harder. Unfortunately, society is not quite yet at a place where they trust working mum’s fully to be as effective in their jobs as others. Until we get to that place, we must work harder to prove our worth. See this as a challenge to find an effective revision method like we did years ago when we were studying for exams. Only this time, the exam is to aim to do as much work effectively in as little time as possible. This requires a lot of wisdom to prioritize your work properly.
  • Do your homework. Don’t expect to be automatically good at your job. As Malcom Gladwell mentioned in his book, Outliers, the key to achieving world-class expertise in any skill, is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing the correct way, for a total of around 10,000 hours. I remember mentioning to my husband a few months after I went back to work that I was struggling to keep up with all the tax legislations, especially as there were a number of changes during my leave and even more in the year I came back to work. He told me in not too many words to invest some extra time over the weekend going over them and with time I will be more comfortable. I didn’t take his advice completely, because weekends for me is for my family and getting ready for the week. Instead, when I felt like I needed to do some more reading, I either planned to get to work earlier or I did the reading on my commute to or from work. I can vouch that it has made some difference.
  • Be your own motivational speaker. There will be times when you will feel discouraged or demotivated. There will also be times when you will wonder what the purpose of all the stress is, especially if you happen to be critiqued at work when you know you have compromised at home to deliver what you thought was your best work! Endeavour to cultivate the habit of giving yourself a pep talk and looking at things from an objective perspective. The more you longer on negative comments, the longer it will take you to snap out of it and move on. When I started to motivate myself, I felt silly talking to myself, however, within months, I got used to it and it helped me a great deal. Don’t wait on anyone to make you feel better, encourage yourself, you will find that you often know the right things to say to give you the kick you need. Try it!
  • Network as much as possible. As working mums, we are often in a rush to get home for bed time, or to do the school runs. This often means that anytime we see the invite for after work drinks or work social, we immediately rank this last in terms of priority. However, networking with our colleagues helps us to build rapport with them, find out more about their interests, what they are working and share ideas and experiences where relevant. I would like to encourage you to attempt to attend some of these events where feasible, it could even be after work drinks, dinner or even a lunchtime catch up. It gives you an opportunity to get to know your colleagues and they in turn get the impression that you are making an effort. It also helps you practice on how to network outside of the office which could be useful if you are trying to move jobs. I attend after work drinks, which are not very frequent, with my colleagues when I can, and when I do, I only stay for an hour or two. But in those couple of hours I try to talk to as many people as possible. For me to be able to attend such even tell, I need ample notice to ensure I have the necessary childcare arrangements in place or liaise with my husband to make sure he is contactable while I am networking so I can spend a couple of hours with my colleagues.I will share in another post how networking lead to me obtaining the job I am currently at.
  • Take stock! Evaluate yourself. Please don’t wait until your appraisal to analyse how well you have done on a project, a piece of work, or over a certain period of time. Evaluate yourself frequently so that you can pick up areas where development is required quickly. This helps you make amendments in a timely manner. In addition, when you eventually have your appraisal you can show your performance manager the areas of development you have highlighted and what you have done about this. You come across as proactive, which is always a good attribute to have.

I hope these come in handy.

 

10 Things you should know if you are intending to go back to work after a baby (Part 2)

Following on from my last blog, below are my remaining 5 tips. I hope you will find them useful.

  • Communicate with your partner. This is very important as you will be feeling all sorts of emotions while you are pregnant and after your  have your baby. You will feel guilty for deciding to go back to work and letting someone else look after your child. My husband was extremely supportive. We had a very open mind and decided to just keep on trying until we found a solution that worked for us. Initially he did the drop off at nursery which allowed me to get to work early so I could finish early to pick up our son. This worked for us for some time until he could no longer drop off in the mornings because of new work commitments which was where an aupair was useful for us.Forgetting about school runs for a minute, let’s consider household chores! A wise person once told me that you need to begin everything as you intend to continue. So when baby arrives, involve your husband or partner in taking care of your child. From bath time to feeding to bed time. Remember that he is the father of the child and so the chances he will knowingly do anything to harm your child are slim. Let him learn how to take care of your child in his own way. This will become helpful in the long run as your child will become used to the love and comfort of the both of you, as opposed to just you. This means that on some evenings, after work, you could ask partner to do the bath time and bed time while you make dinner. This saves you time and I find that it makes us feel closer to each other instead of me secretly resenting him because I feel like I am doing it all by myself! It is never too late to find a balance with your partner, start now and ask nicely. Good luck!
  • Effective childcare! I can’t emphasise this enough. If you do not have effective childcare you cannot be effective at your job. We all know nursery is very expensive, yet a number of us put our children in nursery. It is tried and tested and I guess it is relatively safe to say that the chances of going wrong with a nursery is slimmer. However, one thing to note is that nurseries have very strict rules. For example, if your child has three loose stools in a day, you will be called to pick up the child within an hour and the child would be excluded from nursery for the next three days. The same applies if the child is running a high temperature. In our nursery, any time my son ran a high temperature I was told if they adminster capol or nurofen to bring down his temperature then I will definitely have to be there within the hour or they will call the ambulance to take him to the hospital. The only way to circumvent the three days exclusion rule is to provide the nursery with a letter from the doctor saying  whatever your child has got is not contagious. Of course these exclusion periods means that at no notice at all, you have to take time off work.I have on a few occasions been in the same shoes. I even went to the doctor on one occasion because I was convinced my son’s loose stool was as a result of his teething. The doctor told me she couldn’t provide me with a letter without testing his stool and by the time she takes a sample, send it to the lab and get the results, it will be a week, by which time he would be back at nursery anyway. So you see, there is really no circumventing. If you know how, please share. It can be a very frustrating time especially as your child is potentially ill, coupled with the fact that you may be in the middle of an important meeting or have a deadline. You literally have to drop everything you are doing and go and pick up your child. I have cried several times because of this because of my relatively conflicting responsibilities.

    I think there are two solutions to this. The first is to accept that this is temporary and as the child gets older, the instances of you being called to pick them up will be far and inbetween. It is very hard to be effective at work in such situations. If you are unlucky, certain projects at work will pass you by because you may be tagged as the unreliable employee or even if that doesn’t happen, you begin to wonder how you are coming across to your boss.

    Notwithstanding the above, the stress of it all may just begin to get to you. I was speaking to a colleague at work recently who confided in me that in the three weeks her daughter was at nursery before she came back to work full time, she was perfectly fine. However since she resumed a week and a half ago, she has been called twice to pick up her daughter and so has barely done any work. She had to call her mum to come and help temporarily. She asked me how I cope and make everything look easy and this is where the second option comes in, seek help!

    If you are lucky enough to have a good support system or reliable family members living not very far away, for example retired parents or family members who work shorter hours than you do, enlist their help. They can help you pick up your child while you make you way back home to assess the seriousness of the situation. You may then ask them to help with look after them while you go to work and keep loose tabs on them or aim to finish at work early. This gives you some time to tie up loose ends. This is not suitable for everyone, but after three months of erratic attendance at work and working after I put my son to bed, I broke down and realised I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be effective at my job in this way. My job is very technical. It involves late hours on some days but not always. I discussed this with my husband and we decided to try enlisting the help of an au pair. For us, what we really needed was help with school runs especially on days when I have to work late. We decided to reduce the days he goes to nursery to make it more affordable for us to do both. I have to emphasis that for you decide to go down this route, it is important that you interview your prospective aupair thoroughly, ask the right questions and try to read between the lines.

    We were lucky that our first aupair was very good. She made or lives very easy and our son loved her. Our second aupair has only recently started but she seems to be effective as well. If you can afford it, you may decide getting a nanny may be the right route for you. Another option could be to enlist the help of a local childminder who will do the school runs for you and then you can pick up your child from the childminder’s place on your way back for work. Once again, it is imperative that you undertake your due diligence on whoever’d help you enlist in looking after your child. I appreciate that no one can look after your child better than you, but as the old adage goes, it takes a village to raise a child.

  • Set short term goals. This is particularly important if you want additional children, or at least, while your children are babies/toddlers. This is because they are in what I like to term the ‘unpredictable’ phase. As I have highlighted above, children are more susceptible to illness as babies/toddlers so you may have to leave whatever it is you are doing at work to go and attend to them. I find that short term goals are more realistic. You feel a great sense of achievement when you achieve one of your goals within a few months and it gives you the drive to look forward to the next few months. You can tick things off more quickly and some may thrive under the temporary pressure of getting things done now instead of falling into the procrastination trap and finding you underestimated the amount of time you required to meet that goal. With short term goals you are more likely to rectify mistakes in the interim and ultimately meet your long term goal without even realising it and with less pressure.
  • Use up your holidays. You don’t have to go on expensive holidays or travel to a tropical island. But time off work either spent abroad or in the UK gives you quality uninterrupted family time to spend with your child(ren). For me,  I find the week or two I take out of work invaluable as I bond with my son and he gets to see me round the clock. I also notice the new skills he has acquired that I may have missed as a result of rushing out for work everyday! The truth is the will always be a price to pay regardless of the decision you take. If you chose to work full time, you will miss some aspects of your child’s development but you need to be sure you can make your peace with that or somehow compromise, otherwise you will not be happy.
  • Finally, do not compare. There is a likelihood for mums to either compare themselves or their children with others. Not only are you not comparing like with like, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. We are all different and we all thrive differently when faced with the same situation. In addition, we all have different access to resources but I would like to think we make the best of what we have. Comparing will make you miss out on what really makes your own child special. Provided you are giving your child the best you can afford and making the best use of the resources you have, you are doing a great job.

I hope some of these tips will come in useful.

Goodluck!