Let’s talk about breasts 

I can’t emphasise enough how important it is for you to do this if you don’t already.  As always, I have a little personal experience story to share with you.

Come with me to spring 2009. I was in my final year at university studying chemical engineering. In particular, I was in the middle of my research project. This project is a big deal. However, around this time, I happened to notice a lump in my breast. I can’t remember how I found it, if I went looking for it or if I stumbled on it, but I found it. Cue in dress and fear and everything else you can think off. I knew very little about lumps then and to me it had to be cancer. I tried to stay calm about but mulled over it and did nothing about it for weeks (I do not recommend this approach by the way). 

Eventually, I decided to stop wondering what if and do something about it. I went to see my doctor who confirmed it was a lump and referred me to Royal Marsden Hospital (closest breast specialist to my university). This cued in even more fear on my path! So, I called my mum who is a nurse back in Nigeria. She tried her best not to panic and went on to ask me a whole load of questions about the lump. Is it mobile? Does it hurt? Is it smooth? How big is it? The trouble was, I couldn’t immediately tell if my answers to those questions gave her comfort or not. Eventually she told me not to worry and it sounds like it is not cancerous but to let her know how he appointment goes.

So, appointment day arrives and my aunt accompanied me. She is a pharmacist. To be honest, I find it helps to have someone medical / knows about medicine to go to such appointments with you, they tend to know the right questions to ask, especially if you were clueless like me at that time. After the consultant checked for the lump, she decided she would like to do a biopsy on the same day to definitely rule out cancer. I don’t think I had the time to be scared it was just kind of a is this really happening situation for me. The biopsy was unpleasant but I wasn’t uncomfortable for a long time as it happened very quickly and I was given local anaesthetic. We were told to come back in a couple of hours for the result so we went to a local cafe for lunch.

My aunt prayed with me and try to distract me from thinking about it. Two hours couldn’t go any slower if it tried! We got back to see the consultant and thankfully, she confirmed the lump was not cancerous. However, due to the size of the lump, I could either take it out or leave it in. In my mind I wanted to leave it in because the doctor had confirmed it was harmless so why bother. My mum wasn’t having it. I had a lecture over the phone about how my body is not meant to have lumps in it so why leave it in there. She then went on to say if you are concerned about what your husband (or did she say boyfriend, I don’t remember now) would think, then he is not meant for you if he has issues with the scar you will have on your breast. I ignored that statement because there was no way I was having that conversation with my mum! Lol. 

We booked an appointment to have it removed. It was going to be a day surgery under general anaesthetic. My dad was able to fly in from Nigeria to be with me along with my aunt during the procedure. I once again pushed it out of my mind as much as possible. I took a week off university to get this done and recover, I so one realised I didn’t need that long. The procedure went well and I was home before I knew it. The scar also healed nicely, you wouldn’t realise I had a scar except you took a double take. I went back for a check out and everyone was happy with progress. 

Fast forward three years and it was back. Oh no, not again. This time as a newly wed I just couldn’t be bothered to go through it all again. However, my husband being a doctor was in the same boat as my mum and so I went through the whole process again. This time I knew what to expect and it took a similar number of days to recover. 

So why the reason I have just shared this with you is to let you know you won’t be alone if you find a lump. I have friends who have had similar experiences as I did, we are #teamlumpybreast. It is not sexy I know but I guess the doctors/consultants can’t help themselves and use that term to describe our breast when they are checking us. I remember at the last ultrasound I had, the lady told me that if she were to pick 5 random ladies and did an ultrasound on their breast, she will find one person with a lump in hers.

Ofcourse I know not all lumps will be bening like mine were and that is what often stops some women from checking their breasts or going for check ups. What I would like to say however is this, the chances of cancer being treated is higher if it is caught early. So please check your breasts regularly or have it checked by your doctor if you do not know how to do this. You can click here for tips available on the NHS website on how to check your breast.

I hope this blog will encourage you to check yours and you in turn will encourage a friend to do the same. Accompany each other for appointments if that’s what it takes or ask your partner to come along with you or check for you. Ignorance is not bliss, be pro-active about it.

Good luck and feel free to tell us about your experience.


The ‘M’ word

This is every mum or mum-to-be least favourite word to talk about, but it is necessary for people to know that these things happen and if it happens to them, it is not because they did something wrong.

The M word I mean in this context is miscarriage. A miscarriage is the loss of a pregnancy during the first 23 weeks. Before I got pregnant, I used to think miscarriages were very rare and only women with certain pasts (e.g previous abortions) or unhealthy habits (e.g chain smoking, drug addicts and heavy drinkers) were victims of miscarriages. 

It was not until I started bleeding a few weeks into my then pregnancy that I wondered why this was happening to me. My midwife, family doctor and early pregnancy nurses and doctors explained that it just happens and no one knows why. I did some more research and I was none the wiser as to why this had to happen to me. So after loads of tears and days of crying, I accepted my faith and we tried again, which thankfully lead to our now healthy and full of energy son.

So what did I find when I did my research? (Source: http://www.nhs.uk)

1. The cause of a miscarriage is not always known, particularly in early pregnancy. 

2. In majority of the cases, it is not caused by what the mum has done.

3. It’s thought most miscarriages are caused by abnormal chromosomes in the baby. Chromosomes are genetic “building blocks” that guide the development of a baby. If a baby has too many or not enough chromosomes, it won’t develop properly.

4. If a miscarriage happens during the second trimester of pregnancy (between weeks 14 and 26), it’s sometimes the result of an underlying health condition in the mother.

5. For most women, a miscarriage is a one-off event and they go on to have a successful pregnancy in the future.

6. Most miscarriages cannot be prevented but in the UK, if a woman has more than 3 miscarriages, the doctors try to see if any medication can help her carry her next pregnancy to term.

Most women don’t share or are encouraged not to share the news about their pregnancies in the first 12 weeks as miscarriage is very common during the first 12 weeks. It is a lot easier not to share the news then as imagine how painful it would be having to explain to all those people why there is no baby 9 months later or why you are not yet showing a few months later. 

In addition, what tends to happen is that once a woman experiences one or more miscarriages, she gets anxious in future pregnancies, remembering her past experiences. It is very sad and unfortunately, I have no tips on how to manage this as it is simply easier said than done. However, as a Christian, I know I can always go to God in prayer and live by faith and his words and that gives me comfort. 

I also know that a lot of women have miscarriage scares during their pregnancies as a member of BabyCentre’s birthboards, I know first hand that a few peoples pregnancies end in miscarriages, a few people have miscarriage scares and the majority of people have healthy pregnancies. However, there is always that one woman who posts on the birthboards about how she doesn’t like hearing about the losses and will stop reading the loss posts. I mean, I am sure the ladies posting about their losses don’t like posting about the fact they have just lost their pregnancy and they aren’t even asking for sympathy, they are just letting you know why they will no longer be active on the board and in most cases they never come back to comment, so saying that, I feel it is very insensitive.

Okay, rant over.

If you know anyone who has suffered from a miscarriage recently, give them your love. Don’t tell them they are lucky that it was earlier rather than later, or that it’s only been a few weeks, or that they escaped having an incompletely formed child. It may be tempting and it may make sense for you to say that or even logical, but please, “I’m sorry for your loss.” will do. 

So now that I have explained that these things happen, I would like you to know that the aim of this blog post was not to spread fear but to give you facts. The chances of having a successful pregnancy is very high, but at the same time, a few peoples pregnancies tend to lead to a miscarriage. Women who have had miscarriages can but have healthy babies. Stay healthy, take your vitamins and seek help when in doubt!

Is it time to move on from your current career?

A number of people ended up in their current careers by chance. I noticed in my generation (in particular, those in their late 20s – mid 30s), that only a handful of people went on to work in careers that relate directly to what they studied at university. I am one of those people! I studied chemical engineering and I am currently an International Tax Adviser (a tax accountant). One couldn’t differ more from the other. It all started out with me interning with my current employer and they retained me afterwards. It has now being nearly 6 and a half years. It was not too challenging transferring my skills as new trainees were required to pass both tax and accounting professional exams to qualify as a chartered tax account and a chartered accountant, so I got the necessary training.
This will usually be the case for others in my shoes. You join a big multinational firm, you are trained for weeks, months or years and also on the job, and then you are expected to get on with your work. For some, this is enough training but for others, they find themselves firefighting and struggling and not quite settling into the role. This often leads to not so good feedback during the appraisal process and little prospects of rising up the career ladder.

It is not only those with no background in their now chosen career that could face this challenge. It is also possible to have a strong affinity for something but not be very good at it. It isn’t good enough to like something, you also need to have the necessary skills to succeed at it, otherwise, you will either get frustrated, or you will be happy doing what you like without progressing!

Instead of feeling inadequate about where you are now, especially if you ended up there without much thought, I hope the suggested below will help take you to the next level where you can start feeling adequate and even become a trailblazer in what you do!

1. Self assess

Do a gap analysis. Where are you now? Where do you want to be? How can you get there? Spend time on yourself! Retreat somewhere nice and comfortable to do some thinking. It could be to a coffee shop, an early night so you can spend sometime on your bed thinking about what you want (ah! You thought I was going to encourage you to on a solo self finding holiday.. Think again). If you will rather do this with someone, arrange a catchup over lunch or dinner with a trusted friend and talk through this together. If you have a supporting partner, this could even replace pillow talk. I don’t know about you, but I love hearing what my husbands goals and aspirations are, I’m sure your supportive partner will be happy help you with this one. Just remember that at the end of it all, the decision on next steps should be all yours.

2. Focus on your findings from tip 1 above

Did the gap analysis result in you staying with your current employer? This is not impossible. If this is the case, focus on how you can improve on what you are currently doing or consider whether to stay with employer but to change roles or team.

If you gap analysis requires you to move, do your research!! Don’t fall into another per chance job. If you must, make sure it is one that you enjoy and can thrive in. You will be surprised how much information Google has! As there is currently no pressure to change jobs (seeing as you haven’t been fired!), take your time to do your research. However, set yourself a reasonable deadline and be accountable to a trusted person so that you don’t convince yourself you are okay where you are because you can’t be bothered to look or change jobs!

Speak to people who are currently in that industry and instead of focusing on the pros of the job or industry, focus on the cons. That will help you make a more informed decision. I got this tip from a really close friend recently. She said, and I am paraphrasing, it is okay to check out some of the people who currently are employed by the company you are looking work for on LinkedIn. I mean we check people out on Facebook and Instagram and so on, so why not for professional reasons! Look at their career profile, how long they have been at the company and whether they have changed roles since joining. This gives an indication of what career progression is like at the company and also its ability to retain its staff.

Short list the potential industries or employers that fit your bill.

3. What is your main driver?

Is it finances? Is it flexible hours? Is it more experience? Are you looking for something more longer term? These and other important factors are what you should be thinking about at this stage. Once you have decided what is important to you, it is now time to see if any of the industries or employers you have shortlisted above will satisfy your main drivers.

Consider also whether your skills be easily transferred to this new role.  Do you see yourself excelling in this new job after you are settled in? You don’t want a job that requires no thinking at all. You will still want to challenge yourself a little, so a new job where you still have things to learn will reduce your chances of getting bored and unaccomplished, and having to go through this process again.

It doesn’t matter if you are moving from a technical position to a managerial or administrative position. I was speaking to a friend currently at this stage recently and she is considering moving to a less technical role. I encouraged her and said every successful business has a team of people at the management level. From the chairman to the CEO to the CFO, to the chief marketing officer and so on, not everyone is technical. However they are all needed to keep the wheel well oiled. Without them the business cannot be successful.

4. Speak to recruiters 

I know recruiters can be a pain sometimes, especially when they call you at your desk at work, in the middle of your afternoon when your boss is sitting right next to you!

However, they have their role in society. They know who is recruiting and if they do their job well, they will only shortlist you for jobs they know you will do well in. However, beware of recruiters who haven’t done heir home work. For example, I got promoted to manager in October but some recruiters are still offiering my assistant manager roles and I’m like err NO!

This is another area where your LinkedIn account could work for you. Recruiters often head hunt on linked in and even HR departments in various companies have also contacted people in the last offering them a chance to discuss opportunities in their companies.

I’m sure you would have received one or two or more of such. Remember when you are contacted, you are in the driving seat and so you have control. Ask questions. Ask them direct questions, particularly tailored around the reason you are thinking of leaving your current job so that you don’t end up with a new boss but the same problem. It is a no obligation contact.

This is cheeky but even if you decide you don’t want to work for a company, it doesn’t hurt to get some interview practice. Who knows, you may decide at the interview that you actually like them and want to work for them. Worse case you have had some practice.

As always, good luck!

How are you doing 2016?

 Another year has just started! Can you believe it?

We are currently on vacation, hence the short break from the blog. However, as I’m sitting here in our apartment, counting down to dinner, I can’t help but think about the new year!

I’m not a huge fan of new year resolutions because I cannot honestly tell you that I have ever truly completed any, or know any one that has! However, I see the reason behind them as they help you focus and align your thoughts towards your goals, albeit in most cases temporarily.

So, I am asking, what would you like to have achieved in a years time (notice how I haven’t used the words new year resolution above!)? If like me you like writing in notebooks, get out your 2016 notebook and write down your goals for the year. If you do not know what your goals are yet, spend the next week thinking about this and then dedicate about 30 minutes, while it is still fresh in your head, writing this down.

Your goals do not have to be groundbreaking or sound impressive, sometimes, it is righting the small things that helps us to achieve greatness. You know yourself better than anyone else, be honest with yourself and make sure your goals are focused on areas you know you can improve on. Your goals should stretch you and shouldn’t be something you can accomplish in a day. Don’t think about it as a new year resolution, but as investing in yourself as a person and in your future. Pick goals that will contribute in building you up personally or professionally. A number of people tend to go for loosing weight or dieting in the new year, if that is you and you have never been to the gym before, give it a few months before committing financially long term to a gym. It is very possible to lose weight without going to a gym. Join a local boot camp, by an exercise dvd that costs way less than a gym membership, research on eating clean and healthy, make these small changes, build up your stamina and then if you are still disciplined enough to follow through with a gym membership, go for it.  This is just a tip as I have fallen for this before, joined a gym, hardly ever went and I was locked into a 12 months contract!

Finally, for this to be effective, you need to be accountable to someone you trust. We all have a number of friends with different personality traits. Pick one that you know will genuinely help you on this journey and be accountable to each other.

As for me, I have quite a few things I will like to accomplish by the end of the year, but in the spirit of accountability I will share one. I need to get my finances on lock down! I need to spend less and save more. I’m a kind of person that if something needs to be done, I just do it without thinking too much of the financial repercussions, from birthday presents for friends and family to gifts for different occasions and just generally buying nice to haves for myself and friends. 2016 for me is the year to find other thoughtful ways to be nice and cut down drastically on nice to haves and focus on need to haves where necessary!

I will definitely keep you posted and my plan is to reflect on how I am getting on monthly. This is going to be a huge challenge for me, but I pray that I will be able to discipline myself enough to go through with it as it will be very worthwhile!

I wish you all the best as you embark on this journey! Have a blessed and fulfilling year ahead!

Making time for your hobbies

A friend, suggested I share how I make time for my hobbies and I couldn’t think of a better time than now to write this post as I hosted a few people recently for my husband’s birthday and baked his birthday cake for the first time yay!

Just so we are on the same page, I will start by giving the definition provided in the Oxford dictionary for a hobby:

An activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure.

Everything I say below is intended for activities done in your free time for pleasure and not as a business. A completely different mindset is required when you decide to turn your hobby into a source of income. The tips I will share below will not be fully relevant in such cases.

So here we go. I enjoy cooking, baking, hosting guests, organising parties, knitting, crocheting, sewing, reading and watching tv. To be honest, the list goes on, but these are the top of my list at the moment. 

Prior to getting married and having a child, I was able to do all of this relatively easily, without even thinking about it or having to compromise. However, with marriage comes responsibilities and even more so with a child. This meant I had to make time to do the things I enjoy outside of my normal day to day life. 

My husband’s birthday cake

It was hard at first, and even nearly upsetting when I realised I couldn’t do it all. However, I studied economics at A levels *geek alert* and I think it helped me come to terms with this. Basically, there are limited resources in the world and to focus on developing a product requires an opportunity cost, i.e. a forefeited alternative. This is a very hurried way to explain it but I hope I haven’t lost you yet. Applying this to my situation, I realised that to bake or knit or whatever it was I wanted to do, there was a forfeited alternative which came in various forms, from lack of sleep, not reading a novel, not cooking,to not spending quality time with my son and husband, and so on. Once I appreciated this, it was easier for me not to feel guilty when I decide to spend time on my hobby as I have already weighed the cost of forfeiting the alternative.

I hope that once you realise that spending time on your hobby means you are forefeiting spending time on something else you have to do, or you equally enjoy, you will find the tips below useful.

5 tips on how to make time for your hobbies. 

1. Maximise your commuting time

If you are fortunate enough to be  driven to work (either by train, bus, car share etc), count yourself lucky as you have precious time in your hands that those who drive themselves do not.

You can maximise this time by reading a book, knitting or crocheting a few lines of your project, draft your next article or blog, you can spend this time to do some general research for hobbies that are not portable. For example. As I have never decorated a birthday cake before, I spent the week before my husband’s birthday scrolling through pintrest and YouTube, doing some research on how to decorate the cake I wanted to bake and also buying the ingredients online. This meant I didn’t have to spend as much time worrying about this when I got home in the evenings.

It is very tempting to spend this time sleeping or browsing social media. It is okay to do this, but like I said above, there has got to be a forefeited alternative. If you are struggling to find time for your hobbies, you may have to forfeit sleep or browsing social media for this. 

Finally, as a Londoner, I am fully aware that you do not always be a sea on the train and so it may not be convenient to do anything. I find that it is usually busier in the mornings for me and so in most cases I can find a seat in the evenings. This is when, if I want to, I usually knit. If however you are struggling to find space to do something substantial on your commute, you can  read a novel or do some research. You can do things like that standing and a cramped train should not always hinder you.

2. It is okay to have WIPs

I used to beat myself up for starting knitting projects and not finishing them. I felt like I was in a competition with myself.  However, I recently came to the realisation that this was putting undue pressure on myself and stopping me from enjoying my hobby. Once you stop enjoying it, it stops being a hobby and becomes a responsibility. So now, when I start a project, I allow myself to take as long as it takes to complete. However, if I am knitting towards a particular deadline (e.g. a gift for a new born baby) then my attitude towards it is different. 

I also get bored easily by what I am doing, especially if it is not turning out as nice as I expected 😜. I love to see results quickly. This means that I keep researching new patterns and start working on another project before I even complete the first project. It is also important to acknowledge that some hobbies take longer to complete than others. If you are an artist for example, working on a portrait will usually take a lot longer than baking a cake or reading a book. So make sure you allow a reasonable amount of time for you complete your project so that you do not get unduly frustrated . 

I have shared two pictures below of my complete and incomplete project.

Incomplete: a quilt for my son
Complete: a mug cosy
3. Schedule your hobbies

Yes, you heard that right, schedule your hobbies. It sounds very obvious doesn’t it? However, if like me you have a lot of hobbies, I recommend that you firstly prioritise your hobbies otherwise your diary will fill up quickly. Firstly decide  which one, or two do you enjoy the most, and then which of them will be the most convenient and realistic to pursue. This makes it easier and more achievable for you to continue to enjoy this hobby. This is not to say that you have to dump the other hobbies, it just gives you the permission to focus on the few that is sure to give you more satisfaction.

Scheduling hobbies is particularly useful if you are into a particular sport, or a popular hobby. It is possible to join your local team, book club, knit and stitch group, toastmasters, crafts club, fitness class, whatever it may be, especially when you live in the Western world. You find that such groups meet regularly, it could be weekly, twice a month or monthly. If you do not have a group you can join locally and you are feeling brave enough, you could start your own, but may require more of a commitment from you than joining an already existing club.

Joining local groups does not mean you have to attend every meeting, because let’s face it, life happens. However, it gives you a structure to follow and accountability. Once you discuss this with your other half, I am nearly certain he will not be too hung up about babysitting for an hour or two every other week so that mummy gets to have some mummy time. 

4. Include the family

Get your husband or children involved in your hobby. If you love to bake, bake together. It may be more messy than doing it alone but you will get the satisfaction of bonding with your family and also accomplishing spending time on your hobby. The more you do it together, they better they themselves become at it and before you know it, you have a shared bond.

Investing the initial time at the beginning to wet your family’s appetite for your hobby could help you in the future. See it as a long term investment. As they begin to enjoy it, it becomes easier for you all to do it together. It is also a way to teach them new skills. For me, my son is still too young to cook with me, but I get him involved with baking when I can. He is my chief taster! Also, like I said above, I enjoy watching tv so I watch his shows with him and he watches mine with me (obviously age appropriate). Finally, reading books, his attention span is still very short, but we are slowly but surely getting there with him reading books. In the future, I hope he too will enjoy reading books as much as his mum does!

5. Budget for your hobbies

Ah! I didn’t realise knitting and sewing was an expensive hobby until got into it! Needless to say, my husband asked me to start budgeting for it! I don’t blame him though, I would have done the same. It is easy for the cost of your hobby to creep up on you without you realising. When you are doing your monthly budget, include some allowance for your hobby. This way, you won’t feel guilty when you are buying the things you need and at the same time, you will not buy more than you need, at least until the next budget round. 

If your hobbies are expensive, save towards it and always look out for deals! I know from living in the UK that websites like wowcher, groupon, Amazon local and so on, always have deals, especially theatre deals. For those who like to travel, websites like iPods and Expedia are great for comparing flight and hotel costs. For those who like to dine in restaurants,  if you are in the UK buy a tastecard, which gives you two for one on meals provided the restaurant is on the tastecard scheme and you book a table in advance letting them know you will be using a tastecard. I have done this before and we saved a whole load of cash! Make sure you make use of such deals. For me, attending the knit and stitch show meant I could buy a lot of knitting products, from wool, to pins to buttons at a reasonable price. Do your research on how to save money on your hobby, you won’t be sorry. Saving money is the new black! Spending money you don’t have or more than you should is so yesterday! Lol 

I hope the above tips will help you make time for and save money on your hobbies! Feedback is always welcome and please do share your own tips on how you make time for your hobbies in your comments below!

Every moment counts

Today’s blog is about maximising time!
As working mums, we often have to juggle our work schedules with our home schedule together with being a wife, mum, daughter, sister, friend and the list goes on. We have established in previous posts that it will be impossible to make everyone happy and get an A star in every one of our responsibilities. However, there are ways to reduce the amount of times we feel like a disappointment. I have suggested a few for your consideration below.

Maximise your weekends

Weekends are God sent! Which is why I am sure you have wished on a Sunday night, at some point in your life, that the weekend was longer! You have this two solid days to focus on everything that is not work related. For me, quality time with my son is the top on my list. My mentality at the weekend is to do as much with him as possible. In as much as I wish he understands the need for a lie in on Saturdays, I am actually happy when he wakes me up nice and early because he is ready to start his day! Weekends involve taking him for activities, shopping together, watching his favourite shows and basically all the normal things you will do with your child, like telling them not to do various dangerous things their curiosity wants them to do and at the other extreme; messing about and getting a lot of cuddles.

Other than weddings and landmark events, I try not to entertain social functions that will take me away from home, my son or my husband during the weekend. I am happy to host friends at home but because there is just so much to accomplish during the weekend, I find that I maximise my time best when I am home. Thankfully I multitask relatively easy so doing my chores and cooking for the week also feature during the weekend.

Maximise your weekdays

Weekdays are also to be maximised. If you were paying attention you will notice that I specified above that I try to minimise social functions, other than landmark events, during the weekend. This doesn’t mean I don’t make time for my friends. That is the contrary to be honest. These days, social media and instant messenger along with FaceTime have nearly rendered it unnecessary to meet up physically. However, I am an old school girl and I still like meeting up with my friends. I find that if organised properly and in advance, majority of the time, you can meet up with friends during the weekday! I have gone out for drinks or dinner with friends during the week and it has been so successful! It is even more fun because you feel like you are being naughty (going out on a school night). Planning in advance means the necessary childcare arrangements can be put in place. You also find that, because you know you have to be at work the next day, you are good and tend not to have one too many drinks. You will also have, what I like to call, efficient banter because you know you only have a limited amount of time, so you skip right to the juicy bits of your conversations. 

Another tried and tested option is to lunch together. Albeit shorter, it does the job. Once again, planning is key. If you know in advance, you get into work early or plan to leave late so you can have a longer lunch to catch up with your friends.

Say bye bye to the lovers tiff

Okay, not a total good bye as they can be useful in getting to know each other and in some cases, the added benefits that comes when you make up (I won’t got into too much detail here *wink*). However, when you begin to have one too many of these, they eat into the already limited time you are spending with your partner. Instead of being productive and happy when you are together, you are arguing, or still fuming from the last argument. This obviously means you aren’t saying nice things to each other, buying each other gifts, touching each other or just generally not being more than civil to each other (in some cases, even this is missing). Before you know it, you are mere house mates and then divorce begins to look like a viable option in the extreme cases. 

If this is you, or you just find you are doing more arguing than talking to your partner. Now is the time to take action. Stop it now! I have been there. It is hard to say sorry especially when you feel you have done nothing wrong. It is hard to be the bigger person and to let things go. But, I tell you from experience that it is only hard the first few times and before you know it, it becomes second nature. I’m not advising that you do not talk about issues, I’m simplying saying to learn to discuss difficult issues without it ending in an argument. You know your partner well enough to know their trigger point. Don’t push that button. Regardless of how tempting it may be. Walk away or agree safe words with your partner. For us, we decided to say ‘I don’t want to talk about this now‘ if we need more time to process what we have to say and communicate it in a way that won’t hurt. The caveat was that we made sure we actually had the dreaded conversation eventually. Find safe words that work for you and aim to edify your partner as opposed to condemning or critising them all the time.

I’m not perfect yet but I’m reaping the benefits already of making small changes. It means when we are back home from work we can actually have pleasant conversations and laugh together instead of aiming to spend time apart or reminding ourselves we are not speaking to each other. You will find you are looking forward to go home to bond with your partner!

I think these are enough tips for today. More to come.. as I remember or come across them. As always, I hope you will find these useful!

Reflections (part 2)

… continuation from the last blog
As highlighted in my last blog, it has been very challenging. I had to learn how to work with different personalities and I have literally had to practice patience and controlling my tongue. It may feel good to have a good come back to your boss or your colleagues when they are being snappy with you, but will the consequence be worth it? 
I like to think that after meeting a person a few times, I am able to study their personalities and relate to them accordingly. So if you are an extrovert, I can relate to you on that level and vice versa. For this reason I have a mixed bag of friends, with different personalities. I have been quite successful in the past in my personal relationships so I have tried to emulate this trait for work as well. However, as I have found over time with friends, it is genuinely not possible to get on at every level with everybody. There will be times you do not agrees stone where they do something that makes you want to write them off for life. As a Christian, I know I am called to love, so I try my best to look over and beyond any unpleasant behaviour, knowing fully well I am also not perfect, and love them.
 I have realised that at work, it is not just about the individuals personality, but also their seniority and style of work. For example, some people like to be chased and reminded about everything and others do not like being micro managed. I have made so many mistakes in the process of finding the right balance when loading with colleagues. I must confess that I do not like making mistakes, it makes me feel inept and incompetent and I am my worst critic. It did not help that I used to dwell and beat myself up when I made mistakes. However, I slowly began to realise that I wasn’t doing any good to myself. Instead, I started learning to grow a coping mechanism which involves considering what I could have done differently, or where relevant, how to rectify the error and manage the expectations of the stakeholders.
What makes it even harder at work is working with people with moodswings. It is commonly known that women have moodswings but I find that in my place of work, it tends to be more of the men that have unpredictable moods. One minute you are getting on well and actually being productive working together and the next, you are being screamed at or feel you are working in an unpleasant environment. At some point, it was so bad that I literally had to figure out whether one of my bosses was in a good mood before approaching him for anything. I personally don’t think it is professional to inflict wrath on employees because you are in a bad mood, by what do I know? They are after all, more senior than I am!
I have tried my best to navigate such people and like I said above, I find that preemptive what I think their mood is has helped me in communicating with them. You could say it is not your job to do that, but the consequences for me of not doing that is, he or she would inevitably say something they shouldn’t case that would make me upset for the rest of the day. I am in no way shape or form advocating abuse or to work where you do not feel safe. You will be the best judge of that for yourself and where in doubt, talk to friends and family and if necessary, to HR.
After 11 months of working full time, feeling frustrated most of time and feeling pleased with myself on some of the days, I received the greatest gift of all. I got promoted to a manager. My short term goal was accomplished! I am still surprised, not because I do not think I worked hard for it, but because I know how much stigma there still is on working mums. This happening has just renewed my faith that things are changing or better still, the firm I work for still believes in meritocracy underneath it all.
Of course with this comes a lot more responsibilities and I am still finding my feet. However, I trust that the God who has brought me this far and has constantly granted me favour, wisdom, knowledge and understanding, amongst other things, when it mattered the most, will continue to see me through. I am still working hard and looking for ways to best balance being a working mum and wife.
I hope this encourages someone somewhere.
Enjoy the rest of your week.

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.