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.

 

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!

10 Things you should know if you are intending to go back to work after a baby (Part 1)

Please note that these tips are tailored for those in the UK.

There are a number of things to consider if you intend to go back to work after having children. I have summarised here the top ten tips I found to be invaluable to me and some of my friends when we were preparing for a baby with the intention of going back to work. I hope you will find this as a useful guide to help you put things in place (including your mindset) when you decide to commence on your parenting journey. For those who already have kids, some of this tips may still be relevant to you too. Please feel free to add any additional tips that has helped you to transition from maternity leave to going back into employment in the comment box below.

An overriding factor is to ensure you are ready mentally before commencing on this journey. Your life changes when you have a child and you are suddenly responsible for another human’s life. I hope the tips below will contribute in helping you to prepare mentally.

I have split the blog into two as I realised it was a very long read. The first 5 tips can be found below and the next 5 will be published in my next blog.

  • Read your company’s maternity policy. This so important and even more so if you intend on changing jobs before you start trying for a child. This is because some companies have caveats in their maternity policies that requires you to have spent a minimum amount of time working for them before you are entitled to the full pay benefit. You may however still be entitled to the statutory pay, but in most cases, this is significantly less than receiving your full pay for part of your maternity leave. In addition, being familiar with your maternity policy will help you begin to consider how long you can afford to stay off work. For example, the maternity policy of the firm I work for provides 18 weeks of full pay, which is the equivalent of four and a half months of full pay, after which I only received statutory maternity pay for another four and a half months. My friend on the other hand works for a company that provides nine months of full pay. Maternity leave policies vary depending on who you work for. Won’t it be useful if companies published their maternity policies publicly?
  • Look around you, there is at least one working mum somewhere in your workplace. This reassures me all the time as there is precedence all around me. It tells me it is very possible to work and be a mum at the same time. Don’t feel shy, embarrassed or like a slacker when you find out you are pregnant. I felt all of these emotions at some point during my pregnancy. Thankfully, I soon abandoned the feeling and embraced the new me. In some cases, people will begin to treat you differently, either to overcompensate for you being pregnant and try to make life ‘easier’ for you, or they may even begin to start making plans for your absence, months before you are due to go on leave. This can be very disheartening, especially when you have worked very hard on a particular project and all of a sudden you can no longer see it to completion or someone else takes the glory for it because you are on leave and make it sound like they are doing you this huge favour! I don’t think I have any hard or fast tip for this one. You just need to condition your mind that there will never be a right time to leave your work to have a baby. You just have to press pause temporarily, and come back to another project that would get you equally excited. I must however say that the firm I work for are relatively good in this area. Largely, I didn’t feel like I was being kicked out before I left for my leave. Instead, I wanted to see the conclusion of some of my projects. It soon didn’t matter though, because I had the bigger more rewarding project of pushing a baby out of me to look forward to.
  • No two pregnancies are the same! A friend may have confided in you about how difficult or beautiful her pregnancy was, or you may have read about this somewhere. Unfortunately, there is no certainty that you will have the same experience. It is not unusual for a woman to have varying experiences with different pregnancies. For example, I know of a lady who had a relatively smooth pregnancy with her son and while she was pregnant with her daughter,  she found it more difficult. I have also heard of people who found the second pregnancy a lot easier. I would encourage you to stay positive but to have an open mind to adapt as the circumstances may require. Do not be disheartened if your pregnancy is not as you expect it to be. Speak to your doctor and your midwife and ask them for tips if you need any. Failing that, there are a number of baby groups designed for expecting mum. My favourite of which was the Baby Centre birth boards. I must say you get a mixed bag on forums like this but it is generally very useful to see that other mums are going through similar experiences and in some cases, worse, which could make you count your blessings.
  • Don’t feel hurried to take the decision as to whether you want to go back into work full time or part-time. For those who are resident and work in the UK, by law, you are entitled to 12 months of maternity leave and you do not have to give your company notice of when you intend to go back to work, if you intend to go back at the end of the 12 months period. However, if you intend to go back to work prior to the 12 months elapsing, then your company will require 2 months notice. Your company is also not permitted by law to ask you whether or not you are returning and on what terms you intend to come back. I implore you to enjoy your maternity leave and use the time to connect with your baby. You may find that after this period of time you have no desire of going back to work or to go back part time. If that is the case then so be it. Just make sure you are taking informed decisions considering all facts of the circumstance as opposed to emotionally lead decisions. I say this because, I have had two types of conversations with people who gave up work for their children. The kind that are happy with the decision they made so many years ago (most of whom went back to work part-time) and the kind that wish they made a different decision and wished they at least went back to part-time employment because the children are now at university and they don’t have a lot to fill up their free time now. This is not to say that there aren’t people out there who are glad they did not go back to work. Decide what type of person you are and what will make you happy and do it.
  • If you intend to go back to work full time, make use of your ‘Keeping In Touch’ (KIT) days. Generally, maternity policies in the UK will include up to 10 days of KIT days. This is to enable the employee to work without bringing to an end their maternity leave. They could use the days to attending team meetings, conferences, training and so on and they would generally be paid for the KIT days. It is important to note that employers are not obliged to provide KIT days and employees are not required to use them. However I recommend that you ask your employer if you intend to use your KIT days before you leave on your maternity leave. One thing to consider is the fact that you will most likely need childcare for the days you go into the office to ‘work’. It is however a good way of keeping in touch with work while you are on leave. It is something to consider but may not be right for everyone. I used 9 of my KIT days because in my firm, as an assistant manager (the position I was when I was on maternity leave) you were entitled to an intensive training which took place for three weeks a year for two years. I attended the first training and i did not want to delay the second training so I used my KIT days to attend two out of the three weeks of training and then completed the training when I went back to work full time. It was invaluable to me particularly because my line of business, tax, is very volatile and we have new rules in the UK all the time. Using my KIT days helped me to stay on top of things.

To be continued….