Ode to Another Week

Monday yawns and

Lifts a lazy head.

Time for coffee…

Or five more in bed?

Tuesday insists that

It’s Thursday already –

I’m work worn and

Emails just might overwhelm me.

Wednesday declares that

The worst is behind us

But lengthening to-do lists

Push next order of business.

Thursday is buzzing –

The weekend’s in sight –

But then, deadline looming,

Works late through the night.

Friday arrives with

Dishevelled relief.

Just sod the unfinished

Let’s dance! (Or let’s sleep…)

Saturday stretches

With languorous delight

And hours to fill

However they like.

Sunday awakes,

Good intentions so steady.

With a smile and frown

Sighs ‘Nearly Monday, already.’

Our Own Unexpected Wisdom

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This past year I have been mentoring a student, meeting with them at least once (often twice or three times) a week, to support them with their studies and help them work through the various stresses and anxieties that were proving to be barriers to confidence and success. It has been an incredibly rewarding process, though stressful at times. It has been a real privilege to watch this young person grow in confidence and find that they do in fact have the strength and resilience to face challenges.

I saw them for the last time this week. Their exams are over and it’s time for the start of the next, exciting chapter of their life. I was honestly a little sad to be saying goodbye. I’ve spent so much time thinking about and worrying over the best ways to support this student, that suddenly not having to do it anymore is a strange feeling – I keep thinking I’m forgetting to do something!

I was really touched, then, when at our final meeting, my lovely mentee presented me with a box of chocolates and a cuddly fox, which she informed me was the next best thing to having a Daemon (we’re both fans of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials). More moving than these thoughtful gifts, though, was the card she gave me alongside them. Inside she had written a lovely thank you message, but the thing that moved me to tears was that she had listed everything she felt I had taught her.

My first thought was: Wow, you were actually listening!

My second was: I didn’t realise I was so wise.

My third was: I could do with remembering some of these for myself…

As I read the list they had written, I felt so happy that they had taken these lessons from me. I also genuinely found myself realising that some of the lessons I had worked so hard to make them hear and learn, I’m really not all that good at paying attention to for myself.

So I’m going to share that list here, in the hopes that I will do better at remembering these lessons myself, and that maybe there’s something here for you as well.

Things I (apparently) managed to teach my mentee and need to remember myself (in their own words):

  • I CAN do things, even though it might seem hard.
  • Things are hard but do get better.
  • To acknowledge my own worth.
  • It’s okay to reach out for help.
  • Other people are allowed to care about me, and do.
  • To be me no matter what everyone else thinks.
  • I am important!
  • To be strong and independent.
  • To do what I want to do.
  • It’s okay not to be okay.
  • To look after myself.
  • To read as many books as I can. (This one I’ve got down…)
  • My anxiety is not me.
  • To be selfish sometimes and that is okay.
  • Stick up for what I believe in.
  • ‘Alot’ is not a word. (Good to know I managed to teach some English in there somewhere!)
  • 5 hours sleep is not enough.
  • Reading always helps. (This I know to be true.)
  • Harry Potter is amazing! (This too!)
  • To have faith.
  • It’s okay to trust people.
  • We are all human and make mistakes.
  • Resilience.
  • Magic can be found in everyday life.
  • To try, even though I might fail.
  • To have a day off sometimes.
  • It’s ‘should have’ not ‘should of’.  (This one is ingrained in my brain from repeating it so many times…)
  • Poetry! (And not just the stuff on the exam!)
  • The Quibbler podcast is amazing! (It is.)
  • Keep reading. (I’m sensing a theme…)
  • Sleep and eat!
  • To keep trying and trying.
  • Change doesn’t happen overnight.
  • It’s okay to show emotions.
  • Sometimes you need a book, a hot chocolate and a cosy blanket. (Most times, really.)
  • Life is going to get exciting.
  • I am not a disappointment.

 

Have you ever discovered you’ve imparted unexpected wisdom? Which bits of your own advice do you find it hard to follow yourself?

Wild & Improbable Tales – Suit Up

No one saw it for what it really was. When they saw him striding the halls and directing their meetings, they assumed the freshly pressed suit and perfectly knotted tie were simply business dress.

They didn’t know that, when he got home at night and loosened that restrictive strip of fabric, the rest of him unraveled with it. They didn’t know that their confident, assertive leader shed his stoicism with the layers of expensive tailoring. They didn’t know the vulnerability of his true self; that whilst his head may be in the game his heart was in the clouds, yearning for the life of a wandering dreamer.

The daily struggle between expectation and longing was always hidden behind buzz words and neatly ordered spreadsheets. Until he was alone and free to dream, to marvel, to create, or sometimes to simply fall apart, as the world would never allow him to do in sight of his troops. The dreaming and marvelling and creating and falling took him to beautiful and terrible places, where he meandered all the night, until it was time to suit up his armour again. For he went not to work but to war.

If only they had known, they would have unraveled with him.

Work-Life Imagined – Career Visioning

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We spend so much of our lives working. Sometimes we just take a job that will pay the bills but, if we are lucky, or if it is in our power to do so, we can create opportunities for career development that will enable us to earn a living doing something we love. I’ve been in both these situations and I’ve recently found myself, once again, considering what it is I really want to do. What do I want my working life to look like? Where do my passions and skills lie? How can I create the career and life I imagine for myself when I’m daydreaming? I decided I wanted to share a bit about my process for career visioning on here but I’m going to indulge in a bit of reflection on my career journey so far first. This may end up being a bit of a rambling brain dump to begin with (which is part of my process) but if you’re interested some steps for career visioning but not my personal career history, feel free to skip the first bit and scroll doooowwn!

 

From Front to House to Head of House

Whilst I was in college, I had a few different part time and temp jobs: waitress, sales assistant, admin temp, and dance teacher’s assistant. When I left college, not sure what I wanted to do with myself and in need of money for rent, I started my full-time working life as a receptionist/administrator, and had several different roles of this ilk with the same company. Along side these pay-the-bills jobs, I was volunteering with a few different youth groups and projects. I found that I loved working with young people and the variety of jobs in this area interested me, so I took the plunge and decided this was what I wanted to do. I started looking into qualifying as a youth worker and with the support of my friends, family, and colleagues, I decided to embark on a Youth Work degree with The Open University.

To this day, I consider this one of the best decisions I ever made. I was still working full time and studying independently around my working and volunteer hours. It was hard work and I knew it was going to be a long haul (6 years in total), but it was so interesting and rewarding, and the OU was such a great institution to study with, that I knew I’d made the right choice. When I reached the third year of my degree, however, I was faced with a conundrum: I had to be working a minimum of 16 hours per week face to face with young people in order to qualify. Fitting that number of volunteer hours around my full time job was going to be nigh on impossible. If I wanted to continue my degree, I had to find paid work with young people.

One of my degree mentors, who had become a great friend, knew of a job coming up for a Lead Youth Worker at an ecumenical youth work project. I thought I would never get it but she convinced me to apply and, to my great surprise and pleasure, I got the job. The next three years were challenging, fulfilling, and (mostly) the best kind of exhausting. But as I reached the end of my three year contract I was once again faced with impending career change. Youth work funding across the country was being pulled; projects and youth centres were closing left, right, and centre; and, much though I loved the job, all the evening and weekend work was taking a lot of my time away from my friends, family, and lovely fiancé. I decided I wanted to find a way to continue working with young people whilst also freeing up more time to spend with the people I loved, who were working ‘normal’ hours. And that’s how I ended up doing the one thing I always swore blind I would never do: working in a secondary school.

I had to get my 16 year old inner-self to pipe-down in order to pursue this path. In spite of the fact that I have always loved learning, I was not a fan of secondary school – the best day of my secondary school career was the day I left! But it was the obvious solution and I actually decided that it was perfect for me because it would give me the chance to make school a little bit better for the young people who, like me, did not enjoy being there. So after a lot of applications and a handful of interviews I secured a post as a pastoral head of house and I was thrilled. I was convinced this was it: the start of my actual career.

It didn’t quite pan out the way I expected.

Just one year into the job, I found myself in a very unhappy place. I was stressed to high heaven because the workload was so demanding; the emotional intensity of the role meant I was sleeping terribly and spending the majority of my evenings in tears or a high state of anxiety. There were things I loved about the job. I loved working with the students and being able to provide them with support that they struggled to find anywhere else. But I was coming to realise that this was not healthy for me and that I needed to make a change.

And that terrified me.

I had just come to the end of six years of hard work to graduate from my youth work degree, there were barely any youth work jobs around and I felt completely unable to continue in a school based pastoral role. What on Earth was I going to do?

The answer arrived in a somewhat serendipitous manner. The school I was working at was looking to introduce a new role: HLTA in English. I have always loved English as a subject, adored reading, and enjoyed writing for pleasure. I kept thinking this could be something I could do. Something I would enjoy. Something I might be good at. But the post was only temporary and I wasn’t technically qualified, having done nothing related to English since I left college, not having either a TA or HLTA qualification, and having no experience of providing academic support. However, the school had had two rounds of  unsuccessful interviews and when I expressed a passing interest to my Deputy Head he said to leave it with him whilst he mulled it over. After a bit of back and forth and several conversations which I won’t bore you with here, I was offered a one year secondment to the HLTA post. Nervous about a role that was very different to any I had done before but feeling I had nothing to lose (and excited at the prospect of a change from the emotionally draining pastoral role), I leapt at the chance and a few months later I took up the post.

This is the job I still hold today. It is the role I have held longer than any other in my working life. It has offered me more opportunities that I would have anticipated and I have LOVED the variety, challenge, and development I have experienced through it. In this role I have qualified as a HLTA, undertaken a nationally recognised leadership and management qualification with ILM, taken on an additional role as Whole School Literacy Coordinator, and worked with the most amazing team of people. I have been given a huge amount of freedom and flexibility to develop the role and experiment with new forms of intervention and academic support. It has had it’s ups and downs but this job has been the right one for me for a long time.

But lately, I’ve been itching for another change.

I find myself increasingly disillusioned with our education system. So many top-down changes and demands are forced on our schools and – with the best will in the world from passionate, dedicated, and talented staff – it feels increasingly difficult to instil a love of learning, and share passion for your subject in creative and engaging ways, as well as checking all the necessary boxes. That is a whole conversation in and of itself (and not one for right now) but I also find that I’m contemplating what other opportunities I want to pursue for myself, and whether I will be able to find them in this role.

And this is where career visioning comes in. (Finally, I hear you say!)

 

Imagine The Work-Life You Want

If, like me, you feel yourself wanting to make changes to your work life but not really being sure what you want that to look like, I suggest starting by reflecting on your own work/career journey so far, then using the prompts below to explore what you might want to change. Please note that I offer this only as a process that has been useful to me, and only as a starting point. I’m not a career or life coach, and I definitely don’t have the answer for reaching that dream – in fact I am still in the middle of figuring this all out for myself – but I found this helpful for reflection on my own career and in identifying possible areas I could pursue.

I sat down with pen and paper (computer, tablet or phone would work just as well) and considered the following:

  1. Identify the things in your current job (if any) that you enjoy – think about your team/company/area of focus as well as aspects of the job itself.
  2. Come up with ideas for how you would change your current role if you had the freedom and opportunity to do so – would you take on more responsibility? Less? Do the hours suit you or would you want more flexibility? Are there areas of your current role you’d like to be able to give more time to?
  3. List the things (in work or otherwise) that you would like to do more of – are there any skills or knowledge that you’d really like to pursue or develop? Do you have any hobbies that you secretly would like to be able to make a living out of?
  4. Daydream your ideal work scenario – what does your dream work life look like? Part-time? Self-employed? Moving to a bigger company? Working from home? Do you want to continue in the same area but a different role or do you want to do something completely different?

Take your time considering these areas and answering these questions. Maybe jot down initial ideas then leave it for a few days and come back to it: do you still feel the same? Has anything else occurred to you? Do this a couple of times. After you’ve allowed yourself time and space for reflection consider your gathered ideas and look for threads of connection.

Is there anything you’ve identified that you could develop in your current role? If so, consider talking to your colleagues or line manager about whether there might be the opportunity to pursue this as part of your professional development. If it seems like there is nothing in your current role you could develop, look for any crossover in your answers to the other questions. Are there any areas that clearly emerge as having captured your interest? Are there any career/job possibilities that spring to mind which would incorporate this?

 

From Daydream to Reality

Getting these ideas together is all well and good but what do you do with them now? This is the tricky bit, partly because everyone’s current reality, and everyone’s daydream, will look completely different. Maybe your daydream is only a few steps from your current reality and all you need to do is widen your network, pitch an idea to your boss, or explore undertaking a training that would help you achieve promotion. On the other hand, maybe your daydream is a world away from your current reality and achieving it will involve retraining, or even going back to school. I am well aware that for many people, pursuing a daydream career seems impossible.

Getting from A to B when you’ve got bills to pay, a family to provide for, or limited opportunities to undertake further training can seem like an unbridgeable gulf. I know myself to be very privileged when it comes to the opportunities I have had and continue to have, but even though I can see where I want to get to, I struggled to imagine how I might get there. I need the full time wage I currently earn and achieving my dream work-life seemed to require more time and/or money than I have to give.

I had to acknowledge that if this was something I truly wanted, I would have to be in it for the long haul. I would have to find a way to create small stepping stones to get across that gulf and accept that it might take years to reach my end goal, if I got there at all. So that is what I’m doing.

I don’t have the answer. I don’t know if I will get there. I’m not even sure exactly what my stepping stones will look like, although some are starting to take form in my mind. But I do know that, whether it works or not, I want to put my energy into trying to create the work-life I want for myself. I want to live by the words of Henry David Thoreau:

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.”

Have you achieved your dream work-life or ever gone through a career change? What helped you get there? Say hi in the comments and share any pearls of wisdom!

Happy dreaming.

The Best Sort of Busy

Well the chaos has definitely been thriving over here the last few weeks, which as you may have noticed means my lovely little corner of the blogosphere has been rather quiet.

So I thought I’d give you a little insight into my current busyness, just to reassure you I’m still here…

Buying our first house is well underway now, it’s very exciting and scary and expensive! We can’t wait for it all to go through and finally have a home of our own to play with. What do you think of the first page of our mood board book?

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Work has been busy busy busy, filled with lots of ups and downs and feeling uncertain. It’s been tough but I think things are working themselves out. The Easter holidays was going to be the time to plan lots of lovely blog things but I was too poorly the first week to do much other than sleep, which inevitably then meant the second week was filled up with seeing friends and cleaning the house! Hence all the ad hoc blogging and the quietness.

I’ve been on a bit of a book series binge over the lat few weeks having read the entire Mortal Instruments series, the Mistborn Trilogy, the first two books of the Stormlight Archive and now onto the third. I am inhaling books. And I love it!

I’ve made a start on another page in my art journal, which I’ll share when it’s done, and made a bit of jewellery as well…

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Lovely leaf earrings…

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…and a little lightbulb necklace!

So life is currently filled with the best sort of busy and I’m keeping track of it all through my #100happydays posts on Facebook. When I reach the end of the hundred days I think I’ll do a blog post showing all of them together.

I hope all your days are happy and busy as well. 🙂

Organised Chaos

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This is what my desk looked like today. In fact this seems to be what it looks like most days at the moment. I would like to think it is organised chaos.

It’s not.

At the moment I work in a big secondary school, in a pastoral support role, and boy is it hectic. I like to think that I’m good at prioritising and organising myself, but this role has been a whole new challenge. How do you prioritise when everything is a priority? Staying organised is a constant battle when every task seems to roll into another until my brain is a big jumbled mess of half remembered to-do’s. Combine this with the fact that 99% of what comes through my door is negative and that leaves me wanting to scoff a chocolate bar the size of my head by about 8:45am every morning. Maybe 9am on a good day.

It’s tough. Much harder than I ever would have anticipated. It’s challenged me personally as well as professionally, and I’m still working out how I feel about it and where I want this to go.

But for all that it’s challenging and frustrating and sometimes upsetting, I know that what I’m doing is important. Our young people have such huge and varied expectations to deal with and it seems to get tougher all the time. Occasionally I hear comments about young people not knowing how lucky they are, and I get where this comes from, I do. In many respects young people today are privileged. But they are also facing new challenges every day. And I tell you what, I wouldn’t go back to being a teenager if you paid me!

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One of the things I’m hoping to include in my little blogging adventure is sharing some resources for working with young people. If there are any issues/areas you’d particularly like to see resources for, or if you have any suggestions for specific resources leave a comment and I’ll do my best to include them!