Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Notes from the front line (Part 2)

Following on from yesterday, welcome to...

Knowing what I do now, I can reassure you that (Part II):

4) it's a great idea to get a mentor, and an even greater idea to BE a mentor.

Throughout my career, I was blessed with exactly one excellent General Manager. Twenty years: that's a lot of general managers. Sure, I had some lovely direct supervisors. But, from what I can tell, general managers are usually appointed because they are good at stuff in general but nothing as specific as managing people. And people at the helm who don't care much for other people tend to leave human resource mayhem in their wake.

In absence of someone who actually cared, I felt stuck, oscillating between over- and underwhelm. How does what I'm doing fit into the bigger picture? Am I allowed to admit that I'm bored? What do I have to offer, beyond the statement of duties in my position description? How can I be strategic about my next move? What IS my next move? I mean, I'm so uninspired, I'm starting to doubt my employability...

Finding a mentor really helped. Sometimes this was in an official capacity e.g. joining a mentor scheme for women; asking a senior colleague in another area whom I admired if she would be willing to mentor me.

But more often this was an informal process. I asked experienced colleagues out for coffee so that I could ask their advice and hear their perspectives. I attended seminars and conferences when the opportunity arose. I also found books and blogs written by people who seemed to be grappling with the same things as I was. I started to feel a bit less like floundering and more like I had something to gain from and contribute to where I was... even if the path forward was still not clear.

And then, over time, I noticed that I became one of the people that younger colleagues asked out for coffee, so they could ask my advice and share my perspective. And I loved this. Not just because it felt like "paying it forward". But because it was an opportunity to consolidate everything that I knew.

Every coffee, every email, every piece of advice or reassurance sought challenged me to review everything I'd done and make sense of it for someone else. I'd worked in a diverse range of roles and settings, got to know people throughout the organisation, developed a strong sense of how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together (or not). In sharing my experiences with others, I noticed themes and patterns I'd not seen before. This gave me greater confidence that I actually knew what I was doing and was working my way towards something.

5) it's more than OK to have a life outside of work. In fact, it's VITAL.

At one point in my career, I was travelling overseas a lot for work. Most of my friendships fell by the wayside, except for those I'd made at work. I moved out of my share accommodation, unable to justify the rent when I was away so much of the time, and moved back to my parents' house. I stopped writing and reading and only occasionally socialised by seeing movies or live music.

It felt like a dark and hollow time, even though I was the envy of a lot of people. As far as they could see, I was travelling around the world and staying in five star hotels and shopping a lot. It's true: I loved a lot of things about the role,  particularly what I learned about working with people from other cultures. But the industry culture was bitchy, competitive and highly politicised. And mostly I felt lonely, bored and tired. And I grew to hate airport transit lounges with a passion.

I see now that the biggest detraction of that lifestyle was the disruption caused by travel and overtime. I couldn't really commit to anything or anybody outside of work. Work sucked up all of my waking hours and some of my sleeping hours too.

I believe it's around this time that I lost perspective. I started taking things that happened at work very personally. Trust me, when you start to think that every change in policy direction is intended as a personal slight... it's time to rethink your life balance.

I honestly believe that my contribution to the organisation improved a million-fold after I had children and started blogging, then writing in earnest. For starters, I literally didn't have the time to get involved in petty politics: worked two days a week and had to make every minute count as there was a lot to be done. Also, once I left the campus, I had no choice but to switch off and focus on my family. But then I'd return to campus refreshed: I could see exactly what needed to be done and would approach it with purpose and precision.

This detachment enabled me to receive feedback on my work with equanimity, where once I would have fumed with defensiveness and amended my text with passive aggression. I now saw that the documents I was writing needed to serve a greater purpose and they actually worked better if I got out of the way. As a result, my writing matured and my papers represented a much more balanced perspective. And as far as academic board approvals went, I held a track record second to none.

Come back tomorrow and I'll tell you where I am now and why it took me so long to get there (and why it probably won't take you nearly as long).

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Notes from the front line (Part 1)

I have to say, I was pretty chuffed when the good folks at TheLadders asked me to help "spread a bit of wisdom" for the next generation of career-driven professionals.

So, I gots me to thinking: what do I wish I'd known when I graduated from university and started working?

Let me give you some context: I graduated with a major in English (Creative Writing) and a minor in Classical Studies. So, in all likelihood, it was the three years of retail/customer service experience (a weekend job at a jewellery store in the city) that helped me my get first full-time ongoing job: an enquiries officer at the university I had just graduated from.

This little front line role ended up being the launching pad for a career spanning twenty years, culminating in a senior specialist research and policy development role created specifically with my skills and availability in mind.

Which sounds pretty fancy but, actually, all I ever really wanted to do was be a writer. In the end, I consoled myself that I was finally living at least part of my dream. After all, I was writing for the university: marketing strategies, recruitment plans, functional reviews, academic board proposals etc.

Today, I am the writer and blogger I always dreamt of being and I can say without hesitation that the journey from enquiries officer to policy analyst was exactly what brought me here. Getting from there to here,  however, took me twenty years and I wasn't always so sure it was going to pan out the way I'd hoped.

So today, tomorrow and the day after I am going to: share some of the things that may reassure you on your own journey; give you some insight as to why my own professional evolution took so long; and give you some reasons why yours might happen a lot faster!

Without further ado:

Knowing what I do now, I can reassure you that (Part I):

1) you don't need to have it all figured out.

I loved writing but wasn't cut out to be a journalist and had no desire to sit public service exams. University administration didn't exactly light me up and, after a while, I got so sucked in to the corporate vortex that I was hardly reading at all, let alone writing. I didn't want to admit what I really wanted to do because I wasn't actually doing it and who makes a living out of not doing something (other than pointless celebrities)?

Although I didn't love it at the time, I see now that that the time I spent building my university career was incredibly valuable, actually instrumental, in my journey towards being a writer. I developed some amazing writing, editing and organisational skills, and I learnt first hand about negotiation, accountability and cross-cultural business mores. I also developed resilience and firm boundary-setting skills.

2) it's really useful to start at the bottom.

My first job was a Level Two as far as seniority and salaries go. The cleaning staff were Level One and general managers Level Ten. Many years later,  all Level Two roles were all reclassified to Level Three i.e. ceased to exist. I guess someone realised how hard it is to attract and keep quality applicants in entry level roles if don't challenge them sufficiently and pay them a pittance.

I can't say I was a good fit for the enquiries officer role and there were a few aspects of the corporate culture that were somewhat troubling. But I learnt a lot right there at the coal face about what students wanted and needed, the sort of support academic staff required and how different departments of the university worked together (or not).

As I progressed my way up the ladder -- my final role was Level Nine -- I was surprised to learn just how many senior and executive colleagues had started their careers as enquiries officers, just like me. I noticed how they often referred back to the knowledge and skills they'd developed at the front line, particularly the direct interface with students.

3) it's a good idea to be the one who says yes (especially if you work in a culture that is all about no).

Working for a large and complex organisation provided a unique opportunity to gain a broad range of skills and experiences without having to change roles or employers. There were always committees, reviews and working groups; community, environmental and social justice projects; even extra curricular and social activities.

You know the execs I mentioned, the ones who started at the front line like me? They made a point of getting involved in stuff. This way, they became known to other, more senior people who saw what they could do and liked their attitude. They became hot prospects in terms of careers advancement not only because of their skills and experience but also their contacts and corporate knowledge.

I know from experience that there are lot of cynics out there. I know because I used to be one of them. What's the point in doing more than I absolutely have to? Why do extra stuff if I'm not getting paid for it? Who wants to spend more time in boring meetings? Who's going to notice anyway?

Trust me : people do notice. And the cynics? They won't be around forever (as much as it might feel like it). And you? You won't be around forever either (as much as it might feel like it). You've got bigger fish to fry. Think of it as an investment in your CV and contacts folder. You really will be surprised what and who comes in handy down the track.

Come back tomorrow for Part II!

P.S. The photo was taken taken at the recent Bohemian Melbourne exhibition: it's a painting by Albert Tucker of Vali Myers in Paris. It conveys perfectly how I felt about a lot of my early working life...

Monday, February 23, 2015

A "tour" of my writing studio

Allow me to confess that, when it's time to go, I linger at the cubicle entrance and take in the sight, still unable to believe it's all mine and counting down the minutes and the seconds until I can return.

P.S. This sweet little nook next to mine (pictured below, styled by moi) is available if you live in metro Melbourne and you are keen for a room of one's own...

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Sunday savoured

Today, I am so very grateful for...

1. Actually making it to Lake Street Dive last night! I did begin to doubt my sanity when I arrived in the city to discover it was White Night (how did I manage to miss that "little" detail?). But it was a beautiful balmy evening and the music was beautiful and there was something very appealing about weaving anonymously through the crowds... who were rather well behaved, may I say..

And then there was the journey home.

There were literally thousands of people crowding the platforms at Flinders Street Station. But I had Lena Dunham's Not That Kind of Girl for company. And my train was only eight minutes delayed and I managed to get on when it arrived. It didn't go through the city loop, due to congestion, which cut about eight minutes off the journey time. And then I got chatting to a random stranger standing next to me... only to discover that she will be hosting my daughter's birthday party next weekend!!!

Which is a nice segue into the next two things I am grateful for...

2. After a lot of dithering and deliberation (and too many hours of internet research and fear of letting her down), I managed to tee up two excellent birthday parties for my daughter. The first will include all the students in her new class and will centre around Lego activities (hosted by the lady I "met" on the train!); the second will involve a selection of her old school friends and a lot of bouncing up and down! There will also be smaller gatherings with each side of the family and her dearest preschool friends. So it's going to be party month at chez nous and it will be somewhat exhausting but completely worth it.

3. The Universe sending me exactly what I need at any given time. Last night on the train was the perfect example. Other instances include: needing to visit a particular location so I could include it in my novel then noticing a link on instagram to an interview which included photos of every detail I was wondering about; and attending my daughter's school working bee and chatting to other parents to discover that their children had been complaining of all the same things my little 'un had, thus reassuring me that it was just something that came with the turf rather than an indication that I'd made a bad choice for my daughter's education. I am so blessed and grateful. And happy to be awake.

4. Speaking of blessings, I received the most amazing email from a beautiful reader called Corinne and a card from a gorgeous gal who participated in Reverb14 called Melissa. Both reminded me just how powerful and present is the community that has gathered around my offerings. I feel so humbled to be seen and supported by such kind, wise and genuine souls. Love.

5. Humans of New York. Anyone doubting the power of social media (or the ratio of kind people to stink bombs in the world) should check out the story of Mott Hall Bridges Academy in Brooklyn. It was a privilege to witness this story unfold and an honour to contribute financially.

6. My little niece, who is six weeks older than my bambino. She spends the day with us on Mondays when my sister goes to work. It's an intense day, for sure, and I am so grateful for my parents who come to help for a few hours. But that little girl is such a delight, she's so affectionate and hilarious and we all love her to bits. I'm so grateful that I have the chance to provide this opportunity so that my children will grow up close to their beautiful cousin.

7. Looking back over the wonderful theatre my daughter and I attended over the summer holidays: La BefanaGiggle & Hoot, Charlie and Lola, The Tiger who Came to Tea, and Caribbean Pirates. We laughed and cried, ate gelato, went on treasure hunts and learnt a lot. We're so lucky to live in a city that provides such amazing cultural activities for little people... and we didn't even scratch the tip of the iceberg.

8. Hearing Amanda Palmer read from The Art of Asking. I have mixed feelings about Amanda Palmer and her music, if I'm going to be honest, but I loved her TED talk and her book was truly excellent. The conversation aspect of the evening was pretty disappointing -- a real missed opportunity -- but it was incredibly moving to hear Neil Gaiman read passages from the book about him and their relationship. It was also one of the first times I'd been out of an evening for a looooong time... and it was a palpable reminder that there is a lot of world out there. Sigh.

9. The work of Lucy Knisley. I've absolutely loved soaking in her world, documented in comics about travel, art, cooking, love and growing into her self. I highly recommend her books Relish (which includes gorgeous recipes) and An Age of License. She's my kinda gal.

10. The Alchemist's Oracle Deck by Lauren Aletta aka Inner Hue. It is absolutely breathtaking and check out the exquisite card it came with (pictured above and below, front and back). Did I mention that Alchemy is my word of the year? More on this sooooooon.

What are you grateful for today?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Savouring my Saturday

I've really missed sharing my gratitude in this space and, as a result, have a lot of things in the queue, just waiting for some light to be shone on them! So, I'll be sharing more tomorrow but without further ado:

Right now I am grateful for...

1. The beautiful email from my equally beautiful friend Jen in Atlanta, in response to Thursday's post:

I am glad that you showed up. I am so happy to read your words! Here's the thing, you've still been showing up. I promise. Just in other places. There is nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all.

Between this and the emails I have received from friends noticing the lacuna and enquiring if I was OK, I feel beloved  and blessed indeed.

2. I'm happy to report that my amazing daughter has settled in really well to her new school. She's been brave and open and willing to get in there and have a go, as always. Of course, she's had some very healthy and normal anxieties, and I've had a couple of concerns of my own, but the school has been very responsive to both. So I'm almost completely reassured that we have made the right decision.

3. Our little dude is back on track with sleeping. He only tends to wake once during the night and he is settling himself beautifully. Even daytime naps are a lot less stressful this time around. I feel like we're working together towards weaning, though we're on no hurry. A routine that has greater flexibility for all of us, will be very welcome as, at present, sleep is tied to breastfeeds so I'm the only one who can settle him.

4. An oldie but a goodie! I rarely watch funny videos and am very reluctant to forward them on (and I know absolutely nothing about Taylor Swift) but this one had me smiling from ear to ear for days afterwards.

5. A lovely little exhibition about a local theatre star. I really love local history, feeling connected to the stories that give our 'hood so much character. Did I mention that I have engaged the help of a local historian to research the story of our home? The stuff she's discovered has blown me away. More on this soon.

6. Speaking of which, this phenomenal house was recently sold. My husband used to live a few doors down and knew the elderly gent who lived there quite well. He was always dressed rather dapperly and always told the same stories. Apparently after the auction, everyone from the neighbourhood stayed behind to exchange stories about the man. Love.

7. Past selves, future selves: a theme is emerging. I am indebted to Isabel Faith Abbott for pointing me in the direction of this amazing piece by Elizabeth Gilbert. Yes.

8. I actually won something! I am a subscriber to Frankie Magazine and a member of Writers Victoria and both recently held draws to reward their subscribers. I won a pair of Saltwater sandals and the novel The Factory by esteemed Melbourne writer Paddy O'Reilly, respectively. I'm not a winner, as a rule, so this was a lovely surprise!

9. I was blown away by the genesis of this band. I'm just sorry I won't have the chance to see them this time around. Hopefully there will be a next time and soon! Sadly this won't be the case for the remaining members of the Buena Vista Social Club, whom I won't be able to see when they're in town on their farewell tour. Sometimes, you just gotta live with the (FO)MO, huh.

10. I have a ticket to see Lake Street Dive tonight. When I booked the ticket, I noted the time as 5pm but it turns out they won't be onstage until 9pm. So, provided I am still awake and am up for a night of standing around in 36 degrees Celsius, it should be a really lovely night. And if I don't make it... I guess it I will be living proof that sleep wins over FOMO. I believe I can live with that.

What are you grateful for, right now?

Friday, February 20, 2015

What I heard when I finally listened

Late last year when my baby son was waking every two hours all night through, I prayed for a miracle. I had been reading Marianne Williamson's A Return to Love and to seemed like the only thing to do.

The night after I prayed, he woke every hour-and-a-half, taking half an hour to resettle each time.

I fell apart.

That was actually the miracle.

Because after that, I started a "teach to sleep" program and my son started sleeping through the night.

Over time, of course, our technique got a bit sloppy. My baby gradually grew to rely on me again to settle him. Sure, I wasn't singing the same songs or rocking him in the same way. And he was mostly sleeping through the night. So told myself it wasn't a big deal.

Until the waking every hour-and-a-half started again, taking half an hour to resettle.

And I started to fall apart again.

Leonard Cohen, in his superlative song Anthem, sings of the cracks letting the light in. I have seen the truth in that.

But when I am falling apart, my cracks get filled pretty quickly. Mainly with nasty self talk.

You are not allowed to make mistakes. You are doing a terrible job. You are not allowed to leave any mess. You must anticipate, plan for everything. You are the most ungrateful girl in the world. You are the most useless mum in the world. You are the most selfish wife in the world. You are lazy. You are fat and still you stuff your face with chocolate. You're so stupid, you can't get anything right. You cannot ask for help. You cannot mess this up. No wonder you are on your own right now.

Looking back, I'm not surprised that this prompt threw me. "What is the sound of your own voice?" The cacophony of nastiness may have been a big part of the reason I stopped blogging for a while.

But one day, as recently as last week, I stood by my son's cot, rocking him for the millionth time for the millionth hour, I realised that I had nothing left to do but listen.

I got quiet.

And then I heard my own tiny, plaintive voice. And it said:


That night I resumed the "teach to sleep" program.

This post is in response to the fifth prompt of the Reverb14 reflective writing challenge. All prompts can be found here; you are warmly invited to share your response and link to it in the comments below, if you feel called to do so. 

The next opportunity to connect in this way is April Moon and we'd love to have you join us!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

You know how it happens

One night, it just feels easier not to show up.

And then, after a while, not showing up becomes a habit.

There are always reasons.

Woke too early from a groggy disjointed sleep. Grouched all the way to getting there on time. Completed too many errands on the way home. Emerged victorious from the battle of the first nap.

Cleaned the house so it shined improbably. Ensured that whomever visited was suitably looked after (and impressed by the lack of clutter) (and dissuaded from washing dishes).

Raced off to tick more boxes. Helped out for no other reason that it feels good (oh, and that it marks me as One Of Those People Who Likes To Help Out). Raced home to put things into place for a smooth transition into the afternoon.

Got there early, waited, coaxed off the monkey bars, endured the tears. Tidied what needs to be tidied, signed what needs to be signed, packed what needs to be packed. Dinnertime, bathtime, bedtime. Emerging seriously scathed from the battle with the sleep resistance movement. Elsewhere, there are stories that need to be read.

Climate predicted, ambience controlled (windows opened, blinds closed). Ironed what needs to be ironed. Dishes, washed. On the weekend there are also many loads of laundry and houseplants to be watered.

Somewhere in there: wrote a bit of a novel. Or three. In clunky, painful increments.

And after that?

The couch doesn't really hold much lure now that The Colbert Report is over. Sometimes, there's a glass of wine and a chat. Sometimes even that feels like too much effort.

Crawling into bed with a book has won out, consistently. Over the past two months I have read more books than I have read in the past two years. So there's that.

But the idea of putting pen to paper in a journal or pouring emotions and experience into pixels here... well, there's just not a lot left for that.

It just feels easier not to show up.

And then, after a while, not showing up becomes a habit.

That's not to say it's not a nightly battle: I should be keeping this going versus I'm actually allowed to rest.

Tonight, I'm here though I have no idea how I will make the same space to show up tomorrow. Maybe I'm hoping that showing up will become a habit again.

We'll see.