Preparing the Walls

I have long wished that I was good at DIY.   In my imagination I am that woman in a torn but very fashionable pair of dungarees painting walls, upcycling stylish furniture, and proudly announcing, with paint smeared on my cheeks, that ‘I did this myself!’

Sadly despite many feeble attempts I have come to the conclusion that DIY is not for the faint-hearted. Let’s look at the evidence!

Attempt 1 –  decorating.  After an analysis of the all the necessary tools one needs for painting (I refer to them as brushes and spongy accompaniments) my attempt to paint the walls in my tiny flat, resulted in a rather squiggly line of paint on one of the said walls and the thought that I couldn’t even get that one line of paint right.

Attempt 2 – construction of flat-pack storage.  More research…….resulting in a keen trip to a flat-pack store of renown.  After walking around for some time and ending up purchasing a ‘Benny’ or a ‘Bobby’, I headed to the delivery and assembly department.  Informed by previous attempts, I realised I needed some help.  However, I was met by a rather incredulous look when I asked for the home assembly service for said ‘Benny’ (or ‘Bobby’).

I was helpfully informed that I would spend more than the item itself employing someone to put it together.   This well-intentioned advice was followed by that omnipresent word ‘just’, as is used in ‘You just have to follow the instructions….’    Yes, easy if you are keen on DIY, but if you quantify the frustration component of putting these things together, and the idea that ‘time is money’, well  I’d say that employing someone is my preferred option.

Now I do realise that some of my Striped Sisters might say that being into DIY is a sign of emancipation, showing that women can do anything.  Yeah, OK….. get that, and remember I wanted to be that woman in dungarees,  but for me my emancipation manifests itself in earning money (when we are not in a pandemic) so I can pay someone else to do this stuff.

Naturally, this dislike of DIY is not shared by my community of Striped Sisters. In fact, I bow in awe to my Striped Sister who has always had a somewhat miraculous and superhuman skill in this area.  Tiling a bathroom?  No problem. Painting a whole flat?  Pedestrian.   Sanding floors?  Everyone does that don’t they?  In fact, this particular Striped Sister learnt how to knock down walls, put in a loft conversion and plaster like a pro.  She got so good that she was employed to do this professionally –  special skill – precision painting, being an artist herself.  Now she renovates houses in Spain.

Now thinking of this Striped Sister, she’s always told me that a crucial part of decorating is preparing the walls. My response has often been a fake authoritative and knowing nod, masking my eyes, which have already glazed over.

However, bizarrely, for some reason lately, I’ve been mulling over this advice from the DIY pro and I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a great analogy for preparing for a new chapter in your life.

As you may realise Striped Sister Community,  as I muse and ponder, I am obviously still ‘under-employed’.  Yes still searching for that next role so in some sense……. I am ‘preparing those walls.’

My rather sledge-hammer manner of leaving a job has been in some sense a knocking down of existing walls and preparing for the new.  So, as I trundle along, peering at workshops, engaging with LinkedIn, chatting to different people, maybe I am in fact preparing the walls, taking incremental steps one by one and before I know it that wall will be prepared, plastered and presented just to the design that I love.

© stripedsisters 2021

Thanks to Yoann Siloine for the image.

The House of Cards

Through challenges in my life, I have often examined my physical and mental health from the safe distance of an outsider.

Even when I experienced a serious illness, a good friend told me that I seemed to be researching my illness rather than being ill.

After my ‘unremarkable recovery’ as my medical notes commented, I went back to work and carried on as normal.  I didn’t think about it, I just thought that was what you did, and I rarely stopped to think any different.

It’s hard for me to put into words what happened next. But after a period of time being back at work, I felt a mixture of growing anxiety. Things became a little less easy and an over-riding perfectionism appeared out of nowhere.

To those on the outside, I looked as if I was functioning normally, in fact in some senses, over-performing.  A bit like a functioning alcoholic, I guess. But for me, everything seemed more of an effort and I knew something wasn’t right.

In these situations, despite the onslaught of brain fog, on a subconscious level I knew what I should do.  An observer would have said there needed to be some time for reflection, some time to process what had happened, and to understand what was causing these feelings.

For some, they would argue that no examination is needed, because you already knew.  However, the struggle from actually knowing, to changing something is more of an uphill battle than many realise. Looking at steps to change a situation can help, but not if you have an overwhelming inertia and are unable to take those steps.

At this particular time in my life the only way I can describe what I felt was that I imagined myself as a house of cards, so precariously put together that removing one card from the bottom would mean a total collapse of the structure.

In fact, such was my desperation to find a way out of the fog and darkness that I had the over-riding urge to ‘experiment’ with this theory.  I looked at my life and looked at what I felt was holding me together and what was making me function on a day-to-day basis

I came to the conclusion that the daily routine of work and the preoccupation of dealing with others’ needs was like some large elastoplast or glue that was papering over the cracks.  When I had come to that conclusion, the solution was easy but, in some ways, rather drastic.  Remove the plaster, take away the scaffolding. Take away that bottom layer of the House of Cards and see what happens.  My logic was that if I took away this safety net, then I would either experience a significant mental breakdown, or things would be OK.  A huge risk and one that I would never for a minute suggest that others take, but one that I felt I needed to.

So, after a definitive resignation, and no job to go to, I left my job and sat on my sofa and watched and waited. And waited.  And waited.

The breakdown didn’t happen and to this day I don’t know why.  I’m not medically trained, I am no psychotherapist, and I don’t recommend what I did.

However, what I do wonder is if this was a period of extreme stress and anxiety, naturally residual after you have survived a serious illness and you think and fear about what happens next.  Your life has to some extent gone back to normal, except for the fact that it hasn’t gone back to normal.  To this day, I wonder if what I needed was a longer period of time away from work after this illness and even when returning a recognition to myself that I needed to do things differently.

So much research is dedicated to stress and in particular work stress, so in fact what I might have needed was simply a break, a re-evaluation, and a recognition of how remarkable my recovery had been.  And as part of that recovery, some guidance of how to make that recovery part of the next chapter of my life.

Image: Courtesy of Sigmund.

© stripedsisters 2021

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Passport to Caring

I can’t exactly remember when I first got my own passport. What I do remember is the touch, the smell and the excitement of getting my hands on one.  It must have been the late 70s, when the UK still had those sturdy hard-backed blue passports with peepholes for your name and number.  This all created an air of something rather mysterious and exciting, which sadly the EU passport struggled to replicate.

For some their passport is ‘brag’ document, shouting out: ‘Look at where I’ve been…… look at how exciting I am!’ I’ve never bought into this as I’ve seen how one can be extremely well-travelled but still be rather narrow and ill-informed.  In contrast, I’ve always rather admired Gretchen Rubin, the much-read happiness guru, who proudly claims that she doesn’t like travel, rarely travels outside the US, and pretty much thinks that New York has all that she needs!

I’ve always found it curious that a document like a passport can have such weird levelling ability.  Although there is undoubted joy spent thumbing through the pages of your passport, evoking memories of past travels, however, there’s also that photo (does anyone look good in one?)  that’s frozen in time. Once you’ve sat in those rather uncomfortable passport booths perched on a metal stool with a life of its own, and waited for your photos to appear, rather like chocolate or crisps out of a vending machine, you are committed to staying with the photo for the next  ten years.  TEN YEARS!!!!!

When I last renewed my passport, the person helping me with my documents at my local Post Office, looked at my new photo and comparing it to the old one exclaimed: ‘Oh, I see these past 10 years haven’t been kind!’  After choosing to find this amusing, I tended to agree.  Although I was keener to celebrate those lines as a markers of experience and of wisdom, ready to be imparted at will, the words of Oscar Wilde rang in my head: ‘With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.’

While passports for many are seen as a gateway to travel, adventure and new experiences, for others, more importantly, it is a document that embodies the relief felt after years of being stateless or in limbo. In other words, the security of remaining in a newly adopted country, after having fled your own.

Whether you have experienced either of these emotions as a result of the possession of your passport, there is also another form of passport that many do not know exists, and that is The Carer Passport. But that is a whole new blog in itself.

 

© stripedsisters 2021

Image courtesy of ConvertKit

 

My Accountability Partner

Have you ever seen an interview with an inspirational woman and thought: ‘What if she were MY friend?’ What would life be like if she were in my corner?

When I muse and dissect these internal conversations, I stop and look around my community of Striped Sisters, reminding myself that I need look no further, as this community is brimming with some very inspirational women!

First off, let’s start with my Accountability Partner, Nicki.  Accountability you may ask? That doesn’t sound much fun. Well read on!

Over the many years I have known Nicki, life has proved itself much more exciting when she’s around.  Whether she’s dancing with Siberian shamans, scaling the walls of a monastery in Bhutan, or housesitting a bunch of pyjama-wearing donkeys; this is a woman who rarely sits still!

Whenever we meet, Nicki is inevitably embarking on a new adventure, devouring a new book, or musing over her next great project. Her zest for life is both exhilarating and frightening.  Simultaneously!  When you are in the presence of this particular Striped Sister, her ideas come hurtling at you like one of those balls out of a tennis ball launcher machine!  Be prepared to either bat them back or duck, because they come at you at the speed of light.

Having been lucky enough to be Nicki’s co-conspirator in a few of her projects, when she discussed the idea of being each other’s accountability partner, I knew this would be some kind of fun.  After discussions over numerous coffees (yes that again!), we’d both realized that, over a considerable amount of time, we’d collated long lists of ideas and plans which remained half-finished or barely started.  When we compared our current lists with those of 5 years before, we found, rather sheepishly,  that some ideas were still there, carried over from year to year.  With a collective groan and an exasperated sigh, we felt we needed to act.

Being active and busy individuals, we knew there were plenty of reasons why these items remained stubbornly on our lists.  However, although these ideas seemed budge-resistant, there were beginning to gnaw away at us, so much so, that they could no longer be neglected. It is thus that the Accountability Partner Plan (APP for short) came into being.

For anyone who is familiar with coaching, accountability is a key feature in mobilizing people into action.  In short, it is a system whereby you hold someone accountable for their actions or plans and take them to task if they remain exactly that: a PLAN.  You know how the saying goes: ‘A goal without a plan is just a wish’ – thanks Antoine de Saint-Exupéry! Nicki and I felt that if we held each other accountable for all the ideas, plans and projects gathering dust on our desks and in our minds, and did this often enough, something was bound to shift.

To make this work though we needed…. yes, you’ve guessed it ……. another plan! This actually was easier than we thought. We wanted this to be a serious exercise but if we were going to commit to this, this also required an element of fun.  Before long, the APP began to take shape, and this is how it worked.

First we decided that we would see each other once every month for our new APP meeting. Before each meeting we would choose a location in our shared city which we were curious to visit.  The criteria were fairly broad – the location merely had to have that element of intrigue.  Next – timing.  We agreed that the meeting would be a maximum of 2 hours and would be divided up into starting with 20 minutes of social chat (after all we were friends!),  60 minutes of discussing our prospective plans, 20 minutes of deciding on our action points and finishing up with another 20 minutes of social chat. The action points would be written down and the next time we met we would start with the action points and monitor what progress we had or had not made. If progress had stalled then, each one of us would begin our rigorous questioning of why our friend had strayed from the action plan. Naturally, support and advice was always on hand.

What of the results? Well to date, despite the concerns of many that our friendship would become somewhat ‘professional’, in fact it has added an extra layer to our friendship.  The APP has proved to be extremely effective, no doubt in part due to our frustration at our previous lack of action.  There’s also been the fun element in choosing our next location and a genuine excitement in watching our plans take shape and celebrating each other’s successes both large and small.

Assigning the role of accountability partner to Nicki has not meant she has been less challenging than a professional coach, in fact she has been much more so.  If you think that your friend will adopt the soft and cuddly approach, well that certainly hasn’t been my experience. Nicki certainly doesn’t take any prisoners!  Although there is the warm support and camaraderie of a good friend, there is also the steeliness of galvanising me into action and as a friend, desperately wanting me to succeed.

So, after a year or two of celebrated successes, and as we entered lockdown, Nicki and I both worried that our APP would lose momentum.  However, in this new environment we’ve both found that the APP model works equally well when done virtually and with the heightened knowledge that there is even more reason to act in the time of a devastating pandemic.  In these uncertain times, Nicki continues to be resolutely in my corner,  a cheerleader for Striped Sisters and a genuine human being who wants others to succeed. Most of all though, I am lucky enough to call her my friend, and that, in itself, is inspiration enough.

 

© stripedsisters 2021

It’s Business and it IS Personal!

I love a Nora Ephron film.  Not only the sparkling scripts, the chance to soak up New York in all its vitality, but also the inevitable and irresistible pairing of Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. One of Ephron’s classics is ‘You’ve Got Mail’, and I have watched it over and over. It’s a film that makes me wonder: ‘What if businesses took the Kathleen Kelly approach?’

For those who haven’t seen this particular Romcom, it’s the story of a small bookshop owner (Kathleen) and her rally against a large bookshop chain that moves into her district. Against this backdrop, this very same bookshop owner details her dilemmas, both business and personal, over email with an anonymous fellow New Yorker.

Putting aside the artistic license, (I mean can a bookshop owner really afford to live on the Upper-West side?  Could you really fall in love with someone who ruins your ethically sustainable and very personal business?), it’s these heart-warming email exchanges between the two New Yorkers as they discuss the minute details of their daily life with all its ethical questions, that give this film its warm humour.

One scene that has always stayed with me is where Kathleen, (Meg Ryan) asks Joe, her email pen-pal, (Tom Hanks) for advice on how to protect her beloved business. At this stage both are unaware of each other’s identity, although the audience know that Kathleen’s email correspondent is the heir to the very same corporate bookshop chain that is putting her out of business.

As Joe seeks to provide Kathleen with his business advice he effortlessly defaults to ‘The Godfather’ mode citing its famous one liners as a rallying cry to her dilemma.   ‘Go to the mattresses!’ he tells her …….‘It’s business, it’s not personal!’   For the independent bookshop owner, this line of thinking is alien to her as a full-fat, caffeine-fuelled latte, nevertheless with a punch in the air, she endeavours to adopt this new combative stance. Predictably she fails, lamenting the belief that this is no way to do business.

With time, and as Kathleen is inevitably put out of business, she is confronted by the person who has led to her business’s demise.  At the exact time Joe, in his remorse, discovers his true feelings for Kathleen. When Joe apologises for putting her out of business, she responds by uttering the words that have long stayed with me: ‘All that means is that it wasn’t personal to you’, following it up with a power punch:  ‘whatever anything is, it should begin with being personal.’ Never a truer word said in jest………or in a Romcom!

For any of us who have worked in any corporate organisation, Kathleen Kelly’s words may well strike a cord.  Perhaps you will recognize that being a part of such organisations means that every decision seems to come down to the common denominator of putting business before anything else. If you find yourself unlucky enough to work in a particularly unenlightened business, the ‘little person’ is easily dispensed with and becomes a mere number.  The ‘personal’ is thus never truly considered.

Many will argue that this, of course, is the stark reality of everyday working life and the only way to survive is to compartmentalize these thoughts and understand that there is a certain justification in this approach.  This is, of course, until ‘life’ happens  and one finds oneself in a situation, where life becomes all about ‘being personal’.

Life’s joys and challenges come in many shapes and sizes.  Amongst the happiness that we may be lucky enough to experience, there are also the challenges of say a relationship break-up,  ill-health, financial strains, and the need to care for others.   It is at these times that we need our employer to be exactly this – PERSONAL.

Sadly, this is where so many businesses and individual employers let their employees down.  Small businesses may say that one employee ‘down’ will put their business under enormous strain.  Large corporations conveniently pass on such responsibility to their HR departments, which results in the clinical task of form filling and waiting to see if you are ‘eligible’ for any kind of support.  This, to me is the antithesis of ‘beginning with the personal’.

In times of crisis, when you are not sure how to navigate your new circumstances, you are fortunate if clarity comes easy. Depending on the nature of your situation, things can seem very cloudy.  Add in a heavy workload and solutions can be hard to navigate.  Large corporations may have set systems and procedures but all too often the onus is put on staff finding out for themselves, which is especially hard when one is in difficulty.

A better way of helping and ‘beginning with the personal’ is another approach.  If you are a manager, or even if you are not, what that person needs is a guide and a navigator, someone who can set out the options available and help that person to see what is possible.  Talk to that person as a person, not a number, try to understand what they are going through. We don’t live in the rosy world of Romcoms where there is always a happy ending, and business is indeed business, but if you ‘begin with the personal’, that’s a good place to start.

© stripedsisters 2021

The Drip-Feed Effect

Have you ever seen those plant feeders?  Those test-tube type glass cylinders that you put into the soil of a pot plant and which have the miraculous ability to deliver the right amount of water to a plant at exactly the right time?

I’ve often imagined what would be the human equivalent of that.  Can you imagine a situation when the right amount of advice is given to just at the right time, leading you to make the decisions that, like a plant, allow you to flourish and grow?

As you ponder that question, here’s another one ….  Have you ever been in a situation where deep down you know you need to take action but for some reason you don’t?  For many, the answer is of course yes, and for many of us it’s because of the risk whether personal or financial.

Through childhood, adolescent, young adulthood, middle age and older age we often find ourselves presented with an abundance of choices.  At the same time we may find ourselves in situations where we desperately want to act but something is preventing us from doing so.  Whether this is connected to career or to relationships or the multitude of other arenas of life where we have to make decisions, sometimes quite simply we need that gentle push.

Now sometimes these decisions and choices are so uncomfortable or so monumental that you may find yourself immobile.  Indeed, for many it is clear that unless you have gargantuan amounts of willpower, some decisions require you to surround yourself with the right people to support you along the way.

So where does the Drip-Feed Effect come in?  And why am I talking about plants?  That’s because …… you’ve guessed it…… my friend, and the Grande Dame of Striped Sisters has consciously and unconsciously used this technique to great effect on those who have been lucky enough to be in her orbit.

When I was stuck in a job that was going nowhere and was expanding in volume, my Striped Sister would come over to my work station and would pin yellow post-it notes on my computer shouting out, ‘You’re wasted here, go do something else!’ When I shrugged off this piece of advice a further post-it note would appear on objects on my desk.  A fluffy pig that adorned my desk (yes really!) would become regularly adorned with a post-it note saying….. ‘Mel says you’re wasted here, go do something else’.  Oh yes, that old tactic…….. said Striped Sister would not only repeat her helpful mantra but then would invoke the words of past colleagues as further ‘evidence’.

Of course after one’s initial shrug, and then a smile at your Striped Sister’s persistence, you begin to realise ……OK….more than one person is saying the same thing…maybe I should ….er…..take notice?   And that is what it does, this drip-feed effect will eventually do its magic work and will assist you in taking those first and very often difficult first steps.

So if you are reading this and you are thinking that this resonates with you, then stop for a minute and really listen.  Start giving this some serious thought and weigh up the words of those precious others who know you well and are telling you this for a reason.  And as you ponder on those words that are maybe sowing the seed for some further action, know that the community of Striped Sisters are also  supporting you every step of the way.

© stripedsisters 2021

Why Women Start Start-Ups

I remember a time when the stories in the news regarding new technology seemed to focus on the omnipresence of the ability of teenage boys to hack into seemingly secure governmental websites with an ease of opening a can of a sugary drink.

Not only was this hugely demeaning to any young man who had honed highly competent tech skills, but also rather oblivious of the fact that these institutions and companies would be better off harnessing the talents of those very same teenage tech wizards in securing those not so secure websites.

As we have all become much more tech-savvy, even more so in the times of the current pandemic, I would certainly challenge this pubescent image, given the clear evidence that there have been an army of over 50s typing away in spare rooms, on kitchen worktops, parks, cafes, you name it, not only using the internet for all those essential daily needs, but also setting up their own businesses.

What evidence do I have for this bold statement you may ask?  Well one, that research indicates that the average age of successful start-up is 45 and two, for the reasons so clearly identified in an article by Mark Elliott; ‘Agency or Consultancy? What am I building?’ where he points to the growing trend in female Start-Ups.

Now this sudden growth in Start-Ups may, in the current climate, be the response by many to redundancy, furlough and uncertain futures.  That’s a sad reality for many of us now, and for some time to come, however, amongst this, there may also be a more positive reasoning why Start-Ups are so appealing to women.

According to Mark Elliott, there are several motivating factors for women.  Firstly, women have concluded that in a current climate where working from home is a necessity, that they possess a wealth of talents and skills that they can easily tap into and make work for them.

Add to this the recognition that starting your own business will give them the flexibility they need without having to undergo an arduous negotiation with employers and you can see why this might be appealing.  Although setting up on your own is no mean feat, there is no doubt that for some women running their own company has many bonuses, which include working on something you love, working when and where you choose, and very importantly, choosing who you work with.

Of course, these advantages are all too clear when you are not burdened by the worry that the pandemic will result in permanent job losses and the realization that some roles will disappear forever.  However, this may be the very reason why what may be considered the worst time to set up a business, is in fact the right time.   If you are a woman who has an idea that’s been at the back of your mind, that you wonder can or will develop into a business, maybe now is the time to take that first tentative step and in so doing join the many other women who have done the same.

© stripedsisters 2021

Silver Surfers Do More Than Just Surf!

This awful Covid 19 pandemic has caused and continues to create havoc and unimaginable pain for so many.

As the UK went into lockdown and restrictions on our movements became apparent, it became increasingly important for us all to be online. Rapidly companies who habitually frowned on flexible working, (a lack of trust methinks), embraced remote working as if it were their idea all along.

But as technology raced forward, it seems that that a certain portion of the population was deemed to be far behind, namely those over a certain age.  Now, while I am not denying that digital divides certainly exist, it is a simplistic notion to think that this issue is only age-specific.  In my view, it is commonly related to income differentials, one’s geographical location and most importantly a lack of training.  Let’s not forget that computers and mobile phones are still expensive consumer items,  which not everyone can afford or use effectively.

With all this in mind, l recall a simple exchange I had some time ago with one of my Striped Sisters.  It went something like this.

Striped Sister 1: ‘Hey Striped Sister – what training did you have on Word?’

Me: ‘I’ve never had training on Word’.

Striped Sister 1: ‘Right….’

As with so many conversations with my Sister community, a short chat led to a much bigger conversation.  So here goes.

If we are the generation who work on Word, ExCel, Teams, DropBox, and all those cloud applications without any formal training doesn’t that make us some kind of superheroes? Think about it!  We didn’t have IT lessons in school, many of us learnt to type on manual typewriters (so de-rigeur these days) and yet we operate in organisations, where, all too often, training consists of rapid-fire tech demos accompanied by that all too familiar ‘all you have to do is just…’ school of thought.

This is exactly the type of retort I would like to proffer when asked by numerous banks when I am asked, presumably because of the colour of my hair and the fact that my face is not baby-faced smooth, if I have an email account.  Invariably this question is accompanied by a head tilt and a sympathetic smile, the assumption being that digital banking is somehow beyond me.

Now I’m not knocking bank staff, many of whom have been polite, helpful and great problem solvers over the years, but what I am talking about is this assumption that the over 50s don’t like technology or don’t have an understanding of how it works.

It may be that my reflexes are slower, and that my typos are many but it doesn’t mean that I don’t like learning and that I don’t want to engage with technology.  After all, most over 50s are in the workplace which means they deal with technology every day of the week.

So this comes back to my main point which is training. Organisations and institutions that invest in training and encourage anyone, whatever their age or personal situation to engage with technology, are sure to benefit from this investment, which will inevitably mean that not only will we all ride those technology waves, but in the process actually enjoy doing so.

© stripedsisters 2020

 

 

 

The World According To The Careers Adviser

As I have joined the group commonly known as the ‘unemployed’, I find that I am also in the category known as a ‘job-seeker’.  For the army of people in the same position as myself, it will come as no surprise that I am apparently ‘entitled’ to many other job-seeker related activities. This, I guess, is meant to make up for the small weekly income, and the endless administrative debate as to what other financial help I am entitled to. Think justifying one’s life’s existence and you are somewhere near it.

To ensure that I am not languishing on the money from DWP, I am required to attend a two-weekly signing on with my adviser where I also have to detail my job searching activities.  I am also offered a coaching session or rather an interview with a Careers Advisor.     Nothing to lose I think, and given my circumstances, I could do with any information I could get.

Before the day of the meeting, I’d been asked to submit my CV.  I felt quietly confident,  let’s be honest, even a bit smug.  My CV had been scrutinised  – you’ve guessed it – by another Striped Sister, who being renowned for taking no prisoners, had asked me to redraft it four times. YES! Four times!!!   So as you can see it wasn’t exactly something I’d just thrown together.

As I sat across the desk from the Careers Advisor I wasn’t expecting criticism, after all my experience to this date of Jobcentre Plus had been largely positive, but clearly this wasn’t the way it was going to go. Dan, well let’s call him Dan, felt my mission statement detailing my skills was neither dynamic nor focussed, meaning the potential employer would be led in too many directions.  OK, after some initial opposition I was willing to accept that, after all he was trying to help.  However, aren’t I supposed to be open to different challenges and fields?   Yeah I know….. the UN job’s gone, but don’t I have what are called ‘transferable skills’?

Second my CV is too long.   ‘It’s two pages!’ I say incredulously.   I mean a pizza menu is longer than that!  Mistake number 2 according to Dan.  I will show that I have too much experience and ahem….. I’ll be looking too old.   While I digest that, another zinger, ‘Let’s face it………..you’re  going to experience ageism’.

I protested that I had detailed my experience so as to show what I could do, but Dan suggested I limit my experience to 10 years and take the dates off my education because any potential employer will be able to calculate my age.    As I pondered this and wondered if a recommendation for a course of Botox was round that corner, the next missive was delivered.

What exactly was I doing on social media?   Was I on LinkedIn?    When I pointed out to Dan that I’d actually delivered workshops on that very platform, it kind of fell on deaf ears.  The fact that I had some level of technical knowledge also fell by the wayside.

As a gesture Dan said he’d send me his own ‘help-sheets’ (OK I think I made that word up) so that I could really start to get on top of things.

Next up, what was I doing for networking?  I felt I couldn’t really talk about my stepping stone theory and my search for coffee as I thought there would be a bit of a scoff.  Was I asking my friends for work opportunities?  Well sort of, but a lot of them are retired!    Exasperated sigh ……………not sure if that was from me or from him!

How about setting up my own business?  ‘Yes that sounds good to me, got a course for that?’  I asked.   At this point I was rather startled by the response, which was along the lines of ‘I can’t sign you up for everything!’  ‘Really?  Why not?’ I mean, I thought he was supposed to be getting me a job.

Reluctantly he sent me over to sign up at a very funky place called ‘The Elevator’ to do a day course on starting your own business.   (Just in case you’re wondering Striped Sisters – the  average age for a successful business start-up is 45!)    So armed with this knowledge and with the promise of a follow-up email and a ‘how we did’ survey off I went.    I may be unemployed, I may be a job seeker, I may be deemed ‘old’ by conventional standards, but maybe this could really be the beginning of the search for something else.

As a postscript, when discussing this experience with my Striped Sister, there was a pause and a silence….. and then the pronouncement  was forthcoming …….. ‘First of all,  I don’t like your Careers Adviser, and second of all   ………’  And then with her usual aplomb the ‘super mentoring’ began ……………………………….

© stripedsisters 2020

The Red Shoes

Have you ever seen the films of Powell and Pressburger?  For film buffs this directorial duo created visual masterpieces, many of which are a staple of most Film Studies courses.  I grew up watching these films, loving the rich colours and the imagery they conveyed.

‘The Red Shoes’ has always been a favourite, its music having the knack of going round and round in your head for many days after.  The same can be said of the red ballet shoes, which the main protagonist, Vicky Page, is unable to take off.

Now you may be thinking what is the relevance of these ballet shoes to this or any Striped Sister?   Well for me,  there is a huge relevance and it is all connected to the imagery of the red shoes themselves. In this iconic film, the red shoes have a mind of their own and when Vicky puts them on, she has no power over where they go.  More significantly, even when Vicky tries to take an independent step forward, the shoes draw her back.  It is almost that she is powerless to fight them.

For me, the imagery of this fight connects with the internal fight I often have with my so-called common sense and my gut instinct, particularly when making important decisions.  Like all of us,  life presents us with opportunities, choices and often difficult decisions to make.  Common responses to such decision-making processes can be many.   We may start by mulling them over,  we may move into creating laborious ‘for’ and ‘against’ columns for particular problems. As things remain unresolved we may even consult ‘I Ching’ or runes, leaving no stone unturned in our quest to find a resolution to our dilemma. 

Amongst all this cogitating, action and inaction, it is the gut instinct that I often go back to.   Never was this more the case than recently when I was faced with an important decision to make.  After much deliberation, I thought I had it cracked and thought I had decided on the best thing to do.  Clearly the red shoes had other ideas. Every time I was about to take action, the red shoes and that darned music would appear out of nowhere in my consciousness and pull me back.  This kept happening time and time again.

I am no psychic, I am no therapist and incidentally I don’t know what they would make of this!  All I do know is that it is years since I have seen this film, and yet the power of this imagery was working in some mysterious way for me.  So in the end I gave in and starting listening to that pull.  I made my decision and the red shoes stopped pulling me. Maybe they have served their purpose, at least for now.  Inevitably I’ve  now found myself on quite a different life path of which I don’t know the outcome.  The curiosity remains of why these shoes have such visual power and whether such images are unique to me.   I suspect the answer to that lies with Powell and Pressburger themselves.

© stripedsisters 2020