Friday, 5 September 2014

Mid Life Crisis?

It has been a funny few weeks here in Adelaide. Actually, more like a funny few months.

Since our return from our UK trip in May there has been rather a lot going on for us, both at home and (for me) at work. I have had a lot to think about and I am feeling a little overwhelmed and unsure of myself at the moment as a result.

Apparently a mid-life crisis for women in their 30s is an actual thing. I am not sure whether I find that reassuring or terrifying. A lot of the data on this, however, relates the mid-life crisis part fundamentally with having/balancing kids with career and that is not the situation for me at all. So maybe I am just having a bit of a moment, a delayed reaction to the cultural shock of moving to the other side of the world. I dunno. Something is awry and I do not like the way it is making me feel.

Basically, every area of my life is GREAT apart from my career. And it is not that I don’t love my colleagues (who are amazing and have made the move to Australia pretty darn easy) or the company I work for (which is a great place to work). It’s that I feel like I am at a crossroads and have absolutely no idea which path I should take or where my ultimate destination should be.

The problem is this: I am not in any way inspired or happy in my current role. That’s not to say I am not doing well in it - I am, but it holds no interest for me at all and I have known for a number of months that this is the case. I feel trapped in a cul-de-sac of meh.

Unfortunately, there is probably no way out of this role which will keep me working for the same company with the same awesome people; so I have to start thinking about making a leap elsewhere – but towards what?

My experiences for the last year have made me seriously question where I want my career to be heading – and this is not helped by the fact that I have spent the last 8 years going towards being a ‘project manager’ on paper with all the bells and whistles that it entails but now find myself questioning why on earth I did this and whether it is even something I want to continue with.

I do believe my current role is part of the reason I am having a crisis of confidence in relation to being a PM. Mostly because what I currently do is facilitate tasks through departments and a hell of a lot of basic customer service. Neither of these things define or are even central to project management to me; they are very much project admin and not challenging, interesting or satisfying enough to remind me why I used to like being a qualified, experienced (proper?) project manager with a budget, a deadline and a clear goal.

Luckily, PM skills are pretty transferable. I am organised, a good negotiator and stakeholder manager, calm in a crisis and able to get things from A to B even when the route is all manner of complex and usually to an agreed deadline and budget. All those things used to give me a buzz. Nowadays I spend more time in a perpetual face-palm stance than anything else; getting projects from A to B still, but not really actually delivering them. More like coordinating the various people around me to do so. Whilst talking to clients on the phone. A lot.

I miss the strategy and the large scale sense of achievement that come with the big projects. I miss having control over the costs and the timescales. I miss managing multi-faceted partner relationships that utilised my communication skills. I miss people management (and I never thought I would say that).

But despite the things I miss, I am still not certain that just replacing this job with a ‘proper’ PM role will be the solution. I just keep thinking about whether I am being tempted to put an old pair of shoes on because they felt comfortable and made me happy in a different life when really I should be 
finding the most kick ass pair of awesome shoes for the future.

And this is where my thinking is a bit mid-life-crisis-esque.

When I actually think about what I would do if money was no object, it does not really involve being a straight up PM at all. Even though some of the key skills for being a PM would likely be central to these radical pathways anyway.

Whatever the role is that my heart and subconscious are seeking right now, the only thing I can tell you is that I have had crazy thoughts about:
·         Studying viticulture and managing a cellar door
·         Studying NLP in conjunction with applied linguistics and going more towards lifestyle/business coaching
·         Event management
·         Freelance work for UK HE contacts

Most of these share a common theme in that they would entail having more autonomy over my working life. I keep skirting round the issue of being my own boss and wondering how this would work out and why I feel that it is something I would like to do. I am also slightly terrified at the prospect of all that responsibility and at the moment the fear is keeping me still while I mull it over. All of these paths would pull on skills I already have as a PM. Perhaps event management would be the most closely matched with what I do now.

None of these would be easy pathways to take but then nobody ever said easy was the best route. In my mind and in my experience it never has been - the best paths have been the difficult but exciting ones and so I think maybe I need to get ready for major change. I am not averse to being taken wherever fate deems appropriate and am totally open to new challenges I haven’t even thought of or mentioned here, so my plan is to see out 2014 whilst mulling over the possibilities and then launch into 2015 with a renewed sense of purpose and a clearer idea of which direction to head in. 

Sunday, 13 April 2014

The Plate Analogy

I have always worked hard for the things I have sought to achieve in my life because this is what I was brought up to believe is the right thing to do. No 'getting handed stuff on a plate' - a sense of entitlement is baffling and almost offensive to my ethos. Where can the sense of pride be when you have not strived for or legitimately worked towards the achievement? Personally, my conscience would not allow it if I did not think I had earned whatever the achievement or advancement was. 

I think this message was hammered home to me by my high achieving mother who taught us that nothing was out of our reach in life but that to work hard to get to where you want to be makes the achievement worthwhile and validates the success. I watched her do this all my life. I still watch it now.

So, when I wanted to progress in my previous career at University of Wolverhampton I had to apply myself, work hard from the bottom up and achieve the necessary recognition to move forward - a process which felt both organic and appropriate. When I left I was managing a team I had built and developed from scratch and I had the full belief and support of my Dept Head/Manager - one of the most inspirational mentors (and women) in my life to date. It felt right and walking away from it to come to Australia was incredibly difficult because of that. 

Similarly, when I decided to do my MBA whilst working full time it required dedication on a level I was not aware existed previously and on many nights I sat at the kitchen table between 7pm-3am typing, reading and trying to keep on top of the mammoth amount of coursework. It was a test of endurance as much as an application of knowledge and it made the finish line all the sweeter when I finally crossed it.

Over the last few weeks I have discovered quite unexpectedly that fairness and equality are MASSIVE drivers for me. I never quite realised to what extent I am personally appalled when a decision is handled without an ounce of objectivity, consideration or forethought, when it is made for convenience and with no element of a fair process in place. I guess this is why I have been starting to consider a slight change in career path - because the processes around fairness and people are the ones which at this point in my life inspire a passion and a new-found area in which to apply myself (should I ever get the chance).

This diagram kind of sums up my current mindset really:

Simple but so very true.

I don't hold much truck with folk who continually whinge about how unhappy they are but just never do anything about it and it certainly is not my style. Over the last few weeks I have combined previously learned CBT skills (how many times a year am I grateful for those tools!?) and the above analogy to figure out a plan to get me past how I feel right now. 

I feel pretty positive about the new plan so I guess I should feel grateful (almost) for the way in which a shitty situation has left me feeling, now that I have fully processed the negative emotions and learned the lessons that they have taught me.

The below diagram is not just an awesome example of typography (taken from a rather amusing list of things designers wish their clients knew) but it also represents a core belief of mine and one which I now know I need to cultivate further as a central part of my decision making going forward.

One lesson which rings true for me again and again is that when something makes you react emotionally it is pushing your buttons for a reason - to teach you something. I struggle sometimes to reign in the desire to let that emotion get the better of me, though I am getting better at it as time goes on. 

For now, I am planning, soothing myself with good things in life and looking forward with a familiar old mindset firmly in place - determination. Onwards and upwards and no dwelling on the past - karma always catches up so I am certain that at some point I can look back on this time and see it as a wonderful catalyst to a better point.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Thoughts for 2014

Happy new year!

I have had a great holiday period, enhanced by the fact my parents were over from the UK and it was my first Australian, summertime Christmas. And also my first Christmas on a boat, which was lovely, but weird. I have had lots of time to reflect as we spent a week with intermittent 3G (imagine!) and I properly unwound for the first time in months (possibly since emigrating) and let my mind wander without boundaries.

Our boat for Christmas week - Hannah-Joy

The result of this is some new goals and plans for 2014. I won’t call them resolutions because, from experience, labelling them as such dooms them to failure before Easter. These are more guidelines and amendments for the way I want to be going forward and are also influenced by the fact I turned 35 on New Year’s Eve.

It is not so much the ‘being 35’ that bothers me but the fact I am now only 5 years off 40 and 15 off 50. My life seems to be sliding away too fast and I guess this sadistic peering round the corner at the next big milestones has made me feel a little rattled by the fact that I have somehow reached 35 about 10 minutes after my 25th birthday. Or at least, that’s how it feels.

So, throughout this year (but not by any particular defining dates) I want to slowly get fitter, eat cleaner, move more and become more tolerant of stupid people. Of all of these things the last one, for me, will be the biggest challenge.

I came to the conclusion that these are the areas I want to focus on to make me a better person after reflecting on the things I do well and the things I don’t do well at, a summary of which is as follows...

Things I believe I am good at:

Correspondence – I always return calls, emails, letters, communications of any kind. I often instigate the sending of the same, even when I know I am sending them into a non-responsive vacuum (which kind of baffles me). I have a busy life but I always reply to things because people matter and making time to reply to anything that someone has bothered to send me is not a chore, it’s just polite. I would like to be less upset about it this year when people just don’t respond to things cos that’s a reflection on them rather than on me (and anyway it’s physically impossible to actually respond to anything ever when you have kids so that’s a handy caveat to employ as reasoning most of the time). 

Cooking – man do I love to cook. One of my favourite things in life is seeing how happy my cooking makes my husband, friends and family. I was over the moon when my mother in law sent me a birthday text which also said she was craving one of my pad thai dishes! I want to learn to cook more ‘clean’ things though, living in a country with such an abundance of fantastic fresh produce is inspiring this and I also want to pick my quorn blog (which is quite flatteringly now pinned all over pinterest!) back up again and develop it further.

Talking and listening – I know I can usually get my message across in any situation and if you put me in a room with a total stranger I won’t find the situation distressing. I am always capable of filling/bridging awkward silences. I pretty much talk for a living as a project manager – with clients, departments, colleagues and partners and I love it. I don’t want to change this at all.

Things I believe I am not very good at:

Tolerating idiots – this is why I definitely made the right decision in not doing my teacher training. I mentally find it such a massive battle to have patience with people who don’t grasp concepts, ideas or just sentences quickly or need to live their life through a drama filter. This is getting worse as I get older and have to bite my tongue every time a ranting doofus pipes up on social media; hell, Facebook in particular is a stream of ranting idiots these days, a pestilent, semi-literate, Jeremy Kyle-esque, flow of continuous ranting status updates - usually just vague enough to provoke lots of similarly malignant responses from other drama whores. Going forward I will hide/cull more of such tosspots and not worry so much about them realising I have done so.   

Enjoying exercise – although I am getting better at this, largely thanks to Zumba and living in a country where I spend far more time outside. I still detest running (despite a brief and godawful flirtation with it last year) and this year it’s all about walking more (better for my knees) and keeping up the Zumba sessions. I also want to start swimming seeing as the sea is virtually on my doorstep and very warm at this time of year. The shark issue I am pushing firmly to the back of my mind.

Fashion – yep, there you go. I am a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl, always have been. I feel like a complete tool usually when I wear anything other than these kind of things and usually this doesn’t bother me but I would like to maybe evolve into someone who actually has a defined and less tomboyish ‘look’ and maybe learn not to hate clothes shopping quite so much. At the moment the fact that I work somewhere that I don’t have to wear business dress is causing me issues as my home and work wardrobe are now one and the same – whilst this has it’s perks (I don’t have to engage brain in a morning) it also has downsides. Namely, that I feel very conscious about my lack of any kind of fashion sense. I probably shouldn’t care but I do so I figure I should maybe set myself the challenge of trying to change this.

So, these are the things I am going to try and work on over the coming months. There are other things too – some potential professional/career related ambitions and a general promise to myself to read more books and less Digg on the tram (but that site is SO addictive!). I will no doubt be back to update on these various intentions soon and I have also not abandoned the #100books challenge (it's just that the new Donna Tartt came out and I got a bit derailed!).

I am currently sat on my porch after work, in the sunshine with a cup of tea so all in all things are not going too badly this year - long may this continue!