All change!

So, the cat’s out of the bag and those who needed to know first now know (I think, I hope, I’m sorry if you didn’t). In January, I’ll be starting a new job and Chris and I will be moving to Gloucester (possibly Cheltenham but, seriously, HOW MUCH?!) before Christmas.

Having known about the move for a few weeks now, whilst I’ve waited for the contract to come through, a few blog posts have been floating around my head. (Yes, I’m staggered I haven’t let it slip on Twitter too.)

The first was to be an overview of the many things Chris and I need to sort out in relation to the new job, our house move and much more besides – purchasing a new car man enough to get up Birdlip Hill everyday, finding a new yoga class and running club, getting to grips with my new job role, streamlining our many belongings, figuring out our current rental contract, weighing up a removals company vs. hiring a van, endless house viewings, etc…

Cathartic for me, less interesting for you.

Another theme is related to my sense of belonging. I may well expand on this at some future date. We’ve lived in Worcester for six years now and, though it took us a long time to feel this way, I think it’s fair to say that we now feel at home. Gloucester is not so new or unfamiliar – Chris grew up there and we still have family and friends in the area, we know our way around – but I’m still nervous about moving and settling again. To this end, I have been keeping a list of things to look forward to in Gloucester, which currently runs to:

  • Gloucester Guildhall – good gigs, nice cinema
  • Blue Thai Kitchen, Ruddy’s Fish & Chips, Over Farm
  • Being closer to the Taylors
  • Better cinemas in the vicinity (see above + Vue in Cheltenham)
  • Cheltenham in general – shopping, restaurants, bars, cultural stuff
  • Gloucester’s suburban libraries (so many more than Worcester!)
  • Being half an hour closer to my hometown, family and friends
  • Being half an hour away from Bristol

(Please feel free to contribute!)

Finally, and most recently, some thoughts on people’s responses to my move. Ever the diplomat, I’m still mulling it over but the current climate in the public sector certainly puts an interesting spin on that one…

(Much as I’ve never told you what my current job is on this blog, I will not be telling you what my new job is. But it’s no state secret so feel free to DM, text, email or even speak to me if you’d like to know.)

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“This is a horrible confession, but sometimes, I used to sleep with my iphone next to my bed. When the alarm went off, I would wake up, reach over and scan through my email. What I read in those first few minutes of the day, determined my mood for the first few hours. That is not the way to live life on purpose! By checking your email at 10am or later, you decide how you feel!”

(From: http://www.bemorewithless.com/2010/stop-checking-email/ via @omrrc)

This struck a chord with me today, after a really valuable conversation with my mentor. I really liked the way she put things in perspective and helped me work through what some of the things I discovered in my personal development module actually mean (i.e. I’m ENFJ but where does that get me?) – referring to my new ‘toolbox’.

Our discussion about my time management and its impact on my mood, my self confidence and my ability to think strategically was one of the most helpful conversations I’ve had in my career and has led to Omar sharing the link above.

So I’m going to start implementing this and am considering testing out my workload against Covey’s 4 quadrants (http://www.keenerliving.com/reviewing-coveys-4-quadrants). We’ll see how it goes…

I’ve been a bit dismissive of Omar’s obsession with minimalism. I am a hoarder.

At work, I struggle with the clear desk policy and, every six months or so, am forced to take out half an afternoon to sort through the piles of paperwork. I still keep a great deal of it. I just put it somewhere else. I am working on this.

Today, an unfortunate incident resulted in every single piece of my paperwork being soaked through and unsalvageable. Having the choice taken away from me, throwing away the lot of it didn’t feel that bad.

Perhaps this is the start of a new, minimalist me, Omar?

Live to work, or…?

I don’t tend to blog too regularly about work. (It’s not that I’m ever likely to say anything particularly disparaging but, equally, my career is important to me and I don’t feel it’s worth exposing myself inadvertently to criticism. Besides, I like to convince myself that I have other, more exciting material to write about.) But I have been meaning for some time to blog about work/life balance and about the attitudes of my colleagues and peers, of wider society.

In the last year, my balance has shifted. The last few weeks have brought the issue sharply into focus.

But, ironically, I’m too tired this evening to compose a coherent blog entry on the subject. Instead, here are some things I should have been writing about:

1. My graduation – I had the most wonderful day, made all the more enjoyable by the fact that my mum, step-dad and husband made the journey to Bristol Cathedral to witness it. It brought a sense of achievement that I didn’t feel when I completed my undergraduate degree. Back then, there was the sense that I was going through the motions, doing what most teenagers do, focusing on the social, rather than academic education that university provided. Studying for a masters degree, whilst working full time and maintaining a long-term relationship took enormous effort and real commitment. And I did a far better job of it than I could ever have imagined I would. I even got a prize.

Here’s my mum (looking proud) and me (also looking pretty proud):


2. Finally finishing Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’ – which took such a long time because I struggled to pick it back up each time I put it down, it was such a punishing read. My brother basically bullied me into reading it, urging me to “hold my heart in my hands” whilst I did so. His advice was entirely appropriate. It is bleak and harrowing, breathtaking and heartbreaking. And ultimately, hopeful. (Although now I’m reading some wonderfully witty fiction by the brilliant Zoe Heller to restore the equilibrium.)

To watch the film or not to watch the film?

Vocation Theory

It’s nice to think of all the exciting stuff my school friends do for a living these days. In our circle of friends, we have a counsellor, a couple of journalists, a landscape architect, a banker, an accountant, a school secretary, and a couple of musicians. I like the variety of it. And the fact that I can remember little characteristics about them all as teenagers that mean that their current career is no real surprise.

And, of course, there’s me. You understand what all the others do, right? But not what I do. Ho hum.

Here’s a list of other things I’d quite like to do, if I ever got the chance:
1. Be a wedding florist (and make people happy)
2. Teach adult literacy (and make the world a better place)
3. Work in a bookshop (and make myself happy)
4. Do a PhD and be a lecturer (see above).

Also, I did a careers search last night (mainly because I haven’t done one since school and wanted to test my ‘Vocation Theory’ outlined above). When I put in that I’m not motivated by money, it just gave me crap jobs that would be nice and everything but that I couldn’t afford to do without some serious lifestyle changes. So I put in that I am motivated by money and it gave me unbearably ruthless jobs that wouldn’t fit my moral code AT ALL.

Rock and Hard Place.

Thoughts on responsibility

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about capacity. In that my capacity to take on the challenges of my job has recently and bizarrely felt almost physical. My (relatively) tiny frame feels like it’s almost overwhelmed by the seemingly daily office dramas and dilemmas. It’s like the burden is literally on my shoulders.

I suppose I’ve been aware for a long time that I have the mental capacity to handle a great deal. As I was growing up, I faced things that cause a lot of people to crack and I never have, I think because I have some pretty good coping mechanisms as well as wonderful family and friends. This may or may not be a healthy thing, of course. It may be that I just internalise things and I don’t really deal with them. And one day, they’ll all mount up and I’ll experience one big melt down. There’s something to look forward to.

So, for the first time, my physical capacity seems stretched to its very limit (that was the point of this blog entry). And I am, frankly, exhausted by the constant, violent yo-yoing of my confidence in my own abilities and my subsequent enjoyment of the job.

And I’m trying to decide if it’s a result of my relative immaturity in terms of my career or if it will always be like this but I’ll simply develop strategies over time to deal with it.

It’s not enough to want to give up at this stage but it is starting to feel enough to consider it.

Blog Action Day & a bit of a rant

I don’t usually blog about the detail of my working life (I think it’s asking for trouble) but in honour of Blog Action Day, I thought I’d put down some thoughts about one aspect of my work: child and pensioner poverty and income deprivation.

Last week at work I read a report that stated that a working parent of two children, earning the minimum wage, would have to work at least 80 hours a week to stay above the poverty line. Over 50% of children living in poverty in the UK have parents who are already in employment so the causes of poverty are much more complex than the government tends to like to make out. Even when both parents are employed, the financial exclusion caused by low pay or other circumstances can lead to severe deprivation for families. For example, in the county in which I work, a colleague from a local Citizens’ Advice Bureau informed me today that she deals with people who have loans charging 198% APR (there are reports of loan sharks charging 8000% APR too, although I haven’t come across it where I work), purely because they can’t get credit from mainstream lenders.

If my washing machine breaks, I’ll put a new one on my credit card or take some money out of my savings. For many families, this simply isn’t an option and they become easy prey to loan sharks. If you owe money to a loan shark who shows up on your doorstep with a couple of burly blokes but you’re also in rent arrears to your housing association, which would you pay off first? The thing is, the loan shark might beat you up, but the housing association will evict you.

Financial exclusion doesn’t just happen to you overnight. If you leave school at 16 with no qualifications, your chances of getting a job that pays much more than the minimum wage are pretty low. If you’ve grown up in a deprived area, with parents that have been out of work or on a low wage all your life, your aspirations are likely to be lower, and there’s a good chance you have bad health, misuse drugs and alcohol or have a criminal record. Or all three. Essentially, if you’ve been poor growing up, you’re likely to continue to live in poverty. On a daily basis, it frightens and angers me that this is the situation in the UK in 2008. And yet the cycle is continuing with no sign of being broken.

Currently, the work that I do to tackle poverty feels like fire fighting. By the time we lay on programmes to move parents into employment or to give debt advice, it’s already too late. What we ought to be doing is preventing poverty in the first place by improving educational attainment everywhere, providing employment opportunities that pay a living (not a minimum) wage and delivering financial literacy to children at an early age. It’s a long-term strategy. It is a strategy that must create the conditions for and facilitate financial inclusion, rather than force it through imposed benefits conditions that ultimately just push people into employment that is rarely appropriate for their circumstances and skills and doesn’t really solve the problem in the long run.

That long-term strategy can only be led by central government but must be delivered on the ground by local voluntary and community sector organisations – credit unions, Citizens’ Advice Bureaux, community crèches – supported and funded by statutory agencies. In 1999, Tony Blair pledged to eradicate child poverty in the UK by 2020. Eight years in, it feels like little progress has been made. The only way to eradicate poverty is to take radical steps, to make fundamental changes across government. Essentially, government must take their pledge seriously.

I suppose what I want to say is that poverty is closer to home than you think. Even in the relatively affluent county in which I work, I know a primary school teacher who has to wash and provide breakfast for her pupils before they start the day. It is appalling that this happens and we should be thoroughly ashamed.

If you want to read more, some excellent website are:
Child Poverty Action Group – http://www.cpag.org.uk/
End Child Poverty – http://www.endchildpoverty.org.uk/