Work-Life Balance – Striking that Balance

Hello, I’m back again after 7 months. What a whirlwind of a time since my last post! In the end, it didn’t take me long to find a suitable part-time role in my chosen profession. The pay was ridiculously low, but it gave me the flexibility to readjust to work life with minimal impact on Dragon as he settled into school life. I tried to negotiate on my salary, but instead I was offered the flexibility to fit my 22.5 contracted hours per week around Dragon’s schedule, and that suited me just fine to achieve my ultimate work-life balance.

I was also clear in my mind during my job search that I did not want to just return to any job for the sake of having a job and earning money again. That was not the exercise. I wanted to make sure that whatever role I stepped back into would be the right one from a career perspective. It needed to provide a challenging and educational environment in which I could develop professionally – and amazingly, they were keen to employ me on the basis that I could develop a marketing strategy for them from scratch and apply all the theoretical elements from my Masters degree. *yay*

(Sidenote: This would all be so much easier to write about if I didn’t write about it all in retrospect…)

In parallel, in an effort to boost my CV and employability, I had decided to volunteer. I became involved with a local charity centred around education concerning all things sustainability, and the PTA at Dragon’s school. Both appealed to interests of mine with like-minded people. People with a green ethos, and hard-working parents keen to provide the best for their children. From that standpoint, and living where I live now, I think this is the most settled I’ve ever felt. I enjoy living here where people smile at your or greet you as you go for a walk; friendly faces all around, walking their dogs along the shore. Then there’s the focus on green living – it isn’t just some latest fad that’s cool to be part of. Instead, people are genuinely interested in growing their own organic vegetables, reducing their carbon footprint by buying local, that sort of thing. The parents are from all walks of life and admittedly, they have probably been the most difficult to get to know. The school run isn’t sufficient to get to know someone intimately. However, Dragon is thoroughly enjoying his school and thriving – making friends of all age groups, boosting his confidence even more. And through his friendships with his school mates and consequently my involvement with the PTA, has it become possible for me to integrate with the school community. Now there’s the rub. As I became involved, it also started eating up more of my time. I’m loyal and committed – sometimes to my detriment. With time, the initial 2h for two volunteer roles has slowly increased. Then, with the eco-project, they’ve asked me to come on board on a part-time basis! Amazing. So I now invest 8h a week there along with my part-time 22.5h work.

I like to keep busy. And so far it has been fine. I started lift-sharing with another local parent and that has enabled me to fit in the hours most suitable to my timetable. It looks something like this currently…

30.5h work week

But things at my main job have not transpired the way it was discussed. Being the first person my manager has ever line-managed means that he’s figuring out his style. And it’s not a good one. His leadership and knowledge thereof are completely lacking and instead of being almost an equal – his only advantage being that he’s already been there 4 years or so – he sees me like an assistant / skivvy. Having expressed my outrage to his boss at the fact that I’d shifted over a tonne – literally, a TONNE – of boxes, whilst he comfortably sat at his desk without so much as an offer to help me, I’m awaiting progress, although not hopeful or optimistic about that fact. There’s a basic level of human decency missing that unless instilled at a young age, is too late to teach a 26-year-old.

Having said all this, I’m now exploring alternative options. One option being, yet again, considering the full-time route. Are there any employers out there willing to acknowledge that working out childcare is bloody hard!? Working hours needn’t be so rigid; a little flexibility and understanding may actually go a long way – a loyal, efficient, hard working work force that may have, just somehow, sussed the all-important work-life balance. A young family, without the support of relatives in the near vicinity, have a lot to juggle. Does the parent risk collecting his/her child at 6pm, to only put them into bed for 7:30pm? There’s a heap of interaction that goes on between school hours and bedtime that the working parents inevitably miss out on just to make ends meet.

So let’s do a comparative study, using the Work Life Balance chart, shall we?

Categories are as before:

  1. Work
  2. Household
  3. Relationship
  4. Parent/Child
  5. Extended family
  6. Travel
  7. Friendship
  8. Leisure & Relaxation
My Life Wheel as of September 2016

May 2017:

Full-time work – a look into the future:

Future Work-Life Balance

Flexible work – a look into the future:

Clearly, if I’m earning well in my job, have flexible working hours to not entirely restrict my home life, and can earn a somewhat decent wage to boot, I’d be well on my way to creating a perfect outer circle!

You probably will have gathered that my mind follows a very logical process – so thanks for sticking with me whilst I worked this all out for myself! I really needed to be clear in my mind before any interviews and negotiations, you know? Also, whenever I find myself in sticky decision-making situations, Ruth Chang’s words pop into my head. If jobs were a like-to-like comparison across a single criteria, the decision would be easy to make. But why they are so difficult is because you have to assess what inherently is most important to you and where you want to be going. And once you answer that questions for yourself truthfully, without judgement and just pure acceptance, will this process become easy/ier.

Work-Life Balance Resources

So where do we start on our journey to achieving a balanced life?

In an effort to further understand work-life balance, I wrote in my last post that I stumbled across the Work Life Balance Centre [www.worklifebalancecentre.org]. There, I assessed my own life against their interactive ‘Life Wheel’, and this is what I found:

My Life Wheel as of September 2016
My Life Wheel as of September 2016

Life Wheel: How it works

You highlight eight areas of your life and score them from 1 (not happy) to 10 (very happy). So, here are my ‘life areas’ and why I scored the them in the way I did:

  • Starting at the top, Work: Obviously not an area I’m happy with. I want to work, earn money, develop in a specialty that I find interesting and apply myself. I like quantitative results but this is completely lacking currently and something I’m working on changing. Currently, though, it’s a very lonely 3. 
  • Household: 4. I mean, who LOVES cleaning? Who is ever happy doing that!? I guess if I could afford a cleaner, that would be a much higher score. But alas, it’s up to me to do the tidying, laundry, cleaning, cooking, washing up. Gardening and DIY I rarely find the time to do these days. But they’re so overdue that it’s gotten to a point where I’m very good at ignoring it… Again, if only we had the finances to get all the renovation work done to get it to a point where we can ‘interior design’ it, then I’m probably be much more content… Ah, how I hate money…! :-[
  • Moving on to Relationships: I have to admit, other aspects like household and parenting have been taking over my life a little that I’ve been somewhat neglecting my husband. I hadn’t actually thought or realised it up until I did the Life Wheel assessment, though, so it’s something that I’ve taken notice of and will work on!
  • Clearly, I put a lot of my time and effort into being a parent and looking after Dragon – and I’m happy with that input. Mostly. Often, I feel tired and low energy but I still give that aspect as much as I can. and if I can’t, my husband does and I’m grateful and love observing their bond, too. It is good to take the back seat occasionally.
  • Extended family (3). By this I mean my parents and sister. And some close members beyond that, but primarily my ‘close family’ when I was growing up until I started my own family. I really, really wish they were closer. I’m in the UK, they’re in Germany, and I see them AT MOST 3 times a year. Since having Dragon, it’s starkly obvious that family support close-by is SO invaluable. And I miss them dearly. My sister also has her own family now and it’s a shame that the relationship between Dragon and his cousin are built mostly over FaceTime.
  • Oh how I long to Travel! Most definitely an area that’s neglected and we’re working on that. Having a house in need of improvement, a toddler and family abroad definitely puts a bit of a damper on the freedom to travel. The list is long and I do wonder when the time will come when we can see a bit of the world again… Score, 2.
  • Friendship has improved since our move back down south from Scotland. I don’t see them as often as when I was living in London, but I cherish the moments more, set time aside for phone calls, and the time we do get to spend together are more memorable, quality moments. Or maybe it’s just part of growing up, who knows. But I feel good about the friends in my life, the level of involvement. But why it’s a 5? Because we are now part of a new community and I would like to build more friendships locally, become part of this community. So there is certainly still room for improvement.
  • We always think we could use more Me, Leisure and Relaxation time, don’t we? I do think I get a decent amount physically, but I’m unable to shut off my brain. It’s always buzzing. Especially in a house that requires work. So taking the time to go to gym, for walks, meditate, etc. is important and I’m working on that. Even treated myself to the ‘Hygge‘ book, so there! It’s already moving upwards and it’s a high 4.

So you’ll see there that it’s far from a perfect circle on the 10 scale. I’m hard to please, huh? Or maybe I’m hard on myself and have high expectations? It’s probably both… But having made this assessment is already giving me a kind of focus. I want to do better. I want to achieve more and I’m taking small steps towards making that happen. It feels good.

I would encourage you all to give it a try. And then let me know? Would love to hear your thoughts!

Anna x

Returning to Work?

I had grand visions of blogging, an outlet, a diary, somewhere where I can vent my thoughts on the mundane everyday, my saviour. In the long-term, I had also hoped that it would provide me with a source of income that would allow the sort of work-life balance that is still mostly absent in the UK workforce, preventing many mothers from returning to work, if they wished. I am one of those mums. Returning to work, for us, meant high childcare costs and weighing out the options, it seems ludicrous for me to work, be away from my child, for the sake of spending all earnings on childcare costs. Who can possibly afford £90/day!? It seemed daft and as much as I needed the occasional break, especially without any family immediately around – which is the case for many of us these days! – I decided I’d stay home.

Then circumstances had us moving a few times, which, frankly, meant that it was probably good I wasn’t working!

In his short life, Dragon has moved a grand total of 4 times. The last one was particularly tough and 4 months later, he still misses his friends. But on the bright side, he has started school and plenty of friends and distractions are helping him move on and settle here. This is meant to be it now. No more moves. Put down roots. Our forever home. That’s in need of total renovation, but you know, you can’t have it all at once. Life happens in stages, over time. How boring would it be otherwise? It’s a story, right?

So my story picks up here, where we’re settling into a new community, away from friends, teeny bit closer to the in-laws. With Dragon off to school, my husband doing an epic commute to London everyday, it’s time for me to return to work. Except that’s just it. It’s been 5 long years. LOOOOONG years. Where do you even start? You’ve created a whole new person since the last time you touched your CV! Back in the day, churning out mean presentations for senior stakeholders seemed like I had reached the next promotion, top of my world-type stuff. HA! Wait till you have kids, right!? Your whole presence, meaning, values, ethos, priorities, your essence and CORE gets knocked sideways and you start seeing life through a different lens. Remember I had considered returning to work when Dragon was 9 months? I had such itchy feet; I couldn’t wait! Surely I was more than “just a mum”, watching this tiny tot, feeding it, keeping him safe, entertaining him, cuddling him, and all those things? Back then, my worth had to be somewhat substantiated by a monthly paycheck. I was confused, as many new mums are. Thrown in the deep end, hoping not to drown. Except now I long to stay at home. Of course now I miss those things. They seem like a lifetime ago because this tiny person in only four years has mastered SO MANY incredible things! And it makes you proud beyond words. I’ve come to appreciate the little things, the conversations, this person you’ve made and had such a huge influence over, who still comes to you for comfort and cuddles (the BEST!), with a cheeky sense of humour, who gets your weird train of thought and quirks, and has nothing but admiration for. And those little moments, the sum of all those, fills the time so much.

But you may say, they’re off to school, you have pretty much the whole day to yourself: What do you do?

For a start, house keeping, DIY, errands, school-runs, managing contractors around home improvement projects, household budgeting, etc.

There’s the rub. If I were to return full-time, all those jobs would be pushed onto the ‘free time’ around work. I’d see less of my family, more stress, Dragon in wrap-around care at school, rushed dinners, and overall, poorer quality of life. This leaves, for me, part-time or flexible roles, but I’m finding more and more, that unless you were previously in some form of employment that you can return to, they are incredibly hard to come by. Work in retail is a no-no; you can kiss your weekends good-bye. Why is it that unless I sacrifice the quality of my family life entirely, I’m not able to secure a job that would utilise my skills and knowledge – surely valuable assets to a company even on a part-time or flexible basis?

A work-life balance that suits most family is almost non-existent in the UK. The more I research, the more I’m finding that society is built very much on family-unfriendly fundamentals. Competent, intelligent women are staying at home and unable to contribute to the economy because of a basic lack of opportunities. Blogging has filled a small gap but that’s become so saturated that websites are falling into the depths of forgottenness. (Plus, the techy, maintenance aspects of keeping a blog/website are a true pain in the behind and off-putting.) But that aside, why is such a huge population almost entirely neglected? There are willing people out there looking for work! Why is it not the norm to accommodate a healthy work-life balance – a life where children don’t feel neglected, parents aren’t constantly under stress and pressure and actually able to spend more quality time with family, whether working or not? Why should it be such a punishment to want to work? Why should work be at the expense of family life, and not in parallel? Why isn’t there generally a more sympathetic attitude towards families and wanting to spend time with them?

I’m absolutely baffled but also enthused to try and shift this notion. It shall become a kind of mission to empower everyone to find their work-life balance and lobby companies and government to create a happier country, that shall benefit the economy and ultimately everyone as a whole. And maybe we all shall become more accustomed to a hygge life.

My first stop: The Work Life Balance Centre. http://www.worklifebalancecentre.org/

And in the meantime, I shall stick to volunteering 😉

 

A x

A KonMari Home

Having spent a lot of time trawling through Pinterest for inspirations on how to make my home my dream home – furniture, tableware, pictures, you name it – I’ve come to find that it’s not just about having beautiful objects but how to make shine the things that mean a lot to me. And the things that don’t shine – love it or just put up with it because it’s absolutely necessary – organise them in such a way that makes them acceptable. In other words, organising the chaos. 
I have been tirelessly adding to my “organised chaos” board for months, years even, in the hopes of being inspired to apply similar methods of organisation in my own home. Ha! Wishful thinking. I’ve bought a couple of books but they’ve been more focused on cleaning – tackling the dust and dirt elements in the house. With a Japanese mother, we’ve been learning to clean from an early age. Every New Year’s Eve, the house is turned on its head to ensure the new year is welcomed afresh, with a clean house, clean soul. It’s almost a sin to not be spending New Year’s Eve cleaning. All day. The whole house. Not exactly any child’s concept of fun, even if I appreciate its concept. So ok now cleaning and that’s not the issue. Having grown up in a house where nothing, and I mean NOTHING, gets tossed, ridding myself of unwanted, unnecessary things felt unnatural. 

So I’ve had seen Marie Kondo’s book on Amazon during my efforts to find a book that would get to the nub of the issue in my home – too much stuff, hoarding, accumulating and just shifting things from here to there. But one recent random outing to the shopping centre, I decided on a whim to pop into the bookshop. And what should be on the shelf but the second book she’s just published? Spark Joy by Marie Kondo is a more succinct publication of her theory and instead focused on giving an illustrated guide for those who just want to get on with it. I’m one of those people, although admittedly, I did read her theory on the first seventy pages… So the process works through the categories of items, not by room, in the prescribed order:

  1. Clothes
  2. Books
  3. Komono
  4. Sentimental items

Clothes

We moved in August last year and I spent the two months leading up to the move sorting through my clothes. In the KonMari way, however, she says to gather ALL of your clothing and anything that falls into the category – shoes, accessories as well – and put it all together so you have a clear overview of everything you own. And my goodness me. Did I really still own this much stuff? So I started again, identifying items that sparked joy and discarding the rest. 

 
It’s now been a month and what you don’t realise at the time you’re going through this process is that how much lighter you feel as a consequence of owning less. And then I came across this article which truly sums up the benefits of ‘capsule’ wardrobes. I wouldn’t go as far to say that mine is now a capsule wardrobe, but the benefits outlined within this article resonate with my experience:

  1. Time and efficiency. Not only are there fewer choices to make in the morning, I now have a much clearer overview of all my belongings and feel much better emotionally for wearing things that bring me joy for whatever reason. Not only that, there is less to wash, iron and fold. 
  2. Self confidence. By wearing things that bring me joy, not only does it lift my mood but makes me more confident as well. Confident that I’m wearing something that suits me, fits me well, and is representative of my personality. 

I can genuinely say it’s been a good exercise and would encourage anyone to give it a try. I’ve worked my way through the books category and about to finish off the paperwork. The most daunting of categories, konomo, awaits me on the other side… You’ll definitely be seeing some before and after pics from those!! 

Happy sorting everyone! 
Ps: I recently asked Dragon what I’m good at and he listed these, in the following order:

  1. Tidying
  2. Helping me tidy
  3. Listening
  4. Laughing

What a love and joy to have in my life! Xx

A Little Dartmouth Getaway

Bromance on the beach

I attended a wedding this past weekend in Dartmouth, Devon, UK. If unfamiliar with the coastal town, its nearest large city is Exeter and the American city of Dartmouth is indeed named after here. A truly picturesque postcard-perfect sort of town, on the southwestern coast of England.

We embarked on our journey in the late evening Thursday and arrived at the lovely self-catering Longbow Barns Apartments in the dead of night. Oh, how delightful it was to be greeted by a warm apartment after a 7.5h car journey! Dragon had woken up around midnight and proceeded to play ‘I Spy’ for some good thirty minutes before continually drifting in and out of sleep until our arrival at said destination. After swiftly unpacking our belongings in our home for the weekend, we set off to sleep…

….to be greeted by the most glorious sunshine and a view overlooking the harbour. Oh how delightful indeed! My darling husband immediately nestled himself in on the couch, announcing that he would quite happily live the rest of his days there! After the arrival of my in-laws/the wedding babysitters, my husband being true to his personality trait (yes, I profiled him, too!), had cabin fever and bundled us all in the car to set off to the nearest beach, Blackpool Sands. We have visited many a beach, as you may have guessed from some previous posts (hubs being a water addict!), but this was truly stunning. Tiny skimming stones in all shades of beige and grey made up the beach (which remarkably resemble walking through quicksand!), encased by impressive rock formations on either side. On the cliff tops, sheep were grazing happily and wind-swept pine trees dotted the hills behind. And I was obviously not alone in my admiration as we spotted seals on our seashore adventure! AMAZING. What a wonderful introduction to Dartmouth, truly.

 

Sunshine and wind on Blackpool Sands
Sunshine and wind on Blackpool Sands
Fun at Blackpool Beach
Fun at Blackpool Beach
Kite-flying at Blackpool Beach
Kite-flying at Blackpool Beach

That evening we strolled down to the town centre to meet up with the wedding party for drinks in a proper old man’s pub. I enjoyed a G&T (or two) for the first time in months and admittedly, it didn’t take long for me to feel very jolly! Conversation and drinks flowed as we caught up with dear old friends and the bride and groom. We left at a reasonable time – a toddler who wakes at 5 is no joy, let alone with a hangover! – to be greeted by walls. Had we really walked down these hills!?!? How were we going to scale up them to return to the barn!? I was out of breath five steps in… this was going to take a while. Neither Huz nor I said anything the whole way, just panting for air, sweat dripping from our foreheads in the cool November breeze. It was sobering… and the aching followed heartily the next day.

IMG_0912 IMG_0911 IMG_0913 IMG_0916

The wedding ceremony was the following day and proceeded at three o’clock ON THE DOT (like, wow! Talk about time-keeping!) at the very quaint and exquisite Royal Castle Hotel on the harbour front. I’m sure half the buildings were built before such a thing as a spirit level existed! Or they just liked to eye-ball it…?! My friend, the Bride, was escorted by her father with a nervous but excited Groom awaiting her at the other end. Pure happiness in the air… followed by lots of merriment in the bar below and local restaurant Alf Resco. I won’t go into the details as they’re a bit hazy…

We returned in the wee hours of the morning, collapsed and repeated the early wake-up call for yet another day. Little man with so much energy needed an escape so we returned to Blackpool Beach… with all adults looking a bit beaten up and a toddler running circles around them… But in that tired moment, walking in these peaceful surroundings with loved ones around me, I took stock of everything that I have, how the best things in life are free (in the words of Janet and Luther), and that made my heart smile.

Fun at Blackpool Beach, splashing the water
Fun at Blackpool Beach, splashing the water

How Making Hard Choices Becomes Our Identity

So, if you read my last post, you’ll remember that I’m going through some kind of self discovery mission. Or identity crises. Call it what you will, I’m trying to find out where this is all going. Deep, huh? I guess I’m quite contemplative and reached a point where I feel I’m more of a by-stander than actually in charge…

I came across this book by Paul Tiger, Barbara Barron and Kelly Tiger: Do What You Are. (I’ll add it to the shop section so you can easily find it.) It’s based on the concept of Personality Type – also known as the Myers-Briggs Personality Type. If you’re not familiar, it’s something that I also came across for the first time in grad/post-graduate school only five years ago. Essentially, it measures your preferences across four areas and determines how you might fit an organisation, for example. A lot of companies apparently use this, and in our university, it was an experiment for putting us into groups and observe the performance, the theory being that compatible personality types will work effectively and efficiently. My group did very well, but it certainly wasn’t without its struggles! In hindsight, although I wouldn’t necessarily class any of my group members as “friends”, there may have been something to this. So I got curious.

You’re assigned four letters which makes up a personality type (out of 16). This isn’t to say that you don’t have some tendencies from other personalities. Some preferences are stronger than others and you could fall anywhere on a spectrum of Introvert – Extravert, for instance. I couldn’t remember my letters from the comprehensive test at university, so I have had to go back and self-assess based on preferences I’m aware of, and by reading examples. So it tells me I’m this combination: ISTP – Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, Perceiving. I don’t want to bore you with the details, so here’s a summary: A realist. I’m very analytical and see things as they are. Practical, fair and logical, base decisions on hard facts. Quiet and reserved, can give of impression of shyness, cool or aloof.

There it is. LOGICAL. It’s almost fair to say that I’m obsessed with it. Things need to make sense. That’s probably why I used to love mathematics in school so much. My husband often jokes that he should get a shirt made up for me that reads ‘Maths makes sense’. Reading the full personality type description, it fits me like a shoe. So what’s my career? What should I be doing with my life? Ah, it’d just be all so easy if the answers were written in a book like some kind of formula, wouldn’t it? And then randomly, last night, I couldn’t find anything I wanted to watch and stumbled across some TED talks on Netflix.

I watched a playlist, and some I’d seen already so I wasn’t paying all that much attention until Ruth Chang started. She talked about how to make hard choices. Ultimately, this is what has lead me down this path, isn’t it? Read my previous post and you’ll see that my head is just a jumble at the moment. I can’t seem to make much sense of the chaos within – should I or shouldn’t I return to work? If I do, what will I do? Is it worth it if there’s a chance that we might move again? What’s the most transferable career that I can do in case we do move again? These are big questions! To me, anyway. You may be a bit more pragmatic and find it easy to come up with a solution. I could just do any job, but as I find myself in a rather privileged position of having time to find myself, I’m being choosey. Too choosey, even. It’s like being a vegetarian in a vegetarian restaurant. I’m used to having two – if I’m lucky, three – choices on the menu. I’m overwhelmed in a vegetarian restaurant. Everything sounds SO GOOD. How do you choose? So Ruth Chang, in this TED talk, has this incredibly LOGICAL way of explaining (which utterly appealed to me, obviously) that hard choices are not founded necessarily on facts or one being better than the other. It’s just not clear-cut like that most of the time. She explains that it boils down to what is it that I want.  Where do I see myself going with this? Where do I want to be?  These hard choices we make, make up the person we want to be. Take a look.

A lightbulb went up in my head. So I’m back to square one. I won’t find the answer spelled out in a book. I won’t find the answer by looking around; I have to look within. While this personality type book explains in what setting I probably would be most satisfied – certain criteria that are more or less met – I need to figure out what life I long for. How I want to live my existence.

So start number 2: Do I start with what I enjoy doing? While I have a long list of things I class as hobbies, I never take the time to really immerse myself in any of them. Sewing, drawing, painting, pottery, photography, going for walks. Or perhaps meditation and taking a time-out each day is that way forward…?

Where would you start?

Reflection: Food Attitude

I have said before how I was raised a vegetarian but I’d never really taken much interest in food as a child, or even as an adult. I never educated myself about it and my version of vegetarianism was meat substitutes, potatoes, bread and anything that went well with pasta, usually pesto. Occasionally I’d spend some time in the kitchen making a salad or cake but mostly, it was a quick in and out job.  Continue reading “Reflection: Food Attitude”