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

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?