Career Reinvention Day – 15% discount!

Who’s coming to the workshop on 21st April?! It’s gonna be good. Here’s a sneak peek at delegate workbooks and the cards we’ll be using as tools for one of our exercises on finding out your values, strengths and skills! Plus a three-course lunch from the award-winning Warwick Conferences, at the University of Warwick in Coventry (and Warwickshire), and a valuable follow-up coaching session with me to consolidate your learning from the workshop.

Pssst – now running a 15% discount for the final 3 spaces! Message me for your code, and then get your place at http://www.quietspacecoaching.co.uk/events!

Returning to work after a career break

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In a week encompassing International Women’s Day and Mothering Sunday, I’ve been thinking about women’s careers in the context of gender inequality – glass ceilings, the gender pay gap, harassment, societal expectations and conditioned expectations of self. I don’t want to get too political today though, so maybe gender inequality is a topic for some other time. What I did want to write about was my perspective on the impact that motherhood has on your career, particularly with your first child or when you’ve taken an extended career break to raise your family (still a disproportionately female endeavour, but yes, politics…).

In the course of my coaching career, as well as in previous management roles, I’ve worked a great deal with women who have taken time out of the office for family reasons. One thing is clear, whether you’ve had nine months of maternity leave with your first child, or a fifteen-year career break to raise three children, returning to the world of work can be hugely daunting, both in the prospect of return and in the actual transition.   

The challenges vary from person to person, of course, but I think there is nonetheless a great deal of commonality in the experience. If you’re returning from maternity leave, fatigue and overload are often front and centre – quite apart from horrific sleep deprivation (and the concomitant caffeine dependency) if you’ve been battling with a child who clearly hasn’t read the sleep manuals, you might still be coming to terms with a new physical and psychological identity in which the person you once knew has gone AWOL, replaced by someone who’s mostly forgotten how to have a proper adult conversation and whose life for most of the past year has mainly consisted of attempting to get out of the house before you’re due back home and trying to drink a cup of tea that hasn’t been microwaved at least twice (although you do now have new skills that include being able to switch off lights with your toes and work a variety of household gadgets with your elbow).

And when you return, everything is simultaneously familiar and foreign (all the more  so if, like me, you decided to get a new job while you were on leave – you know, because you are slightly masochistic). Your sleep deprivation is magnified from the exhaustion of being back in the work environment and absorbing new information in addition to re-learning all the things you forgot while you were away. Plus you’ve still got all your responsibilities at home, juggling kids’ schedules alongside keeping the household ticking over and in a vaguely clean, fed and organised state, and bearing the mental load of remembering everything on that burgeoning task list. You think you’re failing at everything because you still expect yourself to be able to perform the way you did before life changed and now you are neither a good employee (because you can no longer work all hours) nor a good mother (having left the baby wailing at nursery), or indeed a good wife/partner (because you are almost exclusively a mother and have somewhat forgotten how to be yourself). And then when you’re finally up to speed at work again – maybe, just maybe, you find yourself fretting about no longer having the focus or ambition you once had.

If you’ve been out of the workforce for a matter of years rather than months, lack of confidence and the issue of identity can feel like even more of an insurmountable barrier. The gap in your work history can feel like an ending, and your professional self a distant memory. Because you’re firmly rooted in a different world, going back is about something larger than a ‘return’ – it necessitates a re-invention. Perhaps you don’t want to go back to your previous sector or industry, or discover you’re going to need further education and retraining to get anywhere. Then the big questions start. Who are you now? Who do you want to be? What are you interested in (that will pay you)? What do you actually want out of a career? Where do you start? How do you get from now to where you want to be? Are you even going to be able to get a job? Do you have any currently marketable skills? Are you going to fall flat on your face?

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been away for; the time will have changed you. Your priorities, values, interests and skillsets are likely to have shifted, and with them possibly also what you might want from your career. Sometimes a career change isn’t what you want, but is nonetheless going to be enforced due to childcare issues or the lack of a sufficiently supportive or flexible work environment. More often than not, however, many women come to a realisation that they themselves want to make a change that will fit their new circumstances or desires more closely. But this doesn’t mean that your career has no future. Take note: your career doesn’t have to stop because you’re now a parent and might want to move to part-time or flexible hours, or to a job that fits more easily around family.  

Where do you go from here? There are a few things worth reflecting on, I think.

The first is that you probably have more going for you than you might realise even if you’ve been out of the work world for years. Coordinating three children and a household? Administration, organisation and budgeting, not to mention creativity and the ability to pull things out of a hat at the last minute (World Book Day, I’m looking at you). Volunteering with the PTA? Tact, teamwork and negotiation. You get the idea. I don’t say this to be flippant; the important point here is about recognising transferable skills and being able to present them in a way that’s relevant to potential employers.

The second is giving yourself time and permission to ease back in, because it often takes at least 3-6 months to properly get to grips with the big change in your routine and to start feeling like you know what you’re doing. In any job the learning curve can last for a year or more. Don’t expect, after just two weeks on the job, to be back at the level you were. Be kind to yourself.

Thirdly, I think there are always compromises. Can you have it all? Personally, I think that every choice you make about how to spend your time means a choice to not focus on something else. But that also means that you don’t need to feel guilty if you’re not keeping all the balls in the air 100% of the time. Some things will give. And that’s ok.

And the final point? You don’t need to do it alone. If you’re currently planning a return from maternity leave or a long career break and this article has struck a chord with you, get in touch to see how return to work coaching can help you make the transition back into the working world with confidence. Take a look too at the upcoming Career Reinvention Day for a perfect kickstart.

To your success.

Lukewarm is no good

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I used to feel like I had never had any real passion for anything. Then somewhere in the last three years I found it in the dark. You have one life to live; don’t waste it wondering what could have been! You don’t need to justify yourself, what you seek or what you love, and you don’t need anyone to validate you. Whatever it is, go for it at full speed. Lukewarm and half-hearted is definitely not for you.

Career Reinvention Day

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Take some time out this April to invest in yourself! This special career reinvention day is for you if you’ve been feeling a little (or more than a little!) disillusioned or dissatisfied with your career. Maybe you’re in a job you hate or in a career rut, but you don’t know what else you could do or what you really want. You’d like to take action, but you feel stuck.

This reinvention day is also for you if you’re someone who’s looking to return to work after a long career break. Maybe you’ve been dealing with illness, or perhaps you took time out to raise your family. You’d like to get back into the working world but you don’t know what you would be suited to and you’ve lost some confidence.

Bookings and full details at www.quietspacecoaching.co.uk/events. Come join us!

Anything is possible

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Here’s some #mondaymotivation for you. I’ve got a to-do list a mile long! Don’t get overwhelmed. One step at a time, keep focused and before you know it you’ll have made significant headway. Tick something off on your list, be proud of yourself, and then you can reward yourself with your favoured tipple. Mine’s ginseng matcha at the moment. Yours might be builder’s tea. Or a double espresso. Or maybe gin. xx

No, you’re not a fraud: Tips for overcoming impostor syndrome

[I resolved to write about this a few weeks ago, and since then, three articles have popped up in my LinkedIn and Facebook feeds on precisely the same thing. Clearly it’s an issue that is occupying the thoughts of other people too. I did wonder whether I should still write this given that there already seemed to be so much out there on the topic. But then I decided I had something of my own to contribute, so here goes!]

It’s about impostor syndrome. You know, when you don’t think you’re good enough to be where you are, like your success is entirely attributable to external factors and people are just being nice when they say positive things about you and your work. When you think you’re a fraud and you’re just about to be found out. You’re particularly vulnerable to it when you start a new job or take on new work responsibilities.

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The first observation I’ll make is that you’re in good company. Apparently some 70% of the population suffer from impostor syndrome at some point. Better than that, you’re in the company of lots of very talented high achievers who are all frauds in their own heads (a quick Google tells me that Sheryl Sandberg, Leonard Cohen, Maya Angelou and Neil Gaiman were – or indeed are – no strangers to this). So it’s not just you. It’s me, and them, and more likely than not the role models you look up to.

Knowing other people feel the same way too can help with perspective, but of course you’ve still got the problem. So here are a few tips, thoughts and questions to ask yourself to help you overcome impostor syndrome.

  1. Awareness and acceptance is the first step. Accept that you’re feeling like a fraud, rather than run from it or be frustrated by it. Where’s the feeling coming from?Very often the roots of impostor syndrome lie in patterns we’ve learnt while growing up. Maybe some of these will find resonance with you: Vesting too much of your self-confidence in achievement; needing to get external proof of success because you lack internal validation; having expectations of yourself that you would tell anyone else were unreasonable.You set high standards for yourself. You want to be able to make sure that you know what you’re doing and that you’re going to do it well. That is laudable. It’s ok to feel like a fraud. But your feelings are not you. And I can guarantee that if you’re worrying about feeling like a fraud, you are almost certainly not. So stick a finger up to the feeling, so to speak, and remember you are doing a far better job than you think you are.
  2. Give yourself permission not to know. You’ve not been appointed to your post because you are an expert in everything. More likely than not, you’ve been appointed because people who know what they’re doing trust your track record and have experience in spotting talent.If you’re in a new post, don’t be afraid to start by asking questions. There’s power in the unknown. Knowledge can be a barrier to progress sometimes – people get mired in ways of doing things because “that’s what we’ve always done”. There is baggage in the past: “We can’t do that because we’ve tried and failed before”. Not knowing is freedom to think differently, and it also allows you to fully capitalise on all the strengths of your team. A great leader is not someone who knows everything; instead, they know who to ask, and how to delegate. They know how to recruit and nurture great people and how to give them authority and autonomy to do what they do best.The truth is, no one has all the answers. Even experts don’t know everything about anything. And people respect you much more when you admit that you don’t know, rather than try and bluff your way through (i.e. actually be a fraud!).
  3. Learn to treat things as experiments. Being ok with ‘failure’ can be a difficult thing to learn. The thing is, no experience is a failure if you learn from it. Experimenting is how great things in this world were created. It’s not about success or failure; it’s about a continued capacity to learn and grow.
  4. Step back and take an objective look at your previous achievements. Perfectionism is closely associated with impostor syndrome, which means that you probably put in long hours making sure you excel. What would a trusted mentor say about your competence? And your confidence? Chances are, you’re probably doing a pretty good job, even if you don’t think so right now. If you’re new to your role, it’s also likely that, because you have perfectionist tendencies, you’re assessing yourself on the basis of your peak – what you think you should be achieving and how you should be feeling as a seasoned performer – and forgetting that every expert in their field started as a beginner. Think in terms of familiarity, rather than competence. You are perfectly competent, but it will take time for you to become fully familiar with the role. On this note, it helps to keep all the positive feedback you receive! I have a little keepsake folder in which I put all the nice comments people have sent me and my own record of the achievements I’ve been proud of. When you’re feeling like a fraud, revisit these and bring that pride into your present moment.
  5. Don’t compare yourself with others. Comparison is the fuel for crippling doubt. You’re almost always your worst critic, and if you’re new to something, you’re probably comparing yourself with others who are at a very different stage of their journey. They were where you are. They’re in their time zone, and you’re in yours – and you’re very much on time, all present and correct.
  6. Focus on and celebrate your strengths. One of the fastest ways to overcome impostor syndrome is to stop focusing on all the things you don’t think you’re any good at, and start focusing on your strengths. Try one of these (free) online strengths profilers: https://www.viacharacter.org/survey/account/register and https://tools.atmybest.com/#/home?linkType=SoloTrial.
  7. Boost your confidence simply by paying attention to people. Regardless of what your strengths are, you can make an immediate positive impact simply by making people feel heard and appreciated. Lots of people don’t genuinely listen; they’re just waiting for a gap in the conversation to make their own point or to make their mark. Listen to your team and the people you work with, make them feel heard, and then make a positive difference for them.
  8. It’s not fake to “fake it till you make it”. Last month, I wrote about identity (https://quietspacecoaching.co.uk/2017/12/06/identity-and-the-community-of-selves/) and how it can be helpful to think about this not as a single entity, but rather as a ‘community of selves’ that come to the fore in different arenas of your life. When you’re dealing with impostor syndrome, the problem is that there’s a bit of an identity gap between (a) the person you believe you are, and (b) the person other people see you to be. Closing the gap requires you to start internalising your achievements so you start to validate yourself, rather than doubting and second-guessing the external evidence of your success. Someone once told me, when I was battling a major case of self-doubt, to pretend until I found I didn’t have to. All I could think of at the time was that I couldn’t be inauthentic. What I’ve since realised, however, is that there was nothing inauthentic about it. I was already person (b), but my confidence was still playing catch-up. Assuming the mantle before I could identify with it wasn’t me being false; it was me learning to become familiar with a space that would let my mind step into the person I already was.

So there you have it; my tips for overcoming impostor syndrome. I’d love to hear your thoughts! Do get in touch if this has resonated with you, or if I can help in any other way.

 

98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed

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I had a bit of a confidence wobble today. Maybe some of you did too. Here’s a message for all of us. Remember: one step at a time. Set yourself achievable goals, and don’t worry about the final picture – just focus on achieving each goal as you go, stepping back now and again to reevaluate where you’re going. Talk to people; don’t try to do it all alone. They will be an integral part of your success story. And YES, you will get there. 98.75% guaranteed! (Dr Seuss says so, so it must be right.)

Show them you’re worth it

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Just a few days left of 2017; time to do a final bit of soul-searching!

What were your adult relationships like this year? Were they a healthy meeting of minds; a set of equal partnerships? Or did you fear what others were saying about you? Did you feel judged? Were you a doormat?

If you want people to treat you differently, first you have to show them how you should be treated. Start by looking inward. Healthy relationships start with you being whole and valuing your worth. You need to realise your value and start to treat yourself differently before you can show the world you’re worth it.

I’ve been there. It’s hard. But I’m here to show you that it is absolutely possible. Come follow me and let’s be awesome together in 2018!

With love, Natalie x