Let’s hear it for the boys

 

As a mother of two boys ( now young men) I am becoming increasingly concerned about the current ‘girl power’ trend which seems to involve a lot of men-bashing.

My son’s school has recently published exam results which show a significant gap between the boys and girls’ grades (in favour of the girls). If this had been the other way around, there would have been a big fuss and parents would have been informed about what action the school would take to improve the girls’ grades. Yet there has been no mention of the underperformance of the boys.

I have just picked up Glamour Magazine which proudly declares on the front cover that the issue is ‘100% Made By Women’. Can you imagine if a Men’s magazine had made this claim for men? There would be an outcry. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am delighted that women are achieving more and feeling confident, after all I am one, but this doesn’t have to be at the expense of our boys and men. Men- bashing is sexist too and we really shouldn’t indulge in it. Men can be sensitive and thoughtful, but they often don’t display this in an obvious way like women. Think of the firemen ( mostly men) who had to deal with the recent Grenfell fire in London. Their faces were contorted with the horror of the situation, but they carried on for hour after hour. This shows men at their best.

I understand that there are many cultures and countries who still put men on a pedestal, where there is a long way to go before women are treated equally. But this bears no comparison to how we operate in the UK, Europe or the US and we do not need to undermine men to be successful. Their failure does not fuel our success. It is not acceptable to exclude men, or for boys to perform worse than girls in exams, or for women to behave arrogantly. For a happy society men need to be recognised for their qualities and for the important role that they play. Boys must be brought up to respect women and treat them equally, but the reverse it true too. So let’s celebrate all our young people, boys and girls, and not replace sexism with more sexism.

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In praise of the humble bar of soap

 

When did we fall out of love with the humble bar of soap? Growing up in the 70s I have no memory of liquid soap or shower gel (or showers for that matter, which were generally viewed with suspicion in 1970s Britain). I look at my bathroom now and it is awash with plastic bottles, most of which won’t end up being recycled (despite putting them into the recycling bin). It is an environmental disaster staring us in the face, but is somehow still acceptable. Our children and grandchildren will probably look back on this era with horror and wonder how we could be so blasé.
I have always loved soap, yet have somehow been brainwashed into buying shower gel as it seems more sophisticated. But there is something special about a bar of soap wrapped in old-fashioned paper ( the Italians and French seem to excel in the art of creating beautiful bars of soap). I spent many years buying these lovely soaps as gifts, but the recipients usually smiled politely and put them into a drawer next to the bar I bought them last year. Most people just don’t seem to get soap, but there is something so honest and nostalgic about it. My maternal grandmother used to buy Shield, a sensible and practical soap with a clean and germ- free scent about it. When I smell this soap it instantly brings back happy memories of my grandmother and her lovely welcoming home, where there would be no ‘stuff and nonsense’ but a delicious home cooked meal and plenty of love. My paternal grandmother always used Camay which I am sure she regarded as a cut above ordinary household soap- no home cooking there but Mr Kipling French Fancies which were considered quite an extravagance. My husband always uses Imperial Leather and that soft spicy smell will always remind me of him. My mother has fond memories of Pears soap which reminds her of days as a very young girl, before a more practical soap was introduced ( glycerine soap was considered wasteful as it dissolves too fast). Shower gel just doesn’t seem to create memories or traditions (but perhaps this is because I am from the soap era).
Anyhow, I have decided to re-introduce soap into the house. I want to do something- however small- to reduce the use of plastic and I am excited about trying a variety of everyday and exotic soaps and experimenting with soap dishes. Perhaps soap is really undervalued or I am just a little crazy?

The end of an era

This September thousands of parents are seeing their children leave for University, and I am one of them. After 18 years of my children being at the centre of my world, my eldest has left home. I have such mixed feelings about this and I haven’t decided how to deal with it yet. On the one hand I miss his presence around the house ( he is a ball of energy and fun), on the other this is such an exciting time for him, a whole new adventure and the start of his adult life, and he is loving it. It is right that he has left home and is learning lots of new things. So I have no right to be sad -but I am. A little. So I am going to allow myself a little self-indulgent wallowing, for a limited time, and then I shall dust myself down, organise my ideas, enjoy time with my husband and youngest son, and start some new adventures of my own. The greatest gift we can give our children is to be happy, have our own life and let them live theirs. I am working on it!

6 ways to stop your free time being hijacked when you work part-time

 

Working part-time has benefits but also many challenges. Often you are not treated with the respect of a full-time employee, or paid as well. Part timers are often overlooked for promotions and annual pay increases in favour of full- time workers. In addition to this, they are often expected to put in extra hours each week answering emails and dealing with problems during their personal time. This can add up to a big percentage of (unpaid) extra work. Increasingly, the work force is made up of a higher proportion of part-time and freelance workers and it is important that we manage our time carefully to ensure that the way we work is understood, respected and fairly compensated. Here are a few tips to help keep your part-time work part-time and not allow it to eat into your personal time and other projects.

1. Set clear expectations

Explain that you are fully committed to role and will give it your all when working. However, this is a part time role and you have other commitments outside these times. Therefore, you will not always be able to respond to email outside of these times. You understand that there will be times when something exceptional happens that needs to be dealt with, but this needs to be the exception, not the rule. Do not make excuses or apologies which imply that the only reason you cannot respond/ do extra work out of hours is because you are busy with something else. You don’t need to justify why you cannot work, unpaid, on a non-workday.

2. Stick to a clear work schedule 90% of the time

If your job is Mondays and Wednesdays, stick to those days and agreed hours. Avoid taking work home and get everything finished up for the week by the end of Wednesday, so it is already to go next Monday. If you work at home for a set number of hours, then keep your work files in a separate space so that you cannot see them during your personal time. This may be an office, allocated space or even a storage box. Keep it our of sight and out of mind when you are not at work.

If it is impossible to get the work done within your agreed hours then you either need to negotiate some additional paid hours, or edit your workload. Putting in a few extra hours every week is not the solution.

3. Be visible

Make sure that people know who you are and what you do. It is easy to be invisible as a part-timer as you will not attend all meetings and simply are not there every day. So make a point of introducing yourself to colleagues and explaining what you do and which days you work.

4. Do not always be contactable

Your boss may need to be trained that you are not on call at any time of the day or night, so unless the issue is urgent, do not respond immediately out of work hours. If you do, you are giving the message that you are always available and happy to be contacted. Successful boss training requires you to be fair, firm and consistent, much like training a puppy. Most employers will try to get more out of you than the agreed hours. That represents good value for them, but not for you.
Ideally have a separate phone number and email account for work, so that it is separate from your private accounts. If it is too late, and you have already given out your personal email and mobile number, then make sure the phone is switched off most of the time, so that you can respond to voicemail at specific times.
Most email providers now allow you to set rules for specific contacts. Set up auto response for messages received from work during evenings or non- work days saying that you will deal with emails when you are back in the office ( if there is an urgent problem then please send a text). This makes it clear that the message has not been looked at yet, so there is no expectation of an immediate reply.

5. Reconnect at home

To reclaim your evenings and family time you could introduce an evening curfew. A set time when all members of the household switch off their phones and tablets and put them in a box. Switch off wifi too – we can all manage a couple of hours every evening without checking social media. This is also a great habit to get children used to (but adults need to join in too!) They may protest initially, but it will actually be a relief for them. It offers an enforced break from the addiction of social media and notifications, with precious time to reconnect with family.

6. Be a joy to work with!

The real challenge here is to do an excellent job, be positive and yet not have your free time hijacked. You certainly don’t want a reputation as a constant complainer. It is a difficult balance to strike and requires you to be an asset to your employer, but not a door mat. Set clear boundaries with your boss, respect your capabilities and your time and others will too. Never apologise for not being available all the time. You do a great job and you deserve to be recognised and rewarded for your contribution.

 

Photo by Sonja Langford on Unsplash

 

 

In pursuit of youth

Nora Ephron (American writer and filmmaker, sadly deceased and most famous for writing ‘When Harry Met Sally’) wrote some really enjoyable essays on being a woman and ageing. If you haven’t read them I recommend getting a copy of ‘I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman’. These essays made me smile as they eloquently described some of the struggles and frustrations we all face as we age. The disappointment of looking at our sagging faces in the mirror and not quite believing the ageing process.

To cheer myself up I regularly remind myself, and anyone who will listen, that I am the same age as Kylie Minogue. This gives me some hope that if I put in some effort I could look much much better (although I do not have access to a team of stylists and make up artists….not yet anyhow).

I am reminded of the Nora Ephron book as I take delivery of my latest order of products from Healthspan which I am hoping will propel me backwards into youth. I am a bit of a supplement junkie, always searching for the product that will give me a boost of vitality and beauty.

This time I am trying Soy Isoflavones to replace some of my rapidly declining oestrogen (or estrogen to my lovely readers from the US). I was also hoping for great things from a tube of ‘Instant Skin Perfector’ which is enriched with phytoestrogens and is slightly tinted.

Can’t really comment on the Soy Isoflavones yet, but I am quite pleased with the cream. The effect is very subtle ( I put some on half my face and asked my husband to tell me which half… which he got right. He is a very patient man!) It makes my skin tone more consistent and minimises pores, but does not cover the skin. A good base for make up.

If I feel guilty about treating myself I remind myself of Nora Ephron who always bought her favourite, extravagant lemon bath oil (Dr Hauschka) because..well why shouldn’t she?

Big Life Tune-Up: Part 3

Future plans for income and location

When I started to think about my vision for future income and location, I realised that I have been through this process many times over the years. I have bought dozens of books, done brainstorming exercises and made vision boards. It has all been quite good fun and inspiring at the time, yet here I still am- pretty much in the same place as I was this time last year ( and the year before). It occurs to me that this is what happens to most people. We buy a new journal and a nice pen and write down everything we want and then put it away in a drawer and get on with the washing up. What makes the difference between the small number of people who make change happen and the vast majority of us who don’t get beyond the ideas stage? Well, perhaps it is the same thing that happens when we buy a new diet book ( but don’t actually change what we eat), or set New Year’s resolutions but don’t make any changes to our modus operandi.

Humans are creatures of habit. We get stuck in a routine. Having new ideas is the easy part – actually changing what we do on a daily basis is much tougher. So if I want to make significant changes in my life that lead to different outcomes (I do), then I need to form different habits. My ideas must be anchored to a specific action plan, with clear daily steps that lead me in a new direction. What is absent from most self- help books is a measurable method. Specific steps to take with tracking and accountability. I am convinced that this is the missing ingredient that has kept me stuck for all these years and has helped to keep the market in self-help and diet books so buoyant. So, using my experience of business planning, I am now building a process which will help to create new habits and hold me to account. Ideas without a plan are just dreams and the time has come to take intentional steps towards a planned future.

Bramblex

The Big Life Tune-Up: My Career 2.2

 

Well this really has been a week full of insights. Having given a lot of thought to my career, I recognise that I have been stuck in a comfortable rut for years and I have made a bold decision. I am under-stretched and not growing in my career. I should have challenged myself and moved out of my comfort zone many years ago, but I did not. So now I need to put myself under some pressure, otherwise I will have even greater regrets this time next year.

I think many people can fix their career by making some changes within their existing organisation or moving into a similar role elsewhere. In my case, I have come to realise that neither of these options will deliver what I am looking for (a real challenge, sense of achievement and greater earning potential). I have also concluded that re-training for a different career will not work for me at this stage. It will take too long and ultimately will not deliver the lifestyle I am seeking. The conclusion is that I need to develop a business rather than a career.

Within the next five years my aim is to be doing work that is part-time and location-independent, freeing up time for travel with my lovely husband and lots of reading. Life is short and I have made the bold decision to only pursue opportunities that inspire me and have the potential to deliver the outcomes I am aiming for.

My intention is to phase out all my teaching and tutoring within the next two years. I plan to go part time by July 2018, which will mean handing in my notice on March 23rd 2018. It will not be easy, but this decision has really given me a clear focus on what I will and will not spend my time on. I will devote time everyday to fine-tuning ideas for future products and mastering the new digital skills needed. Time spent on anything else that does not support my future intentions, will be kept to an absolute minimum. I will be the Princess of Productivity and have just taken delivery of my marvellous Productivity Planner from Intelligent Change (intelligentchange.com).

Now I have committed, I must deliver and not waste another second. Exciting times – big change is afoot!

Bramblex