Another one of those C days.

Today started like any other, it ended with a familiar tale.  Another call from a close friend to let me know they’d had a breast cancer diagnosis.  Thankfully, all my friends and colleagues so far have been lucky enough to survive the ravaging torture that is the necessary treatment.  There’s a little bit of me that wonders when our luck will run out.  And we will lose one of us.  That is a real fear and something to deal with. 

So, these incidents stimulate and prompt many emotional responses, and rational and irrational thoughts.  The familiar pattern of shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance is triggered.  It’s a classic, well documented response.  But the frequency of these cases has enabled a skipping through the first stages and takes me straight into depression and then acceptance (and back again).  It’s just all too miserable and we have no choice but to get on with it. 

But this is all easy for me.  It’s my friends and colleagues that have needed to generate the resolve to battle the big C.  And good on them all for that.  So far, they have all approached it with quiet, accepting and steely strength.  I much admire them for that.  Their responses have been a combination of getting on with things with as much normality or routine as possible.  There have been checks and balances in lifestyles too, ensuring there is less of one thing or another, and perhaps more of something seemingly better for one’s health.  There’s been a bit of life laundry going on as well – getting rid of things or people that they have come to realise aren’t what they want in their future lives.  And understandably there’s been some tidying up of affairs – which is sensible, but it must be a very strange experience – at odds with the ultimate aim of getting through this and surviving to tell the tale.  One of my friends is an out and proud ‘flattie’ as she puts it, after having a double mastectomy, exploring her new body and lifestyle all over social media.  Giving hints and tips to other women. 

Today, my friend was a ‘warrior queen’.  It was a response that matched her character type.  She was pragmatic, practical and planning.  That’s response number one.  She wanted to assure me she would tackle and battle, she would win and it would not get the best of her.  She wants to live.  And she wants things to be all sorted for any event, and for her loved ones to be looked after.  Her concern of the day was that I should not treat her differently and we should be the same as usual – not to wrap her in cotton wool – or to limit expectations of her or how we spend time together.  I will love her whatever; pre- and post-surgery, macrobiotic or vegan or meat eater, teetotal or party woman, hair or no hair, good wig or questionable scarf.  Of course, tomorrow will be another day, and response number two will no doubt be more emotional.  And we predict a pendulumlike ebb and flow of all those emotions and more.  They need to be expected, valued, understood and consciously processed individually and together.  And talked about, asked about, listened to.  It is always a rollercoaster and for that ride, I’m sat in the next seat. 

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Back to the office? What does it mean for equalities in the workplace?

As lockdown shows signs of a sustained downgrading and some behaviours look like they are returning to how things were in 2019, it is time to think about how things have changed and what it means for all of us.

I am particularly interested in the winners and the losers in the office.  By that I mean those that will gain and those that will not.  I know not everyone works in an office 9-5, but a lot do.  And a great deal of those are still working at home full-time, with no plans to allow them to return until well into next year.  Some are occasionally visiting the office, dipping their toes into some sense of normality.  Others have remained there throughout.  There are tensions and anxieties, and obvious worries.  But there’s also great joy at coming back together for the first time in ages.  We are relishing the human company and the sense of a real, more than an online, connection. 

For me, I always worked part-time in the office before COVID-19. Typically making it into the office once or twice a week. The rest of the time was spent on the road, on the train, in clients’ offices and the occasional ‘catch my breath’ working from home day. 2020 was a huge shift for me as it stripped out all that travel and visiting the offices of others. I am basically doing office work five days a week. A mixture of online delivery and writing. To do that, I have balanced being at home with working in my office. At first on my own, and then gradually with more company as some members of the team returned from furlough or doing less working from home themselves.

This weekend, the boss of Aviva insurance (Amanda Blanc) warned women will suffer most if we all go back to the office full-time. She talked about the risks to women’s careers and how these new approaches can also help women. Anyone who has ever worked from home knows the pleasures and the pitfalls. It can be really hard – home can be a lonely place if you live on your own, or the house is empty throughout the day. And there’s lots of distractions and tasks to look after. Well-meaning friendly neighbours think they can pop in anytime for a cuppa, and then there’s all those deliveries, people at the door, builders maybe, the laundry and childcare responsibilities if you have them. It starts to sound like people working from home need a PA and a receptionist. Some of these factors are behind why women are seven times more likely to work part-time than men, there are other reasons too such as inequality and power.

Blanc revealed at the same time it is her intention to work from home for part of the week. Great. But not everyone is afforded the choice or the luxury. And that is a key message in developing these plans, we all need to make sure there is equality in opportunity, and that some colleagues aren’t put at any disadvantages. Consultation and inclusion in the planning and implementation processes will help identify the various considerations for your workforce. As ever, we need to achieve balance – supporting the needs of the business and the employee. Hopefully then, we will all appreciate it when working from home, and make the most of it when we regroup with colleagues in the workplace. We might even look forward to a commute as a special event!

Photo by Guillaume Meurice on

What’s your plenish plan?

We are all pretty familiar with the term replenish.  It’s a word that describes the actions of refilling. We replenish empty shelves.  We replenish our energy when it is spent.  It’s all about addressing a gap or refuelling. 

A less known word is plenish.  Now, I think that is an interesting and revealing observation.  I think it reflects how we live and our tendency to spend rather than save.  Because I don’t think we do enough to positively nourish ourselves.  To plenish.  Let’s reboot that and rethink our approach.  

So what does plenish mean?  Well, to plenish is to fill up, or stock, or furnish.  I think for me, that’s about investment.  It seems like an altogether much more positive ambition than merely to replenish.  To replenish is to feed an empty stomach, or to top up or fill an empty room or tank.  To replenish suggests a deficit model, a rebalancing after things have been depleted or imbalanced. When things are empty.

I’d like us all to focus more on proactive self-input and self-investment.  We all should invest in ourselves.  This should be a proactive and not a reactive endeavour.  To plenish is to build up reserves and resilience.  To charge one’s batteries on an ongoing basis.  And I am all for that.

Today I sat at my office desk reading a book.  I felt momentarily guilty.  I was imagining colleagues were looking at me strangely.  How silly.  I don’t think they were.  It was all in my own mind.  It wouldn’t have been an issue if I was reading from a screen.  But it definitely felt like input rather than output.  I wasn’t outputting, producing or creating.  I wasn’t typing away frantically on my keyboard, firing off emails, or planning or talking on the phone – all those giving out behaviours.  Surely, I am here to deliver outputs right? 

I had to give myself a good talking to.  I was investing.  I was inputting.  I was thinking.  This inward energy will inform better outcomes. Then I relaxed.  I was plenishing. 

So I wondered, if anyone wants to plenish, what do they need to do?

First, stop what you are doing and look at what you are doing.  What is the proportion of inward and outward activity? 

Second, ask yourself (and maybe others) how is it looking?  Is there a balance, are the proportions right for you, for the role you have, or for the task in hand?  Are your energies being sapped or charged?

Third, make adjustments.  Is there meaningless depleting activity that needs to go?  This edit has the potential to reveal and release moments that you can repurpose to achieve the right balance. 

Four, then do something about it. Now you have the time and the inclination, redesign your time, plan and energies in and out.  And make sure you stick with it.  Don’t try it for a little while and then fall into old bad habits. 

To plenish gives you a golden opportunity to rest, recharge, nurture, learn and support your self-care.  Take it. 

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Midlife crisis?: Have a midlife reboot instead.

We should always take a hard look at ourselves, and the lives we are living.  This self-reflection should never be left until it is too late either.  We mustn’t lose sight of ourselves through the distractions of work, child rearing, or anything else. 

But if you do reach a point of unexpected or unplanned realisation.  Follow this three-step plan:

  1. Notice it. 
  2. Make good choices.
  3. Create your positive new direction.

Realisation can be a result of simply having time to think about our life point, an impactful self-development experience, or one of those life jolting episodes.  Things like:

  • Career or work dissatisfaction.
  • Unhappiness in marriage or relationships.
  • Health difficulties.
  • A friend, close relative, or parent dies.
  • ‘O’ birthdays.
  • Becoming a grandparent. 
  • A sense of time running out. 
  • A feeling of being trapped or tempted. 

Whatever, we need to recognise when realisation is happening.  It is common for this process to take quite some time, and to be spread across a series of small incremental steps.  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking they hit you at 100 miles an hour.  They rarely do.  They gradually creep up, until that tipping point when a jigsaw puzzle picture has been formed. 

At this point, we need to make good choices.  And some of us cannot and must not be trusted to do this on our own.  Because our stress response could be triggered and we may freeze (get stuck in our lives), fight (create conflict and tension and prompt all sorts of drama) or flight (run away, leave, or avoid).  You need to talk about it.  To someone or some people who will be helpful.  There are real risks – that we will choose to take up unhealthy habits, have an affair or two, leave the family, or seek out new thrills and spills. 

A new positive direction needs to be based upon a number of sensible conditions.  Yes, we can be sensible whilst seeking out new adventures.  Trust me.  First, acknowledge these feelings are natural and normal.  You aren’t the first to feel this way.  And second, feelings are not instructions.  By that I mean, just because you feel trapped it doesn’t mean you should escape and run for the hills.  Just because you feel time is running out, it doesn’t mean it is, and you should panic.  Or just because you feel your relationship isn’t what you want, it doesn’t mean you should leave it.

Creating a new positive direction needs to be based on also identifying the things to be grateful for.  Balance out the problems and feelings that are poking at your conscience.  What are the good things that are also in your life?  And keep talking about all of it.  To friends and family, or to a professional counsellor.  Goals need to be growth based and not deficit models.  They need to be realistic too.  These new choices need to be respectful and thankful to you and all those around you:

  • Build, don’t raze your life to the ground.
  • Extend your life, don’t abandon it. 
  • Remember that change is good. 
  • Calm down.  There really is no need to be so dramatic.

There’s no need for a crisis.  Reboot yourself instead. 

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The only people who think exams are the best method of assessment are those for whom it has benefitted.

It seems every year we have the same debate about academic assessment. And as the years pass by, the pendulum of fashion and trends swings one way or the other. People start to favour more inclusive assessment techniques, such as coursework and practicals, and then as that gains momentum, it swings the other way. That other way being towards rigid and draconian exam formats. 

Over the past year, we have witnessed the discourse around how we assess pupils’ achievements when sitting exams wasn’t deemed COVID-19 safe. The centralised algorithm didn’t go that well did it?  Then we talked about teacher assessment. That was criticised as teachers couldn’t be trusted. Well was a slap in the face wasn’t it? I get that it’s a conflict to mark one’s own work, but really?  Why can we not all settle on a sensible middle way, that combines different assessment techniques recognising and valuing everyone’s preferred learning methods and working styles?  That is true inclusivity and diversity. It is one way to achieve social mobility. 

After all, passing an exam is merely a technique.  It favours one style of learning, memory recall and the ability to write. Fans of the approach are those that can do it. Therefore, by that definition, it is exclusive. And let’s face it, those skills do not reflect the modern day workplace. When I am assessing a job candidate I don’t sit them in a silent, high pressure room, having hot housed them for five years prior, then expect them to naturally demonstrate their suitability.  Interviews are a combination of evidence, writing, talking, working things out, practical tests, and communicating in different ways with different people. I look for their abilities to connect, communicate, collaborate, problem solve, listen, support others around them, change, grow, and learn. Amongst many other things, all beyond what is on paper. 

I remember supporting a client years ago.  They were in trouble. And it was costing thousands. Their new recruit drop out rate was huge after only three months. This had been going on for years. There was clearly a recruitment problem.  I was asked to help with a new approach. I found, their problem boiled down to recruitment and selection being skewed towards selfish, autonomous, competitive behaviours at the expense of team work and support. The recruitment team, had succeeded in that environment and they were out to find more of the same. We introduced a range of varied tests, designed to highlight competences and qualities. One day stood out for me. I saw them reject a strong candidate because he hadn’t finished his written test. Why?  Because he’d been supporting others in his group to do so. I fought for his job.  He got it.  Drop out rates plummeted, and he rose to become a star recruit and quickly became a supervisor and team leader. 

Still think exams are the best way? I don’t.

Exams don’t connect with everyone.