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A portfolio career: why it’s the only choice for working mums

19 Oct

image courtesy of

I’ve left and gone back to work at least 3 times in the past few years. It’s not so much that I don’t know what I want, more that that kind of work just doesn’t quite do it for me anymore.  I mean I like working, I’m much happier working and am in no way a voluntary stay at home mum.  So I keep going back to work, hoping to find something different.  Maybe to find that I’M different.  But I don’t. The corporate life just doesn’t seem to “fit” anymore.

And then someone mentioned the idea of a “portfolio career”.  I quickly googled it “A tapestry or a variety of eclectic employment experiences that when combined are the equivalent of a full-time position”.  Hmmm, interesting.  I read on. “Portfolio careers offer more flexibility, variety, and freedom..” mmm sounds good “but also require organizational skills as well as risk tolerance.” Organisation skills – check, I’m the professional equivalent of a one-man band. Risk tolerance?  Heck, my mum just died so I, more than most know the value of grabbing life by the short and curlies. Check, check and double-check.  

“Portfolio careers are usually built around a collection of skills and interests”.  Bingo. Just like my mum I thrive on being busy and am never happy unless I’m doing 3,4,5 things at once. I’m rubbish at focussing on one thing at a time without getting bored / distracted / impatient. Plus, it’s not like we’re talking about anything very new, us mums have been doing this kind of thing for ages. And now you can get paid for it? Huzzah!

So I was sold.  I think the thing is that once you’ve been out of work for any period of time, you realise that the typical 9-5 doesn’t have to be the only way. When you’re in the midst of it, it feels like a given. It’s what people do, it’s what YOU do. Only when you take time off, for maternity leave or some other significant life event, and you’re away from the confines of an office during those missing daytime hours, do you start to notice there’s a whole other world out there.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m more than aware just how fortunate I am.  For many, work is an obligation not a choice. Liking it or being fulfilled by it doesn’t mean jack. So lucky? Yes of course.  I’d still rather have my mum.  But if losing her means I have this chance to do something that fits me better, that gives us a better balance in our family life, well I reckon my mum would have been made up.

And if you want to know what the portfolio looks like, and how its risk/reward ratio stacks up? Well, you’ll just have to wait and see.


5 Aug

A couple of years ago I went through a period of acting a bit strangely.

I’d been in the middle of a third life crisis for a while , and I think in hindsight I was also struggling after becoming a mum the second time round. Little Milk had been testing to say the least – “a big character” some might say. “A frickin lunatic” I’d proffer.  Off the career ladder and looking after pooing/screaming kids 24/7 and I found myself asking “is this it?”. Somewhere in the midst of all that soul searching and quizzing and introspection the subject of my own mortality came up, as if it was the only major milestone left I could think of. Not exactly rational. But I was hooked.

I just couldn’t stop thinking about what it was going to be like when the time came, how it might happen, and when.  I also became unhealthily fixated on obituary sites. Now if you’ve never visited a site like “Gone too soon” (my favourite) let me explain. They’re a chance for people to write memorials to the recently deceased, or to commemorate the anniversary of an old passing, or to mourn the loss of a baby born pre-term.  The title is a clue to the fact that most of the deaths are unexpected, sudden, shocking; due to illness (usually cancer), accidents (fires, car crashes) and a really surprising amount to murder. Many are described in horrific detail and many put to music, most commonly “Every breath I take” by The Police. Needless to say they are heart-wrenching, deeply upsetting and reflect a horrible part of life that you usually try to ignore.  That is, evidently, unless you are me.

For a while it was all I thought about, and it scared the shit out of me.

Thankfully there was some forced intervention this obsession slowed and I got on with living.

In any case, when my mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer I was a bit worried to say the least. I expected my fear of death to my dragged up again and to find myself rocking back and forth in a darkened room, curtains billowing and Police on the stereo at full blast.  But I didn’t, and I haven’t.

Actually I’ve been pretty sane. In fact I was thinking today, it doesn’t scare me anymore, the death stuff. I think the thing is, the more you cope with, the less you fear. It’s somehow easier to put it in perspective and be stoical. Now I just find myself thinking – “Either there’ll be nothing and I won’t know any different (in which case, duh, get over it), or I’ll get to see my mum again”.  And that last bit just makes me smile. Wouldn’t that be something.

Thanatophobia “An intense fear of death”.

Next post: Not about death. I PROMISE!

What was i thinking?

22 Nov

Many of you will be aware that I went back to work recently. Well, i’m working a contract, but hopefully there’ll be more where that came from. You see, I’d been off work for over 2 years. I’d struggled at first, I mean, really really struggled, and then I’d slowly begun to accept that maybe I would be at home until the youngest was at school. And I was okay with it. I had the routine down, had lowered my expectations of what kind of mother I could be (flawed), and I was starting to settle. Yes, JUST starting to settle after 2 years, let’s just say it had been one bleedin’ long bedding in period. Yes i was still a bit jaded, mouthed off once in a while about why women couldn’t have it all, but I was living with it. Struggling with my identity, going through some kind of third life crisis, but living with it all the same.

But then i went back to work, and i’ve got to say – WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING? Me, Milk, a full time mum? 14 hours a day, non stop fetching, cleaning, cooking, wiping, mopping, shrieking? It’s just too bloody difficult. It’s not me. I’m too impatient, petulant, easily bored, obsessive, emotional, – goddamn too bloody tired most of the time to do all that.

My life suddenly has more balance. I have children days and work days. Weekdays and weekend days. Work clothes, sloppy clothes and, goddamn it, i now even have sexy clothes (and a sexy new fringe may I add). But seriously, this IS me. I think I might have lost myself for a while back there. Convinced myself i was someone else because, well, i had to.

But do you know what? I might have found it difficult, I might be happier having some me time and ponsing on a bit about monetising content and defining user journeys, but I jolly well did prove i COULD do the stay at home mum thing if I really really had to. Just pretty please don’t make me do it again.

Milk Retrospective: According to Karren Brady you can have it all

30 Oct

I thought it was time for another Milk Retrospective because i have bugger all new ideas i was really concerned some of my later readers might have missed some early gems.

This post came early on in Milk’s career at a time when i was, shall we say, just a little obssessed with the question of whether women could have it all. Angry – for feeling a bit let down by all those people who’d told me i could and would be able to, amazed at how other women seemed to be doing it, resigned – to giving up a career i’d worked hard for but was unprepared to make the sacrifices for.

Now, having gone back to work on a contract part time doing what i love, i have to admit it’s maybe not all the doom and gloom my early Milk self wanted to believe. My hopes are up (just a bit) and i’m experimenting. I’ll let you know what i find.

In the meantime, enjoy.

As if answering my post Having it all Karren Brady was interviewed in yesterdays Daily Express stating defiantly “My goal is to have it all” with a photo of her looking more than a wee bit smug. I read on hoping to be enlightened. Just how did one of the UK’s most successful business women (MD of Birmingham City Football Club at 23) manage to find a life balance between her high pressured career, and raising 2 kids (now 13 and 11)?

She talks passionately about wanting girls to believe they can do anything they want “brain surgeon, engineer, scientist” clearly believing, no doubt through experience, that women can succeed even in the most male dominated industries. Acknowledging that she has a “hectic family life” she goes on to boast that she “doesn’t have any full time help”. I am impressed.

Apparently the key, according to Karren, is to share the childcare with her husband (also a football manager) and to work as a team. Hmmm, no real insight here. I read on, hoping for some tangeable hints and tips on how she actually makes it work. However, this is where the cracks begin to show. She advises the reader that it takes sheer hard work to get to the top and sacrifices along the way like missing swanky nights out (ok could deal with that, not much of a party animal anyway), .. all the christmases …., the holidays, the….”. Hold on, did she say christmases? I can’t imagine missing one christmas day with the kids, let alone plural.

And so the truth comes out. In the end, it is still all about making choices. Work or kids. And as Karren finally admits: “If you choose work you can’t sleep at night, because you feel bad you’ve not been there for your kids”. Sounds like she’s got a lot of experience in that department. Thanks Karren for finally coming clean.

It seems even Karren Brady doesn’t have any real answers. You might be able to “do” it all, but that is still a far cry from “having it all”. I suppose, in fairness, Karren Brady did just say her “goal” was to have it all. She never said she’d succeeded. I stand by my original post.

Click here for article in full

It’s a mummy’s life

30 Sep

I’m guest posting today over at It’s a mummy’s life. Ooh get me. Well what can you do? She sought me out, offered me oodles of cash to spread my precious talent around. At first i wasn’t sure, i mean i don’t want to dilute the Milk brand now do i? But then i got to thinking….

Ok, who am i kidding. Holly’s blog is great and I ran to her, plus she’s got way more followers than me, so i thought it might do my surf cred some good.

In any case, check it out. It’s all about my return to work and feeling like a fish out of water…..or not. Her blog “might” be worth a little look too. Just a little look mind. There can only be one mummy blogger bitch round here.

Get back to work Milk!

12 Sep

I got a message while i was living the highlife at Haven from an old friend of mine i used to work with in my Manchester/Liverpool days. He needed someone to help him deliver a marketing project for 3-4 months and he thought i’d be ideal.

Ego – kerching!

So there i was muddling along quite happily, having dealt with some of my own demons over the past year or so, and finally settling down into the life of a SAHM. I’d pretty much resigned myself to the fact i would probably be doing it until the littlest was at school, and i was okay with it. Sort of. Then i got the phonecall, and i saw the job description and these butterflies starting fluttering around in my stomach that i thought had long dissipated. A part of me that had been hibernating for a few years, initially subdued by force, seemingly lounging in acquiescent slumber. I realised that maybe my career drive hadn’t quite left me, temporarily or otherwise.

I was immediately up for it. More than that actually. I felt a sudden selfish urge. Sod the kids. How was i going to make this happen?

Ok so my motherly instincts did kick back in at some point, and i starting weighing everything up and working things through sensibly. And luckily i was able to make sense of it all and put the relevant plans into place.

So i start this week. Exciting. Coffee breaks and heels, what more could a woman want?

And i never knew its appeal until an opportunity came and smacked me in the face.

Now i’ve just got to work on the husband. He’s got off scot free on the homemaker front these past few years. I’ll have to get his marigolds back out and clean his pinnie. The nice one with the breasts on it.

We’re going back to the interesting and befuzzled division of roles of the modern-day world for a bit. Wish me luck!

third life crisis

10 Sep

I thought about becoming a teacher recently. Well what 30 something middle class woman hasn’t?

That’s after i tried the studying thing, considered freelance writing, bought a piano to revisit my musical days, investigated ballroom dancing, cookery classes and cake decorating. And of course, as you know, i was set to do the charity thing before i got fired for being unkind about fat people. (Bigots, hear me, it was about BIGOTS!)

But the teacher thing comes back every now and then, and i haven’t put it to bed yet. I was seriously put off yesterday though when a newly qualified teacher (male) told me at a kiddies party that to be a successful teacher you could never ever show any signs of weakness, and that truth be told it was best to make the kids hate and fear you.

All this about primary school teaching. Ouch.

Actually this 3rd life wobble seems amusingly common amongst us 30 somethings. We spend our third decade trying to come up with the “idea” that will see ourselves as our own boss, inspire the nation to spend their hard earned cash on getting us rich quick, sending us spirally up the ladder of social mobility and into a detached house in Surrey with a downstairs toilet and concertina patio doors.

Truth be told, most of us just don’t have the brains or the balls. The best idea we manage to come up with was patented in the 1970s or sees us as yet another cafebar casualty licking cappucino froth from our open wounds.

So we get real, resume kissing our git of a boss’s arse because we need to carry a few holiday days over, and knuckle down to the daily 9-5 grind with a hiss and a false grin.

Or we start thinking about teaching.

It only takes a year to train, and the pays not too bad. All the best reasons for becoming a teacher. So what if the kids are our future?

But them someone comes along and tells you it’s no easy road these days and you’ll have to develop nerves of steel and an iron grip.

Hmmm, maybe that idea of mine could work after all? Now all i need to do is work out how to sew some wheels onto a pair of shoes….

Remember your obligations woman!

5 Sep

First, read this:

Tough life for stay at home mums?

I’d love to throw this woman to a lion’s den full of us blogging mothers and see how she got on for just a minute. As if filling the dishwasher was the hardest thing we encounter on a daily basis.

BUT, if you can, pick your jaw off the floor for a minute and try and see past the misogynistic and deeply patronising undertones in this article. If you can do that (and it will take some doing) she does raise a very interesting question that i think is worthy of some discussion.

Now come on we’re adults here, stop calling Ms Schlessinger a *tch for just one second and listen.

If you know a bit about me you’ll know i’ve been pretty hacked off recently at realising that I couldn’t have it all. Or at least i wasn’t prepared for all the sacrifices i’d need to make to get there. I do feel a bit that women have shot themselves in the foot . Not that women shouldn’t have all the rights and opportunies that men have, but that so much is now expected of women. To pursue their own ambition and achieve professional success, whilst still (in most instances) raising a family and submitting to that huge responsibility. We’re not HAVING it all, we’re just DOING it all.

And of course, this expectation and drive comes from nowhere stronger than within. The critical voice saying that we must do it all, have it all, or we risk sullying the name of those that went before us and fought for our freedom.

We’re raised to believe, as women, that we can do anything, achieve anything if we shout loud enough and are single minded enough to compete against the men. Only to find ourselves later struggling to over-ride the urge for self fulfillment, to downplay our own needs and wants when a child is born. Are these two drivers, one selfish, the other selfless, ultimately in conflict?

And so, returning to the lovely Ms Schlessinger for a minute do we just expect too much nowadays? Are we too selfish in our pursuits? Have we become all about the having rather than the doing?

People will say rightly so. But returning to me just for a second (yeay my favourite subject) this having/being/wanting over doing hasn’t made me very happy has it? I wanted a successful career, a happy family and it’s smarted a bit that i couldn’t have it all. And actually, in some small way my life has been simpler, less stressful, calmer since i embraced my SAHM status and stopped rallying against the responsibility that i sometimes feel is suffocating the selfish me.

So should we just get on with it and stop moaning? Put our children first without questioning where that leave s us?

Now we’ve pondered that for a bit, good. You take her arms and I’ll take her legs. You in the corner, get those pooey nappies ready for hurling. Right. One. Two. Three….

Stay at home barbie

23 Jun

I used to think that stay-at-home-mums were a specific breed and that i was of an entirely different pedigree.

Stay-at-home-mums could never have been interested in a career, or ever been good enough at it. Were more interested in craft and baking, tea parties, discussing all over body tans and whether Camilla was old enough for a pony.

Stay-at-home mums liked to chat. About nothing. Endless chitchat. Gossiping. Complaining. Showing off.

They spent all their time on the phone, or shouting at their kids to get down from the sideboard.

They had certainly never been to University (otherwise they’d have wanted that career, surely).

They were either the earth mother type, all floury and flowery, or had married into money (or more of it).

And then (so unlikely i had thought) i became one.

And realised that being a stay-at-home mum is a circumstance not a disposition.

Stay-at-home mums come in all shapes and sizes. Have different stories. Different motivations and expectations.

I have met an ex lawyer, a head teacher, a secretary, a doctor, a hairdresser. All taking a career break to look after their young children. Feminists, community activists, triathletes. All just trying to make it work. Unified by luck or brevity for choosing this path.

It seems Breadwinner Ken will have to go back on the shelf next to my copy of The easy way to overcoming prejudice.

I admit it. I’m scared.

23 May

That’s right. Scared. Anxious. Most of the time.

They say its evolutionary. The fight or flight instinct. Except now we have nothing to use it for, so we experience it in all manner of inappropriate situations. It’s not necessary, and yet, ironically, it still plagues us.

And boy does it plague me.

I think i live in a state of anxiety 98.4% of the time. For most of that time i’m not even consciously aware of it. Certainly not aware why. It’s just a state of being. A state of mind.

And a state of body. All tense, painful and tight.

Funny thing is i’ve put myself into a situation in the past year which is crack cocaine to anxiety.

All the things i usually rely on to feel secure, routed, in control. All the familiar things, I’ve taken away from myself.

Walked away from my career. A good salary. A clear path of where i’m going. What i’m aiming for.

Found myself a mother of two.

Two noisy, messy, dangerous boys.

And i’m so not in control of very much anymore.

I certainly have no idea where i’m going. I’m not even sure what tomorrow holds.

Except a whole pile of washing and a lot of patience.

Have i made the right choices?

Am i being irresponsible?

Will i ever get my career back?

And it scares me. And i’m exhausted.