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

19 Oct

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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.

Back to normal

25 Jul

I’m back to work tomorrow after 3 months off.

It didn’t quite turn out the way I expected.  I took the time off to help my mum through her treatment, but then she went and died on me after only a few weeks. I decided to the take time off anyway, to give me the space to adjust,  to let things settle, as well as time to go through all her things and get the house ready to sell.

3 months on;  the house is still unsold and we have sorted through only a fraction of her things. And the grieving? I’ve hardly started.

I’m lucky. Not everyone could have taken this time out. It’s given me the space to think, to digest and start to process all the memories, a finite store of memories now so precious to me. But like the house, I’ve merely scratched the surface.

For others life has moved on. People have stopped asking how I am, or they ask expecting some other, more mundane explanation. PMT or a difficult exchange with another mum at the school gates. For them, my mum’s passing is no longer headline news.  For me the newsflash still plays over.

But life must return to normal. I have to earn money, start to contribute again.

Tomorrow I will get up and put on smart clothes and do my hair. I will get on the 8.02 train to Charing Cross and walk the 20 mins to the office. I will say hello to the same people, sit at my old desk, write a new list of things to do. I will plan and discuss and prioritise, just as I did before.

And yet nothing is like it was before. My world is altered like a refracted image in a cracked mirror.  A distorted world that I am still struggling to make sense of.

I wonder if anyone will notice.

Spell M-A-N!

13 Jul

“Let’s go round the table and introduce ourselves”.

Oh isn’t this always a really interesting part of any project kick-off meeting?

Personally I get a bit nervous at this point and start writing notes; usually I’m still trying to work out what I do and how I fit in, sometimes what my workname is if I’ve had a particularly early start with the children (married/maiden/mum, it can get confusing),  so i just say something mildly funny and pass to the person sitting next to me. There are those that are specific and straight to the point “I am going to deliver X for this project” – concise, relevant. Some give a little bit more detail, but then there are those that launch into full-on self sales mode. How much they made for their last employer, how many people they have working for them, how big their package is, their golf handicap, that type of thing.  It’s like a luminescent confidence light-show in a drab meeting room with luke warm coffee. And these self-proclaimed work-Jehovas seem to be the only ones not a bit embarrassed by it, not thinking it’s a little over the top. I’m always half expecting them to leap frog over their swivel chair onto the meeting desk and start doing pelvic thrusts to Bo Diddley’s I’m a man  “Spell M-A-N”.

Or is it me that’s missing a trick here? It’s that difficult line between the confident, the not-so-confident and the scarily self-assured. Like at school when you came out of an exam and there was “A-grade Annie” bleating on about how badly she’d done, while “Ego-Eric” was already patting himself on the back for coming top of the class.  Of course Eric always failed miserably, while Annie went to Oxford.

None of this ever equates to any real ability. In fact the cleverest in business are never at the top.  The ones with the biggest balls are. As my dad used to say “It’s all margeding”.

Truth is, you might be able to sell £200 pet insurance to a nervous goldfish breeder, but doesn’t mean you can sell yourself to the e-enablement project team.  If you’re no good at selling yourself, they’ll just have you taking the minutes again, while Gerald demonstrates his finely tuned lambada.

Bored to tears

13 Jun

I don’t think there’s anything worse than being bored. Boredom destroys me.

Incidentally I also can’t stand waiting. I’ve been known to declare the end of a friendship over being kept waiting for 15 mins. Boredom and impatience; not the easiest of bedfellows.

Boredom is the reason I overeat, the reason I make lists when I’ve nothing pressing to do. It’s why I think too much, overanalyse things, invent catastrophic endings for scenarios that haven’t even happened yet. I just have to fill in the gaps, somehow, or all hell seems to break loose.

I’ve had my fair share of jobs where I’ve been paid to pretty much do nothing. In the early years anyway. A working day wiled away with the repetitive click of a mouse – click-refresh, click-refresh – like some OCD computer monkey. Other people would have bitten their hands of for a bit of time as an overpaid primate, but not me. I was utterly miserable. For me, boredom = torture.

I’m a doer, like my mum. She never stopped. Single parent, 2 jobs, dog, cats, big house. I feel extremely uncomfortable when there’s nothing to do. In fact, I’m at my happiest when doing at least 3 things simultaneously. It’s not unusual for me to be found sat on the sofa watching television while tapping away on the keyboard while simultaneously reading a newspaper or texting a long, indepth message to a friend I’ve not seen in ages. It’s like if my whole brain isn’t engaged all at the same time, if any part is left unoccupied, then I start to get very anxious. I get very low very quickly.

I’m not sure if it’s boredom or just the lack of something. But why does a gap, a break in the proceedings, a pause for breath make me so totally and disproportionately anxious? I’ve wanted to figure that one out for a very long time because a bit of relaxation, indulgent “me-time” would be quite nice once in a while. And no more so than now. But unengaged brain or body = boredom = run a frickin’ mile until you find the nearest pile of washing up.

A psychiatrist once told me it was to do with personal drivers, those pesky things that are set in place by the age of 3, are almost always destructive in some way, and seemingly impossible to change. Apparently “being busy” rates quite highly among mine. Nothing to do = bored = waste of space or something like that anyway. It has no value to me.

I think that’s why I’m struggling at the moment. At first there was an unbelievable amount of stuff that needed doing. Funerals, tax forms, property, people to advise, friends to thank. It was even kind of, dare I say it, exciting. Life wasn’t normal, mundane. Every 5 mins had a purpose.

Now, suddenly, there is nothing to do. I am bored out of my skull. I feel empty, rudderless, abandoned even.

I have so many gaps – suddenly – in my life, and I’m just not sure how to fill them.


11 Mar

Isn’t it funny how some people tie you up in knots from the minute you go to open your mouth? Not because you’re embarrassed or nervous particularly, nor because you secretly fancy the pants off them. There’s no obvious explanation for it, except that words never flow freely when you try to engage.

There are those where the conversation is effortlessly fluid, seamless, easy. All the words come out in the right order; you sound confident, articulate and persuasive. Conversation bounces back and forth in perfect tandem, easily and playfully. You feel as if you’ve known them for a lifetime and you never have to explain yourself to get them to understand. In their precense you are Joan Collins – sassy, confident, sharp.

There are others where you always go to speak at the same time, and follow it up with awkward silence. Where the right words are never at hand, and you grapple around until having to make do with the vocabulary of a pre-schooler. Where you can’t make them understand however hard you try; you just feel and behave like a schmuck without them doing or saying anything.

Is this what they call “interpersonal dynamics”?

It amazes me that so much can be going on below the surface, and that it can impact even before you make any physical or verbal contact. Body language, gesture, eye contact, power struggle – facets of behaviour and comparative self-perception that are largely unconscious but can drive every single interaction we have with that person. And so out of our conscious control.

I find it unnerving and it frequently frustrates me. Why can’t I be Alexis Carrington all the time?

Grown up bully

26 Nov

I got bullied once. Well actually I’ve been bullied a few times in my life, but only once since I was an adult.

I’d just started working for a big company. It was a pretty big step up for me, and I was nervous. £10k added onto my salary and with a lot to prove. To be fair, I probably did go in a bit forceful, false courage, acted bravado. Not that I was some kind of testosterone-fuelled head chef or agressive female stand-up intent on knocking heads with the big boys. I probably just didn’t adopt the “new girl I must flatter all who i meet with my pretend meekness” obligatory first-day persona.

So she took an instant dislike to me. Top girl meets new girl. She started talking behind my back, the odd stare, dirty look, hushed whispers. But then she started ignoring me in meetings and encouraging others to do the same. Sniggering in the boardroom. Muttering under her breath.

It wasn’t as if it progressed much further than the subtle, but it had an impact. I was signed off work for for a month and presribed Prozac. Not bad for a few hushed giggles.

Needless to say things improved, and much to my amazement we ended up being friends. We never talked about it. What would we have said? We had both made mistakes, hers worse, but it was a long time ago when we’d both had a point to prove.

In the end, in truth, it was one of the best professional lessons I’ve ever learnt. How to run with the politics and about-turn the clashes of personality. It tested me, and I came through, older, wiser and more able to shrug things off.

Perhaps it’s just part and parcel of a landscape where the pretense of objectivity is propped up by insecurity and ego. Do we just have to learn to navigate through the adult playground in exactly the same way we did at school, in order to get ahead? Is life quite simply for living and learning, or is it a lesson I should never have had to learn?

flirting your way to the top

23 Nov

I’m not much of a flirt. Never have been. Except, very occasionally, when it comes to work.

Now before you get excited, no i don’t go about bending over in front of Stewart-in-accounts desk, pencil to lips cooing “oops i think i must’ve dropped a contact”. It’s just that, on occasion i might take on the role of the damsel in distress, flutter my eyelashes a bit, while asking for some help with something i can’t be arsed don’t have the skills to do.

It’s not something i do intentially, it just kind of happens. It’s like i intuitively know when it’s right to use it. A piece of my armoury more subtle than a suicide bomber (oops, am i allowed to make trite comparisons like that?) , yet more deadly than a double spike bayonette.

Now i’m a pretty smart lady. Sassy. I’m not going to cynically whore my way to the top of the career game. But being smart is about using all your assets surely? And sometimes it really does work. No real damage or embarrassment.

Feminists out there will be shouting at me that i sound no different from the pole dancers that say they love the art in their job, or the sex workers that tell you they do it purely for the love of sex, that i’m really succombing to male stereotypes and giving men what they want. I just don’t really buy it. I hate the objectification of the 21st century woman as much as the next person (perhaps even more), but in this case, it’s most definitely me with all the power, the ones whose needs are being met.

Really, if anyone should have any kind of gripe with this it’s the men. A steely browed top exec cynically out-maneouvred by feminine charm? Unforgiveable. Well, that’ll teach them for ignoring my precense in meetings over the years, assuming i must be there to take the minutes.

And all that without wearing a short skirt. Go Milk.

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.