Thursday, 31 May 2012

I am only 24 hours from.....

Across my group of friends, colleagues and family are people with an incredible array of skills and professions.  I know teachers, roofers, a journalist, photographers and television producers.  Small business owners and Vice-Presidents, mothers of 5 who work and stay-at-home fathers.  People who have acted at the Edinburgh Fringe, with degrees in Japanese and mathematics and people dyslexic or who left school at 16 that have gone on to be hugely successful in business. 

And they all have one thing in common.  Just 24 hours in a day and a choice on what to do with that time.

A marvellous example of this was when I received an email from LinkedIn that casually informed me that one of my friends had a new job: 'Clinical Scientist'. 

I got in touch to say congratulations and express my delight that I now know an actual scientist.  His reply was: "Thanks, it only took 10 years of studying and a further 10 years at work to get there...."

I started looking at other friends and thinking about how they got to where they are.  The ones who followed their calling into journalism, photography, and production did not 'fall into' their jobs.  I remember the years of them being skint and slogging their guts out at the bottom of their professions.  

The Corporate VP works until 11, and often later, every night because she wants to give her children incredible opportunities that were not open to her.  My brother can take me on a tour of Basingstoke and show me houses that are watertight because he spent years on site learning how to put up a roof. 

Then there are those that volunteer hours of their time to pre-schools, scout groups and charities because they want to pass on life-skills, motivate children and directly improve the lives of others.  They put this time in because they have a clear picture of what they want the end result to be.

So I will follow their examples and make sure that I am dedicating proper time to what I want to achieve; their success reminds me that you only get out what you put in.  And as I do not want my epitaph to be "She was never published because she kept watching repeats of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding" you will now find me writing in the evening and not in front of the TV...

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Can you see the Real Me?

Whilst paying for some shopping in H&M on Friday, I told the guy on the till that I thought he had some incredible tattoos.  They were a bit old school in topic (ships, birds, mermaids) but really beautifully done and as he could see I was staring at them it would have been rude of me not to explain why.

What with those and the ear stretcher and facial piercings he was giving a very visible statement about who he is and in a way that would be difficult to conceal unless he took to wearing boiler suits and balaclavas. 

This led to a conversation on Friday night with friends about how much we are our 'true' selves at work, which leads me to this blog...

When I worked for a corporate business I concealed parts of my character in the belief that it would help me to be more successful.  I thought that you needed to act in a certain way and took to emulating the traits of people I perceived to be successful in the hope it would help to further my career.  This meant toning down my sense of the absurd and hiding the emotional side of my personality - basically I stopped having, and being, fun.

Not surprisingly it didn't take long to get found out and there were a couple of instances where I learned that forcing yourself to fit an ideal that is very different to who you are is never going to work.  During an office move I tripped over a packing crate and hurt my leg so badly that it made me cry (justified - there was blood and everything).  Whilst apologising for crying to a colleague she said: "Don't be silly, it just shows that you're human".  Had I not appeared human up until then?!

The second incident was as a manager when I asked a member of the team why she was so emotional about a change in the business.  Her response was: "What would you know?  You're like a robot!"  I was shocked by her opinion but in hindsight she wasn't far off the mark.  What I hid at work though would come out at home where I would end up in hysterics for the smallest thing like dropping a plate or stubbing my toe.  I realised this was not a healthy place to be.

At that point I made some changes and became an account manager where I worked with external businesses rather than focusing on internal tasks.  There is nothing like spending time with people who have run their own company for 25 years and know more than a thing or two about life to help you get over yourself and realise that life in the real world is very different to that in the ivory tower.

Their input (and saying things like - Toni, you're still a bit of a robot) set me on a path to being more honest with myself and others about who I am.  The most interesting thing I discovered was the more I am myself, the more I enjoy myself, and the more successful I am at work and at home too.  The children couldn't give a monkeys about my knowledge of scorecarding, running a 'Quarterly Business Review' and 'IT Transformation' but they do love my passion for music, art and language, and my ability to impersonate the Cookie Monster and Yoda (but not at the same time). 

Of course this does not mean that I am no longer professional or courteous at work, and I don't turn up with a thong sticking up out of the back of my trousers but now that I work for myself I am committed to embrace even more of what makes me who I am, and I will kick my own arse if I don't stick to it!

Monday, 21 May 2012

Tonight Matthew, I'm going to be......

Normally when I raise my voice it's to 'encourage' the children to do the thing I've asked them to do 23 times before.  SuperNanny states that you should never make a request more than twice - but I'm not having that and neither are the children.  It has become a sport in our house to see how many times I have to ask before anything gets done.

Pre-children it may have been to get attention when 5 deep at the bar in a nightclub, trying vainly to order a bottle of Becks by waving a ten pound note and shouting "Excuse me!"

The one place where I don't raise my voice though, is to sing in public.

So it was with much trepidation that I agreed to participate in a Karaoke evening.  Of course these have been going for donkey's years and I am no stranger to singing to my heart's content at a gig or in the car but on this occasion there were lots of people there who regularly perform on stage and know how to carry a tune or two.  That and the fact the music was provided by a pianist made me rather nervous, but I had promised myself that I would sing and sing I did.

In perusing the list of songs which included show tunes, pop, classic duets and a bit of rock thrown in for good measure, I didn't think about where my vocal range might best be suited and instead plumped for a song that I like and know most of the words to: I Predict a Riot by the Kaiser Chiefs.

In the car, I sound amazing.  Through speakers, with just a piano for accompaniment, in a small pub, is quite a different matter.  The pianist was game though, nodding encouragement and helping out on the la-la-la-la la-laaas that come before the chorus.  At the end he said that I had acted in 'the true spirit of Karaoke' by which I think he meant: 'it was a bit shit but you it gave your best'.

Afterwards my friend was very kind, offering congratulations as another singer gave a frankly jaw dropping rendition of Born to be Wild.  My pride was somewhat saved by a drunk couple who each sang a song dedicated to the other.  She looked lovingly at him and sang Eternal Flame.  By way of response he sang angrily at her that "Your Sex is on Fire" - romantic or what?

That evening my heart had pounded so hard it felt like it would burst out of my chest and all I had done was sing a song aloud in public, at an event specifically designed for that purpose.  And because it made me feel that way, so nervous and excited, I think I'm going to do it again, but next time I'll pick a safer song.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Pass it on

Last year Mr K and I sat down and told a (very professional and friendly) stranger our entire family and financial history and came away with a nicely presented set of instructions on what we would like to happen when we peg it.  As unsettling as the process was, we congratulated ourselves on completing the grown up task of having our Wills written.

Then the other day, I was sat on the floor in the living room with my children.  For once the television was off and we were playing Snap.  My daughter told me that she wanted to play a different card game and I remembered a game that my dad taught me; a version of Patience called 'Beat the Clock'.

This is pretty much the only other card game I know - don't come calling for me if you need a Bridge partner - but as I set the cards out into their clockface and explained how the game worked I had a sense of passing something important on. 

We played the game several times, holding our breath with each turn of a card that in the hope that a King wouldn't show up and congratulating ourselves each time a number on the clock was completed. 

In the course of teaching this game to the children I realised that whilst there are no family heirlooms to connect the children to their granddad they now have 'his' card game. 

We patted ourselves on the back for getting our Wills done but I gave myself a huge hug for giving our children a connection to the granddad they never knew.   I hope they teach the game to their children.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

All you Good, Good, People

If I hear one more person moan about something not working out for them because it was someone else's fault then I will scream.

Life is short, challenging, difficult, frustrating, upsetting and frightening at times.  But it can also be joyous, magical, incredible, breathtaking and brilliant. 

It is so easy to be distracted by stories about people who have done terrible things to others, who prey on the vulnerable and seek to gain satisfaction by upsetting others.  What it helps us to forget is that generally, people are good. 

Throughout my life I have met people who are inspirational, uplifting, kind and generous.  Some standouts for me are:

  • The school friends who linked arms with me when we each lost a parent, making sure we made it out of our teenage years in one piece.
  • The NCT teacher who made the mothers in our group feel empowered, and scared the living daylights out of the fathers with her videos and graphic descriptions.
  • The nurse who hugged me in comfort and friendship after the difficult birth of my son.
  • The sales director who takes time out from being responsible for a multi-million pound business to share his experiences and help me figure out what I'm going to do next in return for a pint.
  • The friends with whom I have laughed until my cheeks are sore and danced until my feet ache.
  • Whoever it was that paid for the bar at our wedding - still a secret after all these years!
  • The neighbours who have loaned lawnmowers, dug my car out of the drive, babysat, collected in-laws lost in the rain and generally been brilliant.
  • My children who have filled my life with light and laughter - and taught me to be able to deal with explosions from any orifice during a meal without breaking a sweat.
  • And of course my husband.  He is a lucky boy but I know I am bloody hard work at times.

So here's to all the good, good people that I've met out there and to all the ones to come.

Update: August 2012 - Thank you to all the good, good people that are supporting me in the Cosmo & Next Blog Awards 2012: my friends and family, the Newbury businesses (find them on RtbC's facebook page here, local media, Berkshire Business Mums (find them on Facebook here) and everyone following me on Twitter via @tonijkent.  If you haven't voted yet, please click on the big Cosmo & Next button on the blog and click on 'Reasons to be Cheerful'!

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Mid Life Crisis? Bring it On!

It's time to face up to it - I am middle aged. Much as being 37 today is different to the 37 of my parents' generation, I am probably about half way (or maybe more - who knows?) through life. I think I am also ready to admit that I have been having something that might well fit into the box marked 'Mid Life Crisis'.

I haven't bought a motorbike, had plastic surgery (unless you count getting your eyes lasered) or taken up a dangerous sport but I have been questioning things in a way that I never did before.

During the past couple of years there has been a kind of dull itch travelling around my mind; questioning the things that I value and querying the life that I lead. Last year brought a watershed when having gone home in tears from a meeting that had went spectacularly badly I thought - 'Sod this. I might drop dead tomorrow, I am going to have some fun instead'. So I left the job, started up my own business and found it to be an incredible awakening to what is possible if you decide to take your destiny into your own hands. I have more time, fun and freedom and true control over what I do and when. The family are happier and so am I. A big change, and one that I am continuing to feel the effects of, but the surprising thing is that the itch has not gone away as I had thought it would.

With freedom comes even greater opportunities, and perhaps pressure to make sure that you are being true to what you want to achieve. As well as managing the business, I am working towards establishing myself as a writer. This is something that is taking enormous amounts of discpline to do and at times an uncomfortable degree of being totally honest with myself (I am lazy, spend too much time thinking and not enough writing, my grammar needs improvement, the list goes on...).

It is hard to keep yourself on track when you only have yourself to answer to, so a little drill sergeant has appeared on my shoulder with the sole aim of keeping me true to my original promises and suggesting that I might try things that are a bit scary. Most recently the idea of taking part in an open mike night has come up - he is persuasive so it might just happen!

It is possible that this is a by-product of working from home. I have been reassured by friends that talking out loud to yourself is par for the course whether you're at home with children or working as a freelancer and plenty of them admit to feeling a similar restlessness. However, if this is a 'Mid Life Crisis' then I plan to own it, embrace it and I don't mind saying it!

(Not so) Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny

Sunday is 'Family Swim Day' in our house and so this weekend we undertook the familiar routine of scraping back hair, putting on sloppy clothes and travelling to the local pool.

Having had two children my bikini years are long gone but I found it's bigger sister; the 'Tankini', a more forgiving item of swimwear offering good coverage whilst suggesting that I still take a degree of interest in my appearance.

Unfortunately the tankini in my bag was meant more for lounging poolside than swimming and my careless habit of slinging it in the wash with everything else meant it had finally given up the ghost - the bottoms would hold up no more. With no desire to reveal my grooming habits to the entire pool and two children threatening disobedience on an apocolyptic scale if they could not have their weekly splashabout, I knew I would have to buy my way out of the situation.

Rail after rail of Zoggs and Speedo swimwear decorated the walls at the pool's shop. Sensible, racer-back, full coverage items in dark colours with the occassional neon line thrown in for fun. This was not a place for trends, it was for proper swimmers, who can do a decent front crawl without filling their nasal passages with chlorine and other people's wee.

After a short period of trying things on in the disabled toilet, which the children informed me 'smelled of old people', I made my selection and headed into the pool. And was instantly converted.

For years I had struggled to avoid things riding up, riding down, spilling out, or being exposed by the children as they half-drowned me by hanging onto any body part they could reach. Suddenly I was able to join in properly, get knocked about by the wave machine and go down the slide with everything staying in its rightful place.

So hurrah for my first 'proper' swimsuit - you might not be sexy but I sure as hell love you!


Postscript: I shall make it my life's work to ensure this attitude does not extend to my shoes. As long as I have feet the heels stay!

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

How does your (lady) garden grow?

What is it with women and hair? We enter the world with a little on our heads (or an amazing amount if you’re my friend’s daughter who looked like Elvis’ lovechild when she was born) and then, in the same way that boys do, just ‘have hair’ until we hit puberty. At that point it becomes a massive issue. Whether it’s on your head, under your arms, or in your knickers you absolutely must control it!

Becoming a teenager in the late 80′s, my memories of this are as follows:

  • Backcombing, bleaching and generally ruining the hair on my head.
  • Being told by older friends that having hairy legs is ’rank’ and then carving a strip of skin off each shinbone after applying my dad’s guardless razor to them like you would a vegetable peeler to a carrot.
  • Unwisely deciding with a friend to shave our forearms because they were ‘well hairy’. We did. It grew back thicker.

Then as early adulthood arrived, managing your bikini line became important thanks to the ‘tanga’ brief and amazingly high cut swimming costumes (thanks a lot Baywatch!). This lead to various experiments with epilators (ouch!), waxing (Jesus that hurts!), and hair removal cream (oh the stench!) before going back to razors which by now I had managed to avoid mutilating myself with.

And so it carries on into adulthood: an ever-present need to control the hair that nature has blessed/cursed you with. To date this has just been part of the female experience for me; women groom and men do whatever they can be arsed to do.

It had never crossed my mind that at some point I might need to explain the ridiculous set-up that is female hair maintenance until my daughter asked me “Mummy why is there so much hair coming out of that lady’s swimming costume?”

Growing up in a time when there was not an obsession with reducing your pubic hair to a ‘landing strip’ or removing it entirely meant I never had to have a conversation about that area of grooming with my own mother. Outside of leg-shaving (even when I was little, black leg hairs showing through American Tan tights was a no-no), people just had body hair and that was it.

Interestingly, the children’s only concern when it comes to men and hair is whether the gentleman has a ‘baldy head’ or not. Body-wise he could have it it growing like lichen from his shoulders to his ankles, exploding from ears and nasal passages, and carry enormous ‘welcome mats’ on his chest and back and they wouldn’t bat an eye-lid.

So what was my response? Well, after ushering my daughter out of the changing room and hoping she had not been overheard, I said “there just is”. I realised that for now it will have to do. I’m not ready to introduce the concept of women thinking they have to alter their appearance in that regard and in the meantime will just have to hope that we don’t bump into the woman so blessed in the lady-garden department again anytime soon.