Sunday, 31 July 2011

Networking for the jobless

I just found this BusinessWeek article about what not to do when networking. I thought I was dire at networking until reading these really basic errors.  The article reminds me of a funny story from one of the most respected professionals I know, who shall remain anonymous for her own sanity.

Picture a small but mind-numbingly dull internal meeting (you know the type).  When pushed for her (non-existent) opinion on a communications matter,  she said: "Well I think we should invite Emma from Comms to these meetings in the future."

She was greeted with an awkward silence.

Emma from Comms was not only in the meeting, but was sitting right next to her.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

365 days until London hosts .... more planned engineering work on the tube

The 2012 Olympics are exactly a year away today and the Olympic Committee are all smiles and sunshine. 

London's archaic transport system, meanwhile, is still creaking and groaning under the pressure of normal, peak-time commutes.  How will this city ever cope with the extra traffic of thousands of tourists, press, athletes and sponsors?

The answer to our capacity issues it seems lies in planned engineering works, weekend improvement work being carried out on the tube over the past five or six years (and ongoing...) which will strengthen this glorious capital city and provide a more reliable service to its over-charged commuters.  Or so we were told.... 

Planned engineering works (which, it transpires do not even have to be planned: planned works were once declared on the Hammersmith line when an engineering problem was detected on a Monday morning which they could not fix before opening for service)  have long been the bane of every suburban Londoner's social calendar.  And now those critical infrastructure-boosting engineering works will be put on hold for four weeks during the Olympics. Wait, hold on.  Wasn't this all being done for the Olympics?  

The annoying thing about planned engineering work is that it gets Transport for London out of their obligations under the Customer Charter which requires them to refund tickets for journeys delayed by more than 15 minutes.   TFL used to have to provide costly, dedicated replacement bus services for customers affected by tube route closures but those have themselves been replaced by posters telling you which alternative existing bus routes you can take - and advising you to leave an extra 45mins for your journey. Closing down half the tube at weekends also conveniently prevents TFL from having to pay tube drivers overtime.  Call me a cynic but I'm starting to wonder what motivates TFL to provide a service at weekends at all.   

I'm not just grumpy because I've got no tickets to see the Olympics.  I am grumpy because my Council Tax went up in 2009 to fund the Olympics; I foot a huge bill for a dire London transport service; I won't get to drive in traffic lanes, now designated for Olympic officials, which my taxes paid for; and I STILL didn't get priority for tickets!

I'm not saying I should be asked to carry the Olympic torch for my suffering.  I just want the disturbance to normal Londoners to be recognised;  it is not all happy, clappy Olympics, you know! Let's not forget that July 7th, the day London was announced to have won the Olympics back in 2006 was also the day of the first successful Al Qaeda attack in England.  I am not exactly thrilled at the idea of an increased terrorist risk on my doorstep even if the value of my flat will go up thanks to its proximity to the Olympic stadium.  

I bet by now you're wondering why I should even care? By 2012 I'll be hiding out in DC, right? Well  I suppose that deep down I just really, really hope that London will get its act together in time to ensure that the 2012 Games do not become a tourist trap at the expense of those of you who have lived and worked here, and have actually paid for the Olympics.  

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Walmart for Brits - it ain't no Asda.

Thanks to Hank for this link he spotted on the Huff Post pages.  These two witty Scottish boys sum up my simultaneous awe and vague disbelief at the mind-blowing convenience of American living, as experienced in WALMART.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

30th birthdays; milestone or millstone?

A few of my friends turn 30 this year and it reminds me how anxious I had felt at that stage of my life.   Turning 30 is such a common cause for anxiety that even has an entry on how to survive that particular birthday.

I remember the big 3-0 being difficult for a few reasons:

1.  We cruise through 16, 18 and 21.  30 is the first milestone birthday that's no longer a rite of passage into adulthood.  In the UK the only exception is our 27th birthday when we lose our Young Person's Railcard discount and cry because we're then forced to take the bus until we get a decent-paying job.

2.  30 is the age by which most of us thought we would be married and own our own home.

3.  30 is a natural place to pause and reflect on our careers.  Right in the middle of a recession.

Around the time of my 30th birthday I was still an entrance grade Civil Servant, earning just £24,000 a year, single and living at home with my mother.  I had a Master's degree, was fluent in two foreign languages and had more than seven years of international work experience.  But there I was, on the cusp of 30 with absolutely no idea how to climb the career ladder.  Promotions seemed to slide right past me, without even a nod in my direction.  I was stuck in a rut.

I was not the only 29-year old in that position.  Several fellow graduates had joined the Civil Service the same year as me, many of us with good work experience already under our belt - but it was our youth, not our skills, that seemed to be continually remarked upon.  We expected our hard work to be noticed and promotion to be suggested by our managers.  It didn't happen.  We started dropping hints.  We were told we were not ready.  With the big THREE-OH on the horizon and my first Director General's Commendation under my belt, it was becoming harder to continue seeing myself as an average entrance-grade employee.  So I did something crazy.

Faced with the impending prospect of entrance-grade-at-thirty status, for the first time in my life I started using my network.  I began showing friends my draft job application forms, getting interview practice and reading books about recruitment and selection centres.  I smartened up my appearance, stopped politely agreeing to make the tea in meetings and I started telling people everywhere that I was ready for the next stage.  I sensed an immediate difference from my managers, who were really supportive.  Maybe they just wanted to get rid of me, I don't know, but they staged mock interviews and offered excellent advice on getting ahead.  I discovered a huge network I'd been growing informally for seven years and never drawn upon.

Around the time of my 30th birthday, I was offered two promotions and received a second commendation from the Director General.   I bought my first home with my sister.  And I met Hank.

My relationship with Hank is in no small part due to a crazy decision I made when a now-deceased friend introduced me to Danny Wallace's The Yes Man. This book describes the author's quest to say yes to everything for a year and it inspired me to see out my twenties with a bang.  In the run-up to my 30th birthday, I said "yes" to every (respectable) invitation for five whole months.    This may also explain why my managers liked me so much. [I'm afraid I did not start dating Hank because I "couldn't say no" - however funny a story that would be! - Hank came along some months later...]

I had a great time just going crazy during those months.  It was not all wild partying, although of course there was a lot of that.  I said yes to attending a bachelor weekend, where the boys stuck a fake moustache to my top lip during the clay pigeon shooting and we had a blast.  I drank at swanky or cheap bars indiscriminately, ordered pizza delivery to the office at lunchtime, went alone to parties where I knew only the host, attended cozy parties and lavish balls and crossed London multiple times in a single evening to attend event after event.  The more I turned up, the more I got invited along to.  I gained a terrible reputation for arriving late and leaving parties early because of another engagement which I literally had not been able to turn down.  It was wonderful.

At around this time I started to realise that my nearly-30 life was actually pretty darned good.  I also realised that I could afford to buy a home if I went in with my favourite person in the world, my sister.   After getting promoted, I thought about adopting as a single parent and was ready to do it soon.  I really did not need a boyfriend.  So that, of course, is when Hank came along.

Being thirty turned out not to be as scary as turning thirty.   Don't we gain a perspective in our thirties which we lack in our twenties?  For one, I've stopped saying "I'm never drinking that much again" and started confessing: "I just can't drink like I used to".   Nowadays, the idea of two people sleeping in a single dorm bed seems a ridiculous economy, while forking out $300 to attend a friend's wedding seems like a bargain.  And, of course, many of the weddings I attended in my twenties have not led to happy-ever-after love stories in our thirties, confirming for me that we must not hurry the important issue of "the rest of our lives".

Our twenties are ugly.  Let's face it.  As a wide-eyed 21-year old, I put up with nonsense from boyfriends because I feared that every attractive man interested in me might be the last.  It really is good to leave all that behind.  I'm not saying my thirties are about deluding myself that I'm irresistible.  It's much more that the extra years have given me the perspective not to care whether or not I am.  And that saves me a lot of time, money and heartache.  (I think Hank would say I should care a little bit more because I spend too much time in sweatpants, but apart from that it has been a change for the better. )

So, Jake, Tanya, Elise (and everyone else hitting the big 3-0 this year)...

Thirty.  It's not that bad.  Because, kids, the best is definitely yet to come...

Monday, 25 July 2011

A well-balanced child: caught between armpit & ankle biter

Kids Playing Rock, Paper, Scissors - Royalty Free Clipart Picture
FACT: My big brother once
made me lick a live power cable
and snort black pepper.
Today's UK headlines included an exceptionally un-newsworthy story about Prime Minister David Cameron growing up "in the shadow of" his uber-successful older brother, fellow Eton-educated criminal lawyer, 47-year old Alex Cameron.  

This utterly pointless story did get me thinking about long-standing stereotypes about older, younger and middle children.

I've long been led to believe that middle children like me are supposed to be attention-starved, limelight hogs.  Mind you, it was mainly my older brother and younger sister who told me that.  

Perhaps I deserved it; in one desperate attempt to solicit my older brother's attention, I locked us both in a room and threw the key out of the window so he couldn't escape.  I'd like to say that I was about 7 years old at the time... but that might be a lie...  

You know what?  The worst thing about that situation was the way my brother calmly explained the situation to my little sister through the locked door and off she went scampering into the garden to scoop up the key.  Curse those siblings with their deep connection to each other -  secure and comfortable in their "oldest" or "youngest" status, conspiring to free each other from the bi-polar behaviour of the (admittedly, faintly psycho) older/younger sister.

Poor Hank has also suffered.  He has had to learn to answer the phone calmly when faced with my train station-style announcements for "Attention! Attention!" and we have even re-purposed the term "Attention Deficit Disorder" to describe what happens on days when I am home alone for too long.  

So imagine my relief to read today about a book which claims that middle child-ness might actually give you an advantage in the professional world!  The Dalai Lama, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Abraham Lincoln and many other over-achievers were middle children, it transpires.  There is hope for me yet!

Few of us will ever have three children, so I guess the playground psychology of sibling precedence is pretty irrelevant to our family planning strategies.  Still, if it makes middle children of my generation feel better (for the first time ever!) about how you grew up -  face sandwiched in the armpit of an older brother whilst your kid sister bit your ankles - please do enjoy reading about how well-balanced you are.

And for readers who are not a middle child, you can play an important role in the healing of a middle child! 


Every hit on this blog is like a hat pin shoved in the voodoo doll of my attention-starved youth.  

I can't thank you enough Classic Yellow Smiley Face Clip art picture.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Job update

Got a few things to fill you in on, buddy.

Let's start with the certificate from the Japanese embassy.  Remember this was the FINAL, agonising thing obstructing my fiance visa and I was told it would take 1-3 months to arrive?  So I was considering my options ....  Then a recruitment agency I'd casually registered with (back in May) called me out of the blue to say they had an opportunity with a large philanthropic organisation based in the USA, which has just opened a small office in London.  Was I interested in a four month contract in the UK?

They interviewed me twice and then offered me a really good rate and it was too much for me and Hank to consider turning down.  I started the four month contract and then, on day two on the job, I got a call from the Japanese Embassy telling me the certificate was ready.


So here I am, stuck in the UK now VOLUNTARILY!

At least I have a job, am making great contacts in the DC office, earning decent money and trying out a completely different line of work.   And, unlike my husky, I'm not melting in the 45 degree heat (that's 113 F to you Americans) of DC right now.   Silver lining?

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Home alone 7

Mum has headed off on her summer hols, leaving me home alone for seven days.  I spent last night at my sister's flat in north London then struggled home this evening on the cramped tube and grimaced my way through miserable rain to a cold and empty house.  Walking into the kitchen I was pleasantly surprised to find someone had left the heating on ... in just the kitchen?  Wait, wait .... Oh no!

Oh yes, I had left the one of the burners on the gas stove top switched on for 2 WHOLE DAYS and on top of the burner was a FRYING PAN.  Fortunately the pan contained only a few crumbs (I'm good at that first part of the process, the "take food out of pan, insert into greedy face" part - in fact that was probably what distracted me from the second part: "switch burner off, remove pan").

I recall that on Tues morning a cautious little voice in my head had said: "Pssst! Check you've switched the oven off since you are going away overnight."  I had laughed that off on my way out the door, the "sensible" voice in my head reasoning: "don't be silly!  Why would you have left the oven on?  You haven't even been into the kitchen in the past 24 hours!"


Monday, 18 July 2011

I've been waiting for you.

I haven't written on my blog for nearly a month and some of you are understandably wondering what's going on.  

Well, living at my mum's and being unemployed was always going to diminish blog content.  You knew that much.  

And then things got worse :(

In my desperation to find something amusing to publish on here, I wrote to a university friend; the coolest, funniest person I could think of to ask.  A few days later he sent me a link to the Youtube video below.  Before I could even open his email, he died.  

It's not an exaggeration to say that this has changed everything.

Once, the "rest of my life" had seemed like it would be a long time, stretching ahead with enough headroom for visas to be considered and comfortably approved; space for ranting on blogs and tweets; learning what the hell those things actually are; room for relationships to be challenged and rebuilt; for things to go wrong then come right; and for all of us to stumble and still reach our full potential.  There would be time to be apart from loved ones and chances to be reunited.  But nobody ever told me that it was possible to run out of time at the age of 34.  That just wasn't thinkable.

My friend was brilliant.  I mean UTTERLY genius, and he just died quietly in his sleep in his mid-thirties.  He slipped out of life the way he would have silently left a noisy party.  

At times I have surprised myself by being unable to mourn his loss.  I guess this is because he has not lost anything; he just ran out of time.  It's those left behind who have lost something we can never, ever replace.  It's self pity that motivates my grief - and I feel bad about that because a man like him had no time for wallowing.

My friend, if I ever make it to the place where you are, after what will seem like an eternity without you, I know you'll give me an awkward hug, smile your wry smile and say in your slightly northern accent: 

"Where have you been?  I've been waiting for you for so long."  

 It's a northern thing.

Search This Blog