What am I doing here?

I have had a few blogs over the years, but they have tended to focus on particular aspects of my life, I hope this one will be more general.  A collection of my thoughts and interests.  It gives the opportunity for me to write opinion without annoying friends (Facebook) and to provide words, rather than just pictures (Instagram).

I really enjoy writing, but I have also been known to lose motivation on project, note my sewing machine – untouched for 6 months, my cake tins – untouched for a year, and my books on mindfulness – unthumbed.

Although perhaps that’s the point, it’s a bit of a #firstworldproblem but because we can have a go at anything if we are lucky enough to live in the western world and have a little bit of spare cash, it’s difficult to maintain motivation for a single hobby.  At least the output of this will last longer than my cake (a success) and my home-made dresses (less of a success, unless I grow an asymmetrical body).

Featured post

New beginnings

So it has been a while since I have blogged but it means that a few exciting things have happened and two I want to share with you. I turned thirty last week (that’s not one of the things) and for my birthday, one of my friends gave me ‘Big Magic’ by Elizabeth Gilbert – a book by the author of ‘Eat, pray, love’ about creativity, which beautifully managed to coincide with a feeling that I needed to live life more fully. This feeling came from a rather standard reaction to a new decade and the first anniversary of moving to a new city, a new house and getting a new job.

I would strongly recommend this book and trying something new (once you’ve read the book you’ll want to do that anyway). I already had a new ‘thing’ to try, which combined my love for doing things with my dog and a feeling that I should exercise more. If you too have these feelings then Cani-Cross might be the answer to the unknown gap in your life. I went on my first Cani-Cross run yesterday having waited four months before the Cani-Cross club had any spaces. As a result, I was pretty excited – the weather was perfect; crisp, cold and sunny (Autumn is on the way) and a run with Milly was lovely.

That’s not to say that Cani-Cross was without its challenges, both self-made: I really needed to go to the toilet for all of the run and there were no toilet facilities (I’m pleased to report that my cast iron bladder held strong); and dog-made: Milly doesn’t like harnesses and so whilst she ran in the harness I was lent for the trial, she has been a bit sensitive for the rest of the weekend. Although this may well be due to the fact that in addition to the harness there were about twenty dogs who she didn’t get to play with and who enjoyed barking, a lot. Milly loves other dogs and she’s unbothered by barking in play, but that and the harness together seemed to cause a few challenges in the car park area (though she loved the run itself).

As well as namby pambying the dog, I also had a lovely time because I was just doing something new with new people and I had forgotten how fun that can be. The club was exceptionally welcoming to both me and Milly and consequently I have purchased some Cani-cross kit and applied to become a full member of the club: get ready for some intensive harness training (giving Milly a lot of treats round and while wearing the harness) and getting up a bit earlier on Saturdays or Sundays.

My Saturday finished off with an impromptu visit to a friend’s house party and meeting a couple who lived a mile away from me on the train home and it made me reflect on how we have so much power to do whatever we want in our lives. I managed to have three amazing experiences and in total it cost about £30 (including all travel and a bottle of wine for the house party). The best things in life are the unknowns because let’s face it – if it really is that bad (though for me it never has been) at least it will result in an entertaining blog post!

How to work happy

When I first started working full-time, the things I thought would make me happy included working very long hours (to prove how important I was) and achieving things on my own (probably also to prove how important I was).  Whilst these things may be satisfying in the short-term, I have learnt the hard way that not only is this the way to burn out, but it’s not actually the road to happiness at work.

Having moved organisations in the last year from a job where I was constantly fire fighting and working on average 12 hour days to a more senior position but working 9 1/2 – 10 hours a day and with a lot less fire fighting I have made some new discoveries…

It’s all about prioritising and planning

Not just prioritising your daily tasks – that’s obvious, but deciding what you need to do this month or this quarter and what can wait.  It’s so easy to think that everything needs to be done now or to prioritise something that is more interesting or what has been waiting longest. Instead by taking note of the opportunities around you, the interests of senior management and the risks associated with projects you can make some smart decisions – completing important things whilst maintaining some sort of work-life balance.

If you work crazy hours you will end up disliking your job

Everyone has a number of hours that they can comfortably work without feeling crazy  – my ideal is 9.5 hours. Part of the reason I wanted to change jobs is because once I had started over working I couldn’t stop. I thought it would mean I would be extra appreciated at work and to some extent this may have been true but I couldn’t climb off the ledge I built myself – this reputation I had created (though it was a reputation no one cared about but me), meant I felt like I owed it to myself to keep going – I was in a bad place.

Achieving things together is even better 

So I enjoy controlling things at work, but as one person you are limited – as a team you can combine specialisms, expertise and physically do more in a shorter time.  You also have people to celebrate with, which is just a nice thing.  However, everyone does have to share motivation for the project and has to be competent, otherwise you may as well have taken the solo route.

Work in a lovely space 

It’s down to luck where you get to work and some places are better than other, but whatever happens try and make it a nice space for you, whether you like minimalism or house plants or cat stationery, you should indulge – you spend long enough there, consider it an investment*.  If you feel like your workspace is yours then you feel more in control. Personally, I think this leads me to working more productively.

*the image for this post is the coaster I invested in, which I had hysterics over when I first saw it

Being ‘polite’

Growing up I have always been excessively polite, I don’t know where it started, perhaps my mother (where all habits start?).  My friend still jokes about the time when I went round to hers after school and asked “could I please have a glass of water if it wasn’t too much trouble” (though to be honest I still don’t see why it was so funny).  Whilst I’ve changed a little amongst friends (and when other situations demand it), it still means that most of my life I attempt to lead as politely as I can.  This leads to a constant inner debate with myself about what is the politest action to do at all times. These are some of the ridiculous (but potentially normal?) things I have done, in the name of politeness:

  • Never compliment people at work on their appearance, for fear that other people may hear and feel as though I favour them, or worse, that the person themselves feels that I judge them on what they look like;
  • Never talk to people about their weight, for the reasons above;
  • Fallen off my bicycle and badly cut my knee, then attending a meeting without checking the damage to my knee, even though it hurt so that I wouldn’t be late to the meeting. I obviously didn’t inform anyone I had fallen off my bicycle – I didn’t want them to think me inept;
  • Spent a long time waiting for the ‘right moment’ to ask someone where there toilet was;
  • Spent time at someone’s house with an unbearable thirst because they didn’t offer me a drink;
  • Attempt to wear the same amount of make up as the other women I would be meeting up with (ranging from no make up, to full foundation and ‘contouring’ – I’m so bad at it, I think it’s only right to put it in inverted commas);
  • Wearing tights to work everyday – someone once suggested to me that it was rude to wear a skirt or dress and not wear tights;
  • Implying I am of the same religion as another person;
  • Making polite conversation with anyone who instigates conversation, even if I do not want to talk to them (I do try to avoid eye contact with anyone on public transport to try and minimise the likelihood of the conversation starting);
  • Apologising to anyone who gets in my way;
  • Driving faster than I want to on the motorway whilst in the fast lane so that I don’t hold up the speeding car behind me;
  • Never listening to music loudly unless I am in my car;
  • Never asking anyone to do anything that I think they might not want to do; and
  • Never giving an opinion about anything to people I don’t know for fear that it may upset them.

That is not the end of the list, but it gives you some idea… none of the things are problematic for me, most of the things have advantages for me anyway.  I also think, if I am honest with myself, that most of my politeness is as a result of attempting to do my absolute best to fit in to any given situation – a useful skill, particularly in the work place, but sometimes I do wonder… what would happen if I weren’t so polite.

Encouraging women

Last Thursday I was lucky enough to attend two separate talks by two female Professors.  Both mentioned that in order to get their foot on the ladder (in a good academic post) they had been encouraged by other staff to make the application.  These women were both highly successful in their field and yet at the time when they were decided whether they could apply for a promotion they paused, were unsure and took some persuading to put themselves forward.

I think this is something that is common within women.  One of the Professors I heard on that day, Professor Alison Liebling, is the Head of the Prison Reform Centre at the University of Cambridge.  She informed us that prisons are filled with 95% men.  In the research that had been carried out there were many reasons for this, but one of them was because women, in childhood and as they developed were taught to be self-disciplining – this meant they were less likely to cross lines.  Whilst this may have benefits in considering whether or not we will end up in prison, providing we are law abiding, it seems that this can have significant disadvantages.  We’re unwilling to cross lines, to bend rules, to over-sell ourselves.  And if everyone played by the same rules, this would maybe be okay, but typically men are willing to do all of the above and enjoy the advantages (and put up with the disadvantages) that come with it.  I think this is one of the reasons why women hold back.

I had a conversation with a group of friends yesterday, I was face-timing into the conversation (the joys of having recently moved away from a close-knit group of friends) and we were discussing potential new jobs.  One of my friends was considering a job in another city, there were two jobs being advertised in a company she was very interested in working for; she was over-qualified for one and under-qualified for the other.  Another of our friends was currently in a similar role as the more senior role and we joked around suggesting that she should apply for the job.  She jokingly agreed until she heard the salary that came with it and her response was ‘oh no, I’m not worth that’ – she had been in a similar job role for at least five years and her gut reaction was to reject it on the basis of too high a salary.  I cannot help but wonder whether some of the gender pay gap isn’t just because men are asking/being rewarded more for doing the same job, but because more men are also applying for the roles that advertise the bigger salaries.

In fact, thinking about all of my friends, most of them University-educated, the women tend to earn less than the men, they are all incredibly talented, but they have not chosen the highest paying job they could get.

Some reasons that my female friends have chosen ‘lower-paying’ jobs

  • they really want to work for the company and so took an entry level job (or on one occasion a volunteer position), so that they could work their way up to their competence level;
  • they do not think they deserve to a higher paying job (when they do);
  • they do not think their skills match the higher paying job description (when they do);
  • they do not even think they about a higher-paying job in a realistic way;
  • they apply for jobs based on proximity to home, annual leave or maternity leave.

Some of these reasons are really valid, others not, but if even very intelligent female professors need encouragement, then I think all women do.  I’m not really sure how we can provide this in a meaningful way – but I’m going to think about it.


My electric bicycle

Having moved from from a city surrounded by hills and the occasional mountain, to one of the flattest cities in the country, I thought that it might be a good time to purchase a bicycle.  Hmm, that might be a bit of an over exaggeration… Having moved from a city centre within walking distance of work, to a city where I needed to commute four miles each way and with awful  traffic, I thought it might be a good time to purchase a bicycle.

Luckily for me, I was reading the memo at the time, a sort of webzine of interesting things, and an article on electric bicycles had me hooked.  The author described her dislike of cycling, her fear of the roads and her change of heart following road testing an electric bike – I knew it was for me.

Having just moved and wanting to become a ‘local’, I went to my local bike shop to enquire about what was available, they had one make, so I bought it – I was persuaded, as the shop owner told me that he had bought his wife one; if it was good enough for the wife of a bicycle shop owner, it was good enough for me.

I am lucky that my place of work has a very good bicycle scheme, allowing you to spend up to £2000 on a bike – my bike came in at a neat £2000, but as the alternative was a daily £4 park and ride ticket, it still worked out cheaper to cycle, even when I was paying off the bike.

The bike itself is an Electron Ridge and it can cycle 15mph at it’s ‘high’ level (the level I constantly ride it at), at this setting it can do 42 miles without needing to recharge the battery and longer on lower settings.  The electrics work very well (the memo article had suggested not getting much below this as it tended to break relatively quickly) and although one of the mudguards cracked and it took me about three months to upgrade to ‘non-puncture’ tyres, which I would highly recommend, I have never looked back.

How to discuss my bike in public, however, is a challenge that continues.  I live in a city in which many people cycle, there are good cycle paths and bad commuter traffic; everyone has a bike, not that many people have an electric bike.  Even where bikes are commonplace, if you suggest that you commute to work by bicycle people look impressed – I guess they assume I look like some lycra-clad loon zooming along on some thin race bike, getting in my morning race.  The reality is that I am merrily zooming to work whilst my legs slowly rotate, with ample time to look around me, smiling as I fly past ‘proper’ cyclists and speed past the cars.

So, I feel that I cannot leave them with this false impression, if I tell anyone I cycle to work I immediately follow it with “I have an electric bike”.  Perhaps it is just normal and all owners of electric bikes feel the need to share their enthusiasm for this transportation with the world.  However, if I’m not sure I do it for that reason (though I am enthusiastic about it), I think it’s because I feel guilty thinking that people will believe I am better/healthier than I am.  I know this may sound ridiculous – as though anyone would care: if I drove to work, I wouldn’t feel the need to say “I have an electric car”.  Perhaps it’s a bit different because you would never cycle a car.  However, the point I am trying to make is that I share the information not always because I want to, but because I’m worried that if I don’t, people might think I am trying to hoodwink them.

Obviously in the case of entrenched societal guilt this is a pretty minor affair (in fact I can’t think of anything smaller – I even really like the fact I own an electric bike).  However, I do find it interesting that I react in this way.  I wonder if this is the reason that there are not more sales of electric bikes? Even though the alternative to cycling is likely to be driving, it still feels lazy to use an electric bike.

Top tips for buying an electric bike

  • buy from a shop that sells more than one brand because the shop is likely to be more knowledgeable about electric bikes and can provide some helpful advice
  • Definitely upgrade your tyres to ‘puncture prevent’ tyres – the tyres on an electric bike wear out more quickly because you are cycling so fast!
  • Your brakes will wear out more quickly too – I haven’t quite got round to upgrading these yet.
  • An electric bike is a heavy bike – I would not necessarily recommend it if you were hoping to sometimes use it without the electric assist.

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