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Moving into our Strengths – Work-wise


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Last week I had dinner with my friend. We’d grown up together in the 1970s and 80s. We’d shared so much that I thought we knew each other really well. What she told me that night at dinner shocked me. She said she wished she’d never become a nurse. She said what she really wanted to do was drama. In my mind, she had always wanted to be a nurse and I remember her mum, having conversations about it. She wasn’t sure why her mum wanted that for her, but she did and Jane took on that aspiration as her own. She’s 52 now and has spent her entire career doing something that she didn’t really want to do.

I’ve heard variations on Jane’s story many times in the last decade during conversations about how we can inadvertently try to make us ourselves into something we’re not.

Have you ever been in a job that you feel is totally wrong for you, or maybe even less dramatically, do you just don’t really feel energised by the work you do?

Well, here’s the thing, we know from neurobiology that we are who we are by the time we’re in our mid-teens. After that we don’t change all that much. If we’re a person who loves to connect, we can’t help but stay that way. If we’re not a competitive person but are in a sales job, then no amount of coaching or training can make us into a competitive person. Yet, for the most part, this simple insight into human beings is lacking in schools, colleges, careers’ services and organisations in which we work. For some older people, it means that not only have they been disenchanted in their working lives, but also they face ‘retirement’ or at least a post-paid work phase with little idea of how to find meaning and satisfaction in life.

A strength is something that someone is naturally good at, loves doing and is energised by. Our values and our motivations are also our strengths. For example, great nurses are motivated by the values of making a difference and doing the right thing.

Our strengths are innate. They are developed by the time we reach our mid-teens. By then we are who we are and don’t change very much. We can learn new skills or acquire new knowledge but what we are like as a person fundamentally doesn’t change that much.

Many have little idea of who they really are, what they are naturally good at, what energises and motivates them and what really matters to them. In my parlance, they don’t know their strengths.

Without this fundamental understanding of ourselves, it’s always going to be hit and miss as to whether we find fulfillment. Or, like Jane, we might end up spending a good deal of time doing something that we’re okay at but just don’t love.

This work matters a lot to me because had I known about strengths when I was young I would have refused promotion into a job that I wasn’t cut out for and, in doing so, I would have saved myself a lot of frustration and unhappiness.

When I was in my 20s I was doing a fabulous job that I loved. I was a round peg in a round hole and I couldn’t wait to get to work every morning.

I was doing so well that I was promoted. The new job couldn’t have been a worse fit for me. I found it draining and I was just ‘ok’ at it, I definitely wasn’t great at it. Whereas my previous job had been so energising for me.

My confidence dropped and neither my boss nor I could really understand how it was that I was so vibrant and successful in my previous role but not in my new one. I had ticked all the boxes in the interview but it didn’t occur to any of us to ask whether it was actually a good fit for me.

Needless to say, I didn’t last long in that job. But it played in my mind – how could an organisation with such apparently sophisticated selection approaches have got it so wrong.

Now, almost thirty years later, thousands of people are still struggling being in a job to which they’re not suited and organisations are still inadvertently getting it wrong.

Had I known about the importance of strengths and discovered my own strengths years ago, I would have saved myself a lot of angst and made some better decisions.

It is very sad that the self-insight which is crucial to our happiness and wellbeing is as elusive in the under 20s as it is in the over 50s.

What I am talking about here – is knowing our strengths so that we can make choices that are right for us.

Think of your strengths as something that you can’t not do. They are the things that feel like a natural part of who you are. Have a think about what that means for you. What sort of things do you naturally do? So you almost always…talk to people in lifts, queues or on trains?

Have a list of things to do, even on weekends?

Strive to come first? See the problems that need solving?

If you said a big ‘yes, that’s me’ to any of these things, this an indication that this is one of your strengths or several of your strengths.

Using our strengths energises us. If you said a definite ‘no’ to any of these things, chances are it’s because it’s not a natural strength. These are the things you would probably avoid doing and if you did them, they would drain you.

Think of your strengths as the real you. The things that are naturally you, that you can’t not be or do, that you’re naturally drawn to.

Whatever your age I would heartily recommend investing some time discovering your strengths. It’s a simple exercise and the time spent is a fantastic investment as the self-insight serves as a guide as to what to spend your time doing (and just as importantly, not doing).

Doing what you love, having a purpose and enjoying the small things in life will help you to spend the rest of your days in ways you find meaningful and fulfilling.

Sally Bibb is the author of The Strengths Book: Discover How to Be Fulfilled in Your Work and Life. It was published last month and is a practical book that contains a series of exercises to discover your own strengths as well as advice about how to apply them in all aspects of your life.

11 Ways to Find Passion in Work and Career


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“Work is that which you dislike doing but perform for the sake of external rewards. At school, this takes the form of grades. In society, it means money, status, privilege.” Abraham Maslow (1909 – 1970) His “…interest in human potential, seeking peak experiences and improving mental health by seeking personal growth had a lasting influence on psychology.”[1] [2]

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” Harriet Tubman (1820 – 1913) escaped slavery to become a leading abolitionist. She led hundreds of enslaved people to freedom along the route of the Underground Railroad.[3] [4]

Work versus Passion, can I have Both?

 Maslow and Tubman are from very different backgrounds. Both respected, they each knew lots about work, passion and a continually changing world based on clashing cultures and the times in which they lived.

Both are right as they were each dedicated to a cause and reached for the stars. However, in the 35+ years working in the corporate world, no matter what the background or circumstances, the common complaint is typically, “I hate my job and want a new one that fits my values and passion. How do I do that?”

Coaching hundreds of employees, peers and friends over the years, I came to the conclusion that I too had the same basic question. As a short-term fix I jumped from one job to another (and a big raise and new title), but no matter how exciting at first, the honeymoon ended somewhere at the two to four year mark. The cycle would continue.

The 50s – I’m not going anywhere Career or Workwise

As I hit my early 50s, I felt that something was missing from my life. It wasn’t money, relationships, friends, traveling, or my industry being ripped apart; it was my lack of passion. My BA in psychology and MBA in Marketing were virtually useless after 2000.

In 2001 I was working in Silicon Valley for a new, hot start-up and then lived through the crash of the economy and poor business models (2008). I was the last person standing in our Partner Marketing department. Hundreds of people were let go.

I knew in my heart that changing jobs again would not bring me any more satisfaction, but landed a great looking job in Washington DC at another startup; it was sold.

I needed a major lifestyle change.

I got divorced and moved to my New York childhood home with my mom. What I thought would be 6 months turned into 8 years, becoming her caretaker and holding her hand as she died. At the time that I sold her house, I was 62 with no job or home.

I moved in with my boyfriend. I had no choice but to look at my life and decide how satisfying it was. I took a few years off to read, attend retreats and meditated; it was clear my life needed a good dusting.

The 60s – Too many Deaths of Friends

Let’s face it, I would never be a Maslow in psychology or a Tubman helping free folks from slavery and getting them to safer pastures.

So I took stock of my passion. It had been growing through the years, but I always put it behind the important stuff, “my work.” As I started to take a look at my life, panic set in. Would I have enough money, was I too old to be hired, could I handle the 60-hour workweek and the speed at which everything was changing?

I looked at my skill set and tried to figure out what really turned me on (my passion – what was that again?). What activities could take me to another place where time wouldn’t matter? I discovered there was a world of activities to explore.

Finding your Passion and New Lifestyle

  1. Resources and budgets

A budget is a plan that allows you to compare the amount of money you have with your expenses. Budgets can be developed for any time period, but a monthly review is a good idea to see if you are on track. Budgets are flexible and can be changed based on circumstances.   With budgets you remain “in the know” of your resources so there are no surprises.

  1. Downsizing

In 1977, I was one of the first women to graduate with a Master’s in Business Administration. I got my first job with Ford Motor Company and the sky was the limit. Six years later poor profits and sales got me thinking the grass must be greener somewhere else. Having worked for over 10 firms, I realized that much of the grass was already browned.

We aren’t talking about downsizing; we learned it had another inside name, “dealt by 1000 cuts.” The reality was that the world was changing and the skill sets were very different than when we were trained.

  1. Living Situation

There are many different “family” units and living situations; multiple marriages, divorce, combined families, sexual orientation, homelessness, and adults living in their parents’ home or parents living in their child’s home. What will you do?

  1. Unresolved relationships

We see many of these around us. Our nuclear family, extended family, friends, marriage, living together, affairs, moving away, changing interests, illness, grief, excitement, all exist in our changing world.

My living situations changed over the years. I went from family home, dorm, apartments, leasing million dollar homes, brownstone, back to family home, living with boyfriend and now, finally, taking the step to move into my own apartment.

  1. Making Money to Survive or Thrive

Depending on your chosen (or not) lifestyle, this will impact how you live. Decide what you want and what you can afford or what can fit into your life. There are endless choices. But you must do your research first.

  1. Choice to Retire

Why retire? Perhaps you have hit a certain age, have become sick of your job, or new needs arise. The world is your oyster, if you can afford it.

  1. No Choice to Retire

Money, money, money, obligations, ego, status and power, all contribute to your choices. You need to look deep into your heart, mind and bank account before making a change.

You won’t find many volunteers who hate their jobs. There may be problems and you may choose to leave, but it is a personal choice and thus offers complete freedom to do what you want.

  1. New Life Style

As you explore your life, where it is now, and where you want it to go, this may push you to adapt to a new life style, which matches your passion. It is up to you and no one else. Then you try to make it work with others. There are big decisions to be made here.

  1. Planning

Planning is key. You need to be your own project manager and keep on task, regardless of what is happening in the world (fires, floods, tsunami, hurricane, governments take overs)…you can continue to plan and re-plan until the day you die.

  1. Baby Steps

One of the best pieces of advice I have gotten was “take baby steps.” It takes out the panic and frustration as you begin this process. Even if you could do a project in three steps, turn them into 9.

  1. Action

You must decide for yourself what type of action you will take to create changing beliefs, different mind frames and your Plan.

Once action is taken, a periodic review of how you are feeling and the results you have achieved is imperative. As we go through this change process, both beliefs and affirmations allow us to shift positions, both philosophically and physically, knowing that we can always shift it again at a later date.

Passion from the Masters

I have studied, read, and met many wise people.

“Humans create their own boundaries, their own limitations. We say what is humanly possible, and what is not possible. Then just because we believe it, it becomes truth for us.”[5]

NOTE:

This process can take a while. It took me two years. It can be fun and very frustrating. At the end of the process you may not be able to put all changes in place, but do what you can. The rest will find you.

 

[1]https://www.verywell.com/biography-of-abraham-maslow-1908-1970-2795524

[2] https://www.verywell.com/biography-of-abraham-maslow-1908-1970-2795524

[3] https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/h/harriettub310306.html

[4] https://www.biography.com/people/harriet-tubman-9511430#!

[5] Don Miguel Ruiz, The Mastery of Love (2011)

AirBnB Hostess – Heaven or Hell?


1 Minute Read

Back in my 30s, in the late 90s, when I was married (and flush), my husband, two kids and myself would travel to the West Coast of Mexico every year for a three-week Christmas holiday. I loved it there. Lying on the sandy beach, a gentle breeze always in the air, the delicious local food. At the time, Isabel Goldsmith (daughter of Sir James Goldsmith) was garnering some media attention, having built a luxurious 16-room boutique hotel inland called Las Alamandas. Reclining on my sun lounger during those long, hot days, I often daydreamed about such a future for myself. I liked to imagine myself as the hostess with the mostest, running a very small boutique hotel somewhere warm and managing a small team of staff. I imagined each day would go something like this: spend the morning making sure my guests were happy, planning the small menu each night with our resident chef, leaving the rest of my day to read a book and lie in the sun.

Fast forward 20 years and, having been an AirBnB hostess for the past two years; any dreams I had of being a hotelier have been firmly put on the back burner. To those that work tirelessly in the hospitality industry, I have the utmost respect for what you do. This ‘job’ has taught me more about human behavior than any psychology course ever could.

I live in a three bedroom, interior designed flat, a stone’s throw from the Kilburn High Road, which just happens to be off the famous Abbey Road.

Here is my listing:

“Lovely, cosy room just off the Abbey Road and only 2 stops from Euston Station. The West End and trains/buses to East London, Central London and West are all nearby. This is a very quiet flat and the owners work and live there. This room is suitable only for singles due to its size.”

My listing then goes on to say that the room features a comfortable, pull out sofa bed and the guests will have access to a large bathroom with rainwater shower head and the kitchen to make teas/coffees but not to cook breakfast or for lounging. The room also features Wi-Fi and Cat5 cabling for super fast Internet access. The price is £35 per night.

“Gee, isn’t that a bit too cheap?” said a friend of mine when she enquired about the room on behalf of a friend of hers who was visiting London and needed a place to stay.

“Well,” I replied. “It’s a very small room and I’d rather have it booked all the time and turn people away than have empty days. Besides I keep it low to avoid my guests having unrealistic expectations. They pay for a nice, clean (but small) room in a lovely flat and that’s what they get.”

Here’s the thing. I’ve learned it doesn’t actually matter whether one lives in a shoebox or a castle; travellers using AirBnB now demand the same level of service they would have if they were staying in a Hilton. On an average day as a hostess, I might be required to create a day’s sightseeing tour in London, help my guests navigate the transport system plus recommend local restaurants. I have travelled to the nearest chemist open on a Sunday to pick up a prescription when one of my guests inexplicably developed gout overnight. I have shared a bottle of wine with a guest who wanted to tell me of her marriage woes. I am a therapist, a housekeeper and a tour guide all rolled into one.

I have always been a clean and tidy person but being an AirBnB hostess has required me to take my cleaning skills to a whole new level. Take hair, for instance, or rather my futile effort to make sure that there are no traces of it in the bathroom or on my kitchen floor. Every time I host a person with long hair, no matter what shade, my inner ‘neatnik’ goes into overdrive. My bathroom floor and kitchen floor are both laid with pale grey porcelain tiles. Beautiful, yes. Practical, no. Every single hair, every crumb, every piece of fluff is visible and, yes, it drives me crazy. My dustbuster is my new best friend. Who needs a degree when just having a broom and some bleach can earn me enough money to be able to travel and avoid having to take on any client-facing work… just about.

Ninety percent of my guests only stay for a night or two, leaving me little time to get to know them, but there have been a number of amazing people with whom I have kept in touch such as the former high-flying woman physicist, recently retired, who was travelling around Europe on her own for the first time. Or the guy who left his City job to make chili-infused jelly (his mother’s recipe) that he was now selling at food fairs and artisanal grocery stores around the country (and left me with a selection to try). The up and coming pop singer who was playing a gig in town was a sweetheart too, despite forgetting to set her watch to the correct time zone and missing her train.

Then, there is the handful that I would classify as ‘odd’. I’ll never forget the Irish woman, in her mid-30s, and in London for the first time, who drank a full bottle of red, stubbed her rollie out in the hallway and tried to make a pass at my son. Or the Israeli guy who insisted on sleeping with his bedroom door open in just his boxer shorts. My most recent horror was an English guy who showed up four hours late, spilled a full bottle of (thankfully) water on the carpet and then complained that the room had a sofa bed and not a double, although this had been clearly stated no fewer than three times on the website.

I won’t lie. The lack of privacy can be a drag. The walls in my flat are not soundproofed and it’s when I’m in bed, and having sex (a rare enough occurrence) that I really wish I were alone. Lovemaking is often accompanied by the sound of doors opening and closing, footsteps on the stairs outside my room, or muffled chattering. But frankly, it’s a small price to pay for the freedom I have – to do exactly what I want each and every day.

The one-night bookings translate into a lot of washing. I have never done so much laundry in my life. It is not glamorous. I have become very adept at changing duvet covers.

For those considering being an AirBnB host, here are my top tips.

  1. Undercharge to begin with because it’s important to get reviews. This will help move your residence further up the search.
  2. It’s not necessary to offer breakfast or cooking facilities (I don’t) so think about whether you want the additional hassle of having to clean up someone else’s meal (although you can charge for breakfast too).
  3. I use Instant Book which means I don’t get to choose my guests but does mean I get almost 100% occupancy.
  4. Photos are super important – make sure your residence is tidy and take nice pics. It makes a huge difference.
  5. You can choose whether you’re a friendly host or don’t want much contact. If you work from home, I would choose the latter.
  6. If you want to rent out your entire home, you will be limited to 90 days in any one year (in London). The same rule does not apply to individual rooms.
  7. Cleanliness is super important. Stray hairs, full rubbish bins and general untidiness doesn’t really cut it with most guests and will lead to a poor review.
  8. If you have a problem with any of your guests, report it immediately and take photographs to document your evidence. My experience is that the site responds very quickly and will attempt to deal with your problem straightaway.
  9. For those that worry about items getting stolen or hosting weirdos – if my experience is anything to go by, most people are actually very respectful of your space and will go out of their way to be friendly.

If you’re an AirBnb guest:

  1. Never assume your host is a hermit. If you’re going to be late, let your host know. They may be waiting around to let you in so they can go out.
  2. Make sure you’ve read the listing thoroughly so you know what to expect.
  3. Take the sheets off the bed and hand them to your host on departure (not necessary but a lovely gesture).
  4. Try and keep noise to a minimum.
  5. Unless it has been agreed in advance, don’t assume it’s suddenly OK to bring your partner or someone you just picked up in the pub home with you.
  6. In general, treat others with the same respect you’d expect someone to treat you and everyone will get along brilliantly.

Being an AirBnB has its pluses and minuses but, if it’s taught me anything, it’s that I’m not cut out for running a boutique hotel on the Mexican coastline, any other coastline or inland, for that matter. And I look forward to the prospect in a year or two’s time – of being able to rent out my entire flat for months at a time to become location-independent. But, right now, I really must go and take the sheets out of the dryer…

The Culture Interview: Shamim Sarif – Screenwriter, Film Director


5 Minute Read

Shamim Sarif, 47, is an award-winning British novelist, screenwriter, and feature film director. The tagline for her first film said it all – ie ‘Just another British, Indian, Muslim, Arab, Christian, lesbian romantic comedy’. She occupies the unusual position of having written three novels, then their screenplays, then directed the films! What a woman. Her latest feature as writer/director is Despite the Falling Snow, which released theatrically in the UK in April 2016.

You seem to have carved a singular place for yourself as a novelist, screenwriter and a film director often of these self-penned novels? How did that happen?

I really just started doing what I loved and what felt natural to me – storytelling. And that evolved into different media. What made it possible to make the leap from novelist to director was my partner Hanan’s involvement. When we started our own production company, it was specifically to develop our own, female-led stories.despite-the-falling-snow-2016-david-johnson-dp

How does it feel to be the only promoter of gay, Muslim and Christian culture?

I don’t feel I promote any particular agenda other than being a good human being, or trying to be. I was raised Muslim but do not practice any religion. My first films, I Can’t Think Straight and The World Unseen, did reach an incredibly receptive audience in the Muslim world, though. I think there is a great thirst for role models especially in the form of lesbian characters. I was surprised by the outpouring of support and really happy to be part of it.

Have you always been rebellious?

My sister would laugh at that question. I was always the quiet one, never causing any trouble, going out, or doing anything challenging to my parents. I think my personality (introverted writer!) created that. But when I met Hanan there was no doubt in my mind that I would follow the path that felt right. It didn’t feel like a rebellion for the sake of it – more an acceptance of what was right in the face of everyone telling me it was wrong.

We have read that it was not easy for your Indian/Muslim/Palestinian families when you married producer Hanan Kattan? Have things settled down now?

It was very difficult. Twenty years ago even more taboos existed. But yes, things settled down. The great realization we had was that the more we focused on the drama and stress, the worse it got. So we decided consciously to focus on building our own family and let others be part of it if they wanted to.

Has age helped with this evolution?

Age helps with everything except my running speed and eyesight! I think breaking away mentally from your family is a huge ask and an accelerated maturity in a way. I’m definitely less and less concerned with how people perceive me as I get older.

How has being in your mid-40s influenced your film-making/writing?

I hope experience improves everything – I feel it does. Also when you have lived through certain experiences like marriage and children, it gives you an insight that you can’t quite have when you are much younger.

I Can’t Think Straight seemed to be autobiographical but what about your recent film, Despite The Falling Snow?

Despite the Falling Snow is not based on any family history but it continues with themes that have always formed part of my work. The way two people from very different points of view can open up the world to each other. How love can be transformative to our way of thinking. And how politics creates pressures that test our characters to the limits.

It seems to be a good idea, especially with the long haul that is film-making, to be working with your wife? Is it?

Yes, it’s an excellent idea. I think it’s hard for partners to be separated for that long and working intensely on something together is fantastic (maybe more for me than Hanan, who has a harder job in my opinion!) We also take our children, Ethan (17) and Luca (13) with us when we film, so we stay together as a family as much as possible. They’ve appeared in every film we’ve made.

Why the Cold War for this film and the 2004 novel that it’s based on?

It’s always been fascinating to me, and I don’t think we see the Cold War much from a female perspective, and I loved discovering it through Katya’s eyes.

Do you have any futuristic visions for old people’s homes/care? What would you like to happen to you?

I haven’t thought about it much but the older I get the more I feel that family and friends – a human connection – is so important. And that’s quite something for me, because I am often happy in my own world as a writer. I would love for us to be always be near our boys and to maintain a lot of our great friendships.

Shamim Sarif will be in conversation with Helen O’Hara at the Hampstead Arts Festival on 13th November. You can buy tickets here.

You’re never too old to join technology’s bright young things | Business | The Times & The Sunday Times


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Suzanne Noble admits that some people think she looks more like a technology entrepreneur’s mother than a tech entrepreneur herself. Her 24-year-old son even suggested that he take the helm of her money-saving app to tackle the ageism she has faced.

Ms Noble demurred. “I’ve consciously made a decision to be the person that’s at the front of this because I recognise that without a marketing budget that was going to be the easiest way for me to [attract attention].” But it is a double-edged sword. “I’ve had prospective investors say to me: ‘We wouldn’t normally invest in somebody like you.’ Meaning somebody of your age.”

Read the full story here: You’re never too old to join technology’s bright young things | Business | The Times & The Sunday Times

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