Confessions of a Workaholic

Today I sat and arranged my maternity leave.

Whilst this may seem like a normal every day thing for many women, for me it was a big step. It was a step towards acceptance and it came with the acknowledgement that I had finally burned out. I’d reached my maximum capacity and I really needed a break as soon as possible.

For a long while now I have proudly worn my workaholic badge. Proudly rattling through hour after hour of work, juggling life with 2 small children, studying for further professional qualifications and then throwing a bit more work in for good measure whilst my children are asleep. Keeping previous maternity leave to a minimum for fear of missing out on opportunity. Challenging myself to continually improve, striving to be the best I can be and all the while telling myself that I can indeed have everything.

As women we can be our biggest critics and I’ve realised this is definitely true for myself. No one around me has put the pressure on me that I have myself. No one has questioned my performance, no one forced me to do more education, no one has asked me to work until late at night, no one expected me to work full time around my children or work up until 38 weeks pregnant as only by doing this could I then be a fully committed member of staff. Only I have applied all of this pressure as I have pushed myself over and above my limits striving for perfection as a person, a mum and in my career.

Now I find myself staring at a computer screen trying to remember what my focus was supposed to be on. I find myself questioning the career I’ve worked so hard to build. Struggling to take one more phone call from a tenant, snapping at my partner and children. Lying in bed at night mulling over the daily tasks and everything I’ve forgotten I needed to do. Beating myself up regularly with the dreaded ‘mum guilt’. Walking around in what feels, a permanent haze with no physical energy to push myself anymore. Living with constant headaches as my body is trying to tell me “no more”. It’s safe to say I am exhausted and only now am I accepting this.

The purpose of this blog is not to delve into the argument of whether women really can have it all, who am I to answer this question and what exactly does that mean anyway? The purpose, is to remind all working mums that it’s ok when all that balancing becomes too much.

It’s ok to admit defeat, hold your hands up and accept that you may have just reached your maximum limit. It does not make you weak, it does not mean you’re a failure and it doesn’t make you any less of a good parent, work colleague or person.

For the first time I will be taking a full maternity leave and starting it as early as I can. Taking some time to ‘just’ be a mum, giving my head some much needed rest from work and taking time to re-evaluate what’s truly important in my own life, because somewhere along the way, I fear I may have lost sense of that.

I am fortunate to know that my career will be there waiting for me at the end of the day and if I’m lucky, I have a further 40+ years ahead of me in my working life!

Whilst I’m not sure I’ll ever really reach a stage of not being a workaholic (I can but try), I know that the time we have here is precious and it’s important we are using that in ways we won’t regret. To not lose balance, to spend time with those little people in our lives and to take time to look after ourselves.

Only when we are truly the best, healthiest version of ourselves can we then hope to achieve great things and help others in the world.

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A New Generation of Ageism

Sitting in the court room with my colleague waiting to present a rent arrears case in front of the Judge. “Mr Freeman and his apprentice next please.” My colleague giggled as I turned to the court clerk and realised I was the apprentice he was referring too. Feeling slightly embarrassed, I stood up in front of all the other Housing Officers in the room who watched as I went to present my case.

I was not an apprentice, I was a 26 year old Housing Officer –  a professional with 10 years experience within the sector who had long since passed the apprenticeship that had begun my career. Despite this, the clerk had made an assumption based simply on my perceived age. I didn’t correct him.

A few weeks later I sat at a National Housing Federation event surrounded by fellow colleagues, all networking and discussing their experiences.

“So, how long have you been working within the industry then,” a gentleman who had been discussing the various industries he had worked asked.

“Oh, all my career, I’ve never done anything else” I gleamed.

“Ahh what’s that, 3 years then?” he retorted.

Was this a joke? Or was this casual ageism? It turned out he had only been in the sector for 6 months yet, as he was approximately 20 years my senior he felt this put him in a position of superiority over me.

It was only following this conversation that I began to reflect on how often my age had come in to question during my career.

“One in five adults believe they’ve experienced ageism in the uk, with a quarter of young adults believing they’ve faced discrimination because of their age.”- BBC Radio 5 live survey.

I have faced the cliché experience barrier on many occasions when trying to progress in my career. Applying for jobs to be told I did an amazing interview, was really liked, there was nothing else I could have done and that it simply came down to experience. But how does a 26 year old compete with a 46 year old on years of experience!? The fact is they don’t. Is this indirect age discrimination?

Image result for the young do not know enough to be prudent

There is a lot of talk around the sector at the moment of how we encourage and retain young talent but for as long as experience remains a major defining factor when we are looking to recruit, then so does age. We are blocking younger people from being able to reach levels of seniority. We are indirectly discriminating on grounds of age and this needs to change if we want any hope of getting fairer representation within the sector.

Do I want to remain working within an industry where I am having to constantly battle to be taken seriously simply because of my age?

Well yes, I do, because I LOVE social housing. But the same won’t be said for everyone. We will forever lose out to other industries who encourage and nurture young talent, if we don’t look at the beginning of the process and the recruitment of staff.

This sector needs organisations full of diversity in order to fully empathise and embrace the diverse range of tenants and needs within social housing and age is a huge part of that. We need to ensure fairer representation amongst staff and boards alike.

At a time when under 35’s are increasingly finding it difficult to get on to the home ownership ladder,  when organisations are choosing to bypass them on allocation lists and when the financial pressures of the under 35s is being heavily discussed, it has never been more important for us to ensure we have a voice!

So my plea, from one young person to the leaders of this industry is, let’s stop looking at age or ‘experience’ and focus on skills, talent and potential.

To Nelson Mandela , who once said, “the youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow”, I would ask why can’t the youth of today also be the leaders of today?

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Be Brave, Be Bold

I recently attended the National Housing Federation’s Young Leaders Conference (shout-out to my fellow #yle17 folks), where several speakers discussed the importance of “your story”.  What makes us the individuals we are today? Where does our ambitions and drive come from? How can we use these stories to channel our focuses, drive our values and morals and to be the change we want to see in this world?

So this got me reflecting on my story…

I started in Housing as a Modern Apprentice, working for a fantastic company, surrounded by amazing colleagues who I was frankly in awe of. I was in a company of many different kinds of leaders, from the inspirational manager I worked for at the time, to fellow Officers and Assistants who took the time to nurture me, engage the 16 year old me into the world of work and open my eyes to the amazing career I could have in Housing.

Very early on I knew I wanted to be a Housing Officer. I wanted to help people to be the best version of themselves they could be, encourage tenants to live happy lives, make sure everyone had the right to a home and eradicate homelessness. Ultimately,  I wanted to change peoples lives and to do this I was going to be a Housing Officer!

Well..fast forward a few years (and a completed apprenticeship, a reception role, customer contact centre role and a Housing Assistant position) and my break finally came (*Yipeee*). I was promoted temporarily, into a Housing Officer position and thought that was it and I had made it in the world (oh the naïve version of me)!

The problem was, unfortunately this position came at a time where I was experiencing very difficult personal challenges – I became a single mum, I had to give up my home, I experienced a difficult loss and all at a time where I had just stepped up to learn a new position in a company that was, well, unsupportive. I worked for ‘leaders’ who demotivated me; told me I was weak, micro-managed me, pulled my work to pieces, criticised every decision I took and ultimately left me starting to question if everything I had worked so hard for up until that point in my career – was really what I wanted.

The turning point came in a meeting where I was told they would be returning me to my Assistant role and that I couldn’t be a Housing Officer. This re-ignited something inside me and sparked me into action….

That same afternoon I walked right into that office and handed my notice in. I took the time to thank them for the opportunity they had given me, but ultimately remained certain that I was NOT returning to an Assistant role.

Naturally, my manager thought I had lost my marbles.”You’re going to give up a permanent position with nothing to go to?” Well, yes…yes I was, because deep down I knew I was capable, I knew what my heart and mind had always been determined to do, no-one was going to tell me I wasn’t good enough and I WOULD have something to go to…

I never did return to an Assistant role. It took a matter of weeks before I was snapped up and in my next Officer position.

Fast forward to now and I am still a Housing Officer (what do you know – it turn’s out I’m pretty good at it) *beams*, working in an organisation where I am surrounded by more amazing people and leaders of the Social Housing Sector. They challenge, motivate and inspire me. They encourage me daily to become the best version of myself I can possibly be – to go out and make a difference in the world. More crucially they believe in me, and as a result of that I have more confidence to go forward with my dreams and ambitions that I would once never have dared to believe possible.

The moral of my story you ask?

·    ALWAYS know your own worth

·    RESPECT yourself enough to walk away from any situation that no longer, serves you, challenges you or makes you happy

·    REMAIN focused on your goals and ambitions 

·    DARE to go out there and GRAB your dreams by the short and curlies!!

and finally to quote one of the fantastic taglines from the recent Young Leaders event I attended:

·    #bebrave and #bebold

*casually inserts one of the best movie quotes of all time, from ‘the pursuit of happiness’*