eternal student?

I have been asked on several occasions why I am studying for a further degree and I usually trot out the accepted answers – it will be good for my career, it keeps me busy, it seemed like a good idea at the time etc. And while those answers are true I think there is something deeper – I really love learning things and like the structure of formal education. I also like getting the pieces of paper that say that I know things! I imagine that springs from a deep-seated need for recognition and acknowledgement but we shall leave that for a later therapy session!

I didn’t originally set off with the intention of doing a Masters in Business Administration (MBA). I moved roles within my organisation and felt I should know the theory behind what I was trying to achieve at work, so undertook a Managing Knowledge module. And then after finding maternity leave a bit mind numbing I decided to start the MBA. Three years later I am still here with a year to go – it doesn’t have to take that long I have had breaks between modules and have added MSc in Human Resource Management modules to my programme. I study with the Open University which is very flexible and I can combine face to face tutorials with on-line support and collaboration. The activities and assignments are very applied so I am able to use my own work context to explore and understand the theory. I am looking forward to my next module which involves designing and implementing ‘something’ that makes a difference to an organisation, hopefully bringing together the theory in a practical and useful way.

It isn’t all plain sailing, there are times (like now) when assignment deadlines or exams are looming when I wonder why I started on this path. I know it isn’t much fun for the rest of the family when I need to spend time at weekends studying rather than having fun with them. The money I have spent on this could have funded some rather lovely holidays instead. And if it wasn’t for studying the little one’s baby book would be full of facts and photos by now (he is one next month!). But I hope it will all be worth it in a years time when I finish. The only problem is what will I do with myself then.

Granddad

Just under four months ago, my Granddad died. I think the official cause of death was pneumonia but the real cause of losing Granddad was dementia. We had slowly been losing him, his playful, jokey character, over a few years. What started out as being a bit forgetful – mixing up names, going out without a coat etc, soon turned into more dangerous territory – getting on the wrong bus and finding himself in unknown places, attacking a paramedic who was trying to help him after a fall. It got bad enough that he was a danger to himself and couldn’t live alone.

Then we were in nursing home territory, which was heartbreaking – he seemed to shrink into himself in the unfamiliar environment, would get both physically and verbally abusive, believing that everyone was out to get him. Visits were a bit like Russian roulette – you didn’t know which Granddad you would get and always hoped you would get the one that sang along to Matt Monro and wanted to look at family pictures asking again and again ‘Who’s that?’.  There were bright points like when we arrived for a visit and found him chatting up the staff members twirling her round the dining room but they were soon few and far between.

Watching my Granddad deteriorate was hard and it was just as hard watching my Dad and his sisters try to cope, always worrying whether they were doing the right thing. We were lucky in some ways as even at the end he was still Granddad. On what was to be my last visit to see Granddad in hospital he stuck his tongue out at me before I left – it was lovely that even though he probably knew he was dying that there was still a bit of his old self shining through. I like to think that even though he couldn’t tell you our names in his last days, he knew that we were family and that we loved him.

Today I did the Alzheimer’s Society’s Memory Walk in his name. I didn’t walk that far – just four miles and I didn’t do it alone – as well as many people walking in memory of others, there was my sister and two of my cousins walking alongside of me. And we were cheered on by other members of our family – the first time we had all been together since the funeral. So today was a day of celebration, a celebration of Granddad’s life and our family.

Here’s to you Granddad – you may not be with us any more but you still hold us together

Queen of procrastination

to do listI have an exam looming so I have become the queen of procrastination. This week I have managed to cross lots of little things off the to do list – making a dentist appointment, sorting out holiday, finding interesting birthday presents etc – however I have done very little in the way of revision. Why?

Wikipedia states that the causes of procrastination are in debate with some researchers believing that it is linked to anxiety about starting the task, others believing that it is to do with low self-confidence or boredom, and others that it is linked to conscientiousness.  I know there are lots of people, books etc out there to help deal with this problem – in fact I think I even ran some workshops on the issue in my previous organisation so know the theory as it were – just struggling to put it into practice. And to be honest this isn’t normally a problem I have.  I am normally a very conscientious person and don’t tend suffer with high levels of anxiety about exams. I like to be prepared for things so you would expect me to be very organised with a clear plan and revision well under way. If I were a Little Miss character I would be Little Miss Organised!

I think the problem is perhaps more practical rather than psychological – I just don’t have the time. Or rather I don’t have largish blocks of time (2 hours or so) in which I can focus and get some useful revision done. Life with two children means that I am studying during afternoon nap time (2 hours at most and not guaranteed) or at night (2 or so hours when I am not at the peak of my cognitive abilities). So with 19 days to go I think it is time to call in some ‘nanny day care’ and get cracking.

ps perhaps this week wasn’t the best time to start a blog!

consultancy and personality

I am currently studying for an MBA and MSc in Human Resource Management (glutton for punishment) with the Open University. As part of my current module (The HR Professional) I have been keeping a professional development file. Which, to be honest, is a bit tricky seeing as I have no current professional practice to reflect on. However I have used it as a self-awareness process to help me think about my future career options and in particular have been thinking about whether a future career as a freelance consultant would suit me. In order to do this I have analysed my strengths and weaknesses and undertaken some psychometric tests. Looking at my preferences in relation to Myers-Briggs – I am an ENTJ so tend to be rational, logical, I like structure and plans rather than ‘winging it’. I do tend to work best when in a team and can bounce ideas off people. I have worked from home a fair bit in the past and can end up feeling a bit isolated and disconnected if I am not careful. So perhaps the sole consultant role is not for me?

This got me thinking as to whether there were certain personality types or characteristics that make for successful consultants. I then had an interesting exchange with @picklejar who wrote a blog post reflecting on her role as a consultant. She suggested that confidence, authenticity and being able to listen were critical but also that context and sector had an impact.  My OU study materials have also been of some use, proposing key characteristics are confidence, resilience and relationship building. I am not sure I have the necessary confidence to ‘hard sell’ my skills and knowledge to organisations but imagine that this grows with experience. And I suppose the same is true of resilience – once you have survived a few knock backs it becomes less of an issue. I have strengths in building relationships so can at least confidently tick one box.

The proof of the pudding is to put it to the test and with some luck, I will be getting the opportunity to do just that. My next OU module is Making a Difference where I need to undertake an organisation based project. So some lucky organisation gets to be a test bed for my burgeoning consultancy skills – I bet they can’t wait.

Back to school

I love this time of year and the ‘back to school’ vibe. It normally doesn’t affect me too much as the Open University is pretty much a 52 weeks a year affair. However, this year has been very different as my four year old has started school. So far all seems to be going well, she is enjoying it and was even awarded ‘star of the week’ last week for settling in so well. In fact she seems to be coping with this change much better than her parents. For us it feels like we are sending her off to fend for herself for the first time. Though to be honest she did go to nursery for a couple of mornings a week from 18 months old so it’s not as if it is the first time we have sent her into the wilderness.  I think it is more the psychological difference as the nursery were always very keen to keep us involved and informed on the practical stuff such as whether she ate all her lunch and her development.

I know it is early days yet and there hasn’t been time to get to know the teachers and staff at the school but information is pretty hard to come by – mostly based on notes in the school bag. I have no real idea of what she is eating at lunch time as at four years old she isn’t that informative herself – she told me yesterday that she had a slice of bread for lunch! The other concern is whether she will make friends easily as no one else from her nursery ended up at the same school and there are only a handful of girls in her class. I am probably focusing on my own hang-ups here as I struggle to make friends sometimes.

I suppose I should take my cues from her – she is really enjoying it and I am sure if anything was bothering her she would tell me. It’s all part of the learning experience for her and for me – learning to let go a little.

identity crisis

Last week was a bit of a milestone for me, as it would have been the week I returned to work after maternity leave. As it is I am no longer gainfully employed having been made redundant so last week was when I properly became a ‘stay at home’ mum. On the whole I am glad about the redundancy as it would have been tricky to combine commuting to London with school and nursery pick-ups and it has given me the time (and cash) to complete my MBA. On the downside though I have had to reconsider my identity as work has always been such a huge part of my sense of self and place in the world. So for a while I felt a bit lost and a bit unsure as to how to describe myself. As with any change I have come through the different stages – denial, anger etc and (I think) I have finally reached the nirvana of acceptance. It still says internal communications on my Linked In profile as I feel I should have a ‘professional headline’ and I keep up with blogs and Twitter so that I still feel in the loop. It’s hardest when I see roles advertised that I think I would be good at and enjoy – I am usually tempted to apply just to see but luckily the effort of doing the applications stops me.

I know this is only for a short period of time in the grand scheme of things (the money will run out sooner rather than later) and I should just get on and enjoy it rather than worry. I love the time I get to spend with my children (apart from the temper tantrums) and know a lot of people would swap with me in a second. So I shall say it loud and say it proud “I am a stay at home” – just don’t have a go at me if I occasionally have a moan about missing the world of work.