A Missed Opportunity

Our guest blogger, Elizabeth, has a tale to tell which we all should heed about how one wrong decision can totally transform your life and work prospects. Some might find this too distressing but we believe it an important message to pass on.

This is the story of what might have been the biggest missed opportunity of my 62-year old life. Ironically, it would only have taken a few minutes, didn’t require any qualifications and wouldn’t have cost me any money.

Life was pretty good in 2007. I was 50, had a reasonably well paid job, happy relationship, a mortgage free home and no real cause to worry about my health. So, in 2016, when I developed a yellow vaginal discharge I wasn’t especially concerned. However 3 months later the ‘infection’ hadn’t cleared up and the GP referred me for a.  Whilst waiting for my referral I had a vaginal bleed just like a period, not right given I was post-menopausal, and that’s when the panic set in.

The next I know biopsies are being taken and I received the diagnosis no one wants. “Squamous cell cancer of the cervix”. I had a radical hysterectomy, my pelvic lymph nodes were removed and 6 sessions of chemotherapy, 27 sessions of radiotherapy.   18 months later and cancer-wise, so far so good.  But the long-term side effects have not been so good.

The surgery caused a lot of nerve damage and I, very unusually it seems, now suffer from urinary retention. I have to constantly self-catheterise and the lymphoedema in one of my legs and lower abdomen means I have to wear compression tights/stockings which fit so snugly I have to use garden gloves to get them on and off.

Because of these side-effects I had to give up my job as they made it hard to function well in a demanding fast paced role. If I was younger, I would also have to cope with a premature menopause and infertility.

Perhaps the saddest part of the tale is that my cancer might have been prevented, had I kept up to date with my screening tests. So, if you haven’t guessed already, my big missed opportunity was not taking up my invitations for cervical screening.

I chose to start this story from the year 2007 as this was when, age 50, that I stopped going for screening. I gave myself reasons/excuses for not going such as: ‘it might be painful’, ‘it’s not going to happen to me’, I’m low risk’ etc. WRONG! With glorious hindsight, a minute or so of unpleasantness really is a very small price to pay for something that could prevent a cancer.

I’m not alone: 1 in 4 women, between 25 and 64 don’t get screened despite receiving reminders. Please ladies, don’t ignore or overthink it, just make the appointment and go.  Or, if you feel you really can’t face the test, how about making an appointment with your GP to discuss your concerns – you can always ask to see a female doctor.

I am now passionate about raising awareness of the importance of cervical screening and the wonderful work of Jo’s Trust. Some women really do need an extra bit of support to go for their tests, I know I did.  Mutual support is effective and I encourage women, and sometimes men, to check if their partners, friends, sisters, daughters, nieces, mother etc. are getting tested.  That simple caring thing could prevent a lot of suffering, save a career  or even save a life.

Inspiration: where do YOU get it from?

Picture of woman on the beachOur guest blogger is Katie Day from RDPI.  Katy has run a number of businesses in her career and is particularly keen to help women develop as leaders in their organisations.  Katie has her own way of being inspired and is sharing that with us.

 As women, we have to be all things to all people, all of the time!  Exhausting in the extreme.  So, as we inspire others around us to be the best they can be, who is inspiring us?  Are we so bogged down with ‘life’ that we sometimes forget to stop and listen to our subconscious mind?  We have all the answers we need, we simply don’t sit still long enough to hear!  Here’s what I do when I need a little inspiration for my business and / or my life.

I pretend to be six years old!  I have a ‘play box’ at my office that is filled with all sorts of random items – a heart shaped small cushion, cufflinks, a woolly hat, a leaf, dried flowers, coloured pens and crayons, anything that catches my eye as I’m out and about walking or in novelty shops.  When I’m stuck and need inspiration I close my eyes and rummage around in the box and pull something out.  I then look at the item and allow my conscious brain to be still and quiet so that my subconscious brain can be creative and bubble up with an idea or thought.

Daydreaming is essential, for our emotional and creative health.  Einstein credited daydreaming for all his genius, as adults we should allow ourselves legitimate daydreaming time every day.  That could be sitting at our desks and just looking out of the window or going for a walk.

Living by the sea I try and walk every day looking at the waves, whatever the weather.  The sea is especially brilliant when I feel stuck for ideas or inspiration.  I just stand by the water’s edge and when the waves come in I imagine my ‘stuck-ness’ being picked up by the water and washed out to sea and taken away from me.  When I feel that enough has been washed away, I then look at the waves coming in and imagine new ideas and creative thoughts being held in the water and I visualise those ideas washing over me as the waves break on the shore.  If you don’t live by water, you could do this by simply walking in nature – in a park in a busy city will do too.  The trees could do the same for you – imagine your ‘stuck-ness’ being sucked in by the roots of the trees and dispersed underground and then imagine the branches and leaves full of creative ideas and inspiration and shaking them out to fall all over you.

People watching can be hugely inspiring.  If I feel really caught up in my own thoughts going round and round in my head, I’ll take myself off to a café for a coffee and just people watch.  The dynamics of human interactions can be incredibly inspiring, we just need to allow our own imaginations to have free reign without judgement or censor.  We can imagine all kinds of scenarios for the people we are watching and observing.  I have found this can suddenly spark an idea for a training course about leadership or communication.

I live my life like a triple A battery, I try to always be: Alert – Awake – Aware.

So, go back to the carefree days of childhood, where everything was possible and creative inspiration surrounded us in its wonderful randomness.

We all need support

Our guest blog is from Shirley Wardell For many years Shirley has been working with teams on developing leadership skills and was one of the first people in the UK to embrace Nancy Klein’s Thinking Environment approach to her work.

When you listen to people they feel supported, this is what participants on the Research Team Leadership programme tell us. Support is something that stops things from collapsing or crumbling; support is a critical function of a leader, a colleague and a friend.

We all need support for the task we are undertaking, support for our team, if we are lucky enough to have one, and support for ourselves. I turn to Nancy Kline’s Thinking Partnerships® to think about how to get the support I need, but don’t always want.

Thinking Partnerships provide a rare opportunity to think aloud with someone listening profoundly. I have lots of colleagues who can do this and I am also happy to pay for it. Nancy Kline’s suggestion ‘if in doubt, ask’ seems like a good maxim when deciding how to support anyone, including myself.

Here is a glimpse of what ideas came up for me during my thinking time, and thank you to Caroline Homfray, my thinking partner:

Take time to think
Be aware of the needs of others
Create a supportive atmosphere
Be responsive to my feelings
Ask for the support I need early
Facilitate social activity and have fun
Resolve conflicts quickly

What I need often is a listening buddy. When I don’t have one, I crumble a bit and slow down. When I have one I feel I can get around anything. Do you have one?  I would recommend that you do.  If you both learn to listen you can help each other.

When music really can change lives

Our guest blogger is Jade Powers. She has spent a lifetime in music and theatre, both as a performer and director, travelling the world as a result.  She has been involved for a number of years with the popular Sussex Dance Studios:  her latest ventures being The Broadway Players and Jade Powers Entertainments.

 Jade Powers is your stage name so how did you start in the business?

 Where do I begin…. Cue for a song – my life has been based on Theatre – and I guess to this day this is one of my favourite songs – back in the 60’s as a little girl my passion for performing started with the church and school choirs and they told my Mum I had a big voice – so after many years of training -in the 80’s JADE POWERS was born.

When you sang for the King of Tonga in 1990 you said it was a life changing experience. Why?

I was introduced to many local Zimbabwe dignitaries – and over my time with them I was so privileged to visit places of interest as a VIP and making friends with the locals enabled me to then teach Drama / Dance and Singing to the Outback children – this was the life changing bit seeing how they lived in mud huts and their staple diet of mealy meal – a corn meal mixed with water which tasted disgusting and added with potatoes – yet they were so happy – I loved going to see them – and I had been back in UK over a year when Zimbabwe Sun – sent me a brochure – and there I was in the middle with a huge feature on what I had done for the local children – I was so humbled.

You went from performing to teaching and producing/directing after having your daughter.   What was it like shifting from one to the other?  What did you learn about yourself?  What advice would you give to other young mums in a similar situation?

I never gave up performing just the balance turned round more performing became more teaching and less performing which was easier when Bethany was little as I could take her to work with me – shifting my goal posts was relatively easy – because I was still totally absorbed in show business – any other young Mums facing difficulties with work and home balance – don’t give up on your dreams – if you have a good family support network they will rally round to allow you to work and fulfil yourself as a woman – my ethos has always been total organisation – thinking ahead – being prepared – and keeping calm. Now in my fifties the balance has changed again – and I now find there is just not enough hours in a day to fit it all in – but I can’t cull in any area to ease my load ………… Dedication

You started a theatre group for autistic children. What motivated you to do that?  What lessons can you pass on about the skills you developed, or the awareness of what you felt you had to do?

The Power Project – was always something I had in the back of my mind – I have such empathy for those not so fortunate – I just needed to be 100% confident in my abilities and sure of myself – and comfortable in my own world to have the confidence to put the wheels in motion for this – which I felt the time was right over the last 5 years – the skills I learnt during this period of my life – were compassion for others and amazement at what families go through to look after these wonderful young challenging people – the pure joy on their faces when they learn and perform and feel INCLUDED means the world.

And then life changed direction again?

Yes, I found my Perfect Partner Pete who is so supportive of all my work – I have been so lucky to work in many theatrical fields that have made me so happy with the passion and love of what I do – 3 years ago my dreams came true again with the start of my own production company The Broadway Players – this has also swept me off my feet with the acclamations I have received as a producer and director – I have learnt so many skills over the 40 years in professional theatre – now as a collective Jade Powers Entertainments  – I gig approx. 12 times a month at various dementia care homes which give me so much pleasure to see smiling faces of the elderly as they remember the tunes I sing – so rewarding, I guess I have a perfect life.

You say this is not a job, it is a very happy and rewarding life choice. What advice would you give to women who haven’t yet been lucky enough to find that?

I have spent my whole working life doing something I love  – this is not always possible for a lot of people male and female – but if you have passion and drive – just believe in yourself and you CAN achieve anything – I did and look how I spend my time – I am never bored always passionate and happy – REMBEMBER you only get back what you put in.

The Power of No

Our guest blog  comes from Beverley Thompson, former BBC Journalist and Presenter now Campaigns and Community Engagement Manager at Southern Water. For anyone who’s been demoralised by rejection, this is definitely a must read!

I am incredibly lucky. My current job allows me to work with colleagues, charities and communities to make a positive difference. Twenty five years ago – an incredible quarter of a century – I would never have dreamed I would be working for a major utility with three million plus customers, and me overseeing the campaigns and projects that impact our most precious resource – water.

I also have twenty years’ experience as a journalist and broadcaster and I have worked all over the world. I am really proud of what I achieved then and what I’m doing now.

So how did I do it? Well I have a history of taking risks and making the most of the chances that we are all offered IF we choose to recognise them as positive and empowering. So here’s the trick – and it is so simple you may find it ludicrous – but just try it!

Never be afraid to ask –to be rejected or disappointed. The answer NO is usually the worst that can happen- and to my knowledge that two letter word has no lasting physical effects and with a positive outlook NO can be the incentive to move on and achieve.

My first big chance came along when I was just 20. I had finished a degree and was part way through a Post Graduate Diploma in Broadcast Journalism. One day – looking through the Media section in the Guardian, (these are the days before the internet, linked in etc.!) I saw an advertisement for a TV newsreader for BBC Wales in Cardiff. Now let’s be clear – this was a chance and a risk of the first order. I had little experience as a journalist and I had never been on TV. I did have one card – I could speak Welsh. I had been to a secondary school in Wales. This was my first big job interview and I travelled to Cardiff in absolute terror! Just before I went in, I thought, what is the worst that can happen here? I won’t get it – they will say NO – I will be rejected. Actually when you weigh that up against the best that can happen – I will get it – they will say yes – I will be at the start of my career – there’s no contest is there? NO won’t kill you! I went through the interview or board as the BBC calls it and I did get the job.

My time at the BBC was peppered with chances offered and risks to be taken. I put myself forward for jobs that in truth both terrified and inspired me. How was I hosting a live TV debate with four guests and one hundred guests? How was I hosting a live radio phone in? The answer is that I applied for the positions – laughed at the notion of NO and went for it.

When I did confront NO – I treated it like an occupational hazard – it wasn’t a judgement about me and my abilities – it was about business, skill sets and maybe a personality issue. The fact is NO hasn’t harmed or changed me.

Today, I find myself in the position of interviewing and managing people. It is a huge responsibility and the pressures on candidates and colleagues are still immense. However, I believe you can spot the ones who have faced down their fear of NO. They are the ones who if unsuccessful ask for feedback and advice, they use NO to inform their next application and interview – they work to turn NO into their YES.

You see NO is a negative word – but it doesn’t have to be. Change your relationship with the word NO and embrace the risks and chances that life brings! You will fly!

‘You are that talented woman who doesn’t see how talented she is’

Our guest blogger Sarah Fox landed up as a speaker and as a construction solicitor as a happy result of the suggestions of a partner in her law firm who believed Sarah had the right skills before Sarah believed it. Alison was her boss, then friend, and they are still in touch today, although they haven’t worked together for over 10 years.

Four years ago I was chatting to my sister over coffee, in Ed’s diner near Euston, waiting for a train home. She wanted to know why I was different – something she’d had to ask herself regularly since she was my identical twin. I’d been waffling in a rather lawyerly fashion about my business and she was getting bored…

She kept asking and I kept blustering.

Just before my train was due I proudly declared that the reason I was different was that – unlike my contemporaries and peers in the legal industry – I could write a construction contract in 500 words. I’m not sure where that gem came from and I guess my reticence showed in my face. She challenged me, menacingly asking “What… really? Really really?”

It was a matter of weeks later that I had written the contract, and, having ticked that task off, I showed it to her. Ta-da. Mission accomplished.

Success was mine.

And what did I do with this idea? I sat on it. I showed it to a few select friends and when one of my lawyer friends was scathing, I got scared.

Who was I, I thought to myself, to challenge the received wisdom that contracts had to be long and complex? Who was I, female upstart, to try and simplify the standard industry contracts down from 50,000 words to a mere 500? Who was I, an imposter, to do something new and innovative?

Writing the contract was just the start of my journey. I didn’t consider myself an expert (despite having 20 years’ experience in writing construction contracts, at least the 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell refers to in Outliers). I didn’t appreciate what I did know that others didn’t. I didn’t value my talents and expertise.

It didn’t matter that I started to use the contract in training workshops and be asked if I would sell it to them. It didn’t matter that people learnt about it and it piqued their interest. It didn’t even matter when others started to say it was what the industry needed.

I continued to sit on my idea.

So what changed? There was a glorious synchronicity of events…

First, this quote from Playing Big by Tara Mohr slapped me around the face and woke me up: “To us, you are that talented woman who doesn’t see how talented she is. You are the woman who – it’s clear to us – could start an innovative company or pull one out of the dysfunction it’s in, improve the local schools, or write a book that would change thousands of lives. You are that fabulous, we-wish-she-was-speaking-up-more woman.”

Second, I got a mentor who I really trusted and he made it clear that sitting on my idea was not an option.

Third, I got the courage to send it to an industry commentator who immediately emailed me that he loved it. Wow!

With those events in place, I realised that playing small and considering myself an imposter was not helping me to serve others. That was when I decided that I could challenge the received wisdom, simplify contracts and do something new and innovative.

Sometimes it is not just about the knowledge, skills, and expertise you have. Sometimes success depends on having the character, the confidence and the support to make a difference.

 

Women who beat the odds

This is my first attempt at blogging, which is unusual as I always have a lot to say.  Approximately six months ago, it was my good fortune to come across the inspirational team from WayfinderWoman.  When asked to write a blog for WayfinderWoman, it sounded both daunting and challenging, all the things that women face on a daily basis when seeking work, starting work or returning to study.

During my early life, I did not have  many women who were inspirational to me. Bought up by a single parent father in the 70’s was not the norm but I do remember one thing he always used to say to me very often “If you educate a man, you educate a man. Educate a woman and you educate a family”.  I did not really understand what this meant until I started working in FE colleges and visited Wayfinder Woman where their motto is ‘Inspiring women, inspiring other women’.

Most women tend to return to study when they have time on their hands usually when their children finally leave for their first day at nursery or school.  Some see this as a time for them to explore a career or start a job for the first time.  Some women hold down a job and want to make life better for their family.  Being educated opens many doors and improves options for everyone.  I do remember my first course, that anxiety about entering the classroom, will I be able to do it, what if I can’t.  Again another saying which I always remember,  “There is no such word as can’t”.  Making that first step into education is challenging; walking through the door will be the hardest thing.  Just think of the rewards of following a path into education.  You will learn a new subject, be able to share that knowledge with your family and friends.

Along my journey in education,  I have met many inspirational women.  The women who I have met who have given me permission to write about them below,  hopefully will inspire you to see what opportunities are out there for you. You are never too old to learn!

Diana who suffered horrific burns as a child had no self esteem and has not been able to work for many years due to the continuous need to have operation after operation, skin graft after skin graft.  On the first day Diana started, she would not talk to anyone, sent by the job centre to improve her skills to add to her CV, she would not look up, speak to anyone and just sat in the corner, head down.  2 years on, after gaining computing, English and maths qualifications, Diana now volunteers in the library running basic IT classes for beginners on a Tuesday and supports the general public in the library as a computer buddy.  She was also the winner of the learner achievement award with learndirect in 2015. She is still seeking work but now feels more confident when going for interviews.  I am sure she will find work soon, someone will be lucky to have her.

Shadan is a Kurdish lady who was displaced during the war in Iraq.  Since moving to the UK, she has taken exams in IT, English and is currently studying maths.  She is now a teaching assistant in a local school and has recently passed her driving test of which she is very proud. Shadan has also been elected as a Parent Ambassador at the Bourne School of which she is very proud. Her next dream is to get onto the Great British Bake Off.   I am sure it has nothing to do with the blueness of Paul Hollywood’s eyes!  Shadan recently had a phone interview but did not make it through.  Their loss, Shadan’s cakes are superb.   Shadan is another example of an inspirational woman who has passed on her skills to her children, at home and in the classroom.

Finally and by no means least, I met another inspirational lady who recently came to the learning centre.  Amanda was very anxious and nervous but she soon overcame that. She passed her tests with flying colours in IT and now is working on her English.  She is also now working at Wayfinder Woman as an administrator and doing research on a project about inspirational women from the past who came from Eastbourne. She is also inspiring other women from the leaning centre to join the project.

There are many inspirational women in the world.  It just takes the first steps and the effort to make a difference.  Make yourself become one of them.  Give WayfinderWoman a call to find out how you can make a difference, educate a woman and educate another family.

 

Anita Gayton – Senior Tutor, Learning Services – East Sussex County Council.

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