In a world of Kardashians I want to be a Victoria (Wood)

I haven’t written anything for ages. No notes, no hastily scribbled ideas on the back of an envelope. Nothing. In fact the most that I have written in the last few months has been a shopping list; and as we have moved to online deliveries I don’t think that I can really count that anymore. Clicking on my favourites list for redelivery from does not constitute an incisive assembling of witticisms and observations.

Why haven’t I written? Well – and here come my beautifully wrapped excuses – I had greatly longed for eye surgery which, despite being very successful, took me much longer to get over than anticipated, my business has started to take off and I have “been busy with the children”. All brilliantly plausible reasons, but excuses nonetheless. At times I have thought about it, but something has always got in the way. Procrastination? Maybe, but I get a lot done in my day. I’m never one for sitting still.

What inspired me to write again was watching the growing list of celebrities die this year. This year has been particularly vicious in the number who have shuffled off this mortal coil. Some have affected me more than others. When David Bowie and Alan Rickman went in the same week it was Alan Rickman that I knew I would miss more. I have great respect for David Bowie, but his music never touched me in the way that Alan Rickman and Juliet Stevenson’s relationship in Truly Madly Deeply did.

However the one that I feel genuinely sad about is Victoria Wood. An incredibly clever lady and such a great waste of talent. I sat on the front row of the Royal Albert Hall in 1996 watching her perform on her own for over 2 hours and was completely mesmerised by her intelligence and her wit. She was funny and she was herself. She didn’t need to fit into any idea of how to be, because she was great as she was. I’m not sure she ever espoused an “I am what I am” mentality. Maybe she didn’t need to. I can’t pretend to have known her, or feel the same sense of loss as her family. But she inspired me and I am sad that she has gone. She showed me that being a funny intelligent woman doesn’t mean that you need to be better than other people, or to put people down. She did stuff for herself and didn’t stop working at what she loved; what she was amazingly good at. She got on with it. So no more excuses or putting stuff off for me. I want to be like Victoria.



At a crossroads do what Dorothy does, follow the scarecrow’s direction.

This blog post is long overdue for two reasons. The first is the time of year. I don’t know who decided to call this season “the holidays” but it certainly was not someone with small children. I am swamped by nativities, Christmas parties, Christmas jumper days etc. My daughter’s school then decided that the Christmas Fairs, church services and charity days weren’t quite enough to keep us busy. They threw in a Greek Day as well, just to keep parents on our toes. I have never loved my daughter quite as much as the night before the aforementioned day when she informed me that she had asked her teacher, with no prompting from me, whether she had to get dressed up for this. The teacher had said that she didn’t and so my daughter refused to do it. This was music to my ears. I would not need to battle with a sheet at some ridiculous time in the morning, trying to fashion it into a toga. I also would not be getting it back in an unmentionable state at the end of the day. There would definitely be some health and safety issues in them running around school and I dread to think how an eight year old would cope with a trip to the toilet in a toga.

The other reason that I have not written for a couple of weeks is that I have been struggling with the direction in which to take my business. Initially I felt that I was all decided on my niche, who I wanted to work with and where I was going. However recently I have been wondering as to whether I’ve got it all as sorted as I think I have. My husband made a very good point. “Lets face it, and I can say this because I’m your husband, but you are a man’s woman”. In my unique selling point being someone who coaches women to go back to work after they have had children I am effectively cutting out half the population. And it’s a large chunk of people that I do get on with. One of my very best friends is male. I come from a long line of men’s women. I know my mother might not think that she fits in there, but my maternal great grandmother, grandmother and also my daughter – we all respond well to men. I coach the long term unemployed to go back to work at a local charity and I have made good progress with both men and women, so which direction now?

I did a little bit of self-coaching. Much better than self-analysis, which has never ended well for me and much more accurate. What do I like doing? What do I enjoy? What lights me up when I’m coaching the people that I work with now, either my paid clients or where I volunteer? One thing kept coming back to me. I’m great with anxiety. It doesn’t phase me, I understand it and the devastating effects it can have on people. I see how it can grip people’s lives and strip them of their confidence and self-esteem and I know that the very first step in getting control over anxiety is to show it some light.

To go back to the analogy of the Wizard of Oz from a few weeks ago I felt a bit like Dorothy when she comes to a crossroads. She looks bemused, it’s all been plain sailing down the yellow brick road up to this point, so she wonders aloud which is the way to go now. Here we meet the scarecrow who tells us he “can’t make up his mind”. He suggests first one way and then the other, finishing with “of course, people do go both ways”. Initially this sounds ridiculous, how can you take one path and another? Yet you can, if you chose to do them at different times and in different scenarios. The scarecrow is a mass of contradictions; he hasn’t got a brain and yet is extremely astute. He just doesn’t see it. He needs the wizard to give him a piece of paper saying that he is clever before he is able to accept it for himself. Maybe I can learn from the scarecrow? Perhaps the two areas that I want to work in are not mutually exclusive? Nobody is telling me that I can’t do them both. I don’t need a wizard to give me a piece of paper to give me permission to do this or believe that I can. Dorothy has all her own answers within herself, I can find a way too. The next question is how am I going to do that? Once I have staggered out from the tinsel and wrapping paper of the next few weeks I’ll start to figure that out.



Does Hillary Clinton get the guilt thing?

I really hope that Hillary Clinton wins the US presidential election. I admit that I have no idea what her politics are, I don’t even understand much of US politics despite a slight obsession with The West Wing. What makes me support Hillary is the idea that, as a woman, she has probably sorted through the laundry basket and emptied the dishwasher before tackling the next steps in her presidential campaign. Yet, it’s not just because Hillary is a woman that I admire her. It’s because she is a mother and she’s living her life the way she wants to. Hillary has a goal and she is going for it.

What I really want to know about Hillary is, does she also get the guilt thing? Not the guilt that we might feel when we have eaten too many muffins in Starbucks and clothes are starting to feel a bit tight, but the “what if my child needs me?” guilt. I want to know if she feels it like I feel it. I want to know if she feels it physically wash over her when she gets home from a 12 hour day and her child or grandchild is unwell and says “I missed you. Where were you?”. Does she feel completely torn up inside and wonder why she is doing it all?

Granted, Chelsea Clinton is all grown up now and a mother herself, but that doesn’t mean that Hillary is any less of a mother, or that her maternal feelings will disappear. It also doesn’t mean that Chelsea won’t need her mother either in a physical or emotional sense. And Hillary won’t be there. As the parent of a tiny person who will attract germs at an unprecedented rate there will definitely be moments where Chelsea is so incapacitated by a vomiting bug or the flu that she desperately needs help. Hillary is unlikely to be able to leave the speech that she is giving or the meeting that she is attending to race round to Chelsea’s side, bath the baby, cook the dinner and take over.

This isn’t to say that there won’t be plenty of support mechanisms set up for Chelsea and her child. There will be lots in place, but from a mother’s perspective it’s just not the same. And whilst Hillary might be able to be there in person for the odd Sunday lunch, mentally there will always be part of her thinking over the latest exit polls and considering how her campaign is going.

It is a choice. Hillary has made an active choice to do something that she wants to, something that she has passion for. Lets face it, she knows this life inside out and the impact that it could have, and has had, on her family. She could have chosen to live in the suburbs, baking apple pies and joining local women’ s groups. She could possibly have had more of a hands on presence with her grandchild. She chose to do this, it’s part of her identity, and who she wants to be. This is how I draw my (albeit flimsy) comparison with Hillary, because I too have a choice. Financially I am lucky enough not to have to work. As a family we could get by without me doing this. However I need and want to work. I have to, for me. But there is a price to pay. For me to get that part of myself back and maybe even create a new part of myself I get the addition of guilt. And I want to know that I’m not alone.

Because if you do feel this Hillary, what do you do?

WASHINGTON - JUNE 23:  U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) reads documents during a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee June 23, 2005 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The hearing was focused on U.S. military strategy and operations in Iraq.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Who am I? I’m off to find my identity…

Following on from my last post I have been thinking a lot about my identity. It’s all very well for me to say “I am what I am”, but actually who am I? If the work that I am setting out to do is to help other women explore and find their own identity then it is essential that I have done the same myself. I need to “walk my talk” and start to think of myself in terms of a brand. Much as I rail against the idea of thinking of my “ideal client”, I do need to consider who I am and what my business is. Instead of appealing to everyone, I will appeal to no one. Not a great start out in business.

Initially I felt a bit like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, when she finally reaches the emerald city and is allowed in to meet the wizard. “Who are you?” booms the huge voice. “I’m Dorothy, the small and meek” she responds. We know she is a great deal more than that. Dorothy is resourceful, tough, caring and kind. Yet to start with she is overwhelmed by the presence of the Wizard, and that was the feeling that I related to at first. I was completely in awe of the amazing work done by other people and wondered if I could have anything worth saying or writing. Who would listen to me and why would they do that?

Taking a leaf out of Dorothy’s book I decided to do some proper research (or maybe it’s Toto, as he is the one who discovers the real wizard behind the curtain). I’ve been looking at a lot of other people’s blogs and have joined some blogging groups on Facebook. This really has been a whole new world. People blog about anything and everything and there are some truly gifted writers out there. There have been some fantastic technical tips and a great deal of support from people. A whole new community for me to join. it’s also been instrumental in helping me to understand just how important a niche is. When looking at so many blogs the ones that I am drawn to are the ones that have a clear and specific message. They know who they are writing to and the message that they want to send. Those that are vague I lose interest in, quickly followed by those that are overly cluttered, or have poor spelling or grammar (seriously, at times I’m a frustrated school teacher).

The more I thought about the question of “who am I?” the more I realised how much it applies to the people that I coach. Before I had children I had my own identity. I had my own job and career, my circle of friends who knew me for me and I chose what I did with my time. If I wanted to change job/ profession it affected no one else (until I got married, and even then only a big move would have merited considerable discussion). That all changed the minute my children arrived. And whilst I knew that this would happen, I’m not sure I was prepared for quite how much of my identity I would feel that I would lose (or at least lose sight of for a time). It’s hard to get back, because we don’t ever go back to being the person that we were before children (even if we would want to – which I definitely don’t). It then becomes a question of not just finding my identity again, but starting to create a whole new one, and this takes time.

There are many women out there who write fantastic blogs on parenting (The Unmumsy Mum and The Adultier Adult to name but two). They do a great job, and I’m not going to reinvent that wheel. I am a mother and whilst there may be some funny moments that I mention ( “you’re not very good at this mum, are you?” as I forget another school dress up day), that isn’t going to be the focus of my blog. What I will share is about what it’s like going back to work and building a business after quite some time. This is who I am, and it changes constantly. Last week I was Dorothy confronting the Wizard of Oz. Next week? Let’s see.



I am what I am – My journey into marketing and social media – the story so far

I’m not sure how I feel about social media. There are parts of it that I love. Who wouldn’t love nosing around in old boyfriend/ girlfriend/ school “friend”’s profiles when they haven’t figured out the privacy settings? Especially if I think I have aged better…. Not a nice part of me, but I am human and I suspect most of us do this. Then there are parts that I either don’t understand, don’t see the point in or that irritate me beyond belief. However, the minute I started to think about marketing it was all I could see – everywhere. According to most reports, social media is the future and not getting a handle on it means being left behind. Not a good start when setting up a business where I am the marketing department.

To embrace the whole new world of technology – or at least not turn into my parents – I leapt into this arena, looking slightly like a rabbit blinded by the headlights. For a start, there is so much of it out there. Which to chose? When setting up my website I decided that having links to my social media pages was a great idea. I went ahead and chose the ones that I had heard of; Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. I set up my pages, extremely proud of myself in importing images, adding text and inviting people to like my page. I then stared blankly at the feed, and realised that I was the one who had to put something in it. Me, my thoughts, my contributions, my opinions. And I realised that I was utterly terrified.

Of course I do have thoughts about topical issues, current affairs and the industry I work in. Since I gave up work several years ago to be a stay at home mum, I forever quote Bridget Jones’ comment to my husband – “when will you talk to me about my ‘opinions’ ” (from The Edge of Reason, somewhere I find myself on a daily basis). I’m very aware that when I spend most of my day talking to children that I might not be able to put my thoughts together as coherently as I used to. I’m often halfway through a sentence in a conversation with an adult when I am interrupted by “mummy, I can’t find my socks” or “what’s for tea on Saturday?”, a particular favourite of mine on a Monday. Getting my ideas together is a battle, probably not helped by age or that I have my best ideas whilst on the school run and don’t have a hand free to write things down.

To help me get into the swing of this I have done quite a bit of research. If you want to write well, it is important to read a lot – so surely the same theory should hold for social media? The more I have researched social media – surprisingly easy to do in short bursts, fantastic whilst waiting in the car for tiny people at activities – the more I find I’m very good at discovering what I don’t like. I don’t like inspirational quotes. The odd one here and there is fine, but I always forget them, which makes them redundant to me. I invited my brother to like my company Facebook page, and after he accepted he said “well, I hope you aren’t going to clutter up my feed with ridiculously awful quotes” – quite. If they work for you, brilliant, they’re just not for me. I’m trying to find my own words.

The other thing that I have discovered that I don’t like is being manipulated. I have read articles on giving away your best information, how you can create leads, what offers you should give and I’m sure there is a great deal of science behind it, and that a lot of it works. However, now that I am aware of it, I see it in so many emails that I receive, or twitter posts and I am instantly turned off. I feel that a technique is being used on me, and I am no longer interested. It reminds me of watching The X Factor when the distressing backstory comes on in the video of the sick relative or awful living conditions of the contestant. I feel manipulated into wanting to vote for them, regardless of their actual performance. Likewise in these emails, I now don’t see what they are offering, I see the technique that they are using and I don’t want to buy from them, whoever they may really be.

So, what have I discovered? I know that I want my content to be meaningful. For me to stand out in an ocean of social media I need to be saying something that is multilayered, can appeal to many people and that isn’t just repeating a lot of what other people have already said. I won’t be writing articles on “3 ways to get yourself back into work after having children” or “7 types of people you will meet at the school gate”. Lists such as these are very common ways to write articles at present, and I’m not going to add to them. I want people to decide to work with me or to connect with me because they want to. They have chosen to because they like the way that I work or how I represent myself. I don’t want to manipulate people into signing up to work with me, that doesn’t feel right and I can’t work like that. If I can find a way for social media to support me to do that on my terms, then fantastic. In the words of the highlight of La Cage Aux Folles “I am what I am, and what I am needs no excuses”. Who am I and how do I tell the world about me? Stay tuned…..



First Steps

My name is Julia and I am a mum. That sounds as if I should be saying, “My name is Julia and I’m an alcoholic” (and believe me, there are many times when I understand how you could be a mum AND an alcoholic), but that’s not me. Not me today at least. Today I am Julia, mum of 2, trying to get my world to be more than it is. Because I want my world to be more than it is.

At the moment my world really isn’t enough for me – and it’s ok to say this. Actually, I think that it’s more than ok to say this; I think it is absolutely essential for me to say this. I feel that I should be screaming it from the rooftops…. It’s ok to want more. It’s normal to feel that being alone with small people all day is not enough, especially if you are used to making decisions, chairing meetings, having an opinion, having a life. It can be a very lonely place. Somewhat controversially, I feel that you don’t have to like the other mums that you meet – you might like some of them, some of them could even become your friends (and in the way that you may have been friends with them without the introduction of tiny people), but some are just going to irritate you. And it’s ok to feel that too. I’m sure I irritate the hell out of some of the other mothers – but, to quote Barbie, “what other people think of you is none of your business”. (Who knew that such pearls of wisdom could come from a source such as Barbie? If you haven’t got girls, or your girls have either not reached the Barbie film stage or passed it by, you are missing a treat. She does come out with some absolute gems).

So – my world is not enough, and it has taken me a while to accept this. I love my children, completely adore them; I talk about them all the time. And yet I come from a generation of women that were among the first to be brought up to think that we could do as well as men. It was expected that we went to university, that we got degrees and then a career. I have been brought up to see myself, and the women around me, as more than just a stereotypical housewife. (If that’s what you want for your life then absolutely go for it – no judgement from me. If you want to do it, can do it well and it makes you happy, then I am really pleased for you. It’s just not enough for me.) But when I had children I became sucked into the idea that to be a good mother I had to cease to exist in the way that I had done. I had to be hand rearing my own vegetables to put in my children’s homemade purees…. I even got my name on waiting lists for several allotments. (Believe me, that is not going to happen. Not now I have discovered the delights of a gel manicure that can last 4 weeks.) I went to a million different baby and toddler groups spending time with people who the only thing that we had in common was that we had procreated at the same time. (Apart from Tinytalk, run by the wonderful Jane, fabulous fun group, lovely mums – especially Elise and Debbie. That really was my oasis in a desert of exclusive groups full of a lot of Alpha Mothers). I wasn’t happy, I was used to working and bringing in my own money. I missed my friends and my colleagues.

I understand that for a lot of people my lifestyle choice was a luxury and a privilege. However, it came at a cost. That cost threatened to be my sanity. Whilst staying at home has been the best thing for my children, I’m not sure that it has been the best thing for me. So last year I started to think about going back to work. Before I had children I managed Mental Health Services and I started to apply for those roles. I didn’t even get an interview (and having done many rounds of recruitment I know that I was fulfilling the criteria, so something was putting them off – probably my 7 years out of the workplace and a responsibility to 2 small people….). A friend of mine suggested volunteering and I discovered coaching the long term unemployed at a local charity (somewhat ironic, given that technically I haven’t been employed in 8+ years). To cut a very long story short, I realised that coaching is what I love; being with people, hearing their stories, putting my emotional wellies on and wading round in their stuff to help them make sense of it all. A year on I am a fully qualified Certified Professional Coach, starting my own business, working on my world to make it enough. It’s not enough yet, it’s only the beginning – and there are many days when I feel like I’m drowning under a tonne of ironing, homework and shopping, but it’s a start – there’s plenty of places to go.