2013 Review Thingo (thanks, again, to Shauna…)

Like last year, I’m mercilessly plagiarising from  Shauna Reid (see hers at http://www.shaunareid.com/2013/01/2012-review-thingo.html). It’s a great way to figure out where your year went right, and where it went not-so-right, and what to focus on for the year to come. 2013 was relentless, surprising and more than a little surreal, and I’m looking forward to 2014 being a bit less of each, thank you.

1. What did you do this year that you’d never done before?

I took over as head of a large research programme following the death of a friend. Very, very big shoes to fill, and I’ve spent much of this year trying to re-imagine something already wonderful that didn’t belong to me in a way that’s respectful and doesn’t throw out the baby with the bath water. I’ve been to new countries, sat in the Emirates lounge, spoke in front of a number of senior policy makers a number of times. Lots and lots of new things from a work perspective. From a home perspective…? Still no sky diving, still no international espionage. Still need to work on that.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next this year?

Um, still didn’t manage to write resolutions for last year, and with the chaos following A’s death, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. But this year, I’m making three big resolutions: 1) this blog, 2) getting healthier and 3) investing something beyond our pensions/the kids’ college funds.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

My friend, Nick, had a little girl. Two dear friends had devastating miscarriages, though, and I feel their losses. I’m crocheting a blanket right now in the hopes that one of them will need it before 2014 is out.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

A, although I would never say I was very close to him. We were friends, though, and I’ve learned a great deal about him this year that I didn’t know before.

5. What countries did you visit?

USA, Australia, Singapore, India, France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, UAE.

6. What would you like to have next year that you lacked in this one?

Time to breathe and to reflect on everything that’s happened. I’d also like to write a book.

7. What dates from this year will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

22nd November, when I was supposed to be in the States at my grandmother’s 90th birthday party but was instead at a policy event in Delhi, and then 30th November, when my family celebrated my grandmother’s birthday with me there.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Winning another new research contract, hiring several new colleagues (and, now, friends). Creating a ‘buzz’, from what I’ve been told. Getting promoted was pretty cool too.

9. What was your biggest failure?

One of my dearest friends lost his father in April, and I found out about it in November… My friendships have paid the dearest price for the relentlessness of this year. My children haven’t coped very well, either, with all of the travel, and nor has my long-suffering husband. Complaining about a colleague who was trying to undermine me behind his back, which is just as bad.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

No, thankfully!

11. What was the best thing you bought?

The perfect coffee table in a Red Cross shop for £30. And my kindle for off-line reading.

12. Where did most of your money go?

Interest and my children.

13. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Almost everything to do with this new research programme, but especially the chance to work with the loveliest team ever. Going to Australia. My sister’s first book selling fantastically well. Getting an assistant. Really, really excited about the last one!

Watching my husband up on stage with Gabby Young and Other Animals at my kids’ first ever live show was pretty cool too. It was only for a few minutes, but it’s a memory we’ll have for a long, long time.

14. What song will always remind you of this year?

Hmm…I don’t feel like I’ve listened to a lot of new music this year. I’ve subscribed to Rdio, and I’ve been listening to a lot of older music. Lots of Eagles in my office.

15. Compared to this time last year, are you:

a) happier or sadder?

Happier. Grateful. Blessed.

b) thinner or fatter?

Neither. I’m exactly the same as I was this time last year. Which is depressing and definitely needs to be remedied!

c) richer or poorer?

Richer, but only marginally. Need to get serious about saving.

16. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Writing for pleasure. Spending time with friends. Being in the moment with my kids. Sex.

17. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Up to a point, travelling. Too much of it all bunched together with no time to breathe.

18. How did you spend Christmas?

At home, as usual, and really chilled out.

19. Did you fall in love this year?

Nope.

20. What was your favorite TV program?

Luther on Netflix and on flights. Borgen. The Vikings.

21. What was the best book you read?

Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent. Susan Cain’s Quiet. Joyce Maynard’s The Good Daughters. Graham Alcott’s Productivity Ninja. Lily Baldwin’s To Bewitch a Highlander (shameless plug for my sister’s book!).

22. What was your favorite film of this year?

Watching Pacific Rim in Imax 3-D with my 9 year old son was a real experience. Like being hit with a wall of sound. ‘Did you enjoy that?’ I asked him. ‘Hmm…on a scale of 1 to 10, I would give that A MILLION!’.

23. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I was 41. I was in the States with my own family for the first time in a long time. My parents made a great dinner, and all of my siblings came over. I spent much of it consoling one of my brothers who has gone through a rough divorce though. Come si, comme sa.

24. What kept you sane?

Sauvignon blanc and cups of tea with good friends.

25. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

At the risk of sounding very shallow, Travis Fimmel from Vikings. Kind of hard not to growl a little bit when he’s on screen.

26. Who did you miss?

My sister. Always my sister.

27. Who was the best new person you met?

The manager of my new research programme, Heather. I’m not sure I could love her any more if she actually was my sister.

Starting my own ‘happiness project’?

I’m not a huge fan of happiness as a concept, to be honest. Just thought I’d get that out there from the beginning. Happiness is a fleeting moment in time, an emotion that goes hand in hand with its opposite, sadness. Joy and sorrow. We can live our lives in ways that create more space for happy moments, but ‘happiness’ isn’t really a state of being.

Instead, in 2014, I’m going to start my own ‘healthiness project’. Healthiness is both more tangible and something that you can actually work on. Healthiness can be body, spirit, mind, community, family…all that good stuff. And a lack of healthiness, overall, is definitely what I’m feeling right now.

With that in mind, I’m going to use Gretchen Rubin’s questions from her happiness project book to kick start my own project.

1. What makes you feel good? What activities do you find fun, satisfying or energising?

Reading for pleasure, whether curled up on the sofa under a blanket, or in a cafe with a warm chai, or in bed where I just want to have one more chapter. Going for long walks outdoors. Lying on a beach, with a book. Going to the cinema with my kids. Baking with my kids (when they’re not pestering me to lick the spoon). Going to the pub with friends. Cups of tea with friends after school. Mentoring junior colleagues. Working on strategies, whether for growth or for doing things better. Sitting in a sauna or steam room. Eating out in new countries. Cuddling. Taking photos. Blogging. Writing in my journal.

2. What makes you feel bad? What are sources of anger, irritation, boredom, frustration or anxiety in your life?

Having way too many things on my to-do list and not having good enough systems to cope with them. Feeling rushed in the morning or feeling distracted at bedtime. Not having time to sort out a budget. Being late. Missing birthdays. Never having time to go out with friends. Being surrounded by idiots. Clutter. Knowing my diet could be much better and my weight lower. Feeling more aches and pains than I should at this age. Email. Meetings that have no point and, seemingly, no end. Yelling at my kids. My kids yelling at each other. Being too tired for sex. Being pestered for electronic time.

3. Is there any way in which you don’t feel right about your life? Do you wish you could change your job, city, family situation, or other circumstances? Are you living up to your expectations for yourself? Does your life reflect your values?

Professionally, there are aspects where I’ve achieved much more that I ever thought possible at this stage, especially given the two maternity leaves I’ve had. But I’ve not published nearly as much as I should’ve (or could’ve), and I know that I need to write another book soon. My weight and overall health aren’t right. I give next to no thought or time to meals or scheduling exercise, even though I know enough about nutrition not to make really bad choices. But I’m not making good ones either, and I tend to rush headlong into carbs without thinking because I’ve not planned. I sleep later in the morning than I should, which leaves me rushing and grumpy with the kids when they dawdle. I’m distracted. I only read at bedtime. I’ve not written in my journal for months and haven’t written in it with any consistency for a few years. I play with productivity tools rather than being productive. Financially, I haven’t worked out a budget that’s equitable; though I make much more than my husband, I have larger student loans…but I still have more spare cash than he does. I don’t manage to budget every month, and we’re not saving. I’ve not seen some of my friends for months. One of my friends’ dad passed away, and I didn’t know about it. My parents need to hear from me more often. My husband and I don’t spend enough time alone, and I often go to sleep after him when I’m too tired for sex. I snap at the kids too easily. Basically, I feel like work takes up so much of my waking time and thinking that there’s very little left for me or people I love.

4. Do you have sources of an atmosphere of growth? In what elements of your life do you find progress, learning, challenge, improvement and increased mastery?

[kind of hard to write about this while being pestered by a teary 9 year old whose life is being ruined by not being allowed to play on the ipad…]

My new role at work gives me tremendous opportunities for growth…possibly too many opportunities! I’ll need to be strategic and selective. My new administrator is about to start work, which will hopefully ease some of the more mundane burdens. I don’t need to teach for the next 3 years, which means that I’ll have much more flexibility and freedom. Once this current very busy patch ends, and the new funding contract is secured, I’ll be able to take my foot off the pedal a little bit (famous last words?). I need to ensure that I don’t fill any time that’s freed up with yet more work.

At home…that’s where I’m not so sure. It feels like for the past 6-8 months, I’ve put so much into building this new research centre that there’s been nothing left. I guess…I have physical space to write, and I should make more of that. I have tremendous friends who make me feel grounded, and I need to find time for them. I’m able to budget enough for healthy food choices and have a husband who loves to cook. My kids are, more often than not, good company and increasingly independent. They’re at school all day now, and if I plan my day out right, I can find time during the day for exercise or for reading or writing.

I need to think about the next step, which is developing concrete resolutions, but it seems to be not all that complicated really. I seem to be a pretty simple soul, made happy by pretty easy things, but I’ve let work take over my life for years now. I haven’t placed appropriate boundaries around it. I love my work, and aspects of it are fulfilling and necessary for my well-being, but it’s not everything. My systems have broken, and I’ve not yet figured out what new ones should look like. I’ve not given enough priority to my own health, which impacts on the energy I have to be a productive academic, a loving wife, a gentle and fun mother and a fulfilled person. The trick will be in identifying clear resolutions, breaking these into very concrete tasks and then, for once, following through with them. The latter is not my strong point*, but I’m not getting any younger.

[* In a recent team building exercise, where we did personality tests, I scored 0 under ‘Completer/Finisher‘ (I’m a Resource Investigator/Shaper). How is it possible to score a 0 for this?? No wonder I have a house full of half-finished projects and a lifetime of broken resolutions!]

2012 Review Thingo (in the style of Shauna)

This is mercilessly plagiarised from the delightful Shauna Reid (see hers at http://www.shaunareid.com/2013/01/2012-review-thingo.html). It’s a great way to figure out where your year went right, and where it went not-so-right, and what to focus on for the year to come. Clearly I need to shake up this year a bit and try something new!

1. What did you do this year that you’d never done before?

Am really struggling to think of anything! I wish I could say sky diving, or spending the night in the desert, or taking up international espionage, but 2012 hasn’t been that exciting.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next this year?

Nope, not even close. I think I really should’ve printed them out kept them close by and reviewed on a fairly regular basis. If I don’t really know what my resolutions are, it’s pretty hard to keep them!

I will do new resolutions. Really.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Yes, my friend, Rachel, had a little girl, and Hugh had a little boy. A couple more are due in 2013, however, most of my friends are past having babies.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

My Uncle Chris, who was also my godfather.

5. What countries did you visit?

USA, Germany, Sweden. I was supposed to go to Brazil but didn’t fancy the very long flight to Brasilia.

6. What would you like to have next year that you lacked in this one?

A trip back to the USA with the whole family. It’s been far too long since the kids have been there.

7. What dates from this year will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

January 25 and April 9, when both my husband and I turned 40.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Winning a new research contract, securing the jobs of several of my favourite colleagues.

9. What was your biggest failure?

Buying my husband tickets to see Pearl Jam in Berlin, but then not being able to sort out babysitting. Not only did we lose over €100 on the tickets, but we had a dream snatched from our hands. So much for his 40th birthday present…

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

No, thankfully! I had a blood pressure scare, but that turned out to be nothing.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

Hard to say. I should say my iPad, but that was bought with research money so doesn’t count. I think it might be my Marimekko oilcloth, which I bought as an off-cut in a shop in Gothenburg. Everything about it gives me pleasure, and as I sit at the kitchen table at least three times a day, it gives me pleasure often.

12. Where did most of your money go?

If I’m honest, I’d say on interest on debt repayment. Also, my children. Always my children…

13. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Excited may be the wrong word…relieved more like…but Obama’s re-election.

14. What song will always remind you of this year?

‘Little Talk’ by Of Monsters and Men. I first heard it on breakfast tv in Berlin, and it’s been part of the soundtrack of the year.

The other song would be ‘I’m Yours’ by Jason Mraz. My sister and I stayed up late on her sofa talking well into the night, crying as we listened to it. It was her pregnancy song. Floods of tears.

15. Compared to this time last year, are you:

a) happier or sadder?

Happier, I think. I’m living in a bigger house that gives us enough space to breathe as a family, and my career is definitely on the way up.

b) thinner or fatter?

Neither. I’m exactly the same as I was this time last year. Which is depressing.

c) richer or poorer?

Unfortunately, neither. I’m making quite a bit more money, but we’ve lost money out to the house move. I was really hoping to be much better off at this point, but que sera sera.

16. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Chilling out. I wish I’d kept up with meditation as it was making me feel much more relaxed. Resolution number one!

17. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Procrastinating. I did have far too much work on this year, but I also spent a lot of time faffing about online and not getting down to what needed to be done. I put it down to exhaustion.

18. How did you spend Christmas?

At home, as usual. We had family from the US over on Boxing Day, whom I’ve not seen in about 10 years, and it was a real treat.

19. Did you fall in love this year?

Nope, unless you count my kitchen table, complete with Marimekko oilcloth. I do really love having an eat-in kitchen!

20. What was your favorite TV program?

Anything Scandinavian. Borgen, The Killing, The Bridge…I’ve loved them all.

21. What was the best book you read?

New Andrea Camillieri books. Rory Stewart’s ‘The Places in Between’.

22. What was your favorite film of this year?

Not sure I’ve seen many non-kid films this year…

23. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I was 40. I worked a bit on a research bid (sigh…) and went out for french food with my family. Escargot with kids is a real treat! Not exactly what we had planned.

24. What kept you sane?

My family, my sister and N.B.D. This is our new family phrase to remind us that most things are N.B.D. (No Big Deal).

25. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

The husband on Borgen (Danish actor Mikael Birkkjaer).

26. Who did you miss?

My family overall, but especially my sister. I miss her everyday and would give just about anything to have her living next door to me.

27. Who was the best new person you met?

My new neighbour, Clara. It’s nice to have someone so simpatico living right across the street.

Holiday Mode

Two weeks of staycation ahead of me. I managed to clear shift my inbox to a to-do folder, submitted corrections for a book chapter and moved my in-tray to the ignore for 2 whole weeks pile. To say that I’m not yet feeling relaxed would be an understatement, despite a glass of wine and chocolate chip muffin. I hope that 2 weeks of fresh air, reading for pleasure and catching up with friends will rectify this.

I feel an addict’s itchy finger with my email though. I could just check it quickly, just to see… No!!! Step away from the iPad, hide the MacBook under a stack of novels and just relax…

Working on a Sunday Morning

I don’t often have to work on a Sunday morning, nor do I often choose to. When I’m in the UK, Sunday mornings are for family. My son has swimming lessons, and some weeks the whole family will go swimming afterwards. We cook a nice lunch. We see my in-laws or our friends. We try to relax after a busy week and a Saturday running errands and doing chores. Sundays are, despite the general lack of Churchiness, sacred.

When I’m away, the rules change though. I didn’t really work much on Friday because I was travelling, and I have to get ready for a big meeting this week. Partners on a research project are flying in today, and I’ve promised to have words on a page that we can discuss. I don’t mind working on a Sunday like this, because I’m very privileged to being doing work like this in the first place.

Having said that, willingness and ableness are two very different things. Look at this sofa. Look at the antler chandelier filled with fairy lights. Look at the pillows. How on earth is a woman supposed to concentrate when this luscious cosiness is calling out to her!! Take your shoes off…sit on me…curl up with a book… put away the Macbook and come to me…

So I will shake the cobwebs out of my head and order another coffee. I’ll start to put some words on the page. I’ll send a couple of emails (which will earn me brownie points as, hellooo, working on a Sunday morning!). Then, when I’m done, if the sofa isn’t filled with blonde and beautiful Swedish undergraduates, I’ll kick off my shoes and curl up with my book.

Women, Work & the Art of Savoir Faire

My current book is by the delightful Mireille Guiliano, called Women, Work and the Art of Savoir Faire.

As the book description says: ‘This is a book about life, how to make the most of it, how to find your balance when you are working long days and trying to be happy and fulfilled. Mireille Guiliano has written the kind of book she wishes she had been given when starting out in the business world and had at hand along the way. She draws on her own experiences at the forefront of women in business to offer lessons, stories, helpful hints – and even recipes! – that can make the working world a happier and more satisfying part of a well-balanced life. Mireille talks about style, communication skills, risk taking, leadership, etiquette, mentoring, personal relationships and much more, all from a perspective of three decades in business. This book is about helping women (and a few men, peut-etre) feel good about themselves, being challenged and engaged in our working lives, and always looking for pleasure in every single day.’

I’m torn between feeling like Ms Guiliano is a tad smug from time to time (though that could be both her French and American characteristics coming through! I’ve been in the UK long enough to feel a bit suspicious of anyone who isn’t at least a little self-deprecating), and then wanting to buy this book for every working woman I know. The advice she gives, as someone who has worked her way right to the top in a heavily male-dominated industry, is sound, and is about how imbalance between work and life affects the quality of both. Some of her advice is very practical, and I’ll write more about that another time. Some of it seems somewhat old-fashioned (she is, presumably, in her 60s…albeit a foxy 60s!), and yet I can still see the relevance (quick quiz: when you leave the table, where do you leave your napkin?). All of it is suffused with her clear passion for both her work and her life.

Photo: Andrew French

I say ‘working women’ because it does presume that the reason why you’re reading it is because you work, and she is evangelical about the benefit of work for pretty much anyone. I have to say that I am too, so it’s a message that suits me, but I can imagine that someone staying at home to take care of their kids would find little here for her. The author did not have children herself, and so although she is aware of the challenges of balancing it all with children, it’s not something she herself experienced directly. This is not inconsequential. The reason why I have made so little time for myself in recent years is because my children – not my job really – have sucked it all away from me! I spend less time doing my job than I used to, because of my children. I spend less time on myself than I used to, because of my children. And I wouldn’t want to spend any less time with them than I do. So that means I need to figure out how to do less work, and to do what I do more efficiently, in order to find time for myself.

This book is making a small contribution to helping me figure this out, and for that I’ll give it to friends who are in a similar place in their lives.

How is it almost autumn?

We were walking in the park in Cirencester today, when we came across this tree. Ok, it’s beautiful, and ok, it was a lovely day, but still. I was wearing a sweater – a linen sweater, but a sweater nonetheless – and my boots.

We have a week left of our summer holiday before our son goes back to school on Monday. That’s a week without email, without dissertations to comment on, without anyone…other than my children…making demands of me. Hmmm…as my kids are much more demanding than my colleagues or students…

In some ways, I feel like this summer has slipped through my fingers. I don’t feel ready yet for September to be here, and for a whole new academic year to be upon us. I don’t want to dig up our vegetables. I don’t want to put away the garden furniture. I don’t want to put away my fitflops.

Rather than seeing it as time slipping away, though, I could focus on what I’ve managed to do. I’ve travelled. I’ve dipped my feet in a DC fountain with my mom and son in 100 degree heat. I’ve eaten tons of fresh veg from the garden. I’ve spent countless hours playing in the park with the kids. I’ve bbq’d with friends. I’ve sat out in pub gardens. I managed to make it back to the States both for my best friend’s 40th and to say goodbye to someone I loved very much. I’ve got my toes covered in sand at the beach. I’ve eaten many meals outside. I’ve gone for long walks.

I’ve also finished 2 journal articles, won research funding, submitted a special issue of a journal, finished up 2 research projects. Instead of seeing these things as things that have taken away from ‘my summer’, I need to start seeing this all part of the big giant package that has been a lovely and eventful Summer of 2011.

Happiness vs. Achievement?

In today’s Guardian, Madeline Bunting writes about ‘Sex and power: why women choose to go missing from top jobs‘.

City workers outside the Bank of England building on Threadneedle Street in the City of London. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

She points out how at the top levels, women are still poorly represented but perhaps this has as much to do with women’s expectations and needs as it does with prejudice or the ‘glass ceiling’. Bunting writes:

Some men and women enjoy juggling and get very good at it, but it requires ferocious organisation, focus and energy. Lots don’t have them, or don’t even want them. I know many women my age who could be among those “missing” at the top; instead of becoming chief executives they’ve worked out a combination of family and work that leaves time for friends, hobbies, voluntary work and exercise. Its priorities map well on to the research literature on happiness; an aspect that perhaps doesn’t get the acknowledgement it deserves.

Ambition has proved hard to combine with the mundane requirements of secure nurturing. The cost is obvious; they don’t get the power or conventional measures of professional success. It’s not letting the sisterhood down but holding on to values of relationships and wellbeing. We’re delighted to see others forging ahead and crashing through the prejudices, but we shiver at the price it might exact in our own lives.

 In many ways, this is where this blog is coming from. I am ambitious at work, very ambitious really, but I also want a family life and a personal life alongside it. When I’m old and grey, I want to look back at a life well-lived, not just a career well achieved. I should be tweeting, blogging about work, working up one of the many journal article ideas I have, but no. I’d rather write this, go for coffee with my family, get ready for our holiday, read a magazine, and enjoy the sunny summer day. And, in the end, I don’t think my career will suffer too badly. I’m senior lecturer in my 30s and will be professor in my early 40s, but I’ll do it on my own terms and in a way that still leaves me with my life.