Follow Your Dreams

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Once upon a time there was a vivacious bundle of fun who came into the world laughing, smiling and spreading her sunshine everywhere. Age 5 she sat on the back-row of the nativity with the other angels, and sang the loudest, arms out the widest, stealing the show. She grew up into an engaging, interesting young woman with topaz blue eyes and chestnut brown hair. As a teen her heart opened to the world and she became aware of others less fortunate than her, and this kindled a desire to right the wrongs and fight for justice and equality. A love of learning made her a good student, and she touched those that met her with her open, engaging smile and laughter. She followed her dreams and went off to study about the ways of the world and how the wrongs could be righted. She had setbacks and challenges but was brave. She ventured far from home into a foreign place as this was part of the adventure. The friends she made on the way became the closest, most loyal friends as they were having adventures too. They worked hard and played hard and enjoyed exploring new places together. Today they got to celebrate, and she and her friends wore their crowns and robes and felt like Kings and Queens. They survived the journey, followed their chosen paths and remained true. What lies ahead they don’t know, but today we simply say we love you, well done for following your dreams thus far. We will be there cheering for you when you embark on the next stage of your adventure. This is the end of the chapter but not of the book.

Yesterday my daughter Carmen was awarded a First Class Honours Degree in International Relations and Politics from Cardiff University. She studied abroad in Bordeaux for a year as part of her degree course.

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The art of resilience

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Resilience is like a muscle, one that we can all strengthen. On Saturday I took part in a 22-mile hike for the charity Macmillan, over the toughest terrain possible, the Jurassic coast (Weymouth to Corfe Castle), with 500m elevations at 75 degree angles in 30+ degree heat.

My friend and I took a steady pace, finishing in around 11 hours, having started at 7.30am. The highlight of the day was chatting to other walkers and helping many along the way.

The hills were so brutally steep, some people got physically ‘stuck’ and were in tears, unable to move.

We were able to help – either by giving water when people had run out, talking to lone walkers that were struggling with pain to distract them, and my friend Wendy helped a woman step by step down one of the steepest and hardest hill descents by letting her lean on her, while she used her trekking pole for support.

We were able to do this, and to complete the walk comfortably, for a few reasons.

Preparation. We had walked the hardest sections already as part of our training, so on the day there were no surprises. We knew exactly how hard it was going to be.

Training. We had adjusted our fitness regimes in preparation for the hills, with gym work on the stair-treader, runs, walks, you name it – we’d done it.

Equipment. We’d carefully considered what to wear and what to take. We’d tried everything out before the day, footwear, rucksacks, shorts, trekking poles to make sure we were as comfortable as possible. On the day (one of the hottest of the year) we carried extra water, more than we thought we’d need. We were each able to give away a bottle each to others that needed it and were glad to do so.

Teamwork. While we can build up our individual resilience with training and preparation, we are more likely to succeed with this if we share our efforts and progress. Our team group chat in the months leading up to the big day was a useful spur for all of us, and certainly made the whole experience hugely enjoyable.

For me, this was a perfect example of resilience, and the principles work in any setting. We can build up our resilience to challenges with the right preparation and planning, training to make sure the strength and skills are there, and on the day, being flexible and adaptive (my friend gave her trekking pole to the lady that needed it more), being supportive and kind, and remembering it wasn’t an individual race – it was more important that everyone finished at their own pace.

 

My Chelsea Flower Show experience 2018

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My first ever visit to the Chelsea Flower show did not disappoint. The day was filled with colour, style, emotion and tranquility all conveyed through epic displays featuring myriads of plants and flowers at their finest.

I’ve attempted to capture the highlights and key moments in our day, as well as the essence and the spirit of the Chelsea Flower Show

Eco garden – this fabulous garden combines style and substance combined with its sunken seating and living area which featured a on the wall tv screen and inbuilt speakers. The yellow cushions popped and replicated the yellow colour that dominated the densely packed square planting. The water around the main landscaping added to the tranquility that the sunken garden achieved. The fundamental eco aspects – a fully functioning kitchen all powered by the solar panels in the roof kitchen, goldfish waste providing the nutrients for the vertical herb wall, and all the plants selected as they provide maximum CO2 release, meaning that a garden like this erplicated on scale on an apartment bock design would be completely carbon netrual giving balbnce in a city centre environment. The eco credentials aside, this was truly a space you would want to spend time it.

Lemon Tree Trust Garden – this one was truly astonishing, for the clever use of everyday objects as plant containers (plastic bottles, rain guttering, concrete breeze blocks,) which conveyed the story behind the garden, that of refugees who are resourceful, creative and industrious. The innovation wall makes use of limited space and the plants feature drought tolerant species, with the water feature emphasizing the importance of grey water re-use. The meditative space at the back of the garden reflecting the eastern religious themes. We were given recipe cards with Middle Eastern recipes, featuring the stories behind the individuals that had provided them. Tranquility through adversity was the message that came to me from this garden.

This garden was created by the Lemontreetrust.org, an organisation that supports gardening initiatives in refugee communities and drew on ideas from Domiz, a camp which houses 26,000 refugees of predominantly Syrian refugees.


With some exhibits its really exciting to talk to the designers and growers. We had a lovely chat with Morgan Douglas Nuth –  a London based florist who as an ambassador for Floral Fundamentals led the team of volunteers in designing this creation. A 7 foot tall tower covered in 4000 flower heads and cascading Phalaenopsis orchids to create a massive column. The concept reflected the essence of Floral Fundamentals with an outer ring showing a ‘field’ of foliage and flowers combined with seeds to reflect the outdoors growers. Upright frames represented the glasshouse growers with suspended domes of flowers with root trails to show the whole life-cycle.  We loved the engagement and passion and meeting Morgan and one of the growers from the team.

Floralfundamentals are a not for profit aimed at bringing together florists, growers and suppliers.

 

 

 

The Windrush Garden – I found this garden really emotional as there were placards placed throughout with black and white photographs or individuals that came to the Britain on the Empire Windrush from the Caribbean, telling their stories, the roles and jobs they undertook while they settled. This gave the feeling of the excitement, the nervousness, and the scale of the challenge to relocate to a new continent and country, with no family, friends, or sometimes money in your pocket to get started. The sheer hard work and resilience of those individuals seeking to make a better life in a strange environment was a testament to their strength of character.

The garden featured a model of the Empire Windrush, with one half of the garden showing life in the Caribbean and the other showing the roles and jobs undertaken while the Windrush generation settled in Britain.

Designed by Birmingham City Council– this garden actually won gold!!

 

Other picture highlights featured below:

All in all it was an amazing day and I can thoroughly recommend the experience. I have come away uplifted and inspired to be more creative, adventurous and bold in my own garden and with floral artistry.

 

I heart Danish : Friendtex fashion review

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The Danish are coming! With the success of ‘The Little Book of Hygge’ last year that took us by storm, we are embracing their clean aesthetics and warm approach to life. That is no different when it comes to fashion. With an emphasis on comfort and minimalism, the Danish retail concept ‘Friendtex’ offers modern, classic and elegant clothing.

I was delighted to be asked to try out some of their current collection and to learn more about the Friendtex brand. The clothes are available through home-shopping consultants, thus offering a more personal way to shop.

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I got to wear the Bella trousers in slim fit. I quite literally didn’t want to take these off. I seem to own a wardrobe full of cropped black trousers but these are my favourite for fit, comfort and how they look, no question. The stetch in the fabric makes them easy to wear, and the length was great, just skimming my ankle, meaning for my 5ft 11” frame they are a slight crop. Apparently, these are known by loyal customers as the ‘magic trousers’ as they suit all shapes and sizes. They come in slim fit or straight leg for those that prefer a wider cut.

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Full of classic wardrobe pieces, the Friendtex range really comes into its own with its collection of delicious floral and patterned autumnal blouses. I’m wearing the olive green Rosemary blouse. Its seasonal tones set off by the wafty, sheer fabric, all in a generous length for my tall frame.

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Under my blouse, I’m wearing another of Friendtex’s best-sellers, the Belina top. This figure hugging top has great body length, making it ideal to sit as an under-layer, and has a delicate lace border up top. This wardrobe staple comes in black, navy, rose and off-white.

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So if you want to wear something different that isn’t on the High Street, and if you want a different kind of retail experience, then check out Friendtex. Their website www.friendtex.com shows off the full range, and if you are lucky enough to have a consultant nearby, you can pop round and try on some styles.

Even better – if you fall in love with the styles and want to learn more about being a Friendtex home-shopping consultant there’s lots of earning potential and a special start-up offer where you can earn your spring wardrobe, please get in touch with zoelovelock@thecriticalforum.co.uk

 

 

 

Scared. Excited. Sad. Grateful.

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christian-holzinger-1262So yesterday I left my job of 9 and a half years. Today I am the Director of Talentstorm Ltd. Running my own business is something I have always wanted to do. For the last few years I have both consciously and sub-consciously been moving towards this. When I knew changes were coming at work I knew this could be the opportunity to take redundancy and go it alone. To do exactly what was the question. In my profession, taking the consultancy route is a popular choice – I would have lots of competition from others that may be specialists in their fields. I was concerned that my experience as a generalist within the HR field would not be enough. A mentoring session provided a helpful challenge with the thought shared ‘generalists are underrated’. I immediately began to consider how I could make that my strength.

It was ultimately a long car-journey to Milton Keynes (long enough that my son would fall asleep) that I was able to process the final puzzle pieces to formulate my business plan. My strengths lie not just in delivery of traditional and non-traditional learning & development solutions, but in working with a business, understanding a customer’s needs, brokering the right solution and project managing through to delivery and outcomes. In addition to this I have an adept eye at coming up with new solutions and proposals, and have the ability to package and market these in a way that business customers understand what is on offer. This is what I have been doing for many years for internal customers, so not a huge leap to do this for external customers.

So that formed the essence of my business plan. Not to focus on simply getting consultancy work, (although that forms the important stage 1 of my start-up strategy, to get that all-essential cash-flow into the business), but to offer a broader range of solutions than my areas of expertise, drawing on associates to complete the delivery model. Having used and formulated great working relationships with suppliers over many years, this would be a natural and easy step to put in place.

The benefits for the customer are two-fold – I am not simply just another consultant, trying to push a solo offering, but rather a broker, between a customer and a broad range of specialists, so I can truly listen to the customer to understand their needs and come up with the best solution. The other advantage is with my experience of being the one to commission suppliers and knowing how to get the best from that relationship. Add to that my experience of transforming a function so it is at the cutting edge of digital solutions in HR and L&D terms, and I can add real value and insight.

The other challenge I had to work out was how to badge this model for the customer, how would I represent this broad offering – being more than just a narrow definition of traditional HR or training solutions. Talent Management is the latest parlance in the HR world to represent all the activities that can enhance an organisation’s people strategies. So that’s how the business name was derived – but more importantly using a Talent Management model will help represent my full business offering to my customers.

These last few months have been incredibly emotional, full of highs and lows – moving towards my decision to go it alone, whilst attempting to exit a job  and a team I have loved and an organization I have been fully committed to.

At times I have been gripped by fear that I wouldn’t be able to pay the bills, but mostly my mind is racing with ideas and plans to make it work. Now the time has come I literally feel like I am on the ceiling, feeling incredibly empowered and liberated.

Most of all, however, I am grateful. Grateful to have this opportunity to fully express my skills and abilities through this venture, grateful to have had such a loyal team support me over the years in my last role, grateful for the mentor who asked me a couple of years ago where I want to be in 5 years time, grateful for bosses that have always let me do my own thing, and most importantly, grateful to all the family and friends who have listened to me as I have talked, cried, and talked my way through most of this year as I have been working my way through this big change.

The battered rucksack

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I scrubbed my nearly-30 year old rucksack with a bowl of warm soapy water whilst sitting in the garden. It had come back from my daughter’s festival weekend looking worse for wear. As I washed the mud away I noticed the other flaws – a zip that would not open, the grey and green colours now faded dappled with dots of mould, and a missing metal back-support rod.

I tried to look at it through the eyes of someone seeing it for the first time, worn out and in need of replacing, but I couldn’t. I could only see it as my old friend, which is why I was trying so hard to clean and fix it.

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Me, age 18. At Ramsgate ferry terminal, about to tour France for 3 weeks by train with my best friend Cathy.

Every time I venture into the loft to bring down this ruck-sack, it sparks joy in me. Holding it, passing it on to my daughters as they go on their adventures, is a reminder of how it came into my life. An 18th birthday present. I remember going with my Dad to choose it, ready for a month of travelling around Europe with my friend.

That’s what this rucksack signifies to me. The start of independence. I had just finished my A levels, and spent the summer after working several jobs to save up to travel. My best friend at College, who was braver than me, was keen for us to travel round Europe. As she spoke French and German I felt safe going with her. For 3 weeks we took trains around France, border hopping into Switzerland, Germany and Monaco. Our rucksacks contained everything we needed for the trip. We had an amazing time and I have vivid and fond memories of our travels.

In the years since then any time I have an appropriate opportunity, out comes the rucksack. I trusted its ability to manage any outdoor occasion, straps for a roll-mat or sleeping bag underneath, side pockets for toiletries, hidden storage in the top flaps ideal for maps or documents. A sturdy metal frame to support the shape, and a padded waist-belt to distribute the weight evenly.

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Carmen (far right), also age 18, off to her first festival weekend with my trusted rucksack 🙂

It came with me to university, and back and forth, all those weekend train journeys throughout term-time and then when going home for the holidays. Any camping opportunities and it is the first thing I think of to get out.

My daughters have taken this on youth camps and festivals, and every time I tell them that this is the rucksack that got me round Europe, and it has some tales to tell.

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Scarlett age 16 off to a youth camp in Jersey. I was keen to demonstrate how easily she could get all her camping gear in the rucksack!

It really does need throwing away now, the faded covering and mould spots I don’t mind. Even the broken zip, but the missing metal support means it’s kind of lop-sided and not suited to carrying a heavy load. It’s now in the garage awaiting being taken to the tip. I could have put it straight in the bin but that would have been too hard, so it’s kind of in a transition place, like going to a waiting room before being disposed of, just so I can get used to the idea.  Let’s hope there will be new adventures and memories which will make a new one just as special.

Progress

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antoine-beauvillain-759Eeeeek. So a slightly unplanned start to the New Year threw me off-balance temporarily. A romance ended, and all of a sudden all the plans I’d had in my head had gone out the window too. Once the bruises had healed, I realised I needed something to fill the void.  

 

I like to keep myself busy, I like to have projects on the go. The sad thing is, since becoming single, I fear that this busyness is a cover-up for another issue, loneliness.  

 

I am achievement driven, I like to set goals and achieve them, but I have of recent times challenged myself on the goals I am setting.  

 

I read a book, ‘Essentialism’ – which made the point that we can be busy doing many things that may be good, but if they are not ‘essential’ to our happiness they could be damaging, as they may be stopping us achieving our true potential. Some of this felt slightly uncomfortable for me. I have so many goals and things I want to achieve and I find it impossible to prioritise them. It’s like my life has so many different categories and I have goals in each of them. So of course I did some thinking. My children and my home life came out as my top priority, so every other goal has to fit around that. Now that does not mean that I put my children’s needs above mine in a detrimental way, it just means that I want to strike that all important ever so elusive balance between fulfilling my needs whilst creating a great home environment and great memories with my family. 

 

So one of my new goals that emerged out of this thinking, was that I could have a big ‘push’ on getting my house in order. Literally. I am in a big house, and for as long as I’ve been here (10 years) it’s never been completely finished – always a room or two that needs decorating, always some clutter somewhere that needs sorting, and always a sense of I’ll never quite be able to manage to get to it – with working full-time and family demands. Also there’s the slightly daunting aspect – without someone else to bounce off, with decisions to make, things to buy, things to fix that I have no idea about – it has been easy to put it all off. 

 

Getting the house ‘in order’ and looking at its best is a goal that will help me as I now work from home a lot, and one that will help my children, so we can entertain friends and have fun with each other in a comfortable environment. (Not that we don’t do those things now – but it will help my stress levels when my children announce their friends are coming over if I don’t immediately feel embarrassed about the chipped paint/worn carpet/cluttered chaos.) 

 

So even making this decision and verbalising it to anyone that would listen was an important first step. There was/is so much to do it has felt overwhelming in the past, and I felt I could only achieve it if I tackled it as a large-scale project that would take a few months – using weekends and holidays from work.  

 

It was a few weeks in to this process, I had made a good start, a few trips to the tip from emptying out a loft, the first room painted, some items sold on e-bay, when I came across a post from a fellow blogger talking about ‘Konmari‘. Konmari, it turns out, stands for Marie Kondo, who wrote the book ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A simple, effective way to banish clutter forever’. No, the title is not a joke, nor is it tongue-in-cheek. At time’s its an irritating read, but once some of the ideas get into your head they stay there. 

 

I’ll tell you about the book and my house project in my next blog. For me, this year is about tidying up but not in the physical-space sense, but in a life-sense. But of course they both go together. After my bruising start to the year I retreated to my core – what’s important to me, my children, looking after myself, working on projects to help others, things that will make a difference. Lots of reflection and introspection, not easy, still 18 months on after losing my Dad. He and I were so similar, and I’ve decided to be braver, to embrace that, and to ‘step out’ whereas I may have held back in the past. 

 

But what I take satisfaction in, is progress. Step by step, little by little. I can look at my garden, and even though it’s not quite finished, still one corner to go, I can see the progress I’ve made by myself over the last few years. From single-handedly dismantling a trampoline, recovering a neglected lawn, adding some vibrant colour. These things can not all be done at once, but one at a time. Progress in all areas of our lives is like that. The big problems can’t be fixed all at once. We just need to know where we’re going and how we want to get there.  

Mind Games and Marathons

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venicerunHaving just watched the final 10 minutes of the Nike team’s efforts to smash the 2 hour marathon barrier I reflected on my own running experience this week.

While I’m no Olympic standard athlete – and my race of choice is the half-marathon, I learnt an interesting lesson when I used a different tactic in this week’s run. For my 5th half-marathon, I decided to ditch my standard practice of listening to music through my headphones and using the rhythm of music to spur me along, instead opting to follow one of the pacers that were provided for the race.

Pacers were provided at the Milton Keynes Half Marathon, each with their target time emblazoned across their neon running vests, holding balloons aloft, so you could find them amidst the 10,000+ runners taking part that day. I spotted the 2 hours 15 pacer, a tall lady, which appealed to me. I sidled over and made contact and stood near her while we were waiting for the race to start. My usual half marathon completion time is around 2:25 so I thought following her would be a good target for me. She was actually the slowest pacer available, so it was follow Janet and try for a faster than usual time or run my own race with headphones and a questionable outcome.

We started and the usual chaos of the opening few miles with runners all around cutting in and overtaking were made steadier as I only had one thing to focus on, keeping Janet in my peripheral vision. I enjoyed not having my headphones on, as I could take in the sounds from the crowd lining those early streets cheering us, the gospel band singing as we made it into the town centre, the music blasting out under bridges. It was clear Janet was well-known and ran for one of the running clubs as there was lots of banter and encouragement from the crowd as I and others in her posse made our way around the course.

The starting pace seemed slow and it was good to know that the usual mistake of over-exertion in those opening miles wasn’t made as the pace we started at remained constant. The early miles flew by, and the first time I was aware how far we’d run we were at 7 miles already. All the time Janet had been either in front of me, to the side, or slightly behind. I stayed close to her, rather than running further away and just keeping her in my sights. For some reason it felt reassuring. I enjoyed not having to think about my pace, not to think about anything, just keeping next to Janet. If too many people got in-between Janet and I, I would work so that I could get back in close.

The feeling that I had following Janet and keeping pace, that certainty that her pace was right, and the trust that I had in her steadiness surprised me. A slight panic would come if I drifted and got more than a couple of metres behind. What could this tell me? I thought about the role models we have in our lives, and how we all need someone to aspire to. Sometimes when we can’t think, and we can’t see the wood for the trees, we need those ‘go-to’ people that can guide us, because they know us, they know our true selves and if we are panicked, lost and under stress they can be our harbour of safety, setting us back on course and pointing the way. I also thought if we don’t have these role models, these people we aspire to learn from, to draw on, we need to seek them out, and cultivate those relationships.

I compared my race so far with my previous races, with my headphones and music pumping. I would be lost in my own world, out of tune with what was going on around me, isolated. The music could help at times, a good song, a good beat, could help step up the pace, but at other times a change in song could disrupt a running rhythm that would have otherwise continued.

As we were nearing the 9 mile marker the sun was out. It was warm, a runner’s nightmare. To my surprise Janet pulled off her neon vest and said ‘Carry on ladies’ to our little group as she slowed and then stepped out of the race – I was dumbfounded! What? My pacer had gone! OK I thought – I just need to keep going, to keep the same pace. Although now I could feel how tired I was, when I hadn’t felt it before as my only focus was on Janet. I managed another mile, wondering what had happened. All of a sudden I felt very alone, the ‘team’ that had formed around Janet had dispersed, and I was running my own race. At around 10 miles I thought maybe I should try the music, and fiddled with my headphones, dropping them, picking them up, I could feel I was losing my rhythm, my focus. A couple of good songs helped, then, as the sun was beating down heavier now, and a hill loomed in front of me, I stopped running and walked. I knew I was failing myself, but I couldn’t get past the feeling of being slightly adrift, and lost, after relying on my pacer for so long.

The wry thought crossed my mind that this is like life too, we shouldn’t rely on others so much that we can’t then stand on our own two feet. There are times when we need to. There are times when we need to be the one to set the pace. I thought about times in my life when I have stood alone, and stepped out into brave, unchartered territory, and made tough life choices. I thought about my children and how I have to be a role model for them, and the hard things they have to deal with and how important it is that they can see me leading from the front. I managed to walk/run the rest of the way dispensing with the headphones and instead using the crowd cheering us on through the final couple of miles until I passed the finish line.

My final time was 2:21, which wasn’t bad. I’m not so worried about the time achieved, but more on my own personal battle – I am cross that I lost focus when my pacer stopped, and wish I could have been more resilient to have kept pace after that. I will take that with me into the next race, as there is always a next time, and always a chance to improve, and to strengthen and train more for the physical challenge, which in turn helps to build up the mental resolve, and plan for unexpected surprises on the way.

 Note: I met up with my pacer Janet afterwards, and found she had stopped due to an asthma attack. Brave lady, she took a break for 4 minutes and then carried on the race.

A colleague and mentor remembered

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A few months ago a trusted friend and colleague passed away. Some months previously at my Dad’s funeral there was a group of his former work colleagues there, all from different employers. Some of them had worked with him over 30 years ago. They told me how my Dad had helped and mentored them early in their careers and it struck me how strong these work relationships can be when we reach out and help others. That was certainly the way I felt about how Debbie had helped me over the years.

I wanted to pay tribute to her and to capture what she meant to me which is why I penned the below:

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I knew Debbie over a period of 16 years. I was in my first role in a large organisation as the Training Manager, and she was recommended to me to deliver some of our management training. Over the years that followed I began working with Debbie more and more. In a time where I was bombarded by other consultants offering me their services, I found Debbie to always offer sensible, practical solutions backed up with real experience. She never tried a ‘hard-sell’ approach with me, and certainly never touted for business, but instead she responded to my questions of ‘do you have any suggestions of how I should go about this…’ by giving her advice. If it was something I could do myself without paying for any external help, she would say so. It was this impartiality and generosity that led me to trust Debbie and her judgement implicitly over the years, making her my first go-to person whenever I was faced with a new challenge.

Very quickly we got to know each other personally, both having a child at the same age. Our catch-up phone calls extended into catch-up lunches, where we would talk for ages about family and personal things, as well as discussing our joint work projects.

On a professional level I enjoyed working with Debbie as our skills complimented each other well. She was organised and practical, and would efficiently manage all the management development programmes she ran for me over the years. I could always trust her to be prepared, organised, and calm. She was also personal and engaging, and presented and delivered effective training, as well as introducing me to a great network of other professional trainers. She had great attention to detail, and extended her business to becoming a centre for the Chartered Management Institute when I was looking for accredited solutions.

Debbie was an excellent listener, and used her listening skills to good effect as a consultant, listening to me describe the work-place issues I was trying to resolve, and she would easily pick out and identify what they key points were and suggest a way forward.

These attributes were all part of who Debbie was, and the times that we talked on a more personal level these same listening skills were employed. By now I had moved on to a new role in a larger organisation, but was still using Debbie for all of our management and leadership development training (Other providers I had tried just did not have the same attention to detail). She was growing and developing her business too, and over time our lunch meetings developed from considering solutions to work-place problems into peer to peer chats around our own career paths, as well as the usual personal and family stuff, plus now comparing notes on our recent shared interest of running (although Debbie was much more dedicated than me!)

Earlier this year I had some thoughts about my next career steps, and Debbie was the person I wanted to share these thoughts with. She had always been encouraging and instilled confidence in me. I hadn’t even realised it but all these years Debbie had been my unofficial mentor.

I have learnt so much from Debbie. She has been my role model of what a good consultant should be like, interested and empathetic, solution focused without being over-bearing, and always extremely professional, clearly stating what she would do and by when, and always meeting any commitment. I know these attributes come from who she was as a person. She was interested in others, and a genuine and warm person who had high standards.

Spending time with her was always a pleasure, and I will miss her immensely, but I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with and to know Debbie for all those years, and for all the personal support and encouragement she most generously gave to me.

The Digital Dating Survival Guide

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Dating has undergone a wholesale change in recent years. This is thanks to the arrival of the smartphone, social media, and the dating websites and apps.  The internet dating site was once seen as the uncool territory of the over 40’s. Whereas it has now been kicked into touch by the advent of the dating apps that showcase simplicity at its finest. When even my manicurist, a vibrant young thing in her 20’s, is meeting her matches on ‘Plenty of Fish’ or ‘POF’ as she calls it, I realise there is no stigma any more to using digital tools to access a potential dating pool.

The rules of this new game however, are vast, and this is intended to be an idiot’s guide for those new to the scene, highlighting some simple guidelines so that you can navigate your way through.

Think that you’re too old for tech?

For those that are wary of smartphones, social media and the digital world, the advantages can far outweigh the time needed to invest in getting up to speed. It does not have to take over your life, and you certainly don’t have to become glued to your device. It’s more about accepting that that’s how people communicate these days, and if you want to meet new people then this can open up your opportunities exponentially. So if you’re not on FB or social media, and need help getting up to speed with the protocol of messaging, have a chat with your kids….

If at first you don’t succeed…

With nearly 1 million people swiping on tinder every minute, its easy to see why the apps are working. It’s not all about tinder either, there’s a range of dating sites and apps, each appealing to slightly different demographics. So do your research, try a few, and if they don’t work for you, ditch them and move on! I came across one app called Bumble, which has the ease of use of tinder, but with one difference, only women can send the first message, meaning you won’t get inundated with messages from anyone you haven’t already identified. The main advantage of the apps over the traditional dating sites is there’s no subscription fee, unless you use the extra services, The set-up is much quicker as they use less details, and can import those from Facebook if you choose. On the traditional dating sites you can usually create a profile and search for free, but to send a message to people you have to subscribe.

This recent article gives a rundown of the latest dating sites and apps….

 It’s a numbers game

All the experts advise to date as many people as possible to help you find the ‘one’. The old style model of dating one person at a time has been replaced, it is now socially acceptable to date multiple people at once, reducing the chance of becoming emotionally invested in the ‘wrong’ person and enhancing the chances of you working out what type of person is the best match for you. Internet dating is a great way to help find your ‘pool’ of dates, something that just wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.

Power of the Profile

This is the most important thing with online dating. There is an art to creating a profile, so it’s worth taking your time over. There’s lots of information online about writing a good profile, and even coming up with a profile name, so read up before you set up! One tip to focus the mind is to check out the competition and see what other males/females you are up against. Make sure you have good photos too, you can always ask a friend to take some of you, as there’s nothing worse than selfies as profile pics.

 Tips for staying safe 

The whole point of the dating sites is that they are designed to protect your anonymity until you are ready to share details and/or meet someone. You can continue messaging through the dating site even after you have met someone if you don’t want to give out your email or mobile phone number. Its strongly recommended that you use a different email address to your regular one for communicating with new dates however, and it’s a definite no-no to give out your home address to anyone whilst in the early stages of dating. In terms of meeting up for a date, take a common sense approach such as always meet in a public place, and take your own vehicle so you can leave if you want to.

Different dynamics

 Smartphones and the instant messaging culture have added a new dimension to how we interact with our dates and potential dates. It is expected to have a bit of chat via message with someone that you have first met online, so you will need to make time for that, however the 24/7 accessibility of messaging can be overwhelming, so make sure you set your own boundaries. I’ve learnt to always switch my phone off when I go to bed, so any late night messages pinging in don’t disturb me. Don’t feel you have to reply to anything straight away, just because it’s called instant messaging it doesn’t mean you have to instantly reply.

In general it’s best to move away from messaging as soon as possible, so aim to set up a time for a phone call as a good way to get to know the potential date better before you decide if you want to meet up.

A virtual relationship is not a real relationship

Beware of investing too much time on a ‘digital’ relationship without a balance of ‘real’ time spent together. Someone that may be a laugh a minute over text may not be so charismatic in person. Meeting up in person, or if a long-distance situation, having a skype call, as soon as possible, is a critical stage before you become emotionally invested.

Dating Danger zones

Beware of catfishing (someone who pretends to be someone else online). These people are very clever and will know how to play you, and if they’re after your money (or anything else), they will think nothing of investing lots of time ‘seemingly’ wanting to get to know you and feigning interest. If something doesn’t feel right it usually isn’t. Remember you are in control, you don’t owe anyone else anything, especially if someone is a ‘virtual’ contact.

Any other strange behaviour such as ‘love-bombing’ – this phrase was used chillingly in the recent case of murdered author Helen Bailey. Love-bombing can be used in any medium but lends itself well to the digital world with use of constant messaging. If you meet someone online and they seem to good to be true – they probably are. If in doubt ask a friend for a second opinion.  It may feel gratifying to receive lots of attention this way, but again common sense needs to prevail.

Pace yourself 

Just because you have access to a potential pool of dates doesn’t mean you have to become a slave to your device and spend ages messaging people you’re not really interested in.  Maybe just try out one site at a time, and realistically think about what you want to get out of the process. If you just want to meet one new person a month, then contact/respond to people accordingly. When things aren’t working out with someone and you don’t want to stay in contact with them, move on.

Have you had any experiences you want to share? Let us know!! It’s only through sharing our stories that we can help each other, and I’ve a few more things to share on this topic…

My other blogs on dating:

The seven deadly fears of a 40-something singleton…

Things I’ve learnt about dating the second time around

In Demand: the importance of post-divorce dating

Take your broken heart, make it into art