Reflections on the 30-Day Blog Challenge

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Hard to believe but the end of the challenge is here, today’s is blog number 30!!! Looking back, I was naive when I set the 30-Day Blog Challenge; I didn't appreciate how all-consuming it would become or just how hard it would be to write something that had to be purposeful and contain good, valuable content. Here's my reflections on some of the things I have I learnt from the process. I am sure, as time passes and I have more time to reflect upon it, there'll be other things that come up.

From the Writing itself:

When I wasn't actually writing it, I was planning, making notes or thinking about the one I was writing or the one I would be writing the next day. Although, I did write two blogs in one day with the intention of giving myself a break on one occasion, it never actually happened the way I planned and ended up writing every day. This was a good thing in one sense because it was useful in developing a writing habit, but it was also relentless. The original plan was for the blogs to be 500 words but the reality of this, was that it is quite difficult to write about some things within such a word count. On the positive side, what it has shown is that I can write in excess of 30, 000 words within a month; my hat goes off to those who do the NaNoWriMo challenge where they are committed to writing 50k words in 30 days (if you've never heard of this, just Google it, their dedication is totally amazing.)

When you are in the flow of writing, it is a wonderful feeling. I get into a similar state when I am having a coaching session. It is about being fully present in the activity, everything that is going on around you is filtered out and you are creating a state of utmost joy and connection with what you are doing or the person you are working with. If you have not experienced the state of flow, then you are missing out and I would encourage you to pursue something wholeheartedly where you can achieve this state. For those of you that have, you'll know what I am talking about and I'd be interested to hear more about what activities generate this feeling for you.

The time of the writing was important, I seemed to be more productive when writing in the morning, though sometimes this was not always possible. There were also a couple of times when I pulled late nighters which really put me under pressure so that it could be posted online before midnight. This has implications now when it comes to working on some other aspects of my business, anything creative or on the admin side of things. Maybe you find you work better, more effectively at certain times of the day.

I also realised that everything doesn’t have to be perfect. It would have been very easy to get too hung up on the post being perfect before I published it. However, you can keep editing, re-writing and always thinking of something else in an effort to make them perfect. In the end, I reached the point that they didn’t need to be perfect, they needed to be out there. Trying to be perfect is another way to procrastinate.

Focus:

I'm not going to lie, maintaining focus was difficult at times but it helped knowing what the end goal was and what I needed to do each day. Breaking the task down into smaller chunks helped with avoiding overwhelm. If I'd have said at the start, I need to write 30k words in a month, this would have been quite daunting. It's a bit like going on a journey, imagine sailing around the world, going from the Portsmouth to Sydney in Australia. You aren't going to be able to do it in one go but if you plan stop off points and stay on course, you'll eventually get there. Yes, it will be hard work, and require a lot of effort. There'll even be some storms along the way, times when you feel like giving up and stopping, but if you keep focused and don't lose sight of reaching Sydney, you'll be happy when you pull into the harbour and see the Opera House, just as the sun is setting.

I knew what I needed to do and my reasons for fulfilling the challenge, this helped me maintain my focus.

Commitment:

In my very first blog I spoke about declaring your goals and I did this when it came to doing this challenge. I made a commitment to you as the reader, highlighting my intention and I also made a commitment to myself to complete the challenge. Sometimes it is hard to remain committed but whilst I might have questioned the purpose behind what I was doing when the going got tough, I never thought of giving up. Neither did I ever think about missing a day and not posting anything, even if no one would have noticed, it would have felt like I was cheating; that's not me.

Accountability:

It is easy to underestimate the importance of accountability. It is a very powerful tool and one which I encourage others to use if they are facing their own challenge and wanting to achieve a specific goal. I set this challenge with a fellow coach, Chris, and we held each other to account. No matter what time of day we emailed each other to announce the completion of the daily task. We discussed how we were both finding it, because not only were we accountability partners on this journey but we provided each other with support when it was needed. For me, being held to account by a peer was crucial to help me maintain my focus, remain committed and getting the job done. It is why accountability within a coaching session is a vital component to achieving the outcome you want.

Emotional Side:

Sometimes it was difficult and some days, I didn't want to write, I just wasn't in the mood for it. But there are times in your life when you don't want to do something, and you do it anyway. The whole month was a roller coaster of emotions. To start with, there was the excitement of the challenge, a few days in the realisation of this was going to be tougher than I thought it was. After a week, it was a case of "OMG, what the hell have you done? You are not going to do this." Mid way, it was the relief that I was half way through and maybe this was a survivable activity. Then with a week to go, it was back to despair, "what am I going to write about now?!" I'll admit there were a couple of days when I was just down right ratty. Looking back, I think the last week was the toughest, because you know you're close to finishing and part of your mind is rushing off ahead to what life will be like once this is over and it takes more of an effort to remain focused.

I did find that when I wasn't in the mood for writing a way to get around this was to use pen and paper rather than using the computer to write. The tactile nature of writing on paper was much more productive at getting the creative juices flowing and help me to find my voice and tell a story. I wonder if the slower, more sensual pace of this process actually helps to quieten the mind so that it is focused more on what you are trying to convey? Who knows? But I do know this, it helped me overcome any periods of writers’ block which is what I wanted it to do.

Now this is the last day, my emotions are mixed. In one sense I will miss elements of the challenge so there is a tinge of sadness. There is another part of me that is looking forward to switching off thinking about writing every day. I am immensely proud of what Chris and I have achieved and how we have gone about this challenge. I am amazed at just how much I have written in this relatively short amount of time. And I enjoyed the creative element side of it, and I think as people, we need to have an opportunity to express our creativity in one form or another for the good of our emotional well-being. I hope that you can find inspiration, not only from the blogs themselves, but in doing a challenge of your own if there is something you are wanting to achieve. It is a great way to stop procrastinating and get cracking on with something important to you.

Support:

Whilst I was the sole writer of these blogs, I had the support of others around me and it highlighted once again the importance of having people in your corner. They encourage, question and push you along, especially in this instance, when writing was a struggle. My biggest support is my husband who is also manages all things IT for me; I know I drive him mad at times and there were a couple of times when I was ‘threatened’ with him downing tools if I didn't have the post ready for him by a certain time. Of course, he uploaded it to the website no matter what the time was, but it just shows that you can't or don't have to do everything by yourself, there will always be someone you can call upon for support.

Next steps:

Now we are at the end of the 30-Day Blog Challenge, what now? Well, I won't be writing blog posts on a daily basis, but I am committed to maintaining a writing habit and posting new content weekly. My purpose for writing the blogs was for you to hear my voice and stories, to get to know more about me and who I am as a person and as a Career and Life Coach. I wanted to give you different knowledge and perspectives, tools to use in your everyday lives. I wanted you to gain a better understanding of what life coaching is and that coaching is accessible to everyone and for whatever challenge they want to tackle in their life.

Coaching is not a self-indulgent activity because you are worth the investment in time and money. It is a tool like any other, a way to make things easier and more efficient at dealing with a problem or challenge. It is a way to help you getting from where you are now to where you want to be. You need coaching so long as the problem still exists; once the solution is found and you are achieving your outcome, you no longer need it. Hopefully I have provided you with something that you can and will use, as well as giving you a greater insight into coaching.

I am interested to hear if there are any particular areas you would like me to discuss going forward. I would also be keen to get your feedback on any of the blogs, you can email me at ruth@rlcoachingsolutions.co.uk if you do want to share.

Too Late for a Career Change at 50?

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It’s almost Friday night, I'm looking at the weekend ahead. Next year will be my 50th birthday and I am thinking this will be my last career change. My business might evolve but fundamentally what I do will remain the same. I feel as though I have reached a point where being a coach is a culmination of everything that has gone before, and this is a role in which I do truly feel alive at work. Though perhaps, work is the wrong word when you enjoy it so much, as John Williams says in his book ‘Screw Work, Let’s Play’, this very much on the play side.

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When I started my working life, I could never have imagined the careers I have had. When I was in high school, I had no intention of going to university. As far as I was concerned back then, university was for the elite and clever folk. No one in my family had ever been be to university and yet, here I am, approaching 50, with four degrees from four different universities, 3 of which I did whilst working full time. I am not telling you this to brag about it but to highlight, it doesn't matter what your background, what you have done before, you are more than capable of doing totally different things throughout your life.  For me there was no grand plan, but I have made choices along the way which have worked out for the most part. Though I did work in a Turf Accountants one time, but only lasted three days before I quit. I had no clue how to work out betting odds and didn't realise you had to do them in your head, I thought a machine did them for you.

For the most part I followed the traditional world of work; working 37 hours a week. Then, several years ago, I listened to a webinar about creating an e-commerce business, which led on to a chain of events where I co-founded a company with my husband. This was something totally new for us and having our own business was not something we had ever contemplated for our future.  We utilised our skills, knowledge and passions to create the company. But, neither one of us have any previous business experience. When it came to it, we had to learn, just like everyone does I'm sure and we learned very quickly, that it not as hard as you think it is. Just as I learnt that university is not for the elite, then neither is the world of business. Anyone can create a business so long as they put the work in.

We live in a time where it has never been so easy to start up your own business. You see many people from all backgrounds and ages creating their own companies and being successful. Of course, for every success, there are probably three that don't make it, but the potential is there. Whilst building the business we were both still in full time employment, with the plan being that I would also build the coaching practice. And this is another mind shift that happens, the realisation that you don't just have to have one career, business or role, you can have multiple streams of income; especially when some businesses can be virtually automated. Or you can have one career but that you don't have to do it full time.

I think working in the public sector with high workloads as you get older you begin to question whether working full time is the way to go. In my last 18 months of working within a Probation setting I worked part time. I soon wondered why I had not done this earlier in my working life, feeling the benefits immediately. I realised what I valued more was time over money.

One of the challenges with switching to working part time is the perception and judgements from others. This is especially true from people you know who have worked full time all their life. Whilst it is acceptable to work part time if you have children, doing so when you are child free seems to be a big no-no. Whilst I ignore comments in relation to this aspect, I do wonder what is really behind it; is it jealousy because they didn't choose to do it whilst still working or is it a case that unless you working every hour, flogging yourself to death for your salary, it does not constitute work?

In the last 18 months of public sector life, I also made the switch from front line offender management to a coaching and mentoring role of staff rather than service users. This was more aligned to I wanted my next career shift to be.

Is changing career at 50 scary? Yes, in a way it is because it is yet another change. You're in a set routine, a lifestyle with a set income. You still have family and financial commitments. You know what to expect and what's expected of you. Whilst it is against the law to discriminate, we all know it happens and at 50, it is potentially more difficult to enter certain industries, but this can happen when you're in your 30's!

Potentially the other big barrier to overcome if switching your career at 50, is in relation to your pension. Let's face it, whilst public sector pensions perhaps aren't as good as they were, they are still significantly better than private sector ones. The pension issue can become a self-imposed trap. I am not here to offer any advice about pensions, but I can share my story and my thoughts on my pension situation. The reality of pensions is that they follow the 40:40:40 rule, whereby you effectively work 40 hours a week for 40 years to receive 40% of your income when you retire. As the retirement age continually goes up, I questioned when I would be retiring. I have a friend who thought she would be retiring at 60 some years ago, only for a decision from the government to add 6 years to her official retirement age. For me, this gives you no guarantee of when you can retire in the years ahead. Don't get me wrong having some way to support yourself in the future is of paramount importance but I didn't want the notion of a pension be the thing that anchors me down to a job I was no longer enjoying for the next 20 years. My mindset was, do I want to be miserable for a significant chunk of my life, even if there was a guarantee of a happy retirement at the age of 67 (and that’s if it stays at that age?) I think it's probably different if you've only got a couple of years to go before you retire but 20 years is an awful long time.

My other big question to myself was, can I physically and mentally keep going at the pace I was in the coming years? The workloads are never going to decrease, the pressures and demands aren't magically going to disappear. Going at the pace you do within a public sector environment is something which I believe is unsustainable in the long term and, why should you? Life is too short to spend all your time working and not living.

At the age of 50, we have a long life ahead of us so make sure you are doing something you love. Honestly, it is harder to switch careers within certain industries at 50 but not impossible. And, there are plenty of organisations out there that would snap someone of your skills, talent and experience up. It is challenging to start up your own business but not impossible. And you can build a business while you’re still working. Maybe you fancy studying again; there are people in their 80s and 90s studying for a degree, so why not you at 50?

You don't have to be trapped by your current role if it's no longer meeting all your needs, you choose to remain where you are. If the job is causing you to feel stressed, change it. If the thought of going into work on a morning fills you with nothing but dread, change it. If you are tired and feel ill through work, change it. If you want it to be different, then choose something else; you have the skills, knowledge and strengths to do so. It is never too late for a career change at 50, what are you waiting for?