Is there life after…?

Live Q & A ZOOM:

Monday 1st Feb 5.30pm GMT / 7.30pm South Africa

When my mother found out that I was pregnant two months into my third year of University, she really acted like the world had come to an end – for her and for me. Now I would stay at home and raise my kids and never really have the career that I had dreamed of and that she had made sacrifices to make possible. Not only was it an unhelpful attitude – it wasn’t true either – not even remotely. Because even though I was a stay-at-home mom for a few years when my kids were small, by the time the youngest was a couple of years old, I had already been forced to activate my first career – teaching, the best thing I could do to earn money that we badly needed at the time, and to start training for my second career – the one that appealed to me a whole lot more. Now, thirty years later, I am on my fourth major career change – and that’s not unusual in this day and age – so how about you?

Are you a mom whose whole life has been dedicated to launching your kids in the best way possible – and now that the empty nest is rushing upon you, you are not quite sure who you are and what you want? And if any of your skills are relevant? Maybe, like me – in another challenge I have had recently, you lost your dream job, through Covid, or economic conditions or simply retirement – maybe you are wondering, as I did, if you really have the energy to start over, or if anyone out there sees value in you? Maybe you have had a great career, or at least the one that enabled your goals and lifestyle for the past season but now you are bored and wonder if there’s anything more for you?

If any of these scenarios resonate, join me for one hour in conversation on the theme “Is there life after… covid, kids, retrenchment, retirement?” where we will chat about how to take ownership of your life and career even in times of uncertainly. I will also be chatting with Colleen Parkins, a business entrepreneur, about her recent experience with ICCS.


Come and meet Professor Michael B Arthur, Co-developer and manager of Intelligent Career Group, and co-author of An Intelligent Career

DATE: Wed 21st October 7pm ( South Africa UTC +2)

ZOOM: Registration essential

Michael is Emeritus Professor at Suffolk University, Boston and Visiting Professor at Cranfield School of Management, UK. He has written widely on contemporary careers for both scholars and career owners. He is a co-author of the book An Intelligent Career: Taking Ownership of Your Work and Your Life (Oxford University Press, 2017/8) and a regular contributor on careers to Forbes.

Michael will be chatting to us about the changing world of work and how the ICCS ® can help individuals to make sense of their experiences so far and integrate their values, skills and relationships to take ownership of their own career path. A rare opportunity to meet an outstanding career scholar with twenty five years of experience of research and development in the field.

The power of story

A story is more than a timeline – it’s the interaction of character and belief with event and purpose – the story you tell yourself about what has happened and why – the meta-story that becomes the filter through which we experience every other story. When a story is told, it has an impact on the teller and the listener. Join me in a short video exploring the power of story in my own life.

Imagine that…

Like the rest of you (I imagine!) we have been binge-watching in this season. Last week was Lord of the Rings: I have to say that after following the plight of Frodo for three nights in a row, it did make me feel that maybe we are not doing so badly. Yesterday was also the 75th anniversary of VE (Victory in Europe) Day and a lot of my UK friends were having tea-parties to celebrate with neighbours (over the garden fence, of course) and reflecting that we are nowhere near as tough as our parents’ generation. In this season, while there is a lot of negative stuff out there in the media, some real, some the result of paranoid imaginations, I am still grateful to the film-makers. Not only do they give us a bit of welcome relief from the boredom of being constrained – they also demonstrate very clearly the power of imagination to transform our lives in this season. Right now it’s easy to see the bad, the scary, the limiting – but who will see the possibilities?

I have long been an advocate of the necessity for nurturing the quality of imagination – both in children, who start off with such a rich deposit of it, but also for adults. Imagination is the key to all practical projects to improve the world in general or my world in particular. We would not have the power of flight if the Wright brothers had not imagined a world where humans, too, had wings. I would not be able to play trivial pursuit with my kids and grandkids via Zoom if someone somewhere (and more than one person, actually) had not imagined a world-wide web of interconnectedness. As Albert Einstein said, “Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.” Sir Isaac Newton watched a falling apple and saw the laws of motion that govern planets.  The English chemist John Dalton used the facts of chemistry and his constructive imagination to form atomic theory. Michael Faraday was another English man in the 18th century who had very little formal education but went on to become one of history’s most influential scientists by his relentless curiosity, imagination and experimentation.

But innovation is not the only value of imagination, as J.K. Rowling, a master of tale-spinning, points out:

“Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and, therefore, the foundation of all invention and innovation. In its most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared. Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s minds, imagine themselves into other people’s places.” (J.K. Rowling).

Imagination is the key to empathy – which is probably one of the most important skills needed to improve our interpersonal relationships. We get on better with one another when we use our imaginations to see the world through someone else’s eyes.  You have heard people say that in today’s business world EQ, or emotional intelligence, is more important than IQ, mental intelligence. Well, imagination is the doorway to one of the fundamental skills of EQ. We not only imagine better outcomes for ourselves, we can imagine better outcomes for others, especially when we imagine what their current world is like. Compassion is birthed out of imagining what is must be like to be homeless or jobless. Being able to get someone else to imagine and feel the same thing could be the start of an NGO or government policy that will change that crisis in our society. Right now, through the media, we are being exposed to a massive crash-course in empathy. As we huddle together in a country where the full impact of Covid-19 has not yet been felt, we see people in other countries burying their dead – and it should make us less arrogant about the risks we take and the attitudes we hold – there but for the grace of God, go I. As we imagine the weight being felt by our world leaders, whilst carrying their own personal burdens (Boris in the ICU while his partner and the mother of his child is isolated somewhere else) we might become less critical and pray harder for them, their wisdom, their decisions, their strength, their sanity.

And yes, some of us have imaginations that have fed for decades on a diet of horror and crime – and it’s really challenging not to imagine the worst. But that’s the incredible capacity of the human brain, the human heart – we can actually choose to imagine better.  What if we all emerged from this season as better human beings because we have stopped to consider what really matters in life and how we can protect that? What if we started to imagine, not just how we can survive, but how ourselves and others might thrive. I sat in on a webcast hosted by the British Psychological Society discussing how we prepare ourselves and others for the “New Normal.” And I was struck by this thought (that’s also been expressed online): as we grieve the “old normal” let’s just remember that not all of it was good, some of it was downright toxic – for people, for relationships, for the planet – and we might imagine (after this season of sheltering and enforced working from home) that there might be more family-friendly ways of working in future? There might be more equitable ways of valuing human endeavour (like valuing the low-status, lowly-paid frontline workers that we are all depending on right now!)

“We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.” 

J.K. Rowling

So, imagination is the seed of faith and a door of hope. In a world and a country as troubled as ours, it can be easy to lose hope – we see fear and self-preservation all around us, we see crime and violence, we see corruption and economic decline. We need to imagine a better world. We need to imagine ourselves as world-changers in that world. If we can imagine it, then it’s possible that we can be that. For the sake of all the generations that come after us.

No hiding under the table

Living as immigrants in a foreign culture, my three kids were raised on a diet of British comedy videos – and in a recent family quiz night, (intercontinental entertainment by Zoom), I was appalled that the highest score on a round of “Blackadder” questions was obtained by our youngest daughter, who could not have been older than six or seven at the time. Amongst the famous sayings of Mr Blackadder, butler to Prince George, quoted by his inimitable dogsbody, Baldrick, one stands out in the current season: “Mr Blackadder always says, ‘When the going gets tough, the tough hide under the table.’”

Of course, in the original quotation, attributed to an American football coach, the tough are meant to get going – whereas Mr Blackadder’s philosophy of life derives from the Shakespearian tradition of the comic figure Falstaff, for whom “discretion is the better part of valour,” (i.e. don’t rush headlong into battle if you can do otherwise.) Despite the frustrations of this season of confinement, most of us are extremely grateful for the discretion shown by our President and leaders in delaying the engagement with the COVID battle – the drastic measures around social distancing have certainly been effective in flattening the curve and buying precious time for emergency services to be increased; our response capacity has been enhanced by acquiring PPEs and mobilising large-scale testing.

But the economy cannot remain in lockdown forever, and as the situation opens up, we are going to have to engage with whatever that brings. This is no time for hiding under the table – as we have seen in other countries, full engagement with the COVID crisis is going to require full commitment – not only from the frontline workers, who have already been working hard as the rest of the country languishes in seclusion. Volunteers will be needed to support the front-line workers as they are pushed to limits of endurance. Mediclinic has already opened a database of potential volunteers:

Churches and other community groups have been working to deliver food to the homeless and other vulnerable sectors of our society. Counselling services will be needed to support those who have been traumatised by the medical and social effects of the virus. Creative entrepreneurs will be needed to engage in nation-building post-Corona. Now is the time for loving and engaging with our world in ways that we never imagined – and as we do that, hope emerges for a humanity that, if it can rise to this challenge, can rise to any challenge in the future. There are few alive today who faced the global challenge of world war – a time of loss and despair, but also hope and heroism.  This current global challenge is not only a time fraught with danger, but a time of unprecedented opportunity to tackle the large-scale challenges that threaten our planet and which will only be met by a global response: climate change, poverty, hunger. It has been so inspirational to see our President rise to the challenge of creating a solution for our WHOLE population, rich and poor, employed and unemployed, young and old, sick and healthy. Whether he succeeds or not, he will go down in the annals of history as someone who boldly stepped up to the challenge. It is up to each one of us to look around and see what aspect of the problem we can step towards. No one is exempt from this challenge.  

A New Normal

This is part of my home gym circuit – about 120 steps in total, so 83.33 circuits to make my FitBit goal of 10,000 steps per day. The tennis ball is an important safety feature, added after my husband wiped out several times on the metal bar sticking out at (his) hand height. He takes blood thinners, so we don’t want to add to the emergency room chaos in the current season.The last few weeks has been all about adjusting – adjusting our habits and behaviours, adjusting our expectations, adjusting our lifestyles, adjusting our patters of communication. Adjusting our ways of working, if we can, adjusting to a new rhythm of unemployment and forced leisure, if we can’t.

We all have ways of adjusting that suit our personality profiles. My eldest daughter and her nerdy family have barely had to adjust at all – it’s business as usual for the introverts. My second daughter’s family is also well-suited to working from home, were it not for two boisterous toddlers thrown into the mix. (Thank goodness for the trampoline in the garden.) The youngest and her partner have it hardest – locked down in a university city – allowed to go out to walk, but not to the shops because there’s nothing left to buy, comforting friends whose relatives are in more dangerous hotspots, trying to keep up with the assignments online, because this is the dream opportunity that they have sold everything to be part of. 

In the past I have facilitated GriefShare – a group therapy experience for those who have lost loved ones. It’s a really supportive course, helping people to externalise their individual journey with grief, helping them not to feel alone or ‘weird’ as they cycle through denial, anger, depression, despair and acceptance. Learning that there is no one way to deal with grief – it can be complicated, but also that there are some better ways than others, that can be learned from other people who have also walked the walk. And the most important thing of all is just not to get “stuck” or paralysed in the process – as long as you can keep moving, little by little, you will eventually be okay.

It feels like the whole world is currently engaged in the biggest Griefshare course imaginable. We are all at different stages – some are still stuck in denial “this can’t possibly be happening to me”, others are angry, others resigned and philosophical. Others are bargaining for the magic breakthrough that will turn everything back to normal.

But that’s the whole point of GriefShare – realising that you can’t turn the clock back, however much you wish you could. However, much you wish you’d said or done things differently in the past, that season is gone forever, but what lies ahead – for you to discover, is a new season that is becoming a  new normal. A number of people I respect have been speaking about a “divine re-set” that has been given to us in this time – an opportunity to stop and think ‘what matters to me, what kind of person do I want to rise out of the ashes of this current conflagration?” See in your minds eye that person – and sow to him or her in this moment – don’t wait for this season to pass, for you will never get as good a time as now to make the large-scale changes that might be necessary.

Last night we asserted our family value of connection in a game of Trivial Pursuit that spanned 4 families and 3 continents. It worked! (Thanks to Zoom!) It was fun, it was challenging (not everyone had cards and some had to trust others to throw the dice for them. ) It was competitive as ever, and some of us stayed up too late, and all of us ate too much – spurred by the envy of what treats other people had brought to the party. Will this become part of our new normal? I hope so. Because it’s stressful to live constantly in the exceptional and the extra-ordinary. We all need the comfort and security of a new normal. I hope you are finding time to reflect on your new normal. If this resonates with you, send me a comment below.

Trying too hard

Last week I had a molar tooth extracted (yes, ouch!) It was not done lightly, but after 10 years of crown, root treatments and ongoing jaw pain, my dentist felt it was finally time to “call it quits”. I have had wisdom teeth removed (maxillofacial surgeon, general anaesthetic – not pleasant, but unconscious at least,) but never in-the-chair – awake. After three local anaesthetics, half an hour of tugging and pulling, I thought the worst was over. Apparently not. A week later I was back in the chair, with agonising jaw pain that had convinced me that I had an infection at least. “No”, the dentist informed me – “you don’t have an infection, in fact this is the cleanest socket I have ever seen – it’s too clean – you have what is called a ‘dry socket’ – you have cleaned out all the food, all the blood that was meant to seal the socket – and the pain comes from the fact that the bone and nerves are raw and exposed”. It seems that in my zeal to “get it right”, I had done the worst thing possible – over-cleaned, over-sterilised, and now I was paying the price – of having to go through most of the procedure all over again, poking the wound until it bled enough to create the correct conditions for healing.

It seems to me like this is a parable for parenting. So often, in our fear for “what could go wrong”, we become over-zealous, over-protective – there’s even a word for it -“helicopter parenting.” Parents who hover on the side of every sports match; parents who rescue their children from every poor choice; parents who can’t entrust their children to anyone else – even grandparents and responsible babysitters; parents who push their children into career choices made from the “wisdom” of the world they grew up in

Don’t get me wrong – I am not saying that we should neglect to show interest in our children; I am not saying that we should leave them to fight battles they are clearly too young and immature to fight on their own; I am not saying we shouldn’t act responsibly to check up on where our kids are and who they are with; I am not saying we shouldn’t help guide and support them in the most important decisions they are likely to make. I am saying that parenting is a risk, it’s bloody and messy and doesn’t always work out the way you think it should. I am saying it is an art, not a science. I am saying that sometimes we mess up simply because we are trying too hard – and we should cut ourselves (and them – especially if they are teenagers) some slack – chill out, because most of the things we think are irreparable are, in fact, redeemable. Like my tooth socket. Just takes a little longer, sometimes, with some pain along the way – but, with patience and persistence, there’s a good end in sight.