Build a Portfolio Career

Building a Portfolio Career

Thursday, December 29, 2011

5 Life Lessons to Learn from Sharks

What life lessons can we humans learn from the predator of the deep? Apart from the obvious ‘don’t go swimming with them’, here are some other thoughts:

1. Sharks form Symbiotic Relationships
Fish called Remoras and Pilot Fish both form symbiotic relationships with sharks – relationships in which both parties benefit.
The Remoras eat any of the shark’s leftovers that they can find (the Remoras benefit) and also eat the parasites off of the shark’s skin (the shark benefits)
The Pilot Fish cleans the sharks teeth and skin (the shark benefits) whilst being protected from predators by the shark (the Pilot Fish benefits).

Do you form symbiotic relationships? Do you give as well as receive? Of are you just a Taker? Takers tend to win battles and lose wars...

2. Sharks can manage on their own or work together with other sharks
All sharks can operate as individuals. Some species more than others operate in packs – Scalloped Hammerheads, in particular, like to stick together. At times, working alone is fine. At other times, a group is needed to get the job done.
The point here is that the shark is adaptable to the circumstances prevailing at the time.

Are you?

3. Sharks have a reputation which goes before them
Most (sensible) people treat sharks with a great deal of respect. We don’t expect to go swimming with a Great White Shark and come out with all of our body parts intact. They have a reputation which we respect, whether it is true or not.

What is your reputation? What do your colleagues think of you? What is your online reputation – Google your name and find out. Now is perhaps the time to ‘hide’ some of those photos on Facebook...

4. Sharks go where they will find food (or a mate)
Sharks have amazing senses and can pick up sounds and smells at long distances. They move toward their food sources, following their senses. They congregate where they know that they will find food. They don’t swim aimlessly around hoping for something to float across their path. They may, though, swim thousands of miles to find a mate – but they know where they are heading.

When you advertise yourself or your business, do you know the best places to invest your money? Do you target the best websites and offline media? Take a lesson from the shark and ‘swim where you’ll find food’ - or a job, or a sale (or a mate...)

5. There are many different types of shark
When we think of sharks we generally think of ‘Jaws’, the Great White Shark. In fact, there are 354 species of sharks, 90% of which have never attacked a human. So when you hear the word ‘shark’ don’t always jump to the conclusion that the conversation is about Great White Sharks. Your colleague may be talking about swimming with Whale Sharks, a filter feeding species of shark that has a mouth over a metre wide but feeds on nothing larger than microscopic plankton.

Don’t jump to conclusions about people or organisations before you are sure of your facts – you could miss out on real opportunities.

The Mid Life Opportunity ( is a community for Mid Lifers. Advice and Guidance on Relationships, Career and Midlife Lifestyles is available from The Mid Life Coaching Panel. It’s free to join so what are you waiting for? Join here FREE!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Does Job Security Matter to You?

Guest Post from Simon Stapleton:

It feels like our jobs have been under threat for years… doesn’t it? With the recession starting back in 1998 with no improvement since, job security is something that many of us are feeling unsure about. How do you feel?

Take a look at this table of top ten jobs of 2010 in the US (from CNN). Note the top job roles, and levels of perceived job security. Then take a look at the table from the year before. Spot the differences? You’ll see a major drop in job security figures in 2010 from 2009, and a whole different set of top ten jobs. So how will it look this year, do you think? (I’ll announce when the figures are published, so follow my RSS feed!) I doubt, very much, there will be any improvement. Looks scary, don’t it?

But wait.
Earlier in the year, I wrote What Is Job Security (and does it really exist?) Job security is very dependent on our own outlook. It’s a feeling, connected with emotions, and it’s subjective. We won’t be told not to worry.
Job security can’t be given to us. We gotta feel it.

If the economy were to suddenly bounce back, would that change our sense of job security? Probably, but not directly. First, we’d need to believe that a fixed economy actually results in more assurance that our jobs are safe. The responsibility will still be ours.

It will still matter.

Adjusting our Perception
We’re all being subjected to a heap of news full of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD). TV, blogs… it’s everywhere. I’m having the odd sleepless night about it – are you? But here’s the thing – the ‘soothsayers’ who broadcast the FUD are only giving us a macro-level view – stuff that concerns the global, national, state or city-wide problem.

Your own particular situation, however, is unique to you. We gotta look at that too.

Our sense of job security is rooted in the work we do, the value we create, the skills we possess and the opportunities we can grasp. These things matter too – and much more than what we see on CNN. So look harder at them.

Take an objective view:

  • Understand what your work does in your organization, and its impact on it
  • Identify the skills you have, and not just the ones you write on your resume
  • Identify the opportunities you have – whether you’re taking them or not
  • Think about the journey you have been on since you began your career, and how far you have come
  • Spend a little time jotting them down.

I am 100% confident that you will feel better about your situation afterwards. This ‘taking stock’ is a reminder that there is more to job security than news tells us. Job security DOES matter. And because it matters to us, it’s within our control.

The new Mid Life Opportunity site is now live... 

Monday, November 7, 2011

The new Mid Life Opportunity website is now live...

Stimulation, Advice, Guidance and Support for people in midlife everywhere ... with a dash of humour along the way.

The Mid Life Opportunity blog will soon be moving to the new blog on the website - more details to follow. 

Come and see for yourself and why not register while you're there..

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Midlife Humour

Some midlife humour to brighten your week...

Will I live to see 90? 

Here's something to think about:

I recently moved to a new doctor. After two visits and exhaustive lab tests, he said I was doing 'fairly well' for my age. 

A little concerned about that comment, I couldn't resist asking him, 'Do you think I'll live to be 90?'

He asked, 'Do you smoke tobacco, or drink beer, wine or spirits?

'Oh no,' I replied. 'I'm not doing drugs, either!'

Then he asked, 'Do you eat rib-eye steaks and barbecued ribs?

I said, 'Not much... my former doctor said that all red meat is very unhealthy!'

'Do you spend a lot of time in the sun, like playing golf, boating, sailing, walking, or cycling?'

'No, I don't,' I said.

He asked, 'Do you gamble, drive fast cars, or have lots of sex?'

'No,' I said...

He looked at me and said,..

Then, why do you even give a shit?

Stopped by the police at 1am

An elderly man is stopped by the police around 1 a.m. and is asked where he is going at this time of night.

The man replies, "I am going to a lecture about alcohol abuse and the effects it has on the human body."

The officer then asks, "Really? Who is giving that lecture at this time of night?"

The man replies, "That would be my wife."

Sensitivity Training

A young Naval Officer was in a terrible car accident, but due to the heroics of the hospital staff the only permanent injury was the loss of one ear.

Since he wasn't physically impaired he remained in the military and eventually became an Admiral.
However, during his career he was always sensitive about his appearance.

One day the Admiral was interviewing two Navy Master Chiefs and a Marine Sergeant Major for his personal staff.

The first Master Chief was a Surface Navy type and it was a great interview. At the end of the interview the Admiral asked him, "Do you notice anything different about me?"

The Master Chief answered, "Why yes sir. I couldn't help but notice you are missing your starboard ear, so I don't know whether this impacts your hearing on that side."

The Admiral got very angry at this lack of tact and threw him out of his office.

The next candidate, an Aviation Master Chief, when asked this same question, answered, "Well yes sir, you seem to be short one ear."

The Admiral threw him out also.

The third interview was with the Marine Sergeant Major. He was articulate, extremely sharp, and seemed to know more than the two Master Chiefs put together. The Admiral wanted this guy, but went ahead with the same question.

"Do you notice anything different about me?"

To his surprise the Sergeant Major said, "Yes, sir. You wear contact lenses."

The Admiral was impressed and thought to himself, what an incredibly tactful Marine. "And how do you know that?" the Admiral asked.

The Sergeant Major replied, "Well sir, it's pretty hard to wear glasses with only one bleedin' ear."

Don't forget Steve Preston's Career Master Class

For Midlifers everywhere - - don't waste your Mid Life Opportunity...

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Last month I mentioned Steve Preston's Career Transition Masterclass in a post.

Steve has now added one more date for 2011 - Friday 11th November.
So, if you are at a Career Crossroads, looking for a change of role, thinking about moving to a new employer or maybe you've been made redundant or your current job is under threat - put Friday 11th November in your diary.

The last Masterclass, in September, was a sell out and if you click on the link you can see a 1 minute video made by one of the participants. 

The day includes an action packed 8 hours full of individual and group activities and coaching with a small group (maximum 6 people) of talented like minded professional people all at a career crossroads and looking to change something about their life and career.

Plus: 60 minutes of follow up telephone coaching!

For details, see Career Transition Masterclasses

If you can't get to London on 11th November, Steve also runs a very informative Career Transition ecourse, available to download now. This contains 12 sections and 14 - 16 hours of content - invaluable if you are serious about landing that new role!

For detail, see Career Transition ecourse.

Please mention The Mid Life Opportunity when booking.

Good luck!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Mid Life Guide to Losing Weight ...

The Mid Life Devil’s Advocate – Losing weight

Most of us would like to be slimmer and we have all (almost without exception) tried to lose weight at some point. Midlife is a time when we are prone to putting on weight and dieting becomes more important in our lives – at least for those of us who worry about these things.
So we do our research and find out which is the best diet for our own particular body and our own particular lifestyle. When I was doing my degree, some years ago now, one of my friends went on a ‘beer diet’. He didn’t eat for 5 days, but carried on drinking beer every evening. He did lose weight but this is definitely not to be recommended!

We might try the Atkins diet, the cabbage diet, the ‘this’ diet and the ‘that’ diet and we lose some weight. Hooray. So what’s the problem?

The job of the Mid Life Devil’s Advocate is to help you to understand the reality of dieting. The Advocate isn’t trying to dissuade you from dieting, quite the reverse. He just wants to give you the reality of what you’re contemplating.

So what is the Devil’s Advocate’s view of dieting? Here are some points to ponder:

  • Statistically, most of us don’t keep our weight off when we finish our diets – so why bother?
  • To maintain a constant healthy weight, men need 2,500 calories per day, women need 2,000 calories per day – not fair, but that’s the way it is.
  • So anything more than this will be stored in the body as fat.
  • All the things you like to eat are fattening – it’s one of the laws of nature:
    • A Big Mac and medium fries (UK size) contains about 800 calories.
    • A Danish Pastry contains nearly 300 calories
    • 100g of chocolate contains about 500 calories
    • 100g of popcorn contains about 400 calories
    • A traditional Christmas dinner contains about 1,000 calories
    • A medium size tub of potato salad contains about 1,000 calories
    • A decent BLT sandwich contains 800 calories
    • A Caesar Salad (which you might expect to be low in calories) contains about 750 calories (it’s the dressing)
  • On the other hand:
    • An apple contains about 50 calories
    • A portion of carrots contains about 15 calories
    • You can see where this is going …
  • You need to have a calorie deficiency of 3,500 calories to lose a pound in weight – so, if you’re a man and you eat 2,000 calories per day (2.5 decent Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato sandwiches) you will lose 1lb per week. It’s a long haul.
  • So willpower and staying power are important. Do you have will power?
  • You will start off very confidently – then you get hungry.
  • You won’t lose much weight in the first few days so you lose your enthusiasm.
  • You decide to keep a food diary – you conveniently forget to write down the biscuits that you eat with your coffee.
  • You do very well during most of the day and then start nibbling while you’re watching TV. And you don’t nibble apples …
  • You decide to have just one alcoholic drink – then two, then three. Fun, but alcohol is loaded with calories.
  • A bag of crisps (fries) has about 200 calories in it – that’s a small bag though, not the big ones!
  • Cereals for breakfast are a healthy option and the adverts tell us that there aren’t too many calories in a portion. True, but not the portion size that you eat!
  • You will lose weight if you use more calories than you consume. So you decide to do more exercise. This makes you hungry and you eat more.
  • You join a Gym on January 1st. On February 1st your membership lapses.
  • Exercise is hard work and you decide that, rather than exercise, you will eat less. This is hard work too.
  • It’s the QUANTITY of food that counts. It’s all very well eating the right type of foods but you mustn’t eat large quantities of food. You know this but you still eat Seconds, sometimes Thirds.
  • When you have friends for dinner you cook a lot of food, saying that you don’t want your guests to starve and any leftovers can be eaten the next day. You eat it all anyway, because it’s there, on the table, looking at you.
  • You go out for drinks with your friends and you’re really good. Slimline drinks all evening. Then one of your friends suggests going for a curry or a kebab. Oh dear, all that effort wasted!
  • You will soon start to believe that the bathroom scales are broken.

If you are keen to go on a diet, don’t let the Mid Life Devil’s Advocate put you off. The points above are all exaggerated (apart from the calorie contents) to give you a real flavour of what’s in store for you.

If you feel that you need to lose weight, then try to lose some of your excess pounds. Just understand that you’re in it for the long haul. It’s really about a lifestyle change more than a short term diet and you need to understand this. Try making some simple changes – stop having sugar in your drinks, use semi-skimmed milk, don’t eat after 8pm, only put butter/spread on one side of your sandwich (and not too much butter/spread either!) These are simple changes which add up.

Remember – taking in more calories than you use up will lead to weight gain. Pig out occasionally by all means, but make sure you restrict yourself afterwards to make up for it.

Good luck,

The Devil’s Advocate
The Mid Life Opportunity ( is a community for Mid Lifers. Advice and Guidance will soon be available from The Mid Life Coaching Panel. It’s free to join so what are you waiting for? Join hereFREE!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Are You at a Career Crossroads?

Are you at a Career Crossroads? Perhaps you're looking for a change of role, thinking about moving to a new employer or maybe you've been made redundant or your current job is under threat.

Worried? Most people are not keen on change, particularly when change is imposed upon them. This is especially true when your livelihood is threatened. How will you pay your monthly bills if you don't have a job?

This situation is increasingly common for people in midlife.

If you can get to London on Friday September 23rd 2011, then help is at hand. Steve Preston, a member of the Mid Life Opportunity Coaching Panel is running another of his Career Transition Masterclasses

The last Masterclass, in June, was a sell out. The day includes an action packed 8 hours full of individual and group activities and coaching with a small group (maximum 6 people) of talented like minded professional people all at a career crossroads and looking to change something about their life and career.

Plus: 60 minutes of follow up telephone coaching!

For details, see Career Transition Masterclasses

If you can't get to London on 23rd September, Steve also runs a very informative Career Transition ecourse, available to download now. This contains 12 sections and 14 - 16 hours of content - invaluable if you are serious about landing that new role!

For detail, see Career Transition ecourse.

Please mention The Mid Life Opportunity when booking.

Good luck!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Midlife Gap Year

Guest Post by Mid Life Opportunity member James Cave
There used to be this really strong feeling that gap years were only for school leavers and youngsters, luckily for us, this feeling is on the way out. Our culture is changing, and that means all of us travel-hungry folks who are well past our twenties don't have to just sit back all dewy eyed thinking about all the opportunities we missed out on, we can go and make some new ones for ourselves.

I think the biggest road block people faced when they thought about travelling as an older person is the idea that it might have some lasting ramifications on their career. And don't get me wrong, this is a really valid concern, but there's a definite change in perception these days.

The times when we chose a career in our teens and stuck with it right through until retirement are long gone, now we're expected to move around and hop from company to company every few years. In fact, our culture has now changed so much, that changing job or moving organisation is often seen as the only way to gain a promotion or pay rise for a lot of sectors.

What does this mean for adults hoping for a gap year? That the gap on your CV isn't going to be looked at in the kind of negative light you've been worried about. In fact, employers may even look at it as a positive. As the popularity for gap years has grown, so has an opinion that by going on one, people are not only broadening their horizons, but showing a willingness to learn and a flexibility that’s really very desirable in the working world.

On the other hand, if you’d love to go travelling but are actually happy in the job you’re in just now, sit down and have a chat with your boss or HR department. You could find they already have a set of rules for circumstances like that, and many businesses will offer an unpaid sabbatical, often for something more like three to six months, but occasionally for a whole year. This makes sense for a business that values their employees, as not only does it mean they are likely to come back more enthusiastic and with new skills, but there’s evidence that finding replacements for skilled workers isn’t cheap.

Another thing to think about is the fact that your gap year could leave you with some real, long-lasting benefits if you decide to learn a language or take part in some overseas learning while you’re away. Whether you choose to travel to France to learn French, or fly to French-speaking Canada (Quebec) to do the same, or even just decide to spend a few months in Australia, working in a bar, you’ll be adding new experiences and skills to your portfolio, something you should never put off doing.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Getting Your Midlife in Order

A Timely reminder for people in midlife...

The tutor stood before his class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty glass jar and proceeded to fill it with big rocks. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

So the tutor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the big rocks. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The tutor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He then asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous - - yes.
The tutor then produced a can of beer from under the table and proceeded to pour it into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

"Now," said the tutor, as the laughter subsided, "I want you to recognise that this jar represents your life.
The big rocks are the important things - - your family, your partner, your health, your children, your friends, your favourite passions - - things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full."

"The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, your car. The sand is everything else - - the small stuff."

"If you put the sand into the jar first," he continued, "there is no room for the pebbles or the big rocks. The same goes for your life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Fall in love. Spend time with your friends. Take your partner out for a meal. There will always be time to go to work, go to the gym, give a dinner party and clean the car.

Take care of the big rocks first - - the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand."
One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the beer represented. The tutor smiled. "I'm glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a drink!"

What are your 'Big Rocks'? Do you put them in your jar first or do you tip a lot of 'Sand' in at the same time?  Take a few moments to list your 'Big Rocks', 'Pebbles' and 'Sand' and prioritise them in your mind.

Then it's time for a celebratory drink!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Solution to the Current Economic Crisis? - study The Full English

Those people who commute to work in overcrowded trains and roads must wonder why the economy is still in such a mess. All of these people still have jobs, they are still getting a monthly pay cheque. Why, then, has the economy not started to recover?

The answer, of course, is that people are worried about what might be around the corner for them. They are generally pessimistic about their futures and worried that the might lose their job. (Actually, very few people worry about losing their job; almost everyone worries about losing their source of income – the two should not be confused). So they have cut back on their discretionary spending. The difference between a healthy growing economy and a flat or declining economy is determined by the level of discretionary spending.

Prior to the banking crisis, discretionary spending was too high. Now it’s too low. When people are worried about losing their income they batten down the hatches.

So how can the government encourage people to have a more positive outlook on their future without pouring billions of pounds into a black hole? The solution can be found by studying the content of the Full English Breakfast!

For those of you who aren’t familiar with The Full English Breakfast (otherwise known as a ‘Fry Up’), this consists of any mix of eggs, bacon, sausage, tomatoes, fried bread or toast, black pudding (very optional), baked beans, mushrooms and a recent addition – hash browns.

In providing the ingredients for a full English breakfast, it’s fair to say that the chicken is involved but the pig is committed. The chicken carries on its life after laying its eggs, the pig which provides the bacon and sausages, sadly, does not.

In the current economic climate, everyone feels like the chicken. Involved in worrying about losing their job, paying more for their pension or that their standard of living is declining. Yes, that’s true, but by worrying and reducing their discretionary spending they are generating a self fulfilling prophesy. Living standards are declining as companies and organisations cut back and don’t recruit new talent because people aren’t buying their products. The economy contracts or grows very slowly.

Those who lose their jobs, on the other hand, are the pigs. They are committed. They aren’t worried about losing their jobs because they’ve already lost their job. They aren’t worried about paying more for their pension or a drop in their standard of living because they are bearing the brunt of the recession. They have no income and need a new job. They have fallen off of the roundabout and need to find a way to get back on.

The effect of the recession is being uniquely felt by those who have lost their job. Everyone else plays the role of the chicken, those that have lost their job are the pigs in this production.

So what is the answer? Reduce VAT? Reduce Income Tax? Perhaps, but these measures benefit everyone including those who don’t need help and those who don’t contribute.

The answer would seem to be quite straightforward. Take away the fear from the chickens and the number of people who become pigs will dramatically reduce. Introduce measures which will protect people if they lose their job, to take away their fear and apprehension. Do this, and confidence will return.

How about this? Guarantee that if someone loses their job they will be paid an amount equivalent to their salary by the state for a year, on top of their redundancy pay. That would give people a realistic breathing space to find a new job and take away the fear of redundancy.

Obviously this must be done in such a way to avoid paying the workshy. So people who lost their jobs wouldn’t receive the maximum payment unless they’d worked for say four out of the last five years. But that’s detail to be agreed. The important thing is to focus on taking away the worry from the ‘chickens’ of this world (most of us), to encourage a more positive outlook on life which will grease the wheels of commerce and drastically reduce the number of ‘pigs’ who find themselves out of work.
This should be followed up by funding training – real training, not lip service – to help the jobless to find new careers.

The focus of recovery investment must be on those who lose their jobs, not on everyone. To take away people’s fears of not being able to pay the mortgage or the rent. Do this and people’s ‘chicken’ fear will subside, the number of ‘pigs’ will fall dramatically and the world will look a much better place to all of us.

Rob Horlock has established The Mid Life Opportunity (, a community for people in Midlife. Advice and Guidance is available from The Mid Life Coaching Panel. It’s free to join - click here

Midlife Joke of the Week

A man wakes up in the hospital, bandaged from head to foot.

The doctor comes in and says, "Ah, I see you've regained consciousness. Now, you probably won't remember, but you were in a pile-up on the motorway. You're going to be okay, you'll walk again and everything, but...something happened. I'm trying to break this gently, but the fact is, your willy was chopped off in the wreck and we were unable to find it."

The man groans, but the doctor goes on, "You've got £9,000 in Insurance compensation coming and we have the technology now to build you a new willy that will work as well as your old one did - better in fact!
But the thing is, it doesn't come cheap.. It's £1,000 an inch."

The man perks up at this. "So," the doctor says, "It's for you to decide how many inches you want. But it's something you'd better discuss with your wife. I mean, if you had a five inch one before, and you decide to go for a nine incher, she might be a bit put out. But if you had a nine inch one before, and you decide only to invest in a five incher this time, she might be disappointed. So it's important that she plays a role in helping you make the decision."

So the man agrees to talk with his wife.

The doctor comes back the next day. "So," says the doctor, "have you spoken with your wife?"

"I have," says the man.

"And what is the decision?" asks the doctor. 

"We're having granite worktops……"

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Midlife Success

We tend to think that it is the strongest that survive. The strongest boxers win their fights. The strongest athletes win their events. Those with the strongest intellects win the argument.

Whilst this is undeniably true, Charles Darwin recognised that whilst the strongest might survive (and thrive) in the short term, there is no guarantee that this will last.

Darwin identified thatIt is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change”.

Responsiveness and adaptability are the keys to success in the longer term. So we can all succeed, even if we aren’t the strongest or the most intelligent.

  • Having the best plan is not enough – how that plan is executed is the key to success.
  • Having the strongest relationship with your partner isn’t enough – those in successful relationships work at it and adapt as they go along.
  • Being the brightest and most intelligent is not enough – those who understand the insight and exhibit high levels of emotional intelligence are the most successful, in any walk of life.

So there’s hope for us all!

Those of us in midlife are particularly well placed in this regard. We have amassed a mountain of experience in a number of areas during our lifetime and we (more or less) understand the implications of our decisions. We have transferable skills – yes, you have transferable skills, list them!

These can be used to our advantage in every situation. Promotion at work, finding a new job, starting a new relationship, moving to a new area – it’s all down to your adaptability. Whether you succeed or fail is down to you.

Remember ‘No-one’s coming’. It’s down to you and you alone (with advice and guidance from as many sources as you can find).

Now here's the punchline....

How adaptable are you?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Do you recognise yourself?

According to my wife, we are all live our lives somewhere along  the autistic spectrum. Some of us are further along it than others. Those at the extreme end are diagnosed as suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome or Autism. Sufferers of autism are sometimes brilliant at one particular skill – they may have a fantastic memory or they may be brilliant artists or musicians. Stephen Wiltshire is a famous example of this.

Most of us are way down the other end of the spectrum. But we all exhibit traits which show our individuality but these can often irritate others – those who sit further up or further down the spectrum.

Do you recognise any of these examples?
  • Your partner lines up all of the packages in the cupboard very neatly with labels facing the front? You throw the new groceries in on top of the old ones.
  • Your partner leaves the wiping up cloth dirty in the sink. You always rinse it out so that it’s clean for the next person.
  • You make the bed when you get up. Your partner doesn’t.
  • You fold up the clothes waiting to be ironed. Your partner doesn’t.
  • At work, you sit next to someone who cracks his knuckles all day – it drives you mad.
  • You can always hear the lady on the other side of the office when she speaks on the phone – it would really help you to concentrate if she spoke more softly.
You get the idea. Does any of this matter? Well, yes it does. If you don’t recognise these traits in those close to you, relationship issues will follow.  Whether at work or home, recognise that we are all on the spectrum somewhere and we all have to make allowances for each other. Few of us are likely to change. You can point out what you see as deficiencies in others but you are more likely to start an argument than change behaviours.

So accept that we all have to make allowances for each other and you’ll spend less time stressed.

What habits do you recognise in yourself?

Now, I’m off to tidy up everything in the fridge...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Chapters of Change

The Five Chapters of Change - author unknown

Chapter 1.
I walk down a street.
There's a deep hole in the pavement.
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It takes forever to get out.
It's not my fault.

Chapter 2.
I walk down the same street.
There's a deep hole in the pavement.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in the hole again.
I can’t believe I’m in the same place.
It still takes a long time to get out.
It isn’t my fault.

Chapter 3. 
I walk down the same street.
There's a deep hole in the pavement.
I see it is there.
I still fall in – it’s a habit.
My eyes have been opened.
I know where I am.
It is my responsibility.
I get out immediately.

Chapter 4. 
I walk down the same street.
I see the deep hole in the pavement.
I walk around it.

Chapter 5. 
I walk down a different street.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Trials of a Modern Day Family

Guest post by Rebecca Fordham

Finding Mr Right as a divorced mother is as fulfilling as it is stressful. With children intact, how easy is it to blend two families through marriage or co-habiting? Rebecca Fordham investigates the issues remarriage causes and how to tackle them.

Lucy Taylor has recently moved in with her partner of five years and is in the process of renovating their four bedroom house. Their future as a couple is solidified, the excitement of coming home to someone is a novelty and the feeling of happiness clouds the prospect of having to live with all his annoying habits. This may seem like an enviable stage in a woman’s life. But Lucy is 45, mother to two children aged 21 and 17 and has not lived with a man for over ten years since she divorced her children’s father.

Remarriage for many in the UK is likely as divorce rates remain high. The Office for National Statistics show that 113,949 couples separated in 2009. In over forty per cent of marriages, couples have walked up the aisle at least once before. One in five people who get divorced remarry. However with a high percentage of those already having children from the failed marriage, the decision to then embark on a new relationship, move in with a partner and eventually marry comes with an abundance of responsibility that wasn’t there the first time.  

“It wasn’t a decision to take lightly, there were many things to consider in my situation such as finances, what my family thought, whether it would work but ultimately I had to think of my children”, Lucy explains. “How would they react to this situation, after all this man is not their father. He is my choice, not theirs.”

Inviting someone else into an existing family unit that works well can cause disruptions and upset. Lifestyle coach and relationship expert Karen Morley helps with similar situations everyday in her line of work. “It is about communication, communication, communication. You have to be practical and sit down together as a family to look at all the difficulties or practicalities that need sorting. Having meetings to help merge the two families is key.”

She advises parents to reassure children of their importance and to stress that they have a voice too. As well as easing the children into the idea of a new home-life by explaining the new marriage or living situation, ensuring that everything remains as normal as possible is a vital step in preparing everyone for the new challenge.

And it is necessary for everybody in the situation to prepare. For the partner, who in Lucy’s case is without children, they have a whole new way of life to mould to. “Whereas he previously lived by himself, he now has three extra people to contend with and we have met difficulties. We were both used to being in charge of a house so you have to learn to do things together.”

For many, both partners will have children and this situation can be the hardest of them all. Karen advices that parents who wish to blend two sets of children should make a very clear plan. “They need to sit down and work out their strategies, their compromises, and decide how everything is going to run. When an agreement has been reached they need to sit down with the children and do exactly the same with them.”

Natasha Walton was 6 when her parents divorced 17 years ago. Her dad is marrying his partner of ten years, and her mum has been in a relationship for over 8 years - both parents have young daughters from the new relationships. “At first it was strange accepting two new people into my life but I lived with my dad and soon-to-be step-mum and she became a big part of our family. Now she is more like a mother to me than my real mum. I’m not very close with my mum’s boyfriend and we both agree he will never really be a step-dad to me - but we get on.”

So what happens for those unlucky families whose children and partners don’t get on well? Karen explains that in this instance seeking outside help is the answer. “If you can’t work it out from within, then some help is needed as the problem doesn’t go away. Seeking help in a third party is not about being told what to do but being helped to work out what will work best. It involves compromise from everybody.”

It is the responsibility of the adult to try their hardest but sometimes finding their role within an affirmed family can be difficult. They may struggle to find where they fit in - many may even be thrown into parenting someone else’s child. Everyone’s preconception of what family life should be like is different. But a way to combat this is to sit and discuss how you envisage things to be beforehand, what each of your roles are and how compromises can be made so that everyone feels happy.

Amy Czapnik a 25-year-old events manager, felt resentful when her mum remarried. “It was strange to suddenly have someone else as part of your life. When my step-dad moved in I had to change my behaviour at home as it wasn’t just mum and I anymore. At the time when things started changing around the house I didn't like it and would try to keep things the same - as well as keep my mum's attention.”

We can’t forget that parents themselves have a lot to take on and adjust to in a remarriage. For many, they have lived as the sole earner, decision maker and rule enforcer of the house. Great independence has been gained and as much as a support may have been craved when buying a new car or when a teenager is being difficult, sharing your life again can be hard to get used to.

Keeley Townsend, a counsellor who specialises in couple and family relationships explains how the adult relationship must be strong in order for the merged family to work. “The most successful relationships will be the ones that are able to connect to being a couple as well as being parents. Although the family is important, couple time is vital because that is what will make the family function. Family time and individual couple time is so important”.

Both men and women have expectations of how it will be living together but these aren’t always realistic. If only one partner has children, the other may find they feel jealous or even pushed aside. Every couple has to work at their relationship so time alone is essential whatever your situation. Scheduling date nights, spending time together once the children are in bed, and finding someone to babysit from time-to-time can help. Keeley explains that keeping the relationship fresh is the answer.

Psychologically a merged family is faced with a harder situation than most. Whereas a family who hasn’t split have history together, know one another and have grown together to reach the stage they are in, a blended family lack this growth. They can appear to be at this stage from the outside but they have missed out on the all important developmental process. This solid family image can be hard to live up to and a lot of pressure to be under. Keeley advises that the best course of action is to understand each other’s family history. “Sometimes people don’t want to know about others past but that’s their life-script and has brought them to where they are today. If you are able to understand one another’s family history, then you’ll know where they come from and what makes them who they are.”

A positive that comes with blending two families is of course the gaining of additional family members. However the obligations that come with this can cause unnecessary stress or worry. Both Amy and Natasha are in agreement that the situation can become complicated at this point. “On special occasions there are so many strands of the family to see and having the time to do that is hard”, explains Natasha. “I have a responsibility to go and see them but sometimes I don’t want to because they aren’t real family.” However gaining two half sisters for Natasha and having extended support for Amy makes the situation very rewarding. 

This is one of many great advantages to being part of a blended family. Others include a great support network, more people to love and love you back, having happy parents which should in turn create a happy home environment, and gaining step-children. There are many issues that make the decision to remarry or even cohabit with your partner daunting. As a parent you will always ask yourself; “how long do you leave it before taking the next step?” But there is no easy answer and there comes a point where you have to take your own happiness into consideration too. The process will always have you asking; “is it worth it?” or, “have I done the right thing?” - but you have to try. It won’t be an easy ride but you will have someone there to share it with.