40 going on 4

Believe it or not, I actually turn 40 this year.  I have more in common with some of my millennial friends than with the typical 40 year old woman, and yet all of my friends have been telling me that I am getting old or have asked me if it bothers me.  The truth?  No.  Not even slightly.  The fact is that in many, many ways, I am still around four years old.  Old enough to know better, but still young enough to get up to mischief  I still love super heroes (Avengers and X-Men anyone?), I still devour fantasy stories (The Hobbit, Labyrinth, Dark Crystal to name but a few) and I still love Disney (Little Mermaid, Frozen!!!).  Of course, I’ve learned a lot along the way.  I’ve been hurt, knocked down and bruised.  I’ve laughed, loved and soared high.  Frankly I wouldn’t change a thing – even the REALLY painful parts.  Since not everyone I know feels this way about themselves and their lives, I thought I would share my life lessons in the hopes that it will help not just them, but others too.

It seems as though I’ve always been little miss confident, little miss independent as you can see from the photos below.  Was this behaviour learned or inherited, I couldn’t say, you would probably have to ask my family.  I do know though that I was the first and only one in my family to go to university, the first to travel outside of Europe and the first to work abroad.  Confidence can be learned, failure embraced and learned from, and fear should be seen as a motivator.  If you’re not afraid, you are not challenging yourself enough!  Why do I say this?  I present to you my facts of life:

20140502_0947241. Children learn by making mistakes.  You learn to walk by falling, you learn to ride a bike by crashing.  This first photo shows me at the age of three checking to see if my parents are watching before I sneak off to climb my neighbour’s six foot brick wall.  Funnily, there are plenty of other similar photos of me.  I once was grounded for peddling my tricycle on the main road.  There was a long queue of traffic behind me, the first and foremost of which was a six wheeler flatbed truck.  Everyone in my street was watching the funny parade of traffic following this 3 / 4 year old child being honked and blared at by the impatient drivers.  When I eventually turned off onto my side street, the lorry driver pulled up to talk to my parents.  When he asked “Didn’t I hear him honking?”  My reply was simple. “I was peddling as fast as I could…”

I have to admit I don’t remember either of these stories actually happening, but my parents (and their friends) have told me these stories and others enough times that they (and I) are village legend.  As you can imagine, I used to scare the pants off my parents on a regular basis!  I never fell off that wall, but I am sure I fell off enough smaller walls to be confident enough to tackle the bigger one.  I’m sure you get the point I am making.  Dont’ be afraid of falling or of making mistakes. Instead, be afraid of not trying.  Life is very very boring if you play it safe!  Also, you’ll never be noticed by doing what everyone else does.

20140502_0946442. Find out what makes you special and own it!  Both of my parents worked when I was young.  It was necessary as my parents weren’t rich by any standard.  This of necessity made me independent.  I used to walk myself and my brother to school.  In the small village where we grew up, it was perfectly safe back then!  As a result, I learned responsibility young.  That being said, I distinctly remember hating the dresses I was put in to go to school.  One of the parents of a classmate of mine was a dressmaker and almost every girl in the village wore these dresses as they were of a good quality and inexpensive.  Of course, I was a tomboy and hated dresses on general principle.  The only way my mother could get me into the day’s dress was if it had the colour red in it.  (I still prefer that colour to any other).  We also compromised with my school coat.  It had to have big buttons, so that I could use it as a cape when playing G-Force or Wonder Woman in the playground.

Growing up in a family where we had very little and in a village where everyone was related and knew everyone else’s business made me determined to escape, to be better and to be different.  Luckily for me, my mother encouraged me to read and let me live and play in my fantasy world.  I was always making up stories and little fantasies where I would be the hero and save the day.  Now I work for a global corporation, and have done not one but two different secondments outside of the UK.  My job entails creativity and innovation (I get to play and teach games for a living) and being a thought leader.

That being said, I went through a horrible phase (both professionally and personally) in the early part of my career with the company.  Work and home felt like a battleground.  During that time, I was lost.  I lost sight of who I was and why I should care.  I felt mired in failure and thought I couldn’t do anything right.  Fortunately one or two amazing people mentored me and helped me to regain that self-confidence that I lost for a while. They saw potential in me and helped me to bring it out.  I won’t name them (they know who they are) but because of them, I was able to win a National Training Award for the company and for a short while flew with the stars.  It only seems fair to pay that gift forward.

The fact is that everyone has a gift.  Some more than one.  If I can help just one person find what makes them unique, special and help them to turn that gift into a talent that they can leverage, then I have done well.  One of my friends is going through a bad patch at the moment.  She’s lost faith in herself and doesn’t know which way to turn.  She’s trying to fit in and keep her head down.  I keep telling her that regardless of what others around her think and say, it’s her opinion of herself that should have the most weight.  Value yourself and others will value you too.  Being different worked for me as a child, and being different is what has made me successful as an adult.  The truly successful are unique and original.

3. Be proud of your connections and help them to develop.  As the eldest child of three brothers and sisters, I was forever hearing “Take your brother / sister with you!”  or my favourite, usually when my brother had done something stupid and of course, it was my fault,  “Why didn’t you stop him?  You know better!”  Regardless of whether I was popular or not at school (and for a while, I really wasn’t!), I always had someone tagging along.  I learned a lot about teaching and mentoring and it made me a better person because of it.  I learned patience with my brother who is three years younger than me and I learned teaching with my sister who is eight years younger than me.  When I was a teenager, she was just a little girl.  I taught her to avoid all the mistakes I made.  Now I do the same with the young people I mentor at work and the interns whom I employ.  I learned that being responsible for someone (being a leader) means looking out for their welfare and development as well as bossing them around (like big sisters do).  You have no idea how proud I am of my little brother and how far he has come, especially since the birth of his gorgeous little daughter…  I feel the same way about my interns.  There’s nothing like the pride you feel when you see someone you have encouraged succeed.  The bike in the photo below eventually became my brother’s.  Both of us started with stabilisers and eventually moved on to a bigger better bike (I eventually moved onto a motorbike – but that’s a whole other story!)

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4. You should never stop learning, regardless of your age.  Incidentally, I would never have gotten as good on social media and blogging if it weren’t for my younger friends helping me out and paying me back.  Just because you are older and wiser, it doesn’t mean you are better.  The younger generation has a lot to teach us about life in general (not just the latest tech and which apps you should have on your smartphone). Having a reverse mentor doesn’t just keep your outlook young, it can help you be more assertive and dare I say it more successful.  I belong to Generation X, but have Baby Boomers as friends as well as Millennials.  Believe it or not, I learned how to demand what I want from my job and my position from my millennial friends.  I learned diplomacy, tact and how to behave at work from my baby boomer friends.  No one knows everything, regardless of how old they are or how wise they are.  Being willing to change and adapt, understanding what to do with information, is more important in today’s world than being an expert.  Let’s face it, you can find anything you might wish to know with Google search.

20140502_0947165. Passion and Humour makes the day go faster.  This year, I will have worked for the company for fifteen years.  Strangely enough, that feels more like a milestone than my turning 40!  As a typical Brit, I am a master of sarcasm and wit (ask any one of my team!) and of course self-deprecating humour.  That doesn’t mean though that I don’t value myself or others.  In fact, the people that I am most fond of, usually get the most stick, myself included!  When preparing a facilitation session or a presentation, I always try to add in some fun and some jokes.  After all, if you can make people laugh, they are much more likely to remember you and by extension, your message.  After 15 years I have hundreds of co-workers (or should I say co-conspirators?), many with the same irreverent sense of humour, and I think  I have stayed so long because the company believes in its people and doesn’t take itself too seriously.  We’re passionate about what we do and it shows.  Frankly, if you can’t be passionate about your subject, then stop talking!  My blog is chock full of tips and techniques, musings and inspirations.  Above all though, it is about things that I am passionate about, whether that’s developing people, innovation, simplifying difficult topics, Excel charts or PowerPoint presentations.  As a child I grew up knowing that I was an odd little duck – my blog (and my twitter feed) is no different.  But I was given this advice by an old friend who mothered me on more than one occasion.

Stick out your tongue, tell the world to get in line, be good to your friends and march to your own tune!

Don’t you agree?

+Alesandra Blakeston

Who am I: Innovation Program Manager

A few weeks ago the communication department of the company I work for posted a soundbite video of me and how I’ve moved to the United States. This week, they are posting a video on what I do in terms of innovation.  You can watch it on YouTube below.  Hope you like it!

Enjoy!

+Alesandra Blakeston

Tough week?

I’ve been doing a lot of travelling with work recently, which I usually enjoy.  This week has been the first back in the office for a while and as a result, it’s been tough.   I was reminded of this quote by Muhammed Ali:

I know where I’m going and I know the truth, and I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be what I want.

Since I’m probably not the only one having “a bad week”, I thought I would share.  Hope it helps you too!

quote (Small)

 

Thanks to teetasse for the photo!

+Alesandra Blakeston

There are seven days in a week

I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions.  Perhaps it is because I don’t feel the need to wait for a specific date to make changes in my life.  Or perhaps I’ve never managed to actually keep a New Year’s resolution for very long.  That being said, I have been reflecting on the changes that happened in my life in 2013 and what changes may come in 2014.

In 2013, I moved to the US, changed jobs, (and lifestyles), so it’s difficult to see how I can top that in 2014 – even if I wanted to.  My aim, in fact this year will be to prove my worth in my new position and while doing so remain true to myself and my inner truths.  I was asked by friends over the Holiday season why I had made so many changes and how I could do it. Wasn’t I scared?  The fact is that it’s who I am.  I like change.  I enjoy adapting to new things.  Not everyone’s cup of tea, I know.  During one of these conversations though, one of my friends said:

“There are seven days a week, and someday isn’t one of them.”

She was actually answering for me, but frankly, it summed up exactly what I was feeling.  There are 3 ways to cope with the things we don’t like in our lives, one is to sit and complain about it, another way is to wait for others to make the changes for us and the final way is to act. You can wait for a New Year if you wish, or you can simply start on your journey to another destination.

So finally, despite not liking New Year’s resolutions, I’ve altered the look and feel (theme and colour) of my blog and I’m stepping forward on my next journey.  Someday is today!  What about you?

+Alesandra Blakeston

Mistakes…

A quick thought for Friday!

Mistakes are the growing pains of wisdom by William Jordan.

mistakesWhat do you think?

+Alesandra Blakeston

 

Your favourite quotes

I’ve recently posted a few presentations containing my favourite quotes on change, training, development, motivation, leadership and success. Since then a few people have emailed me their favourite quotes, so I thought I would put them together for you to view as I found a lot of them to be inspirational.  Please keep them coming!  Here they are on slideshare.net.

As always, you can find the downloadable *.pptx version here.

The previous posts can be found here:

Change and innovation quotes
Training Learning and development quotes
Leadership quotes

Enjoy!

Alesandra Blakeston

Shoot for the stars – Richard Branson

Shoot for the stars

“Whatever business you are in, every company can shoot for the stars in their own way.” Richard Branson

Saw this on Google+ and liked the imagery and the message, so I thought I would share it!

quote_reach-17880

Alesandra Blakeston

Are you as keen as mustard? Should you be?

mlnpVuyIn English, the phrase “As keen as mustard” means to be really enthusiastic.  Back in the olden days, you couldn’t have beef without mustard.  Since it added zest and flavour to the meal, mustard became associated with vigour and zeal.  By the early 20th century, the association was so strong that people and things weren’t just like mustard, they were mustard.

I remember when that phrase was applied to a friend of mine back when we first started working after university.  You’d think it was a good thing right?  Only the actual phrase used was more along the lines of “She’s as keen as mustard alright, but…” and subsequently there followed an explanation of how she was always running in the wrong direction, or that she worked hard, but the results were never quite right.

I was reminded of this part of my history by a post on a colleague’s blog “When You Don’t Fit In At Work” by Tina Del Buono, PMAC.  The post made me think initially of another friend who struggled to fit in.  Then as I reflected a little more, I thought of how much I personally had learned during that time of my life and others when I too hadn’t quite fit in.  I absorbed and experienced more about people management and influencing others by the mistakes that I made back then.  I remember feeling as though I was running from one fire to the next.  Sure I wanted to show how fantastic I was and to make a great impression, but was I effective?  Perhaps not!

I also saw this post this week “Doing more only to do less – do we glorify busy?” by SOFAGIRL.  She initially talks about some Dutch workers who regularly put in 10 hour days since their workload is too high to fit into the 8 hour schedule.  I really liked this comment:

Hmmfff…”, said their pals, “In Holland, if you were to work like that we would think you were not coping.”

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SOFAGIRL goes on to talk about an anxiety attack she had and the negative consequences she faced from being over busy.  Again her motivation was obviously in the right place, but her well being was compromised as a result.  As a result, she makes some very convincing arguments about how to manage your time more effectively.  In fact it is a great post and I highly recommend reading it.

When we over work in this way, we are in fact making a choice.  Perhaps it doesn’t feel like a choice at the time, because it is a series of very small, tiny, inconsequential choices.  Just five minutes more one day, checking your email at the weekend another day, and then accepting a call whilst on holiday the next.  We do these thing because we want to be seen to matter; to be seen as an effective force in the workplace; to get a bigger bonus at the end of the year, to be seen as being close to perfect and to be needed and / or wanted.

A lot of other people have posted on this subject, mostly stating that working long hours is not productive and as Sofagirl explained are actually harmful to us in the long run.  A couple on hbr.org that I enjoyed were “Overcome your work addiction” and “Set boundaries on the sacrifices you’ll make for work“.

0010376801W-849x565Often though, in my experience, working long hours is rewarded by managers and eventually becomes seen as being the norm.  Those that don’t work long hours are seen as being inflexible and not committed to the company.  Unfortunately, working long hours are just one of many symptoms.  I’ve seen colleagues taking on more work than they can possibly handle, running to and from meetings, making bad quick decisions in the heat of the moment because they don’t have the time to make a deep analysis, taking work home with them and one that I myself often do, which is eating a sandwich at my desk instead of having a proper dinner break.  “That’s nothing”, you scoff!  In fact, I’m sure everyone reading this could add to the list. Unless you’ve learned from experience, or you’re naturally zen, we all overwork to a certain extent.

Perhaps instead of just being keen, we should also aim to be balanced and effective.  Work hard, play hard.  Balance.  Fun! Identify not just your own strengths, but the strengths of your team.  Work out how to organise the work load so that everyone goes home on time, no-one is over stressed and over worked and that each person is doing the jobs that they are the best at.

0010067603R-849x565Imagine person A is great in Excel and person B sucks at Excel, though they are a fast typist.  Get person A to do the excel work for the team and person B to do the word processing.  Over simplified, yes, but you get the point.  Also identify the value added in the work your team does.  Identify what is key to the business success and put that to the top of the list.  Stop saying yes to everyone and everything, and instead draw a line between what will show your team in a great light and what won’t.  You can still be keen, but direct that keenness!  As a leader, you should insist on a healthy work environment and take time to let your team relax.

I personally have a tendency to say yes, when I really should say no.  I am a team player and will help just about anyone. Just like being keen as mustard, it sounds great, but…  I’ve had to really scale back over the past few months due to a vacancy in my team.  I’ve had to learn that just because something IS an objective doesn’t mean that it SHOULD be.  It might be on my to do list, but the when has definitely become flexible and sometimes even whether or not it is on the list. Obviously delegation helps, but you can only delegate so much before your team also starts to drown.  I’ve really learned how to prioritise over the past few months.  There’s no magic wand, just a lot of deep calm breaths.  Instead of making a quick decision, I’ve learned to make a better analysis and only do the work that I or my team can add value to.  Instead of going to every meeting I am invited to and running from one meeting to the next, I check what exactly is on the agenda. Do I really need to be there?  Could that time be better spent?  Are others going to the meeting that would fulfill the same need?  I am trying to work less, but be more efficient and more focussed.

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Working long hours simply makes me irritable and over tired.  I make poorer decisions and I make more mistakes.  Not good for me and certainly not good for the company I work for.  Now I celebrate the successes that my team achieve and choose which fights we want to win carefully.  I am keen as mustard, but… it doesn’t mean that I can or will do everything.

What about you?

Alesandra Blakeston

Leadership quotes

Inspired originally by a quote from this blog: Quote for Apr 9th by Carol Dougherty, I thought I would put together some quotes on Leadership that have motivated and challenged me over the past few months.  I hope that you find them as useful as I have!  The presentation is posted on Slideshare.net in Adobe Acrobat format (*.pdf), however the full PowerPoint 2010 file (*.pptx) is available here.