The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

The return to Gainful Employment

For over a year I have been meaning to write this post.

 

At first I thought I would write about the excitement and fear at the thought of returning to Gainful Employment after six and a half years away. I thought I would chart the slow journey to finding Gainful Employment again. The dusting down of a CV with a big gaping hole in it. Wondering about the creative ways I could explain how my new found experience in parenting, adapting to a new culture and building a support group from nothing would make me  a suitable candidate for consideration for this job.

 

But as luck would have it, the return to Gainful Employment happened rather sooner than I expected.

 

So then I thought I would write about those first few days being back in an office. Having conversations that I hadn’t had in six and half years. Seeking out vocabulary from the recesses of my brain that had been left dormant. Strategy planning. Objectives. Capacity building. Finding myself in a familiar and yet unfamiliar environment. So then I thought perhaps I better wait until I had passed the three month probation mark, just in case it didn’t quite work out.

 

Then somehow, before I knew it, it’s now been a year since I returned to Gainful Employment. An eventful year. With highs and lows. At home and in the office. Challenges and new experiences. It has taken this whole year to transition myself into this new role. There have been times a plenty when I have felt the need to explain my six year absence from Gainful Employment. Feeling almost apologetic that I had the opportunity to take time out and be with #1, 2 and 3. I will feel eternally grateful that I had that time.

 

I realise the feeling apologetic part is entirely my own doing. It is me that worried about whether my skills and contribution to my job was relevant. The only person who saw the gaping six and a half year gap was me. If I didn’t have the required skills, experience, relevancy, I wouldn’t have gotten the job otherwise. I can see now that I was out of practice more than anything.

 

I wondered whether having taken this time out that I would re-evaluate what kind of Gainful Employment I would seek. A career break is as good a time as any to assess what other options are available. I’ve seen other people take this opportunity to try something new. Build a new business venture with skills that were once thought of as just a hobby but with the click of a mouse you can have your own on-line store.

 

But as it turns out, at the core of what I want to do, the Not For Profit sector is still very much for me. The way I see it, the voluntary sector is full of great people doing great stuff for all those causes that need your help. And we are a giving and caring society who want to help those causes. Matching the two up together is what I want to do. Helping people and organisations do good and to do it well.

 

It feels good to be back in that space. At once familiar and unfamiliar. I’m in a completely different sector and on a huge learning curve absorbing all that I can about conservation, the environment, climate change and the cause and effect of how we currently live our lives and the impact it will have on resources available for tomorrow. With education comes more consideration. I am so enjoying this part of what I do. I get to share it with #1, 2 and 3 who all are learning about wildlife conservation and climate change. Being able to talk to them about my work is one of the great things.

 

At the same time, my return to Gainful Employment was a juggle for them too at the start. So used to having you at home and then suddenly not so much. The one to drop them off at school and pick them up afterwards. Sometimes even having time to do fun stuff instead of cramming it all into the weekends. But what softened the blow, is the fact that #1 and 2 started Big School last August and so with the longer school days, I wasn’t really missing out on that many hours. Well that’s what I tell myself. Truth is, you think that when they start Big School is when you will have more time to do your own thing. Except it doesn’t work out that way. There’s packed lunches to think of, packing the right school stuff for the right day’s activities. There’s homework, project work, reading, writing, maths practice to fit in. Where does all this fit in?

 

In the short space of time that you really want to spend asking them how was their day and not much else. Least of all rushing from one place to another and hurriedly start a piece of work that would take you or me about ten minutes to do but a whole lot longer for a 7 year old at a time when it should be unwinding for everyone instead of winding everyone up.

 

In an ideal world, wouldn’t it be great if you could work part time. Somewhere not far from your home so that you could still do the morning school drop off, be amongst Grown Ups and do Grown Up Things before finishing work in time to do the school pick up. So that for the small people you are there for them at all the right times. Perhaps a couple  of days a week you may even have time to yourself and leisurely do your weekly Big Shop as well as meet up with a friend for a chin wag and coffee.

 

I was lucky enough to have six months part time to ease myself and the whole family into my new role. I worked three full days and two half days so that I could still pick up #1 and 2 and get round to doing some chores. It helped enormously. By the time I was due to go full time, it felt doable. Even though I missed those two half days with #1, 2 and 3. I know how fortunate I am that I haven’t been juggling like this since #1 was four months old which is the standard maternity leave in Singapore. I marvel at colleagues who have done that. Some even returning a whole lot earlier to eke out their maternity as long as they can. When I think back to those early foggy days of new parenting where I couldn’t even string a thought together to get myself organised let alone look at Excel spreadsheets and Word documents.

 

And that’s another thing that has changed. Whilst Word, Excel and Powerpoint still exist, I’m still trying to catch up on a whole new world that has sprung up in the workplace. Things like Google Drive and Dropbox. Social media and EDMs. There appears to be no franking machines around because post goes straight to Inboxes. Which is a good thing of course. Saving the Earth’s resources. For want of sounding like the old person who says things like ‘it wasn’t like this is my day’ or ‘back in the day’ or ‘before you were born we used to…’.

 

It takes time to get yourself reacquainted with Gainful Employment. All these new terms and technology can sometimes shake your confidence a bit. But with anything, once you get back into your stride it’s like you’ve never left before. Thrive on this learning new things. It can seem a bit daunting at first but really it’s just a different way of doing something familiar.

 

When you’ve taken time out of Gainful Employment and as much time as I did, it can be a challenge to get back into it. Wondering whether you’ve still got it. Whether it’s ok to be thinking about other things like #1, 2 and 3. Whether it would be ok so take half an hour because #1 or 2 have School Assembly you need to attend. There were times I felt guilty about not having enough time with #1, 2 and 3 and there were times I felt I had to prove that I could still put in all the hours needed for Gainful Employment.

 

Where once it seemed like only certain professions were on call at any time. I’ve realised that office hours don’t really exist anymore. In the same way we engage with mobile phones and have laptops to take home, work is never far away. A quick check of an email here. A ‘team’ WhatsApp chat group there. We are more connected and closer to our work colleagues than ever before. If someone sends you an email at 10pm, do we reply to it there and then or do you wait until the morning. Will they know you have seen the email and what does it say if you don’t respond there and then?

 

After a year of this, I’m almost fully properly reacquainted with Gainful Employment. I can’t imagine not having this. Both for financial reasons and for fulfilling a sense of self. But do I feel guilty on the days when I’m getting in just before #1, 2 and 3’s bedtime? Of course I do. But I also feel relief that I have something else to occupy my mind and challenge it in different ways that parenting alone does. I like all the new things I’m learning and the people I work with. I like how I’m working for a cause I fully believe in and in some small way must be making a positive contribution to.

 

It can be riddled with guilt at times with feeling like you’re doing neither job as well as you think you should be doing but in truth you’re doing an amazing job of both. My priorities have definitely changed since the arrival of #1, 2 and 3. They have made me look at the world differently. More than ever, I feel that time spent away from #1, 2 and 3 should be time spent well. It’s not enough just to do a job to pay the bills. Choose something worth doing and do it well. 

Welcome back to Gainful Employment.

Earth Hour 2016

 

 

 

 

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My Sunday Experience – Back to fundraising basics

How many of us are in jobs that people easily understand?

When asked as a small child “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, Voluntary Sector Fundraiser wasn’t really an option. But I am very pleased to say that it very much is so now. Though it may not be at the forefront of ambition for most small people. Engineer, Princess, Racing Car Driver, Elephant are all popular and valid career choices in this household.

I entered on a career path in Fundraising because it seemed like a very good thing to do. To actually be doing something good. Over the years whenever I was asked what did I do for a living and I answered with ‘I work for charity’, it was always met with positiveness but not always with comprehension. Whenever people think of charity, they imagine the good work that is actually done and quite rightly so. But not often did the thought that the money required to fund the good work needs to come from and be managed from somewhere.

  

People give to good causes all the time for many reasons be it personal experience, to make a difference or to end a problem. Just think of the all reasons why you give to a good cause. And regardless of whether the charity or NGO you give to is a small start up or a well known, well established organisation, as a donor, you should feel confident that your money is being spent in the best way possible to support the work that charity was set up to do. All charities fulfill an existing and real need, unlike some commercial products that are created to fulfill a perceived need.

It may seem like an odd job to many to be a Fundraiser when people tend to think of charity in the traditional sense. At the same time you want your money to be directed where need is greatest, that it will make the difference you intend it too and that it is all responsibly accounted for by the charity in question. Such management and governance can’t always be managed by volunteers and neither can the services provided to fulfill the need be carried out on a voluntarily basis. People need to be employed by the charities you support in order to ensure that your donations are professionally managed and work is done. It’s as simple as that.

There have also been occasions where the response to what I do has been met with “I have some things I was thinking of taking to the charity shop, can I give them to you?”. Yes you can but I will probably take them to a different charity shop than the one you had in mind so it’s best you do it yourself.

  

So what exactly do I do working for charity all these years in Fundraising? In it’s simplest form, I raise money to support the work of the charity I’m working for.  Philanthropic giving has evolved over the years and there are many ways to give. You have your monthly direct debits, corporate donations, Charity of the Year partnerships, cause related marketing (where you buy a product and a percentage is donated to a cause), charitable trusts and foundations set up with funds specifically to benefit a particular cause, single individuals making significant contributions, venture philanthropy, crowdfunding platforms, instant donations by text and many an innovative or traditional method.

The sector has grown and developed since I started out some 16 years ago. I’ve noticed it even more so with having taken six years away from it too.

But one thing that hasn’t changed is that fundraising is difficult. It really is. There is no such thing as an easy cause to raise money for. Definitely not. There may be some causes that the general public have more of an awareness about but I wouldn’t say it is any easier to fundraise for it because for every need there is no finite solution. Consider all the good causes you support. Think about what would end that problem. Over the years I have worked for five different charities and NGOs. All doing amazing work. A lot of my friends work for different charities and NGOs. All doing amazing work. It is our job not only to raise the money so that this amazing work can continue, it is also about communicating back to you what this amazing work is. And you would be inspired by each and every story that we could tell you. It is also about explaining that this charity or NGO has a very clear purpose and idea of what they intend to do with the money you have donated. Money that you yourself have worked hard to earn and so clearly it is to be spent with just as much care.

Every donor has a right to ask questions about how their donation will be spent and every fundraiser will be pleased for the opportunity to tell you about the amazing work that is being done. This work that is only achievable through the generosity of people who have been wiling to give. Why don’t you ask the good causes you support to tell you about what they are up to? Every time I get to talk about the projects I’ve asked funding for it has always made me feel that much more inspired by what I do. To share this information and knowledge with someone else who is equally as interested makes me really enjoy my job.

In my day to day fundraising role that is what I get to do. What I try to do. To connect people who want to give but don’t quite know how to make the greatest impact with their donation; to make the biggest difference. I tell them about the problems that need fixing and how that problem could be fixed if there was the money to do so. I also ensure they know how things progress afterwards as well so they have a full understanding of what has been achieved that otherwise couldn’t.

Today’s Sunday Experience took me back to fundraising basics however. Working with a team of volunteers collecting for Flag Day. That whole act of asking someone to give to a good cause. A great cause. To put yourself out there and ask “Can you support us by making a donation into my can?” No sophisticated marketing campaign. No gimmicks. No gradual build up. Just a very simple ask.

  

It is not an easy job as I found out. There is you and a lot of people. Just standing with my can and looking around at all the people in my line of vision if they all could donate $1, my can would be full within half an hour. But giving to good causes doesn’t always work like that. And that is ok. This is not about how and when I think you should give. I’m more thinking about the myriad of Volunteers who do put themselves out there for many a charity and NGO doing their own fundraising and volunteering on Flag days with their tin cans. They do it because they truly believe in supporting that cause. They give up whole days to do this. To ask the public if they can support this or that cause and know that nine out of ten will ignore them but they keep at it. I know this because a Volunteer said as much. That you have to be prepared to ask at least 20 people in order to get one who will. These kind of odds is not so different to all kinds of fundraising.

I always try and give when I’m approached by someone with a can collecting for this or that charity. I’m not so keen on collections that seem to go into an envelope. When the volunteer approaches you with a smile and a polite, unobtrusive manner but you are on your way someplace else, I try and remember the fact they have spent many hours doing this in their own time. That they have probably had to steel themselves a little to make the approach. That some change or small notes would give them a little boost before asking the next person to give. Who may not. Who may not even acknowledge they’ve said something.

A big well done and Thank You to all those Volunteers who do this invaluable job. I’ve tried a bit of it today and appreciate all over again just how tough it can be. Without Volunteers, many a charity couldn’t do all they do. Volunteers are an invaluable resource and today has been a privilege working alongside some of them.
  

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All by myself……..

It is the plight of many people with young children who say, sometimes complain, they never have a quiet moment to themselves. I am one of those people. The amount of times you just want to have a bit of privacy going about your personal hygiene business when all of a sudden a small child just magically appears out of nowhere. It’s an assault on the senses when #1, 2 and 3 compete at the same time for your attention. One starts talking, then the other and then the third joins in for no other reason than to just join in. It results in a mounting crescendo of high level noise like a conductor waving his baton at the orchestra for the grand finale of some complicated symphony.

I really wish I were one of those people who can serenely function with a cacophony of activity going around them. But what I find is that my ears begin to ring, the blood pounds behind my temple, I barely know where to begin to stop the noise and I feel the need to retire to a dark, quiet room.

I’m pretty used to it now during the waking hours of #1, 2 and 3. Their boundless energy and capacity for more noise is quite something. I look forward to that golden moment of quiet as soon as they are all sound asleep. It’s like running on all cylinders firing and then suddenly you can just be still.

But it never feels long enough. This time in the evening which you may need to use to do other jobs left over from the day or preparing as much as you can before the next day starts all over again. 

Time to yourself is rare. 

And how often have we imagined just what we would do if we had time to ourselves. Read a book? An uninterrupted coffee? Get wildly inebriated and wallow in your all day hangover? Meet a friend for lunch and stay out all day?

And how often do we reminisce how much less time it took to get from A to B without organising a multitude of people with a multitude of accessories ‘just in case.’

And then there’s of course sleep. Oh my gosh. Uninterrupted blissful consecutive hours of sleep. With no small person visiting in the early hours. 

Yes, it does all sound rather attractive. 
And of course it is. For a short while that is. 
I rather unexpectedly had to go away for Gainful Employment purposes. Just for a couple of days. All by myself. 
Get up at 5am, just me. Quick shower. Carry on luggage, just for me. Taxi to airport. Already checked in online. Straight through Departures. Through whizzy finger print recognition gate thing. There’s an hour and a half before my flight. I’ve never had so much time to spare before. 

There’s time for an unhurried breakfast, a browse in the bookshop, a stop to buy paracetamol and then a saunter to the gate furthest away from anywhere. It’s the most stress free pre-flight experience I’ve had in ages. I’m almost congratulating myself on this achievement. 

And whilst on the flight there is no luxury inflight entertainment system, that’s ok because I’m not busy unpacking half a toy box to keep #1, 2 and 3 occupied. I don’t have to worry about any of them kicking the seat in front or tipping the contents of water/juice/tea over themselves. I can just be still. 

I brought a book with me but I’m not even going to bother opening a page. I’m going to do nothing for the whole 2 hours and 15 minutes. I might even have a nap. I do.
It’s all so civilised, none of this gathering bits and pieces of Lego because #1 insists that’s appropriate inflight entertainment. Not having to gather five pieces of hand luggage because everyone needs to have their own stuff. Not having to gather three small people together and ricochet off the seats because the galley is just not wide enough to herd three small people, five bags and yourself.

It’s the same going through Immigration and straight out to Departures where for the first time ever there’s a person stood with a sign with my name on.

The hotel room is ginormous and far too much for just me. But it’s oh so comfortable. I get more than 7 hours uninterrupted sleep. No waking up and going straight into a non stop routine. Just need to get myself ready and a table for one.

But the truth is, I’m not used to being all by myself anymore. I’m used to having several questions thrown at me at once. To be thinking about what I need to do next. To get things ready for the next day. To be in the company of other people. In the company of Husband and #1, 2 and 3.

It’s all very well jet setting off to some exotic location. It once sounded so appealing. Exciting. But now, as much as I enjoyed sleeping in a massive space for one uninterrupted night, I miss the cacophony of home where Husband, #1, 2 and 3 are.

It’s not like I’ve never been away from them before. It’s the first time it’s been all by myself. 

And as the song goes, I don’t want to be all by myself and so, I can’t wait to get home. And I’ll never complain about not having time to myself ever again.

I bet that lasts all of 30 minutes after walking through the door!
  

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#Xthehaze – We Breathe What We Buy

The atmosphere has been a bit unpleasant in Singapore lately. Nothing to do with the General Elections that took place yesterday.

The atmosphere I’m talking about that is hanging over Singapore is something we can all influence. We just don’t know that we can.

The Haze has once again descended over Singapore. An annual event that can rear its ugly head to a greater or lesser extent. In the seven years that I have lived in Singapore, this is the third time that I have experienced such an extreme change in the air quality which is generally very good here.

October 2010 was the first time I came across the word Haze and even then it didn’t leave much of an impression. I was more confused over how I could go out for a couple of hours and return home to find my kitchen was covered in a layer of soot. How was that possible? I cleaned it up, grumbled a bit and that was that.

Until June 2013 when the Haze hit hard. It descends like fog and hangs heavy in the air with a lingering smell of burning, much like being out on Bonfire Night. Except the air is hot and humid. Your energy levels feel drained, your eyes feel itchy and your throat becomes dry and irritable. You become irritable in fact. Irritated that you can’t go outdoors, swimming lessons and outdoor pursuits get cancelled, the kids can’t go to the playground or park and when it starts affecting your health and that of your children then naturally people start to get angry and concerned. The shops ran out of face masks, people who can leave Singapore take the opportunity to do so and question is Indonesia to blame for it all.

  
But then just as suddenly as it arrived, the Haze disappeared after a week and once you could see Marina Bay Sands, all becomes well again it seems.

Until the Haze returned last week. Causing a storm in the news and on internet forums about what is it, where does it come from, are we safe, how can this happen, why isn’t the government doing anything about it, why isn’t Indonesia doing anything about it, should we leave Singapore for good, what is palm oil, boycott all palm oil products, never buy anything from Nestle.

The Haze is air pollution caused by land clearing activity in Indonesia and Malaysia. Forests are burned down as the quickest method to make way for growing crops, mostly palm oil crops which is commonly labelled as vegetable oil in food items. Peat is the soil that is found nourishing the tropical rainforests, it is made up of decayed plant matter and forms boggy peat swamps. Unfortunately, there is a lot of deforestation going on in the tropics, natural peat swamps are being drained of water for agricultural purposes. When dry peat catches fire it can smolder for days and be difficult to extinguish because of how many metres deep it lies in the earth. Then when the fires get out of hand and burn for weeks and the wind carries it a certain direction and it affects a whole neighbouring nation it becomes a bone of contention again.

Singapore, and Malaysia even, suffer the consequences of the irresponsible actions of Indonesia who seemingly are doing nothing to stop the matter. How selfish of them. Don’t they know how harmful their actions are to our health? To our children’s health? Don’t they know how badly they are affecting our quality of life? How can they just erase the rainforest like that? Don’t they care about the orangutans? And so we rant on.

And yet, is it really all Indonesia’s fault? Are we totally innocent bystanders here? Why is the land being cleared? What are they using the land for? To grow palm oil crops? Let’s all avoid palm oil I’m never buying anything with palm oil in the ingredients ever again. Boycott Nestle and all other big name brands. Switch to other oils. What can we eat then? What do you mean it’s in my toothpaste and favourite shower gel and shampoo? But I recycle and buy organic, how can I be harming the environment and leaving the rhinos homeless? I’m so confused!

And it is a confusing issue. It is a complex issue. It is not one that will be solved overnight by one NGO, one company or one country. It needs to be driven by a whole global consumer movement where knowledge is power to create an effective market shift change that will ensure all sides receive mutual benefit. Consumers are safe in the knowledge they are buying sustainable products, companies can still turn around a profit using sustainable resources, local communities thrive through growing crops in a sustainable way. Is this a lot to ask for? Perhaps. But it’s about time we found a way to make it happen.

And how could it happen? Well firstly to know that yes, the forests are being burnt to make way for palm oil plantations. But palm oil is not the evil here. Palm oil is a very useful oil as is already proven by the multitude of uses it has. You can find it in lots of food products that has vegetable oil as an ingredient. This makes it difficult to avoid because most products will not have ‘palm oil’ labelled as such so you can’t easily avoid it. But should we avoid it and feel better buying products that uses only sunflower, soy, coconut or rapeseed oil instead? Consider the effect this would have if we boycotted palm oil altogether. The same products that need oil would need to find alternative types of oil instead and so wouldn’t this be like creating the same problem in a different guise? So far palm oil is proving to be the most effective crop per hectare in the amount of oil it yields compared to the other oils mentioned. So that is why it is best not to say let’s not have palm oil altogether.

Deforestation is a big issue in Indonesia, the rainforest is rapidly decreasing and along with it the natural habitat of wildlife species such as the tigers, rhinos, elephants and orangutans. Does this matter? Does it matter if you live thousands of miles away? Yes it does. Because we share this earth with many species and who says one has precedence over the other. The other issue is that as a whole, we are consuming the Earth’s natural resources far quicker than the Earth is able to replenish them and so it’s time to take responsibility for our actions.

Indonesia is the biggest supplier of palm oil. The production of palm oil provides indigenious communities with much needed livelihoods. If this was taken away what would happen to the future of these communities? How would they live? Considering it’s mostly the developed countries who demand the need for palm oil the most, it’s a bit unfair to chastise and hold back a country when it’s our demand that is driving part of the problem. So how can this be solved? By being better informed on the how and the why. Then lending your voice to the what can be done about it.
  
WWF are leading a campaign to Stop the Haze by raising awareness of what causes the Haze and how it can be stopped. Eventually. You may have seen the campaign We Breathe What We Buy doing the rounds on social media. The campaign clearly outlines how the Haze is caused, what is palm oil, what does it mean to demand sustainable palm oil and what can we as consumers do to help make this change. 
I’ve seen some scepticism about whether switching to sustainable palm oil will make any difference. Well the definition of something being sustainable is that it doesn’t cause long term harm to the environment or to people. Wouldn’t that make you feel better? And if you needed further proof, if you take a look at a map of where the fires are burning, you will find it is coming from unsustainable palm oil plantations only.

And if hundreds of kilometres away we complain how awful the Haze is affecting the air quality in Singapore, can you imagine just how detrimental it is to the communities who live right by these plantations in Indonesia. Is it fair to them either?

This is a really important issue to support and even though you may never have to feel the effects of this kind of Haze before, please support from the perspective that as consumers of products that contribute to the problem then we should all share the responsibility to find a way out of it. The farmers can only supply what there is a demand for. Will the companies voluntarily demand sustainable palm oil if there’s no need for them to do so because their consumers don’t know to ask for it? Some do to be fair and that’s great news and a good start to prove to other companies that it’s not going to affect their profit margins. But not enough are and farmers are willing to supply sustainable palm oil but there needs to be a guaranteed market for it. So until consumers start shouting out to all the companies that they know they can do better at this game then they’re not going to change.

  
So please, let’s all do our part now. For all the good reasons. To consume less that will reduce demand. To demand what is sustainable. To provide local communities a good source of income. To get corporations to act more responsibly.

Please sign the pledge the following link will take you to:
https://webreathewhatwebuy.com
(And Yes, I’m back in Gainful Employment with WWF Singapore.)

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LinkedIn to Gainful Employment

So, it’s been six and half years since I was in Gainful Employment. How quickly time flies. When I last wrote about this subject matter in Occupation what?, it was 18 months ago.

There is now a six and a half year gaping gap in my CV.

It was difficult and strange not to be defined by my role in Gainful Employment. It wasn’t easy at first to be Unemployed. A Housewife. A Homemaker. On a career break. A Stay At Home Mum. I had never been any of these things before and it wasn’t a conscious decision to acquire these labels. They just happened upon me and I guess that’s why I found it so unpalatable. It’s not always ‘society’s fault’ that you feel at a disadvantage for being any of these things. A lot of the pressure comes from within. That feeling of we ought to be doing much more. That our worth is measured by quantifiable outputs with a financial value attached to it.

I stopped feeling annoyed at being a Homemaker when I realised just how fleeting the time you have with small children really is. And also how expensive they are. For you can’t be a Lady of Leisure or one that lunches all the time for very long when suddenly there is housing, schooling, feeding, clothing and random activities for small people that need paying for to consider. Before there’s even room for yourself to buy shoes you’ll seldom get to wear.

When I recently said out loud in conversation that I hadn’t worked in so long, I was actually asked ‘What have you done in this time?’. I’m sure it wasn’t meant with any ill intent or to make me feel like I couldn’t possibly be contributing to society or pulling my weight within my marriage because I haven’t been in Gainful Employment.

Would saying I’ve been travelling the world on £10 a day, or that I’m about to publish my first novel, or that I’m about to set up my own business be more interesting than the actual answer I gave which was that I’ve had #1, 2 and 3. It was met with a ‘Oh, you have been busy’ and not much else.

I find that just saying I have had three children in this time sometimes doesn’t quite sound enough. Not that I mean I ought to have had four. That is also another bizarre concept I on occasion encounter. When #3 reached a year old, I was asked in all seriousness that isn’t it time for #4? Like having children becomes your thing. Even if there was to be #4, I’m sure I’d be asked about #5.

Anyways, I really hadn’t thought about this six and a half year gap or worried much about it. But in revisiting my CV to give it a good dusting down and from speaking to others, I realise that something does need to be done about it. It’s a competitive market out there and the global economy is not fully buoyant.

I read someone else’s blog recently who talks a lot about life coaching and positive well being. It was a post about having to ‘market’ oneself. That a prestigious and qualified education and extensive work experience on your CV alone is not enough to get you noticed in your place of Gainful Employment or to get you that next great job. This is not an entirely new concept as you will know yourself. We all know the power and value of effective networking. Some can do it far better than others, some will do it because they have to and some just baulk at the thought of having to sing your own praises and would rather not.

I have no sound advice on this matter. To me the idea of ‘networking’ to persuade and influence people sounds a bit too clinical. I like meeting new people and hearing about them. I have a natural tendency to ask questions and I’m pretty good at remembering stuff too. This can be rather surprising to some people and a pain for those who have known me a long time when I can recall their youthful misdemeanours even when they have long forgotten. My powers have weakened somewhat though, since the arrival of #1, 2 and 3.

So how does one become as they say, ‘relevant’? I guess a couple of years out of Gainful Employment wouldn’t make a really big difference to most professions. But mine is quite a sizeable chunk. At least heading back into Gainful Employment now, the world is still using technology and gadgets I have heard of before. I’m not switching from a manual typewriter to word processor or fax machines to emails or paper files to zip files.

But then I haven’t had to work with Excel, Word or PowerPoint since then either and I don’t even now if these programmes still exist. Or if they do, it will be a revised version 23 or something. With hindsight, I ought to have given more credit to the ‘everything on a spreadsheet’ approach. I apologise for mocking such behaviour now. I’m painfully out of touch with Gainful Employment speak as well. How could I not be when I’ve been reverting back to English for Babies Level 1 these last five years. Imagine speaking to a small person who take everything literally using these phrases – Drinking from the hosepipe. I need it yesterday. It’s a jungle out there. Push the envelope. Step up to the plate. Talk until you’re blue in the face. Actually #1, 2 and 3 probably do know about this last one as I’m often repeating myself until I’m blue in the face and they care not a jot.

 

There’s a lot to consider on your path back to Gainful Employment before you even look at what possible jobs are there for you.

You need to prepare the world for your imminent return. Get yourself ‘out there’. I wasn’t aware of this at first until someone asked me if I was on LinkedIn. What do you mean? What is this LinkedIn? Linked to what that I’m not in?

The best way it was described to me was as Facebook for Gainful Employment. You do not need to be as discriminatory as you are with your Facebook friends but You Need To Be On It and You Need To Have Connections. Lots of them. Your Connections are a reflection of your networking capabilities. Really? Anyone can click a button and ask totally random people to get LinkedIn with them. I know this because I’ve had such random requests and it really threw me off balance. I agonised over the right etiquette to decline or not to decline? How would it look on my path back to Gainful Employment if I don’t have 500+ Connections? Or an interesting and wide ranging set of Connections? To be honest my LinkedIn Connections look very much like my Facebook Friends List. Bar a couple of names I never thought I’d hear from again. I’m still not sure I like my education and career history being so public. You can tell as much from my rather scant LinkedIn profile. It rather yells ‘Must Try Harder’.

This is the thing with social media these days, everyone is so visible. This is a personal blog but with public visibility. Whilst I should be able to rant and let off steam as I see fit, I know I won’t. Because it’s not appropriate. Same as those Instagram accounts that are full of selfies that seem to serve no purpose whatsoever. Or Twitter accounts that are full of thoughts people should really keep inside of their heads. Or Facebook forums that are full of ridiculous and fanciful concerns. People will cross reference you with LinkedIn you know.

This should be the first point of careers advice you give to anyone. Just because you can let the whole world know your every move, give an opinion on someone else’s problem when you don’t even know them and post a comment or photo in haste, you could professionally repent that move for a long leisurely time.

Then there’s that other matter of how to be ‘relevant’. Experience. Experience is invaluable but if you’re talking too much in the past tense it’s not going to be that valuable. One has to have relevant experience. How to gain relevant experience? And that’s the trouble with a sizeable chunk of time out from Gainful Employment. Can I apply having to manage the basic caregiving responsibilities, social activities and ferrying to and from places of #1, 2 and 3 to how I would devise a strategy plan and work with minimum supervision to manage own workload? Or how getting them to eat a range of solids and green vegetables demonstrated my creative flare. Or how dealing with public meltdowns and tantrums showed I was able to deliver under pressure whilst remaining calm at all times?

I would actually like to conduct an interview and answer questions based on the new skills and experiences I have picked up in the last six and half years alone. I’ve travelled half the world and left behind an established and steady network of friends and family to build a whole new one. I’m forever meeting new people because Singapore is such a transient place to be. I’m always diplomatic when creating new links because you will always know people in common. I’ve been able to adapt to a whole new lifestyle change with minimum preparation and no previous experience when #1, 2 and 3 came along. When you have no close family and friends around, you value the importance of being a supportive friend to those networks you build. Communication becomes key when you live away because you don’t want to lose touch with those networks you already had and all the new ones you’ve made since. There is constant pressure and change with being a Parent and having to think on your feet. Financial targets are forever changing as your outgoings rise year on year. I’ve increased my knowledge in a broad range of current affairs because I need to know more to protect the interests of #1, 2 and 3.

My world, my concerns, my skills have changed and matured since I was last in Gainful Employment. I feel I have much more experience in lots of new areas that have given me much more confidence.

I just need to update my CV and my LinkedIn profile to reflect this. 

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The Gift of Giving

The devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines on Friday, 8 November 2013, will affect 11 million people and has so far cost nearly 4,000 lives, with an estimated 1,500 unaccounted for and around 500,000 left homeless. Communities have disappeared, the surviving population of Tacloban look bewildered trying to get through each day and what lies ahead is uncertain as food, clean water and medical attention is desperately needed for the people in the here and now.

Whilst the Philippines are no stranger to being at the mercy of typhoons and other natural disasters, the strength of Super Typhoon Haiyan was declared unusual. There has been much debate about whether the wealthier economies have contributed to the occurrence of this ‘natural disaster’ because of the rise in global warming and climate change but that is a discussion best left on the UN political agenda for now. In the meantime so begins the grim task of dealing with the aftermath of such catastrophic levels of destruction to life and land. It has brought together a mass global emergency relief effort to support a country in despair but even in this area there is debate over the level of support given by some countries over others.

As a British expat, I am heartened by the fact that UK public donations has reached £33 million, with a further £30 million pledged by the British government. I read on the BBC news website that HMS Daring has reached Cebu port near Tacloban carrying 500 shelter kits, 10 tonnes of high energy biscuits and will use the ships own water filters to replenish 1,900 tankers with clean drinking water. The US is providing $20 million in immediate relief aid with much needed food parcels being dropped in by American Air Forces to areas where survivors are reaching critical stage with lack of food and clean water. Medicins Sans Frontieres has arranged teams of doctors, nursing staff, surgeons, psychologists and specialists in areas such as water sanitation to help the survivors. This is just a tiny glimpse at the international support being mobilised right now.

In addition, millions of pounds and dollars have been raised by the general public through pledges and fundraising events. A group of women from my condo did wonders with arranging a fundraising cake bake and raffle event in just a few days and raised over S$2,300 for Mercy Relief, a Singapore based NGO that is providing emergency relief of rice, preserved seafood, sanitised water and hygiene kits. Husband’s work did a quick whip round the office and raised over S$2,000. Calls for donations of clothing and blankets have been made as shipping companies donate containers to transport these items to the Philippines. The school which #1 and 2 attend have made an appeal to parents to donate money that will go to the Singapore Red Cross and the teachers are leading an activity with the children to make book marks to raise further funds. It’s good to see that so much is being done. Especially when there are a lot of people, mostly women working as home helpers, from the Philippines living in Singapore. Many of whom are affected by the events that have happened and have lost family members and homes. To be so far away during a time of great loss and uncertainty going on must be devastating. I hope it’s some comfort for them to see the world pulling together to help in any way they can.

I know it’s been over five years since I was in gainful employment but when I was, I worked in the voluntary sector as a Charity Fundraiser. My last role was with Cancer Research UK in the Major Gifts team as a Major Gifts Fundraising Manager. What does that mean? Quite simply, I worked with people with the propensity to make a significant personal donation. As you know, there are many ways to give to charitable causes from corporate sponsorship and Charity of the Year partnerships; charitable trusts set up with the purpose of supporting particular concerns; individual giving of regular monthly donations; events participation and community activity with innovative ideas for raising money coming from you.

I was 25 when I first came across the notion that you could work for a charity. A University acquaintance was working for Barnardos at the time and another friend had done some temping work for The Evelina Children’s Hospital Appeal, (the Children’s Hospital for Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Hospital, London) and they told me they were looking to recruit and that’s where I started off my career in fundraising. I then moved onto the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, the National Deaf Children’s Society before Cancer Research UK. I’ve often wondered what kind of career I’ll resume when I restart gainful employment but I keep coming back to the Voluntary Sector.

Of course it’s a hugely rewarding job to be in but there can exist a lot of misconceptions over what working for a charity means. People are often surprised it’s even a paid job. Some people are of the opinion that if you work for a charity then you shouldn’t get paid because why should donations be used to pay for salaries. There are millions of people who give their time and support for a charity without being paid and as Volunteers they are invaluable. They raise funds, they raise awareness, they steward events and without them many organisations could barely exist; both the really well established ones and the small fledgeling ones.

If only you could meet some of the people I have worked with, who are also my fabulous friends, who now work for a diverse range of causes such as Oxfam, Wide Horizons, National Deaf Children’s Society, WWF, British Red Cross, Teenage Cancer Trust, Breast Cancer Care and so many more. If only you could have a ten minute conversation with them about what their job involves and you will feel the passion and commitment exude from them as they tell you what their organisation is set up to do to help the people who need it most. If only you could meet the specialists, care providers, medical scientists whose work is funded by your donations. If only you could meet the people who need charities to exist, not because they need your sympathy but because they can tell you all about the difference that can be made and has been made.

Fundraising is challenging because I’m asking you to part with money and in return you get nothing but the knowledge that your money is going towards empowering people and giving them hope that they otherwise wouldn’t have. Some may think that ‘paying taxes’ should be enough or that the State should provide certain services and perhaps it should but there’s never going to be enough money to service a nation’s needs. If you look at the history of any charity, you will find an amazing story of philanthropy to meet a need that one person, or a group of people, have decided just can’t continue and have used their own money, time and commitment to try and solve it. The Evelina Children’s Hospital was built and fully funded by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in 1869 to treat sick children in a seriously deprived area of London. I don’t suppose you could have one person doing all that again but today it would still just take one person to set the ball rolling and achieve amazing things.

Like any other sector the Voluntary Sector is governed by stringent rules and regulations set out by the Charity Commission, HMRC and the government. You would expect that though when it’s about your money and your donations. Don’t you feel more reassured to know that a charity is led by responsible Chief Executives, Finance Directors, dedicated Fundraisers and a committed and informed Board of Trustees? I’ll always remember the Director of Finance when I worked at the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, who would get himself tied up in knots re-enforcing to us fundraisers the importance of accounting all donations and receipts for audit purposes. I hope he’s enjoying a less stressful retirement now. Your donations are not distributed on a whim either. Careful consideration is given to all projects submitted for a request for funding and a panel of experts in that field are responsible for granting funds where need is greatest and where outcomes will directly support the most beneficiaries. It’s a very serious business and the overhead costs are kept as low as possible so that more money is directed to where it’s needed. You may think that money spent on advertising campaigns that the large, well known charities do are a waste of money but they are not. Raising awareness of a cause is just as important; getting messages out there is educating the public both to garner support and as a preventative measure.

There is so much more I could say but where would I stop? I’m really proud to have worked for the charities that I have. How could I not be when I know all the good work that they do to provide care for very sick children; supporting 30,000 people with muscular dystrophy, a muscle wasting disease that has no cure; empowering 30,000 deaf children in the UK to an education they should have and providing funding for the rare, less well known types of cancers that don’t affect as many people but still the consequences are no less severe.

I’m not going to ask you to rush out and give to a charity because if you don’t then with Christmas around the corner, Father Christmas will put you firmly on the bad list. I’ve long since realised that asking people to give under duress does not lead to a fulfilling experience on either side. Giving is a very personal choice. What cause you give to needs to have meaning for you.

I would though, like to ask you that you have a think of what concerns are important to you and have a look at what charities exist to support that concern. Then perhaps take a bit more time to see what projects are being funded right now to help and then perhaps think some more about when would be the right time for you to get involved. Perhaps you could even speak with that Fundraiser for ten minutes and if you do then I guarantee you will definitely find someone as passionate as you about that cause.

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