Friday, December 24, 2010

Drabble Dare #11. Image #1: "Pole Star".

Here's my contribution in response to Drabble Dare #11: "December" Theme hosted by Burrowers Books & Bladerdash.  Photo #1: "Pole Star".  I'm honoured that it was considered good enough to be included in their Advent Calendar for Dec 24th. The competition results are available here.

The complete 2010 Advent Calendar is at The Burrow.

(If you're after some Christmas cheer, put off reading this 'till another time.)


The world is dying, slowly, painfully,

Greed, corruption, power, but they won't take action - desperately needed.

I rage against our passing.

It is so final, irreversible.

We go, taking others with us.

They say cockroaches will remain, and ants,
but not much more.

The depth of our stupidity is numbing.

Step by step,
individual insignificant decisions,
seemed minor in the scheme of things; but not so. Each weighing more heavily on
our exquisite abused planet.

Our time is running out.

Can we take action?  Can we change?

Mostly I despair

It is.  It will be.  The stars our only witness.


A Drabble is a story told in 100 words. No more. No less.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It seemed like a good idea at the time. On over committing yourself!

I'm going to take a bloggy break (except for the 24th for a Drabble posting) until somewhere around the 10th January. I've managed to overload myself with work, and something has to give.

There was a booklet to be done, the first draft to be submitted on the 4th of Jan, and I said I'd do it ... foolishly I now think ... but it's an interesting experience and I'm learning a lot. But unfortunately along with this, my creativity seems to have disappeared. Working on the 'How To' of resumes, job hunting and interview skills seems to have clogged my brain.

Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out. Stop stressing, you can do it, really, just slow down, and take one tiny baby step at a time, don't look at the whole thing at once, it's too daunting....aaargh. Funny business, taking my own medicine!

Working with two screens really helps, but one always needs a treat when it gets too tedious.  The Burrow Advent Calendar is good for a bit of distraction.

Below is my attempt at a Story Board. I think that's how it's done, but never mind if not, it's working for me and it's a good feeling to cross off the segments as I work through do them.

The knitting looks very out of place, but there's logic there! I'd recently decided to teach myself to knit socks 'in the round' which is not only interesting (I've never knitted socks before) but it gives my brain a break from the strain of remaining focused and staring at the screen. Knitting is tactile and soothing, especially as the yarn is a mix of alpaca, merino and silk.

The memory stick is kind of obvious, I just need to remember to back everything up. It's one of those things it's so easy to tell students, but to forget yourself. For me, it's sometimes been a case of "do as I say, don't do as I do", but this project is far too important to lose!

The voucher is a reminder that, yes, it's worth it, and I will be paid when the booklet is complete. Hooray!

This booklet for migrant students has to be finished by early January and I'll need to use all my time management skills to get it done. It's important to me to complete the job well, not only for my own feeling of pride, but to help students who are new to the country and who are bewildered by workplace expectations and the local idiom. If I can help them ease their way into the local employment scene and achieve their goals of becoming valuable and valued community members, that's rewarding!

And I can do it as long as I take one step at a time and don't panic.

See how much is crossed off?

That's not so bad is it?

I'd like to wish everyone who visits a wonderful, relaxing,  and happy 
Christmas & New Year season.
(or if it's not your tradition, take care till I see you next year)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Shadow Shot Sunday #1

Such an inhospitable environment for new life to survive and thrive.

This tiny seedling reminded me of many students I used to work with, their surroundings were barren and they were parched of love and nutriment. Yet despite the odds they clung on, absorbing what they could to nurture themselves.

I like the long shadow of the stem that's hidden behind the tiny leaves. This plantlet looked so fragile, yet defiant in the face of the inevitable crowds that will cut short its life once the holidays begin.

A busy beach is no place for a tiny plant to grow.


Hey Harriet hosts Shadow Shot Sunday.

A Drabble is a story in 100 words. No more, no less.


Friday, December 17, 2010

Digital lives and an unfulfillable wish.

"Come on, don't reject my pleas so cruelly. Together we can do this. It'll be interesting, you'll see and then we won't seem like such fossilized dinosaurs in this wonderful digital world."

It's like living in a foreign country where you know a few words and hesitantly use them, pronunciation incorrect as it turns out ... and mostly in the wrong context. Where everything is alien and unattainable.

"Don't be so cold and unyielding, rejecting all my entreaties.
Come on brain! Without you, I'm nothing. You're meant to be on my side. Please help.

I want to be a digital native!!"

A Drabble is a story told in 100 words. No more, no less.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Reading, Learning Difficulties & the joy of Post Graduate courses

Words can't describe my feelings toward your father, a respected teacher.

Never cared enough to teach you to read, locked you away when you cried, until the authorities discovered the dreadful abuse you endured, and removed you to a safer place.

At 16, rejected by the education system as too difficult to manage, you were welcomed where I worked.

Your bewilderment at the written word spurred me to action, to learn to teach reading.

Too late for you though, you'd been moved on.

I'd have enjoyed working with you. I'm sorry it didn't happen, but thankyou for changing my life.


A drabble is a story told in 100 words. No more. No less.

This drabble is based on a true story of a teenager who'd been removed from the family home due to abuse, and describes why I undertook postgraduate units to learn to teach adults and dyslexics to learn to read. Our society treats people who struggle with reading as lazy, incompetent, dumb or half witted and as if they're less than second class citizens.  There's always a story behind the difficulties they face, and sometimes it's having an abusive parent and missing years of schooling.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

On International Students - a contrast

The end of the academic year, international students are returning to their homelands, hopefully full of stories of a different country with strange foods and incomprehensible customs.

Many, however were achingly lonely in their student lodgings, not knowing how to integrate into the local networks, or if their hesitant overtures of friendship would be misunderstood or worse - rejected.

So they take the safe option, and eat alone in their rooms with computer games blaring to dull the pain of loneliness. Parents blissfully unaware of the suffering some endure.

Home, known, understood and loved has never looked so good.


Muffled chuckles escaping from the lounge-room. The occasional chirrup of an electronic message, otherwise ... silence.

A comfortable silence, companionable, relaxed.

Not wanting to intrude, (but keen to snoop) I peek.
Our guests, curled comfortably on couch and chairs, reading happily. "Footrot Flats", "Asterix and Obelix", "Calvin and Hobbes", but some more challenging - "Guns, Germs and Steel" and "Myths and Legends of Australia".

The dusty television a mute testament to the power of the written word and the joy a book can bring.

Gen Y gets negative press

But these are our children

Our future

I'm proud of them.

Thanks to Teresa for the photo above.

A Drabble is a story told in 100 words. No more, no less.


Monday, December 13, 2010


The drought has broken

Plague locusts massing

An army waiting. Biding their time

Farmers nervously watching, crops decimated if all goes as feared

Summer skies, usually blue and high, will blacken with the onslaught of flying
ravenous insects. Devouring every green thing in their path

A politician (chasing city votes) flippantly states: "They'll stop when they get to Melbourne"
as of thats ok

Glossing over the farmers' anguished loss

The scientists disagree - the suburbs will mirror the farmland, bereft of green
All will be eaten in the path of this horde

Happily the silk poinsettias in the window box survive.

More information about the Australian Plague Locust including a link to a swarm map, can be found here, and images here.

This Drabble is number 7 of 31 at the Annual Advent Calendar at The Burrow.


Friday, December 10, 2010

A Christmas treat.

I'm taking five to rest my aching feet. It's noisy with the grinding of the beans and the hiss of the coffee machines. But the aroma! Rich and heady in the thickness of the sticky humidity.

There's music in the background, I think, barely audible above the discordant clatter of cutlery and happy chatter. This is the best part of Christmas shopping, taking time out to check and update the list - twice if you must know!

I'll call it a successful three hours and retire from the frazzled hoards and tedious queues.
Two lovingly chosen gifts are ready to wrap.

A Drabble is a story told in 100 words. No more, no less.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Procrastination - a Drabble

If you'd started that course you researched four years ago, studying part time, you'd be finished by now

I know

How proud you'd feel!

Yes, I know

And what a sense of accomplishment

That's true

And right now, you'd have the framed 'Certificate of Completion' on your wall

Yes, I know
but back then, I wasn't sure,
I was scared to make a decision, any decision in case I got it wrong.

What's wrong? What's right?

"The secret of getting ahead is getting started" a wise person said.

Sometimes it's better to begin in uncertainty than not to begin at all.



A drabble is a story told in 100 words. No more. No less.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

I Dared to Drabble for December

Last month (November) I entered a competition.

I'm not usually big on entering competitions, after all I never win, and it mostly seems waste of time. However this was one devised by Burrowers, Books & Balderdash who've introduced me to the beguiling art of Drabbling. I was delighted by their Drabbles, but also intimidated by the well crafted beauty of the pieces.

A Drabble is a story written in 100 words, no more, no less, (they're very strict about this) and since I was introduced to them earlier this year, I've been smitten. The process appeals to me. I like tinkering with words but tend to go on a bit, and this forces me to find better, briefer combinations of words. The challenge was to explore if I could produce something reasonably interesting in this condensed form.

I was nervous entering their December 'Dare', after all I felt like I was 'playing with the big boys' and well out of my depth. I thought I'd be scoffed at, not publicly (they're not like that) but, well, these people and their contributors are GOOD, and I'm in awe of them.

But I did it, I wrote, edited, surprised myself, clicked on 'send', felt sick, wished I could unsend, waited nervously, and I WON!!!!

Really! Two of the pieces I wrote were considered good enough to be part of the Advent Calendar that you'll find over at The Burrow.

To say I'm delighted is an understatement, but mostly I'm honoured that the judges considered that my Drabbles wouldn't tarnish the quality of their December contributions.

I'm not going to include my pieces here, because that wouldn't be in the spirit of an Advent Calendar. You'll have to pop over there and open the little boxes on the correct dates (remember it'll be a bit later than here due to the time difference) and wait for mine to appear on the 7th and 24th. The contents are far better than chocolate.


You'll find my response on the December 4th picture of Ice Sculptures here.


Saturday, December 4, 2010

Thinking about interviews makes me feel sick

Benny from Fluent in 3 Months recently wrote an interesting post discussing confidence from the perspective of someone learning to speak a new language.  In "Fake it 'till you make it"  he gives some good tips on confidence building that are equally applicable to someone going for an interview,  making a presentation at work, returning faulty merchandise and myriad other things.

Benny discusses self produced confidence

My approach to get what I want is to presume from the START that it’s going to happen. I then just follow the path that is most likely going to lead to that result.
There is no “maybe” in my mind. When I start a language mission, I presume from day onethat I am going to be successful. This isn’t arrogance – it’s a crucial part of the strategy to make it happen. Any doubt is going to do me no good, so why should I embrace it as most people would?

and he goes on to make the observation that "Negative self-fulfilling prophecies work really well, so I'm just doing the same thing for positive ones".

Over the years, I've heard many interesting excuses from people about how they are unable to attend interviews for jobs and courses because they don't have the confidence. They expect to go to jelly - and they're missing fantastic opportunities as a result. Their negative self fulfilling prophecies are alive and well, and extremely unhelpful. Whilst Benny is pretty full on, he's got a point and it's certainly worth thinking about for your next interview.

My additional suggestion if you are particularly unsure of yourself would be to find a trusted person to work with who can give you reliable feedback.  As I said above this could be a valuable technique for interviews, presentations and other daily activities that require you to appear confident even if it's not how you feel inside.

A technique I used a couple of years ago when I was teaching business students to make workplace presentations, was to suggest they adopt as many positive mannerisms as possible from the most confident person they admired for the 5 minutes of the presentation.  Each presenter was then asked to rate their level of butterflies/nerves/sickinthestomach/fear/sweaty palms etc. The audience (the other students) were requested to give honest feedback on their apparent confidence. It was abundantly clear to every student participating that it IS possible to feel horrendously nervous, yet APPEAR to be in control.

For many of us it's a matter of learning a few techniques that work for you and applying them. We can still feel unsure and insecure, but come across confidently.

What do you think?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Drabble Dare #11 Photo #2 - Ice Sculptures

The Drabble theme was December, but the following words asked to be written in response to photo #2 Ice Sculptures:

Don’t lie to me about the promotion then pass me by.

Don’t lie to me and agree I’m exempt from the latest, crappy, government ‘initiative’ then instruct me to promote it at a public forum.

I’m like the ice sculpture, professionally moulded, but inside a writhing mass of red-hot anger. My raging blast furnace has the force to explode these carvings to vicious shards, the fragments piercing your twisted observance of ‘professional values’.

Where is your integrity?

What happened to ethical behaviour?

Look into your heart, then mine, and tell me you don’t lie.

Don’t lie to me…

Don’t lie

Thanks to Burrowers, Books & Balderdash for introducing me to the art of Drabbling (a story in 100 words; no more, no less).

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wombat with bling

There's no particular careery related theme today. I just wanted to share this photo of a blinged out wombat I saw down at Wilson's Promontory National Park recently (just love those 'earrings'). I had meant to turn the flash off, but obviously fumbled the button, and so blinded the poor thing who lurched haphazardly into some bushes hrumphing grumpily.

I suppose I could talk about Park Rangers, and the wonderful job they do with tagging wildlife, and how they're getting ready for the supreme madness of Summer Holidays, and also how superbly they managed the "Schoolies" (the students who've just completed their exams), and how there are so few vacancies for what can be a very challenging job - but I won't.

I'll just say "Rangers are great"

"and so are wombats!"

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The difference between blogs, forums and social networks - revisited

An overview of some of the differences between blogs, forums and social networks from the perspective of a Career Development Professional, for those who requested it.


Gets some dreadful press, but you have the choice to be as public or private as you want. It's YOUR choice.

Having read the horror stories gleefully presented in the media, I was extremely hesitant about joining Facebook (as well as Twitter and having a blog) - the possibility of identity fraud is very real, but hopefully not as common as the media portray.  (I haven't done any research on this, so if anyone has some statistics I'd be interested in a ratio. Given that the members of Facebook are said to be the equivalent as the population of a largish country that statistic would be interesting.)

Many people have been alienated by the demonising of social networking in the media, and I believe they're missing out on what can be a relatively safe and interesting medium, personally, and possibly professionally.

If you take similar (but different!) precautions as you would in the world in general, mostly things will be fine.

The same as you wouldn't give a stranger your personal details, you don't do it online. That alone is a real challenge when you're presenting a professional profile, and one which I'm still grappling with. How do you let potential clients know you're keen to do business with them, while simultaneously keeping a comfortable level of anonymity?

I mostly use Facebook as a mini postcard style of communication with family and close friends, and it's 'invite only'.  It's a quick and convenient way to connect, and is used quite differently to email. The messages are brief, you can attach photos and friends are able to comment. It's great for feeling connected when you are away from home, just to check in and see what your friends are up to. It's a much more abbreviated form of communication.

At the CDAA conference in April a number of members in the education sector were extremely cautious about Facebook, focusing on instances of intimidation, bullying and sexual predators as relating to young students.

Please remember the issues young people face are different from those of a mature professional with a bit of life experience. It's your choice who you 'friend' or not, and who you give personal details out to, as well as how public or private you want to be.

I've set up a 'Professional' Facebook page accessible by anyone (I think), but haven't yet embraced it fully, I'm not convinced it's worthwhile, but I've got an open mind there. If you can share any ideas about effectiveness and how to use it to advantage that'd be good.

Jeremiah Owyang, has an excellent explanation of Forums, Blogs and Social Networks. Click on his name to read the full article.

Excerpts with some commentary follows - but I give full credit to Jeremiah Owyang for the main ideas which appear in inverted commas.


"Blogs are like a keynote speech where the speaker (blogger) is in control of the discussion, but allows questions and comments from the audience" (the reader). Some will allow, and reply to your comments, others don't.

"Blogs may be journals often authored by one individual, and sometimes teams." They may be purely visual, showcasing photos or paintings, poetry, haiku, craft or science. You name it, it'll be out there somewhere. Support groups for people with illnesses or for those wanting to improve their writing. Blogs about blogs. The weird, the wonderful and the serious. Some fun ones also encourage a lot of interaction and set challenges for readers who contribute either for pleasure or the chance of a prize.

By no means are all blogs written by navel gazing neer-do-wells with nothing better to do with their time. I'm not sure where this myth came from, but I heard it many times, and it's still alive and well - and very wrong. As with so many other things in life, look around till you find something you like (whether for intellectual stimulation, creativity or to be challenged by; it's worth the time spent).

Blogs may be "used to talk with the marketplace" (or clients) "and to join the conversation that existing external bloggers may be having".

Social networks

"Social networks are like topic tables at a conference luncheon". The kind of conference where signs "invite people to sit and join others of like interest". "Social networks allow members to organize around a person's relationships or interests" - the community can become very close knit, meeting both on-line and in person. People who know (or want to meet each other) will connect by a variety of common interests.

An example is Crazy Guy on a Bike where forums, journals, reviews and articles all vie for attention. "These are great tools to get people of like interest to connect to each other and share information". However, they require a dedicated person to moderate comments, and generally keep an eye on things as everyone has a more or less equal status, and no one person is the author.


I've made a couple of tweets, but couldn't see how it would be useful on a professional level. At the moment, I feel I don't have time to add another thing to my day.

Professionally though, am I missing something obvious?   I'd love to hear from anyone using Twitter: How do you use it in your business? Is it useful? How? What do you tweet? Who is interested? Can it attract business or do you use it to build your profile?


It seems like I'm not the only person asking this question about Twitter. It was raised on a Career Development forum while I was editing this post, and was discussed in the Mind Tools newsletter I dipped in to this afternoon. Even though the Mind Tools article is interesting, it seems more relevant to larger businesses, and I'm still unsure how Twitter would be used by CD practitioners.

To tweet or not, that is the question.

Stephen Fry has written an extensive piece about how he uses Twitter.  I suspect I'm going to need to revisit this  topic again in the not too distant future.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Some sensible career advice from an inspiring man.

To maintain my status as a member of the CDAA (Career Development Association of Australia), and like lots of other professions, I need to accrue the required number of Professional Development (PD) hours per year.

I like a good conference, and they’re generally an enjoyable way of adding PD hours. It’s always great to meet new people and catch up with colleagues from distant places. But sometimes I choose to go to a conference by myself to push myself outside my comfort zone, it's a good way to challenge myself to meet new people.

Apart from the general buzz of a conference, it’s also reassuring to confirm that my skills are up to date (always a plus) and have the opportunity to refine and fine-tune them. But the best part is being exposed to something completely new. (A BIG plus).

So, yesterday I tackled the freeways at an hour well before the pre-Christmas shopping hordes were awake, to accrue said PD hours.

Good oh, the first couple of sessions confirmed that I’m still on the right track, my skills are current, with a bit of fine-tuning possible. Yes, I’m satisfied: that’s as it should be.

But the last session – gosh! Riveting.

If you ever have the chance to listen to Andrew MacLeod go along. He forged a career path that initially appeared to be on a relatively ‘normal’ trajectory, but by giving things a go, and saying ‘yes’ to the challenges that came along, he has experienced a most amazing journey.

He’s an excellent presenter, and is passionate, knowledgeable and willing to speak his mind about politics, disaster relief and what makes a good career and the twists and turns his took! I've plucked some words from his bio: “recruited by the International Committee of the Red Cross to deal with military factions in Yugoslavia and Rwanda”, “Senior Adviser on Disaster Management”, “humanitarian teams”. "Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia".

As they would have said in the old days: “I dips me lid to him.”

Andrew McaLeod's story (Wikipedia) brought home forcefully the amazingly unexpected opportunities that are sometimes available in apparently ordinary lives. It shows what can happen when we're open to chance and put aside the shoulds and oughts to do something that aligns with deeply held values: Humanitarian. Social conscience. The concept of a fair go.

Andrew encouraged those of us working with young people to remind them not to get hung up on the choices they have to make in middle secondary school, but to be as flexible as possible. It was wonderful to hear someone with clout say things I’ve been privately grumbling about for years.

Just when young people are discovering who they are and what makes them tick, and many are beginning to grapple with the BIG life questions - Who am I? Where am I going? Where do I fit in the scheme of things? What's really important to me? they have to make restrictive choices about subjects and courses, based on minimal life experience and not really knowing who they will become or what opportunities will arise. Many students don't have a clear idea of their strengths and skills.

Some students make subject and course choices for interesting reasons: Some are based on like or dislike of a particular teacher, friendship groups and occasionally subjects are made with closed eyes and wishful thinking. Not great or useful in the long run, and sometimes with sad results.

However, Andrew MacLeod had received some excellent career advice from his mother that was along the lines of:

"Create as many options as possible,
and choose the best you can at the time”

And by living by those words, his life has been anything but ordinary.

I normally don’t buy the videos from a conference, but I made an exception here. I want my family to see and hear an inspirational speaker.

Go and hear Andrew MacLeod if you can, and embrace the possibilities that can occur when you allow the unexpected and unplanned into your life!


Thursday, November 18, 2010


Why didn't I act when I saw him last night? I had the chance, but ignored it.

He'd been watching me for hours, with his beady eyes, hobnail boots, fangs and horns.

Ready, biding his time before springing unexpectedly as I walked hesitantly, nervously through the door.

But no. I procrastinated yet again. Will I ever learn?

I forgot about his silent presence overnight, but this morning remember his stealth, not with dread, loathing or fear. More, as two adversaries sizing each other up, opponents equal in status if not size. But he's gone. Not parading his ownership of this space any longer.

I wait, unsure when, or even if he'll jump.

Will a long, slender, elegantly hairy leg be extended coyly from behind a picture frame, curtain rod or dresser, waving seductively, sneering at my inability to reach him?

Oh no. A dreadful thought appears in my brain. He wouldn't would he? That would be ... explosive?... gripping?  I'm unsure which, but NOT... shudder ... from inside the toilet roll ... NO!

To spray would be unsporting,

but then again ...

In stealth mode
Fully kitted out with hobnail boots

How do you procrastinate? At work? In your career? In life?

For the curious, the Huntsman was as big as the palm of my hand and is still in hiding (hence the sketches).  If female I bet she's laid a squillion eggs by now.  I suppose I'd better be prepared for company.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Blogging benefits? Revisited from CDAA workshop 2010.

Back on the 19th April 2010 after speaking at the CDAA (Career Development Association of Australia) conference in Adelaide, and at the beginning of this blog's life I asked myself the following question:

"Why have I created this blog?" 

At my workshop and others, as well as in informal gatherings, there'd been a lot of discussion about whether blogging and other social media could in any way benefit CD practitioners. I understood benefit to mean "can it help us grow our profile and get more business?" Growing your business isn't a bad goal when you're a private practitioner. Or was it just going to be a timewaster?

If you're going to spend up to *2 hours per day or more on social media it needs to be worthwhile. This of course begs the question of one's definition of 'worthwhile' ;)

*I really didn't believe this figure when I first heard it, I thought I must have misheard, and they meant 2 hours per week: surely it couldn't take two hours per day could it? Yes, it probably will.

Dinosaur bead, a visual reminder not to be one
Not wanting to be a dinosaur, and with the expectation that our ppt's would be available for members to access after the conference, I jumped in - I figured that putting the ppt on a blog would be the least stressful option given that mine consisted mainly of pictures that needed explanation.

 - That's the rationale for the creation of the blog -

Of course, life doesn't do what you expect, and as I've discovered, neither do blogs.

What have I learnt?

That blogging is really good for the things I initially thought it would be (this was my list from 19th April)
  • clarifying thoughts
  • neatness in presentation
  • 'morning papers' as recommended by my mentor
  • thinking aloud to work through problems
  • self expression: finding out what I really think (at this moment)
It worked well for sharing the ppt. An added bonus was reminding myself why I wanted to work in a variety of settings rather than for one employer.

But the blog is valuable for all sorts of other things 

  • communicating with clients on themes that a number of them are working on
  • connecting with people outside my usual group - it's a whole new exciting world!
  • stretching myself by exploring different ways of writing (not many of which I post)
  • creativity - trying to make the posts more visually appealing by adding photos
  • clear thinking and articulation of ideas (an ongoing battle)
  • self confidence
  • a challenge
It hadn't occurred to me that I would still be posting reasonably regularly 6 months down the track. I'd tried sending out a monthly newsletter via my website, but I never managed even a measly one. NOT ONE after months of procrastination, so to be here after 6 months is a real achievement. I'm kind of pleased with myself.

From a professional perspective

Has it been worthwhile? Yes.

Can you earn an income from it? I'm still unsure about that, but it's not my primary motivation.

Will I continue? Yes, I hope so.

There are times when I'm not exactly sure what shape this bloggy creature is taking, and I'm reminded of the wonderful poem "Interview" by Sydney Carter (I suspect it'd break copyright to include the whole poem, so I'll only include the last verse).

Where are you going next?

Like you, I ask that question.
I can only travel with the music.
I am full
of curiosity.

But perhaps I could, for once in my life, live with the curiosity, go with the flow and not overload myself with trying to understand the medium?

Sunday, November 14, 2010


I've woken up this morning with my eyes puffy and sore; it looks like I'll need to try a new hay fever medication. I stopped taking horseradish and garlic last year when I got up to needing 15+ per day to stop the sneezing and itchiness. So I'm trying the pharmacy stuff, which so far had been pretty good. But today my left eye is horribly itchy and red and not focusing properly. Sigh. I figured that fresh flowers always lift my spirits so went out and cut some gorgeously fragrant roses all wet with the rain. Why do earwigs love getting between the petals? There's dozens of them scurrying around busily trying to hide from my flicking fingers, so I  tried to shake them off only to have the delicate petals cascade around me like the shredded paper waiting to be composted.  Sigh. Perhaps I'd better put the secateurs down before I drop them on my toes.  And why does spell check tell me I've spelt secateurs wrong? The only option it's giving me is sectors, and that's not what you cut rose stems with is it. In all, I'm feeling a bit out of sorts. Quite grumpy in fact. And my tea went cold. Again. Sigh. I wonder if it's ok to microwave it for the third time?

Perhaps I'll take a photo of the roses and put it in here so it's in front of me. And no, I'm not going to be tempted to put them in the vase anywhere near my computer. Even though they'd smell beautiful. I can just see where that'd lead :(

Grumpy sigh.

Hmm, that was interesting.

This photo didn't do anything for me at all ....

But this one did.

By stepping back a bit and tweaking a couple of dust collectors, it worked :)

Good, strong symbols of challenges overcome. 

A small blue "Nessie" made by a cousin in Uig on the Isle of Skye: family difficulties faced squarely and courageously - yes that's encouraging.

A little bear from Berlin, doing a handstand - whimsical - fun. But also representing so much more - a country divided, reunited. Anguish and heartache. So much achieved, so much further to go - it can be done.

A small Asian figurine: Probably Japanese, but to me representing the courage of the Chinese populace struggling to achieve a greater level of transparency and democracy in their government. Huge challenges, chipping away, confronting massive obstacles, prepared to risk their own safety for the benefit of others.

The grasses: clifftop walks, (hay-fever free) - companionship and love.

Good stuff.

Interesting how my mood is lightening.

And lastly because I got sidetracked when I was uploading the photos: The Young Endeavour, recently moored off our local beach.
Teenagers and young adults overcoming fears, and really pushing themselves beyond what they thought was possible. Laughing, happy and so proud when we got chatting to them and offered to take a group photo. The Bay, tranquil, clear, ozone rich. I breathe deeply just looking at the photo.

Hmmm. In my grumpy state, I'd overlooked the power of Mindfulness Meditation in its various guises.

It's a good reminder to just stop and be. Breathe calmly, slowly and deeply.

My physical symptoms are the same, but my mood is so different.

Sigh of contentment :)


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Add 'yet' to your vocabulary

All too often my students and clients say to me "I can't do it".

It's such a final statement, one which puts a full stop under learning, signs it off and tucks it away in a dungeon somewhere far away. Hands thrown up in despair and with a sense of failure and dejection. You get the picture, and it's rather bleak.

Maybe at this stage in their lives they genuinely feel unable to complete the task even with help and support. But there is one word I encourage them to add EVERY TIME they hear those words come from their mouth, no matter how sullenly uttered. And I get them to repeat the new phrase to me until it begins to roll naturally off their tongue.

Simply, add the three letter word "yet" to the sentence.

Just by doing this allows a breath of hope into the equation. It allows for growth, change and a whole new approach to the task.

So "I can't do it" becomes "I can't do it yet" with the unspoken "But maybe someday I will be able to".

And "I don't have the confidence" becomes "I don't have the confidence yet" with the unvoiced "But maybe someday I will".

It's liberating. Shoulders unhunch, faces relax, the sense of hopelessness and frustration some students and job hunters experience begins to loosen its grip.

Don't underestimate the power in adding this one, three letter word to negative sentences!

Please feel free to share your experience and comments.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

My dentist is a plumber?

It's nearly December, hooray :D

No, it's not that Summer is coming and that I hope to spend time at the beach, and it's not the thought of daylight saving and those long evenings inviting exercise (no certainly not that) no, nor is it that Christmas is nearly here. It's something much more mundane, but exciting nonetheless.

What I omitted in the previous blog about The Mind & it's Potential conference I attended so enthusiastically last year is that on the final day, I was struck by a vicious debilitating pain in my head. It was almost impossible to detect the exact location as the pain seemed to be everywhere. I was nauseous and uncomfortably disoriented, I felt so ill it was horrible.

Not one to remember to pack the panadol, I staggered down to the nearest pharmacy, gulped 2 tablets, and way before the 4 hours recommended between doses, gulped 2 more - something my nursing friends assure me isn't a good idea, but what the heck, I was desperate.

Once the pain subsided a tad, I was able to locate the source, and trace it to - a tooth, oh, but not just any tooth, to be more precise, one of those grinding ones way down the back.  You know, the ones that are hard for the dentist to explore without fitting a whole armory of instruments in your mouth. (And they only do this after injecting enough anaesthetic for a bull elephant which leaves you dribbling for hours and unable to talk clearly) I think one of the bits of hardware I least like is the one they use to winch your mouth open wider - or possibly it's the one they use to hook onto your mouth that they seem to hang other implements off - or maybe ... perhaps it's better not to go on, I'm starting to dribble just thinking about it all.

I think this is one of the few times I've eagerly looked forward to visiting the dentist. ANYTHING to get rid of the pain, and the swelling, and the red blotchy heat rash on my cheek, and the general feeling of constant nausea - I'd decided by this time that I just possibly had an abscess (nothing like a bit of self diagnosis is there?)

The verdict? Antibiotics and two options.

Option 1:  Have it out  -  just a small procedure. Day surgery with a dental surgeon "WHAT!?", Relatively straightforward ... considering "WHAT!?"

Oh, and an anaesthetist "WHAT!?". But you'll pull through pretty quickly ... considering "WHAT!?"  You're kidding, that doesn't sound  er how do I phrase this, insignificant, in fact it sounds somewhat major, and unpleasant, and not fun at all.

And the other option? Root canal. Probably take 3 or 4 months, a visit a month, but you'll need to see the whiz-bang, super dooper, lots of extra postgrad courses and ultra exclusive dentist to do that, and they'll need to check it out first to see if it's possible anyway. "What do you mean to see if it's possible!?" Oh, and can you take out a second mortgage on your home. To cover costs, you understand?

Ok, that last is a bit of an exaggeration, but only a bit.

The very thought of prolonged treatment brought on sweaty palms, uspet stomach and general unease.

However, strangely it seemed better than surgery. Tangled roots, that was the problem, trying to explore up into my brain, ugh. I'm assured that's what killed Tutenkhamen, an untreated abscess on a tooth that poisoned his brain. Painfully. Oh dear.

"Call me Serena". (not her real name, but fitting nonetheless)

Ok, this is a good start, not a hoity toity, pretentious professional with her impressive array of awards and quals on the wall.

How can I best describe her? Petite. Severely short hair. Exuding an aura of calm confidence (a definite plus) And seriously funky clothes, just glimpsed before she donned the bland white gown. And the shoes. I think it was those that had me convinced that here was a woman after my own heart. Amazing, don't muck with me, leather, attention seeking, fabulous funky footwear. Definitely NOT bought locally. (* Asked her later on; England was the origin of said shoes.) How could I not trust her?

I was just a little alarmed when she described herself as a glorified plumber.

R i g h t.  That's not exactly how I want the person working on this pesky tooth to describe herself. Last time I worked with plumbing students, I'm confident they could begin an apprenticeship in their mid teens. And I couldn't quite visualize any of those blokes having the delicate hand to scrape out the tiniest roots that were giving me so much grief. So her description of her work was a little perplexing; or perhaps unsettling could be a better word.

But she insisted. "It's just the scale that's different. We both work with tubes and scrapers and plugs and brushes to scour out drainage channels". Hmm, I'm still not convinced, but I'll defer to her expertise with this.

However we forged ahead, me with ipod plugged in ear, and eyes firmly closed. Her concentrating, no noise, no distractions, little discussion, just the occasional direction to the nurse, total concentration.  Full marks!

And the reason I'm excited about it being almost December: that's when Serena removes the irritating band that's been holding the whole shebang together. Nine months of scraping and tongue fiddling, and annoyance. It'll be such a relief to have it gone, and replaced with a slick cap. (Should I go diamond studded like one man I met, or just plain gold which they tell me is kinder in your mouth than other metals)

*Serena's professional title is "endodontist", which apparently means 'inside the tooth' not the ends of the tooth as I thought. Well, it gave my regular dentist a laugh at my recent checkup.

Friday, November 5, 2010

No thank you

Have you ever experienced that uncomfortable feeling after you've been shopping, and found yourself at home with a LBD (Little Black Dress) or pair of shoes that is clearly ill-fitting or unflattering, and you wonder how on earth you were talked into the purchase? You go through the whole: "What on earth was I thinking?" scenario. But because the shop was off your normal route or interstate or something, you're stuck with the item in question, and it'll probably clog up the wardrobe for years till you get over the guilt of wasting hard earned money and finally put it out for the op shop.

The scenario may have gone something like this - you spy a funky pair of shoes/LBD, and they're on sale! Wheeee. You squeeze your foot in, try to wriggle your toes ... but aren't they cute! Mmmm, they're just a tiny bit tight, and the heel slips a bit when you walk. You're wavering ...

"No worries" says the sales assistant. "Just pop down to Mr Bootman, and he can put them on the stretching machine/fit an insole/ add a buckle".

They'll be perfect :D

(you put up a weak argument, but it feels ineffectual in the face of all that confidence)

It really isn't a problem at all :D

(You try to justify that is could be a problem, but the oozing confidence seems to undermine your conviction - the item is simply gorgeous isn't it - and it might fit one day mightn't it?)

They're just for dress, it's not like they're a running shoe. They'll be just fine, I'll just ring up the sale now?

And before you know it, you've been manipulated into buying a pair of shoes/dress/whatever that need attention BEFORE you can wear them.

Get a grip! Do you really need to spend money to get something that you know isn't right for you?

But what's going on here really?

Sometimes, it's almost as if we're intimidated by the salesperson, and feel the need to justify our decision.

We don't.

Unfortunately, however, some salespeople aren't going to quietly accept your choice, and will put up quite a spirited counterattack. Many have been expertly trained, and are well practiced in spotting a potential sale. Your purchase may be the final one needed for that employee to be awarded Most Skillful Salesperson, and receive assorted benefits.

Your response could feel a bit unnatural at first, and might take a bit of practice to get right. But remember that there is no unwritten law that says you need to give a reason to a salesperson for your decision NOT to purchase an item.

So at the first nanosecond when you doubt that the item in question is right. STOP. Remove garment/shoes from body, and say politely and confidently "No thanks, I won't take them/it".

That's it. Nothing more is needed, no apology, no explanation, no justification.  But not aggressive, that's not necessary.

:D - oh but they/it looks lovely on you

No thanks I don't want them.

:D - they look fabulous/they're the last pair/they're a bargain/the colour is perfect on you/it's so flattering

And ALL you need to repeat is "No thankyou, I don't want them" as you walk politely towards the door.


A variation on this technique can be used at FastFood outlets when you're asked 'do you want fries/drink/upsizing' with that? Or at the petrol station when you're offered a miniscule discount on fuel if you also buy 4 litres of milk. Or at the bookstore when they offer a 3 for the price of 2. Or any of the places where you're being persuaded to purchase things you neither want nor need.

It's your choice:  choose wisely and thoughtfully.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Conference revisited.

I'm not going to "The Mind & it's Potential"conference this year. I'd love to, and it's in a lovely part of the world, but it's just not going to happen.

The advertising blurb is enticing, and the conference will touch on many of the things I'm interested in, education, lifelong learning, psychology, philosophy and unlocking our potential all of which impact on Career Development in all its phases.

"World leaders in neuroscience, education, psychology, business, and the arts will show how we can harness the brain's plasticity to enhance our skills, unlock our potential and change our "habits of mind" for lifelong learning."  
Yep, it certainly sounds like it'd be worth attending.

There was so much talk about brain plasticity and how we don't degenerate as had been thought - sadly, there was no discussion on wallet plasticity, and mine certainly doesn't grow and strengthen with use, and seems to be thinning inexplicably.

Last year was simply wonderful. Three days of high energy brain food, excellent Mindfullness Training, sessions on Learning Difficulties and personality, lots of research on exercise and how we need to incorporate it into every day life without fail. (Why is this so hard to do? I'm sure walking to the letterbox doesn't count as exercise, or does it?)

Each day was chock full of the exciting research that's going on into the brain, its plasticity, and how the new discoveries are impacting on our everyday life. Simply fabulous science presented by enthusiastic people who till then had only been names in newspapers or journals.

The neurosurgeon Charlie Teo showed footage of an operation he'd conducted, and discussed how a tumor had changed the personality of a young girl, and how it's removal gave her hope of living a normal life.  I'm usually extremely, uncomfortably squeamish seeing inner bits of the body being sliced and this was VERY detailed, and projected LARGE to allow everyone to see. But he made it interesting by discussing what he was doing during different phases of the operation. It was simply fascinating. If ever I get an 'inoperable' brain tumor (which I sincerely hope I don't) I'm going to him.

I'd been to hear HH the Dalai Lama some years ago, but hadn't heard of Allan Wallace who'd been trained by him and who conducted a whole day experience in Mindfulness Meditation. This was teaching at its best. From a man who knows and loves his work/life, and is able to share his depth of knowledge oh so elegantly.

It was interesting watching the security surrounding HH the Dalai Lama. His presence certainly gave a whole besuited, earplugged, buff crew a pay day (or more), but he remained gracious to all and sundry no matter how restricted his movements.

This was also my introduction to the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI) and I had a ball at that session. Not only was I introduced to a satisfying new instrument, but the presenter Michael Morgan was outstanding. Some people seem to have a natural knack in presenting, but as with so many things, I expect a lot of preparation had gone into it. I'd like to be qualified in the HBDI as I can see it being of use in so many areas in the everyday life of my clients, from parenting to small business planning to career change and working towards retirement. (Note to self: feed wallet)

So although I can't attend this year, I'm not going to moan; what I'll do is get out the 2009 conference handbook and my notes and reread them, look at the website, and check out the links they send me periodically.

Writing this has made me realize there's so much I've forgotten, it'll be good to make time to refresh my memory and work on its plasticity.

Monday, November 1, 2010

How to say "No" graciously

How hard is it to say "no" to your boss or supervisor?

No matter how overloaded you may be, often the automatic "yes" kicks in, often while our brain shrieks at us "say NO for goodness sake, please SAY NO".

Those of us who regularly find ourselves getting overloaded, may have fallen into the habit of agreeing to all and sundry requests, even if they go against our better instincts for self preservation. Sometimes however, the perceived power imbalance between us and the boss is such that we feel pressured into agreeing - it's a subtle kind of bullying, and can have some negative long term ramifications. (but that's another blog entirely)

This particular post is more for those times when we kick ourselves after agreeing - when there was a choice, if only we'd been able to just stop our mouth opening and the 'yes' sneaking out.

One client found herself habitually saying 'yes' to any request her boss put to her, even if it meant missing both morning tea and lunch breaks, and working unpaid overtime and consistent 'graveyard' shifts. Her health was clearly suffering and she was burnt out and miserable by the time she came to me. It had got to the stage where her boss had come to rely on her compliance and the situation needed a bit of a shakeup.

Firstly, stop and think. That's all. It sounds very simple, but you might find just this step a bit of a challenge at first. Try it even though it may go against the grain, it's extremely empowering.

What you're doing is breaking what may be a lifetime habit of being the 'nice person'. After all, it's good to feel needed, and being asked to do things can also make us feel important (and there's nothing at all wrong with that - in moderation).  In addition, many of us have grown up in cultures that encourage us to put our own needs down, possibly to keep the peace in our family, for religious reasons, and sometimes because one gender is seen to be more powerful (and deserving) than the other.

So, don't be hard on yourself if it's tough simply to pause before agreeing, you could be beginning to break a lifetime habit just by pausing and thinking.

Secondly, ask a few questions. Is it urgent that you drop everything to, for instance, see this client immediately? Will the world fall apart if you finish your sandwich? Does the patient need urgent assistance that only you can provide? Who else is on the scene who could assist?

Sometimes it's appropriate to even ask "Can I get back to you about that tomorrow morning?" or something similar.

But please remember, this isn't a 'one size fits all' suggestion, and needs to be a suitable, thoughtful and respectful response for your personal situation.

Some bosses have developed the knack of promoting even the slightest mishap into a drama of world proportions. I worked with a manager like this some years ago, and the department was in a constant state of nervous anticipation waiting for the next 'catastrophe' to fall. It was draining, and led to increased staff  'mental health day' breaks simply to counteract the emotional exhaustion of dealing with the unreasonable and unnecessary demand for immediate action. Need I say, we generally weren't dealing with life and death situations, but routine, predictable everyday events.

By asking a couple of questions, your boss will quickly see that the pattern is changing. In the best scenarios, this leads to an increased level of professionalism and mutual respect. Interestingly, my clients who've begun using this technique state that their view of themselves begins to change from being a bit of a pushover to more confident and assured. Workplaces haven't fallen into anarchy, and in fact, the workplace tone has often improved.

Thirdly, if the request is reasonable, of course you'll agree graciously. You may choose to drop what you're doing and rush to fulfil the request. In the process however, you'll have regained a sense of self confident control; and a pattern that may have outlived its usefulness will begin to crumble.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The courage of a gentle man.

Writing a previous blog on change got me thinking about all the wonderful, inspiring, creative, thoughtful, ethical, warm hearted and above all courageous people I've had the privilege of working with over the years.

There were the street kids, with drug and alcohol issues, the kids with learning difficulties, the adults with learning difficulties, the adults who'd been kicked out of school as soon as schools could get rid of them and who were returning to study absolutely terrified of suffering in 'the system' again, the mums returning to study or preparing to enter the workforce, the teenage mums unsure about how they'd be accepted, the mature blokes confessing that they hated their jobs and who were desperate for a new direction.

Hmm, on re-reading the above paragraphs, I'd have to admit that some of my clients haven't been quite so ethical, and perhaps warm hearted is a bit of a stretch too, but courageous? Yes absolutely!

I'm going to share the story about my involvement with Ricky, and he's given me permission to use his real name. I wish I had a 'before' and 'after' picture of him to share. You'll see why soon.

Ricky consulted me in my role as study skills teacher at a post secondary college. He'd been advised to seek help as he was really struggling with the written aspects of the course he'd enrolled in. You can't really tell from my photo, but I'm not exactly a large person, in fact the phrase "suffering from ducks disease" has been applied to me all too often *sigh*.

I also like to think that I'm not a particularly threatening looking person. But Ricky was terrified. Terrified of me, terrified of the situation he'd got himself into, terrified I'd laugh at him and his difficulties. But he came along anyway. Courage? You bet!

I've never seen anyone shaking with fear before. And shake Ricky did. It was visible from a distance. I'm sure if he'd been a bony kind of person I'd have heard them clattering.

Why was Ricky in such a state? Here was a mature man, lovingly married, deeply involved in his church, steadily employed, kind and compassionate. Over quite a few months he shared some of his story.

He was "a failure", "hopeless", "useless", "a loser". He'd been told from a very young age that he'd "never make anything of himself". These words were used on a little kid by parents AND teachers. Who says "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me?" Wrong, wrong, wrong.

I asked him when he'd begun losing his way at school. "Grade one". It's a question I often ask now, and regularly the answer is grade one or two. Can you imagine what that's like? Not understanding what's going on in class, seeing your mates doing things you can't, being bewildered, confused, perplexed. My heart breaks for these kids.

So there I was with Ricky in that first session. His first 'confession' - "I've never been in a library" (apart from walking through one to meet with me). "Easy peasy" I say, "lets discover this one now!" And so it went from there, exploring discovering, celebrating. It was great!

And as happens when working with an enthusiastic student, the learning went both ways. I was humbled by his tenacity, in awe of his dedication to learning, and grateful that we'd been assigned to each other. In short I was privileged to have met and worked with such a student.

Oh, and you may ask: if Ricky was such a good student, why hadn't he managed at school?

Ricky had an undiagnosed learning difficulty. He has an unusual hearing loss, he's not deaf as such, but hears sounds differently (auditory processing disorder or APD). In addition, he is dyslexic. He wasn't (and isn't) dumb. He just couldn't follow what was happening in class the same way as other kids - he needed a different teaching style.

And the before and after picture? From a quivering mess on that first meeting to our final session; confident, assured and walking tall.

There was a man with courage to really face his worst fears and overcome them.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

I like Melbourne

I like Melbourne. It might be unfashionable, but it's a really lovely city. The drought seems to have broken, the dams are filling, there's an air of anticipation with Cup Day almost upon us. The trees are green again, (did we lose as many through drought as they expected?) and the city seems genuinely welcoming, and dare I say, during the day at least, it's a good place to visit.

There are more coffee shops and cafes than you could shake the proverbial stick at. The serviceable chains are well represented: Hudson's, Gloria Jeans, Starbucks, but more interesting are the smaller owner operators. And they offer good coffee. You want it organic? no problems. Fair Trade? just down the lane. A richer brew? over the road. You only drink soylatte? fine, that's there too. You'd like to sit outside and watch the passing parade? you'll certainly join a vibrant throng doing just the same. Yes, we're certainly well served by fabulous cafes, with some interesting graffiti to ponder when you tire of the cafe scene.

The First Tuesday in November. A date we know and love! After the lack of public holidays through winter, this one is very welcome. The boutiques are pulling out all stops to outdo their competitors, and entice the cashed up, glamorous young ladies in. But this is the first time I've seen golden rose petals complete with glitter strewn outside; surprisingly, no one had stomped on them during the frenetic lunch hour.

But alongside this commentary on coffee lover's heaven, I suppose I should mention in passing that yesterday there was a small downside.

It's spring, there was a gentle breeze, and the Plane (?) trees are showering the city in confetti seeds. It looked delightfully pretty, fluttering down in a persistent shower, sneaking under table legs, settling on the car windscreen, sneaking into underground carparks. But the citizens are suffering. Pharmacies and corner stores are stocking up on tissues and anti-allergy medications - spring fever seems to have hit big time. People are red eyed, snuffling, sneezing violently and wetly; soggy tissues abound.

It's safer to seek safe haven in the airconditioned food halls than risk a shower of sneezed droplets at an outdoor cafe on a day like yesterday, perfect as it - almost - was.

And why does Melbourne get such bad press? Because after the (almost) perfection of yesterday, today it's raining, and the forecast for tomorrow? Heavier rain. I haven't checked what they're predicting for Tuesday, but my recollection is of painful sunburn one year, and paddling in floodwater later the same day. Keep's you on your toes though don't you think?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Interview preparation - speak up!

I want to follow up from yesterday's comment about interviews. If you don't like talking about yourself or your skills and talents at interviews, try the following suggestions, and let me know how it goes.

To get some idea of the more tricky questions, you could Google 100 most difficult job interview questions or 20 most challenging interview questions. No matter how bizarre they seem, they will have been asked at sometime in an interview, and it’s a good idea to be prepared! I guarantee it’ll help you when you get a really curly one thrown your way. Your brain will kick in with “ah, yes, I know how to handle this kind of question”, it's prepared and is less likely to freeze with fear. 

Take a deep breath, pause (this is a very important step) and slowly and calmly begin. You’ll appear more confident and assured if you don’t rush, even though you may be quaking inside.

The importance of pets!
The next step in interview preparation is to answer the questions aloudIdeally you’d have an honest, yet tactful adult to assist, but for many people, that isn’t possible. In this case I often suggest to my clients that they practise in front of their pet if they have one; failing that, a compliant child or baby will do. 
I’m not being flippant. It really does help.

A respectful adult can, however, give valuable feedback, not only about the content of your answers, but also about your body language, which as you know is incredibly important in the whole process. It’s often stated that the interviewers opinion about a candidate is made within the first 30 seconds of an interview. That’s pretty scary stuff, particularly when you’re nervous already. So any constructive and supportive steps you can take are worth working on, well before you arrive.

Acknowledge your strengths 
It feels awkward for many of us to tell someone that we’re good at things, particularly those of us from cultures where we’re encouraged not to brag or gloat about how competent we are. This is a definite negative in an interview and you can lose your dream job if you don’t overcome that childhood training.

If you’re good at something, you need to share this at interview. If you think of it as sharing and informing, it might be more comfortable than if you think of it as ‘selling’ yourself. ("Selling" has a lot of negative overtones, more suited to a product, and it’s no wonder we feel uncomfortable with it, after all few of us want to be seen as a commodity).

There are a couple of things going on in the ‘talk it aloud’ practise, not least hearing your own voice stating your positive qualities in a confident, unapologetic tone. It helps you hear the um’s and ah’s, and to practice until these are, if not eliminated, then at least less frequent. If you sound like you don’t believe in yourself, how can you expect the interviewer to?

Sometimes it’s easier to say to your pet: 
“One of the things I’m really good at is ….”, 
“I want to work at (insert name of company here) because ….” 
“How would my friends describe me? My best friends describe me as loyal …. "

It’s ok to repeat a question occasionally if you go blank, it lets your brain catch up.

When you hear yourself speaking, you’ll detect if you’re convincing or not. The benefit of pets is that they don’t bore quickly and you can rehearse frequently. And if you think you’ll become stale, remember the fantastic actors in long running shows who can move us to tears even though they may have preformed the same show for weeks or months. It can be done!

Your interview questions
Remember to think of some questions you want to ask the interviewer/s. Again, Google is a great resource.This invitation usually comes at the end of the interview just as you’re breathing a sigh of relief that it’s almost over. If you haven’t thought it out, (and asked it aloud in the privacy of your home to your cat) you’re likely to blurt out the most inane thing like I did some years ago - my stomach still sinks at the memory.

In summary:

  • prepare
  • educate the interviewer/s about your skills and strengths
  • practise, practise, practise - aloud!
  • arrive early, breathe deeply and give it your best

Good luck!


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

job applications - got to love them

Resumes; they’re not one of the more fun aspects of the whole job hunting saga are they. On the whole people seem to be confounded by the process, to the extent that some stay at home mums put it off entirely, throw their hands in the air and give up.

Teenagers often aren’t much better.

A number of my colleagues say they don’t get much satisfaction from working on resumes for their clients either. Maybe I’m a bit weird, but I enjoy sleuthing out your transferable skills (and stay at home mums have heaps of these! As do students, and of course those who’ve been employed “yes, even as a teacher” – although the last group are often the most disbelieving).

I find it a challenge, as I said, to sleuth out your transferable skills (these are often called the ‘soft skills’), and then to find the right words to present you in the most favourable light. Not lying of course, that’s not where I’m at. But to show that you have talents and skills that are of value in the workplace.

I love the look of disbelief when we begin. “Nope, not me, I’ve got nothing to offer”

“Oh really? Well, let’s give it a go anyway will we?”

It’s great! Sometimes, people will just sit back at the end of even half an hour and say, “wow”.

And I’ll ask “Is it all true?” and because I’m such a stickler for honesty in the process, all they can answer is a proud “Yes”.

Love it!

As to the typing, and formatting - not my strongest point. I prefer the interactive aspect best, but of course I can and will assist when needed; with pretty good results too. But generally I encourage my clients to give it a go for themselves. I believe it’s much better to be self sufficient and independent so you can go it alone next time. But I won't leave you high and dry, so if you want this support, just ask.

And now, because my posts are generally somewhat serious, I'm going to suggest you have a look at this brilliant application.

Now, there’s someone who’s enjoyed the process!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

burnt fingers, but ok now

Now, I don’t want to open a Pandora’s Box here about poor hotel accommodation, I’ll leave that to Darren at - a blog I wish I’d found months ago, as it would have prevented a lot of stress.

London Olympics
I really want to warn readers that with the Olympics coming up, to be very wary about booking accommodation in and around London, even if it is though your usually reliable travel agent - particularly if they haven’t visited the hotel personally. They’re relying on information given to them by their suppliers, and we international guests trust that this will be accurate. I’ve just had my fingers burnt, and as a result am significantly out of pocket after finding alternative accommodation at the last minute. But at least we were able to find somewhere else to stay - I doubt this will be possible during the Olympics.

The hotel room
On arrival last month at a ‘Two Star’ hotel in London, (booked weeks ahead through our usually trusty Travel Agent in Australia) we were horrified to find that the hotel room was smelly and dirty, with one broken window latch and the other missing entirely, split wood on the internal very dirty toilet door. It had toothpaste dribbles down almost the entire length.

A grubby tiny bathmat doubled as a fragment of carpet squeezed between the foot of the bed and the shower cubicle.

The ensuite: This area could have been a module, possibly designed for a trailer-home and seemed to have been added as an afterthought to the room. It was raised about 10 centimetres above the original floor, so you had to step up into the cubicle to use it.

The toilet roll was balanced on the miniscule sink, which abutted the toilet, and the shower curtain draped over you when you sat down.

The toilet: There wasn't enough room for your knees between the toilet and the door for it to close comfortably.

I suspect a man would need to have straddled the toilet if he wanted privacy to urinate. The toilet roll was balanced on the miniscule sink, which abutted the toilet, and the shower curtain draped over you when you sat on the toilet seat.

The shower: My suspicion is that you would have to have stepped outside of the cubicle to dry off after showering as there was so little room inside. I was unable to spread my arms out from side to side of the ensuite as it was so tiny, the shower recess was approx 15 inches wide.

On either side of this module were small alcoves, one with a short exposed metal rod (the wardrobe) underneath which was a chair. The other had a compact TV high on a shelf. (A short person like me couldn't have safely manouvered it to a more suitable viewing position).

Next to this was a grubby window looking out on to the street with a venetian blind covering the window with the one missing and one broken latch.

Presumably because the ensuite had (apparently) been added as an afterthought, it made what appeared to have originally been the central lightshade balance against the module door.

The desk

The bed appeared to be an old steel camp style that squeaked when you sat on it. It was pushed into a corner of the tiny room, so that the person on the wall side of the bed had to climb over it to get to their side.
I have never left a hotel in disgust before, but apart from the dilapidated, dirty presentation of the room I felt very unsafe as the room was on the ground floor and as I’ve mentioned the window didn’t latch securely.
The young man at the front office area said we could change rooms, “but they’re all the same, I’m sorry”.
My rationale in booking accommodation through a travel agent was to ensure that we had a relaxing start to our holiday and for reassurance that things would go more smoothly than if I'd tackled the complexities myself. I expect them to take the stress out of travel bookings. London was a new city for me, and I was relying on their expertise (and that of their professional partners in the UK).
Star Ratings: how useful?
My expectation of two star accommodation is much the same as appears on the website:

"If you are looking for a unique holiday experience, 2 star hotels are just perfect. 2 star hotels in London can be found in most areas and always offer the same high standard of hospitality. If you ever stayed in a 2 star accommodation before you know what you can expect. 2 star London hotels won’t disappoint and their outstanding charm never fails to impress". ([]Accessed 24 October 2010)

So, it seems that both my expectation and a published industry expectation of a two star hotel is very similar: clean, no frills and well run. Sounds good to me!
Other 2 star hotels we stayed in later in our holiday in Paris, Vienna and Milan were good, perfectly suitable for our needs and even better than described. I booked these through a hotel booking website recommended by a colleague in Germany. It was easy to use and hotel descriptions and customer ratings were reliable and clearly presented.
Pam Foden the Operations and Industry Engagement Manager at VisitEngland says in a comment on that“ Having an official star rating helps potential guests know what to expect.” [] As a consumer I expect the rating to be reasonably accurate.
Google search
Since arriving home, I’ve had time to look at information from a few sources regarding a hotel, and I certainly wish I’d done this prior to booking, but even so the information seems inconsistent and isn't always easy to find. (But isn't that why I consulted a travel agent in the first place?)

The following 3 sites make for interesting reading.

I've discovered that makes it easy to assess if the hotel is what you're after.

But look at this one from a United Kingdom website. The words under the TripAdvisor logo read: "Sorry, no reviews are available for this property". No TripAdvisor Reviews? Really? We consumers really have to be vigilant and on the ball

And a comparison with an Australian web site - same hotel. There are 2 green dots next to the TripAdvisor rating, and you can click to get to the reviews and customer photos.

Confusing isn’t it.
But at least from the Australian I can easily click through to TripAdvisor’s most recent reviews and photos and find information that would have influenced my booking. But I notice that no information is given about the rooms under "Information".
But what if I'd only looked at the UK site? There is some inconsistency in the amount of information offered.
What do TripAdvisors' travellers actually report?
By now, thoroughly intrigued and wondering what else I'd find, I went directly to TripAdvisor. I hadn't used TripAdvisor prior to this as I'd assumed hotels would post positive comments about their own establishments and scathing ones about their competitors. I also figured that there could be grumpy people who could post malicious unsubstantiated comments. I was skeptical.
But here’s a shot of what I found for the hotel in question, and when I started reading those 59 reviews it made me angry.

The consistently negative reviews go back to July 3rd 2005 – that’s 5 years with 76% of customers not recommending the hotel. This isn’t an isolated grumpy person, but a pattern of scathing/shocked/horrified/distressed/disbelieving comments - whatever word you choose to use, there are many, many unhappy guests.
How is it possible that with 5 years of consistently negative comments many relating to the issues we confronted, that this accommodation was referred to my travel agent as an option? I don't object to the hotel's existence, it no doubt serves a purpose. I do object to the (dare I use the word misleading?) description passed on to me, and the fact that the 2 star rating description quoted above is so woefully inappropriate in this instance. It's not that the hotel has had a sudden change of fate, and recent sad things have happened, this is ongoing history. Off the top of my head I can't think of any industry where this kind of "service" would be tolerated and apparently condoned.
5 years of consistently negative comments is a fair amount of time by anyone's assessment. I thought there was a code of conduct amongst professional travel agents? What is going on in the hotel industry in London?
It seems we need to do a lot of independent research to find ... what? How do we know what's true, and what isn't? who's being open, and who's withholding information? and how far do we need to search? Which country's websites should we use? If you're moving to a new city every 3 or 4 days, this level of research would eat up a huge amount of time,and that's not why you're travelling is it?
Every cloud has a sliver lining J The young man at the hutch-like reception area kindly found the phone number of a major hotel chain and allowed us to use the phone to book through them. There was ONE room available within cooee – and what a room.

Chalk and cheese Just thinking about Hotel Indigo in Paddington is relaxing. Have you heard of the Golden Mean? The hotel is designed along those principles. It’s amazing!
Thank goodness we hadn’t yet maxed out the credit card as this put a serious dent in it. Sadly, it’s not the sort of place we usually stay in. Our budgeting is tightly controlled, and living simply is second nature. But as a salve to soothe the jetlagged, frazzled, frayed and jangled nerves, this was just the medicine!

The welcome was warm (I wonder if I exuded distress and the concierge took pity on me or if all guests are treated so kindly?) the room small and space was used well. the towels were huge and deeply fluffy.
Although the rate was 'room-only', we were given a breakfast voucher (the breakfast was lovely, generous helpings, and GOOD coffee!), and a discount voucher for a main meal. The staff were courteous and welcoming and so we naturally returned for the discounted meal later in the week.
(We then found a significantly cheaper chain for the remaining days – a long way out, but still just barely affordable - there was little choice available for an on the spot booking. An Ibis Hotel, we've stayed in them before: reliable, consistent clones, predictable, and an ok place to spend a night or 2.)
I’ve been known to get on my soapbox about different things from time to time, and a recurring theme is the ethical behaviour of companies as well as values and integrity. Many of my clients confront these issues at work - and I'm thinking a lot about them too right now.
I wonder what it would be like working in these two different establishments? I know all workplaces have their ups and downs, but ...
Back to the theme:
Do your research (whether for a career or hotel)
choose carefully and appropriately for your current needs
enjoy the journey!

photos were all taken by the author: September 13th 2010
websites were accessed and screen shots taken: October 24th 2010