Looking Beyond …

thoughts and deliberations .. a theme is too restrictive


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12 months was a bridge too far

Helensaying Butterfly Bridge Bedford

This wasn’t supposed to happen. My lovely year of abandonment and discovery is now scheduled for truncation on 1 December.  That is exactly six months since it began.  I have a new job!

Having enjoyed the full benefits and freedom of volunteering since June,  I will now be championing and promoting the benefits of volunteering as a paid job.  That makes sense doesn’t it?

So here are some thoughts about what I have been enjoying, what I have found difficult and what I am looking forward to:

The really positive things:

  • feeling in control of my destiny (or at least having a degree of influence – no illusions of complete control)
  • having something completely new and fresh to engage in
  • having a genuine interest in all aspects of my work  (or perhaps almost all would be more realistic)
  • working with calm, caring people who are all on a similar wavelength and with respect for each other
  • the privilege of meeting some wonderfully community minded, giving and caring ‘ordinary’ people
  • practicing some new skills without feeling the pressure of having to deliver the unattainable
  • thoroughly believing in the objectives and activities of the two organisations I have been volunteering for
  • being signed up as an advisor for a third charity and finding that there are things that I can do that make a small difference and support the staff there
  • getting out and about to different locations and places
  • getting some feedback and appreciation now and then on things that have gone well
  • finding that I don’t necessarily rub people up the wrong way wherever I go after all!
  • not having to get in the car and drive to work and enjoying the outdoor experience of getting to work instead
  • realising that having school holidays (especially if you no longer have school children at home) is not the be all and end all – especially if you are enjoying what you are doing
  • being allowed to claim ignorance and shrug my shoulders when something goes wrong on the IT front

 

The challenges:

  • realising that there are some things that it is easy to blame on your employment that are actually part of your own problem and until you resolve them, you carry them around with you from one place to the next.
  • building new relationships
  • the peculiar status of being unpaid staff in a non permanent role
  • keeping right on going through a confidence crisis
  • updating a blog site regularly

The second list was a lot harder, and given that I am not actually in an upbeat frame of mind at the moment it seems pretty conclusive that I made the right decision about leaving my job in IT six months ago.  I can safely say that I have no regrets.  In fact, if anyone says, as they have recently, what a brave step I made, I no longer feel that to be true.  It just feels like the obvious thing to have done.

So, I was minding my business and adding some content to a website when alongside my latest post a job opportunity popped up which caught my eye.  I did the usual thing of putting off a decision about applying (in order that I could legitimately procrastinate in completing the task) and then spent an arduous Sunday the day before the deadline filling in the application form into the small hours (does everybody do that?)   Confident that I ticked all the boxes,  I was at first delighted to receive a call up for interview a few days later but horrified when I read the conditions to be met at interview.  The need to take examples of work meant that I had to trawl through my six months of experience to try to determine where my input had actually made a difference.  It took a few friends and tears to convince me that this was worth pursuing. Expecting the worst, I actually found this to be a huge confidence building exercise which prepared me well for interview.  As the first six months internship comes to a close, I find myself on a different path than intended but with much to look forward to:

To come:

  • working for a registered charity in a support organisation which has links with some of the organisations and charities I have already been getting to know
  • I know I have only just met them but….lovely people!
  • building on the experience I have just gained
  • a salary which more than matches the one I left
  • no excuses for not rejoining the gym and working off those extra pounds that seem to have accumulated
  • an easy bike ride, or walk to work each day
  • a four-day week – perfect for keeping a little time back to input into caring elsewhere
  • being near the town centre – I may even take the odd lunch hour and meet up with friends for lunch – that would be novel

I am not sure yet that this blogging thing has fulfilled its purpose.  Time will reveal where I go with it next,  but thank you for journeying with me as I have been looking beyond life as a Network manager and deliberating about how to find fulfilling work.

So far, so good.

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A Game of Four Quarters

Looking Beyond cycletowork

It was drawn to my attention last week that I am already one-quarter of a way through my self appointed ‘Bridge Year’. It is exactly three months since I walked out of my last paid employment ready to take on a whole new journey (or at least it was when I started on this post).

I spent a good while looking at the metaphorical map to find the best roads to start me off in the direction I wanted to head. Then I took my first brave steps into the unknown. So far, the ride has been interesting and largely stable. I have kept to the appointed route without much need to stop and check directions and with just the occasional wobble as unexpected obstacles have leapt into my path.

As I cycled to work one morning recently, I was reflecting on how I have mentally divided my route into quarters – each one having a different character. I was wondering whether this might come to reflect the experiences of my year, and if so, what advice or encouragement I might need along the way.

Setting Out: Leaving Comforts Behind

Each day, before my journey can start, I have to leave my comfort zone: the zone that is home, and more specifically bed. It is strange how difficult it is to leave the warmth and comfort of a bed in the morning and stranger still to realise that no sooner is it achieved, it is easily forgotten about.

This reflects what happens with some of the big decisions we make in life – like leaving a job we have been doing for many years. For me, there has certainly been no looking back (although I do confess to the occasional glance into former territory that has caused me to indulge in the odd comment or two).

First Quarter: The Straight and Narrow

Once out of the house, I am very quickly on to the path of the old railway route from Bedford to Sandy whereupon I travel in a straight line, amidst pleasant but closed surroundings taking a well-worn path from which diversion would be foolish.

I liken that to my experience at the Citizen’s Advice Bureau so far…..I am in training, on a prescribed course with little room for diversion or exploration but a safe, tried and tested route, in not unpleasant surroundings. There is no question or choice about where I am going. I can just get my head down and get on with it until I emerge at the end of the path trained, qualified and ready to encounter whatever might come my way.

Second Quarter: Immerse and Enjoy

At the end of the railway track, I enter directly into the Country Park. The vista opens and there are plenty of welcome distractions. Although there are defined paths and an obvious route, my attention is drawn to the views that change with the time of day and weather; the birds – sometimes agitated, sometimes serene – on and around the lake; or people in their various guises and occupations. I am presented with opportunities to explore – the finger lakes and beyond; invitations to stop – maybe at the water’s edge checking out my latent skills in stone skimming (well, it is just possible isn’t it?); and a chance to pause and enjoy the environment. Participation in any of these might certainly break the journey and could quite readily lead to the journey being abandoned. Not to participate – is choosing not to live for the moment.

But ‘beware the dogs!’ Now I know that the dog owners would beg to disagree. ‘Beware the cyclists’ I hear them cry, but it cannot be denied that my biggest hazard at this stage of the route is most definitely the canine species. Emerging from a bush or round a corner, they charge after some urgent point of interest, divert to greet other canine friends, advance upon me at speed as if attacking the enemy or just choose to stop, mere meters from the oncoming wheels of my bike these small loveable creatures have caused a raised heart beat on many occasion. In all that is competing for my attention, the most critical thing remains – I need to watch my speed and always remember to look where I am going.

There are parallels here with my experience so far with the Bedfordshire Rural Communities Charity. The tasks set before me are defined but with plenty of scope for additional exploration. Undertaking the defined role without pausing to view everything else around would be losing out. There are unexpected benefits and delights, but with them comes the opportunity to stray from the purpose of the exercise. In short, it has become easy to get comfortable and enjoy the ride without much reference to why I am there in the first place. Time, I think, to refocus and step up a gear.

Third Quarter: Facing the Hazards

Next comes the most difficult part of the journey. Emerging from the serenity of the Country Park, I encounter a series of twists and turns, pavements and bollards, roads and crossings, cars and pedestrians. Along the way are gathered groups of early morning smokers, trundling lorries, roadside gravel and noise. All have to be negotiated with full concentration, for at times this is a matter of life and death. This is the part of the journey for which I need my cycle helmet, thread on the tyres and breaks in good working order.

It is safe to say, I have not encountered this section in the bridge year journey yet. Perhaps, when I have finished the Citizen’s Advice training and am first let loose on the clients that come in from the street, it will feel similar. Perhaps there is a hazardous phase to come. Whatever the case, there is no moving on to the home straight until the third quarter has been negotiated.

Fourth Quarter: The Home Straight
And so, with the seven exit roundabout with flyover safely behind me, I turn into Bedford Road and on to the home straight. The pace changes just as soon as I have quickly passed by the small bridge on the wrong side of the road (an unnerving missing link on the defined cycle route). My body begins to sigh and relax in the knowledge that the way ahead is smooth and predictable, providing a green and pleasant path straight to my destination.

I shall look out with eagerness for this part of the journey in my year. It may not happen, not every journey has a home straight, but I do still express a desire, that when the time comes and I turn the last corner, I will see a clear route and destination ahead.

 

Post Script:
I started my last post by pointing out that I had crashed a new website. I am pleased to report that it was up and operational within a couple of days and the pause in entries here can perhaps be explained by the need to get the first few posts up on the new site.
Any who are interested to hear more about my exploits at my first placement, please do travel across to supportbedfordshire.co.uk and have a browse.


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What does a learning curve look like?

Tonight I crashed my new website.

It was only up and running for 10 hours before I installed a plug-in and now the whole lot has gone down the plug hole, so to speak.

It is a shame, because I was about to proudly post a link to the site to prove that I am indeed learning some new skills. I was going to tell you that I had purchased and registered a domain, installed and edited a theme, exercised a few ‘html’ skills. You were going to read about my adventures in appreciation of places and projects in Bedfordshire and be impressed that I am finally getting to know and love the county in which I have been living for nearly half of my life. I was going to reflect – with evidence on the progress I had been making in the art of blogging! Perhaps tell you a little about the WordPress Writers Workshop that has been keeping me up all hours over the past two weeks.

Yes, I know that it will all be retrievable (it had better be!). Someone, somewhere knows how to unravel the mess I have made and set me back on the right path again.

And yes, I know that engaging in two weeks of the workshop has taken me a few steps forward even though it seems that I can’t keep up the momentum and continue through to the end.

It doesn’t matter does it?

It is all part of the learning curve that is my life at the moment. I find myself asking “just what does a learning curve look like?” and I have decided – a graph just won’t do it justice. Not a linear one anyway, nor one that I am even going to attempt to draw lest my graphics skills fail me. My learning curve is jagged, unpredictable, multi-layered, dynamic and colourful and all it requires of me is to continue to be child-like and to keep on moving with energy and enthusiasm.

Let me finish with something that I have learned about these last couple of weeks. I found a previously neglected setting on my camera. I have enjoyed taking some pictures and I will share a few with you here:

P1010734 P1010738 P1010775 P1010776P1010769P1010720


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The devil is in the detail

It has struck me this week that I am most comfortable when I am merely scratching the surface of things. The problem is that as soon as I start to see what is beneath this outer layer I see the devil in the detail and I want to run a mile.

Blog Holiday

Take, for example, the business of choosing a family holiday. Now that should be a straight forward and enjoyable exercise engendering family fun, laughter and hilarity and resulting in peace, harmony and joy as we all savour the prospect of our time together. Yes? Not for this family. We have been months in discussion, research, negotiation, denial and submission – all these featuring in varying degrees and from alternating parties. There is nothing like seemingly insurmountable complications combined with differing angles on a common objective to dampen enthusiasm for a project.

Or, consider my interest in photography. I well remember the excitement of receiving my first camera at about twelve years old, which I duly took on our annual sea-side escapade. I cheerfully (well almost) submitted to my father’s instruction on how best to set the aperture and shutter speed to achieve good results. My heart sank deeper, the more complex and detailed the instruction appeared to be. Then, at the end of the holiday, the film was removed carefully from the camera and sent away for processing. Two weeks later (having dutifully selected the economy processing turn-around time) I apprehensively and yet expectantly opened the package of prints that fell through the letterbox. The whole set of 36 exposures had been – well – unexposed. 36 black prints plus two for good measure. Removing the lens cap was the detail omitted at such great cost on this occasion.

Decades later, with my residual interest in photography re-igniting, I took myself off to a week-end photography course to get to grips with my new SLR. Once more overwhelmed, and flustered by the unmastered detail, I reverted to scratching the surface of the art of photography with the automatic setting becoming the safe place from which to practice my now severely constrained artistry.

There is a remarkably similar pattern in all interests, responsibilities, and career directions that I have taken on to date. A desperation to become conversant with the detail and yet being weighed down by the consequent failure to master it. Somehow, the devil in the detail always seems to take a leap out and smother me.

And now, upon investigating the phrase ‘the devil is in the detail’, I discover that it’s precursor was ‘ God is in the detail’. This was a phrase apparently often used by one of my favourite architects – Ludvig Mies Van der Rohe. As a graduate of architecture, I like that. It also provides me with a differing conclusion to this piece than had originally been intended.

My determination is renewed; determination not to yield to the devil’s delight in taking away the pleasure that comes from the innocence of not seeing what is beneath the surface. I will continue to venture deep, knowing that with God in the detail defeat is no longer the stronger party. The detail is not mine to master, but it is there to explore, enjoy, wonder at and delight in, to understand, inform, accumulate and incorporate, fearlessly, as each new aspect is uncovered.

As a family, we overcame indecision and complications. We have booked a break in Rome for September. And I may have fled twice from the technicalities of learning to use my camera, but I am set and ready to try again with further instruction. As for the career direction, there is time enough for detail. For now, I am happy as I scratch the surface of many new things and enjoy the prospect of choosing which to become fearlessly more familiar with.


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No cause for hopelessness…

…for tomorrow is another day.

journey to Dominican Republic

 

Such is my dedication to posting here, that I am writing this as the football world cup final plays out in the room next door.  I am expecting it to be noisy…. the room houses three young men, and one slightly more senior, with beer and pizza in the mix.

The world cup seems to have passed me by.  Apart from half a match spent paying more attention to sorting out baby clothes from the loft than watching the ball’s path around the pitch in hope of England managing to manoeuvre it into the appropriate net, I have seen very little.  This is a shame,  since I have just picked up a request (from one of the organisations I am doing some voluntary work for)  to contribute some thoughts on what conclusions I might draw about what does and doesn’t work in team work, based on the tournament in Brazil.  Oh well,  I guess I know enough to conclude that using one’s teeth to vent frustration is not a good contribution in any team.  Any other ideas?

It has been quite a day.  We have travelled to Heathrow to bid our eldest well as he journeys to Dominican Republic for the next six weeks.  My guess is that as travelling is not his favourite pastime and he has a 12 hour wait at Newark airport before transferring to the Dominican Republic, he would far rather be a fourth young man in our living room right now.  Yet, in just a couple of days, he will be working with the Samaritan Foundation building homes to help those living in desperate circumstances to escape from hopelessness.

I guess the kind of hopelessness that results from living in a hot, unsanitary tiny space with a family income of less than 60 pence a day, bears no comparison to that which I can ever claim to have experienced.  Nevertheless, I have to confess to a predisposition to being easily overtaken by feelings of hopelessness.  Today, I am reminded that no situation is hopeless and it is perfectly possible for people’s lives to be transformed.

As I watched my son disappear through security at the airport I couldn’t help but be reminded of the times when he was a young boy and it seemed unrealistic to hope that he would ever live independently from us.  His medical condition and the associated difficulties of accessing normal schooling, social life and experiences of growing up, left this family feeling, at times, almost hopeless, as to the prospects for his future.  How right we were to hang on to the hope that he would overcome all the obstacles before him.   Today, secure in the knowledge that he has nothing to fear, we walked away to the sound of the security alarm beeping, smiling as we pictured him pulling out his consultant’s letter explaining the extent of metal work in his leg.

Reasonable thinking has also led me to conclude, on many occasions, that there was no hope or prospect of any further enjoyment or quality of life for my mother.  Today, I was stunned at the picture I received from my sister, of my Mum out and about in Tatton Park on a Motability scooter with a glint in her eye and looking like she was having the time of her life.  This is the woman who yesterday was concluding that she would not be able to get out of bed after such a bad night of pain and worry and darkness of spirit. Yet with the help and encouragement of her carer, she was persuaded that it was worth it.  With the persistence and cajoling of her daughters, she was accepting of being taken out in the car.  With the sense of achievement of having been involved and valued as we shopped for clothes, she had the confidence to agree to lunch out.  And today, for this day at least, the world held no obstacles.  Freedom and independence were once again within her reach.

My justification for these deliberations as I plot my journey to work fulfilment, are simply to remind myself, and any others that may also require it, that there is never cause for complete hopelessness.  The situation as seen today, does not determine the situation as it is tomorrow.

Today, it may seem that I have desired more than is attainable. Tomorrow?  Well tomorrow is another day.


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Comfort outside the Comfort Zone…

… reflections on the journey so far

roses 

Two months ago, I spoke of  “a year ahead of learning, catching up with what has been going on in the rest of the world beyond my little corner in the workplace and exploring new territory,” concluding that I was  “ going to need all the attention span, brain capacity and enthusiasm I can muster.”  That describes quite accurately the path I am taking so far, encapsulating both the excitement and the difficulties that have been my experience to date.

A few reflections then, on the first month of my journey in looking beyond ….

On entering into the blogosphere:

So far, my journal entries have been far less structured and directional than I had anticipated but I have learnt very quickly that the only way for me to write, is honestly; and from the position that I actually find myself in, rather than the one I feel it would be beneficial to present.

I now know about this phenomenon called writer’s block.  There are times when I could happily be writing into the night and all other tasks, duties or disturbances are irritating inconveniences. Conversely, there are times when getting any thoughts presented coherently on the page is about as likely to happen as the completion of our new bathroom project.  I have learned that being a blogger is much more than just writing.  It is interactive, has a whole set of rules of etiquette to be discovered and there are plenty of people blogging their tips on how to achieve this…which makes blogging, like all social media interactions, somewhat mind-boggling.

On being outdoors:

Experiencing the outdoors – even just for a short period each day, is unexpectedly uplifting.  Yes, I know it is summer and things may change, but listening to the bird song, exchanging smiles with passers-by, being aware of the light and reflections as the sun takes its course in the day, stopping to take a photograph, and just observing my surroundings on a daily basis, provides enrichment and a lift to each day.  Apart from riding my bike, I have had a trip to a local vineyard, and two days with a school party at the Heritage Centre on our local Community rail line.  Lots more day trips to follow….after all, you can’t promote something you haven’t experienced for yourself.

On working with Volunteers:

I am meeting a whole new group of kind, committed, gifted, friendly and accepting people.  The extent to which people dedicate such large chunks of their lives to what they see as a worthy cause, for no financial reward is quite humbling.  On a side note though, never once did I imagine that being taken out of my comfort zone would involve learning how to handle unwanted attention of the kind I had completely forgotten existed.  I’ve been taken back to Lily Allen’s ‘Knock ‘em out’.

On not working in the education sector:

Many people are jealous of those working in the Education Sector because of the long holidays.  There is an important lesson here that I already knew to be true, but it has been good to be reminded of.    I remember my biggest, and yet unfounded concern when entering full-time paid employment at age 21, was that I would never have school (or better still university) holidays again.  Giving up a job in a school, so close to the long summer break has not felt like a sacrifice to me because I have been so ready to get going with the next thing.  What I have realised though, is how much energy I had been expending desperately counting down to the holiday time so that I could relax and enjoy life, and then half way through the holidays, getting anxious about that fact that they would soon be over.  I am enjoying living life more in the present.  In fact, today I did something that I can’t remember doing unless away on holiday, since I was a teenager.  The sun was shining, and being in the middle of a gripping novel, I took it out into the garden and read for an hour.  Sometimes the smallest things can be remarkable achievements!

On gaining new skills:

OK, so this one is a bit tricky.  In my marketing and communications role with the Community Development Agency in Bedfordshire, I have a job description with five out of seven responsibilities that I have never had before.  What I have learned is that if people think you are a capable person, they will assume you know what you are doing regardless of your background. Up until now, my focus has been not so much learning new skills but smartening up a few lost skills that haven’t been needed for a while and trying to size up just exactly what it is that I am going to be able to achieve in my six months there.  I need to balance my development needs with the thirst of the charity – without sufficient staffing to meet the desires and enthusiasms of all its projects – for an extra pair of hands.

Getting to grips with the use of social media for marketing in non-profit organisations will be a key learning curve for me over the next few months.  It features as an area for development in three of the four Charities that I have currently undertaken to help.  Delighted to have discovered a webinar on using Twitter for non-profit organisations last week, I enthusiastically signed up to a one o’clock session.  As I was turning off my computer and contemplating a well-earned night of rest, an email reminder pinged into sight, telling me that the webinar would be starting shortly.  As my dedication did not stretch to staying up that late I missed it.  So I will start with lesson number one on Social Media – it doesn’t have a day and a night, it means 24/7 engagement.  Incidentally, a few tentative clicks following this incident, and I have increased my twitter fan club from 3 to 13.  It is quite astonishing how much catching up I have to do in this department.

In complete contrast to the marketing role, I am training with the Citizen’s Advice Bureau as a Gateway Assessor.  The training program is structured, thorough and comprehensive. It will be weeks before I come face to face with an actual member of the public.  In the meanwhile, I am learning once more how to study and how to be comfortable in an office full of strangers, all of whom seem to be going about their business (whether paid or working as volunteers) with a frightening level of competence, efficiency and confidence.

I have taken on three new roles.  Apart from the two already mentioned, I am also now listed as an ‘advisor’ for a charity doing some excellent work with youngsters who are finding the standard school environment inaccessible.  A recent strategy day had me brushing up such terminology as SWAT and PESTLE.  I have never been good with acronyms – I need words that I can make sense of in the context, not visions of running round with a fly swatter and grinding spices with a pestle and mortar.  This doesn’t help the professional image I find myself needing to portray and makes me feel out of my depth even when I am not.

 

On being outside my comfort zone

Can I say that I am comfortable, and yet outside of my comfort zone at the same time?

Yes, there are plenty of boxes I can tick for being out of my comfort zone over the past few weeks,  and perhaps it is not surprising that my attention span, brain capacity and enthusiasm have been stretched to the full and at times been left wanting. There was a point some days ago, when being introduced to the third whole new set of staff within as many weeks, that I wanted to retreat back into a shell and reclaim an introverted and timid approach to life.  But I am doing what I set out to do, I am enjoying new opportunities, living for the present and looking forward to what is yet to come.

 

Now I think I will pick up that novel where I left off …….

 

 


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Reasons to be Cheerful….

It has been a short while since my last post and good discipline dictates that I should be making regular entries in order to keep on track (whatever that looks like).  I know that it is about time that I put together some sensible thoughts, peppered with some amusing anecdotes and maybe, just maybe, even focused on my original intent to journal my progress on the career change front – especially now that I have actually started my first internship.

There have been several started and abandoned ‘scribblings’ throughout the past week or so.  The trouble is that I have not been in the right state of mind for completing these.  Unable to trust what might emerge from the fingers rattling across the keyboard, it has been preferable to stop.  Life just hits me like that from time to time and it often seems that the best I can hope for under such circumstances is to stem the flow of negative thinking.

So, trying to progress beyond this point at the weekend, I was reminding myself of all the reasons why negative thinking was inappropriate. The 1970’s hit by ‘Ian Dury & the Blockheads’ came into my head – ‘Reasons to be Cheerful (Part 3)’.   I smiled internally at the memory of excitement when I succeeded in getting a request played for my brother on the local radio in our teenage years. Same band – playing ‘Hit me with your Rhythm Stick’.

For the time being then, I leave you with my own record of many of the reasons I had to be cheerful over the week end (even though I wasn’t).

2014-06-20 17.19.25

Memories from childhood … ‘hit me with your rhythm stick’,

Dad wanting to climb ladders, neighbours trying to stop him quick,

Mum sat in the Garden, enjoying homemade scones for tea,

Riding bikes with Michael, countryside and feeling free,

Sunshine, coasting down the hill, on to the river’s edge for rest,

Promise of good things to come, tickets waiting for Begfest,

Summer, Sandra, Cathy, Tom, Catherine and Dorota,

With smiles, stories and joyful songs, baptised in deep water,

A thank you for a job well done, a chance to go the extra mile,

The random things that pick you up, a picture book, a baby smile

Clean shoes, fresh bread and a splatter free car,

Family knits on the line, supper at the Uni Bar

Joining the youngsters in their adult domain,

Al fresco dining with good friends that remain,

But best of all that quirky mix of

Cheese and pineapple on sticks.

 

Having taken the trouble to bring all of these things to the front of my mind, I feel somewhat more cheerful and certainly grateful.

Hope to update you soon on progress on the work fulfilment front – as you will have noticed by now there are a lot of distractions.

What do you do to try to steer your mind out of a seemingly inevitable downwards spiral?